Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Vacation

Hey All,

I am in Michigan. Specifically Ann Arbor (which CJ calls "the deuce"), visiting some friends. Not much goes on here, so there is not much for me to blog about. I guess that I could talk about the Jewish community here, and how much I love it, but I have yet to meet anyone as school isn't in session, and I haven't been here for a sabbath, so I haven't been to services. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Chanukkah: Presents Recieved

For those of you who didn't read all the way through it, Dave Barry's gift guide had some gems. Or so CJ thought, as he purchased the following gifts for me:

The Marie Antoinette doll, complete with ejector head.

A Jane Austen Action Figure

And last, but not least, this "unintentionally hilarious" guide to courtship, entitled:

Thanks, sweet pea.

(disclaimer: CJ does not know that I have a blog)

Blogger Switch

We switched over to blogger beta, or whatever the new blogger is now being called, so please be patient as we figure out what the heck we are doing.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Islam Is the New Communism (Rhetorically Speaking)

There are two subjects that fascinated in me in college (and continue to draw my attention away from saving the world and torturing the Rooster): religion and the Cold War. So much did I love these subjects, so passionately did I pursue them, that I wrote my thesis on how Presidents used religious rhetoric to support their invasive foreign policies during the Cold War. I didn’t write my thesis nor study these speeches in a vacuum, either. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a certain president of ours chooses to pepper his speeches with biblical references. Presidents have been using religious rhetoric since the dawn of the country, but I focused on the particular brand created by the Cold War Presidents because it heralded a marked shift in content and presaged today’s political climate.

Annie and I were talking earlier about the sudden focus on Barak Obama’s “real” religion and how Islam is the new Communism. Think of the McCarthy hearings now: “Are you or have you ever been a member of Islam? Do you know or associate with anyone who ascribes to the Muslim faith?” The Debbie Schlussel piece on her website inspired a diatribe that is too vitriolic to translate into blog appropriate language. Let me just say, she is the worst kind of ideologue: intellectually and ethically dishonest. Media Matters responded to the heart of her claim (that Obama is secretly Muslim), but not to the question of whether his religion matters in the first place. Even if he were Muslim, would it matter? Didn’t we settle this issue with JFK? All I know is that I keep flashing back to the Cold War and it’s giving me whiplash.

A Brief History of Religious Rhetoric and its Appropriation by the Bush Administration:

At the conception of the Cold War, Truman constructed a myth centered around a battle between good and evil. In that context, he invoked faith to support his aggressive actions against the godless Communists. To the extent that he incorporated Scripture into his arguments, it was to remind the American people to have faith that God would bring peace. Immediately following the South Korean attack on North Korea, Truman invoked God’s wrath: “Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Nevertheless, the focus of his narrative was on a Christian moral code grounded in the example of the Sermon on the Mount. By the close of Truman’s term, this cold war ideation became an entrenched element of the American lexicon. In this milieu, Eisenhower integrated Scripture into his speeches to recall the religious foundations of the United States and the theocentrism of its rights doctrine. His logic transformed the cold war into a holy crusade, in which America defended God's politics. Whereas Truman and Eisenhower's conceptualization of the conflict abstractly incorporated biblical rhetoric, Johnson directly used Scripture to explain our presence in Vietnam. The reality of Johnson’s foreign policy resulted in an intensification of hostilities in Vietnam and an ever-increasing number of casualties returning home from abroad, but his language rarely vacillated from Jesus’ message of peace.

These Cold War Presidents used religious rhetoric to justify military armament and engagement. They quoted Scripture to defend sending troops abroad and bringing them home. They quoted Scripture both to increase and decrease nuclear armament and to argue for both war and peace. They defined the Cold War as a moral crusade, wherein intervention became a religious obligation. Each Cold War president capitalized on Faith: faith that the United States would prevail and faith that God would bring peace. They argued that America was superior because of its religious freedom and that communism would fail because of its godlessness. They exhorted the American people to strengthen their faith in God, thereby strengthening their faith in America and its foreign policy.

