the EPOCH JOURNAL
VOLUME V ISSUE I
WHAT’S HAPPENING to MIGRANT WORKERS in KUWAIT? by Shikshya Adhikari PRESIDENTIAL POWER in HONDURAS by Erin Shadowens plus 10 YEARS in OIL SPILLS and REVIEWS of SEBASTIAN JUNGER’S “WAR” GENE HEALY’S “THE CULT of the PRESIDENCY” FA L L 2 0 1 0
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volume v, issue i
editor-in-chief Tex Pasley managing editor Erin Shadowens visual director John Vining layout editor J. Keenan Trotter business managers Shikshya Adhikari Andrew Donders web master Louis Pisha founding editor Zachary Fryer-Biggs ÂŠ 2010, The Epoch Journal disclaimer The Epoch Journal is produced and distributed in annapolis, maryland. opinions expressed in articles or illustrations are not necessarily those of the editorial board or st. johnâ€™s college. advertising please contact business manager shikshya adhikari for information on advertisements at firstname.lastname@example.org. mailing address p.o. box 1495 annapolis, md 21404 website www.epochjournal.org
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he magazine you’re holding right now is the first issue of the fifth volume of The Epoch. I have been a part of the magazine for every issue since the beginning of my freshman year, having my byline published in the majority of those issues. However, at the All-College Fair this year, a fellow senior came up to me surprised that The Epoch is still around—he thought that the staff was composed entirely of students who graduated last year. Anecdotes like this are not uncommon; I would letter from suspect a good number of the editor people on campus do not pay attention to The Epoch, or have severe misconceptions about what it is and the purpose it serves, probably because they do not pay attention to it. On more than one occasion I have corrected a person who had wrongly perceived something about the magazine—for instance that we do not do interviews. In almost every case, these perceptions could have been rectified if they had simply read an article. Obviously, the fact that you are reading this now indicates that you are, at the very least, engaging some of this magazine’s content. It is to you, then, that I address this statement. Primarily, I want to articulate the goal of The Epoch. A condensed form of the point in this article will appear in every issue as an Editorial Statement. When I explain The Epoch to anyone, I say we are a current events magazine. This definition works functionally, but I would like to elaborate on that definition. Simply saying we are a “current events” magazine puts us in a category with a score of other publications, many of which you can read in the Greenfield Library. All these magazines publish more frequently and work with larger budgets than we do. By labeling ourselves simply a current events magazine, we simply place ourselves at the bottom of a long list of other magazines with the same purpose. So why should you read The Epoch? The brief answer is that it is a current events publication 4
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which incorporates the St. John’s perspective. I know that this answer is not that helpful. It is probably unresolved amongst the Polity what exactly the “St. John’s perspective” is, and to what extent it incorporates current events, if it does at all. I am not going to put these questions to rest in this letter. Rather, I want to simply outline how I think The Epoch is in accord with St. John’s perspective, and how reading it should enhance the St. John’s education. The most important part of any feature article we write is the interviews. There is no news article which does not feature interviews with people who are experiencing the event we cover. The writers do the interviewing themselves, typically through internet phone services such as Skype. The writer of the story takes a backseat to the quotes. However, since all the writers are St. John’s students, they are expected to insert their own analysis of the event. This does not mean that our articles are news masquerading as opinion, but we do not expect that a story will be merely a factual retelling of events. Through the combination of quotes and the writer’s analysis, each article should present the reader with questions about the issue at hand. In that way, an article resembles an unfinished discussion, one which we hope the readers of the article will take up with fellow students. We will also feature book reviews about books having to do with politics and current events. It doesn’t need to be said that St. John’s students read, and I hope that our book reviews incite you to think about current political issues and how they relate to the timeless political issues that we study on The Program. In short, The Epoch is for any student who wants to think about how their education fits into the events going on around us. Since it is a student-composed publication, we are always seeking new contributors, whether it takes the form of an article, book review, or letter to the editor. I hope you enjoy our redesign and the content of the first issue. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to get in touch with me. —Tex Pasley, Editor-in-Chief
Manpower The plight of migrant workers in Kuwait.
