The art of interviewing an anti-War expert

Today, in my mail, I found our local free paper, the Pacific Sun. This week’s cover story is on the cover as “A Farewell to Arms : Iraq war veterans reject their mission– and now may have to fight for their own freedom.” In the body of the magazine, it gets the title “Why We Won’t Fight : Fairfax author’s book spotlights Iraq soldiers who refused to return to ‘a terrible mistake.’

The cooing story profiles a book by Peter Laufer, who’s made a job of being an anti-War activist since the 1960s. His current effort is a book entitled Mission Rejected : U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq. It’s a love fest between Laufer and Jill Kramer, the interviewer, in which she throws him a series of softball questions that give him ample opportunity to expound on his favorite anti-War subjects.

Kramer gives her game away quickly, showing that she does not intend to challenge any of Laufer’s assumptions, when she poses this question:

It struck me as I was reading your book that the issues raised by the conscientious objectors are not just the immorality of wars in general or of killing in general, but specifically the illegality of this war that’s been based on lies. [Emphasis mine.]

Now, I don’t know about you, but when an interviewer asks a question like that, I’m going to assume that the interviewer believes that the Iraq war is an illegal war based on lies — a premise that, in her own mind, removes from her any obligation actually to challenge the subject of her interview. Kramer, playing the role of intrepid reporter, later lobbed this softball to Laufer:

I was very moved by the bravery of these soldiers. And it’s ironic because they’re being accused by war supporters of cowardice. I remember one of the men in the book who, despite his disgust with the war, chose to sign up as a sniper because he felt he’d be better able than somebody else to make moral decisions about whom to shoot.

With questions like that, the interview has all the credibility of those hagiographic star interviews in People Magazine or Vanity Fair.

On Laufer’s side, there aren’t really any surprises. He doesn’t know the numbers for troops who are opposed to the Iraq war, which allows him to assume it’s high. He distrusts the Pentagon numbers on those who have actually petitioned for conscientious objector status (rather than going to the Press first), especially since “[t]his is an administration that not only has shown that it lies, it’s an administration that has announced that it will lie in order to further its policies.” His proof for this last statement? A wee bit of bootstrapping, mixed in with a conspiracy theory:

They announced that they will lie when they created a department within the Defense Department that was designed as a propaganda office for the purpose of perpetrating false information. And when it was spotlighted as an element of the Pentagon, they then said, OK, we’ll close this down. Now, realistically, if the design of that office is to perpetrate lies, should we believe them when they say they’re going to close it down? And certainly we know they have lied about the reasons they have gone to Iraq. And that’s just Iraq. We have all the other problems with this administration that are blatant lies. It’s a criminal, immoral bunch of gangsters who have hijacked our country.

In other words, in Laufer’s world view, the Administration “announced” that it will lie because Laufer doesn’t believe anything it says. I mean, really, how can you trust the word of a “criminal, immoral bunch of gangsters who have hijacked our country.” (Calling Cindy Sheehan — someone’s plagiarized your script.) That’s not an argument, that’s a monomania.

The story has a lot of sobs for those soldiers who go AWOL. Some of these poor things actually have to get jobs as manual laborers because, having reneged on their voluntarily signed contracts with the United States government, the United States is actually doing mean things like denying them medical care through the VA. Indeed, the whole decision to go AWOL is fraught:

If you are a deserter or if you’ve gone AWOL, or if you are a conscientious objector, how this will affect your future certainly depends on what you do in your life. It depends on your career choice, it depends on how carefully an employer will do a background check. If you desert to Canada and you then want to come back here, you’re likely going to face those charges. And a lot of the people profiled in the book who have spotlighted their cases, when they’re adjudicated they get hard prison time. And that’s another record. There certainly are employers who would embrace someone like that—especially in our community—but elsewhere in the country, who knows?

The fact is, I doubt anyone disputes that being in the middle of a war is hellish and that there are lots of soldiers who regret their decision to enlist. (Although I have to admit that I grew up in a family where my father, while acknowledging the horrors of his time in North Africa and Southern Europe during WWII, considered his RAF and ANZAC service the most exciting, meaningful time in his life.) Indeed, there are often soldiers who not only want to get out, they don’t even want to get in, a fact evidenced by the notorious draft riots during the Civil War. Even the Good War, World War II, had its share of deserters — 21,000, to be reasonably exact — although they were certainly not accorded hero status.

