Thursday, April 20, 2006

On forgetting, unpersons, and doublethink: Milan Kundera and George Orwell

One of my favorite authors is Milan Kundera. Yes, I know, I've said it before--I've discussed Kundera's work here and here, as well as here and here.

So, why Kundera yet again (and I doubt this will be the last time)? His work is so rich, and so dense with striking and relevant images, that it just keeps coming to mind. I wanted to try to whet your appetite a bit and see if I could entice anyone who hasn't yet read his books into taking a look.

Probably my favorite work of Kundera's, and the first one I ever read, is The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. I initially encountered it in an abbreviated version that appeared in the New Yorker magazine in the late '70s.

How to describe its unusual qualities? Kundera himself has tried:

This book is a novel in the form of variations. The various parts follow each other like the various stages of a voyage leading into the interior of a theme, the interior of a thought, the interior of a single, unique situation, the understanding of which recedes from my sight into the distance...

It is a novel about laughter and about forgetting, about forgetting and about Prague, about Prague and about the angels...


If you haven't read the book, that probably doesn't tell you all that much. The novel isn't a conventional one with a linear plot; rather, it contains seven sections that are more like rambling and discursive short stories, loosely connected by various themes.

But that's not what hooked me: it was Kundera's utterly unique voice that pulled me in immediately. He ranges widely in topic and tone, continually expounding (and expanding) and commenting on the story in a free-wheeling monologue. Always conversational, his voice is at turns rambling, poetic, incisive, earthy, funny, and philosophical. The voice grabs the reader (at least, this reader) from the outset, and almost never flags or becomes anything less than fascinating, while keeping that same reader continually off-balance and surprised. It is indeed like variations in music, or riffs in jazz.

Although the book is fictional--and, at times, fantastical--Kundera continually throws in meditations on history and politics. The book begins not with an introduction to the plot or to the characters, but to the theme on which Kundera's variations are played: the forgetting of history, both historical and personal:

In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square. That was a great turning point in the history of Bohemia. A fateful moment.

Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing close to him. It was snowing and cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. Bursting with solicitude, Clementis took off his fur hat and set it on Gottwald's head.

The propaganda section made hundreds of thousands of copies of the photograph taken on the balcony where Gottwald, in a fur hat and surrounded by his comrades, spoke to the people. On that balcony the history of Communist Bohemia began. Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums.

Four years later, Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history and, or course, from all photographs. Ever since, Gottwald has been alone on the balcony. Where Clementis stood, there is only the balcony. Where Clementis stood, there is only the bare palace wall. Nothing remains of Clementis but the fur hat on Gottwald's head.


For anyone who has also read Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, this mirrors--at least partially--the creation of what Orwell called an "unperson:"

unperson - Person that has been erased from existence by the government for breaking the law in some way. An unperson is completely erased from history. All record of their existence is removed...and all party members are expected to remove them from memory.

One of the themes of Orwell's work (which was mostly written in the year 1948, the year of the Gottwald/Clementis hat exchange) is this purposeful distortion and rewriting of history. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell describes the process taken to an extreme in his fictional world:

This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs -- to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.

Orwell's main character Winston Smith was part of this process. He can describe it, although he doesn't quite understand it:

The past not only changed, but changed continuously. What most afflicted [Winston] with the sense of nightmare was that he had never clearly understood why the huge imposture was undertaken. The immediate advantages of falsifying the past were obvious, but the ultimate motive was mysterious. He took up his pen again and wrote:

I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.


Orwell could not have been aware of exactly what was to happen to Clementis and his photo--after all, his death and the erasure occurred in 1952, years after Orwell's book was written. But he was certainly familiar with similar efforts by the Soviets to rewrite history, and he had used this as his inspiration for the book; art imitates life.

But the effort Kundera describes--to erase Clementis from that moment of Czech history--seems especially absurd. Why absurd? Well, how could the Czech Communists be so silly--and so transparent--as to do away with Clementis's image in a photo that every school kid in the country already knew by heart? How could they think they could get away with the rewriting of a history that was already so well-known? And, as Winston Smith asks in another but strikingly similar context, why would they want to?

So why was Clementis erased from the photo, if his presence was so easy to remember? For future generations, of course, it might be possible to eliminate even the appearance of any jarring notes in the supposedly harmonious symphony of the history of Czech Communism, and so some of the erasure was undoubtedly for them.

But for those contemporaneous with the incident, who knew better, those rewriting history must not have cared how transparent their actions were, because their real aim was probably to teach a different object lesson. Perhaps what they were really saying was not "Clementis the traitor didn't exist" but rather, "Take heed: if you become a traitor like Clementis, you'll become an unperson, too." Perhaps they meant the erasure to be transparent, to demonstrate quite graphically how they had the power to crush a person--not just the body, but the history of the life, as well.

In so doing, they were also relaying another message. They were exhorting the Czech populace to practice what Orwell called "doublethink," saying, in effect, "Even though we know that you know full well that Clementis existed and was even a member in good standing of the Party at one point, we are also saying that you must will yourself to unremember. If we say he didn't exist, then he didn't exist. Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes (and your lying memory)?"

Orwell wrote that "doublethink" requires a person:

...to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.

The havoc that such mind games wrought on the people of Czechoslovakia is a major theme of Kundera's work. The effect was pervasive, and the tension reached into almost every endeavor, including love and sex--subjects that occur with great frequency in Kundera's work, as well.