Predominantly, Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson quoted from the New Testament, with the exception of Isaiah (and, once, Amos). While Truman referenced Exodus 20, he never directly quoted from that chapter of the Old Testament. To the extent that religious rhetoric was for the purpose of harvesting support and creating consensus, this exclusion is understandable. The majority of this country is Christian and has been exposed to the New Testament more often than the Hebrew Bible; this text would then resonate more with them than the Old Testament. The New Testament is also associated with a peaceful and loving God, while the Deuteronomic God is portrayed as vengeful and angry. Since Cold War presidents were arguing for the expediency of war couched in the rhetoric of Christian charity, they located their proof texts with the loving God.

At the beginning of my thesis, I posed the question: Has the Bush administration, in putting God on staff, radically departed from past uses of religious language? My answer, after this investigation, is more complicated then yes or no. Bush, in incorporating religious rhetoric into his foreign policy speeches, has both feet firmly planted in a presidential rhetorical tradition. Many presidents before Bush explicitly used God and Scripture to justify war. They did so without breaching the separation of Church and State (although some toed the line). They argued that Christian morals are an essential element of a just government and, as such, should be considered when making important domestic and foreign policy decisions. These presidents quote the Bible, openly endorse prayer, and use the Bible as a source or inspiration for their policy. These presidents indulged in religious rhetoric for the purpose of creating an American consensus and ensuring the rights of American citizens. Why, if Bush is firmly embedded in this rhetorical tradition, is there an uproar about his language?

Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson used religious rhetoric to unite the country against an external evil. Bush uses it to divide the country against itself (Republicans are moral and good, Democrats—and liberal judges—are immoral and bad). The Bush administration has polarized this country along religious lines. When Bush speaks about religion and God, he is talking about Christianity and Jesus. Bush’s religious rhetoric is alienating, outside the purview of a civil religion that was created to bring together a diverse nation. Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson spoke of American morality, American religion, American faith. America had access to their language, it resonated with them as Americans—the chosen, elite, missionaries of democracy—united in Faith in America. No longer. Now faith has other implications. It is no longer an abstraction of religion, but directly correlates to Christianity and support for the Christian right. I distinguish between Bush’s religious rhetoric and that of the Cold War presidents because he uses the agenda of the Christian right as the basis of policy decisions. He confuses president as rhetor with president as individual. He has forgotten that he is more than a Christian man, he is the president of a diverse nation.

The war on terrorism, like the Cold War, is boundless, endless, and ill-defined. What does it mean when a political party owns morality? Owns religion? The language is the same, but its use has shifted. Now, religious rhetoric is used to divide the country against itself. Rhetoric has lost the veneer of creating consensus and has been stripped to justification alone, a pale and unconvincing echo of the Cold War.

And I Swear

Or not.

Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress has refused to swear on a bible, and instead swore on the Qu'ran. This really ticked off Dennis Prager, who posted on that "the act [of swearing on a Qu'ran] undermines American civilization." Why might this be, Mr. Prager? "Because America is only interested in only one book, the bible." Really? So those 6 million Muslims in America, they don't count as Americans. Huh. He then continues to say that" for all of American history, Jews elected to public office have taken their oath on the Bible, even though they do not believe in the New Testament, and the many secular elected officials have not believed in the Old Testament either."

For all of American history. That would include now, right? Well when [Orthodox Jew] Jason Bedrick R-Windham was "sworn" in, he didn't use a bible. Nor did he actually swear. According to this article he subsituted "I affirm" for "I swear." Also, just FYI, Jehovah's witnesses, who do not believe in taking oaths, also don't swear on the bible. Nor do Atheists.

Millard Filmore's Bathtub addresses the falacies in Prager's arguement one by one, and has some really interesting information besides. The only thing that I'd like to point out is that the reason to swear on a bible is as follows: when the custom was initiated, people were mostly religious, so to swear on a bible was to affirm your word knowing that if you lied, G-d would punish you. The fear of G-d was the motivator, not the content of the book. By that reasoning, a person should swear/affirm by whatever text they believe in, as it carries the most weight.

Media Matters has an interview with Prager from Hannity and Comes. It only highlights the fact that Prager is misinformed, and also kind of a, how shall I say, asshat.

