Category Archives: moral ambiguity

>What’s really going on in Copenhagen? The Yes Men arrive!

>Did Canada just promise to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gases and pay their climate debt? It looks like it:

Uganda responds:

Will the real Canada please stand up:

Oops, its the Yes Men being, well, the Yes men.

I feel rather sorry for Uganda, but not for Canada.

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Filed under anarchism, ethics, government, humor, moral ambiguity, nature, non-violence, Politics

>Good Journalism

>Amy Goodman & Robert Sheer on the state of journalism and its implications:

I have become increasingly convinced that the state of mainstream journalism in the U.S. today is lousy. If we do not take the time to find and engage with good journalism, rather than merely consuming the mainstream media, then we are and will remain ignorant and potentially very foolish.

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Filed under American history, moral ambiguity, Politics, war

The casualties of Operation Overloard

One of the truest clichés is that war is hell.


New Zealand Commandos ready to hit the beach

Today is 65 years since Operation Overlord began – also known as D-Day. This day stands as one of the great moments of triumph in the wars of good versus evil that are seared into our consciousness. I have always viewed the actions of the soldiers who landed on the beaches to be nothing short of heroic, and I still do, but I am burdened by the casualties from the event. I wrote a post recently on my attitude towards war and I must confess I have difficulties bringing together my hatred of war and my thanks for the heroes of D-Day.


British commandos in a ruined French town, Normandy.

Consider the casualties from Operation Overlord. This is taken directly from Wikipedia and it bears reading and pondering:

The cost of the Normandy campaign had been high for both sides. From D-Day to 21 August the Allies had landed 2,052,299 men in northern France. The Allies lost around 209,672 casualties from June 6 to the end of August, around 10 % of the forces landed in France. The casualties breaks down to 36,976 killed, 153,475 wounded and 19,221 missing. Split between the Army-Groups; the Anglo-Canadian Army-Group suffered 16,138 killed, 58,594 wounded and 9,093 missing for a total of 83,825 casualties. The American Army-Group suffered 20,838 killed, 94,881 wounded and 10,128 missing for a total of 125,847 casualties. To these casualties it should be added that no less then 4,101 aircrafts were lost and 16,714 airmen were killed in direct connection to Operation Overlord. Thus total Allied casualties rises to 226,386 men. 78 Free French SAS (Special Air Service) killed, 195 wounded in Brittany from 5 June to the beginning of August. For Allied tank losses there are no direct number. A fair estimate is that around 4,000 tanks were destroyed, of which 2,000 were fighting in American units.

The German casualties remains unclear. The estimates of the German casualties stretches from 288,000 men to 450,000 men. Just in the Falaise Gap the Germans lost around 60,000 men in killed, wounded and captured. The majority of the German casualties contained of POWs as nearly 200,000 were captured during the closure of the battle. The Germans committed around 2,300 tanks and assault guns to the battle in Normandy, and only around 100 to 120 were brought back across the Seine. The overwhelming majority of the German tanks destroyed were put out of action by the Allied airforce, while very few of the Allied tank losses were inflicted by the Luftwaffe.

19,860 French civilians were killed during the liberation of Normandy, and an even greater number were wounded. The number excludes the 15,000 civilians killed and the 19,000 wounded in the bombings of Normandy in preparation of the invasion. Many cities and towns in Normandy and northern France were totally devastated by the fighting and the bombings. As many as 70,000 French civilians may have been killed during the liberation of France in 1944.

These numbers are staggering. Keep in ming that is for less than two months of fighting and such losses are entirely unbelievable by today’s expectations.


Dead U.S. soldier, Omaha beach

D-Day is considered a great triumph. It was the first major stake through the heart of European fascism and Nazi ambitions. We use the words “saved the world from fascism” and “liberated Europe” when we talk about D-Day and its heroes. I have always had strong emotions about WWII and D-Day. The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan truly chokes me up. I spent hundreds of hours as a kid pouring over my WWII book collection, closely examining photographs, reading the stories, and wishing I had been there. However, D-Day can also be seen a part of a huge failure. A failure not merely because there where many political options not exercised by the Europeans and Americans all through the 1930s that could have dealt with the rise of Hitler and fascism and avoided war altogether, and not merely because one source of WWII was the WWI (the war to end all wars) which also could have been avoided but was entered into with relish by all sides, but D-Day is a failure because all war is failure. War is a powerful and profound testament of human evil. To seek war, whether from selfish ambition, glory, or even from a felt obligation is, to use an old but still valid term, sinful.


