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Archive for February 1st, 2007

Thursday, February 1st, 2007


For those who are unaware, William Arkin is a defense intellectual and critic of the Bush administration who blogs at the Washington Post under the rubric Arkin’s Early Warning. He is also the author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World – a book that is invaluable as a reference on contemporary operations to military historians, though by virtue of ” outing” quasi-secret and secret military and intel nomenclature. I mention this because I wish to be clear that Arkin is not a Georgetown cocktail party ” expert” playing pundit but someone who really knows his stuff.

Yesterday, Arkin, responding to televised complaints of U.S. troops in Iraq about the anti-war movement back in the United States, wrote:

“These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President’s handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

Sure it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail, but even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We just don’t see very man “baby killer” epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don’t get it, that they don’t understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoover’s and Nixon’s will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If I weren’t the United States, I’d say the story end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, save the nation from the people.

But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary – oops sorry, volunteer – force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.”

Well, now.

Technically, from the perspective of military history, Arkin is correct that professional soldiery are a ” mercenary” force. John Keegan has written the same thing in another context. Militaries come in only a few basic forms, conscripts, mercenaries and caste – and professionals from the Swiss Guards to Renaissance captains to the U.S. military have war as their vocation.

That being said, Arkin was not using ” mercenary” in that context but in the casual perjorative meaning, as a slur. And he knows it. Why did he do it ? Because he was mad that troops in Iraq, guys to whom the label of ” chickenhawk” won’t stick nor with whom could stronger insults be applied without incurring the wrath of WaPo editors, criticized the anti-war movement. Accurately criticized, more to the point. The troops you, see, are supposed to shut up and ol’ Bill was incensed.

I’m a believer in free speech so I do not support calls for Arkin to fired, censored, physically menaced, burned at the stake or whatever. The man has just made a fool out of himself on a national platform and plenty of people are letting him know it. The justifiable verbal abuse being heaped in his direction comes as a direct cost of saying stupid things.

Particularly, when everyone knows that you know better. You want to blog Bill ? Learn to take your lumps like a man.


Arkin retracts the use of “mercenary”. Good. That was the right thing to do.


Castle Argghhh! has a round-up

OPFOR recommended by Matt at MountainRunner

Blackfivewields the F-Bomb

Thursday, February 1st, 2007


Alvin Toffler, the acclaimed futurist and author was interviewed by Edutopia, the Lucas Foundation’s education magazine, where he expounded on the need to radically redesign the public education system, starting with a blank slate. It’s an excellent summary article ( full version is on the pdf page) An excerpt:

Future School

“We should be thinking from the ground up. That’s different from changing everything. However, we first have to understand how we got the education system that we now have. Teachers are wonderful, and there are hundreds of thousands of them who are creative and terrific, but they are operating in a system that is completely out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers.

Let’s look back at the history of public education in the United States. You have to go back a little over a century. For many years, there was a debate about whether we should even have public education. Some parents wanted kids to go to school and get an education; others said, “We can’t afford that. We need them to work. They have to work in the field, because otherwise we starve.” There was a big debate. Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce “industrial discipline.”

….It’s open twenty-four hours a day. Different kids arrive at different times. They don’t all come at the same time, like an army. They don’t just ring the bells at the same time. They’re different kids. They have different potentials. Now, in practice, we’re not going to be able to get down to the micro level with all of this, I grant you, but in fact, I would be running a twentyfour- hour school, I would have nonteachers working with teachers in that school, I would have the kids coming and going at different times that make sense for them.

The schools of today are essentially custodial: They’re taking care of kids in work hours that are essentially nine to five — when the whole society was assumed to work. Clearly, that’s changing in our society. So should the timing. We’re individualizing time; we’re personalizing time. We’re not having everyone arrive at the same time, leave at the same time. Why should kids arrive at the same time and leave at the same time?

I have written posts along these lines previously and agree with Toffler that the public school system needs a paradigm shift if it is to be relevant and useful to children who will be working in the last decades of the 21st century. It may be that in shifting to Philip Bobbitt’s ” market state“, public education authorities will become a dispenser of funds and an accreditor of quality, certifying that children are being well-educated but that the particulars of education decisions will be left to parents, students and a diverse array of providers.

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