Monday, June 30, 2008

Humanitarian War

Blogger's Note: This is a rather long post, and for such a long post it is rather dry. The key point I'm making is in the last paragraph; the intervening 1700 words are all framing and support, so feel free to skip them (or go back to them).

Wikipedia, that stalwart of internet reliability, lists 60+ wars that started since 1991. As an added bonus, they have an ongoing wars page, which includes some conflicts that are carryovers from the previous century. It's interesting, and a way bigger list than I was intending to write about. So I'll just point you in that direction and move on.

The big thing I was looking for was wars authorized by the Security Council since the end of the cold war. Reading "Chasing the Flame", four big wars stand out, to my American/Anglo biased perspective. These are the Persian Gulf War, the Kosovo War, Afghanistan, and Gulf War II. Appropriate big omissions of foreign military intervention are Rwanda and Darfur.

The last 20 years was bigger than this, with more going on, but these 6 conflicts give us an interesting opportunity to examine war's legality, legitimacy, and underlying motive. Each of these conflicts can have a case made for or against Humanitarian War. Each conflict, case-by case:

1. Persian Gulf War
Legal? Yes, authorized by the UN Security Council
Legitimate? Yes. A coalition expels an invading/occupying force from a sovereign nation.
Humanitarian? Debatable. The crimes committed by Saddam Hussein, the huge, morally reprehensible ones, were against populations living with Iraq, were committed in the late 80s, and were largely unrelated to the invasion of Kuwait. Likewise, the victorious coalition hurt the regime and ended the occupation, but they stood by while purges were enacted against populations within Iraq; the Shi'a were most hurt, while the US managed to intervene to help the Kurds later in Northern Iraq. All this distracts from the point; the war had the chance to be humanitarian, chose not to be, and instead operated in defense of sovereignty.

2. Kosovo
Legal? While earlier NATO bombing had been supported by the UN, the actual move to defend and liberate Kosovo was taken without either the permission or the explicit opposition of the Security Council. This is a grey area, but the war probably falls on the side of illegal.
Legitimate? Many within the UN tended to view it as such, and it was a war against a previously-proven genocidal government.
Humanitarian? Most would agree that it was, but the nature of the war (bombing campaigns) hurts the image of NATO as concerned for the best interests of civilians. That the ethnic Albanians were oppressed, being exterminated, and then saved by the war is more certain.

3. Afghanistan
Legal? Since it was not an officially declared war, it was not illegal, but it had no immediate legality. The UN Security Council later authorized an "international security assistance force", which can be assumed that the post-Taliban occupation is more legal.
Legitimate? Unclear. That the Taliban Regime* oppressed it's people is a well-documented historical fact, and that the Taliban regime engaged in both ethnic and religious conflcit isn't disputed. It was, in the eyes of the international community, an illegitimate regime, reocgnized prior to 9/11 by only 3 nations, and shortly afterwards by only 1. But no war has had legitimacy simply by saying "this government oppresses it's own people, let us overthrow them". The war's stated reason was that the Taliban gave support to Osama bin Laden and al Qadea (which the Taliban, in fact, did), and that Osama bin Laden was the chief planner of the 9/11 attacks (still not proven). The war is almost legitimate, and by almost all still probably considered a good thing.
Humanitarian? As mentioned above, the Taliban was an oppressive regime, and very few mourned it's overthrow. Afghanistan, as a country that has suffered war more or less continuously since 1979, had a brief period of stability when the Taliban assumed control of msot of the nation in 1996. The Northern Alliance and the Taliban still fought, however, which means that the risk of ending a cruel but peaceful era was not a big one. The war is plausibly humanitarian, and what would tilt the balance either way is the nation-building undertaken afterward. The humanitarian objectives that are pursued are several levels below military ones, so I'm going to have to rule this a no.

