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Monday, April 26, 2004

PARALLELS TO PEG AND PESSIMISM

I'm not one for stealing material, but I'll borrow an idea from Peg's blog and write a little bit about the draft, which she recently wrote about. I've heard lots of inklings from many different sources that a military draft is planned after the 2004 election, considering Bush wins. Now at first, I chalked this up to campus liberals looking for an issue to use against Bush that would fire up college students. And it did indeed fire me up - the next chance I got, I was searching for news articles online that made any mention of a post-9/11 draft. I found a few reliable ones that only mentioned it as a crazy idea put forward in Congress by either a radical right-winger seeking more overseas occupations or a radical left-winger looking for an issue that would divide people. I found several websites that talked of the serious possibility of a draft under the Bush Administration, but these were all insanely-liberal, conspiracy theory websites.

So where in the world did all this talk of a draft come from? The Bush Administration laughs it off and says that it's no serious possibility, and only the looniest of Congressmen have actually taken the time to draft legislation for a new conscription. Yet most of the professors in the history department have a much more pessimistic view of what is to come in the next few years, and their reasoning makes sense: they're judging from what's happened in the past, which looks likely to repeat itself here. One professor told me, "You can't occupy the world if you don't have the force to do it." He's right - but the Bush Administration doesn't want to occupy the world, right? Of course not, but we may inadvertently end up doing so because of a complete lack of strategy.

If there's one thing I've been most disappointed about with George Bush, it's his administration's handling of the war in Iraq. In history, we talk about levels of war - those levels are tactics, strategy, and grand strategy. Tactics are used directly in combat - one army versus another, one piece taking another in a chess game. Strategy is the actual formulation of movement from one point to another, and grand strategy is knowing how to win the game. The Bush Administration has no grand strategy to speak of - we're going at the Middle East like we're killing snakes, but we still have troops in Afghanistan at the same time. Eventually, our forces will be spread too thin so as to be effective - exactly the thing that Bush preached against in the 2000 election. He asked for pay raises and upgrades of all kinds for the military and said that the random peacekeeping missions that involved US forces had our armies scattered too thinly around the world. Bush wanted to fix that, but instead our forces are being overextended into new areas of the world, and this time they're at war, not at peace.

I won't fault the Administration for going to war - there was no question about going into Afghanistan, and the Iraqi people are probably better off now than under Saddam Hussein, but we'd better develop an end-game and a grand strategy quickly, before a draft is needed. The Middle East needs a reconstruction plan on par with the Marshall Plan of post-WWII Europe - something that rebuilds and revitalizes countries while bringing them firmly into the US's point of view. Russia requires further engagement, and though it sounds crazy, Russia should be welcomed in to NATO sometime within the next decade. Bringing Russia into line with the west can create a hedge against the growing power of the Chinese and can preclude any alliance between Russia and China. But is anyone thinking this far into the future? I doubt it - right now the Administration is preoccupied with the mounting troop losses in Iraq. Yes, we should be concerned about that, too, but instead of fighting a day-to-day war over there, our government and top military brass should be thinking decade-to-decade.

Think of how our positions in international relations have changed. In the 1980s, the US supported Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein - there's no denying that. And we can say that they faced even greater threats to the US than they presented, that we had to help them, and that it was a different world then. Perhaps if someone or some organization had been planning ahead, we could have seen the real threats of these two men, or we could have continued to engage them and brought them in line with the West (their countries more than themselves - Hussein and bin Laden definitely have some mental issues of their own).

All of this presents a very pessimistic view of the US's short term future, but it doesn't have to be that way. Hopefully, some in the Administration will take a step back and try to look at the big picture - find an end-game for us militarily in Iraq and realize that relations between us must continue to foster peace. Otherwise, a new Iraqi leader may rise up and threaten us or his neighbors within just a few years. Unless expanded strategies are developed soon, a draft is a very real possibility. After all, 1.4 million people (the size of our armed forces in total) can't be everywhere at once.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

WEEKEND AT HOME

Well, the weekend is long gone now, but I spent Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon back in Kanopolis. It was Pete and Bonnie Orozco's 25th wedding anniversary, and my family had gotten an invitation to it some time back. My mom and I went to mass and the reception afterwards, and it was great to spend a little bit of time at home. Since I won't be there this summer, I'm really enjoying the small bits of time that I do get to spend there.

