A low-brow view of books

In yesterday’s post, I classified the appreciation of films according to four levels. At the lowest level is just the story or narrative. The next level above that is some message that the director is trying to convey and which is usually fairly obvious. The third level is that of technique, such as the quality of dialogue and acting and directing and cinematography and sound and lighting. And then there is the fourth and highest level, which I call deep meaning or significance, where there is a hidden message which, unlike the message at the second level, is not at all obvious but which has to be unearthed (or even invented) by scholars in the field or people who have a keen sensitivity to such things. I classified people whose appreciation does not get beyond the first two levels as low-brow.

The same classification scheme can be applied to books, especially fiction. In recent years I have started reading mostly non-fiction, but when it comes to fiction, I am definitely low-brow. To give an example of what I mean, take the novels of Charles Dickens. I like them because the stories he weaves are fascinating. One can enjoy them just for that reason alone. The second level meanings of his books are also not hard to discern. Many of his books were attempting to highlight the appalling conditions of poor children at that time or the struggles of the petite bourgeoisie of England. That much I can understand and appreciate.

What about his technique, the third level that I spoke of? The fact that I (and so many others over so many years) enjoy his books means that his technique must be good but I could not tell you exactly what his technique is. It is not that I am totally oblivious to technique. His habit of tying up every single loose end at the conclusion of his books, even if he has to insert extraordinary coincidences involving even minor characters, is a flaw that even I can discern, but this flaw of structure is not something fatal enough to destroy my enjoyment of his the work.

There is probably the fourth level to Dickens that scholars have noticed but which I will never discover by myself. Here we get into the writer’s psyche such as whether certain characters reflect Dickens’s own issues with his family’s poverty and his father’s time in a debtor’s prison and his relationship to his mother and so on. This is where really serious scholars of Dickens come into their own, mining what is known of his life to discover the hidden subtext of his novels.

My inability to scale these heights on my own is the reason why there are some writers who are stated to be geniuses whom I simply cannot appreciate. Take William Faulkner. I have read his novels The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying and his short stories A Rose for Miss Emily and Barn Burning but I just don’t get his appeal.

In fact, I find his writing sometimes downright annoying. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the many zealous Faulkner fans out there, I think that Faulkner does not play fair with his readers, deliberately misleading them seemingly for no discernible reason. In The Sound and the Fury, for example, he abruptly keeps switching narrators on you without warning, each with their own stream of consciousness, but you soon get the hang of that and can deal with it. But what really annoyed me was that he has two characters have the same name but be of different genders and of different generations but this fact is not revealed until the very end. Since this character is central to the story and is referred to constantly by the different narrators, I was confused pretty much all the way through as to what was going on, since I had naively assumed that the references were to the same person, and the allusions to that person did not fit any coherent pattern. As a result, I found it hard to make sense of the story and that ruined it for me. I could not see any deep reason for this plot device other than to completely confuse the reader. I felt tricked at the end and I had no desire to re-read the book with this fresh understanding in mind.

This is not to say that writers should never misdirect their readers but there should be good reasons for doing so. I grew up devouring mystery fiction and those novels also hide some facts from their readers and drop red herrings in order to provide the dramatic denouement at the end. But that genre has fairly strict rules about what is ‘fair’ when doing this and what Faulkner did in The Sound and the Fury would be considered out of bounds.

More sophisticated readers insist to me that Faulkner is a genius for the way he recreates the world of rural Mississippi, the people and places and language of that time. That may well be true but that is not enough for me to like an author. When my low-level needs of story and basic message are not met, I simply cannot appreciate the higher levels of technique and deep meaning. Furthermore, there is rarely a sympathetic character in his stories. They all tend to be pathological and weird, which makes it even harder to relate to them.

I had similar problems with Melville’s Moby Dick. For example, right at the beginning there are mysterious shadowy figures that board the ship and enter Captain Ahab’s cabin but they never appear afterwards although it does not appear that they left the ship prior to its departure. What happened to them? What was their purpose? And what do all the details about whaling (that make the book seem like a textbook on the whaling industry) add to the story? Again, the main characters were kind of weird and unsympathetic and I finished the book feeling very dissatisfied.