As it is, I find conscientious objector status a little bizarre right now, considering that we have an all volunteer army. Normally, conscientious objectors, such as Quakers, aren’t the kind who enlist in the first place. After all, no matter how the military dresses it up (“Be All You Can Be;” “An Army Of One;” etc.) the ultimate job of the military is to kill to protect our nation. If that’s a problem for you, you shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Additionally, as Michelle Malkin regularly points out, the most recent crop of “conscientious objectors” have had some problems. One was apparently a confabulator who would have done John Kerry proud. Another one, Ehren Watada, a self-styled “dissenter,” rather than a true conscientious objector, enlisted after the war began for the sole purpose of objecting — that is, he was making a political point when he enlisted, rather than making a decision to join the American military.

Neither Laufer, the interviewee, nor Kramer, the interviewer, confine themselves just to the War. We also get to hear about Air America, with a full frontal attack on the kind of talk radio American’s like most — the conservative stuff:

What do you think of Air America?

I think it’s important that Air America is out there. It’s tragic for radio that something as compelling as talk radio has been largely co-opted by the selfish, opportunistic hate-mongers of the right wing. So anything that provides some balance to that is extraordinarily important to support—not just for political reasons, but for the art of radio. I wrote a book about this 10 years ago called Inside Talk Radio and it’s unfortunately still quite relevant. There are business reasons why the foaming-at-the-mouth type of talk radio is so prevalent. It’s easier for the holding companies that maintain the licenses for radio stations to accommodate the kind of programming that comes out of these shows than it is to accommodate shows that are not trying to paint complex issues simplistically. But there is some acknowledgment in the business community that there might be some money to be made with other types of shows, and that’s why we’re seeing Air America and other alternatives on more and more stations.

I guess calling America’s most popular talk radio hosts “selfish, opportunistic hate-mongers of the right wing,” is meant to be a companion piece to his description of our elected officials “a criminal, immoral bunch of gangsters who have hijacked our country.”

Laufer also has strong opinions on the immigration debate. He’s spelled it out in his book Wetback Nation, but isn’t shy about stating the book’s bottom line premise: Completely open borders (something it seems we already have, but that’s another story).

I won’t bore you (or me) any more with this kind of fatuous nonsense. You can read the whole thing at Pacific Sun‘s website, if you have the stomach for it. I don’t. Even if I agreed with his various premises (anti-War, pro-Air America, pro-open borders), this kind of pap, which is simultaneously maudlin and aggressive, as well as illogical and weak-minded, really puts me off.

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  • Ymarsakar

    The reason why the piranha sharks are circling Bush and taking bites out of both the US Constitution as well as US security, is precisely because the Pentagon never got a propaganda apparatus office running. If they closed it cause somebody objected, then Bush failed in his duty AND his promise to use EVERY MEANS at his disposal to fight the war on terror. Looks like every means to me is not every means to the President.

    If they just never heard about it, thought about it, or spoke about it, then that is sheer inner circle incompetence.

    Back in the real world, deserting in the face of the enemy would be an instant execution through firing squad charge. We’re living in a semi-Golden Age, the real world hasn’t returned yet.

    You know how Sun Tzu dealt with insubordination and desertion? Pragmatically and efficiently. The Bush administration lets enemies get away, while they at the same time allow people to abuse our soldiers. It’s completely irrational given how much the military has done for Bush.

  • Ymarsakar

    You better moderate your intake of Leftist philosophy and rhetoric. You don’t want to get sick, now do you?

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  • http://none JB

    It is precisely this sort of stuff that makes Coulter’s contention that liberalism is a religion, rather than a political theory or policy, so very easy to acccept, even without much further consideration.

    These people clearly have powerful beliefs that have no special relation to this world or the facts of this world. And their morality, such as it is, is all intertwined with those beliefs.

    Now all repeat … George Bush is a stupid liar, hamedahamedahameda mumble … Karl Rove causes global warming, hamedahamedahameda mumble … the UN will save us all … Haliburton blah blah and Jews too, hamedahamedahameda mumble … Al Gore is the real president ….

    It’s got to take an act of faith!

  • karl roth

    it surely doesn’t help when interviews are run like this. it does nothing to help in the development of honest debate on issues. that said, i think this article is a bit o’ the old pot calling the kettle black. these tactics seem to be all to commen from the right as well.

  • zhombre
  • Ymarsakar

    Separation of Church and State, disband the Democrat party. While Karl’s point might be true, the fact that he named himself Karl Roth after Karl Rove, implies a distinctly strong identification with something related to Karl Rove in political terms. So if you believe Karl’s point, you must also believe Zhombre names himself “Clinton Willy” in his off days.

