Monday, August 31, 2020

Kyle Rittenhouse and the Hundred Days Riot

When I first wrote about the George Floyd Riots a few days after they got started, I said that things like the Minneapolis Police Department’s willingness to let one of its stations be burned down rather than risk combat with the “protesters” were evidence that the forces of law and order were pushovers.

Back then, I thought that the unrest was going to last for at most two or three weeks, like earlier riots usually did. Lo and behold, more than three months later, the fiasco is still going on. It has now lasted longer than the famous “Hundred Days” of Napoleon’s second reign, between his triumphant return from Elba and his abdication after Waterloo. That’s right, America’s leadership is taking longer to quell the Floyd Riots than it took the Seventh Coalition to dethrone the Emperor of the French.

Now it is worth noting that despite the surprising length of the riots, their intensity is still rather lackluster. Even three months in, the total body count is lower than for the six-day-long Rodney King Riots in 1992. For this reason, I am not going to hop on the bandwagon of people talking about imminent collapse and “Weimar America” and so forth.

What we’re dealing with right now is special anarchy, not general anarchy. The rioters can’t break any laws that they want (just ask the people in Portland who tried to set up a CHAZ in a wealthy neighborhood). Rather, what has happened is that the authorities have chosen to allow certain people, in certain places, to engage in assault, arson, and looting in order to send certain political messages to certain other people.

Who is the hammer, and who is the anvil? Well, the leftist mob is the hammer, and anybody who likes the police, likes Donald Trump, disapproves of rioting, or just wants the world to leave him or her alone, is the anvil.

Most Americans dislike the riots and wish that they would go away. But the people on the side of law and order are getting their asses handed to them anyway, because, for the most part, wishing that the riots would go away is the full extent of their involvement.

Riots don’t last for a hundred days unless the typical rioter can expect that, should he steal something or set something on fire, his chances of getting put on trial for the deed are close to zero. The facts on the ground are that, in 2020, law enforcement is going a lot softer on rioters than it has hitherto done. Perhaps one may excuse the actions of individual police departments on the grounds that so many of them are working under Democratic governors, and dealing with a legal system where the use of force can lead to expensive lawsuits. Be that as it may, the salient fact here is that large areas of the country are not being policed.

Every university and every corporation knows exactly which side it needs to pander to in order to stay out of trouble. As just one example of the kind of concession that the mob is getting, at the university where I am presently enrolled, the Student Government Association prefaces every email, no matter its topic, with a long screed about how “black lives matter.” And they do it, in part, because if they hadn’t, then the BLM people would have made a lot more noise than any conservatives are making right now.

Ditto with the cancellation of the Paramount show Cops back in June. Are there millions of Americans who liked that show, and millions more who never paid much attention to it, but will gladly talk about how sickening they find it that a profession which keeps us all alive is now considered unworthy of a sympathetic role on the television screen? You bet. But here’s the trouble: these people aren’t upset enough to boycott Paramount’s other shows over the decision. So Paramount looks at the intensity of each side, and makes a rational decision about whom to appease.

And at the top of it all, Donald Trump sits in the White House, tweeting out empty threats against the rioters in the serene confidence that he won’t lose any voters because, after all, the other party is so much worse.

And then Kyle Rittenhouse shows up.

Kyle Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old boy from Antioch, Illinois, who has long admired police officers and planned on becoming one, and who at some point in the last hundred days or so woke up to the fact that his side in the present conflict was getting bested. So when the Kenosha riots broke out, he armed himself with an AR-15, drove the 30 miles or so to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and mingled with a crowd that had answered a call for volunteers to guard a machine shop.

When the rioters appeared, they and Rittenhouse got into a fight – nobody knows quite how it got started – in which they were caught on video throwing rocks at the boy and beating him over the head with a skateboard. Then Rittenhouse shot three rioters, two of whom died, and calmly surrendered himself to the police. Memorials to the two dead men sprang up all over the country, because as far as the left is concerned, the fact they both had long rap sheets (one included domestic battery, and the other included statutory rape) isn’t germane to their new status as heroes.

Man, that kid was brave.

It’s not going to end well for him. The prosecutors will probably find ways to extrude at least a dozen different charges out of his act, so that they can lose on most of them and still put him away for a long time. For the murder charges, Rittenhouse will probably get off on self-defence; after all, even though the other men’s domestic battery and statutory rape convictions have no official weight, they’re pretty good evidence that Rittenhouse didn’t pick his victims at random.

What’s really going to hurt him is the underage-carrying-of-a-weapon charge. For that, there’s no getting out by pleading self-defence. (Did you know that there are jurisdictions in which, if a 17-year-old girl uses mace to thwart a rape attempt, then calls the police to report what happened, she can be jailed on an underage weapons charge whether or not her wannabe rapist is ever caught? Well, there are. And what Rittenhouse did is way, way bigger then spraying some guy with mace).

After he gets out of prison, Rittenhouse will be looking at a civil wrongful death suit where the standard of proof is lower and there is no right against double jeopardy. If found liable, he will be slapped with a bill for more money than he’ll ever make in his lifetime.

Does doing all of this mean making hash of the original understanding of the Bill of Rights? You bet. But it still gets done.

Now for the big question: was it worth it?

Honestly, I don’t know. To me, the Floyd Riots just aren’t as big of a deal as they are to some patriots, and I don't see the BLM movement as Threat No. 1 to America’s freedom. You’ve got to remember that these people are not a well-organized revolutionary army with a realistic chance of installing a Marxist government – after all, most of them couldn’t even tell you what a Marxist is. Rather, the BLM thugs are just a dumb, postmodernist rabble which was created by the left-wing plutocratic oligarchy, which is being used by said oligarchy as a stick with which to poke its already-prostrate enemies, and which will be discarded by the oligarchy in due time.

But the point still remains that Kyle Rittenhouse did not go softly into that good night.

And most people on the right have gone softly. Or they will, at any rate.

If you are a kid in his late teens with no job or wife or children to tie you down – and not having those things is the reason why kids like that are easier to recruit in a war than older men, and an order of magnitude easier to recruit in a resistance movement – then there are probably better ways to get in your one big act of brazen defiance.

For example, I have said before that, when a man finds himself in a child custody fight with his ex-wife who wants to raise his child as the wrong gender, then the morally correct response is to flee to a less insane country, such as Russia, and seek asylum. Now, in practice, any attempt at this would be very failure-prone, not least because every time those cases hit the news, the fact that thousands and thousands of internet commentators say “He should flee to Russia” probably makes the police start listing the things they’ll need to do to make sure that the man doesn’t flee to Russia.

But fleeing to Russia becomes much easier with the help of a secret assistant, who can do things like rent Alaskan bush planes without cluing in the ex-wife’s lawyers to what is about to happen.