*Regime has become such an ugly word, but it still seems to be the most appropriate one

4. Iraq
Legal? No, war undertaken after a UN veto of the war
Legitimate? Not on the grounds of preventative war, as Saddam's threats were empty, and if it was a war explicitly against a decades-old ethnic cleansing, then it is unprecedented and failed as well.
Humanitarian? Saddam Hussein was a vicious leader, but replacing a tightly-controlled, stable and oppressive state with the world's number one breeding ground for terrorism and a civil war both count against the humanitarian virtues of the war.

5. Rwanda**
Legal? Was a civil war; saw no UN military intervention/authorization
Legitimate? Was a genocidal civil war; the UN abandonment of it's duty there has been decried as a horrific failure, and itself eroded the UN's legitimacy.
Humanitarian? Not going to war saved the UN from a difficult task of intervening in a civil war. Involvement in such a civil war would have meant placing UN peacekeepers in such a fashion so as to stand between two hostile groups and hope they can hold, or to choose a side and risk the death of innocents. Failure to intervene with armed force, it can be argued, is what made Rwanda Rwanda, as the ultimate example of inaction and atrocity in the face of inaction.

6. Darfur**
Legal? The civil war is seen as having an element of ethnic cleansing, making it illegal even by the standards of a civil war. An African Union peacekeeping force has been present for a while. Recently, a joint UN-AU peacekeeping force
Legitimate? The involvement by the African Union is widely acknowledged as a good thing; the UN itself formed a joint mission with the African Union. Sudan views it as illegitimate, but in places where sovereignty has collapsed the international community has a vested interest, and Darfur certainly qualifies as a collapse of sovereignty.
Humanitarian? The protection of humanitarian operations is an explicit objective of the UN/AU mission, and the usage of both military and police forces entails a strong Humanitarian objective.

** Rwanda and Darfur get big qualifiers because they are not wars engaged in for humanitarian purposes; they are humanitarian crises involving war in which it is hypothesized that armed intervention by an international force may have had humanitarian benefits, and brought about a humanitarian resolution of the crisis. In Darfur, we may be able to witness this happen.

The conflicts of this era are especially important as they more closely resemble the conditions in which the League of Nations was formed and failed. While the UN grew up in the Cold War, it's changed role from mediator between two bitterly opposed worldviews (a mediator that happens to intervene in crises from time to time). Post Cold War, the UN has become the sole source of international legitimacy, and has to deal with a myriad of unbalanced partners in conflict. To better understand these humanitarian wars in conflict, lets look at a pair of wars, from the League of Nations era, where humanitarian concerns were relevant.

7. The Spanish Civil War
Legal? As a civil war, the assumed protocol was to keep out of it, and many nations refused to sell arms to either group of belligerents. This was ignored by the three major nations that interfered in Spain; Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Russia.
Legitimate? Intervention and arms-selling was viewed as illegal and immoral by most Western Democracies, so if we are using their standard of legitimacy foreign intervention was illegitimate. However, the Soviets, and the Fascists/Nazis, both felt involvement in such a conflict was an ideological imperative, and felt their involvement was justified. Several foreign nationals felt that serving in Spain (esp. on the side of the Republic) was a personal moral imperative, and volunteered; this alone the League of Nations enacted a formal ban against.
Humanitarian? The League's abstention from involvement in this conflict was one of many instances of the League's failure to prevent war, and the ban on foreign nationals was viewed by many as a guarantee of Franco's victory. The volunteers felt a humanitarian and a moral imperative, so armed intervention could have been viewed as humanitarian had it been undertaken solely by altruistic individuals. The history of armed intervention in Spain involves far-reaching concerns, but very few of them altruistic or humanitarian.