Dead German soldier, Normandy.

More than ever on days like this one, where we appropriately remember the sacrifices of so many human lives for causes that we believe in, I am in conflict. Should those soldiers have stormed the beaches in Normandy 65 years ago to save the world? Maybe not, for war is wrong. And yet they did and I am grateful they did. So today I will remember what those soldiers did and what they gave (in fact I am in awe of their service), but I will also remember and grieve the casualties on all sides, including the civilian casualties, and I will remember that the human tendency to war and glorify war is my tendency too because I am a sinner.

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Filed under American history, memory, moral ambiguity, pacifism, war

>Occupation

>

When it comes the plight of the Palestinians I don’t trust what I hear coming from either the Israeli government or the U.S. government – and not merely because governments lie. And, of course, I certainly do not support the actions of any group that uses terror against civilians to push forward their political goals. So, that means I don’t support Hamas. But it also means that I don’t support the Israeli government in its present form very much. But it is hard for me to have an opinion, being so far away geographically, socially, and informationally.

If you are like me then you probably don’t know a lot about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the roots of the recent Israeli invasion of Gaza. If I have learned anything about what is going on over in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the rest of the Middle East, it is that I am quite ignorant of the facts. I am not willing anymore to parrot the typical American refrain that “those people have been fighting forever and they will always fight.” (I have become increasing wary of the term “those people” however it’s used.) If they have always been fighting then it follows they were fighting during the time of Christ, and if that is true then the admonition to love one’s neighbor as oneself, or the story of the good Samaritan, or the conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well are meaningless if there is no hope for peace.

The two videos below take a look at life under occupation from a particular and personal perspective. These videos were made before the recent invasion of Gaza and the war against the Palestinian people. Although the audio is sometimes rough this is the kind of news/reporting/insight that the rest of the world needs even if only as a kind of starting point to begin discussing the issues rather than falling into the typical stereotypes and worn out stigmatizations. It is particularly important for American Christians to view, for they are some of the most ideologically driven and yet least informed people when it comes to Israel.
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2726126&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2864803&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=ff9933&fullscreen=1

There is mention of the organization Breaking the Silence. Their web site is here.

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Filed under ethics, government, moral ambiguity, non-violence, Politics, religion, war

>Zinn on War and Social Justice

>Howard Zinn gave a talk just after the presidential election. It is worth listening to. The audio/picture don’t quite match in the video in the intro, but the rest looks okay.

http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-7945130554885211401&hl=en&fs=true

He mentions the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you are not familiar with it, check it out here, and learn more about it here.

Also, Democracy Now is one of my favorite news programs. I usually watch/listen to it online while I eat lunch and do emails.

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Filed under ethics, government, moral ambiguity, non-violence, pacifism, Philosophy, Politics, Socialism, war

>The World After Bush

>I am fascinated by what the world is thinking about the outcome to the U.S. presidential election. There have been many reports of people celebrating from around the world, which is rather amazing. Those celebrations should remind us of how important the U.S. and it’s foreign policies are to people everywhere. I find it both remarkable and sobering.

There are also concerns from various quarters. Does an Obama presidency truly mean change? What about the Palestinians when Obama selects a hard-line Zionist as his chief of staff? Is he really going to end the war in Iraq or develop diplomatic ties with Iran? Is it even possible to fulfill those promises? Below is a four part discussion from Al Jaeera that looks at U.S. foreign policy, Obama as president, and the future from the outside. I found it fascinating and worth taking the time to watch.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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Filed under American history, ethics, government, moral ambiguity, Politics, war

>voting the lesser of two evils?

>

the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take notes
and they exaggerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well I wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote

~ Larry Norman, from The Great American Novel

I’ve heard it said about every presidential election I can remember.