Chanukkah: Presents, Part II

Laurel Snyder of Jewcy asks if we can justify giving Chanukkah gifts. If you can, and you want to give something cheap/absurd, here are some sources to check out:

Slate's last-minute drugstore gift guide
Dave Barry's desperation gift guide

I read the latter aloud to CJ, and had to stop, gasping for breath, between laughs. So if anyone is looking for a gift for me, I'd really like the ride-on cooler.

I am shamed

By the dedication that many have shown towards their dream of immigrating to Israel. One example, from Ynet (courtesy of Failed Messiah) is of the Ethiopians who marched through Sudan to get to Israel. On foot. Or donkey. It is a type of faith and belief to which I can only aspire. And then to be faced with racism by Israelis once they get there? It is a chillul hashem*. Failed Messiah focuses on the injustice aspect, but I would like to just point out the sacrifice that these people made, one unimaginable (at least for me) from my comfortable, middle-class upbringing.

Kol ha kavod*.

*A chillul hashem is a desecration of the lord's name
*Kol ha kavod is Hebrew for "all my respect" but can also mean "well done" or "good job." Sort of like the Australian "good on ya, mate."

Jews Love: The Seattle Times

Poynter Online, the website for a journalism school that provides up to date information for journalists and aspiring writers, alike, posted an interview this morning with The Seattle Times executive editor David Boardman. For the past several days, Seattle has been inundated with rain and thousands were left without power. In an attempt to heat their homes with gas powered generators and grills, several people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning, including a Vietnamese family of five (one of whom survived and is in serious condition in the hosptial). In response, The Seattle Times published a paper with a warning about carbon monoxide poisoning written in six languages, on the front page, above the fold. Above and beyond expectations, they saved lives at their own expense. Instead of merely reporting the deaths as they unfolded, they saw it as their duty as journalists and citizens to prevent future incidence of carbon monoxide poisoning. I incourage you to read the thoughtful and thorough way that the Times approached this issue (hyperlinked above).

Boardman notes that the response has been overwhelmingly positive, but there have been those who objected to the paper's use of their space. Who would object to saving lives:

I should add, however, that we have heard from several readers who are angry that we would publish in a language other than English. I just took a call from one reader who cancelled his subscription, saying that if these people can't read English, tough.

Also, we're apparently being raked over the coals at the moment by conservative talk radio.
I'd like to stress, again, that the response has been overwhelmingly positive, so as to mediate my outrage at those heartless few who deserve those ad hominem attacks that I usually omit from this blog. Seriously, I am tempted to use every bad epithet that my mother forbade me from using during my childhood. Instead, let me just send out a "Huzzah!" to the Times and its crew. Congratulations on a job well done.

Know Your Jewish Community: Grandmothers

Last night I took CJ to meet my little old lady. I visit an older woman every week, once a week, as part of Dorot's Friendly Visiting program (you should check it out, they desperately need volunteers). Anyway, I have been visiting this woman for 5 years now, and she is basically a grandmother figure ( I have no living grandparents). CJ and I went to visit her, have some polishe latkes (apparently they are different) and shmooze*.

Amusing comments from the LOL, in no particular order:
-no, you go sit down, I am not used to a man in the kitchen.
-What? You want to help? With women in the kitchen? No.
-He is very cute. Hopefully the children will have your nose.
-You have a good job? You can support her?

I nearly died. My own grandparents all spoke English with an American accent, and even though several were foreign-born, had lost all vestiges of their European past, at least to my childhood observations. Before the LOL I had never had a true interaction with an Eastern European Jewish grandmother. All I can say is, if you haven't, you're missing out. The blunt honesty, constant feeding, and unqualified affection, all are pretty great.

*Shmooze is Yiddish for talk, hang out

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rhapsody in Jew, Part II

Artist depiction of Judah Maccabee

I know this post is a day later than promised, but hurling took precedence over posting yesterday, much to my (and Annie’s) chagrin. Without further ado: the Revolt and it’s aftermath (with all credit, again, going to the brilliant Seth Schwartz).

