Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

I've been reading about Winston Churchill--two fine books by John Lukacs, The Duel, which concentrates on the first eighty days of Churchill's administration, and Five Days in London, which zooms in even closer, on the first five days. I have come to admire Winston Churchill more than any other 20th century politician. He understood responsibility--he made sure for every major decision there was a paper trail traceable to him. He was courageous in extraordinarily dark circumstances. And he wrote his own speeches. Accepting the heavy burden of the prime ministrship (which he did with care and compassion for the man he was replacing, Neville Chamberlain), he made a very brief speech in the House of Commons which is likely to be remembered for al time as it has been these sixty-two years. He said in part:

In this crisis I think I may be pardoned if I do not address the House at any length today, and I hope that any of my friends and colleagues or former colleagues who are affected by the political reconstruction will make all allowances for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act.

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his goal.

I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength."

I have been asked to include my email policy here (for some years it has been on the top page of the Spectacle):

Flames will be published with attribution. All other correspondence may be published unless specifically otherwise requested.

In the Guidelines for writing for the Spectacle I elucidate as follows:

I also have a couple of rules about the Spectacle letters column. 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 also respect that. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with attribution. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. No dice.

I thrive on your email and can be contacted as always at jw@bway.net.

Jonathan Wallace

Subject: AMERICAN NEWSPEAK: The Book is Out

American Newspeak: The Mangling of Meaning for Power and Profit By Wayne Grytting American Newspeak -- The Book-- is now out. You fans of my Newspeak ramblings can now wrap your hands around a real physical copy of the greatest hits of Orwellian Doublespeak plus added inciteful commentary, published by New Society Publishers. Needless to say I'm quite excited about it all. You can see a copy of the cover with a cross-eyed Uncle Sam and read ego enhancing reviews by going to: Meanwhile, by popular demand, here are the first two paragraphs of the book:

"After the tragedy of September 11th, a tiny window opened in America's cultural landscape. Besides feeling vulnerable and outraged, many people paused to engage in an activity quite foreign to our customs, an activity that required journeying into the most infrequently visited regions of the cerebral cortex, an activity known as -- reflection. And what they reflected about were the complaints that have flooded in from around the world that Americans are shallow, self-centered and materialistic."

"Let's be open about this. We are. And we're doing a damn good job of selling it to the rest of the world. So there. But critics of America's superficiality leave unanswered a lot of really nifty questions, like just how shallow is America? How shallow can you get if you really try? Can you make advances in narcissism? Can spiritual aspirations be met with a new toaster oven? Can a society be united by shared memories of advertising jingles? How long can a TV news anchor smile? How much of yourself can you sell and still have brain cells left to tie your shoes? These are the issues you are about to see cracked wide open as we explore the cutting edge advances being made in one of our nation's leading industries, Newspeak."

New Society is a wonderful publisher of progressive books. But a big budget they have not. That's why if you could see your way to help promote the book, it would sure be appreciated. Besides going into debt and buying multiple copies, there is:1. Telling friends 2. Writing short reviews at places like Amazon.com or your local rag 3. Suggesting to friends in the media that they review it, etc Anyway, enjoy the book and I look forward to skewering Bush and Co in the future

Your humble writing friend,

Wayne Grytting wgrytt@scn.org


In response to Capitalism and the Tragedy of the Commons:

perhaps you could explain why you and several other peoples right to snorkle five times a year outweighs hundreds of thousands of peoples right to make an honest living and feed their families?

BTW, If you think shipping corporations can provide safe, well payed jobs with lots of health insurance for all of us little guys, while simultaneously operating business with both hands tied behind their backs in environmental red tape - meanwhile paying their selfless top executives less than a unionized dock worker, you are living in an alternate reality.

Executives have a damn tough job to do, its a tribute to their intelligence that any of them can turn a profit for their investors (many small time, like me) with special interest groups trying to take away their income. Sure reefs are pretty - I like snorkeling too - but its insulting to suggest that the rest of us should lock ourselves up in some non-polluting "human reservation" and never dare to tread out in the vast wild (except, or course, for you and a couple enlightened friends who would provide the rest of us with vivid descriptions of the lovely coral reefs)

Take a second look at pollution credits and other free market approaches to the tragedy of the commons. If you consider them seriously you will be convinced that they are a logical and viable solution. While I admit that corporations don't like them either, they are better than inflexible regulation.


Jamie Steiner jvsteiner@comcast.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Well put. Perhaps, it could just be required that sites containing explicitly pornographic material, be labeled as pornographic. This could then be recognized by browsers, but avoids forcing every web page into a rating system. This is an extremely grey area, I understand, even the classic 'slippery slope', but it might work. By making the punishments for not labeling pornographic material stiff enough it might produce results. However, I don't think any thing can be policed worldwide, so it's all a little shaky anyway

jon.schrader jon.schrader@attbi.com

Dear Mr. Wallace,

I'm replying to certain viewpoints expressed in the Spectacle (1996) articles "Is There a Right to Revolution?" and "The NRA, Taggants and Revolution.".