And speaking of love and sex--yes, there was a sexy movie made of Kundera's other great novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. But if that's all you know of Kundera, you owe it to yourself to supplement it with some reading; the movie is thin gruel indeed compared to the writing.

In researching this post, I looked for the photo Kundera is describing. Here is Gottwald's Wikipedia biography, which mentions the purges and Clementis's execution. But the photo there doesn't fit the bill; it's a Soviet-art-style propaganda poster of Gottwald with Stalin.

But take a look at this one: its Gottwald, standing on what appears to be a balcony, addressing a crowd, and wearing a fur hat--perhaps the hat, which, like the Cheshire Cat's smile, would be all that is left of Clementis's presence on that day:

51 Comments:

At 4:17 PM, April 20, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Once the Hitlerites were allies of the communists, brothers in arms against the Imperialists, America and Britain. Then the fascistic Hitlerites became the Nazi enemy of lore to the glorious brotherhood of communists.

Self-censorship is more effective than any central attempt to do so. A lesson people would do well to learn when they hear about central government censorship.

Russia went from an ally of Hitler in fighting against the Imperialism of France and Britain. To Allies of France Britain and America, in fighting the fascistic Nazis. What would a Russian soldier have had to do to correlate the two positions of their government, especially with the NKVD police out to purge anyone that Stalin didn't like?

 
At 5:39 PM, April 20, 2006, Blogger camojack said...

Doubleplusgood post, neo...

 
At 5:40 PM, April 20, 2006, Blogger Alex said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:41 PM, April 20, 2006, Blogger Alex said...

I think you might be looking for these photos.

 
At 7:05 PM, April 20, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Wow alex, I'm totally impressed. I went to the website where you found the photos, and the caption read:

Klement Gottwald. Czeckoslovakia's first president. Following the coup of 1948 there were purges. The man second from the left in the left hand picture was one of the victims.

The photo I found does seem to be taken the same day as the photos at your link. Interesting. And, at your link, the photo on the left does seem to include the missing Clementis on the balcony (see this for another photo of Clementis for comparison).

But one thing really perplexes me: why is the man in the left-hand balcony photo (Clementis) wearing a hat?

 
At 1:29 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger Alex said...

Three possibilities: people had lots more hats back then, and, though he had given up his warm furry one, Clementis still had his standard day-to-day hat with him; some lesser party underling had in turn sacrificed his hat in a chain reaction of toadyism; or, Milan Kundera was writing fiction after all. If Unbearable Lightness is any guide, Milan likes the image of a disembodied hat.

 
At 2:43 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

wow neo. Impressed that you are an Orwell fan. I have read him from early teens. I particularly like this bit,

"Every line I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism, and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it."

somehow didnt have you down as a democratic socialist.

Orwell oppossed the rule of powerful elites, whoever they might be and the devious means they adopted in keeping power. He wasn't some anti-left wing writer. Far from it, the whole purpose of his writing was to advocate socialism in Britain, but at the same time to condemn the stupidities of many left wing thinkers and regimes.

I imagine if her were around now he would spend an equal amount of time criticising th eIraq mess and the anti-americanism prevalent in much that is written bout the mess. He was taht kind of guy. dunno if you have read it but one of his really interesting wartime writings is The Lion & The Unicorn - Socialism and the English Genius sets out this dual position.

It would be handy to have writers of his standing now.

And yes he would have been critical of the czech communist media and what its deceptions. But he would also be critical of Western mainstream media and its talent for making many poor and powerless groups invisible simply by not reporting them.

 
At 2:44 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, sometimes it works. Spin a [false] narrative and just repeat it enough and it may stick… Even if someone had first hand knowledge, they’ll doubt themselves eventually.

 
At 7:09 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Sally said...

"somehow didnt have you down as a democratic socialist."

David appears to be one of those leftists who thinks that, because one admires a particular work, one must adhere to every comment its author ever made. But then David also makes "liberal" use of his imagination to put words in Orwell's mouth:
I imagine if her were around now he would spend an equal amount of time criticising th eIraq mess and the anti-americanism prevalent in much that is written bout the mess. He was taht kind of guy.

Quite the guy, huh? But anyone can play that game: I imagine if he were around now he would have long since realized the totalitarian implications in any sort of socialism, and would have focused the bulk of his formidable critical intelligence against not just the inane anti-Americanism of the Iraq critics but against their neurotic anti-Westernism generally.

 
At 7:38 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

i take the point. It is easy to put words into the mouths of the dead. But if you read Orwell, and I have, it is difficult to picture him suddenly deciding capitalism was the way forward. Dunnno, people do change ideas, but.... He is an odd mixture, but an admirable model. Surprisingly patriotic (but not for the Royal Family and the British Ruling CLass - Try reading England My England. It is worth it just for the opening paragraph), he would not have followed the knee jerk anti western trends you can find in some socialist writers. But also highly critical of the casino capitalism that was prevalent, and damaging in the thirties, and, arguably, is equally damaging now. So i think it is justified to say that he would not have lumped all socialism in with Stalin as he was criticising and fighting Stalinism in Spain in the late 1930's. On teh otehr hand it is perfectly legitinmate to take his critique of the soviet system and deployt the same arguments he did. Just remember he did offer democratic socialism as the alternative.

Just as a little point. It is possible to criticise things without being neurotic. Why not just say its a crap argument and give reasons.