If I were giving advice to a young man looking for a way to poke the system in the eye – and if said young man had nothing that he wasn’t willing to leave behind in order to do it – then I would tell him to get his pilot’s license and quietly prepare for just such an action, then make himself known to those who might have a need of his services, in the hopes that one day, one of them would say yes.

After all, a little boy or girl saved from the delusional left and living happily with his or her father in Moscow or Kazan or Vladivostok or wherever is a better legacy to leave behind than a pair of dead thugs. And for the teenager himself (who would probably be in his early twenties by then), starting a new life in Russia, though not easy, would beat the stuffing out of spending the next decade or so rotting in an American prison.

That’s the sort of thing that young people do in effective resistance movements – movements which have functional adult leadership to train and guide the youthful passion and courage on which the struggle for liberty has always relied.

But that isn’t what the right has in America right now. We have people whose highest goal in life is to be left alone, and we have people who will blather and yammer and tweet about how dreadful it is that the left won’t leave anybody alone, and we also have Kyle Rittenhouse.

And I think that it is pretty clear who has my sympathies.


Update

When I first wrote this piece, I noted that one of the men killed by Rittenhouse had previously been convicted of statutory rape. At the time, I didn't know the details, but in case any of my readers are wondering whether or not this was simply a matter of an 18 or 19-year-old kid having sex with his teenage girlfriend; no, it wasn't. As it turns out, the man had been convicted in an Arizona court back in 2002 for sodomizing a number of nine to eleven-year-old boys.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Tuesday News Roundup (And Some Thoughts On Evolution)

Earlier this week, I was planning on writing an article about Max Weber’s tripartite classification of authority, a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few months. But as it turned out, yesterday and today have brought enough interesting news in and of themselves to justify me in taking a break from higher-order political philosophy. So here, without further ado, are my comments on some of the more colorful goings-on in present-day American life.

This Sunday, a black man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The police were trying to arrest him when he bolted towards his car, opened the door, and reached for something, and the officers, suspecting quite reasonably that he might draw a weapon, opened fire.

In a reasonable world, what happened to Blake would be recognized as a very different animal from what happened to George Floyd – after all, Blake appeared to be reaching for his gun; he wasn’t just laying on the ground for seven minutes with an officer on his neck. Besides, he didn’t even die. But we don’t live in a reasonable world, the Jacob Blake riots started up that very night, and when the sun rose the next morning, several of Kenosha’s businesses lay in ashes.

The Democratic Governor’s response to the shooting was to tweet: “Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha, Wisconsin…. while we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.”

Insisting that the shooting must have been motivated by racism, and using phrases like “mercilessly killed” right after admitting that you don’t know the details, isn’t what you do if you’re trying to inspire confidence in law and justice. But Governor Tony Evers isn’t trying to inspire confidence in anything; he’s egging the rioters on because he is a skilled politician and, as far as he’s concerned, the rioters are on his team.

Also, Governor Evers has exactly zero chance of having his own home or business burned or looted.

As I’ve said before, in the present crisis, the forces of law and order are pushovers. People like Evers are acting all nonchalant about the violence because they, personally, have nothing to lose by acting all nonchalant about the violence. The same is true for Republican politicians. While Republicans are on the opposite team and must therefore tweet support for the police instead of the rioters, they have been equally useless when it comes to actually enforcing the law.

A lot of people on the Republican side of things are talking about how this is a preview of what we’ll see more of in Joe Biden’s America, and then drawing the conclusion that the riots will drive more voters over to Trump, just like the riots of 1968 helped turnout for Nixon. Me? I don’t buy it. This time around, the law-and-order candidate is the incumbent, not the challenger, so the events in Kenosha or Chicago or Washington or wherever are an indictment of his own pusillanimity, not that of the other party.

Well, it isn’t exactly news anymore to say that constant race riots are becoming the new normal for the poor and working classes on the ground in America’s cities. If, on the other hand, you want to take a look at the goings-on among liberalism’s intellectual elite – i.e. the people who live full-time in cloud cuckoo land – then a recent Huffington Post headline provides a pretty good source of amusement.

The headline reads: “I Have A White Boyfriend. Does That Make Me Any Less Black?” The irony is that right next to the headline is a picture of the author, and it’s pretty obvious that she herself is at least three-quarters white. If her present misgivings about race-mixing strike you as something very akin to closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, well then, you’re not alone.

Then there is the fiasco at Liberty University, whose president, Jerry Falwell Jr., just got the boot after the details came out on a bizarre sex scandal which began clear back in 2012, when the then-49-year-old Falwell realized that he really liked watching a youth of 20, whom he had first met as a swimming pool attendant at a hotel, have sex with his wife. The relationship continued, supported by lavish gifts from Falwell to Pool Boy, for six or seven years.

Then, sometime earlier this month, Pool Boy decided to blab about the affair to Reuters. While the journalists had to take him at his word about the physical portion of the relationship, he was able to show screenshots of nude FaceTime meetings to prove that something out of the ordinary was going on with the trio. And thus ended Falwell’s career.

Within the conservative movement, this is a big, big deal, as Falwell’s university has long been a consistent hotbed of Republican activism. It’s where Ted Cruz announced his presidential campaign way back in March of 2015 (does anybody remember March of 2015?) and Falwell’s surprise endorsement of Trump instead of Cruz early the next year was one of the big moments of the primaries. (Michael Cohen – basically, Trump’s Better-Call-Saul type lawyer – has hinted that Falwell’s flip-flop was the result of blackmail).

After the election, Liberty University’s biggest Trump fans followed up on their victory by making a movie about how President Trump was fulfilling biblical prophecy, and the university later won notoriety for being the only campus in America that didn’t shut down this spring, when the (then newer and deadlier) Coronavirus arrived from China. (When I said that the variations in how different people and institutions deal with covid are mostly a political shibboleth, I wasn’t condemning just one side).

Before I go on about the role of sex scandals among the religious right, I think it is worth noting that Liberty University offers courses in which some of its undergrads are taught a version of science tailored for compatibility with the idea that the Earth is six thousand years old. Needless to say, the administration’s embrace of the young-earther meme hasn’t exactly earned their institution a respected place within the scientific community at large.

(Sidebar: I am not going to follow the media norm of referring to this belief system as “Creationism,” with no additional adjectives applied. The word “creationist” does not deserve the baggage that has been loaded onto it; as far as I’m concerned, if you believe that, once upon a time, God or the angels or whoever created one cell, then you are a creationist. Since the spontaneous generation of life from inert matter is something which, according to all known science, never happens, this view of things deserves more respect than it's presently getting).

Now I happen to be one of those people who think that conflict between science and religion is not inevitable. Religion in general – even a religion which claims that mankind is God’s special creation and has a  unique place in the cosmos – doesn't really need to depend on a disbelief in  the idea that all life forms developed gradually from a common ancestor. After all, it has been a staple of religious thought for thousands of years to view seemingly-random natural processes as steps in the unfolding of some sort of divine plan.