If I understand your viewpoints correctly, you maintain that private ownership of firearms by law-abiding citizens automatically creates an atmosphere of violence that empowers terrorists and other criminals to overthrow the government. Another idea presented, taken to its logical conclusion, is that since courageous people will always refuse to obey unjust laws, banning guns is "okay for now" because if the government turns tyrannical, these same courageous people won't mind illegally obtaining firearms to fight back. Here is your own statement regarding the Second Amendment:

It was illogical and ludicrous to construct a machine that contained the seeds of its own destruction. In order to survive, the machinery of a democracy must be based on the assumption that it will always function justly.

The Founding Fathers never assumed that democracy "functions justly." They knew that democracy is an inherently unstable form of government and that all governments are by their nature imperfect, tending to go from bad to worse (more tyrannical) as they grow in size. As a safeguard against the (very real) threat of tyranny, the Second Amendment was born.

Article writer's words:

The Second Amendment is such an escape clause. The gun rights people read it to mean, "You may carry arms in case you ever have to shoot government officials." Read this way, the Constitution communicates a very confusing message: Obey me unless you have to shoot me; but if you must shoot me, that's all right too.

A more accurate 'ruler's message' would be this: "Allow me to remain in power with your consent, unless I disregard the Constitution and trample upon your rights, at which time you have the authority to peaceably remove me from office. Should I initiate unlawful force to maintain my power, then you have a God-given right to stop me from oppressing you." Note this message does not advocate the unlawful initiation of force on the part of the citizen that you seem to imply is inherent in all "gun rights people."

The heart and soul of the (very clear) Constitution is that RIGHTS ARE ENDOWED BY THE CREATOR*, not government officials, who are imperfect and prone to corruption. We're (still mostly) a nation of laws, not of men. We're not subject to the whims of tyrants as in other lands and the main reason we're still (mostly) free is that the people have guns.

(*Feel free to interpret the definition of Creator [Zeus, Mother Nature, etc.] at your leisure.)

Article writer's words:

This view allows the Second Amendment to trump the First, Fifth and Fourteenth; after all, I may have to shoot you because you are protecting some speech that offends me, or because I don't agree with the procedural due process you have granted someone else, or I don't believe in equality and integration. And in each case, the soothing Second Amendment stands in the wings, crooning that I did the right thing.

Here a fictitious "voice" is used, presumably that of an armed individual, equating and justifying criminality with the existence of the Second Amendment. Utter nonsense. What you seem to forget (or have never understood) about history is that government is typically the entity enforcing unjust laws, not posses, self-styled militias or warped individuals.

After reading the article, I concluded the following while, of course, confirming my own prejudices:

* Writer of these articles is a communist or socialist intellectual, living somewhere safe from the consequences of history-proven failed "-isms."

* Writer displays ignorance (or rather, "pre-enlightenment") of the history of firearms, not just in the United States but the world.

* Writer harbors a blind allegiance to the goodness of government and a violent mistrust of individual destiny.

* Writer can't distinguish between a law-abiding citizen and a terrorist.

* The liberal (modern not classical definition) mindset never accepts the validity of facts that contradict and invalidate its ideology even when those facts are presented by those sharing the same viewpoints but who doesn't love a good debate?

The eventual collapse of even the strongest democracy has been due not to revolution by people with guns or swords, but by the apathy and ignorance of the uneducated, supported by the sophistry of an intellectual elite that denies reality and uses emotional propaganda in order to maintain power cough*democrats*cough Up with liberty and common sense and to hell with the ACLU.


Ben La Rosa, libertarian nocotra@yahoo.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I was reading what your website, The Ethical Spectacle, had to say on the concept of Altruism this afternoon. In the text of "The Problem of Altruism", the author proposed that human behavior could be placed into one of three buckets:

Following this path, one can place human behavior in three buckets:

* I regard you as a means to an end--my own survival and satisfaction. I will exploit you in any way that suits me, including killing and eating you if I am starving. I will never help you because there is no benefit in it for me.

* I regard you as a means to an end, but in a more enlightened, forward-looking way. Foregoing immediate payoffs, I now understand that in a series of interactions over time, we can both become richer, safer and happier if we help one another.

* I regard you as an end in yourself. I will help you in ways that are of no conceivable benefit to me and which even put me at risk.

Before reading this I was skeptical of the proposition that human behaviors could be so easily categorized. After reading it, I wish to propose a fourth "bucket" and to solicit your reaction to this submission. The fourth "bucket" that I propose is this:

I regard you as an end in yourself. I will not help you in ways that are of no conceivable benefit to me which may put me at risk. I will co-operate with you when we both benefit and the risk is acceptable but I will not ask you to help me in ways that are of no conceivable benefit to you and may put you at risk.