8. World War II
Legal? The belligerents in WWII simply left the League, removing any authority it may have had over their actions.
Legitimate? Certain sides can not be counted as legitimate; Lebensraum is not an acceptable political justification for war. The Allies, as glorified in history, fought for the freedom of Europe (and other parts of the world), and so they have that whole moral justification back story. Since they were attacked, and since the Nazis committed massive crimes against humanity, it's easy to gloss over as legitimate. Excepting that the Holocaust was barely known, much less a justification for war. And excepting the history of the USSR, which attacked non-belligerent nations, and whose people often tried to openly join Germany until they found out German had a program of death or servitude for Slavs. So the war is mostly legitimate, but it's a messy legitimacy, made more so by the effective collapse of the League of Nations upon the outbreak of hostilities.
Humanitarian? Keeping in mind that few urging the allied nations to war knew of the Holocaust, the humanitarian objectives of the war have to be seen in the context of what horrors were known to be committed at the outset of war. This also ignores the crimes committed in occupied nations, because by that time the war was underway. Liberation is a humanitarian objective, and it's powerful enough to give the Allied decision to enter WWII a small bit of humanitarian objective. Self-interest, so as to prevent the west (or East, in the case of Russian and China) from ceasing to exist, counts as the primary motive, and means that WWII was not a humanitarian war; it just had a humanitarian component.

All this dry analysis was building to a point, and that is this: Humanitarian War is a new phenomenon, a potentially legal and legitimate one, provided it is undertaken/overseen by the United Nations, and that it has the best interest of the international community, the global commons, and the innocent civilians within a nation at heart. The Persian Gulf War, though a legitimate war, was not humanitarian in much the same way that WWII wasn't humanitarian. NATO bombings in Kosovo/Serbia were humanitarian in objective, but the means and the lack of authorization both detract from that noble purpose. And lastly, the UN/AU mission in Darfur has the potential to be a great humanitarian boon coming from armed force, but it isn't quite a war. This is a new era we have entered, and Humanitarian War has yet to enter as a real thing with form and substance. Currently, it exists as an objective, a justification, and a potential new role for modern militaries. But it is not yet an existing thing.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hypocrisy 2

Last time I blogged, I was talking about the hypocrisy of an education program. The program struck me as painfully familiar, which it turns out it was. A good friend of mine from our La Amikoj days was out at a youth conference the day they tried this program at his school. As he says:
They made sure to recruit the kids who the administration knew. Most of them were in the same classes though. So there were a bunch of classrooms that had 3 of them, and a lot more that had none. Lots of people crying. I don't think they even told all the teachers. It got really bad because people started text messaging parents who knew them.
It was perhaps one of the most twisted things I have ever heard of perpetrated on our school campus. I know lots of people complained. But they never publicly apologized for anything (that I know of).
According to my girlfriend, it was set up (at least in part) by our student senate. And it was the principal who delivered the message. I don't think the police had much (if anything) to do with it at our school.
This is disempowerment, and it's a little sick and a little funny that the student government had a major hand in setting it up. It is particularly bad when youth appointed to protect youth betray that trust.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hypocrisy 1

I'm going to start off this post with a link from boingboing. It's a story about how some authority figures (police, a school administration, and some teachers) stage a traumatic event (several students died this weekend in drunk driving accidents) to teach kids a lesson (don't drink; don't drink and drive). It's absolutely horrifying, undermines the people's worth, treats them as pavlovian dogs, is heavy handed and disempowering in every sense possible. It is all the failings of the nanny state in one - a "we know better than you, which gives us freedom to act in horrible ways" attitude met with teenagers inherent understanding that every part of the scenario is wrong, that this authority does not in fact know what is best, that the authority has lost all legitimacy through its ham-handed conduct, and that authority as a rule can no longer be thought to be acting in anyone's best interest. It's a perfect storm of what not to do, and why not to do it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Stuff White People Do

While not as humorous as "Stuff White People Like", "Stuff White People Do" is a great blog that does the more uncomfortable part about seeking out white behaviors that white people are generally unaware, and the discussion of which makes them uncomfortable. Some of it is in jest (and when it is, it's obvious), but the majority of it is really good, uncomfortable to read stuff. If you're like me and a glutton for this sort of stuff, I recommend starting with either this post (fail to see institutional racism), or this one (think black people are wasting a wealth of opportunities). It's all very good, and while it isn't perfect, it's a fantastic attempt to keep the dialog going, and the writer has shown a lot of improvement since I first checked on the blog several months ago. Give it a shot.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Last Civil Rights Movement

Recently in an interview in a local weekly, one of the members of the Indigo Girls said that gay rights was "the last civil rights movement". This is also the subtitle over at the National Youth Rights Association's website. Doing a quick googling, I also found that this moniker has been adopted for disabled rights, and it shows up in connection to immigrant rights. What does this preponderance of last movements mean?

