The Fish
for 23 April 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
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War Stories

Ahhh, at last. Someone out
there actually knows both
history and current
events well enough to make an
accurate depiction of the tar
baby Clinton and NATO have
gotten their fists in. I also
like the idea that not only
are we now fighting a war on
two fronts (a strategic
position that has always
helped win wars, I'm sure),
we now will almost
assuredly have to enter into
a ground war in Yugoslavia
or Iraq to prove to Iran
and the group of CIS
countries that we can
take a firm political, as
well as military, stand. While
many of our allies are
currently in an air campaign
against both Iraq and
Yugoslavia, our relations
with Russia have crumbled so
much that they are now arming
their Slavic friends and our
chums in Baghdad. With
countries like Iran, North
Korea, and all the rest that
we've managed to piss off during
our muddle-headed romp
through dogma-based military
campaigns looking to see if
perhaps we've spread
ourselves too thin this time,
we are making a mockery of
the supposed "defensive"
label pasted on NATO. My
question is this: How could
we fuck things up any worse?
Thanks for the article,

Suck hate club member #23456

Alex Ferguson
<ferg6569@students.sou.edu>

How could we fuck things up
any worse? Only one way, as
far as I can tell. But I
doubt there's much sentiment
for repealing the 22nd
Amendment, so we should be
OK.

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Generally it was a good column,
though I must confess that
anybody who rails against
stupid wars generally gets my
nod. But what's the deal with
"The decision to ignore the
killing [in Africa] in
1994 ... reflected an active
effort to escape
responsibility"?
Responsibility for what?
Entering into conflicts where
nothing of actual value to
the United States is at
stake? How do you justify
criticizing the obvious
mistake of getting involved
in the Balkans when sending
troops to Rwanda would have
been exactly the same kind of
failure?

Robert L. McMillin
<rlm@syseca- us.com>

Well, two things. One, I was
aiming for a comparison of
argument versus action, rather
than rattling the saber in
the direction of history.

Second, I also think there
were reasons to act in
Rwanda, failure doomed or
no. The killing there was so
horrifying and so explicitly
orchestrated to target
everyone in a particular
group that it qualified for
stopping-the-next-holocaust
status. I think an argument
could be made for getting
involved in the Balkans.
I just don't think the case
has been made honestly.

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

After reading your piece
today, this is the only
sentence that I thought seemed
over the edge:

"[The] Balkans have erupted
into violence twice in this
century after outside powers
entered the region and
initiated it."

Since culling the media is
your work and you do it
well, I would appreciate your
take on the essays of Daniel
Shore. I understand he is
associated with The Pentagon
Papers in some way and would
like to know more about how
or why I endure his opinions
on NPR about what is "really
happening." His credibility
suffers even more than our
president's by the fact that
his voice was used in the
movie The Siege to give it
that "realistic" touch.

If it is true (or even cute)
that they at NPR or WNYC
at least "kept their Monicas
to a minimum," we all would
benefit from getting off the
planet as soon as possible.

J.
<jharford@weebotech.com>

I used to cover city council
meetings in the 'burbs, and
Daniel Shore always reminds
me of a guy (who has since
left us, bless his heart) who
had been on the council
forever and wasn't really,
like, functioning anymore. He
would tend to lean into his
microphone during these long,
sober discussions about the
city's bond rating or some
really fascinating
sewer-maintenance issue and
blurt things that had no
connection at all to anything
anyone was talking about:
"Crack babies! Don't like it
one bit!" Then he would lean
back, smacking his chops in
that old-man-chewing-
with-an-empty-mouth way,
with a hugely satisfied look
on his face. There would be a
long pause and then the
conversation would continue
right where it left off,
literally the unprefaced
ending of the sentence he'd
interrupted, precisely as if
he hadn't spoken at all.

Hasn't Dan earned his
retirement by now?

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 
Subject: Warning: Indignant
letter follows.

Dear A. B.:

Congratulations, you've been
awarded the Maureen Dowd
Award for the conspicuous
willingness to throw hand
grenades at random without
any coherent, justifying
logic. May you enjoy it.
Let's discuss your failings
calmly and in order:

1. To criticize the decision
to intervene in Kosovo as
defective because the United
States failed to intervene in
Rwanda and was late
intervening in Bosnia implies
that once someone has made a
mistake he is required to
repeat it endlessly. Why not
consider that perhaps one can
learn from mistakes?