by shikshya adhikari
he maids are always harassed “Recently, I heard about a Filipino worker and treated badly and they are who gave birth in an airoplane and left her not allowed to go home. Treatbaby in a trash bin of the plane. The woman ments like these have led these workers to was said to have been raped which made her throw themselves out of the window or react in such a way.” sort to other means of suicide,” says Khaled About 85 percent of household workers Abdullah El Ansary, a Kuwati citizen. suffer from continual verbal attacks from Foreign domestic workers in Kuwait have their employers and that the children in a been seeking asylum in their respective household are also given permission to insult embassies as a result of inhumane workthe workers. ing conditions. On April 1, 2010, The New Along with these kinds of abuses, some York Times reported that dozens of Nepali employers will confiscate passports and household workers had fled their employother legal documents in order to prevent ers’ households and were seeking asylum in workers from leaving their employment. The the Nepali Embassy in Kuwait October, 2010 edition of the Hu(‘Immigrant Maids Flee Lives of man Rights Watch publication, interviewees Abuse in Kuwait’). “Walls at Every Turn,” reports “As far as I know, the basic that many workers generally are Khaled Abdullah El Ansary, working conditions seem to be Kuwaiti citizen; Manuel given the the choice between very bad”, says Sachin Joshi, a Ne- Sy-Quia, St. John’s College living in abusive circumstances student; Sachin Joshi, Nepali pali student in India, in an email. (sexual assault, deprivation of “These women workers seem to student in Pune, India; Olie food and health care ,etc.) or losPhillipian citizen; Abwork for long hours without get- Lucas, ing their legal residence in the dallah Ali Alkandri, Kuwaiti ting a day’s break. I have heard citizen; Buddhimang Tamang, host country. Confiscation of reports of violent physical, sexual Katmandhu, Nepal. their passports also seems to be and of course, mental abuse.” a way, no doubt an effective one, Reports describe horrible exto prevent workers from going amples of abuse: women have home. had acid thrown at them; many “The workers do not get to go women have been raped by their home at all. If a worker asks her employers. Olie Lucas, a citizen employer for permission to go of the Philippines talks about an home, all she gets is an outright incident where a Filipino worker ‘No’,” El Ansary explains. When gave birth, which was the result of asked whether workers can find her being raped by her employer. other employers, El Ansary’s FA L L 2 0 1 0
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to a Gulf News’ article by Martin Youssef, “Five percent of the population are domestic workers according to a new study of Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.” Statistics show that between 2000 and 2006, the number of maids in Kuwait increased from 263,681 to 489,305 - approximately an 83 percent increase. When The Epoch asked the reason behind such a great flow of immigrant workers, the answer was the same: good money. “They [workers] are more comfortable, in the sense that they receive more salary here than in their respective countries because of the economy being dependent on abundant oil resources,” Abdallah Ali Alkandri, a Kuwaiti citizen, says. The oil resources in Kuwait have become better means for workers coming from economically challenged countries. “Income is less in Nepal”, says Buddhiman Tamang, a Nepali citizen. He adds, “People tend to earn less money here even after working really hard. It is very difficult to find suitable jobs because of the slow economic condition and this gets in the way of sustaining a family. Compared to the salary here, the income is way better.” Sy-Quia says, “The case is similar in the Philippines as well. There are not enough jobs and even if there are jobs, these jobs are mostly suitable for well-educated people”. He also adds, “I’ve heard of public school teachers from the Philippines going to Kuwait and other Middle-East countries and working as domestic helpers just because they are paid more.” The salary looks as if it varies from household to household. El Ansary says, “The pay, is very less. Sometimes, a whole month’s pay is barely sufficent to buy a day’s meal.” Ali Alkandri says, “They are paid fairly well. However, this does not give the employers the right to treat their workers poorly.” When asked whether workers enter Kuwait aware of its reputation, Tamang an-
photo by steve and jemma copley
reply was somewhat positive. “The chance of finding another place to work and being treated well is about fifty to eighty-five percent.” Manuel Sy-Quia, a sophomore at St. John’s College, speaks about an incident where the employer confiscated the passport of his worker. For instance, Maneul Sy-Quia, a sophomore at St. John’s College, speaks about an incident where the employer confiscated the passport of his worker. “The worker killed her Saudi Arabian employer and was chased for several days. She found asylum in the Filipino Embassy. Thankfully, everything went well for us.” Most of these household workers come from The Philippines, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. According to the above mentioned Human Rights Watch publication, the demand for domestic workers has increased since 1965, corresponding to the huge increase in Kuwait’s oil revenues. Since 2009, the number of domestic workers in Kuwait is approximately 660,000. In particular, foreign workers have experienced abuse in domestic jobs. “Having foreign workers in their house gives the people here more reason to treat them badly. People here have a very high opinion of themselves. They think that the workers are there to serve and do their bidding continuously,” El Ansary says. “The government does not care about them.” National laws in Kuwait offer some protections for workers; for example, agencies cannot collect recruitment fees from their workers. The Kuwaiti constitution also protects workers against forced confinement and protects the right to legal protection in cases of physical and sexual assault. In 2007, the Ministry of Labor banned passport confiscation by employers; however, the problem seems to lie in poor enforcement of these laws in the private sector. However, the flow of women workers to Kuwait, UAE (United Arab Emirates), and other places has not stopped. According