Rather, the theory of evolution is only a bugbear to a specific kind of religion: the kind in which a worshiper's relationship to his or her God is mediated through the authority of a collection of infallible sacred texts. Since people have been worshiping the Gods for much longer than they’ve known how to write, this is by no means a universal element of human religion.

But because infallible authorities of one form or another have featured strongly in the dominant religions of the Middle East and Europe for the last two millennia, it is easy for westerners to think that all religions are like this. And it is easy for scientifically-minded westerners to dismiss all religion as a relic of a mankind's benighted and irrational past.

Now, the infallible-authority worldview happens to be fairly workable in a society where detailed knowledge of the world is more limited - that is, one in which people aren't constantly being bombarded with reasons to distrust their religion's authoritative texts. Indeed, during the halcyon days of Christian civilization, the greatest minds were all able to work productively within this intellectual framework.

These included theologians like Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, poets like Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and John Milton, and great artists like Michelangelo and Johann Sebastian Bach. There were also scientists like Sir Isaac Newton, who made the foundational discoveries of physics while devoting just as much time to unraveling the mysteries of biblical chronology. Newton eventually came to believe that the Earth had been created in 3998 BC, and that the end of the world would come no earlier than AD 2060.

But the intellectual revolution which began with men like Newton would eventually lead to vast improvements in the quality and scope of human knowledge. The discoveries of geologists and paleontologists made it clear that the Earth was much older than the Israelite elders who wrote Genesis had thought. Archaeologists and linguists developed reliable methods of tracking the origins and migrations of ancient peoples, and their results weren’t compatible with the idea that all the world’s inhabitants were descended from a single family who survived a global flood in the third or fourth millennium BC.

And new methods of textual criticism eventually led most scholars to agree that the Hebrew Bible was compiled from multiple original sources, whose authors often disagreed with one another on questions of serious historical and theological importance.

Nowadays, there are still plenty of religious groups which insist that all of this information can’t possibly matter, and that all that's really going on is that God's people are enduring a test of their faith: will they accept the authority of holy writ in preference to all human wisdom? But the religions that do this pay a price: the loss of their brightest and most inquisitive young minds.

Now a cynic might just say that it's obvious that when this happens, only the stupid people will remain, and that that’s who Jerry Falwell & Co. drew on to fill their university. This conclusion is wrong. Stupidity in itself is almost never common enough to be an adequate explanation for a sociological phenomenon. After all, the average person is not stupid, the average person is of average intelligence.

What you’re left with, after the best minds have been driven away, is a very few people who are genuinely dumber then a box of rocks, and a much larger number who are simply willing to overlook any information that makes them uncomfortable.

And when your movement is filled with people who approach life with that attitude, then it’s no wonder that you are going to suffer from all sorts of messy scandals. There were probably lots of people at Liberty University who were aware of the signs that Jerry Falwell was a pervert, but because this knowledge made them uncomfortable, they found ways to overlook it.

The same goes for the Baylor rape scandal a few years ago: if the notion that one of your football players raped somebody and might deserve to be in jail rather than on the playing field makes you feel queasy, then your first response will likely be to just look the other way. It is, after all, what you’re already doing with all those carbon-dated artifacts and genetic clade diagrams.

Now, I know that it isn’t fair to act like these sorts of scandals are mainly found among Evangelical Christians. They aren’t, though the element of hypocrisy does make them more noticeable there. The Catholics, for that matter, have a similar situation; Catholics are generally more realistic about evolution than Evangelicals, but they compensate for their limited view of biblical authority by placing way too much trust in church tradition and hierarchy, a strategy which opens up its own can of worms.

And, of course, sex scandals happen all the time throughout secular society. They are run-of-the-mill in Hollywood, and they find fertile ground in enclaves of extreme leftism where sex between men and boys is ignored or celebrated because membership in the LGBT community puts the men involved above criticism.

Each of these subcultures is acting in accordance with slightly different motivating forces when it decides to stage a cover-up rather than coming clean. But when dealing with Evangelicals, I think it would be naïve to overlook the role of the anti-empiricist, believe-whatever’s-comfortable ethos which a man or woman must cultivate in order to be a young-earther.

I think that the same thing is going on with the anti-abortion movement’s willingness to be duped by both Republican politicians and its own leaders into thinking that it’s winning when it isn’t. President Reagan and the two Bushes appointed, between them, four pro-abortion Supreme Court justices, beginning with Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981. Despite private doubts about these judges’ ideology, neither the National Right-to-Life Committee, nor any similar organization, has ever gone forward and publicly opposed a Republican Supreme Court nomination.

After all, admitting that the Republican party was deprioritizing the abortion issue would have meant admitting that pro-life activists were further from victory than they wanted to believe. The upshot of this excessive optimism is that, to this day, the majority of said activists keep on deploying the same failed methods: polite protests that don’t put political pressure on anybody, and unqualified support for the Republican Party no matter how many times that party betrays them.

I have found it interesting to note that the two Christian bloggers whom I read most often, Matt Walsh and Rod Dreher, are pessimists about abortion and make no secret of their belief that the pro-life movement is being used and discarded by the Republican establishment. They are also very outspoken about the child sex abuse scandals that bubble up from time to time in the Catholic church. I don’t think it is a coincidence that both Walsh and Dreher believe in evolution.

But within the broader religious right, such level-headed realism is hard to come by. The sorts of people who looked the other way during the Baylor and Falwell scandals comprise the bulk of the movement. This is almost inevitable when so many conservative Christians are raised to think that loyalty to God is a matter of giving the right answer when the Big Guy asks: “Who are you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” And when you think that way about your relationship with Deity, it’s kind of inevitable that the same attitude will spill over into your relationships with other human beings, too.

Well, that is about all that I have to say today about the riots in Wisconsin, the Jerry Falwell scandal, and the problems with belonging to a religion that asks you to hide under a rug whenever science enters the room. I will get to Max Weber some other time.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Why Splitting America in Half is a Silly Fantasy

It seems that the more popular a topic is among one’s audience, the harder it is to express one’s views on it without being misunderstood. For example, I have written on my blog before that I expect the United States to begin a slow and (at first) informal breakup around mid-century when, due to a wide range of factors, the resources to maintain law and order over such a large territory are no longer available.

Inevitably, this is misunderstood as a prediction that sometime in the near future the United States will undergo an organized revolution like what we had in 1776 and split into conservative and liberal halves.

Hence the need for me to write about why the second scenario is extremely unlikely.

This is going to be an eclectic post. My topics will include a bizarre child custody case in Texas, the shallowness of the red-state/blue-state divide, the geography of the Bering Sea, and a comparison between the plots of Star Wars and Braveheart.

