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Bully Pulpit

The term "bully pulpit" stems from President Theodore Roosevelt's reference to the White House as a "bully pulpit," meaning a terrific platform from which to persuasively advocate an agenda. Roosevelt often used the word "bully" as an adjective meaning superb/wonderful. The Bully Pulpit features news, reasoned discourse, opinion and some humor.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

From "Reflections On War"

In these particular passages — transcribed directly from the essay "Reflections On War" reprinted in the book Five Moral PiecesUmberto Eco's commentary regarding the Gulf War in 1991 is just as fresh and relevant today as it was then. The full text, as far as I know, isn't available online, but the book is worth buying just for this, the full text of the previously posted "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt" (titled "Ur-Fascism" in the book), and three other great essays.

More wisdom from Umberto Eco:

War is no longer waged on a front between two sides... In the wars of the past, potential enemies were interned (or massacred), while compatriots who spoke in favor of the enemy's cause from enemy territory were usually hanged as soon as the war was over. But war can no longer be frontal, because of the very nature of multinational capitalism. That Iraq was armed by western industry is no accident. It falls within the logic of mature capitalism, which eludes the control of individual states. When the American government finds that the television companies are playing the enemy's game, it still thinks it is faced with a plot hatched by pro-Communist eggheads. In the same way, the television companies labor under the illusion that they are the impersonation of Humphrey Bogart, who has the corrupt gangster listen to the sound of the printing presses over the telephone as he says: "It's the press, old chum, and you can't stop it." But the logic of the news industry is that it sell news, preferably dramatic news. It is not that the media refuse to play along with war: the media are merely a pianola performing a piece previously transcribed on its roll. In modern wars, therefore, everyone has the enemy behind the lines...

To conclude that classic wars produced reasonable results — a final equilibrium — derives from a Hegelian prejudice, according to which history has a positive direction. There is no scientific (or logical) proof that the order of the Mediterranean after the Punic Wars, or that of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, corresponded perforce with a state of equilibrium. It could have been a state of imbalance that would not have occurred had there been no war. The fact that for tens of thousands of years humanity has used warfare as a solution for states of disequilibrium has no more demonstratable value than the fact that in the same period humanity learned to resolve states of psychological imbalance by using alcohol or other equally devastating substances.

And this brings us to the notion of taboos. Moravia suggested that, since it took centuries for humanity to develop the incest taboo because of the realization that endogamy gave negative results, we have perhaps reached the point in which humanity has become aware of the need to proclaim war a taboo. Realists have replied that a taboo is not "proclaimed" by moral or intellectual decree, it is formed over millennia in the obscure recesses of the collective consciousness... Of course, a taboo is not proclaimed: it proclaims itself... It is therefore compatible with intellectual duty and with common sense to announce the necessity for a taboo, although no one has the authority to say that a certain time is required for its coming to maturity...

It is an intellectual duty to proclaim the inconceivability of war. Even if there were no alternative solutions. At most, to remind people that our century has known an excellent alternative to war, and that is "cold" war. In the end, history will have to admit that cold warfare, the source of horrors, injustices, intolerance, local conflicts, and widespread terror, has proved a very humane and mild solution in terms of casualties, and cold warfare can even boast victors and vanquished...

War cannot be justified, because — in terms of the rights of the species — it is worse than a crime. It is a waste.


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