 
At 7:50 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It doesn't make a lot of sense to believe that anyone that likes Winston Churchill is a favor of Imperialism, so why would david say that Neo because she likes 1984 is a democratic socialist?

Orwell would have gotten a heart attack if he realized how the Brits have trashed his country. Not a very good present.

 
At 8:10 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

If Orwell were around today he probably would have signed this Manifesto and he'd be blogging at Harry's Place

 
At 8:38 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

Ymarsakar it was irony and Orwell was not too pleased with what was taking place in the 1930's and, wait for this, I agree with you! he would be v depressed if he saw England now. The reason why is because he saw English culture sas being submerged in a cheap and worthless mass produced culture. He argued this discouraged people from thinking and made them easier to dominate. Read his novel "Coming Up For Air"to get a taste of this. So if Orwell saw England and its cheap fast food, poor quality cinema, appalling tabloid papers, porn and violence obsessed media.....well he would probably do exactly what you said and had a heart attack on the spot. On the other hand The NHS, Free Education, The Welfare State, Pensions and all the rest of it would brighten him up.

As for the Euston MAnifesto, i have been wondering if he would sign He would certainly agree with some of the criticisms made of the left wing. But the document is so bland that even Ymarsakar might sign although they do claim to be left wing. The gist of it goes, "the war may well have been a mistake but lets all get on with it now we are there." Then a lot of stuff that probably won't make sense in teh US as it is the British left sniping at each other.

 
At 9:15 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

Then a lot of stuff that probably won't make sense in teh US as it is the British left sniping at each other.

The Left in general used to say 'fascism means war'. Now, for the majority, their only enemy appears to be capitalist America, Israel and liberal democracy.

A few anti-fascist leftists remain, like the Euston manifesto folks in Britain and the antifa in Europe. In America, FDR -style liberals are usually called neo-cons or right wingers. If Orwell, JFK or FDR were around now, the Chomsky-addled majority of the Left would call probably call them right-wing death beasts.

It's not too hard to understand.

 
At 9:17 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Sally said...

David: But if you read Orwell, and I have, it is difficult to picture him suddenly deciding capitalism was the way forward. Dunnno, people do change ideas, but....

Bingo! And if you're one of those who've ever changed their ideas -- and I am -- then you might not find it so difficult picturing Orwell doing so. Not that such change is easy in itself -- see the series of posts on the right under the heading "A Mind is a Difficult Thing to Change". Easier, perhaps, to cling to one's illusions even as reality diverges ever further....

 
At 9:28 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

i should be working...oh humm

1.maryatexitzero cheers for the example of the left sniping at each other to demonstrate what i was saying.

2. Sally. I actually had read that post. The point i was making is that it seems unlikely in the context of all that he had written However the march towards conservatism as people age is fairly common. Also the nature of the change is worth looking at. I know someone, a local politician who was a Trotskyist when younger and is now in th every right wing British National Party. Many people saw these as a big change. However I just saw it as swapping one set of inflexible 'truths' for another. So in a real sense not much change at all. I could imagine Orwell falling out with parties on the left, well he did in his own life time. However his reasons for doing this were that he saw them as anti-democratic and lacking the interests of all at heart. I am afraid to say that he would probably view the Neo-con approach as lot of rich white people imposing their ideas on everyone else. After all he was very familiar with the concept and practical implementation of empire. Read Burmese Days.

 
At 9:41 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger abhay k said...

A very informative post!

 
At 9:54 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Sally said...

I am afraid to say that he would probably view the Neo-con approach as lot of rich white people imposing their ideas on everyone else.

I don't think you should be afraid to say that, David, but maybe you should be embarrassed -- that sort of simplistic stereotyping is exactly what so irritated Orwell about the left of his day. He was never confused by the sort of ethical and cultural relativism that so permeates -- and vitiates -- the contemporary left, and would never have felt that a struggle against terrorist-supporting fascists was mere imperialism.

 
At 10:23 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

So if Orwell saw England and its cheap fast food, poor quality cinema, appalling tabloid papers, porn and violence obsessed media.....well he would probably do exactly what you said and had a heart attack on the spot. On the other hand The NHS, Free Education, The Welfare State, Pensions and all the rest of it would brighten him up.

See, you don't agree with me. Because just because people have the same "conclusions" superficially, doesn't mean their justifications and their trains of thoughts were on the same track. Which means, that orwell would be gratified to see people eating at McDonalds, and not starving. He would be gratified that the poorest of the poor could have some slight amelioration of their condition by free food and cheap appliances, to increase their standard of living.

The Welfare State and the consequences in breaking the "staunch and stubborn" nature of the British citizenry, is what would break his heart. Orwell's fight for tyranny would not be supported because welfare is about making people more dependent on tyrannical governments, not less. They would not support Orwell's fight of other tyrannies, because they are a tyranny themselves.

I don't think the war is a mistake, so I wouldn't sign something that said that it was.

America isn't all white. Living in America, that's rather an insult. And a blind one at that.

 
At 10:35 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

I could imagine Orwell falling out with parties on the left, well he did in his own life time. However his reasons for doing this were that he saw them as anti-democratic and lacking the interests of all at heart.

He'd be right.

I've noticed that BNP is working hard to suppress their anti-Semitic heritage. As a result, Chomsky and his ilk will probably stop supporting them.

In America, the fascists openly support the Palestinians, hate GWB and claim to be anti-war - just like the majority of the Left. Anti-fascist leftists have more in common with conservatives than with the anti-Semitic "anti-war" Left.