First, the bizarre child custody case. For at least the last two years, a divorced couple in Texas have been suing each other over whether their son, James Younger, should be raised as a boy or a girl (the name the mother uses is “Luna”). The child himself identifies as a boy when he’s with his father, and a girl when he’s with his mother (this should surprise nobody; children in split families like that learn pretty quickly how to display different personalities depending on who they’re with).

Last October, the father thought he had won after the judge issued a ruling granting the couple joint custody of James and his twin brother Jude and requiring the consent of both parents for any medical decisions effecting the children. Then the judge got careless and talked about the case on Facebook, the mother claimed breech of neutrality and filed a successful motion to get a different judge, and as of this month, she now has sole power over the boy’s “medical, psychological, and psychiatric care.” As an added insult, the father still has to pay his share of the bills for said care, which currently amount to $5,000 per month (!) just for counselling.

People who think that the red states and the blue states are moving further apart, and will eventually come to blows over the proper direction for America’s future, need to think about the fact that this is happening in Texas. And it isn’t just something that the Feds imposed on Texas. At any time during this madness, the state legislature could have made a law setting a minimum age for gender transitioning; likewise, the state supreme court could have issued a ruling to the effect that inferior court judges can’t deprive parents of custody for refusing to affirm a gender change. But they haven’t done this. The same goes for all the other red states.

To be honest, the whole concept of red states and blue states is misleading. The only reason we even have that colored map in the first place is because of the electoral college. If we didn’t have an electoral college, or if electors were allocated proportionally instead of on a winner-take-all basis, nobody would say things like “Texas is a red state;” they would just say “In Texas, Trump got six votes for every five votes that went to Hillary.”

The division that really matters isn’t red state versus blue state, it’s urban versus rural. Look at any map of election results by precinct and you can see it. Even in the reddest of the red states, the big cities – places like Houston and Salt Lake City – are reliably liberal. Perhaps you remember when Salt Lake, the headquarters of Mormondom, named a street after the San Francisco pederast Harvey Milk to honor his contributions to “civil rights?” Well, that is run-of-the-mill for cities in red states.

Universities are the same way. Those of you who follow the American Conservative will have noticed that Rod Dreher has spent most of the last week complaining about how wokeness has taken over at Baylor, America’s largest and, until recently, most conservative Baptist university. As a college student myself, I can see the same process going on at my own institution, which happens to be the top public university in yet another red state. Here, the leftist virtue signalling has by now gotten so bad that the staff are required to include their pronoun preferences in their email signature lines, and every communiqué from the student government office, regardless of topic, is prefaced with a long discourse about how black lives matter.

The only difference that living in a red state makes is that the party which blathers on and on about its dislike for the way that things are going – but doesn’t actually change much of anything when it gets into office – hoovers up about 30 percent of the votes instead of 20 percent (while the other half of the people don’t vote at all).

Republicans winning elections does not mean that your state is on a substantially different trajectory from that of California, New York, or Illinois.

Red state and blue state, conservative and liberal, urban and rural, Christian and secular – they are all on the same track, going in the same direction. Don’t let the fact that some cars are further along that track than others, and that the passengers in the train are yelling insults at one another, distract you from the big picture.

Now, one solution which some revolution-mongers have proposed, for dealing with the lack of geographic separation between left and right, is to convince millions of right-wingers to move to a specific part of the country and set up a homeland for like-minded people. There are a lot of disagreements about how to implement this in practice: where should the homeland be located? Idaho and New Hampshire are both frequently mentioned as candidates, but the movement is nowhere near reaching a consensus. Should the new homeland be multiracial, or should the project only be advertised to white people? And so forth.

In the end, the big migration never actually happens, because nearly all rightward-leaning Americans are too attached to their jobs and their communities to just up and move to Idaho (or New Hampshire or wherever).

For the same reason, there is not going to be a right-wing insurgency in the foreseeable future, either. This is true even if the Feds decide to seize everybody’s guns.

I know that it’s practically blasphemy for me to say this. I know about all those “cold dead hands” bumper stickers, and I know that “What will you do when they come to take your guns?” is the hook on which right-wingers (ordinary right or racist right, take your pick) have hung a million fantasies of patriotic Americans finally rising up against their oppressors.

But it’s pretty easy to get a feel for the actual condition of the American right when you consider a slightly different question: “What will you do when they come to castrate your child?”

This question has already been posed to hundreds of Americans. The answer – with no exceptions so far – has been either “nothing,or “spend a lot of time and money litigating it and hope for the best.

Already, thousands of American children below age 12 (or really, below any hypothetical boundary between childhood and adolescence) have been started on various gender-changing treatments. Chances are that in most of these cases, both parents (if two parents were even present to begin with) were thoroughly delusional leftists who were in agreement about what to do when a 6-year-old boy says “I wish I were a girl.” Nevertheless, there are a significant number of parents who – at least at the beginning of the process – did not approve of what their exes (or soon-to-be exes) were planning on doing to their offspring.

James Younger’s father has been in the news so much because he went further than most of these people, spending two years in court and having already poured enough money down that rat hole to have sent both of his sons to top law or medical schools. But neither he nor anyone else (that I am aware of) has dealt with the situation by fleeing the country.

These people will lawyer up and argue their case in court. They will splash their story across the headlines of The Federalist and National Review in order to garner the sympathy of millions of like-minded conservatives. What they will not do is leave behind their homeland and their social circle and their comfortable middle-class lifestyle, and subject themselves to the vagaries of the asylum courts in the Philippines, Russia, or whatever other country might seem like a suitable refuge.

This isn’t for lack of opportunities. During these past two years, James Younger’s father has held partial custody of his twin sons, meaning that he (probably) had freedom of travel within the United States. There are plenty of places in the US from which an unexpected flight in a small aircraft could have gotten him to any island in the Caribbean, or to Russia by way of Alaska.

The quickest and cheapest way to pull it off would be with a hijacking – i.e. charter a flight from Anchorage to Nome and then, before the plane can land, draw a weapon and demand to be dropped off on the other side of the Bering Straits. The downside consists of having to convince the Russian authorities that what the Texas courts were doing was not only a violation of basic human rights, but also a justification for air piracy. It’s certainly better than just submitting, but it’s far from ideal.

The safest way out would be for the man to simply get a pilot’s license himself and then buy or rent an aircraft, though that could arouse suspicion, and take time and money that he may no longer have.

Here is another option: In the middle of the Bering Straits there is a pair of islands, Little Diomede and Big Diomede, which belong to Alaska and Russia, respectively. The gap between them is about 1.2 nautical miles. If the man could charter a helicopter from Nome (it has to be a helicopter because Little Diomede has no runways) he could kayak across to Big Diomede before the authorities realized what was happening, and then wait for the Russian coast guard to pick him up.