Along with saying they might not vote at all, I have heard a number of people refer to voting the lesser of two evils in this upcoming election. This seems to be said mostly in reference to voting for Barack Obama. I tend to agree, but not because I think Obama merely represents a lesser evil*, but because voting is largely about voting for which elite do I want to be in power. I want to pick the elite that will do the most good over time for the country – even though I don’t really want to pick any elite.

I don’t like the idea of this thing we call democracy being about elites ruling the masses. It doesn’t sound right. But it’s what we got. It was built into our system by the “founding fathers.” That may be why so many people feel disconnected from being able to affect much change – it’s because we are. But not entirely. Voting does matter, and voting for the lesser of two evils does matter. In fact, it’s a good thing.

For a little perspective here’s Noam Chomsky talking about choosing the lesser of two evils, and why this is the system we have:

http://therealnews.com/permalinkedembed/mediaplayer.swf
This clip is from The Real News Network

So, if I can help it (read: do my homework and make an informed choice), I will try to NOT vote for the greater of two evils. I am disinclined to vote outside the two most prominent choices because to do so is to inadvertently support whoever wins, and that could be the greater of the two evils. And yet I believe one should vote one’s conscience, so I consider all candidates as my potential choice.

* I want to be clear. This is not about which person is the lesser of two evils. I don’t think Obama or McCain are personally more or less evil than anyone else. What we have is a system of slight, but ultimately significant differences. Which faction of of the “business party” is in power is important – over time.

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Filed under American history, moral ambiguity, Politics

>in country: an unembedded view

>Where is journalism today?

The following is a three part look at what it’s like in Iraq today by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. It is worth taking the time to watch all three.

I believe these clips represent real journalism. By way of comparison, ask yourself if what you get from mainstream American news is real journalism. For the most part the answer has to be no.

When it comes to the war against Iraq there are few more problematic issues than the fact of the embedded journalist. Sure there are some good journalists who are embedded and who try to get good stories from within the cocoon, but most do not and cannot. And yet, I do not envy the non-embedded journalists, a number of whom have been killed or wounded in the the war because they operate largely without protection. There is a price to pay for being a non-protected journalist.

But there is also a price for embeddedness – that is the loss of objectivity and integrity.

When the war began I found several non-American news outlets that had video clips and articles about the war (these were mostly German & French news sites online). What I saw was very different than what American news was providing. Interestingly the other news sources didn’t come across as biased, just much better. What one saw was the other side of the conflict. In other words one witnessed what was happening to the Iraqi people, not merely columns of tanks charging ahead or interviews of American soldiers saying they were fighting for freedom and giving payback for 9/11. In fact, it was the American news that seemed biased – biased toward war, biased toward the machines of war, biased toward images of toppling statues.

It is by watching journalism like those clips above that we begin to understand what we generally are not getting in American news.

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>a foreign policy

>What makes this image so interesting?

Those are U.S. soldiers marching on Russian soil in order to fight the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Yes, the United States, along with several other countries, invaded the fledgling Soviet Union to put an end to their civil war and destroy the chances of Lenin and his comrades from establishing the first communist country. They failed.

Below are a couple of additional pics of U.S. soldiers suffering the harsh winter in northern Russia as they take the fight to the communists. One wonders if the extreme paranoia of the Soviet leadership towards the U.S. government didn’t stem, in part, from this failed attempt to turn the Bolshevik tide at its most critical time. Regardless, it is a fascinating time in history that I knew nothing about.

Here is some movie footage of the event:

There were even ads for government stamps to fund the affair.

I have to add that, although I have no particular feelings of fondness for Lenin and his buddies (to put it mildly), I am often non-plussed by U.S. foreign policy. These are the kinds of actions about which the U.S. public forgets quickly (if they know about it at all), but many others in the world do not forget so quickly. To me that truly is a “foreign” policy.

