Tuesday, February 18, 2003


Here is a cleaned up version of a letter I sent to a newsgroup, about the war and the war rhetoric. The group is mostly for professors in the City University of New York. I thought I would share it with you:

I frequently emphasize to my own students the purpose of reason and clear thinking, but alas, while listening to their other professors (like many on this forum) all they manage to pull out of college is the power of rhetoric, protest, repetition. If I taught marketing, I would consider myself successful. But I do not. I teach something that requires critical thinking about reasons and arguments.

In an environment like the one in academia everyone seems to act on some sort of pack mentality. I do not understand why everyone thinks that posting messages about how many French people oppose the war is akin to a good _argument_ for opposing the war. Do I put my students at a disadvantage by asking them to think about these issues for themselves?

I really do not want to get in to every piece of nonsense given on this list lately, but when a legitimate part of debate is to just sit around and call people you don't like Nazis, and offer up what amount to a bunch of words that barely make up sentences, let alone arguments, you do a service to your agenda at the expense of truth. Any expense of truth is an expense of justice.

To claim that since we once supported someone (40 or so years ago) therefore it immoral to oppose him now, reflects a profound misunderstanding of the English word "therefore". I am no philosopher (or philologist), but there must be a fallacy named after that mistake.

To claim that we are "rushing" in to anything, reflects a similar misunderstanding of the word "rushing".

Conspiracy theories about the government cutting your phone lines, or the media not covering the anti-war rallies does not help anyone become clearer
thinkers about this issue issue.


The reasons why the administration wants to go to war is a function of a complex political dynamic which includes Middle Eastern stability, the embargo on Iraq, the protection of the Iraqi people, economic factors for the US, internal American political issues, the proliferation of WMDs by hostile countries, the distribution of WMDs and conventional weapons to terrorists, the protection of the gulf states, the protection of an ally - Israel, and a chance at Arab democracy in the long-term.

Also significant are the complaints of the American Left and the Arab world against the Iraq embargo which if the left is taken seriously it seems we can paradoxically neither lift nor perpetuate.

The presumption that the United States, Israel, and other countries that you don't like have only _interests_ while other countries that you do like, like Iraq and France have _morality-based foreign policies_ is also about as naive as they come. The fact that some countries oppose the war should not tell us anything about the justice or injustice of the war, all it tells us is about the respective interests of the countries. At the very least the presumption of the fact that countries are making these types of decisions based on the reasons you attribute to them needs proof or at least an argument. It is equally plausible that France and Germany have interests while the US is taking a moral stance.

Any debate that does not reasonably address these issues really amounts to ranting. Now if you could think of a clever little slogan that throws in the word "daddy's war" somewhere in there, that does not mean that you should not be taken for profound. You should realize that you are missing the point, and depriving less-informed people the opportunity to have a real understanding of the factors that go in to the situation in the Middle East.

Depriving students and colleagues of reasonable avenues for debate is up there with plagiarism and taking advantage of students as a top academic sin.

Encouraging others to miss the real points the point is no doubt good for you, if a person is inclined to listen to your cute slogans without thinking. And of course that is what you want, no doubt. But I challenge any of you to admit it in public.

Telling our students that in the absence of a democratic forum for promoting your agendas, all you need to do is take 10 people or any other significantly annoying minority and have them force people in power to take them seriously. Is it the case that if students are not listened to, you'll be telling them to "martyr" themselves in the university president's office? To what lengths of irrationality will you go?

I suppose that just to be fair to my own views, I should not close off any avenues of rhetoric to myself. Though I have not bothered to share any war views with you folks on the list (other than to say how complicated the questions are), I would be happy to allow you to think clearly about it, like I try to do. However, you have shared your views with the list and your tactics of persuasion as well. Thus, I would like to take up your methodology, just to be fair. So for all of those on this list who sit around (or whatever you do) and oppose war, consider yourselves compared to Hitler.