It would be tricky because there is nothing on the American island except for an Iñupiat village of about 115 people, so the helicopter pilot might become overcurious about the purpose of the excursion. As I have little personal experience with the world of Alaskan bush pilots, I can’t say how likely it is that he would realize what was about to happen.

If the man actually got his boys to Russia, he would be looking at a variety of possible futures. The best case scenario (and, in my opinion, the most likely) is that Russia would welcome the refugees the way it welcomed Edward Snowden, savoring the opportunity to berate the United States for its hypocrisy on human rights.

The worst case scenario is that the trio would get deported back to the US after a few months, but even that might be enough time away from his insane home for the boy to come back knowing how to stand up for himself. And his father would be remembered as a hero and not a coward.

But I am not going to hold my breath waiting for this to happen. The best time to act was in the past. The longer this goes on, the more the boy will become used to passing as a girl, his former identity as “James” will be just a dim childhood memory, and his father’s arguments – to the courts, the National Review, the Russians, and even himself – that his son’s rights are being violated will carry less and less weight.

Now, I promised you at the beginning of the post that I would tie this in to Star Wars and Braveheart, two movies which happen to have more in common than a casual observer might think. For one thing, both of them are totally lacking in realism; Braveheart gets a few points because the people bleed when they die, but even so, Mel Gibson’s portrayal of medieval Scottish history is about as accurate as George Lucas’ portrayal of astrophysics.

But beyond that, the movies also have a big similarity in regards to what drives their plots. Braveheart begins with Mel Gibson’s character staying comfortably aloof from the war between England and Scotland, but then an English lord kills his bride after becoming enraged over Gibson's presumption in deflowering her himself instead of respecting the right of prima noctis. After her death, Gibson becomes the hardened soldier that the Scots need to lead them to victory.

When we first see Luke Skywalker, he is just a whiny teenager, and though he hates the Galactic Empire, he isn’t planning on joining the Rebellion. Basically, he feels like the war is too far away and he’s too small to make a difference. Even when Ben Kenobi tells him the about the Jedi knights and shows him his father's old blue lightsabre, it isn’t enough to change Luke’s mind. It’s only after his aunt and uncle are killed by the stormtroopers that Luke is all in.

We all know that you can’t really get even a half-decent revolution started if everyone has to wait around for someone close to them to be destroyed before they commit themselves to the cause. (Star Wars even addresses this by having a scene where Luke meets up with Biggs Darklighter, a childhood friend who joined the rebellion on his own initiative a while before their village was destroyed).

But both Gibson and Lucas still chose to have the protagonist begin the story by refusing the call to adventure, and then take up arms only after being bitterly forced to acknowledge that, while he may not care about the Man, the Man cares about him. And those two directors did this because it makes their characters more relatable: we, the audience, feel like we would have done the same thing.

But all those transgender child cases are showing that, for the majority of Americans, this isn’t actually true. Most of us would allow our own children to be sterilized and mutilated rather than leave our homes and give up our safety and comfort in order to resist tyranny.

Which is why the United States will not have a revolution in the foreseeable future, nor will it break up before resource scarcity and maladministration, perhaps coupled with defeat in a foreign war, put an end to the central government’s ability to deliver the safety and comfort to which its citizens have grown accustomed.

When the breakup comes, it will not be driven by an ideology-based attempt to restore the kind of republic that Washington and Jefferson believed in. It will simply be a matter of ambitious gang leaders and charismatic demagogues carving out fiefdoms for themselves in the wreckage of a crumbling empire.

Though it may seem strange, I do not see this prediction as a cause for despair. All empires decline and fall. Eventually, new nations will arise on this continent. They will derive much of their cultural heritage from the United States, just as we have derived much of our heritage from Greece and Rome. If the men of these new American nations are wise, they will hold Washington and Jefferson in high regard.

There are things that you and I can do to increase the chances that our families and our communities will be a part of this future rebuilding, and the project of this blog is to get people to think realistically about the kinds of events that are likely to happen in America over the next century or so. If we do that – instead of fixating on silly fantasies like an upcoming red-on-blue civil war – then we just might end up being able to have a say in what kind of civilization will emerge from the rubble.


Friday, August 14, 2020

What To Expect From Kamala Harris

 

On Tuesday, Joe Biden announced his choice of Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential nominee. It was a remarkably formulaic decision: he had said a while ago that he was going to pick a woman; after the George Floyd Riots, everyone started chattering about how he should pick a black woman; Kamala Harris, the Junior Senator from California, was the highest-ranking politician who fit the bill.

People on the right have spent the last few days talking about how Harris will be bad for social conservatives. People on the left have been talking about how she will be good for diversity. Cynics have been talking about how easily she forgot about the groping allegations against Biden which, just one year ago, she was insisting we should all take seriously.

(Perhaps you remember all the headlines about “Handsy Joe” from last spring? Well, they went away pretty quickly once the media realized that, love him or hate him, Biden was going to be the Democratic nominee).

Right now, a lot of of people are talking about how if the Biden-Harris ticket wins, then Harris has a pretty good chance of finishing out Biden’s term because Biden is so old. If he wins, Biden will be 78 when he takes office; Trump will only be 74. Either candidate would break Reagan’s record for oldest president, the difference is that, while Trump would do it in the final year of his term, Biden would do it on inauguration day.

The ironic thing is that Biden began his career in Washington as the sixth youngest Senator ever (he reached the legal age, 30, in between election day and inauguration day). Back when he was still a young man cheating his way through law school, Biden had made up his mind that he was going to become a Senator at 30 and then become President as soon after that as he possibly could. Say what you like about the guy, he’s certainly got patience.

But back to the matter of whether Biden, if he wins, will die in office. A quick glance at the US actuarial table reveals that, on average, a 78-year-old man has a 79 percent chance of still being alive four years later. And I don’t think it really matters that Biden’s mind is nearly gone; old people often keep breathing long past their mental prime.

Now there’s a chance that the “first woman president” buzz will be appealing enough that Biden will resign in favor of Harris in the event that his condition worsens, but I wouldn’t bet on it; if Biden actually thought that lucidity was necessary for the president’s job, he wouldn’t be running in the first place. His ego is just too big to admit what everybody else already knows.

But enough about Biden and his age. I promised you a post about Kamala Harris; well, here it is.

Apart from her friendliness toward corporations, Harris is as far to the left as they get. (And if you’re one of those dowdy old folks who define leftism in terms of principled opposition to the money power, then you have to admit that America doesn’t really have an organized “Left” at all).

To begin with, Harris made a big deal in the primary out of attacking Biden for his (purely ceremonial) opposition to forced bussing in the 1970s. This line of attack was appealing because a big part of being a good Democrat these days consists of straining the facts to paint everyone and everything around you as racist.