James Joyce’s Ulysses seems to me to be a pure exercise in technique and deep meaning that is probably a delight for scholars to pick through and interpret and search for hidden meanings, but that kind of thing leaves me cold. I simply could not get through it, and also failed miserably with The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his book Love in the Time of Cholera pulls a stunt similar to Melville. His opening chapter introduces some intriguing and mysterious characters who then disappear, never to appear again or be connected with the narrative in even the most oblique way. I kept expecting them to become relevant to the story, to tie some strands together, but they never did and I was left at the end feeling high and dry. Why were they introduced? What purpose were they meant to serve? Again, people tell me that Marquez is great at evoking a particular time and place, and I can see that. But what about the basic storytelling nature of fiction? When that does not make sense, I end up feeling dissatisfied.

I also have difficulty with the technique of ‘magic realism’ as practiced by Marquez in his A Hundred Years of Solitude and Salman Rushdie in The Satanic Verses. In this genre you have supernatural events, like ghosts appearing and talking to people, or people turning into animals and back again, and other weird and miraculous things, and the characters in the books treat these events as fairly routine and humdrum. I find that difficult to accept. I realize that these things are meant to be metaphors and deeply symbolic in some way, but I just don’t get it. These kinds of literary devices simply don’t appeal to me.

This is different from (say) Shakespeare’s plays, which I do enjoy. He too often invokes ghosts and spirits in some of his plays but these things are easily seen as driving the story forward so it is easy to assimilate their presence. Even though I don’t believe in the existence of the supernatural, the people of his time actually believed in those things and the reactions of the characters in his plays to the appearance of these ghosts and fairies seem consistent with their beliefs. But in a novel like The Satanic Verses that takes place in modern times, to have a character turn into a man-goat hybrid and back to fully man again with the other characters responding with only mild incredulity and not contacting the medical authorities, seems a little bizarre.

I would hasten to add that I am not questioning the judgment of experts that Faulkner and Melville and Joyce and Marquez and Rushdie are all excellent writers. One of the things about working at a university is that you realize that the people who study subjects in depth usually have good reasons for their judgments and that they are not mere opinions to be swept aside just because you happen to not agree with them. One does not go against an academic consensus without marshalling good reasons for doing so and my critiques of these writers are at a fairly low level and come nowhere close to being a serious argument against them. What I am saying is that for me personally, a creative work has to be accessible at the two lowest levels for me to enjoy it.

I think that there are two kinds of books and films. One the one hand there are those that can be enjoyed and appreciated by low-brow people like me on our own, and others that are best appreciated when accompanied by discussions led by people who have studied those books and authors and films and directors and know how to deal with them on a high level.

A low-brow view of films

Although I watch a lot of films, I realized a long time ago that my appreciation of films (or plays or books or concerts) was decidedly at a ‘low brow’ level. To explain what I mean, it seems to me that there are four levels in which one can appreciate a film (or play). At the lowest level is just the story or narrative. The next level above that is some message that the writer or director is trying to convey and which is usually fairly obvious. People whose appreciation does not get beyond these two levels are those I call low-brow. And I am one of them.

But I am aware there are higher levels of appreciation and criticism that can be scaled. The third level is that of technique, such as the quality of writing and things like acting and directing and cinematography and sound and lighting. And then there is the fourth and highest level, which I call deep meaning or significance, where there is a hidden message which, unlike the message at the second level, is not at all obvious but which has to be unearthed (or even invented) by scholars in the field or people who have a keen sensitivity to such things.

I almost never get beyond the first two levels. In fact, if the first level does not appeal to me, then no level of technique or profundity will rescue the experience. This does not mean that the items in the third level do not matter. They obviously are central to the enjoyment of the experience. It is just that I rarely notice the third level items unless they are so bad that it ruins the storytelling aspect. If the dialogue or acting (for example) is really rotten, then I will notice it but if I don’t notice these things at all, then it means that they were good.

But I don’t even consider these things unless the first two levels are satisfactory. If the first two levels are bad, nothing at the higher levels can salvage the experience for me. I never leave a film saying things like “The story was awful but the camerawork was excellent.”

As an example, I really enjoy Alfred Hitchcock’s films and have seen nearly all of them, many multiple times. But I just enjoy the way he tells the stories. Since I enjoy reading about films after I have watched them, I often find people pointing out subtle effects of technique such as how he uses lighting or sets up a camera angle or how he creates a mood, and so on. While I enjoy having these things pointed out to me, I would never notice them on my own.