2. To criticize people
calling what's happening
genocide (or cleansing or
whatever) is so precious as
to defy belief. Perhaps it's
unfortunate that we lack really
good terms to distinguish
among unspeakable horrors,
but that's the way it goes. I
remind you that John Barnes
used the word "serb" in a
recent novel as a verb,
meaning to terrorize by raping
and rapining. Is that
sufficiently elegant wordplay
for you?

3. Finally, to bitch that the
air war being waged isn't the
optimal way to deal with the
problem on the ground tacitly
assumes there is some better
way to handle things that the
fools in NATO overlooked.
Democracies are lousy at
making war; loose
conglomerates of democracies
are even worse. Surely it was
better to at least try to
solve a problem with minimal
violence before dropping the
ground bounders into the mud.
"You got a better hole, you
go to it."

Let me put it another way.
Here in scenic NYC, people
are revolting because four
cops fired 41 shots at an
innocent, semilegal immigrant.
This was a bad thing (and you
wonder who the demonstrators
are demonstrating against and
what they want - do they
think there's anyone who
thinks it was a good idea to
shoot this kid? Would they
have preferred it if the cops
had stepped up to him and
calmly put one 9 mm in his
brain?), but it's what
happens when you send armed
men out to arrest rapists.

They got the rapist, by the
way - just about the time a
young female cop got herself
killed by approaching another
young man a bit too casually.

Anyway, at least as I read
it, the people still want the
cops to keep the peace; they
just want it kept very
daintily. But it ain't going
to happen. Some things are
inherently messy. Keeping the
peace in NYC or in the Balkans
is probably that kind of
thing. So complaining that
the job isn't being done
elegantly enough for
you ... deal with it.

And pick a side. Join the
Republican wimps, who never
met a weapon system they
didn't like, as long as nobody
actually has to be shot
trying to use it. Or join the
hawks, whose motto is that of
Buffy: Kill them, kill them a
lot. Or join the rest of us,
muddling around in the
middle, remembering that our
mothers told us violence
never settles anything while
trying to figure out exactly
what it can and can't settle.
Just don't sit off in a
corner, lobbing random
grenades. Dear Ms. Dowd has
that franchise all locked up.

And you might catch up on
your Kipling while you wait:

Oh, it's Tommy this and Tommy
that and Tommy how's your
soul? But it's a thin red
line of heroes when the drums
begin to roll.

Alan S. Kornheiser
<ASKornheiser@prodigy.net>

Except that you've inflated my
argument and then set about
demolishing the thing you've
created. Let's go back and
take another look at, say,
my first sentence: "War is
understood to advance along
the rails of some fictional
narrative or other, and the
current example isn't doing
much more in that regard than
following the old rules." I
have not written an essay
that proclaims the many
virtues of the heroic Serbian
government. My piece is about
the honesty, accuracy, and
democratic respect contained
in the efforts of our
government to explain the war
to us, to explain why we're
involved and what we hope to
achieve. I wrote about the
advertisement; you wrote in
to defend the soap.

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 


Stained-glass Windows

Your J. D. Salinger bit was
very clever and touching. To
a person such as myself who
appreciates words but who, on
a scale from one to "poet,"
is about a two, the piece
nudged me uncomfortably in
this direction.

Your depiction of Salinger's
home life struck me,
obviously perhaps, as that of
a monk. While a monk seeks
religious enlightenment in
seclusion from the human
element, Salinger seeks
literary enlightenment. He
might even produce the
Platonic Great American Novel
in a meditative state, then
lock it up tight because to
read it would cause insanity.
What I see, then, is Salinger
only doing what any highly
principled novelist/poet must
do in order to transcend
"this."

I dismiss such mind candy as
fallacious, but I wonder
sometimes how much of that
reasoning appears in the
product of Suck's
publications (and any hip,
with-it, exclusionary, creative
endeavor, including my own,
The Simpsons, half the stuff
on Comedy Central, magazines
such as Paper and Wired,
every fundamentalist
religion, etc.). I discovered
my work, unmarketable and
unpalatable as it is, is laced
subconsciously with notions
of "Only I can truly
understand it," side-by-side
with "If you don't pretend or
try to understand it, you are
worthless," which I see when
reading Suck (and I mean that
in the nicest way possible).
This sort of creative shield
envelops the work in a human
repellant aura, preserving
its transcendent artistic
holiness while letting the
peons take a gander - if
they're appreciative enough
(and visit a sponsor or two).