Bussing children out of their own neighborhoods for the sake of racial imbalance was very unpopular back when it was a live issue; according to Gallup polls from the 1970s, only 4 percent of whites and 9 percent of blacks approved of it.

The reason that even most blacks, whom the policy was ostensibly helping, disliked it was that, in a lot of the places that ended up having bussing, the courts had already tried to end “de facto segregation” by allowing blacks to send their children to a neighboring district’s mostly-white school if they thought that the white school was better. Most black parents chose not to do this; they deemed it better for a black kid to go to a mostly-black school in his own town than to a mostly-white school further away from home.

So the federal courts ended up deciding that the only way to have true equality was to say that, whether you were black, white, yellow, brown, or whatever, your own opinion about where your children should go to school didn’t matter, hence the “forced” in “forced bussing”. Naturally, a lot of people didn’t take well to this philosophy of government, but the opposition to bussing was a complete failure, because the “silent majority” was never willing to engage in the same sort of striking and boycotting that liberals had just successfully deployed against segregation and the draft.

Harris, if she becomes President, will probably support an aggressive foreign policy just like what we had under Obama-Biden. She has promised to “stand up to” Russia. Granted, there isn’t any substance behind the “stand up to Russia” shtick; it’s just something that Democrats have to say now that they’ve blamed Vladimir Putin for their loss in the 2016 election. Nevertheless, I expect that Harris will handle the Middle East even less cautiously than Trump has.

Here is another interesting thing about Kamala Harris: she has no children. This is kind of a big deal: in the last eighty years, everybody who has been nominated to run for either President or Vice-President has had at least one child. (That includes all three women: Geraldine Ferraro had three, Sarah Palin has five, and Hillary Clinton has one). And this isn’t just a matter of bad luck on Harris’ part; Harris did not marry until age 49, when she wed the millionaire lawyer Douglass Emhoff. She was a career woman, and only a career woman.

I happen to believe that, until recently, this would have counted against a potential vice-presidential nominee. And even though it isn’t polite to say so anymore, there is a good reason for this. People don’t exist as isolated individuals, and a community can only sustain itself if its members, on average, contribute at least two children to that community. Being a devoted member of your tribe, city, nation, church, or whatever means trying your best to do your share of the work.

Now, obviously not everyone is going to contribute equally.  And I don’t judge people who don’t have children because they can’t, or because they never find the right person to settle down with. I even have a degree of respect for those who choose religious celibacy, though at the same time I am glad that my own religion’s concept of holiness does not involve refusing to perform an act which is necessary to the continuation of the species.

But I digress. As for Biden picking a childless running mate, while it certainly has something to do with the new leftist attitude toward families and procreation, it’s a reflection of changes that are done and over with, not a harbinger of things to come.

The general rule with politicians is that they keep paying lip service to a principle long after they stop believing in it. Perhaps you remember all the kerfuffle about Bernie Sanders being the first candidate to get close to the Democratic nomination while running as a socialist? Well, it isn’t because the Democrats are just now turning against economic freedom, it’s because they stopped caring about economic freedom several decades ago, and are just now flaunting that fact.

So it is with the glorification of the childless career woman. When Biden announced his choice of Harris, Rod Dreher ran an article entitled “Kamala: Woke Capitalism’s Dream Pick.” He never mentions the childlessness, but he talks about all the other traits that make it obvious that Harris is going to cozy up with leftist plutocrats and crack down on social conservatives.

This is hardly surprising. Leftist plutocrats have a lot of power in this country, but social conservatives are a spent force. Mainstream American society has long since abandoned its original ideas about religion, family, sexuality, marriage, divorce, childbearing, etc. Insightful people saw same-sex marriage coming decades away because it was an inevitable consequence of what is, by now, a longstanding consensus that sex and marriage exist mainly to satisfy the emotional appetites of adults.

The opposition to abortion has been a complete failure, owing largely to the antics of the pro-life movement itself. To begin with, not a single Republican politician has been held accountable by his base for going soft on that issue.

Furthermore, it is a cornerstone of western political thought that governments derive their legitimacy from the act of protecting the life and other inalienable of their subjects, and become fit targets for a revolution when they refuse to protect these rights. Thus, it is hard for a fair-minded observer to take the Right seriously when it claims to believe in an unborn baby’s right to life, even though Roe v. Wade and Congress’ ambivalence toward that decision for the last 47 years haven’t inspired independence movements in the parts of the country with an ostensibly pro-life majority, and even though the March for Life quietly disperses itself each year without the need for John Roberts or whoever to send in the tear gas and the dogs.

Kamala Harris becoming Vice President, or even ascending to the White House itself, won’t actually have much impact on the mop-up phase of America’s so-called culture wars. Putting her in office is the sort of thing that the Left does when it has already won.

As for me, I will be voting for Donald Trump and Mike Pence this November. I am not expecting them to usher in some grand turnaround, but I do see value in keeping America out of more wars. (While Trump has had a few brushes with Iran, I think he is less warmongery than Biden or Harris would be). And I would like to see Trump appoint more judges who will defend freedom of speech, the press, and religion. Those aren’t causes which I think Kamala Harris holds in high regard.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Covid Shutdown: Strands of Irrationality

Last week, I briefly mentioned the irony of how, a little more than half a century ago,  the world was able to handle pandemic bigger than the one going around now without disrupting people’s lives enough for hardly any of them to notice. Just ask Americans what happened in 1957, and I can assure you that among the minority who don’t draw a complete blank, Sputnik and Jailhouse Rock will come up way more often than the Asian Flu Pandemic of ‘57.

So what the heck is going on now to convince American society that it is a good idea to bring ordinary life to a screeching halt, just to slow down a disease that mainly kills old and sick people at somewhere less than 15 percent of the background rate?

To put things in perspective: every year in the US, about 35,000 people die in road accidents. So far this year, 166,000 have died of covid. Covid looks worse, until you remember that the average age to die of it is somewhere between 75 and 80. A quick glance at an actuarial table will reveal that these people can typically expect to live some 9 to 12 more years. Road accident victims would, on average, have lived another 40 years before dying of natural causes.

So we’re looking at a threat on the same order of magnitude as road accidents, with a major mitigating factor being that covid won’t be here year after year after year. A lot of reasonable people have looked at this and come away thinking that the best response would be to keep life normal for most people while providing the more at-risk demographics with the means to isolate themselves. This is what Sweden has done, successfully, with a per-capita death rate nearly the same as America’s.

But here’s the thing – any old blogger can yammer on about the things I’ve just said, and in fact, at this moment, many thousands of them are doing exactly that. What I intend to do is to to get under the hood of what’s going on and show just why it is that so many people in America seem to have lost their minds.

At the end of the day, “people are stupid” is just a dumb cliché. In reality, everything that’s going on right now has a detailed explanation within the mass psychology of the American mind.