Kuwait Towers kuwait city, kuwait
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swers: â€œMost of them are not ignorant of what kind of situations they will have to face once they arrive in such countries. However, they find this option better because it gives them hope better financial growth, which helps them keep their families in a better condition. Most companies, unlike those in Nepal, do tend to pay overtime wages to these workers. Therefore, they prepare themselves for hard labor, but, of course, not for any kind of abuse. Awareness of such abuses should be increased in Nepal. It is the work of the manpower agencies to do so.â€? These manpower agencies have become a flourishing business in the past 8-10 years. Their business lies in helping the workers find employment in foreign countries, contacting the employers on behalf of the workers and assisting the workers in applying for visa. When asked what kind of roles do these manpower agencies play, Tamang replies, â€œMost of the workers seek the help of manpower agencies because of their illeteracy and ignorance of the process of applying for a job in a foreign country. The manpower agencies help them a lot with documentation.â€? The existence of these manpower agencies raises the question of whether these agencies should be responsible for ensuring the rights of their workers. Tamang says, â€œThe agencies are very re-
sponsible in helping the people find desired jobs in foreign countries. If the workers are not satisfied with the jobs that they get, the agencies try their best to put them in some other available positions. This is how far they can go.â€? The manpower agencies, however, do not seem to be in a position to regulate the employers who hire the workers. â€œOnce they are there [Kuwait], they seem to be on their own,â€? Joshi says. Nevertheless, the workers from India and the Philippines have been receiving some government protection. In 2008, India fixed a minimum wage for their women workers in the UAE. The fixed mimimun wage was 1,100 dirhams ($300). â€œThere are government agencies in the Philippines who work to regulate the manpower agencies in their sending of women workers to the middle-eastern countries,â€? SyQuia says. According to the October 15, 2010 News Release of Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, licensed recruitment agencies or foreign employers are held responsible for the insurance of their workers. â€œThe Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has been administering a fund for for the benefit of overseas workers,â€? Olie Lucas, a citizen of Philippines explains. Nevertheless, according to Joshi, â€œDespite
the existence of all these regulations, the workers have not been able to get good protection in the host countries.” This leads us to the question of what sort of roles do embassies play in these countries. “Embassies should play a more pro-active more in listing the workers who enter the countries. They should keep a good track or especially those workers who have enter the countries illegally. Both embassies and the host countries should adopt a protocol that is pragmatic and better attuned to the needs of both employers in the host country and their guest workers.” India is taking some active measures in order to ensure the right of its workers. According to The Indian News article by Aroonim Bhuyan, any employer recruiting an Indian
citizen will have to approach the Indian Embassy or Consulate with another Indian national who will serve as a character witness; that is to say, the employer is of good social, political and economic standing. The employer will also have to submit an application to be permitted to recruit a domestic worker. “The Phillipines Embassy too,” says Lucas, “has been able to provide asylum to workers in dire need who have approached it. However, the real problem lies in finding workers who need help. And, there is some reluctance to provide help to the workers who have entered the host country illegally.” Despite of the efforts of recruitment agencies and embassies, abuse of foreign domestic workers remains widespread. Reports of the workers or the government pressing charges against the abusive employers are rare as well. “The reports of abuses are numerous and against employers very less. However, I hope that they are isolated cases and not the norm,” Al Alkandri says. “Preventing the workers from working in these countries is not an easy task.” The primary problem for migrant workers, and partially the solution, lies in the proper enforcement of the laws in the domestic sector; which, as of now, is not reliable. ■ advertisement
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Pictured are oil spills that have occurred around the world in the past few years. The map is not complete, nor does it account for spillage that comes much more slowly, such as a leaking well. Given the constant reporting on the Deepwater Horizon spill over the summer, it would have been irresponsible not to acknowledge it in some way. Instead of simply covering Deepwater again, this graphic presents other major oil spills in recent history, including one which is still ongoing. It is important to understand that Deepwater was not an isolated incident; more than five spills in 2010 have deposited more than 1,000 tons of oil into the surrounding water. The immense environmental and economic damage that major spills like Exxon Valdez and Deepwater inflict is only a part of the overall picture. â€”Tex Pasley Design by John Vining
vector graphics by luke roberts
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Trial by Error The aftermath of Honduras’s coup d’état.