The sniping is between the Leftists who oppose fascism and the Leftists who don't.

 
At 10:59 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Moscowite said...

As a matter of fact, Orwell was an "imperialist" of some sort. Yes, he despised British rulling class (so called "Blimps") for their stupidity and recklessness, but he really admired effectivness of British Empire in providing peace, law and order almost without need to actually use force. And he made a very strong case against decolonization, noting that Hindus and Chinese could not defend themselvs against other imperialist predators - Japans and Germans. So political vacuum left after British withdrowal would immediately filled with much worse forces than Brits themselves. And he knew what he talked about: he himself was a colonial administrator in India. So he advocated giving India a status of dominion, with a right of Secession after the war was over, with all colonial administration stay at place (there would be chaos, famine and mass death if they depart). And he hoped, that if this right to Secession be given, Hindus will never use it. This all can be read in "Lion and Unicorn"

 
At 11:13 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Orwell was right, death, famine, death squads, and etc all happened in India because the Brits left. Just as it did in palestine, iran, and so on.

David, why don't you go and read this article by your compatriot.

http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_2_oh_to_be.html

Here'll, I'll even post a snippet for you.

The newspapers confirmed what I had long perceived before I left Britain: that the zeitgeist of the country is now one of sentimental moralizing combined with the utmost cynicism, where the government’s pretended concern for the public welfare coexists with the most elementary dereliction of duty. There is an absence of any kind of idealism that is a necessary precondition of probity, so that bad faith prevails almost everywhere. The government sees itself as an engineer of souls (to use the phrase so eloquently coined by Stalin with regard to writers who, of course, were expected to mold Homo Sovieticus by the power of their words). Government thus concerns itself with what people think, feel, and say—as well as with trying to change their freely chosen habits—rather than with performing its one inescapable duty: that of preserving the peace and ensuring that citizens may go about their lawful business in confidence and safety. It is more concerned that young men should not smoke cigarettes in prison or make silly jokes to policemen than that they should not attack and permanently maim their elders and betters.

One definition of decadence is the concentration on the gratifyingly imaginary to the disregard of the disconcertingly real. No one who knows Britain could doubt that it has very serious problems—economic, social, and cultural. Its public services—which already consume a vast proportion of the national wealth—are not only inefficient but completely beyond amelioration by the expenditure of yet more money. Its population is abysmally educated, to the extent that in a few more years Britain will not even have a well-educated elite. An often cynical and criminally minded population has been indoctrinated with shallow and gimcrack notions—for example, about social justice—that render it singularly unfit to compete in an increasingly competitive world. Not coincidentally, Britain has serious economic problems, even if the government has managed so far—in the eyes of the world, at least—to paper over the cracks. Unpleasant realities cannot be indefinitely disguised or conjured away, however.

 
At 11:23 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

That is a good argument sally and can be used to say that Orwell may have supported the war in Iraq. However, given that the key motivation for Iraq is the oil and not the freedom of Iraqis he may possibly have thought something different.
Also I suppose we are both doing what you criticised me for earlier; trying to guess what Orwell would say if he were alive. When he was alive he was mighty keen on democratic socialism.

"The inefficiency of capitalism has been proved all over Europe" The Lion & The Unicorn p103 in the edition i have.

As for the comment by Moscowite I have a horrible suspicion you are right but can't find it in the book...will keep looking.

As for the BNP. Have a look ymar, they agree with an awful lot that you say. Well they are VERY anti-Islamic. In fact they are anti-every non-white person. Here is my .favourite stupid thing from the BNP link
As for anti semitism its leader has denied the holocaust...that makes them pretty anti-semitic.

Ymarsakar it was irony again.

 
At 11:44 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

david, you astound me sometimes with your bold presentation of your opinion stated as though it's a self-evident tautology, not needing any proof or even qualifiers such as "I believe the evidence indicates that...".

Just as an example, we have here:

However, given that the key motivation for Iraq is the oil and not the freedom of Iraqis...

Sure, david, it's a given, of course; if you say so (/sarcasm).

I'll leave it to others to answer most of your comments; I simply don't have the time. But I will mention the following, found in the same comment of yours as the above:

When [Orwell] was alive he was mighty keen on democratic socialism.

Yes, it's hard to know what he would say now, and when we guess (speculatively, of course) we can only base our guesses on previous statements by the man. But I would suggest the following about democratic socialism: Orwell died in 1950. That's over fifty years ago, and a lot has happened with democratic socialism since then. It certainly still has its adherants, but some of those who originally thought it had great promise have changed their minds as they see the state of Europe today. Whether or not Orwell would have been among their number is impossible to know, as you indicate. But I bet that someone who's read more of his works on the subject than I have could venture an educated guess--accent on both the educated and the guess.

 
At 11:52 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Moscowite said...

I would say, US have commited a grave history mistake by insisting on dismantling British Empire after WWII instead trying to save it. And now are paying terrible price in their blood exactly for this. May be, US can absolve themselves of this sin by replacing this empire in some places by their own. And by refusing to perform this obligation US could be faced to much more nasty reality: need to exterminate some nations to ensure domestic security instead of rulin g them in old good British style.

 
At 11:54 AM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

cheers neo. Glad i astound you. Have to be a bit bold sometimes as i am arguing single handedly against several clever people.

we will all have to agree that we don't know what Orwell would say now...but my educated guess....etc. sort of fruitless that argument.