I'll hazard a guess and say there is no last civil rights movement. I'll go further, saying there will never be one. The thing about civil rights movements is that they aim at conferring rights granted some people onto a segment of the population previously denied those rights. As long as humans find a way to have unequal rights enshrined in law, people will protest it, and as long as law is decided by messy legislative interpretation of majority whim, society will have rights they want to deny people.

While I support GLBTQI people, am hugely in favor of youth rights, am all for disabled people's rights, and think immigration law needs a re-thinking, there are aspects of humanity currently discriminated against by law that I'm not all that much in favor of. NAMBLA, for example, is a group that feel oppressed but whose perceived oppression I can stand by. While I hate the "let gays marry and you legitimize bigamy, polygamy, and bestiality" line of thinking, the matter remains that agitation for change will never end, and the new majority will either have to accept the dissidents with new recognition, or it will have to understand that it contains some hypocrisy. Some of this is easy - NAMBLA's stated objective is legalizing sex between minors and adults, in a way that is hard to intrepret as anything but exploitative. Other times it's tricky - if people are allowed to marry who they want, should a marriage contract consensually entered into by all parties be illegal just because the marriage is between more than two people?

And as an aside before moving on, the previous civil rights movements still haven't worked themselves out - women still earn less than men, and people of color suffer a string of abuses that would be much harder for the general public to take if their weren't success stories as well. The latter part is what made the Jena Six so fascinating - it was a movement for the civil rights of known wrongdoers (degree of wrong and deserving-ness of punishment variable according to the observer, but wrongdoing is still a more or less accepted fact of the case). And the Jena Six ran into trouble when people realized it wasn't exemplar pillars of society being kept down, but that it was everyday flawed mortals who were suffering for a crime they committed. They were suffering unfairly, certainly, but they were still being punished for something wrong. Criminal rights as a subsection of civil rights still have a long way to go in this country, and we need to treat those who err the same, and not just make it easier for everyone to succeed but with two sets of failure available.

Really, the point of this is not to knock any civil rights movement, but to knock the notion of a "last" civil rights movement. "Next" would maybe be appropriate, but never last. And certainly neither term is valid until the previous civil rights movements are done.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Global Commons

"The biggest flaw in the UN system was that governments came to the UN and paid lip service to the tenets of the UN Charter but were unprepared to do what it took to patrol the global commons" - Samantha Power, in Chasing the Flame.

I'm still nowhere near done with Chasing the Flame, but it's an absolutely fantastic book, and I am increasingly drawn in by revelations of what should be obvious. This time, it's that the UN exists for international commons, rather than as a form of world government. The UN then does not supplant order, but it institutes it where none has exists, and where it is in the benefit of the whole international community for there to be order. The obvious commons are international waters, outer space, and Antarctica (the internet?). The more interesting interpretation of this commons is that nations where sovereignty collapses and areas where violence threatens to spill beyond borders are also an international stability concern and an international domain. Great stuff.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Where does the internet go next?

