Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Recent Readings for May 9, 2019

May 9, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 9, 2019

Author’s note: One of the articles linked below involves a porn star; the article is not particularly explicit, but I wanted to give warning. Also, two of the articles below contain upsetting details about violent crimes. MEM

Gosh, I haven’t done one of these in nearly two and a half years. Let’s see what’s been running through my mind lately!

• “The Sunday school children: The little-known tragedy of the Sri Lankan Easter attacks.” Rebecca Wright, Sam Kiley and King Ratnam of CNN take a detailed look at one of the bombings in the terrorist assaults that killed about 250 Christians and tourists last month. Be aware that this story is filled with a number of heartbreaking details.

• “Student slated to attend Western Michigan University beheaded in Saudi Arabia.” This was one of a series of government executions, the particulars of which should shock the conscience of every American. Alas, it’s hard to imagine that our freedom-loving pro-life president giving this matter more than 30 seconds of thought. As I tweeted: “The details presented here are shocking, and comprise a not-so-gentle reminder that this nation produced 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001.”

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Talking about my generation? On revisiting the 20th century

August 23, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 23, 2013

On Tuesday, The Economist released what I thought was a surprisingly frivolous poll. (Especially coming from The Economist, for pete’s sake!) Under the headline “We still like Ike,” the publication trumpeted its findings that a plurality of Americans (18 percent) would prefer to go back in time to the 1950s above any other decade of the 20th century.

The older the age group surveyed, the higher its preference for the era of the Eisenhower presidential administration; 35 percent of those 65 and above picked the ’50s as their déjà vu decade. One-fifth of Republicans who were polled also preferred the 1950s, with Ronald Reagan’s 1980s coming in second and (interestingly) the tumultuous 1960s placing third among members of the Grand Old Party.

Among Democrats, the ’80s were the least popular decade of the latter half of the 20th century. The 1920s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’90s each were chosen by about 15 percent of Dems surveyed.

The least popular decades were the teens, chosen by 1 percent of poll respondents, and the 1930s, which covered most of the Great Depression and were picked by 2 percent.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Bush administration followed a trail of wishful thinking into Iraq

July 2, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 2, 2013

Last year, journalist Kurt Eichenwald released a detailed history of the roughly 18-month period between the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the start of the Iraq war. Among other things, Eichenwald’s book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, reinforces just how shockingly quickly American officials began turning their attention from finding and punishing those responsible for 9/11 to deposing Saddam Hussein.

On the night of Sept. 11, the Central Intelligence Agency director, George Tenet, told President George W. Bush and his advisors that “Bin Laden’s fingerprints were all over this operation, but other actors may have played a supporting role. He wouldn’t be surprised, Tenet said, to find Iran or Iraq wrapped into this somehow.”

At that meeting, the officials recognized that their immediate response must involve both Afghanistan, which harbored al Qaeda under the aegis of its Taliban-controlled Islamic fundamentalist government, and Pakistan. Engaging the latter state would be tricky, those at the gathering knew, since Pakistan officials actively supported the Taliban.

No matter, Bush said. The United States was at war with a merciless enemy, and governments around the world would have to choose sides. “This is an opportunity beyond Afghanistan,” he said. “We have to shake terror loose in places like Syria, and Iran, and Iraq.”

He surveyed the room with calm eyes. “This is an opportunity to rout out terror wherever it might exist.”

One significant strand in 500 Days involves the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and his efforts to channel Bush administration anti-terror responses in productive ways. Almost from the beginning, Blair was troubled by what he heard out of the American president. He felt Bush’s lack of interest in building coalitions would ultimately hamper the global war on terror. He also was alarmed by the hostility Bush expressed toward Iraq.

“The evidence would have to be very compelling indeed to justify taking any action against Iraq,” Blair told Bush in a phone conversation just three days after the Twin Towers had fallen. Presciently, the prime minister added: “I would strongly advise dealing with Afghanistan very distinctively. To go after Iraq would be certain to lose Russia and France.”