This week has been pretty busy, with a term paper due today. It was about the domestication of horses (this history of, not the actual breaking of), so it was quite a different topic than what I'm used to. But it was interesting nonetheless, and it's good to branch out and work with things that you usually don't. I actually ended up learning quite a bit in the process.

My computer is down for most practical purposes right now. It can still do word processing, but the internet is down. I'm not entirely sure what happened - I was working with it a couple of days ago and it froze up, which isn't all that uncommon of an occurrence. But it had a lot of trouble restarting, and when it finally managed to do so, I noticed that the desktop picture that appeared on the screen was one that I hadn't used for months. When it got completely started up, I discovered that my hard drive had done a time warp of some sort - all of my settings had reverted to what they were about 9 months ago...that meant that all the internet connection information was gone. Thankfully, all of my files were still intact, and I was able to continue working on several projects that I had going.

It's amazing how reliant we've become on computers - I would have been practically lost had the thing crashed for good. At least its up and running now, and when I can spend some time with it again, I can get the internet working as well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

CONTINUING STUDIES IN ROMAN HISTORY

I think that working with Roman history for a few semesters has started me on a lifetime of interest on the subject. Normally for a class, I'll do the readings and whatever homework is required and learn material for tests and quizzes, but with ancient history, I've found myself wanting to know more and more that isn't being taught in the classroom. I'd like to think that by now I'm pretty well rounded on the history of Rome from 753 BC to 476 AD (the founding to the fall of the West) and knowledgeable about the history taking place in Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean at the same time. I've come out of my year studying Roman history with a few specialties - the Punic Wars (especially the Second Punic War, 218-202 BC), the nature of the Julio-Claudian line of emperors (Augustus to Nero, 27 BC - 68 AD), and the technology of the ancient world.

With those few areas of specialization, I've started to search for more and more that add pillars of support to that knowledge. Just the other day for no particular reason at all, I realized that I knew practically nothing about music in the ancient world. So off to the library I went, and I found two decent books that included the subject. Admittedly, such a study is very inconclusive - not only is the literary and archeological evidence about ancient music sketchy, the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other ancient societies had no way of writing down musical scales, let alone entire songs (although Pythagoras picked up on music being simple mathematics). I haven't gotten through the two sections in the two books yet, but they're waiting for me as soon as I get some time. One book (what looks to be the more informative of the two) is in French, of which I understand very little, but my understanding of Spanish and basic Latin will be very helpful in getting through it.

The graduate teacher that I help with Roman History flew through the emperors Claudius and Nero today - it's a shame that we can't spend more time on the real interesting figures in Roman history, but with a class covering more than 1000 years in just 16 weeks, in depth studies are quite impossible. But Claudius in particular is one interesting character - probably my favorite Roman emperor, although he'd be in competition with Augustus. Though medical evidence is sketchy, it's my opinion that Claudius likely had cerebal palsy - he had a bad leg and stammered horribly. His entire family (the Julio-Claudians, the family of the Emperor Augustus) was embarrassed of him and kept him hidden from view as much as possible, all the while treating him horribly in private. But Claudius was smarter than all of them - he played the fool like everyone thought he really was, although his brilliance provided him with an excellent education and in his life he wrote dozens of history books of Rome, the Etruscans, and the Carthaginians. It wasn't long after Claudius' ambiguously insane and sexually deviant nephew Caligula took the throne that the private guards of the emperors began to question dictatorship. Caligula was murdered by his own men, and his uncle Claudius, found hiding behind a curtain in the palace, was proclaimed emperor (it was assumed that a "lame duck" like Claudius could do Rome no harm like Caligula and Tiberius' right hand man, Sejanus, had done). But Claudius surprised them all - he didn't surrender power back to greedy senators, but made the office of the emperor a respectable position. He had many successes during his reign and was generally popular inside and out of Rome, throughout the Empire. Claudius had his drawbacks though; his highly superstitious nature and his full trust in the people around him. This trust led to his suspected murder at the hands of his wife (who was also his niece), Agrippina the Younger.

