War: Thanks But No Thanks

The Battle of Missionary Ridge, fought the day before  the "Thanksgiving Day" proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln.
The Battle of Missionary Ridge, fought the day before the “Thanksgiving Day” proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I seldom think of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people dining together (likely sans turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie) in Massachusetts in 1621.

Rather, my thoughts wander to Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation inviting his fellow citizens “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

What was Lincoln thankful for? “Fruitful fields and healthful skies” …  and Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

“In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”

Wartime Thanksgiving holidays are the rule, not the exception. As Christian Oord reports at War History Online, the United States has enjoyed a whopping 17 years of peace in its 247 years of existence. It’s been at war 93% of the time since 1776 (that article was written in 2019, but nothing’s changed in a big way since then).

America’s wars are seldom formally declared. Nor does the US regime always go whole hog — in many cases, it fights through proxies, arming, funding, and looming threateningly behind client states (as in Ukraine’s war with Russia and Israel’s war with the Palestinian Arabs).

I’m not thankful for America’s wars.

I suppose I SHOULD be thankful that it’s been more than two decades since those wars last  came closer to my home in the form of major “blowback,” but I find it hard to dredge up much gratitude.

The deaths, injuries, and dispossessions caused partially or wholly by US foreign military adventurism — the toll comes to millions even if we write off everything prior to 9/11 — constitute a huge karmic debt, put on all our tabs in a perpetual dine-and-dash by the American political class.

We may not be noticeably paying that bill down now, but we’ll beyond doubt pay eventually, with interest … at which point the warmongers who brought the next terrible thing down on our heads will whine bitterly, from their secure bunkers in undisclosed locations, that the debt collectors “hate us for our freedom” and that the only solution is yet another round of war.

Is all that a little dark for a Thanksgiving column? Yeah, I guess so. But it’s where my thoughts are turning this week, which also marks 60 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, likely by elements of the very national security state that keeps the US constantly at war and its people constantly in danger.

I am, of course, thankful for my family, my friends, my readers, etc. And as the American holiday season kicks off, my wish for all of you is that ever-elusive goal: An America, and a world, at peace. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Is Reading This Column Really a Choice? And Does That Matter?

Her Own Free Will (1924) - 1

Maybe I didn’t really want to write this column. According to Robert Sapolsky I just couldn’t help myself.

Sapolsky, a Stanford biology professor and author of Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will, argues that everything we do is pre-destined. Not by an all-knowing and completely controlling god, but by biology. Our brains work in certain ways and we do as they command, not vice versa.

I’ve not read the book yet, but look forward to it and have read reviews and listened to some of Sapolsky’s interviews. Maybe I’ll learn differently, but his main point seems to encapsulate well in a quote from the Los Angeles Times:

“The world is really screwed up and made much, much more unfair by the fact that we reward people and punish people for things they have no control over … We’ve got no free will. Stop attributing stuff to us that isn’t there.”

If we’ve got no free will, can ANY human conduct be “fair” or “unfair?” Aren’t those doing the rewarding and the punishing just as constrained by biology to do whatever they’re doing as those being rewarded or punished?

If the philosophers who have expounded throughout history on systems of ethics grounded in notions of free will had no free will themselves, how would that invalidate those systems? After all, they had no choice in the matter. If free will doesn’t exist, their explicit and implicit claims that it does, and the systems based on those claims are … well, predestined!

“A difference which makes no difference,” as psychologist William James pointed out, “is no difference at all.”

We either HAVE free will, or are doomed to believe we have it, and to act AS IF we have it.

Naturally, I find it comforting to believe that I have free will: That I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.

Perhaps I believe that, and find it comforting, because all those chemical reactions in my brain require me to, rather than because it’s true … but I believe it and find it comforting either way.

Why do I not lie awake at night pondering the particular question of free will versus predestination?

Well, maybe that’s because I have no choice as to what I lie awake pondering.

Or maybe it’s because I understand that the answer to the question is a difference that makes no difference.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


The Supreme Court’s New “Code of Conduct” Is About Appearances, Not About Ethics

Supreme Court of the United States - Roberts Court 2022

On November 13, the US Supreme Court — presumably motivated by bad publicity after the exposure of bribery schemes involving justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, use of judicial aides to promote justice Sonia Sotomayor’s books, and other unsavory activities — announced what it calls a “Code of Conduct,” and what most media outlets describe as an “ethics code.”

The new code goes off the conduct/ethics rails before finishing its short opening statement, asserting that its purpose is to “dispel” the “misunderstanding” that the justices “regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,” rather than to actually restrict the justices with any ethics rules.

Because the document — 15 pages, including the opening statement, the “code” itself, and commentary/notes — doesn’t provide for any penalty or punishment whatsoever should a justice violate it, the justices remain as unrestricted after its publication as they clearly regarded themselves before.

Even ignoring the absence of consequences, the code itself is full of lofty and often ambiguous “shoulds” and “should nots” rather than specific and well-defined “shalls” and “shall nots.”

As codes go, this one’s far more Emily Post than Exodus 20. It’s not about what the justices may or may not do, it’s about how the court wants or doesn’t want to look.

Does anyone find this surprising? Letting government agencies  regulate themselves always results in government agents (especially those who regard themselves as enjoying tenure for life) leaving themselves room to do whatever they like.

In theory, Congress can impose binding rules on the Supreme Court. Contra justice Samuel Alito (“No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court — period”),  Article III of the US Constitution specifies that the justices hold their seats “during good Behaviour,” and that the court operates in its appellate capacity “under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”

In practice, impeaching individual justices  seems like the best way of imposing the “good Behaviour” requirement, but that remedy’s only been applied once, and threatened once more, in 240 years. In 1804, justice Samuel Chase was acquitted by the Senate. In 1969, Abe Fortas resigned from the court under impeachment threat.

The “checks and balances” system seems, unsurprisingly, to not  work very well. The Supreme Court remains at least potentially on the take … if you’ve got the money to buy the rulings you want.

“Put not thy trust in princes,” the Bible tells us. Under which label I’m inclined to include lifetime political appointees.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.