The historicity of Antiochus’s decrees are a matter of scholarly debate. Ofri Ilani’s article in Ha’Aretz presents the “there’s no way these events transpired in this way” side of the argument. The argument boils down to the fact that religious persecution was extremely unusual at the time and Antiochus’s father was famous for enacting protections for the Israelite religion. Unfortunately, the paucity of primary sources that survived from that period force historians to speculate. For example, one possible explanation for this sudden shift rests on the scarce evidence that exists for a religious rebellion the previous year. Alternatively, high powered Jews may have gained politically from such decrees and influenced Antiochus, particularly if they intended to become a polis (which, we established yesterday, precludes monotheism).

Open Jewish resistance to these prohibitions did not begin until 167 BCE. At this point, the Hasmonean family had yet to take charge of the revolt. Slowly, the Hasmoneans gained a stronghold over the guerilla fighters, when Judah, leading his own small band against the Seleucid troops, won a serious of small victories. By 164 BCE, the persecution had ended and, with it, the fighting; yet the Torah was not restored as the constitution of Judea. Somehow (and the historical record, already murky, is opaque on this issue), Judah and the Hasmoneans gain control of the Temple, rededicating it to the God of Israel. Judah, apparently tiring of peace, takes his fighters and begins raiding some lands outside of Judea. The Seleucids begin to view him and his army as a real threat and, in 162 BCE, send out a real army led by Lysias (an important courtier, so you know they really mean it). Lysias is on the verge of crushing Judah, when a civil war breaks out in Antioch (upon Antiochus’s death), forcing Lysias to return. Before he can leave, he must establish favorable terms with the Judean government (so if they need Judean support during the civil war, it’ll be assured). In these interests, Antiochus concedes to restoring the Torah as the constitution of the Jews.

Even after the Seleucid Empire conceded, Judah continued to rebel (although the propaganda of I Maccabees insists that his rebellion was for the sake of restoring the Torah as law). Why would he keep the rebellion alive, even though, ostensibly, his demands have been met? Judah was interested in maintaining power and, although he had “won” the revolt, he still had no authority, as the power returned to the High Priest. The Book of Maccabees argues that he tried to regain independence, a weak argument considering that the Israelites/Judeans had not been independent since some mythical past, back in the 9th Century, and the concept of a right to national self-determination would not be developed for another 2,110 years. Otherwise, Judea has always been relatively autonomous, living under its own laws and aristocracy, except under the brief period of Jason and Menelaus’s reign, which had just been restored.

In response to Judah’s revolts, Antiochus sent out an enormous army under Nicanor to squelch Judah. Astoundingly (and this may be the true miracle of Hanukkah, so long as you are pro-Hasmonean), Judah defeated both that army and the one that followed. In 161 BCE, the Seleucid army crushed Judah completely (to death, in fact). His brother Jonathan took the few remaining troops and fled over the Jordan, devolving into a group of thieving brigands (yes, that was redundant). The following year, the High Priesthood and governmental infrastructure were destabilized when Yakim, the High Priest, was kicked out of the priesthood, without a secure successor. Combined with the Seleucid Civil War of Succession (which last for the next century), this destabilization created a power vacuum, especially in the countryside, where a powerful personality could gain a huge amount of power in a relatively short period of time. The infighting weakened the government enough so that they needed the Jonathan’s man power and were willing to trade concrete political power in return. The Hasmoneans used that power vacuum to their advantage and, over the next 8 years, Jonathan became the most influential man in Judea, re-establishing a power base in Judea, with an entourage of a thousand men (eat your heart out Vince Chase). Now, the Hasmoneans have power legitimately, from within the Seleucid system, not to be ousted when the fighting ends.