He's a fascinating character in Roman history, and it's too bad that we couldn't spend more time studying his reign. Hopefully a few students will have had their interest peaked enough to continue further study on their own.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

A LONG POLITICAL RANT

Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, will be at K-State today giving a Landon Lecture. I’ve only been to one in the past, and that was when Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma was here in 2002 – he did an excellent job, and I think the Landon Lecture series always has decent speakers, regardless of their political persuasions. I remember J.C. Watts speaking on the prominent issues of the time, which in the spring of 2002 would have been the War on Terrorism and the whole issue of tax cuts. I also remember him absolutely stumping the campus liberals who wanted so badly to challenge his political beliefs, but one key thing stood in their way: his race! J.C. Watts was a black Republican, and that didn’t make sense to a lot of the prerequisite liberals who show up to conservative speeches – several of them who probably would have shouted at a Sam Brownback or a Pat Roberts simply stammered and fumbled over their canned liberal questions about Watts’ beliefs. He, of course, was pretty gentle in his responses, of which his passive demeanor normally would have been fiercely challenged by a fired-up liberal, but somehow his race put a definitive punctuation on his answers – it’s not just upper-class, white people who are Republicans and conservatives.

I’m guessing that Robert Mueller, who replaced Louis Freeh as director, will be discussing the 9/11 Commission quite a bit, and even if he doesn’t, questions about intelligence lapses will be posed. After all, Freeh himself is sitting before the commission this morning. This lecture is being held in Bramlage Coliseum instead of the usual home of the Landon series, McCain Auditorium. Security is going to be tight, according to the Collegian; large bags, backpacks, signs, and banners are not allowed, and attending students will be subject to searches. I don’t think that’s a problem – we’re dealing with an incredibly high-ranking official here, and not only would bags and backpacks present a security threat, Mueller is here to give a speech: because of his position, this particular speech and the topics that will be discussed have the possibility to spur anti-Bush Administration activism. Banning banners and signs is a logical step considering this is a university event, not a riotous street brawl.

The whole idea of a 9/11 Commission that is probing to find out “why the Bush Administration let this happen” seems ridiculous to me. While I do think it’s good to find out where we went wrong with our intelligence, it’s entirely plausible that 9/11 wasn’t preventable, politically or militarily. Bush didn’t have actionable intelligence prior to September 2001, and even if he did, the political backlash against any action at that time would have been massive. At this point, I’ll go on a brief tangent, yet one that is completely relatable to the subject at hand:

There were very few people left here in the dorms over the weekend, and with boredom running rampant on Saturday afternoon, a friend and I decided to watch a movie. We put in The Sum of All Fears, a movie that I’d seen already on top of reading the book by Tom Clancy. The basic premise of the story is this: terrorists want to start a conflict between the United States and Russia in an attempt to destroy the foundations of the two nations, thus leaving the international stage open to their ideological slant. In the book, the ideology was Islamic fundamentalism, yet the movie opted for political correctness and made Nazis the bad guys (yeah, they’re sure causing a lot of trouble these days, aren’t they?), but that’s a topic for another rant. Anyway, the terrorists succeed in starting an escalating conflict between the two nations by detonating a nuclear bomb at the Super Bowl shortly after Russian leadership has changed. The US and Russia become deeply suspicious of each other in a very short time, and the violence and conflict escalates into tank and air warfare until Jack Ryan, the story’s hero, contacts both sides and talks some sense into them. It’s a good premise as well as a realistic one, reflecting the precariousness of international relations – I’d recommend the book first and the movie as an afterthought.

Anyway, my friend and I were watching the movie, and he became absolutely distraught when the Super Bowl and half of Baltimore were vaporized by the terrorists. As the escalation continued between the US and Russia, he became more and more turned off until he actually quit watching the movie (so for all he knows, the world ended!). When the bomb initially went off at the Super Bowl, he said, “that’s not supposed to happen – they’re supposed to stop it”. Nor was the US aircraft carrier in the North Sea to be bombed, or any of the other conflicts that happened in the movie supposed to take place. But his disgust with what happened in Hollywood was indicative of what people are feeling about 9/11. It wasn’t supposed to happen. How could we have let it happen? Weren’t the signs there? It’s like a bad movie playing right before our eyes, and George Bush is the horrible director.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, mierda happens. No, 9/11 wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did, for any number of reasons, not the least of which can be blamed on the divided, partisan nature of our government. OK, so the Bush Administration got some sketchy information in August of 2001 saying that bin Laden was determined to attack inside the United States. So are you liberals out there that are blaming the Bush Administration for 9/11 trying to tell me that a memo alone saying that “an attack is possible” was actionable intelligence? Give me a break. Let’s play “what if” for a minute: let’s say that with that memo that Bush received in August, the Administration decided to launch a War on Terrorism to root out terrorist organizations and their members across the globe. It may have cost billions of dollars, it would have been putting our troops in danger, and the mission itself would have been somewhat ambiguous, battling with a non-state actor in the international community. Our allies in NATO, the EU, and the UN would have probably been against us, but more than anything, we would have been against ourselves.