The same thing holds with the music soundtrack. When friends tell me that they enjoyed the soundtrack of a film that is not a musical, my usual response is “what soundtrack?” The only films in which I notice the soundtrack are those in which there are obvious songs, such as in (say) The Graduate or Midnight Cowboy, the latter having a wonderful theme song Everybody’s Talkin’ by Harry Nillson and a beautifully haunting harmonica score that so pervades the film that even I noticed it.

The same happens with the fourth level of analysis, which is even more inaccessible to me. Just recently I read that in several of Hitchcock’s films, he was exploring homosexual themes. I had no idea and would never have figured that out on my own. While I have no talent for exploring these deeper levels of meaning, I appreciate the fact that there are people who can do so and are willing to share that knowledge. Reading them and talking about films with such knowledgeable and keenly observant people is a real pleasure.

I once had pretensions to ‘higher criticism’ (which deals with the third and fourth levels) myself but that ended one day when it became dramatically obvious that I had no clue how to do it. It was in 1975 when I watched the film If. . . (1968) by director Lindsay Anderson. I like Anderson’s films a lot. He creates strange and quirky films that deal with class politics in Britain, such as This Sporting Life (1963) and O Lucky Man (1973). The last one has an absolutely brilliant soundtrack and I noticed it because it consists of songs sung by British rocker Alan Price and he and his group periodically appear in the film to sing them, so you can’t miss the music. It is one of the rare CDs I bought of a film soundtrack, it was so good.

Anyway, my friends and I watched If. . . and we noticed that while most of the film was in color, some of the scenes were in black and white. We spent a long time afterwards trying to determine the significance of this, with me coming up with more and more elaborate explanations for the director’s intent, trying to make my theories fit the narrative. By an odd coincidence, soon after that I read an article that explained everything. It said that while making the film, Anderson had run low on money and had had to complete shooting with cheaper black and white film. Since films are shot out of sequence, the final product had this mix of color and black and white footage. That was it, the whole explanation, making laughable my elaborate theories about directorial intent. It was then that I gave up on the higher criticism, realizing that I would simply be making a fool of myself.

There are some films that are self-consciously technique-oriented, and I can appreciate them as such. For example Memento and Mulholland Drive are films that are clearly designed by the director to have the viewer try and figure out what is going on. They are like puzzles and I can enjoy them because they are essentially mystery stories (one of my favorite genres) in which the goal is to determine the director’s intent and methods used. Both films were a lot of fun to watch and grapple with.

But except in those special cases, I leave ‘higher criticism’ to those better equipped to do so. That is the nice thing about creative works of art. One can appreciate and enjoy them at so many different levels and each viewer or reader can select the level that best suits them.

Next: A low-brow view of books.

Morality and ‘people of faith’

Former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney has declared himself a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2008. I argued earlier that Romney’s religion (he is a Mormon) should be immaterial to whether he is qualified to be President.

But at a recent campaign event, he was challenged by someone who called him a “pretender” because as a Mormon he did not believe in Jesus Christ. Instead of answering that a person’s faith was a private affair that did not belong in the public sphere and closing the discussion on that topic, Romney responded that “We need to have a person of faith lead the country.”

Obviously I disagree with that but it also strikes me that Romney has opened himself up a can of worms because once you say that faith is necessary for being president, you have to deal with the issue of what kinds of faiths are allowed. This means that questions about the suitability of a person’s faith can become part of the political discussion. What about Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism? Are believers in those religions considered ‘persons of faith’? What about a person who has faith in tree spirits or voodoo or Satan or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Are those faiths good enough? There is no question at all that the leaders of al Qaeda are ‘persons of faith’ by any reasonable definition of the term. So are their faiths acceptable?

A good question to ask Romney, which has been made legitimate by his response, is what criteria he uses to determine what constitutes an appropriate faith. Of course, no candidate or the media is going to discuss these kinds of questions because it would be too awkward. They know that there is no answer that can be given that does not (at best) contradict the US constitution that religious beliefs cannot be a test for public office or (at worst) comes across as rank bigotry. Both media and candidates tend to use ‘person of faith’ as code for ‘people just like us.’

As Atrios says:

It’s become vogue for politicians to make their religious beliefs, their “faith,” central parts of their campaigns. If they do so, it’s quite fair for people take a look at just what those beliefs are.

Romney says only a “person of faith” can be president. Plenty of people are going to say they don’t want a Mormon to be president. Is this bigotry, an objection to belief (or lack), or both?

Want to make personal religious beliefs a central issue in politics? Fine, bring it on. You guys can fight it out.