    Or how about “liberal religionlite” given his recent post.

  • zhombre

    Actually on off days I feel closer to this guy:

  • happyharry1

    Nice job Dere’s nuttin I can’t stand anymore then the tidal wave of HORSEHIT from the U.S. Media……What liberal media? Mario Cuomo once said “what Mafia?”,(to be fair Tony Soprano also denied that theres a Mafia.) Anyway, I try to seek the truth about this war but I know I won’t get it from the hysterical LEFT.

  • Patrick O’Hannigan

    Anyone who has ever heard Air America’s Al Franken or Randi Rhodes wouldn’t be able to talk about “complex issues” with a straight face. Those two use a brush as broad or broader than any talk show host on the right, and get very impatient with any complexity at all (to hear Rhodes tell it, for example, Israel is engaged in “genocide” in Lebanon).

  • Ymarsakar

    Referral’s denied to me on Zhomb’s link.

  • karl roth

    Ymarsakar – my name is karl roth. it is not a nom de plume or web name nor has it anything to do implied or otherwise with karl rove. i value above all honest non dogmatic/doctrinaire discussion. i am willing to be convinced of an opinion other than my own. in contemporary america i think both liberalism as a “religion” and conservatism as a religion exist – flip side same coin. sad really

  • Ymarsakar

    That’s an interesting coincidence, if I may say so myself. I’ll fall back on the people who name themselves neoconned, proud neocon, and Stupid COuntry then.

    There is a rather abundancy of people who do identify themselves with their political positions, in more ways than one. Which names have you seen from the flip side of the same coin by conservatives, again, Karl?

  • karl roth

    Ymarsakar, don’t quite get your question and wondering if u are intentionally misunderstanding me – what i meant was i think both a liberal “religion” and the conservatism “religion” exist and are flip sides of the same coin or similar coin and the coinage being entrenched, close minded, doctrinaire points of view left or right often with a heap of vituperation or invective thrown in for good measure. boring boring boring.
    both are pretty poor excuses for a religion or a discussion.
    perhaps as a newbe on the blog scene i don’t get the importance of identifying myself with a political POV. have leanings but they can be contradictory. pretty sure i don’t toe any doctrinaire line.
    by the way what does “Ymarsakar” imply ?

  • Brent

    As you said, we have an all-volunteer Military. It would be different if we did have a draft. But then again, I suppose, to liberals, there is no such thing as duty and honor to your fellow countrymen, in the name of Liberty.

    General George Patton would have called this dweeb a G**D***** COWARD! So would have my Grandfather, my personal hero.

  • Bookworm

    Karl/Ymarsakar: I’m not quite following the string of thought, but I will say that both sides in the political debate (conservative and liberal) hold on to strong “belief systems.” These are fundamental precepts that underlie all of our conclusions — and they’re often precepts that we’re unaware of as we reach our conclusions. I find “belief system” an easier concept to grapple with than religion, because religion implies a formalized church, temple or mosque supporting a person’s beliefs. Liberals can deny “religion” because so many are agnostic or atheistic (as I am), and are therefore not tied to any religion in the traditional sense. No one, however, can deny a “belief system,” which animates any and all humans. Thus, while I’m not at all religious, I have an extremely conservative belief system which drives all of my ultimate conclusions. Words matter, and I think you guys may be having a tug of war over the wrong word.

  • Ymarsakar

    I wasn’t asking the question because it was in relation to the point you were trying to make, Karl. I asked because it would allow me to see if you had seen any of the same behavior on the right that I’ve seen on the left. The question simply asks if you have seen people on the right with names that are tied to their political identities. Meaning, an anti-neocon on the Left will name themselves neoneoCONNED or Proud NeoCon, not only as a way to identify themselves on the internet, but also as a subtle barb. It should not be too difficult to answer the question for the Right, in what names have you heard.

    If this has something to do with your point on religion, I’m sure we can find that out eventually after you answer the question, that is.

    As for your question, the name is derived from two sources, both Japanese in origin. Yamamoto and Sake. Unintended derivations you can read about here.

    You tell me what Ymarsakar implies to you. I know what Proud NeoCon and Stupid Country implies to me.

    Bookworm, I let his use of religion stand because I was not interested in the tug of words. That’s why I said I’d fallback, meaning give territory in return for other rewards, by going to the second line of defense. There’s nothing that Karl Roth said in his latest clarification, that I didn’t already understand. I didn’t mention that understanding because it was not the route I chose to take.

    The argument for whether religion is one or two sided, is one sided at the moment.

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