What I'm trying to say is
that our creative efforts
similarly aspire to the
purity that Salinger is crazy
enough to think he can
achieve, and it is nice to
know he won't do it either.
So let him hole himself up
and, as you aptly project,
publish 30-plus years of
transcendent, humanity-free
stale bread. It will keep the
rest of us honest.

Thanks for your virtual ears,

Chris Moseng
moseng@mninter.net

I see what you're saying, and
there's a good deal that's
hard to dispute. But.

Interesting territory, this.
Without going into it in too
great detail - I'm extremely
lazy, is why - I'll
just point in a general
direction.

Octavio Paz was a diplomat
and wrote spectacular, sharp
essays about national
identity; Franz Kafka was a
clerk for an insurance
company and wrote definitive
allegories about the
relationship between
institutions and individuals;
Dashiell Hammett was a
Pinkerton detective; David
Foster Wallace teaches
undergraduates; A. A. Milne
shot a lot of heroin and
traveled extensively in the
criminal underworld.

To say the same thing two
different ways: 1) Writers
who've produced compelling
writing have participated in
human life, and 2) Purity is
for assholes.

Someone with more energy can
take the argument from there.

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Two things:

Re: "... describing the
greatest poetry ever, without
putting it on paper." A while
ago I read an interview with
John Irving where he was
talking about The World
According to Garp
(I haven't
read it). He said, "The
hardest part of the novel was
that I kept saying Garp was a
great writer. So I had to
create a short story that
would live up to this." This
can be torn down ("so he
thinks the short story has to
be incredible and he thinks
HE can write it?", etc.), but
that's not the point. I
didn't read it, so I doubt if
he succeeded. But man, at
least he tried.

Re: "... that genius
Salinger." Back around 1992
(probably), Newsweek came out
with an article on IQs. Hell,
maybe it was around the time
of the ol' bell curve book,
but I don't think so. Anyway,
they did one of their helpful
little informative asides,
with graphics of course. In
it they had Muhammad Ali, J.
F. K., Madonna, Einstein, and
Salinger - you know, icons.
They listed the IQ of each.
Don't know how or where they
got this info. But they said
Salinger's was 110!! It was a
very interesting article
("Did you know Madonna has an
IQ of 140? Who says? How
'bout Newsweek, bitch").

I liked that article, and the
reason I remember it so well
is because I remember it
often: "Fuck, at least my IQ
is a lot higher than
Salinger's. That means great
things are ahead of me. I
just have to do them."

DeLori

He in fact created a
perfectly nice story for Garp
- not great, but nice. Credit
for trying, definitely. And
my understanding is that
Salinger actually had a much
higher IQ in, like, previous
lives.

Struggling with a low-normal
IQ,

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

War Stories

Today's rant was extremely
disappointing in its flippant
and poorly considered
comments. While poorly (or
even not) researched articles
in Suck are funny when about
the idiocies of pop culture
or whatnot, the seriousness
of war, death, executions,
and deportations just makes
such writing seem trite at
best and intellectually
offensive at worst. Stick to
what you know and do best and
save your unsupported
geopolitical arguments for
the bar or coffee shop, where
you can surround yourself
with like-minded people who
won't care that most of what
you say is coming straight
out of your ass. Since the
piece was not funny at all, I
can only assume it was
supposed to have some
persuasive value. However,
its total lack of reasoned
analysis drowns out whatever
good points may have been
buried below the fluff.
Better luck next time.

Bradley Messmer

I'm waiting for the part
where you dispute some piece
of what you're criticizing.
What, there wasn't any
violence in Rwanda? We did
intervene? The KLA is a
garden club? Air campaigns
are historically effective?

Got facts?

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Your article reminded me of
past events we have learned
to repeat, again. Politicians
making military decisions.
Bill Clinton has conveniently
forgotten lessons learned in
Vietnam, where the White
House decided what and when
to bomb, when to shoot first
or wait, and when to turn
tail. When we finally pulled
out of that mess we also
turned our backs on the
killing fields' "genocide,"
later giving brief mention of
the one or two million people
"cleansed" from the land.

The administration's promises
sound exactly the same now.
The troops will be home from
Bosnia for Christmas, were
Clinton's words two years
ago. How many times did we
hear that during Vietnam?

Only the players change.

