Saturday, April 24, 2010

The scars of war

Nancy Sherman has an interesting piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the psychological reality that soldiers experience when returning from war.  It is an interesting piece.  In part the article is a plea for a discussion, I suppose at least in academia, on the burdens of a soldier that has returned from war.  Her latest book, which I have just started reading, seems to be the full treatment of this topic. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Question of identity

The story that the 372nd MP company is returning to Iraq is interesting and stresses the relevance of the question of identity over time: what constitutes the same unit? As you may know, this is the unit whose members committed the events that we now know as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But is the same unit really returning to Iraq? Should we worry that because it is the same unit they might do the same thing? The unit, whatever that is, was never punished though some if its members were and some of it superior officers were.

Clearly it is not the fact that the unit retains the same people that keeps the unit the same over time. Units have people come and go all the time. We don't even know how many soldiers who were members of the unit during the scandal are still in the unit. (Units lose lots of members after deployments and I am sure the 372nd lost more than most.) Geographically, units move, so their identity is not tied to a physical place. Unit's missions change as well, so that too cannot be the source of "the same unit". . . It is very much a Ship of Theseus issue. In this case it seems like a real-world question where our theory of identity is relevant to how concerned we need to be about the future of this unit. Moreover, the unit will undoubtedly get close scrutiny because people believe that it is the same unit.

On a practical level, because of the scandal this unit has undoubtedly received very serious training and warnings so that they will not repeat the mistakes the unit made in the past, but what should we expect of the unit?

Clearly though there is something that keeps this unit the same as it was the first time it was deployed. Its designation is the same. The unit's reputation is damaged, perhaps irreparably. It is a worthwhile question for philosophers of military things.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Peter Amato - "Crisis, Terror, and Tyranny"

Peter Amato's "Crisis, Terror, and Tyranny: On the anti-democratic logic of empire" (in Gail M. Presbey Philosophical Perspectives on the `War on Terrorism'; Rodopi 2007, 113-128) is an almost boilerplate anti-capitalist, Bush-is-Evil, America-can-do-no-right screed with a brief interlude of three and a half pages repeating (for no apparent reason) an odd, but not crazy reading of Plato's Republic.  There is otherwise no philosophical content.  

The essay is essentially a list of alleged evils that the US has perpetrated. (The majority of footnotes are newspaper "reporting" said evils.)  There are many assertions and accusations that could really use clarifications and support (e.g., the US government did more than any other force in the twentieth century to resist democratic aspirations, (121)).  The article basically tells you that it is making an unfalsifiable claim (Many believe that the US Promotes democracy because they want it to be true. The government propagates a "democratic veneer to cover and protect its autocratic plutocratic client regimes" (119), so in case you think otherwise you are looking at a veneer). The article has the flavor of a rant in that it is likely only compelling (or even comprehensible) to someone who already knows and agrees with the conclusions and approaches of the essay, and shares the authors rage, and has it for the same reason the author does.  There is a large metaphor that is used to substantiate the author's point, which is essentially that if we use that metaphor the point makes no sense (120).

I have no problem with screeds.  I have been known to send them in emails myself.  But I do wonder how this made it into a philosophy anthology.