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Filed under American history, moral ambiguity, Socialism, war

>Global Supply Chains and the Commandment to Love One’s Neighbor as Oneself

>The title of this post is also the title of my thesis which I wrote for my Masters of Business Administration program, which I just completed. To get some idea of what sparked my thinking and led to my thesis topic you can watch the video clip below about workers in developing countries as they support the demands of the developed world. You have already heard about sweat shops in third world countries. Here is what they look like:

…or this parody from The Onion brings up the issue in its way:
http://www.theonion.com/content/themes/common/assets/videoplayer/flvplayer.swf

What are we, those of us in the most powerful nations on earth, going to do about the globalization of capital and corporate power? The world may be becoming increasingly, economically “flat”, as Tom Friedman says, but is it becoming morally flat as well?

It may sound strange to ask what we are “going to do” about globalization. Isn’t it a good thing? Isn’t it about the expansion of wealth and freedom? Isn’t it about the Internet and better communication? What we don’t typically hear about is the hidden costs of globalization, or about what that word conjures up in the minds of those in the developing world. For much of the world globalization includes the realities in the video above. For the rest of us that reality is often hidden.

I am, by nature, a rather conservative type. I don’t get easily bent out of shape over issues. I don’t seek revolution at the drop of a hat. I also grew up a Christian and was, until a few years ago, a registered Republican. I am still a Christian, and because of taking my faith seriously I could no longer be a Republican. Now I am an independent. But it’s not really about politics. It’s about a perspective on the world, on how I want to live. It’s about what kind of person I want to be and where I want to end up. And it’s also about the kind of world I want for my children and their children.

When it came time for me to choose a topic for my MBA thesis I felt the need to tackle something to do with ethics. I felt I needed to address, for myself, the underlying moral issues inherent in business and economics before I went out from my schooling into more business adventures. So I picked the topic of the treatment of women workers in global supply chains and the ethical implications for businesses that rely on the benefits from those supply chains (like lower costs and faster delivery, etc.). My thesis became, for me, a kind of introduction to the larger topic of ethics and, more specifically, how should someone who claims to be a Christian act in the world.

The following is from Chapter One of my thesis:

Consider this scenario: when a shopkeeper opens her doors in the morning and hangs out the welcome sign it is time to get to work. The pressures of the day quickly crowd in as she must meet the demands of her customers and her business’ bottom line. She must manage her time and her employees, deal with suppliers, and try to make plans for the future while also trying to fully understand the past. Questions of ethics are considered, if considered at all, largely in the immediate context of the day-to-day routine. Our shopkeeper will have to decide where she stands on being truthful and honest with those whom she works; she will make ethical decisions around how she manages her accounting and pays her vendors; she may even face moral questions about what products she sells and whether they are good for her community.

Now let’s assume this shopkeeper is also a Christian, one who makes claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and one who participates in the life of Christian culture. The ethical issues for the shopkeeper will not be any different from any other shopkeeper. However, she now carries the burden of having to follow some explicit commands with regard to the world, most notably to love her neighbor as herself. And who is her neighbor? Is her neighbor only the immediate customer or vendor with whom she does business? Or, given that she lives in an increasingly globalized world, does her neighbor include those with whom she now has connections, even though they may be on the other side of the planet and at the distant end of her supply chains?

If our shop keeper then decides that she does want to build her business around the idea of loving her neighbor as herself, and then apply that philosophy to her dealings with her supply chains, she must decided how to do that. What options are available to her? Does she choose servant-leadership as a leadership style? That is, will she seek to be a servant first and, as Greenleaf (1991) says, “to make sure that other people’s highest priority meeds are being served” (p. 7)? Does she choose to buy only from suppliers that treat their employees well? Does she seek to instill corporate social responsibility into her business practices?

These kinds of questions might be of little importance if it were not for two realities. The first is that the world is more connected than ever before. The second is that many workers in global supply chains, particularly those in developing countries, often have few of the rights or freedoms those in Western and Northern societies take for granted and may even assume to be inalienable. This is not to say that the benefits of free-market capitalism have not brought greater wealth to many developing countries, nor that many of the world’s poor have not seen at least some economic improvement to their way of life. However, as the gap between the world’s poor and the world’s rich gets bigger, and as facts continue to come out regarding the all too often harsh treatment of laborers, including women and children, within global supply chains, one cannot help but ask whether a laissez fair, free-market philosophy is the best approach for creating a fair and just system that benefits all stakeholders appropriately.