So, without further ado, here are the three strands of irrationality which I think have combined to create the American overreaction to the Coronavirus.

1.      Most Americans Believe in the Myth of Progress

A few months ago, I devoted one of my essays to explaining the concept of the “Myth of Progress,” and how the last few centuries of rapid technological change have conditioned people to see history as a tale of the inevitable and irreversible banishment of mankind’s problems through the adoption of new technology.

The Myth of Progress has so much power because it frequently fits the facts: think of how much nicer life is with the printing press, the germ theory of disease, antibiotics, X-rays, weather forecasting, hot running water, machine-spun cloth, etc.

But sometimes, the myth blinds us to facts. If you lived in the sixteenth century and believed in the inevitability of technological progress, you might have spent your whole live insisting that the Philosopher’s Stone was just a few years away.

Likewise, in our own day and age, you can see Congress pouring several trillion dollars down the rat-hole of the F-35 out of a mistaken belief that, because it is a whole “generation” newer then the F-15 and F-16 and their Russian counterparts, it must be much, much, better. But according to many of the people who actually have to fly the F-35, it isn’t an improvement at all; there’s a reason why they often call it the “Penguin.”

The persistence of the Myth of Progress is the reason behind so many people’s firm belief that the current pandemic will end with the successful creation of a covid vaccine, despite the fact that scientists have been trying to vaccinate against various members of the Coronavirus family for decades with little success.

Now this is not to say that I expect no covid vaccine to be created at all – in fact, Russia has already announced plans to start vaccinating people later this month. But nobody can know in advance how effective this vaccine is going to be. It will likely be better than nothing, but the problem is that coronaviruses mutate very rapidly (there are already at least six strains of the one that causes covid-19) so even if you go through the motions of injecting people with a weakened variant of something that you isolated in the lab several months ago, it isn’t going to protect people against all of what’s presently out there in the wild.

However, this doesn’t stop people from continuing to believe in both the inevitability and moral necessity of finding a vaccine or a new drug or something that will stop the virus dead in its tracks. After all, from the point-of-view of a true believer in the Myth of Progress, infectious disease outbreaks belong in the past. They are not like cancer or road accidents or other respectable causes of death.

We enlightened 21st century Americans can afford to be rational about cancer and road accidents and other humdrum hazards of the modern world. We are allowed to think about the costs and benefits of public policies that would mitigate those hazards. And we can do that with the knowledge that the complete suppression of these dangers would involve an unacceptable loss of personal freedom.

But learning to live with the Coronavirus, on the other hand, is tantamount to returning to the Middle Ages, and turning back the clock is the one thing we must never do.

2.     Doctors And Journalists Have Too Much Influence

The Myth of Progress accounts for one strand of irrationality in the excessive reaction to the Coronavirus, but taken alone, it is far from sufficient to explain what is going on right now. To do that, you also need to look at the class interests of the two classes of people who are influencing public opinion the most: doctors and journalists.

Way back in April, I wrote a post explaining in some detail how doctors’ and journalists’ worldviews are heavily influence by their membership in the comfortable classes. In short, the idea is that not everyone in America is equally well prepared to deal with the financial ramifications of a long shutdown. And let’s just say that if your biggest worries are what to watch on Netflix and whence to order take-out, then you may be a bit too isolated from the experiences of the typical lower-middle-class or poor American.

 Now it just so happens that the doctors and journalists who are shaping everyone’s opinion about whether are shutdown is necessary are also among the people with the least to lose from a shutdown. Journalists can work from home. Most doctors are essential workers, and even those who aren’t are still wealthy enough to weather off a temporary economic downturn.

A good example of the bubble in which these people live comes from Rod Dreher, the top-billed writer at the American Conservative. While I agree with much of what Dreher is saying about the broader facts of American decline, I am unimpressed by his decision to frame his personal experience of the present shutdown as ‘covidtide’ – basically, an extended Lent in which orthodox Christians like Dreher have a special opportunity to draw closer to God by denying themselves the pleasures of full participation in modern society.

All due respects to Dreher’s religion, but I think it would be naïve not to note that his experience of ‘covidtide’ is influenced by the fact that the shutdown has not interfered in the least with his ability to make a living. Dreher’s articles are still appearing in regular order on the website of the American Conservative. The people whom he looks down on for chafing under the covid restrictions generally do not have anywhere near his degree of worldly security.

Finally, one more point worth noting is that members of all professions have, with few exceptions, an exaggerated idea of their own profession’s ability to solve problems rather than creating them. This is true for doctors, lawyers, politicians, clergymen, educators, scientists, engineers, policemen, or whoever.

An infectious disease expert like Dr. Anthony Fauci has spent his whole life studying the hazards posed by infectious diseases and devising ways to mitigate said hazards. It should surprise nobody that he is hyperfocused on slowing or stopping virus transmission. But when he comes out and says something to the effect that we have no choice but to keep the country shut down for at least a year, we all need to seriously consider whether or not he has actually done a balanced cost-benefit analysis.

Perhaps Dr. Fauci hasn’t put much thought into the way that shutting down so much of the economy will worsen the lives of millions of working-class Americans, and lead to increasing poverty, lack of health care, child abuse, divorce, suicide, homicide, addiction, etc. It isn’t a surprise to see him overlook these things – after all, they aren’t what he was trained to protect us from. But they’re still worth thinking about.

3.     This Is All A Political Shibboleth, Anyhow

Let’s just admit it already: for millions of Americans, wearing a mask isn’t really about stopping the spread of virus particles. It’s mostly just a way of saying that you hate Donald Trump.

Oh, sure, very few of the people who are ostentatious about wearing masks even when they aren’t required to are consciously thinking this thought. At the same time, it isn’t a coincidence that Joe Biden’s handlers have made sure that he has worn a mask in nearly all of his photoshoots this summer, even though he mostly remains in or near his house, while at the same time President Trump, who’s in public all the time, rarely ever wears one.

Here’s the thing: if you are a governor or mayor or some other local authority figure, and you want everyone to know that you think Donald Trump is a childish buffoon whose blundering and blustering is getting thousands of Americans killed, then the best way to get your opinions out there is to impose as many burdensome restrictions as possible on the people beneath you.

And if you like Donald Trump and want to prove to everyone around you that you won’t countenance anybody trampling on your liberties, then the best way to do it is to flout every covid restriction, even the ones that make sense.

That’s where we are as a country, in this topsy-turvy Year of the Bat. Even something as serious as the deadliest virus since 1957 can’t escape being flattened out into a two-dimensional game of “are you for Trump, or against him?”

I suppose the bright side of this is that it will only go on as long as people are consumed by a burning desire to signal their love or hatred for the President. That's why I suspect that a lot of the over-the-top social distancing requirements and hysterical finger-pointing will vanish a week or two after the election, no matter who wins.