Back in the Seleucid Empire, Demetrius I, Antiochus IV’s nephew, and Antiochus’s bastard son (maybe), Alexander Balas are both vying for the throne. I Maccabees describes them also vying for Jonathan’s favor, attempting to outdo one another with promises. Jonathan backed Balas, who appoints him High Priest (NB: the King always appointed the High Priest of Judea, but usually chose the son of the previous priest); as well, he appoints him Governor of Judea (and gives his brother, Simon, the cushy position of General of the Palestinian Coast). Jonathan’s roles as High Priest and Governor combined created a ritual and religious problem for the priesthood. As a general, he constantly came into contact with corpses, rendering him ritually impure (as well, priests were prohibited from willfully coming into contact with corpses, except under strict conditions). For ten years, Jonathan simultaneously juggled the roles of countryside underdog and Seleucid favorite. In 142 BCE, the Seleucid pretender to the throne, Diodotos Tryphon, tricked him into a meeting (sans army) and killed him. Simon took over and threw his support behind Diodotos’s opposition, receiving a tax break and passing it onto the Jews as an indication that the Jews were now fully independent of the Seleucids. Simon engineered and assembly of the Jews (as in Ezra and Nehemiah) and they proclaimed him High Priest and ruler of the nation, establishing the Hasmoneans as the ruling family of Judea. Simon then spent the rest of his reign attempting to secure and solidify his status through control of Seleucid fortresses (Yaffo, on the coast; Gezer; Akra, in Jerusalem, ending the reformist movement). As far as the Seleucids were concerned, the destruction of their fortresses and Judean independence were an act of theft and they never ceased claiming Judea as their legal right. Regardless, the Seleucid Empire was crushed by Roman Empire, who conquered the “independent” Judean territory before the Seleucids could ever regain control.

The rest of the history is that of a dynasty maintaining power and eventually crumbling under the weight of its own excess, but not before greatly expanding the Judean Empire and bringing wealth and glory to Judea. For a time.

This Just In

(1) JTS Chancellor Arnold "Arnie" Eisen spent the day with President Bush yesterday as part of the President's annual flesh-press with the Jews. The focus of the meeting was higher education and the invitees were a veritable who's who of the Jewish ed world: Karen Bacon, Dean of Stern College at Yeshiva U; Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, President of RRC ; Rabbi David H. Ellenson, President of HUC; Rabbi Zalman Gifter, President and Dean of Rabbinical College of Telshe in Ohio; Richard Joel, President of Yeshiva University; Bernard Lander, Founder and President of Touro College; Julian Sandler, Chairman of the Board of Hillel; Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, Founder of Lubavitch House in Philadelphia; and Dr. Bob Wexler, President of UJ. I am sure it was a productive meeting that will lead the President to make serious changes in his approach to higher education, particularly in its funding. I am also sure that being sick yesterday made me delirious.

(2) Monday night, I lit candles with my Aunt, my Grandma, and my three beautiful and brilliant little cousins. I was given the honor of lighting the candles and as I went to light left to right, one of my cousins (who's 10) piped up: "You're doing it wrong! I learned in Hebrew School that you're supposed to light right to left." Well, far be it from me to contradict my cousin, although I was pretty sure I was right; the wisdom of a ten year old can cause anyone to question their knowledge. So I lit right to left and everyone was happy. Today, I double-checked with my halakhic authority, Annie, who assured me that I had, in fact, been correct. She also noted that the halakhic way to tie one's shoes is to put on the right shoe, then the left shoe, then tie the left shoe then the right (just like putting in the Hanukkah candles right to left and lighting them left to right). I balked, but she defended the rabbis: "What? They had a lot of time on their hands while we were being persecuted."

Chanukkah: Presents

The most fun part of Chanukkah for many children, and, lets be honest, most adults too. Unless you, like Harley, are playing strip-dreidl, it is possibly the most boring game in existance, and like War (the card game, not the Iraq) in its endlessness.

David A. Wilensky, blogging for Jewcy complains that "the day that someone told me that not only is the practice of Hanukkah gift-giving uniquely American, but that it is a patronizing practice designed to keep Jewish kinderlach from feeling left out around Christmas," was a "tramatic" one. Jewfaq of Jewish in a Gentile World takes a more sympathetic view, and tells a story from college about how some unaffiliated Jews connect to the holiday, and really want a Jewish holiday to compete with Christmas. Smeliana of Smelblog posts a song that her father (a Reform Rabbi) has composed in honor of the gift-giving season.