But the oil argument. Do you seriously think the US would have gone to so much trouble in that region if it were not for threat to oil supplies?

honestly?

And what is this the state of europe today business? I have travelled widely round europe - including the east - it is a much better condition than at any time in the past. Free, largely democratic, diverse, prosperous. I am not sure what image america has of us but it is really a great time to be a european. Life expectancy is way up, health is good, education expands...what else can i say? Problems tend to be confined to outlaying urban areas and some of th edeclining industrial areas...like where i live.

 
At 12:22 PM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

See The Carter Doctrine

And also..


Dick Cheney said,

Vice President Dick Cheney on August 26, 2002, in his important speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, "Armed with these weapons of terror and a seat at the top of 10% of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.

1990 before the Senate Armed Services Committee: "Iraq controlled 10% of the world's reserves prior to the invasion of Kuwait. Once Saddam Hussein took Kuwait, he doubled that to approximately 20% of the world's known oil reserves.... Once he acquired Kuwait and deployed an army as large as the one he possesses [on the border of Saudi Arabia], he was clearly in a position to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy and on that of most of the other nations of the world as well."

http://www.bcpolitics.ca/int_bushmotives.htm



this is the kind of stuff that leads me to say it is about the oil Neo. What do you think?

And surely the Neo con philosophy is that america should aggressively assert itself in the world? the fact that you think that you are doing this to bring democracy etc. to the middle east is touching and laudable. Meanwhile the hard faced oil men running your ountry know exactly why they are there.

 
At 12:56 PM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is always entertaining to hear a European reassuring himself that all is well. We have heard that before, several times, just before the deluge. "If not for Bush and his single-handed destruction of the planet, Europe's utopian future would be assured, blah blah blah"

The problem is not that Europeans are fooling themselves. The problem is that they are fooling themselves in the context of the under-the-covers demographic transitions occurring under their noses. The ongoing Lebanization of Europe, in which the flabbergasted Euros wake up to find themselves living in a different place than the place they went to sleep.

 
At 1:16 PM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous eddie t said...

Speaking of doublethink, here's an example that I've been thinking of this week as gasoline prices have spiked a bit and it's treated in the media as the beginning of the apocalypse. For decades I've heard this from "progressives": "America is like, totally evil dude 'cause we like totally oppress the world so we can have cheap fuel. We should be like saintly socialist Europe and have much higher petrol prices" And NOW..........."DUUUDE, look at how high gas prices are,that's BAD. In 2004 we needed to elect Kerry so gas prices would be high like Europe's but when they DID get higher in 2005 and 2006, it means Bush and Cheney caused it and it's EVIL."

 
At 1:27 PM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

hmm well that isnt really what orwell meant by doublethink but is an interesting argument. However if you go here you will see an argument that it is because or rising demand, fears about Nigeria and of course the worry that Iran is going to do something mad or the US is going to invade.
I love the idea of saintly socialist europe. It is the free market driving much of this place and we are just as profligate with, and greedy for oil as you lot

 
At 1:29 PM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous david said...

sorry here
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4922172.stm

 
At 1:39 PM, April 21, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Nice try david, but not everyone who disagrees with you supports the BNP. Please look up "strawman fallacy" on Uk google.

David can't refute the things in the article link, so come sup the BNP strawman and tries to fight it, as if the scarecrow is such a formidable opponent. Typical.

No, it's not an irony, it's called fighting weak people.

But the oil argument. Do you seriously think the US would have gone to so much trouble in that region if it were not for threat to oil supplies?

Back when OPEC tried to gauge the US oil market and sanctioned us, an invasion would have been about oil. Now, not so much.

The Gulf War 1 was about oil, which was why Saddam didn't get toppled back then. His oil protected him against a coalition. After 9/11, that didn't really work anymore, even with the UN bribery program.

Meanwhile the hard faced oil men running your ountry know exactly why they are there.

You mean Ted Kennedy's oil rich family assets? Ya, they're in control and lobbying for invasion of Iraq all right. I've already written about the econo-war aspect of Hamiltonian Economic War by feat of conquest. It is too expensive. Not only that, but it destabilizes the country, and you can't pump oil when terroists are blowing up pipelines like in Iraq. So the best mercantilism strategy, if the objective is oil, is to get a dictator in charge and keep him there. Ted Kennedy is great on that strategy.

Eddie, about the spin, can see that higher oil prices just means higher Texeco profits. Which goes back to their party line of "rich corporate fat cats". A well constructed propaganda construct is internally consistent to a very high degree, even when unexpected events occur in the real world. It isn't quite enough to upset the internal balance of a good propaganda line.

 
At 2:07 PM, April 21, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

david: the reality is that in the entire Middle East, oil is part of the picture and one of the reasons the region is important to everyone in the entire developed world, not just us. And of course we'd rather have allies there than enemies. Why is this something to be criticized? Do you suggest we support our enemies there, just to prove how noble and unselfish we are?

But to go from that notion to what you said--that oil was the key motivation for the war--is unwarranted. The war in Iraq was overdetermined. The key issues, in my opinion, were (a) Saddam's defiance of the terms of the cease-fire of the Gulf War. This, couple with evidence that he had WMDs or could and would have regained them rather easily (and the latter, I believe, is absolutely correct) led us to the conclusion that his defiance could not be allowed to stand. Then there are indeed the (b) human rights issues for the Iraqi people--which, granted, all alone, may or may not have sufficed to cause an invasion (indeed, we do not invade everywhere where there are such violations--but Saddam's were particularly egregious). In addition, there was (c) the desire to create the conditions so that an Arab country in that region would be an example of a freer and more democratic government, with protection of civil rights and liberties, and our ally.