“We need to have a person of faith lead the country.”

“We need to have a Christian to lead the country.”

“We need to have a member of the Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915 to lead this country.”

Where’s the line?

The phrase ‘person of faith’ has come to mean someone who believes in some supernatural entity, but more importantly, believes in things similar to what you believe. In particular, it is used to signify a particular stance on certain moral issues.

For example, in response to an earlier post on this topic, a reader emailed me the following:

To me, without a presumption of a Divine Creator, objective morality is impossible. How will we judge anyone, if their retort is effectively, “my behavior might not seem right to you, but it’s right for me”? Unless we can state some objective ground for morality, all our law goes out the window, and anarchy must result. That conclusion seems inevitable.

I am always puzzled by the assertion that belief in a god leads to an ‘objective morality.’ How can that be squared with the blatant contradictions that are so easily observable? After all, we have all kinds of different religions that believe in a ‘Divine Creator’ and yet they all have different moralities. We even have within religions (be they Christianity, Judaism or Islam) different moralities even though they claim to believe in the same version of god. And even within each tradition morality has changed with time, so that what Christians and Jews and Muslims consider moral now is quite incompatible with what was considered moral in the past. To belabor the obvious, owning slaves and the ritual sacrificing of animals was considered quite moral at one time.

Rather than belief in a Divine Creator being the basis of morality, it seems pretty clear that people use their ideas about morality to decide what version of god they would like to believe in. In other words, ideas about morality are prior to belief in a god.

This idea that belief in a god is the basis of morality is so obviously contradicted by the facts that I can only conclude that this is an example of the power of religion to blind people to logic and reason.

Tennessee: The state that never gives up

Readers will recall that Dayton, TN was where the celebrated Scopes trial on the teaching of evolution was held back in 1925. Well, that state is still fighting against the teaching of evolution.

The latest effort is chronicled in the newspaper the Nashville Postwhich reports on a resolution proposed by State Sen. Raymond Finney (R-Maryville). The senator, a retired physician, clearly thinks he has come up with a clever way of putting the state’s Department of Education on the spot, presumably because they teach evolution without mentioning god. So Finney is asking the Senate to endorse certain questions that he would like to pose to the Department of Education. The department has to provide a response by January 15, 2008.

A Tennessee State Senate member has filed a resolution asking the Tennessee Department of Education to address a few basic questions about life, the universe and all that:

(1) Is the Universe and all that is within it, including human beings, created through purposeful, intelligent design by a Supreme Being, that is a Creator?

Understand that this question does not ask that the Creator be given a name. To name the Creator is a matter of faith. The question simply asks whether the Universe has been created or has merely happened by random, unplanned, and purposeless occurrences.

Further understand that this question asks that the latest advances in multiple scientific disciplines –such as physics, astronomy, molecular biology, DNA studies, physiology, paleontology, mathematics, and statistics – be considered, rather than relying solely on descriptive and hypothetical suppositions.

If the answer to Question 1 is “Yes,” please answer Question 2:

(2) Since the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught in Tennessee public schools?

If the answer to Question 1 is “This question cannot be proved or disproved,” please answer Question 3:

(3) Since it cannot be determined whether the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught as an alternative concept, explanation, or theory, along with the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools?

If the answer to Question 1 is “No” please accept the General Assembly’s admiration for being able to decide conclusively a question that has long perplexed and occupied the attention of scientists, philosophers, theologians, educators, and others.

I am always happy to help out people. So in the spirit of pure charity, I offer free-of charge to the Tennessee Department of Education, the answers to the senator’s questions.

1. This is a question that cannot be answered scientifically. (This answer corresponds to his option of “This question cannot be proved or disproved” but I changed it slightly because his wording is awkward since you cannot prove or disprove a question.) So following the senator’s flow chart, we move on to question 3.

2. Not applicable

3. Because creationism is not science, it should not be taught in science classes.

No need to thank me, Senator Finney and the Tennessee Department of Education. I am happy to oblige.

This has been an edition of simple answers to questions.

POST SCRIPT: Editorial cartoons

Bob Geiger has the latest roundup.

Macho Christianity

It had to happen some time. I have written before about how most people’s knowledge of the Bible is a CliffsNotes version, just the sketchiest of outlines of what is says. This is convenient because it enables each group or individual within Christianity and Judaism to pretty much adopt any lifestyle and morals and values and claim that it is how god would want them to live.