Would it have made sense in August of 2001 to start a War on Terrorism to stop Osama bin Laden once and for all? Possibly, but hindsight is 20/20, and while the American public and Democrats in Congress would have debated what to do, 9/11 probably would have happened anyway. Democracy through Federal Republicanism is not a fast, irrational system: the system of checks and balances is ideal for avoiding any rush to judgment or quick decisions. NO ONE would have wanted action against terrorism before 9/11, because quite simply, what would have been the point? Ignorant Americans didn’t see the threat until it had their own people plummeting out of the 90th floor of a bombed skyscraper. For better or for worse, 9/11 woke us up, and maybe in the future we can preemptively deal with threats because we’ll be looking for them, not waiting for them to hit us head on before we do anything.

And that’s why I don’t understand liberals. That’s a generalization: surely not all liberals are that damn stupid, but they want the 9/11 Commission to find out why Bush didn’t do anything to stop terrorism, yet they’re against preemption. They want our problems taken care of, but they don’t want to put forth the money or the people or the effort to do so. Any action that prevented 9/11 by the Bush Administration would have no doubt been deemed a waste of time and money by Democrats. Can you imagine that? What if the Bush Administration had put troops into Afghanistan in August 2001 and somehow prevented 9/11 – would there have been any reward for that? Absolutely not. Instead, it would have been political suicide. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, so we form commissions to admonish those who didn’t do enough to prevent disaster, when those wanting the prevention would have likely prevented any preventive measures in the first place.

Monday, April 12, 2004

HAPPY EASTER

Dad, Mom, and Michael came to Manhattan yesterday to have Easter dinner with me. It wasn't anything too fancy - Mom and I went to church at 11:00am and we ate at Bob's Diner afterwards (one of the only Manhattan places open on holidays...we ate there for Thanksgiving dinner, too!). They weren't here for very long, but it felt different playing the host instead of going somewhere for the holiday. I said that maybe Bob's can become a holiday tradition for us.

And more good news...I made it through Lent without a single bite of beef, pork, chicken, or any other type of meat (fish and eggs excluded). Eating chicken fried steak and bacon, too, for dinner yesterday made me think of how lucky I am to be eating that kind of food every day, if I want to be. Not everyone has that luxury, though, and that was the point of my sacrifice. I think I lost some weight, but it was worth it.

Friday, April 09, 2004

BLOG DROUGHT

It's been a long time since I've written anything for the ol' blog, but you can chalk that up to my being busy. I just haven't had time to sit down and filter out any coherent thoughts to post on here, so we're in a season of blog drought. Hopefully it'll pass before long.

I'm very close to finishing my paper on ancient engineering and technology - it'll be presented as a handout to my Roman History class. That's been quite a project so far, and you can throw in an unusual amount of tests, other papers, and homework on top of that (this week, anyway). Political Inquiry and Analysis has a CD for the class which helps to do worksheets that came with one of the books. Four chapters worth of worksheets are due later today, so I've spent the last couple of nights logging a lot of computer/worksheet time. It felt really odd, too - history and political science majors don't have the traditional "homework", like worksheets or answering the questions at the end of a textbook chapter. Nope - we've got readings, lectures, essays, and tests. So actually spending time on written homework in the form of worksheets made me feel like I was back in high school again.

I had a test due in History of North American Indians on Monday. They're essay tests that you take outside of class and are focused on an old newspaper article relating to Indians in some way. I got that wrapped up on Sunday night and turned in on Monday, but I've been working almost non-stop since then, so it's easy to see why the blog took a backseat this week. I've got a presentation to give next week and a research paper (on the domestication of horses) due on April 22nd, so I'm probably going to keep busy for the next couple of weeks, as well. This is just a brief post to let you know that I'm still around!

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