I alluded to it earlier (in this post), and now that it's up on Boingboing I may as well link again. This is brilliant. Jonathan Zittrain has a book out, available through the creative commons, and his thinking about where the internet wants to go and how to let it get there despite business is quite fascinating. The interview is fantastic, just great stuff. Here's my favorite excerpt from the excerpt:
It is not easy to imagine the PC going extinct, and taking with it the possibility of allowing outside code to run—code that is the original source of so much of what we find useful about the Internet. But along with the rise of information appliances that package those useful activities without readily allowing new ones, there is the increasing lockdown of the PC itself. PCs may not be competing with information appliances so much as they are becoming them. The trend is starting in schools, libraries, cyber caf├ęs, and offices, where the users of PCs are not their owners. The owners’ interests in maintaining stable computing environments are naturally aligned with technologies that tame the wildness of the Internet and PC, at the expense of valuable activities their users might otherwise discover.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

O How Beautiful, These Foreign Shores

Today in church a pulpit editorial was delivered, and it was a rather eloquent telling of the "Found Faith" story that is so integral to my denomination. We are, after all, a religion of converts, with numbers like 90% thrown around to describe how many Unitarian Universalists have their origins outside the faith. We are, it seems, on the verge of an exponential takeover, and listening time and again to the triumph and the revelation the accompanies the discovery of this non creedal faith, the momentum seems inevitable.

But the momentum isn't there. The 90% converts number was around when my mother was a youth raised in the church. While individual congregations grow, and some grow quite nicely, the vast majority of UU churches are small, and fission seems to be at least as common a trend than expansion. Of course, I'm basing that statement more on anecdotal evidence than on something like solid fact.

Closer to solid fact, we have this article from the latest issue of UU World magazine. The article does not detail the converts' experience, nor does it talk about the disparity between large and small congregations. Instead, it gives two numbers that would seem contrary: "675,000 adults in America broadly identify as Unitarian" and "The UUA’s 1,018 congregations in the United States counted just over 158,000 members". From this alone, it appears that we are shrinking. To underscore this, a survey among readers of UU World (who have to be members of a UU congregation) "showed... that only 12 percent were raised Unitarian Universalist". But this is all muddled - UUA congregations still attract a significant number of converts, and the faith is convincing enough for 500,000+ non-members to identify with. So what's going on?

The obvious point, and perhaps the most meaningful, is that the UUA is not meeting the needs of all Unitarians in the US. Certainly, it is meeting some needs, and enough needs to warrant its continued existence. And surely, their may well be many self-identified UUs who have no need for an such an organization. But between these two groups, we have a bit of a diaspora. It's a bit like the situation with YRUU, actually.

The trick then is to determine whether the current institutional structure is serving the needs of those who belong to it, to consider changes that can be made to reach out to those who are hesitant, and to acknowledge that one institution cannot be all things to all people. YRUU is often the first time that youths, en masse, re-prioritize their time away from Sunday morning RE to other commitments. It's an entirely appropriate time for a re-evaluation. Duncan, in the comments at YRUU UUlogy, says
Part of the conclusion that many people have reached (read: Ministers/staff) is that the entire MODEL of the youth group as it is largely practiced is not sufficient and should be scrapped. They believe that cons encourage youth to only attend cons and youth stop going to their churches. They think that too many youth leave after Coming Of Age, and they believe it is because YRUU groups don't meet a wide enough set of needs.

I think in my experience as an advisor a lot of youth leave because A)they had a deal with there folks that after CoA they are not forced to go B) other demands such as theatre or sports C) with other demands sometimes Sunday mornings are the only one in which people can sleep in. And not about the youth group.

And this is the second point I want to make here; this is why I opened with the converts experience. As the Coming of Age teachers at FUCA are fond of saying, "at the very heart of our seven principles is 'A free and responsible search for truth and meaning'". I cannot posit that all of the self-identified UU diaspora are the non-attending children of Unitarians, but I can safely say that some of it is. Because church, even an open and free church, is not for everybody all the time.

And that's the third part. We have in this nation the "Immigrant Experience" as a cultural narrative, and it is increasingly the dominant one. Not immigrants as in pilgrims, but as immigrants after the US was founded, who entered this country knowing what it was, without having been present for the formation. It's an interesting narrative, and a valid one, but it has complications of it's own, creating dissonance between those who acculturated into things like white privilege and those who can trace their heritage back to the very beginning when things like privilege were codified into law. This is not to say the UUism has nativist sentiment or a burden of guilt, but that sacred narrative, that powerful experience of how much better this is than the state we willingly left runs into trouble when youths, raised in the church and without the experience of conversion, find flaws in their parent's land of opportunity.