A Christian business person must ask these kinds of questions, not merely because economic systems come with their own set of moral presuppositions about human nature and human needs, but also because in the day-to-day world of business, as it is in life, one’s actions flow from one’s beliefs. If a Christian is to take seriously the commandment to love her neighbor as herself, then it only makes sense that that command, that challenge, would raise such questions. Maybe one of the great historical ironies is the interconnectedness of free market capitalist thinking and Christian theology; ironic because one system is based on self-centeredness for its success and the other is based on other-centeredness. Our shopkeeper will have to decide if this interconnectedness is both useful and valid.

I go on to describe how global supply chains work, including the fundamental pressures they impose, such as cheaper labor and fast delivery. I then describe how those pressures necessarily create negative conditions for many workers. I then describe the common conditions of working women in those supply chains. (I chose women workers because of the data available and because they represent more than half of the global workforce while often being in the weakest position with regards to labor rights and fair treatment.) Finally I examine how some have sought solutions, for example the concepts of corporate social responsibility (CSR), fair trade, and servant leadership.

I also examine how Christianity has shifted away from social concerns by becoming a personal/private faith thing rather than an “all of life” thing. This shift has led many Christians for forsake the requirements of their faith, that is, to be “salt of the earth” as it where. Too many Christians, I argue, see their faith as a purely private matter, except for a small handful of political issues.

I do not see globalization as a specifically “Christian issue.” There are many perspectives and answers available. But I find narrowing the scope down a bit helps to crystallize the issue for me. I do not see in the Bible anything specifically about free trade, but I do see a lot about feeding the hungry and helping the poor. Recently a professor of mine related a story where he was teaching about globalization and one of his students, a man from Africa, said that when he hears the word “globalization” he knows it to mean Western imperialism. There is something that rings true for me about that student’s perspective, and that bothers me.

Much of my thinking has shifted over the past several years as I have tried to take seriously the teachings of Jesus. The irony is that the teachings of Jesus contradict much of modern, popular Christianity in both its focus and its call to action. I have become convinced that mainstream, right-wing (and many left-wing) Christians just may have become the new Pharisees – the pious religious types who Jesus railed against and who eventually killed him. They do church really well, but their hearts have become hard – and I know what I’m talking about because I am one of them. Because of this I chose to focus on the implications of the commandment to love one’s neighbor as a foundational challenge. I figured that commandment cuts through a lot of garbage.

This video interview with Tony Campolo offers some idea of what I am talking about:

I won’t say that I am in Campolo’s camp entirely, and I don’t cite him in my thesis. However, I will say that his teaching challenges me deeply.

I am also challenged by numerous other thinkers, most of whom are not Christians, and some are even anti-Christian. But I believe truth can be found just about everywhere. The following video clips further pad out the topic.

Christian “progressive” Jim Wallis talks about living out one’s faith:

Left-left-wing academic and leading progressive thinker Michael Parenti on globalization and what it really means:

Parenti is no fan of Christianity by any means, or any religion really, but he is a very sharp thinker and erudite historian.

Brilliant and exacerbating Noam Chomsky on globalization:

I find myself more and more fascinated with Chomsky’s work. Years ago I read a book of his on linguistics for my MA thesis. Since then I have most only heard him speak. His observations on power politics are illuminating. Chomsky and Parenti do not see eye-to-eye on several issues.

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine speaks on the topic of global brands, the topic of her famous book No Logo:
http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=2343596870021245516&hl=en

Famous activist, historian, and progressive thinker Howard Zinn on American Empire (a topic related to globalization):

Not all is doom and gloom. Consider the Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis clips above and the clip below.

Towards a solution – Fair Trade:

I have to say the process of writing and defending my thesis was longer than I anticipated, but it has bee a very rewarding process. I am glad I finished school and I am excited about my future career. I will say, however, that I have not, for me personally, solved the issues raised in my thesis. I still struggle to fulfill the commandment to love my neighbor, and I’m sure I always will.

References
Greenleaf, R. K. (1991). The servant as leader. Westfield, IN: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

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Filed under business, economics, ethics, moral ambiguity