by erin shadowens
od! are you dense? There was have taken him out of the country. It was not no coup! The law was being fola coup d’état. It was legal, following the law.” lowed. The fact that the laws The Honduran constitution clearly rehere are different from the laws in the States stricts the President to a single term. Nevdoes not mean they are wrong,” Guillermo ertheless, President Zelaya and other memMejia, a citizen of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, bers of the country’s liberal bloc proposed a says. non-binding ballot referendum, which would On the morning of June 28, 2009, the Hondetermine whether or not the government duran military carried out an order from the should convene a constitutional assembly to Attorney General to remove then President, review and make changes to the constitution. Manuel Zelaya, from office. Zelaya was arThe Honduran Supreme Court determined rested at his home in the capital, Tegucithat such a referendum was unconstitutional. galpa, and immediately put on a plane out of “Only the electoral college can call to the the country. Despite attempts to re-enter the people for a vote to change the constitution,” country, Zelaya remains in exile. explains Mejia. “Article 374, it’s treason to The international community change the law regarding reelecresponded with loud condem- interviewees tion. Article 375, disobeying a nation. Honduras was removed supreme court rule about a poll. from the Organization of Ameri- Guillermo Mejia, According to article 4 changing can States (OAS), the primary Honduran citizen. what Zelaya wanted to change, diplomatic body for the Ameriwhich is reelection and changcan continent, Venezuela and ing the way of government like Brazil boycotted negotiations Zelaya wanted, is treason to the between Costa Rica and Honcountry, in some countries treaduras, the United States severely son is punished by death.” cut foreign aid, and independent Honduras has a problem, a watch dog groups, such as Huconstitutional problem. Zelaya is man Rights Watch and Amnesty not the only Honduran President International, cried foul when the who wants to amend the constimilitary suspended constitutional tutional restrictions of Presidenrights, including habeas corpus, tial term limits. free speech, and free assembly. “He is going the same way as “They were doing exactly what Zelaya was,” says Mejia, “he” bethe constitution says should be ing current President Porfirio done,” says Mejia. “They shouldn’t Lobo Sosa. “He wants to change 12
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the constitution, when most people don’t.” President Lobo Sosa’s support of unpopular constitutional amendments merely exacerbates existing political problems. Although democratically elected, the aftermath of the Zelaya deposition has seriously undermined Sosa’s ability to govern. While Mejia insists that the removal of Zelaya was necessary and legal, roughly half of Hondurans disagree. In a poll taken by the Honduran publication Estudio de Opinion Publica, fifty-two percent of Hondurans disagreed with how the military carried out the coup. While only forty-four percent voiced a decidedly favorable opinion of Zelaya, as the activist organization, Feminists in Resistance, said in a letter to President Obama, “Honduras is headed towards a possible civil war. Months, or perhaps years of economic and political isolation awaits us. We have reached this situation due to a military-civil coup that kidnapped and deposed the democratically elected president, who have come to power by popular vote, as the law of the nation mandates. With this,
twenty-eight years of democracy were broken, and one of the most consolidated democracies in Latin American has been put to an end.” While the letter engages in some hyperbole, certain statements prove prophetic. Interim President Roberto Micheletti imposed curfews, shut down leftist media outlets, and used the military to strong-arm anti-coup protesters. Clearly, this was not democratic rule. Presumably, Lobo Sosa’s democratic election should have pointed to a reconciliation amongst Honduras’s political factions. Nevertheless, not all Hondurans even recognize Lobo Sosa’s election as legitimate. A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll found that forty-two percent of Hondurans considered any new elections after the coup to be illegitimate. Moreover, political leaders of other countries have refused to acknowledge Lobo Sosa’s regime in diplomatic forums at all. After the coup, Chavez said in defense of Zelaya, FA L L 2 0 1 0
“To the coup mongers we say, ‘we are ready for action.’ These are not empty words. We have already started to mobilize. This coup will be defeated by the people of Honduras and those of us that are outside of Honduras but equally feel ourselves to be Honduran.”