But in actual practice there are some restrictions. In contemporary America, there has grown up the consensus that to be a religious means at the very least avoiding drunkenness and profanity and promiscuous sex. Dressing nicely, going to church on Sundays, being polite and nice to others, and shaking hands with strangers in the pews are highly recommended. This has to be limiting to people who like to think of themselves as ‘real’ men and want to drink and swear and run around but still want to be considered Christian. Such people are worried that Christianity is becoming a religion for wusses.
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The creeping immorality in public discourse

Sometimes I wonder what passes for brains and morals among some of our so-called ‘respected’ journalists. Take Ted Koppel, former host of ABC’s Nightline and now an analyst for NPR. In a recent op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, he starts by taking a fairly sensible stand, that any sanctions imposed against Iran can be easily subverted and that the US does not have a realistic chance of preventing that country from obtaining nuclear weapons if it is determined to do so. Koppel says “What, then, can the United States do to prevent Iran from developing nuclear technology? Little or nothing. Washington should instead bow to the inevitable.” He continues: “If Iran is bound and determined to have nuclear weapons, let it.”
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How relations with Iran were sabotaged

The surprising statement by Condoleeza Rice yesterday that the US was reversing course on its previously adamant insistence against having talks with Iran and Syria, and was willing to attend six-party talks next month hosted by Iraq that will include both countries, is being hailed as a welcome sign of change by the Bush administration to try diplomacy instead of war. I wish I could feel as hopeful but I have become deeply cynical of the motives of this administration.

My skepticism is because there are reasons why this could be just a feint. Some members of Congress, alarmed by the war-like rhetoric coming out of the White House, have introduced a resolution expressly prohibiting an attack on Iran without their explicit approval. The suggestion of talks with Iran may be aimed at defusing those moves. Or it may be that the Bush administration thinks that before it initiates an air assault on Iran, it needs to show that it tried diplomacy and failed, and these talks are meant to suggest that they tried everything.

Whatever the reason behind this abrupt switch, this marks the latest shift of a turbulent relationship between the US and Iran. The February 19, 2007 issue of Newsweek has an informative article by Michael Hirsch and Maziar Bahari on how the US relationship with Iran has see-sawed. It had been clear for some time that Iran had sought closer ties with the US, after the low-point caused by the student takeover of the US embassy in 1979. Perhaps the best chance came at improving relations after the events of 9/11. Iran had arrested members of al Qaeda in that country and an Iranian official said:

“We wanted to truly condemn the attacks but we also wished to offer an olive branch to the United States, showing we were interested in peace,” says Adeli. To his relief, Iran’s top official, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, quickly agreed. “The Supreme Leader was deeply suspicious of the American government,” says a Khameini aide whose position does not allow him to be named. “But [he] was repulsed by these terrorist acts and was truly sad about the loss of the civilian lives in America.”

Iran was opposed to the Taliban and thus did not oppose the American invasion of Afghanistan and even offered $500 million dollars (twice what the US was offering) in reconstruction aid for the country. They also worked with the US in November and December of 2001 in setting up the post-Taliban Afghan government structure.

But that was the high point of the collaboration and things fell apart soon after that. The trigger for the decline was Bush’s State of the Union speech in January 2002 that included the infamous ‘axis of evil’ phrase. Michael Gerson, Bush’s speechwriter at the time, said that the Bush administration had already decided to invade Iraq but did not want to single out Iraq alone in his 2002 speech as that would make things too obvious. So they looked for other countries to include in the speech to camouflage their true intent and Condoleeza Rice suggested that North Korea and Iran be added. This labeling stunned the Iranians, completely discrediting those in the Iranian government who were pushing for closer ties with the US, and confirming the view of the chief Iranian cleric Ali Khamenei that the US simply could not be trusted. Relations never recovered after that.

The Newsweek article implies that this feint strategy to include Iran in the axis of evil was purely for domestic public relations purposes that had unintended and disastrous foreign policy consequences but I find that hard to believe. The neoconservative clique that has such a stranglehold on the Bush administration has always wanted to attack Iran and they must have been concerned at the rapprochement between the two countries. I suspect they were instrumental, through Rice, in including Iran, knowing that it would completely sour relations and increase the chances of hostilities.