This had less to do with oil (our dependence on Middle Eastern oil as a percentage of our oil consumption at present is not all that great, seventeen per cent) and more to do with countering the conditions that promote Islamic jihidism and anti-US terrorism in the region. It remains to be seen whether that endeavor will be successful; it was always a gamble.

The fact that Iraq is rich in oil doesn't hurt, of course, but I have seen nothing that convinces me that this was the predominant reason for the invasion. And, by providing that link to the Carter Doctrine, surely you're not suggesting that Jimmy Carter was the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the Iraqi war? The mind boggles!

 
At 2:56 PM, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Sally said...

I'd support Neo's general argument re: oil, but with a little more emphasis on the point that this particular war had little if anything to do with that important commodity; it would have been much cheaper -- financially, politically, strategically, or in any other sense -- to simply buy the oil as we'd been doing. The fact that the contemporary left so often falls back on this empty chant ("It's just about the oil!") itself reveals just how impoverished their world-view has become, reduced to a comic-book (or, worse, a Hollywood) vision of black-hatted villains vs. white-hatted "anti-capitalists".

 
At 3:18 PM, April 21, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It would have been so easy to get oil from Saddam. All you had to do was call up Kofi Annan and get a "deal" going with a few "greased palms", and oil contrats and vouchers would have been yours.

There are better ways to get oil than invasion.

 
At 4:46 PM, April 21, 2006, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

As for anti semitism its leader has denied the holocaust...that makes them pretty anti-semitic.

Like David Duke and other racist groups in America, the BNP is trying to present a kinder, gentler image of fascism. But, the truth usually comes out.

About the oil - the essay you linked to got the first part right - every American leader, Democrat and Republican believes that the United States is responsible for defending 'oil security' in the Middle East. But our government is not, never has, and probably never will seek to find an alternative to Saudi Arabia. Our govt. (and yours) believes that the Saudis should be the dominant power in the Middle East. The Bush administration, like every other government employee, Democrat and Republican, believes that our freindship with the Saudis who inspired and paid for 9/11 is the most important part of our foreign policy. One of the reasons we invaded Iraq was to defend our Islamofascist friends in Saudi Arabia from the 'threat' of Saddam.

If you've ever talked to any members of our government (or your government) you would know that they are incapable of imagining a Middle East policy that doesn't revolve around maintaining the power of our Islamofascist friends in Saudi Arabia - despite 9/11 and despite the fact that the KSA is running low on oil.

 
At 9:12 AM, April 22, 2006, Anonymous david said...

The fact that Iraq is rich in oil doesn't hurt, of course, but I have seen nothing that convinces me that this was the predominant reason for the invasion. And, by providing that link to the Carter Doctrine, surely you're not suggesting that Jimmy Carter was the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the Iraqi war? The mind boggles

It is hard to see Jimmy leaning over and giving Dubbya advice. The point about the cCarter Doctrine is that it has arguablly informed American Foreign policy ever since. Reagan certainly adopted it. On of the odd things aboout Democratic goverments is that although yuou get political change at the top there are some very consistent lines of approach - particularly in international relations. Well there has to be or it would be more chaotic than it already is. So , no Jimmy isn't there, but thestrategy is still akey part of US foreign policy.

I take sally's point that in lots of ways it would have been cheaper to simply buy the oil. However it was about securing the long term supply, not just from Iraq but from the surrounding states. There is a conservative argument to make that the West needs oil in large amounts and therefore the only sensible startegy is to use military force to secure that oil supply. I think this was probably the logic at the top levels of US Government and that all the WMD's and talk of liberation were just window dressing to cover up a brutal, if rational, policy that would have been harder to sell to the American public.

 
At 10:30 AM, April 22, 2006, Anonymous david said...

The whole conservative argument that i allude to above is outlined here at the heritage foundation This is the link you put up neo. If you read all the way to the bottom it is a long series of reasons for miltary fore to be used in the maintainance of oil supplies.

So from now on I think i am entitled to say that the war was, probably, fought to secure US oil supplies.

what do you think?

 
At 6:55 PM, April 22, 2006, Anonymous grackle said...

If you read all the way to the bottom it is a long series of reasons for miltary fore to be used in the maintainance of oil supplies. So from now on I think i am entitled to say that the war was, probably, fought to secure US oil supplies. what do you think?

Actually the article’s thrust is how to be less dependent on foreign oil, with some space given to the economic necessity of oil. Here’s the concluding paragraph:

It is only a matter of time until America’s energy security, including its economic health and defense capabilities, will be jeopardized by the growing political instability, terrorism, and potential warfare in the Middle East. Over time, the U.S. needs to limit its dependence on foreign oil, especially from the Middle East, shifting to other sources of supply and eventually to new types of energy sources. Limiting U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil will be a major strategic challenge for the U.S. in the coming decades.

One of the main points of the article is that war in the Middle East does not help America’s oil supply, so to conclude on the basis of this article that the US is fighting for oil in Iraq is to misread the article.

 
At 2:53 AM, April 23, 2006, Anonymous david said...

Grackle. Sorry to post this at such length but i think youcan see that I have not misread the document. Point two is fairly blatant...