Dave Young

One of the more interesting
trails of information
dribbling out of the
administration these days
concerns the difference in
opinion, prior to the start
of the bombing, about what
said bombing would
accomplish. If we can believe
the leakers, the point of
view expressed by the
military was that a bombing
campaign wouldn't be
especially effective; our
esteemed Secretary of State,
on the other hand, expressed
great confidence in the
premise that Milosevic would
curl up in a ball the instant
the bombs started falling.
But, hey, what would a bunch
of career military officers
know about the effectiveness
of bombing?

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

A nice, well-written article,
as usual. But one thing kept
popping into my mind: What's
your solution? It's one thing
to point out the hypocrisy
and foolishness of others
(Suck's raison
d'être), but it gets
tiresome reading these
Monday-morning-quarterback
rants that offer no new
ideas. Constantly criticizing
others' ideas and actions
without offering logical
alternatives diminishes the
impact of your criticisms,
which is too bad because
you're an intelligent writer.

Perhaps your next article
should be an essay detailing
YOUR foreign policy ideas,
specifically, concerning the
United States' role as a
global policeman. I have a
hunch, whatever your plan is,
it would be pretty easy for a
writer like yourself to tear
it apart.

"You gotta ac-cen-tuate the
positive, e-li-minate the
negative," etc.

(If this gets in Fish, please
leave off my email address.
Thanks.)

My solution: I show up in
Belgrade and proceed to
personally put the slap on
this Milosevic character.
Like Bruce Lee, kind of, but
without all the grunting.

Or, failing that ... familiar
with the so-called "Powell
Doctrine"? Said doctrine has
been dismissed, with disdain,
by the folks at 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue, but -
whoops - the old son of a gun
seems to have learned
something about the use of
military force from all those
years in the, you know,
military and stuff. In short:
Don't get involved in foreign
conflicts in which your
interests aren't directly
threatened. But, if you do,
don't get involved in any
foreign conflict in which you
aren't willing to suffer
casualties. And don't act
with anything less than
overwhelming force, ever,
period. Despite my own
reservations about the Gulf
War - against our old friend
Saddam Hussein, who we helped
to arm, and on behalf of a
spectacularly wealthy
monarchy - the point seems to
have been made there.

And it seems our problem for
the last 40 years has been
that we've tried to kind of
get involved in armed
conflicts, which doesn't work
and forces an escalation. The
thread running through the
conflicts we've been involved
in is a desire to project
force; that is, we've gone to
war to show that we can, to
let the world know we're a
superpower. We've been
"sending a message" for
several decades now, rather
than deciding between right
and wrong and committing with
clarity and determination.
(Please note: I've probably
done a less-than-great job of
explaining the Powell
Doctrine, but I've done so
off the top of my head.
Sorry!) (The language used in
the Johnson White House
consistently centered on the
notion of the United States
as a "guarantor.")

And so, once you've
decided to get into a
conflict and have done so
with a realistic
understanding of the type of
involvement it'll take to do
so with any chance of
accomplishing your goals -
and with a realistic understanding
of how many 18-year-old kids
from Iowa and East LA are
probably going to die as a
result - you tell the truth
to the people who are loaning
you those 18-year-olds.
Remember Bill Clinton's
detailed, brutally frank
discussion of the problem in
Kosovo during his
State of the Union address
back in January? Exactly.

Ambrose Beers

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

 The Shit
Left for Dead in Malaysia, Neil Hamburger, Drag City, 1999
The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink, Mark Dery, Grove/Atlantic, 1999
Crazy from the Heat, David Lee Roth, Hyperion, 1998
Keep It Like a Secret, Built to Spill, WEA/Warner Brothers, 1999
Abbott's Pizza Company, near the corner of Abbott-Kinney and California, Venice Beach, Los Angeles (delivery hours limited)
Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Pink Floyd, CD remaster, EMI 1994
Motorhead, CD remasters, all
Det Som Engang Var, Burzum, Misanthropy, 1998
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, Nashville, Tennessee
A History of the Modern Fact, Mary Poovey, University of Chicago Press, 1998
V., Thomas Pynchon, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999
The Coffee Mill, Emeq Refaim, Jerusalem, Israel
The Salesman and Bernadette, Vic Chesnutt, Capricorn Records, 1998
Good Morning Spider, Sparklehorse, Cema/Capitol, 1999
Third Floor, Anderson Building, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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