In the meantime, I don't think there's much reason to hold out hope for Americans to make a collective return to their senses.


Friday, August 7, 2020

Reflections on the Two Bombs

Most people don't think much about history. One way you can see this is by looking at all the insistence that the current Coronavirus pandemic is the worst disease outbreak that the world has seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918.

While this insistence may be necessary to justify the massive overreaction to the Coronavirus, even a cursory examination of the relevant Wikipedia pages will reveal that the Asian Flu of 1957 was quite a bit deadlier than what the world is going through right now. What’s more, the 1957 Flu managed a higher body count on a planet with only 37 percent of the current global population.

But if you ask anybody what they know about 1957, it’s very unlikely that they’ll mention the Asian Flu. Some people remember 1957 as the year that the Russians launched Sputnik; some remember it as the year that Elvis made Jailhouse Rock and then got drafted. For America as a whole, life continued as normal, in the midst of a pandemic that was, objectively, quite a bit worse that the one we’re stuck with right now.

But there’s no doubting that 2020 is just going to be remembered as the Year of the Bat. No matter how anticlimactically covid itself ends up fading away, the economy will still be a wreck and the US dollar will be a lot closer to not being the global currency anymore.

But I digress. The whole reason I mentioned the historical amnesia of the current generation is because I wanted to comment on one of the other, less bat-infested aspects of 2020, namely, the passage of all those 75th anniversary milestones for famous events near the end of World War II. I already wrote a little about V-E Day; now I’ll be writing about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Chronicles Magazine and the American Conservative are on the more thoughtful end of the media spectrum; each ran articles yesterday discussing, with some depth, the military and ethical aspects of President Truman’s decision to use the two bombs. But in most of the media, we get crickets.

Now, I should probably preface what I’m about to write with a big caveat, namely this: I do not have a strong opinion about the bombings. I have no desire to pick apart either President Truman or his detractors on ethical grounds. I wasn’t there when it happened, and it came at the end of a long and bloody war in which everyone involved had long since had plenty of reasons to give up on the idea that it was possible to fight with decency and still win.

But even though I don’t have strong opinions, I do have some interesting things to say that I think can make the conversation more reasonable. So, without further ado, here are some of my reflections on the two bombs.

1.      It’s Rude To Say That The Bombs Saved Lives 

It is pretty common to hear Americans, especially conservatives, say that the nuclear strikes “saved millions of lives” and justify that statement by comparing the 250,000 or so lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the millions that would have died on both sides if the United States had proceeded with the plan to invade the Japanese home islands, which was scheduled to begin on 1 November with Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu.

Now just think about how that “saved lives” claim would sound to somebody whose family was killed in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

But there’s more to it than that. “Bomb or Invade” weren’t America’s only options. We could have blockaded Japan, cutting the Japanese off from the world without bringing the war to their home islands at all. Or we could have dropped the insistence on unconditional surrender and tried for a negotiated peace after Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

There is no telling how those scenarios would have played out, and there are good reasons to be believe that both would have been bad ideas. But absent the kind of omniscience that would let us precisely compare every single alternative, looking at a pair of missions which incinerated upwards of 40,000 civilians each and left tens of thousands more to die of radiation sickness or cancer, and then summing them up as something that “saved lives,” is just way too crass.

I prefer to stick with saying that, considering what the actual circumstances in 1945 were, the bombings were probably a good idea.

2.     A Blockade Would Have Left A Lot Of People Dead, Too

Since the most common argument in favor of the bombings – that an invasion of Japan would have been much worse for everyone – is so strong, the world of armchair generalship has found itself in need of new ideas. One of those is to say that, by August of 1945, Japan’s air and sea power had been reduced to almost nil, therefore, America could have foregone both bombs and invasion, and just blockaded the Japanese in their islands and waited for them to surrender. The basic premise is laid out fairly well in this article at the American Conservative.

There is some merit to the idea; indeed, much of the reason that the more death-cultish end of the Japanese high command was looking forward to a ground invasion was that it would give the Japanese an opportunity to kill Americans, something which, at the moment, they were largely unable to do. A blockade, on the other hand, would take advantage of America’s total dominance of air and sea, ensuring much smaller combat losses.

But that would require ignoring the rest of Asia. In the Pacific Ocean, Japan was thoroughly beaten, but in Korea, Manchuria, much of China, all of Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies, the Japanese occupying armies were still very much in control. And a continuation in the fighting in these territories didn’t just mean military deaths, it also meant that the civilian population would be treated with extreme brutality.

Perhaps you have heard of the Rape of Nanking – basically, when the Chinese city of Nanking fell to the Japanese in December of 1937, the Japanese army went on a raping and slaughtering rampage and killed somewhere between 40,000 and 300,000 Chinese civilians. To put that in perspective, the higher end of that range exceeds the number of Japanese killed by both atomic bombs. Anything that lengthened the war would give the Japanese more opportunities to repeat such actions.

Then there is the Jatropha Famine, which Americans are even less likely to know about than the Rape of Nanking. The site was the occupied Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

Japan fought the whole war with a huge oil shortage. Indeed, the Japanese’ massive logistical inferiority, viz. the United States, was in large part what doomed their forces to suffer one huge rolling defeat in all but the first few months of the war.

In an attempt to shore up their fuel supply, the Japanese forced millions of Indonesian farmers to replace many of their food crops with Jatropha, a fast-growing tree whose nuts can be pressed to yield fuel oil.

The whole project was a complete failure. The Jatropha didn’t make nearly enough oil to turn the tide of the war, and the only real result of this program of crop replacement was a famine that killed about 4 million Indonesians.

To put that in perspective, the number of Japanese who died in every action of the war from Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki is somewhere between 2.5 and 3.1 million.

This is the sort of thing that would have kept on happening if the Japanese hadn’t surrendered in the summer of 1945.

3.     Ordinary Americans Were Afraid That Japan Had The Bomb

When you get all your history by reading books written long after the events they describe, and when you begin every story with a rough idea of how it is going to end, you’re missing out on something, because that’s not how the people who lived through history experienced it.

We in 2020 know how difficult the Manhattan Project was, and how much cutting-edge physics and industrial brute-force went into it, and how Germany was the only other country that even tried to develop nuclear weapons during World War II. Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin also knew these things, along with their senior commanders and scientists, but pretty-much nobody else at the time did.

The typical American, whether soldier or civilian, hadn’t the faintest inkling of what was going on until he opened the newspaper on 6 August and read about how “the atomic bomb weighs about 400 pounds and is capable of utterly destroying a town” by utilizing “the force from which the sun draws its power.”

Somewhere near the middle of the New York Times’ long article about the new weapon, the reader is notified that Secretary of War Stimson is “convinced that Japan will not be in a position to use an atomic bomb in this war.”

That sounds like a good thing to know.