Implementing a Three-Pronged Strategy

The United States and its allies need to pursue a three-pronged strategy by preparing for contingen­cies in which the oil-rich regimes become destabi­lized, assisting friendly Persian Gulf states in enhancing security of their oil facilities, and diver­sifying U.S. energy sources and oil imports to reduce dependence on Persian Gulf oil. Specifically, the United States should:

1.Boost efforts to roll back Iran’s subversive ideological, terrorist, and military threats to Iraq and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf through close cooperation with those govern­ments. It is crucial that the United States deter, contain, or disarm Iran through cooperation with its allies, particularly those oil-producing states that are most directly threatened by Iran. The U.S. defense and intelligence community should build capacity in Iraq, Turkey, and other border states. The U.S. should ascertain that these coun­tries are staffing their intelligence and internal security agencies with reliable personnel.

2. Expand military contingency plans and pre­pare a rapid reaction forcein cooperation with U.S. allies in the region to secure and protect the Persian Gulf oil infrastructures if terrorists attempt to seize or destroy them. Such a force should be fully interoperable with the Gulf Cooperation Council militaries. U.S. military and intelligence agencies should support coun­tries and companies in the region in efforts to increase their defenses against terrorist attacks on oil facilities.
The Administration should also ensure that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies receive full cooperation from the Persian Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, in the war against terrorism. An integrated and computer­ized real-time operations center is needed to integrate intelligence and operations to protect oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf. The U.S. should pressure Persian Gulf states to intercept and disrupt all financial support for al-Qaeda and similar organizations around the world. These efforts should include using financial con­trols and improved banking transparency to cut funding for virulently anti-American/anti-West­ern clergy, radical Islamic academies (madras­sahs), and those elements of private or state-run media that incite terrorism.

3. Diversify the sources of U.S. energy importsaway from the Persian Gulf, importing more oil from other sources such as West Africa and Eurasia, more natural gas from Canada and Mexico, and more liquid natural gas (LNG) from Russia and Africa. The Bush Administra­tion should direct the Departments of State and Energy to provide economic aid incentives and technical assistance to non–Middle Eastern oil-producing countries to simplify regulations and speed up the licensing process for expanding and building new pipelines and refiners.
Diversify the U.S. energy basketby expand­ing domestic production of oil and gas and by lifting the bureaucratic barriers to greater use of nuclear energy. The White House and Department of Energy should actively lobby Congress to expand domestic petroleum and gas production, such as in ANWR; to allow states to override the federal limitations on continental shelf exploration and exploitation; and to speed up licensing and construction of LNG terminals.

 
At 12:13 PM, April 23, 2006, Anonymous grackle said...

Grackle. Sorry to post this at such length but i think you can see that I have not misread the document.

If you read all the way to the bottom it is a long series of reasons for military force to be used in the maintenance of oil supplies.



None of the material the writer has posted from the article mentions anything about “military force” against any nation. There is mention of “military contingency plans” in case “terrorists attempt to seize or destroy” Persian Gulf oil infrastructures, but not a word about invading countries & toppling legitimate governments.

I repeat: One of the main points of the article is that war in the Middle East does not help America’s oil supply, so to conclude on the basis of this article that the US is fighting for oil in Iraq is to misread the article.

Readers, read the linked article & judge for yourselves.

 
At 1:07 PM, April 23, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

David still hasn't explained why military expeditions to secure oil are less expensive than supporting a dictator and getting kickbacks from that dictator in the form of dictator secured oil at low market price.

It's unlikely david can or will do that, because it would cause him to question his beliefs.

 
At 4:19 PM, April 23, 2006, Anonymous david said...

Grackle this terrorist word in the document is where we disagree on interpretation. I think it includes a wider group than you. Did you think Saddam was a terrorist? Do you think the current Iranian state is? I would argue that the writers of the document do.



ymar the truth is that we tried supporting the dictator saddam.


Once we lost control of him and he wasn't up for the bribes etc. we turned to force. i am sure you would like to believe that we are there to spread democracy but in the real world the bottom line is th eoil. As i have said before if Iraq was oil free in the middle of Africa he could have killed who the hell he liked and we would have left him alone.

 
At 8:28 PM, April 23, 2006, Anonymous grackle said...

Did you think Saddam was a terrorist?

No, Saddam was not a terrorist. He was someone who thought he could get away with using terrorists. Saddam was the head of a terror-sponsoring state. Now he’s just a pathetic figure in the docket. Others would do well to heed his fate.

Do you think the current Iranian state is?

I think Iran is a state sponsor of terror. The article said “terrorists” & it meant “terrorists,” not nations. Nations can’t seize their own “oil infrastructures.” Face it, you misread the article, which is no big sin since we all misread things from time to time. I repeat: One of the main points of the article is that war in the Middle East does not help America’s oil supply, so to conclude on the basis of this article that the US is fighting for oil in Iraq is to misread the article.

the truth is that we tried supporting the dictator saddam. Once we lost control of him and he wasn't up for the bribes etc. we turned to force.

This is a variation on the hollowed The-US-Created-Saddam anti-warrior meme. I’ve seen anti-warriors at various times claim the US ‘created’ Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Castro, etc. All you have to do is mention a despot & an anti-warrior will pop up & claim the US ‘created’ him. And always after the US ‘creates’ them the US invariably loses “control” of them & the US-created monster goes on rampages among hapless villagers & other misdeeds. This strange Frankensteinian meme is one of the anti-warrior favorites. Anti-warriors can’t seem to comprehend something as simple as shifting alliances. If the US ever had anything to do with a despot, then the anti-warriors hold the US responsible forever after for whatever atrocities those murderers might perform. The monsters themselves? Oh, they are always absolved of their villainy.