But even after this there was a glimmer of hope when, after the 2003 attack on Iraq, Iran sent a fax to the US State Department offering talks on a wide range of issues. I wrote about this sometime ago but the actual fax is now available. Iran probably felt vulnerable because of the swift sweep of US forces into Iraq and thus offered to make concessions on almost everything, including its nuclear program. Condoleeza Rice now says that she cannot remember seeing the fax, an extraordinary admission about such an important development. It frankly seems far-fetched that Rice would not be aware of such a thing. One can only conclude that this administration, or at least key people in it, had decided that they were going to war with Iran and wanted to have nothing to do with anything that might deflect them from that course.

But this was another squandered opportunity, confirming to the Iranians that the US was not interested in improving relations.

I hope I am wrong in my cynicism about the latest warming trend, and that there will genuinely be a move back from the brink of another war and towards a better relationship between the US and Iran.

POST SCRIPT: The dark world of Dick Cheney

It used to be thought that Dick Cheney was the “grown-up” in this administration, there to provide gravitas and advise the inexperienced Bush. What has actually emerged is that Cheney is a man of appallingly bad judgment, almost paranoid in his fears about the threats to the US, and the most belligerent advocate for the neoconservative agenda of more and wider wars. It is suggested that it is no accident that the latest diplomatic overture by the US towards Iran occurred when he was out of the country and that on his return he might try and scuttle it.

There is now a growing awareness that Cheney is a dangerous and reckless man, who is willing to disregard evidence and say anything to further his agenda. Matthew Yglesias argues that Cheney has become both a national joke and a national nightmare, “a man whose track record of dishonesty, catastrophically poor judgments, and world-historical stubbornness makes the rest of the Bush administration look reasonable.” And Josh Marshall adds that “outside of the hardcore of Bush dead-enders, people know he’s at best an incompetent fool.”

This telling cartoon suggests that more and more people are coming round to the kind of view.

The Failure of Intelligent Design Creationism

On Monday I attended the talk given by intelligent design creationism (IDC) advocate Michael Behe (author of Darwin’s Black Box) at Strosacker. The program consisted of a talk for about an hour by Behe followed by a 20-minute response by Professor Hillel Chiel of the Biology Department at Case.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am quite familiar with the IDC program, having read Behe’s book and other IDC literature, written about the topic extensively, and debated Behe and other IDC advocates in 2002 in Kansas and again in Michigan. So I was curious to see what new developments had occurred since my last encounter with him.

Michael Behe gives good talks and the full auditorium had an enjoyable evening. He has an engaging manner, good sense of humor, and presents his ideas in a clear way. But I already knew that having heard his talks before. What disappointed me was that there was absolutely nothing new in his talk, which was entirely a rehash of the same things he was saying five years ago. The examples he gave in support of intelligent design were the same as in his book that was published in 1996. The only new things since that book were his rebuttals of some criticisms of his book, but even those were things that he said in his 2002 talks. I recognized all the quotes and examples.
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The forces pushing for war with Iran

Most rational people view the idea of the US going to war with Iran as downright insane. To create another horrific situation for the people in Iran similar to what the Iraqi people are currently undergoing would seem to be unthinkable to any humane person. But even for those lacking in such humanitarian impulses and who only think in terms of political calculations (especially when the suffering is borne by others), it still would not seem to make any sense. Here we have the US military bogged down and stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the US government isolated internationally. Why would Bush take on Iran as well, knowing that it would, at the very least, alienate large segments of the Shia community in Iraq when it desperately depends on that group to prevent the anti-US insurgency initiated by largely by the minority Sunni groups to become a full-scale and widespread revolt which the US would be unlikely to withstand?
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Another Gulf of Tonkin coming up?

If there is to be an attack on Iran, the Bush administration will have a harder time selling it to the US public, mainly because of the growing realization that the public was willfully misled about the reasons for going to war against Iraq. Some observers argue that convincing the skeptical public to go along will require the equivalent of a ‘Gulf of Tonkin’ incident. This was the infamous event, manufactured by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, when he falsely alleged an attack by North Vietnamese forces on US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin to push through a resolution in Congress that gave him almost unlimited powers to wage war in South East Asia. It was later revealed that the ‘retaliation’ launched by the US was actually a plan that had been created some time earlier and needed a trigger which this ‘incident’ conveniently provided. The media then, like the media now, did not critically evaluate these claims but joined the rush to escalate the war, resulting in a quagmire that caused immense suffering for the Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian people and led to the eventual US defeat in 1975.
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