Immediately after the conversation ended, Blair conferred with his cabinet. “Rumsfeld has been looking for reasons to hit Iraq,” said Geoff Hoon, the British defense secretary, referring to his American counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld. “They definitely want regime change, and that has been the channel of advice Bush has been getting since the election.”

“They would be mad to do Iraq without justification!” British foreign secretary Jack Straw said, Eichenwald reported. “They’ll lose world opinion.”  Read the rest of this entry »

In their rush to protect America from terrorism, Bush administration officials employed counterproductive tactics that verged on torture

June 26, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 26, 2013

In many ways, the United States was unprepared for the battle against terrorists that was triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The nation’s leaders had to implement new objectives and policies geared to fighting al Qaeda and its ilk. This enemy, unlike others faced and vanquished by America, did not control a nation; had no formal government; dispatched warriors who wore no uniform. Yet American soldiers and spies would have to capture, interrogate and possibly send to trial these new foes.

This is one of many threads tracked by Kurt Eichenwald in his 2012 book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. As is now well known, officials in the administration of President George W. Bush took extremely expansive views of the powers that a wartime president and his delegates could wield legally. Unfortunately, Eichenwald’s book shows, that perspective was one of several factors that helped facilitate the torture of detainees by Americans and American allies.

Around the time the U.S. began invading Afghanistan, in October 2001, several lawyers met to lay groundwork for handling captives. Attending were John Yoo, a Justice Department lawyer from the group tasked with providing legal advice to the executive branch; Alberto Gonzales, the chief White House counsel; Gonzales’ deputy, Tim Flanigan; and David Addington, senior counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney. Yoo was shown a draft presidential order modeled on one President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had issued.

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In ‘500 Days,’ Kurt Eichenwald outlines critical decisions and events that followed 9/11

June 25, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 24, 2013

In 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, veteran journalist Kurt Eichenwald sets out a history of the turmoil triggered by al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. This impressive 2012 book is focused on how the administration of President George W. Bush responded to the terrorist strike, although its scope is hardly limited to that.

Eichenwald retells many events that are both terrible and familiar. In the prologue, CIA and FBI officials find themselves frustrated as bureaucrats and Bush appointees, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, show little to no reaction to various signs that some kind of terrorist operation is in the works. (500 Days implies, and Eichenwald has explicitly argued elsewhere, that chances to foil the 9/11 attacks were squandered due to Bush administration inattention.) The first chapter begins with a spontaneous evacuation of the White House following the second collision between an airliner and the World Trade Center in New York City.

That impact triggered an immediate and massive response, setting in motion events that continue to have ramifications to the present day. We see this, for instance, in the reaction to recent revelations about the scope of data collection by the National Security Agency. As Eichenwald demonstrates, the NSA’s efforts were hastily and significantly expanded in the Stellar Wind initiative just weeks after the terrorist strikes.

One storyline in the book involves the largely ineffectual efforts by the British prime minister, Tony Blair, to channel the Bush administration’s preparations for war with Iraq in ways that will be acceptable to the British public and the international community. Tellingly, U.S. officials began considering Iraq involvement within hours of the tragedy.

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In ‘The Given Day,’ Lehane breathes immediacy, vitality into the Boston of 1919

December 27, 2012

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 27, 2012

Before I was given a copy of The Given Day, along with what was effectively a command to read the book in short order, I’d never laid eyes on a Dennis Lehane tale before.

Which isn’t to say that I did not know of or respect this American novelist. I saw and greatly admired Mystic River, the movie based on a 2001 Lehane work, when it was released to significant acclaim in 2003. Still, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I even cracked the spine of one of his novels.

The bulk of The Given Day transpires in Boston between mid-1918 and late 1919. It is largely the story of two men. One is Danny Coughlin, a massive, strong-willed 27-year-old policeman whose father is an Irish immigrant who has risen to prominence and a captaincy in the Boston police department. The other is Luther Laurence, a slim, fleet-of-foot handyman, also strong-willed, whose father abandoned his son and wife to poverty.

