September 2010

Top of This issue Current issue

Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will do so. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I accidentally linked into your website today while killing time in the Portland Airport. I’m grateful for the accident, the flight delay that led to my surfing, and the new insights learned from reading. Thank you.



Two points on Peace, Quiet and Al Qaeda.

First is a book, which though I have not read it - it is on my ever growing pile of books waiting to be read - appears to try to answer the very same question you are asking, namely how to fight a war. The book is Advice to War Presidents by Angelo Codevilla.

The second is actually primary in fighting a war - identify who the enemy is. Of the criticisms I had of Bush and now Obama is their inability to identify the enemy. The enemy as I saw it in the beginning and as I called it was Islamo-fascism. You referred to it in your essay as Islamic fundamentalism. However with time I have noted that the term "fundamentalists" was misleading. In the West fundamentalists are usually a small minority with very little support from the general population. Of course I am referring to Christian and Jewish sects.

In Islam however the Islamofascists are supported by the major institutions of Islamic jurisprudence in the Middle East. Further while active Islamofascists are a small percent of any population they are supported or have the approval of a significant portion of the Islamic world with support/approval ranging from 17 to 80 percent depending on the nation. Strikingly in the US in the last poll I found, 26 percent of young Muslims approve of suicide bombings, which I view as a surrogate indicator for support and approval of the goals of Islamofascism.

We are fighting an ideology from the 7th century and while only a minority of muslims are adherents of this ideology, the religion is of and remains in the 7th century and provides the motivation of those who are rightfully called Islamofascists. What needs to be done is to reform Islam but I am all too willing to admit I don't know the way to achieve this goal. But Islam will not do it on its own and needs a push from others. Unfortunately all too many Westerns have lost confidence in the rightness, benefits and achievements of our civilization notwithstanding any mistakes it has made along the way.

But I do expect it will be reformed for if does not the world will be a darker place to live. But I am optimistic in the long run whatever the short run holds for us.



I find myself confused and a little dismayed by Peace, Quiet and Al Qaeda. I suppose it is understandable given the fact that as you say, you were “underneath the World Trade towers as the second plane hit,” that you would condone actions by the federal government that amount basically to retribution. If I had come that close to death by terrorism – or if I knew someone who had died from the attacks on 9-11 – I would , no doubt, feel less inclined to bring those responsible to justice and more inclined to retaliate with predator drone missiles.

But the fact remains, that what we are currently doing in Afghanistan has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9-11. Afghanistan was, is, and always will be an exercise in militaristic hegemonic muscle flexing by an American power structure bent on world domination. It has nothing, I repeat nothing, to do, with making us “safe from our enemies.” The U.S. Government’s actions in the Middle East are like a child that continues to build walls around the sand castle he has constructed long after the tide has begun to eat away at the ramparts.

Defeating Hitler did not make us safe. “Winning” the cold war did not make us safe. What makes you think it is even possible for our military to engage in warfare to keep us “safe” from the so called virus that is Al Qaeda? Even if the “Islamic fundamentalist philosophy” of which you are so afraid were as widespread as you seem to think it is, where is the empirical evidence that fielding an army of 300,000 troops – and uncounted numbers of military contractors – engaged in perpetual war, can in any way produce a world in which the American ideals of “liberal democracy, secularism, capitalism, materialism, equality and freedom of women,” will prevail?

I am under no illusions that the world is a nice place. I would no more want to shutter the Pentagon and mothball the Navy than I would want to place my hand on a red hot stove. However, after reading Andrew Bacevich’s latest book I am convinced that the problems we face in the world today relate less to danger from terrorism and more to an institutionalized and single-mindedly imperialistic response to international issues for which there is no military solution.

Contrary to Woodrow Wilson’s dream, we do not have the ability to make the world safe for democracy. I believe it is foolish to try. We can spend three times what the rest of the world spends on military hardware – provided the Chinese keep loaning us the dough – and we still will not be safe from IEDs, suicide bombers and religious whack jobs armed with box cutters.

As I said, if I had been as close to ground Zero as you were my attitudes toward the US response might be different… but I still would be under no illusions that unilateral preventive and perpetual war will ever be anything other than “senseless,” that it can ever be moral or ethical, or that it will ever make the world “safer.”

To paraphrase a line from the movie “The Princess Bride,” Life is never safe, anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

As always, with respect,

Thomas Vincent

Hello, I came across your article when I typed in "Lying" into Google. You make good points I have made myself and your conclusions are the same ones I came to though I have much more to add.

As a starting point I will recommend to you, if you are not already familiar, with the work of Paul Ekman who deals with facial expressions and lying and has several books and interactive material that might be of interest to you.

Lastly I will ask you if you believe in an objective truth or is it always relative or could it perhaps be paradoxical combination of these two that we are not yet or cannot yet be aware of because of some limitation or another that we possess. My leanings are towards an objective truth or to the combination mentioned. I have an article from the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks entitled "The President's Speech" in the link below. To me, when I read it, it seemed to suggest a possible objective truth, at least in that particular area. A truth hidden from many, some what apparent to some and blatantly obvious and transparent to others. I'm curious what you make of it.

Here is the link:


Dear Jonathan Wallace,

While researching for a college project about the Internet and net neutrality, I came across the following page on your website and found it quite helpful. Thank you!

For others that visit, I just wanted to let you know that you have a broken link on the page. Try clicking on the link called "Voter's Telecommunications Watch." You'll find it leads to a page that doesn't exist anymore.

Recently, I found this webpage that has a great up-to-date Timeline of Internet history, as well as other interesting facts about the future of the Internet. The Timeline metnioned the Cybersecurity Act which the U.S Congress recently passed aswell and at least made a mention of the danger of Internet2 regarding Internet freedoms.

I think it would help visitors to your website if you fix the broken link or better yet, replace it with the one above.

I hope that helps,

Have a great day!


Dear Jonathan,

I have just read your article on The Ethics of Documentaries, which you posted on the Internet 3 years ago. I really liked the way you wrote about objects acting differently in front of the camera or/and in a spot light. Personally I am more than willing to believe no one can behave naturally as soon as we press the record button. I hope you don't mind if I write a few more lines and maybe ask a couple of questions?

Ever since I started watching documentaries I always wondered whether documentarists are concerned about the problem of ethics and to what extent. Are the filmed objects aware of the intentions of the film maker? Is the whole process of filming some kind of invasion of their private sphere? And finally do documentary films ever make any difference in the lives of the filmed objects?

Many documentaries portray poverty, social problems etc. But do they really improve the situation or tackle the problems at all? Or do they just use the lives of other human beings to show the unfairness of this world, sort of draw our attention to certain problems and not expect us to do anything constructive with this knowledge? In most cases the situation of the portrayed characters does not change after the release of the documentary. Some viewers might feel sorry for them and dream of saving other human beings but this hardly ever happens. In other words I wonder what is the whole point of making documentary films if the audience on the receiving end mainly appreciate the art of film making, the artistic features, editing, camera work etc. rather than get concerned about the filmed objects.

Best wishes,


Thanks for raising the issue of Jewish conversions under the control of Israel's ultra Orthodox.

This isn't the first time the religious right has tried to turn Israel into a theocracy. Under Menachem Begin's coalition government, two small religious parties had enormous power in Begin's search for a majority. At one point, Begin was very close to agreeing to their definition of a Jew as those with Jewish mothers only.

Then, one of Begin's aides said: "Menachem, when they shoving the Jews in the gas chambers, did they ask them who their mothers were?" That was it. Begin never needed to return to the subject again and, I think, that logic should be decisive for all of us.