 
At 8:30 PM, April 23, 2006, Anonymous grackle said...

Did you think Saddam was a terrorist?

No, Saddam was not a terrorist. He was someone who thought he could get away with using terrorists. Saddam was the head of a terror-sponsoring state. Now he’s just a pathetic figure in the docket. Others would do well to heed his fate.

Do you think the current Iranian state is?

I think Iran is a state sponsor of terror. The article said “terrorists” & it meant “terrorists,” not nations. Nations can’t seize their own “oil infrastructures.” Face it, you misread the article, which is no big sin since we all misread things from time to time. I repeat: One of the main points of the article is that war in the Middle East does not help America’s oil supply, so to conclude on the basis of this article that the US is fighting for oil in Iraq is to misread the article.

the truth is that we tried supporting the dictator saddam. Once we lost control of him and he wasn't up for the bribes etc. we turned to force.

This is a variation on the hollowed The-US-Created-Saddam anti-warrior meme. I’ve seen anti-warriors at various times claim the US ‘created’ Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Castro, etc. All you have to do is mention a despot & an anti-warrior will pop up & claim the US ‘created’ him. And always after the US ‘creates’ them the US invariably loses “control” of them & the US-created monster goes on rampages among hapless villagers & other misdeeds. This strange Frankensteinian meme is one of the anti-warrior favorites. Anti-warriors can’t seem to comprehend something as simple as shifting alliances. If the US ever had anything to do with a despot, then the anti-warriors hold the US responsible forever after for whatever atrocities those murderers might perform. The monsters themselves? Oh, they are always absolved of their villainy.

 
At 11:43 AM, April 24, 2006, Anonymous david said...

the truth is that we tried supporting the dictator saddam. Once we lost control of him and he wasn't up for the bribes etc. we turned to force.

This is a variation on the hollowed The-US-Created-Saddam anti-warrior meme


No it isn't. It is an argument that we supported saddam for a while. Then when we lost control of him, and potentially control of the oil fields, we went for the military option. This is simply an argument that what took place was an example of real politick, not an anti-warrior meme whatever that is supposed to mean.

You can argue that this interpretation of the events is wrong by providing evidence that the original support of saddam was for a noble reason, say the support of freedom in Iraq. (Sounds like quite a task.)

Or you can argue that the invasion of Iraq was motivated by a desire to free the Iraqi people from and evil dictator (seems an easier task) But please stop putting these abstract terms to it that lack a clear definition.

If you want to debate with opposing views then go for it. Coining new terms that are not clear in meaning does not help advance your argument.

 
At 4:18 PM, April 24, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

You can argue that this interpretation of the events is wrong by providing evidence that the original support of saddam was for a noble reason, say the support of freedom in Iraq. (Sounds like quite a task.)

Why can't you argue against this interpretation by saying stating that the US never supported Saddam?

ymar the truth is that we tried supporting the dictator saddam.

I guess the truth is whatever you, david, believes. Free from debate.

The Brits may have supported Saddam. If that is what you mean by "we". I can personally attest to the fact that I never supported Saddam, and Bush never did either. If David thinks something that "we" dont, he should say who supported Saddam and now does not.

 
At 4:01 AM, April 25, 2006, Anonymous grackle said...

It is an argument that we supported saddam for a while. Then when we lost control of him, and potentially control of the oil fields, we went for the military option.

You can argue that this interpretation of the events is wrong by providing evidence that the original support of saddam was for a noble reason, say the support of freedom in Iraq.


It’s no secret that the US supported Saddam during his war with Iran. That’s a noble enough reason for me. Iran, not long before, had taken control of the US embassy & held the US embassy employees hostage for over a year. The US stopped supporting him after the Iraq/Iran War. Perhaps he became a little miffed. The US was never in “control of the oil fields” in Iraq. Except for repairing them the US is still not in “control” of them. Like many other countries, the US buys some of its oil from Iraq; that’s the only control the US has ever had over Iraqi oil fields. The US “went for the military option” first when Saddam invaded an ally & then when he failed to comply with the terms of his first defeat.

 
At 7:26 AM, April 25, 2006, Anonymous david said...

Ymar Why can't you argue against this interpretation by saying stating that the US never supported Saddam?

cos you did....

see grackle's post

 
At 1:40 PM, April 25, 2006, Anonymous Spanky the Fair said...

During the Iraq-Iran war, the US provided, among other things, weapons, spare parts, and satellite intelligence on Iranian troop movements.

Nothing major, our involvement was fairly low-key, but we did actively support Iraq against Iran.

Oh! Look! I must hate America because I stated historical fact that casts America in a negative light!

 
At 4:01 AM, June 13, 2006, Blogger popwilleatitself said...

really? i find kundera extremely pretentious. i mean its like he means for evyrthng to sound high-brow but its really just mediocre digression than anything else. i wonder if its i have a strong bias and preference for staright forward fiction. the likes of kureishi. i know theyre incomparable their work-styles but still.tho i have to say kundera has inspired an incredible number of brilliant writers. one being adam thirlwell whose debut novel, 'politics' i rate among the best ive evr read. awesome.

 

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