Believe me, that I asked myself how my proposal stood in relation to the previous three before I bothered to query you. My first assumption was that you might say that I merely re-stated the idea of the second "bucket" but I believe there are differences that I will leave you to either consider or disregard. Thank you for your time and I am looking forward to your reply.

Respectfully, Dan Courtright sqrldan@cox.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re Gulfari and the Magic Button:

I apologize if some of these points are irrelevant because of or refuted by some of the links in your essay, as I have not read them.

First, why don't you consider Clausewitz's rendering of the purpose of war as advancement of politics, and proceed to dismantle the ethics of U.S. politics as thoroughly as you dismantle the ethics of the CIA and military chain of commands?

Second, you seem very convinced that tools do not shape those who wield them; I presume, therefore, that you are in some form a conservative progressive, and that you must have, at some point, realized that even face to face, as one of your examples points out, soldiers can or will not always make the correct choices that end up saving the most innocents. What limit on innocent casualties do you place on remotely operated weaponry to determine when it can be used in place of soldiers, given that they are not infallible either? The notion that we must always use soldiers strikes me as hypocritical - at some level of reliability and intelligence checking, it's perfectly reasonable to expect that death-from-above/afar warfare would present significantly less risk to enemy civilians as well as presenting less risk to our soldiers.

Finally, why do you discount the moral/ethical/psychological power of "out of sight, out of mind" when discussing these issues? It certainly becomes much more difficult to deal, either politically or ethically, with a situation where a terrorist's son is treated in an emergency room for amputated fingers after his father releases hostages. The media would be all over it, hospital workers would relate the story to their friends and family, and such proximity to the situation makes the moral and ethical problems much more difficult for people to deal with. It is easy to trivialize tragedies that occur in foreign countries, and more importantly, it's almost impossible to get Americans to react with the same intensity of emotion. The only way to approach it is to initiate the draft and force young people to realize they may be dying or themselves pushing the button on innocents in far away lands.

Justin Guyett justin@soze.net

An Auschwitz Alphabet
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I read your essay I am doing a research paper of the five main camps and i just ran across your page. I just recently visited the Holocaust Museum in Houston and I was so touched. I have never really thought about what happened because I don't like talking about hurtful events. I know understand why people should learn about The Holocaust. I wish there were words for me to say to make the hurt go away but I can't because I am lucky and didn't have to go through the pain. Keep your head up and I am proud of you and I admire you even though I just read your essay. God Bless You!! Sincerely, Jessica Fancher

Dear Mr Wallace,

Having seen your intersting website on the internet I thought you might be interested in a conference my university co-organises with two American universities. Here is the www address with information on the confernce: http://www.uni.edu/klink/call.htm


Wladyslaw Witalisz
Jagiellonian University


I read your site, and went through every part of it.

I've written an article about something pertaining to this and referred to your website. I didn't plan to write the article. It just happened because of something I saw in a news report about a sneaker named Zyklon. It upset me and so I wrote the article.<> Hardly anyone comes to my site because I don't advertise it but since I link to you and refer to your site for insight, and since I comment on something I probably don't know enough about, I thought you should see it. It offends me that there are still nazis in the world.

Mari Cuervo cuervo@charter.net

Johnathan, I was stimulated to seek out additional information about the Holocaust after reading a review of the movie The Grey Zone. I have yet to see the film. Any way my search ended up at your site.(insight?)

It is clear that you have poured much of your own personal thoughts and analysis into the content, it is sweeping and I think your conclusions honest. I would like to thank you for the effort and the honesty, I was both touched and informed.

I myself am not Jewish in-spite of my name, and was brought up a Catholic, in England. We were of course exposed to Marx and Engles as well as to the so called Jewish capitalist conspiracy of world banking. None of which we were too critical of during those days after the war. Certainly none of the returning fathers I knew ever took their sons or daughters aside and voice their horror of what they had seen. Indeed many of them never shared anything with anyone.

Like you, though I have reached certain conclusions about human beings in general. I see them rather like a virus on this planet ( Al la Matrix movie ) their ability to do either good or evil so very very well, leads me to believe that free will must really exists or else something would have intervened at some time during this century to stop the horrors we, ( mostly males!) have initiated.

So for me, while I understand your conclusions, I can't agree that God does not exist, I don't accept the Catholic perspective of course, given the role of the Vatican during the war! Rather I think of them as different issues, I don't believe in a personal God but certainly do believe that there is some sort of Supreme being which: if free-will really exists; would not intervene anyway, rather like The Prime directive on Star Trek; any other stance would reduce Mans' accountability.

So perhaps it is the kind of God we need to define for ourselves and that is what guides our life. In truth, readings have often raised a core question for me. What would I have done had I been either Jew or Nazi? Would I have recognized it as a moral test or simply done my job? been a passive victim or resisted? Am of course afraid of the answer. I hope no one ever has to face the question this century.

Thanks again for your endeavors. Shalom,

Charles Wiseman Canada