Beauty of Gray

Friday, August 23, 2002

Fascinating piece on the West Bank

Via Sketch, I found this wonderful series of photoessays on conditions in the West Bank. I think this work does a lot to cut through the propaganda of both sides and gives at least some feel for the real conditions on the ground, and some of the everyday issues that are missed in newspaper and TV coverage. It's full of little nuggets, such as the way in which settlers and Palestinains duel in planting olive groves and pine trees to lay claim to territory. A few big things jumped out at me.

First, the collection of maps and various peace proposals helps to explicate Palestinian oposition to Oslo and the Camp David plans, more so than simple quotes of land percentages. The maps also point out the true nature of the settlements, which were designed and intended to carve up the Palestinian territory and render any peaceful two state solution impossible. Whether they were explicitly modeled after them or not, these settlemtns are designed to serve the same purpose as the Roman colonies in Italy. First, as stated, they act as geographic berriers to carve up the West Bank into non-contiguous, isolated territories. Second, they serve as fortress-like strongpoints, dominating roads and villages and serving as bases for Israeli military activity. Basically, they are a tool of attempted colonization and expropriation, rather than suburban sprawl into cheap, unoccupied land.

And the essay on roadways was also fascinating, illustrating the way in which the two communities of settlers and Palestianians, while they exist in the same two dimensional space, are actually overlaid on top of each other with little if any points of connection. They each live and travel along their own network of roads and villages, with no connection or communication between them.

Go read it all. It will be a far better use of your time than reading one more essay about the barbaric Palestinian death cult or the terror-sponsering zionist entity of Israel.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:38 AM

Thursday, August 22, 2002
Armies, Society, and Governance

I just started what looks to be one of those nice used bookstore finds, Armies and Societies in Europe: 1494-1789. This covers the period which saw the huge and vital shift of the army from an impermanent popular levy, in which every citizen could equally be a combatant but there were few if any true soldiers, to the age of modern, professional, standing armies. The military shifted from being a subtask for society at large to being a separate force separate from the general population.

It’s an interesting transition to read about in its own right, but I’m hopeful that it might also shed some light on the current instabilities around much of the third world. It seems to me that, in the broadest terms, the major problems facing the third world are corruption, tribalism, and the lack of effective civilian control of the military.

The lack of civilian control results in the many coups and military dictatorships which dot the developing world. These dictatorships then often play off ethnic tensions to maintain power, or fill the military with the leader’s fellow tribesmen. And the dictatorships can also give rise to corruption both by example from the top down, as with Zaire, or by so impoverishing the country that mid-level bureaucrats use any means they can to line their own pockets. And all of these problems then form a simmering, swirling mess that has sucked many countries down into a whirlpool of suffering and poverty.

In Europe and America, this problem has almost never arisen—Napolean is the closest example I can think of to a leader that seized power in a military coup since the Renaissance, although I’m sure I’m forgetting someone. [Insert: as indeed I was. See below for a correction.] But on the whole, the militaries in the now-industrial world have kept their place subservient to civil authority, despite having the capability to seize control.

I’m hopeful that looking at the history of the armies in the west will give insight into why they have remained loyal to the governments, while across much of the rest of the world, the military has instead taken over the reins of power. My best theory going in is that it was a byproduct of the Kingships in Europe. Since the leaders were felt to rule by divine providence, this suppressed rebellions since regicide was seen as too great of a crime. This then built up a pattern of obedience that was strong enough that it was never broken—the idea of a military coup was seen as impossible. While most third world countries, as arbitrary constructions without a strong sense of national identity, don’t have this history. (Which also exacerbates ethnic problems, since the local ethnic attachment is felt to have greater force than the national attachment.) We’ll see if this idea holds up, and the book will probably spark one or two more essays here. I’m sure you’ll be waiting with bated breath…

Update: Duh. Dan Hartung of the excellent lafefx blog (who unfortunately updates as infrequently I do) writes in to remind me of Franco and the Greek Colonels as two more examples of military coups in the developed world. Simple ignorance of Greek history made me overlook the Greek example, while lakck of reflection led me to miss Franco. Whether lack of knowledge of lack of thought is worse is left up to the reader to decide. Either way, thanks to Dan for the correction.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:09 PM

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