Later, investigations by the Micheletti government found that several Honduran ambassadors received payment from the Chavez government. Furthermore, Venezuelan activists have repeatedly entered Honduras to participate in protests. While Lobo Sosa has been able to ensure relative peace in the cities, Chavez has continued to threaten the current Honduran government. Although the threats are more for the sake of posturing than an actual military threat, Chavez’s opposition to Lobo Sosa has effectively obstructed the country’s ability to again engage other Latin American countries in a political dialogue. Brazil, like Venezuela, still refuses to participate in negotiations with the Lobo Sosa government. The United States is attempting to foster Honduras’ readmission into the Organization of American States, which nevertheless runs the risk of damaging the U.S.’s diplomatic relationship with Brazil.
obo sosa’s ability to govern is heavily impeded abroad, but his primary challenge is in the political consolidation of the Honduran people. The problem for Mejia is that Lobo Sosa does not present a real alternative to Zelaya.
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“They belong to different parties, but that’s where it all seems to end. They are both from the same departamento, Olancho, they are both terratenientes, which means the own huge tracts of land, and people say the are related, which I don’t really know. But right know they seem to think the same way. They think that being president they are entitled to do whatever they want whenever they want.” Lobo Sosa’s government is not free from accusations of corruption and human rights abuses. Reporters without Borders records eight journalists dying under suspicious circumstances and illegal arrests of protesters. Moreover, Lobo Sosa’s support of longer Presidential terms, for Mejia, demonstrates the necessity of the military interference in political affairs. “The military were executing a court order from the Honduran Supreme Court. The constitution says that the military or the police can execute a warrant issued by the Supreme Court. And the military had to serve the warrant because in a public act Zelaya said that no one could serve him with a warrant from the Supreme Court, because no one would dare. The chief of police was there and he said he wouldn’t.” Mejia does not disregard the possibility that the military could lawfully remove Lobo Sosa from office, in the event that he attempts to violate constitutional limits on his power. Nevertheless, the health of Honduras’s democracy depends on whether or not the country can stand on popular sovereignty alone or if the military acts as the primary protectorate of the law. ■
Books In Combat J. Keenan Trotter
uan restrepo, according to SebasIn Sebastian Junger’s memoir, WAR tian Junger, “spoke with a slight lisp (Twelve; $27) the magazine journalist chronand brushed his teeth compulsively and icles the year he spent in Afghanistan with played classical and flamenco guitar at the 173rd’s 2nd Platoon—Restrepo’s old unit— barbecues men threw on base.” Restrepo, which was, at the time of Junger’s quest, one who died in Afghanistan when he was servof the most combat-prone platoons in the ening as a combat medic in the United States tire Army. And Junger did see a good deal of Army, once “showed up at a morning PT fire. He convincingly describes the snapping drunk from the night before, but [was] still of bullets, mortars shaking the earth, rockets able to run a two-mile in twelve and a half ripping open the sky. Yet as he demonstrates minutes and do a hundred sit-ups.” Some in his frequent digressions about the nature months before his death, Junger of war, Junger is not especially took a train ride through northconcerned with the particular work discussed ern Italy with Restrepo—his comdynamics and experiences of bat team, the 173rd Airborne, is the 2nd Platoon. Instead, he fobased in Vicenza—and recorded WAR cuses on the cultural moment him saying “We’re goin’ to war. Sebastian Junger which he, and the extant war in We’re ready. We’re goin’ to war … Twelve Books Afghanistan, inhabits—somewe’re goin’ to war.” Deep into the times with piercing clarity. The summer of 2007, Restrepo was Army, for instance, employs a out on a foot patrol, in the Korengal Valley— kind of rocket called the Javelin which “can “the most hotly contested valley of the entire be steered into the window of speeding car American sector,” per Junger—when he and half a mile away. Each Javelin round costs the soldiers with him began to draw fire from $80,000, and the idea that it’s being fired by a Taliban foot soldiers. An “extremely well guy who doesn’t make that in a year at a guy liked” soldier, “brave under fire,” who “took who doesn’t make that in a lifetime is somecare of his men in every possible way”—and how so outrageous it almost makes the war just twenty years old when he died later that seem winnable.” day, at a base called the Korengal Outpost to which he had been flown by helicopter—Rehe friction between the daily life strepo was the only man to take fire on that engaged by soldiers and the much hot July afternoon. larger consciousness of war—especially as