Although most of this 2008 novel is told from Coughlin’s and Laurence’s perspectives, a number of interstices present the viewpoint of one George Herman Ruth, the baseball immortal better known to fans as the Babe. A handful of relatively short passages put us inside the minds of other key characters, notably Coughlin’s father as well as Danny’s slightly older and much younger brothers, Connor and Joe, respectively; and Laurence’s wife.

Ruth meets Connor Coughlin and Danny Coughlin separately, but these encounters are essentially incidental to the plot. The ball player has two run-ins with Laurence, also mostly incidental to the main plot. However, the first of these meetings takes place as part of an episode that presents a gripping metaphor for race relations in America for much of this nation’s history. (Race relations seems too weak a phrase for a segregated system in which rights and wealth were largely reserved for Caucasians; please feel free to suggest more aptly worded sentences in the comment section below.)

The majority of The Given Day documents the personal and societal forces that led up to the evidently disastrous Boston police strike of 1919. (I believe this event took place in September of that year.) Lehane’s sympathies are clearly with not just the police labor union but with other unions, yet he rarely reduces issues to black and white.

In his telling, the policemen — and they were all men then, of course — were essentially forced to take radical steps because of the parsimony of Boston’s leadership. Police officers were required to work extended hours and to spend three nights a week on call, sleeping in precinct houses that were filthy and ridden with vermin. They never received compensation for working overtime. The force went for years without raises, despite promises of fair treatment by Boston officials. Officers who put their lives on the line found themselves unable to provide for their families even as other personnel, such as trolley car operators, made more, worked less and had been awarded raises more recently.

One of the book’s few out-and-out villains is a petty, vengeful police commissioner who sees compromise with his aggrieved work force as a black mark on his personal honor. The commissioner’s adding insult to injury at a key moment helps convince 1,400 officers to walk off the job. Read the rest of this entry »

On firearms and firearm fatalities

December 20, 2012

Author’s note: This entry was initially posted on the afternoon of Dec. 20. It was extended and re-posted later the same afternoon. Slight edits were also made to the original text. Thank you for reading! MEM

***

The 117-page report compiled by the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control provides detailed breakdowns by age, race and sex for more than 100 different causes of death in the 2009 calendar year.

The nation tallied 2,437,163 deaths that year, with a number of predictable causes leading the way. Heart disease was the top culprit, claiming nearly 600,000 people. Malignant neoplasms, or cancers, finished in second place by ending just shy of 568,000 lives. Chronic lung disease and various ailments that stop or limit blood flow to the brain respectively notched 137,353 and 128,842 deaths.

Accidents or unintentional injuries were responsible for 118,021 fatalities, ranking fifth on the list. Eight of the next 10 causes are diseases, except for suicide (No. 10, 36,909) and assault or homicide (No. 15, 16,799).

Incidentally, the government’s catch-all category, covering all but the top 15 causes of death, accounted for 469,367 deaths, or around 19.3 percent of the total.

These rather dry tables drew my interest because of the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members. They were all killed by multiple gunshot wounds, like victim No. 27, the shooter’s mother, who was slain in her own bed. (The suspect also dispatched himself with a bullet.)

This horrific event has prompted Americans to begin debating gun safety with a fervor that has perhaps never been matched. It’s resuscitated a great deal of argument over this old saw: “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”

Yet a superficial reading of government statistics indicates that guns do in fact kill.

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Le Carré’s ‘Most Wanted Man’ reinforces the unbearable hardness of being

December 11, 2012

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 11, 2012

Le Carré’s 20th book, A Most Wanted Man, came out in 2008. I have had it for years. But I put it down at least once, finding myself unable to get past the opening pages.

Some days ago, I embarked anew upon this book, which I understand is being made into a movie. And it wasn’t long before I fell in love with A Most Wanted Man.

That’s what I wrote the other week in this post about three books that I started reading but could not bear to finish. (Not so incidentally: Le Carré’s first name is John. It’s a pen name, as you’ll soon see.)

Well, the other day, I finished it. First, two more excerpts from the post; then, additional impressions based on my full reading of the novel.  Read the rest of this entry »

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