This is another narrative, the dual identity of our nation, our faith, and our congregations, and it's a complicated muddle. YRUU is only a part of the experience, but I think it's an important piece of UU identity, at least among convert teens and 2nd (or later) generations of UU youth. And odds are, a good many of us will take our free and responsible search for church and meaning within the denomination, provided that's allowed.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not Euglogizing Hillary

The above phrase is from a Jezebel article, about what Hillary Clinton's run meant for, well, for lots of things. The writer starts by asking the obvious question (What went wrong?), and I like her answer:
What's sort of been ignored is one of the reasons everyone basically agrees that her candidacy was ultimately unsuccessful: she ran for months wearing the mantle of the experienced Washington insider (aka, the establishment) candidate. Please read that one more time, just on it's own. She ran as the establishment candidate.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hedging Our Bets

It used to be more of a point of mine in the past, but I've always had a notion that the ultimate human goal is to escape earth. Evolutionarily, it makes sense - we want lots of populations to evolve in different places and to safeguard our species for perpetuity, or at least until we reach some cosmic singularity. So I'm a big fan of Warren Ellis' latest post on colonizing Mars. The bit that intrigued me (found via R Stevens) is here:
And while I did indeed just say that no kind of extinction is good, it should also be pointed out that giving up a bolthole for human breeding pairs — which are, make no mistake, the stakes on a Martian colonisation drive — on the basis that we might kill something less substantial and self-aware than a cough is no way to run a railroad.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Excerpt from "Chasing the Flame"

I just started reading Chasing the Flame. It's good so far, but I may be the target demographic - it is, after all about a career civil servant in the UN. Exactly my cuppa tea. Anyway, here's the best line so far, which is a quote from Sergio Vieira de Mello:
The UN is such a statist organization. If we played by UN rules, wouldn't have a clue what the people with power and guns were plotting.
This is from 1981, with regards to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon at the time, and it's incredibly relevant today. One of the fundamental problems with the UN, it seems to me, is that it was built to prevent another WWII, a war which was not all about states, but was largely about states. The political necessity has changed and requires the UN (and nations in conflict in general) to move away from a simple nation vs nation understanding of conflict.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Seating Delegates

There's a lot to be said about what to do with the Michigan and Florida delegates. Christine's take, over at iMinister, is my favorite.

Quoting Jezebel

Jezebel is a blog that maybe you have heard of. It's good, and flawed in its ways like all blogs. What I like about it is the stuff it does as a watchdog on the sexism vs. racism debate among democrats. Particularly striking was a piece today that was a counterpoint to an OP-ED piece Geraldine Ferraro wrote. The counter can be found here. Excerpted below is the best point of the critique:
Racial resentment, Geraldine, is racism. Why can't you see that? People coming up to you and complaining that they can't complain about black people is them complaining for being looked down upon for being racists! And, yes, their time ought to have passed, it should pass, they should learn and understand that racism should have no place in our society and as a party leader, a stalwart, a barrier-breaker you should be breaking it to them that "getting treated fairly for being white" means losing sometimes, and sometimes it means losing to a person of color. It means you are not always going to come out ahead, it means that the advantages your fathers or mothers faced 40 or 50 years ago (or less long ago than that) because of the color of their skin should disappear and you should lose to better-qualified candidates of color and then you should not ever, ever even in the dark recesses of your small, reptilian brain think "Well, that's what affirmative action has wrought in this country," because that, Geraldine is racism. And it's there, and it's palpable and the fact that you are the educated white Reagan Democrats standard bearer for how sexism is worse than racism and it's not really racism if it's just "racial resentment" makes me sick to my fucking stomach.