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mediated through television and newspapers—is the central tension which Junger both acknowledges and attempts to reconcile. He makes the reader aware, often without directly posing, truly striking questions: whether the Army would sacrifice a Black Hawk helicopter (price: $5,900,000) in order to save the life of an enlisted soldier; why young men are compelled to sacrifice their freedom and their safety so they can be sent to a strange country whose inhabitants appear to harbor, at best, ambivalence toward American intervention; why guns and combat and explosions remain so appealing to the male sex; and—most striking of all—why one soldier will die for another. The conclusions he invites the reader to come to are convincing, but only up to a point. One can feel Junger struggling to fit his experience riding and walking along with the 2nd Platoon into the results of the numerous studies done by the world’s militaries. War, as it’s happening, remains too chaotic for one person to get a good grip on what it’s all about. Junger’s story of the 2nd Platoon benefits from much less rigor than does his assemblage of “hard” data. Soldiers in WAR, with few exceptions, seem interchangeable— Junger never fully invests in any of them, never tells more than what feels like an elevator pitch. His powers of description do not save him here. One soldier “was a wrestler in high school and has sandy blond hair and a big wide-open smile and looks like he could easily carry a kitchen sink up a mountain.” Another apparently could “palm sandbags as if they were basketballs.” “It was like,” Junger observes of another soldier, “he was made out of scrap metal, scars here and there, and nothing seemed to hurt him.” Another possessed “a kind of rangy muscularity that made him seem capable of going to the Olympics in virtually anything.” It goes on like this. This isn’t description, or even basic storytelling; it’s hyperbole. (Junger is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, so perhaps this is to be expected.) Junger seems intent 16
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on creating for the reader a kind of benevolent myth of these soldiers; this comes at the price of their personalities. Like caricatures, myths are constituted by chaos, which every book about war is burdened with dispelling.
nother tension which deserves mention is the language Junger uses, and, throughout the book, expects the reader to follow. Here is a demonstrative passage on page 253: Across the battalion units are getting ready for the handoff and trying to create enough white space so the new guys don’t get killed as soon as they get there. The biggest effort is happening about ten miles to the north in the Waygal valley, where Chosen Company will simultaneously abandon Outpost Bella and build a new one in the town of Wanat. Bella was the sister base to Ranch House, while almost got overrun the previous August, and after the Americans abandoned Ranch House it was only a matter of time before Bella went as well.
By employing the military vernacular in which the 2nd Platoon’s soldiers communicate Junger has attempted, I think, realism—a kind of verisimilitude by obfuscation. Mostly, though, it’s just confusing as hell. Given the fact that Junger wrote most of WAR in America, for a magazine known for its coverage of celebrities and bankers, this confusion can feel like trickery. It is as if Junger was never aware that using someone else’s language for his own ends may come off as appropriation and little else. The staccato names of weaponry and ranks, plus the surfeit of acronyms and metonymies—which describe anything from equipment to gunfights, these .50’s and 240’s and TICs—remind us how much language influences our understanding of the world, and who is saddled with its understanding.
hat wars do to those who fight them is not a topic Junger skirts. This can come off, in Junger’s prose, as either funny or terrifying, sometimes both. But the terror, for the most part, seems retrospective, as most atrocities do. If the war Junger describes possesses a necessary element of disorder, its constituents—as Junger suggests—appear to benefit from this confusion. Consider this observation: When I asked the men about their allegiance to one another, they said they would unhesitatingly risk their lives for anyone in the platoon or company, but that sentiment dropped off pretty quickly after that. By the time you got to the brigade level—three or four thousand men—any sense of common goals or identity was pretty much theoretical. The 173rd had an unmanned observation blimp, for example, and one night a thunderstorm caused it to crash. When the men of Restrepo heard that, they broke into a cheer.
Indeed, war’s confusion—and by confusion I mean the intrinsic fog of information constituted by luck and skill and circumstance— may be the only thing containing these soldiers, the only element holding together the their precarity. Since Junger followed into Afghanistan not just any soldiers but, by his choosing, combat soldiers, the difference between war—whose confusion is based upon the lack of information—and combat—whose is based upon the overwhelming amount thereof—requires context here. As Junger writes, War is a big sprawling word that brings a lot of human suffering into the conversation, but combat is a different matter. Combat is the smaller game that young men fall in love with, and any solution to the human problem of war will have to take into account the psyches of these young men.
unger says that “no community can protect itself unless a certain portion of its youth decide they are willing to risk their lives in its defense.” And yet for these youth, who today are mostly young men, sometimes freshly graduated from high school, war is not about the particular politics of the theater. It is about their friends: the soldiers with whom they live, and eat, and fight—even die. But this doesn’t solve the other, deeper question: why do young men still desire war? The answer seems to lie somewhere in the cultural-political feedback loop in which a writer like Junger must necessarily partake. War can be messy, and deadly, and in its worst moments, evil. The evil attributed to war—no particular war has ever escaped this accusation—follows the contours of confusion—which, of course, doesn’t really possess any contours to speak of. Junger’s own difficulty in speaking about war practically, which is a difficulty inherent to any book about war, means that the confusion connatural to combat will always be indelibly associated with the greater idea of war. Maybe this is why young people continue to enlist. (Every young person, at some point in his or her life, however fleetingly, considers military service.) The confusion of war exists, of course, to be annihilated. The disorder every young person feels in the world—a world in which they have yet to make anything of themselves—is perhaps congruent to this confusion. According to Junger, war is where men feel “the most utilized. The most necessary. The most clear and certain and purposeful. If young men could get that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again.” I prefer to think of this pronouncement as realistic—as practical—rather than merely reductive. Junger’s correct: the Afghan war is chaos; so he shouldn’t be faulted for writing a book that, while often intoxicated by combat’s confusion, tries mightily to strike at its heart, wherein lies the fates of young men like Juan Restrepo. ■ FA L L 2 0 1 0
Executive Powers John Vining
arack obama is bound to disap- mittee started at Adams’ behest came up with point. How could he not? What is the title of “His Highness, the President of the the ‘Audacity of Hope,’ after all, but United States, and Protector of their Liberties.” the eternal--and eternally false-notion that the A debate ensued, eventually won by the “Propresidency is the vehicle of American redemp- to-Jeffersonians.” The chief executive was to be tion?” So says Gene Healy in the afterward to called simply “the president,” and portly Adams his 2008 book, THE CULT OF THE PRESI- was given the nickname “His Rotundity.” DENCY (Cato; $23). During the founding, a person’s ability to The Cult of the Presidency is an important, “move to masses” was a decided negative in critical history of the American executive considering him for president. “Indeed, the branch. It focuses largely on the office’s 20th term ‘leader,’ which appears repeatedly in Madcentury expansion. This expansion, one of both ison, Hamilton, and Jay’s essays in defense of scope and power, has turned the the Constitution, is nearly always presidency into a set of pow- work discussed used negatively, save for one ers and obligations completely positive reference to the leaders foreign to those who designed The Cult of the of the American Revolution,” exit at America’s founding. The Presidency plains Healy. president in Healy’s book, how- Gene Healy To the founders’ minds, “movever, ought to be worrisome to Cato Institute ing the masses” was almost almore than just constitutionalists. ways what tyrants had done, and Though the book presents a presso “the ability to ‘move the massident whose role has vastly changed from the es’ wasn’t a desirable quality in a president--it time of the founding, it also shows clearly that, was a threat.” Even speaking to the public was a regardless of how much one respects the origi- rare treat for early presidents: “Presidents from nal founder’s intentions, the president is given Washington to Jackson average little over three a completely impossible set of tasks. speeches a year, with those mostly limited to Though there were powerful and very public ceremonial addresses, thin on policy. In his first presidents before the 20th century, Healy makes year in office, President Clinton gave 600.” a strong case that the real evolution of the office The book moves quickly through the 1800’s, began in the early 20th century. Before covering when most presidents were “forgettable,” with these expansions in depth, he gives his account a few memorable exceptions. Lincoln, one of of the founding and the intellectual construc- these exceptions, both emancipated the slaves tion of the presidency. Healy’s treatment of the and imprisoned 14,000 civilians without due founding is, like most of his book, thorough and process. This, Healy argues, “had no immediplayful where appropriate. Take, for example, ately visible effect on the powers of prestige of the account of how the name “president” was the presidency.” decided upon. Some found the title of “presiThe permanent, persistent expansion of the dent” far too humble, Healy recounts: “Even power and scope of the executive that came ‘fire companies and a cricket club’ could have about beginning with the 20th century was a a ‘president,’ Vice President John Adams com- product and project of both progressives and plained shortly after taking his place as pre- conservatives. For the former, Healy identisiding officer of the new Senate.” Later, a com- fies and gives an account of three early propo18
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nents: Teddy Rooselvelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These chapters are full of ample evidence: the presidents thought very highly of themselves (of their abilities and of their motives), and had little patience with the restricted, old conception of the president. Wilson, quickly after being elected, told the Democratic Party chairman “...I owe you nothing. Remember that God ordained that I should be the next President of the United States.” In the 1970’s, conservatives, then in power, changed their view of the presidency and fully adopted an expansionist view. Their view of the presidency expanded again, this time almost without bounds, following the September 11th attacks. Three days after the attacks, Bush “declared that America’s ‘responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.’” Even after the statement of his task (and perhaps because of it), Bush enjoyed the longest 60+ percent approval rating since Eisenhower. Healy chronicles the misdeeds of the early Progressives and the later conservatives, as well as almost every president in the 1900s. These historical chapters are anecdotal but convincing; presidents, more often that not, struggle to control themselves and to give an accurate impression of their own abilities. The stand-alone analysis in the book, which makes up the last few chapters, is a quick account of why Healy thinks that the “worst get on top,” among other systemic problems. The most interesting and the most helpful is his account of the incentives in place for Congress to pass decisions off to the executive. In the case of the Iraq war, for instance, while evidence against some of the war’s main premises were becoming known, “Congress structured its authorization in a way that left the final decision to the president and allowed members to deny that they had voted for the war.” Delegation, again, allows Congress to “simultaneously support the benefits and oppose the costs of regulation.” Often, like with the Endangered Species Act, Congress was able to win points with those in favor of conservation, but, when actual conservation occurred, it was the Execu-
tive, particularly the Fish and Wildlife Service, that visibly bore the costs of regulation. In its 2009 paperback printing, The Cult of the Presidency is followed by an “Afterword on the Obama Presidency.” Healy discusses how Obama, like those before him, entered the office with ambition. The strongest point in the afterward, however, is in its first paragraph. In 2008, “many on the political Right assumed it was yet another anti-Bush polemic.” But, in 2009, “a lot of people seem to think I wrote Cult with Barack Obama in mind, even though I finished it six months before he secured the nomination, at a time when I would have bet a nonessential appendage that Hillary Clinton would be our next president.” While the book’s anecdotal history occasionally becomes tiresome (depending on one’s ability to be continually amused or disgusted by the stories of misconduct), The Cult of the Presidency has a crucial message. The president’s particular actions are scrutinized in the media, but the overall scope of the office is more or less taken for granted. Healy identifies this rightly as a bipartisan problem, but the problem is even bigger than that. The Executive has expanded in large part because more and more is expected of it, by people from across the political spectrum. What makes The Cult of the Presidency so worthwhile is that Healy never gives a president the benefit of the doubt. He refuses to buy into the narrative that America must be a great country, and greatness is accomplished through the commitment to a great leader. This, of course, is not the only way we should read the history of the presidency, but it is an analysis that deserves more attention. What Healy says about Teddy Roosevelt he could just as easily have said about the presidents he focuses on, conservative and progressive: “What is it, after all, that’s so attractive about [TR’s] political philosophy, such as it was: a loud-mouthed cult of manliness; a warped belief that war can be a wonderful pick-me-up for whatever ails the national spirit; and a contemptuous attitude toward limits on presidential power?” ■ FA L L 2 0 1 0
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