Cori of Am Israel Chai talks about what it feels like to be an "adult" buying Chanukkah gifts for kids. Daniel S. of The Kentucky Democrat, like many before him, notes that "Jews get practical presents" for Chanukkah, a trend that I have definitely observed in my own life. Eliot of Fasthugs points out that Jews are also well-known gamblers, so the targeted advertising for "Xtreme Dreidl Raffle" is totally warranted, and is sure to be super-succesful.

Last, but not least, Slate has an article on how much satisfaction people get from presents. The answer? 20% less than the worth of the gift. And for the record, I am an awesome gift-giver. Just ask Harley.

Chanukah Blog Tour 5767

Harley and I were not the cool kids in high school, so when Amy Guth asked for bloggers to participate, we jumped at the chance to sit at the cool table. Here is our entry for the 6th night:

1. Quick! You must turn a plate of latkes into an upscale gourmet delight
(as if they aren't already?). What would you add to them to dress them up,
flavor and/or garnish them?

Harley: I would make them from kale and parsnips, and drizzle them in a sundried tomato balsamic reduction.
Annie: I don't really do upscale gourmet, so I'd probably just throw in some scallions and call it a day. Or maybe serve them with sliced turkey and cranberry sauce. Chanukkah/Christmas turkey is traditional in my community.
Harley: That is not true, when you write what I say, it is straight and to the point, when you write what YOU say, it is all fancy-pants-y. I am not ok with this.

2. What is the dumbest thing you've ever heard anyone say about Chanukah?

Harley: Pretty boy thought that dreidls were a Jewish symbol, and not just for Chanukkah. That was pretty funny. The usual, "is that the day that Moses died and rose from the dead?"
Annie: I've never heard that one. Not really about Chanukkah, as much as Channukah-related, someone asked if topless olive oil wrestling could be considered a legitimate observance of the holiday.
Harley: Isn't it?
Annie: No.

3. What's the best possible use for olive oil?

See above.

4. Settle it once and for all. Latkes or hammentaschen? Which to you
prefer? What about pitting the winner of that contest against sufganiyot?

Annie: Latkes. Hammentaschen are like pizza, better in theory than in practice.
Harley: Latkes, because I can make them as well as eat them.
Annie: I don't love sufganiyot. I prefer my desserts to be chocolate in nature.
Harley: That is unfair, I refuse to answer that, it is like Sophie's Choice.

5. What's the best way to mix up a game of dreidel?

Harley: The easy answer is strip dreidl, but I feel like that is expected.
Annie: Not by me, I was going to say "add alcohol."
Harley: Boring. It isn't fun unless you're naked. This is how we know you're frum.

6. My novel, Three Fallen Women, shockingly enough, is about the lives of
three women. Which three women would you like to have over this year for
latkes and why?

Annie: Gloria Steinem, Golda Meir, and my mom, because she is awesome.
Harley: My boss, the other woman in my office, and Annie.
Annie: Harley, you can come too to mine. You and Golda Meir can get down.
Harley: I think that Gloria and I would get along well. She would probably dig my groove.
Annie: I am so uncool, I don't even know what that means.

7. Other than Three Fallen Women (har har), what book do you think would
make a great Chanukah gift this year? What book would you like to receive
as a gift this year?

Annie: I gave the boy that I am dating a copy of Pride and Prejudice, since he has never read it, and also Persuasion, because it is my favorite.
Harley: My perennial book gift is The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. It is not my favorite, but up there.
Annie: Spell Margarita.
Harley: Have you not read it?
Annie: No.
Harley: I know what you're getting for Chanukkah. And my sister got me The Other Boleyn Sister.
Annie: I'm reading that right now, we should get married.

8. What bloggers didn't participate in Chanukah Blog Tour 5767 and you
think should have?

Smeliana of Smelblog
Rachel of We Will Study and We Will Do
David Kelsey of Kvetcher
Da Boys of 905

Go check out Amy Guth's blog Big Mouth Indeed Strikes Again. Also, buy her book. And check out the other bloggers who answered this meme. I'll list them when I have names.

6th Night Bloggers:
Therapy Doc from Everyone Needs Therapy
Minor Fast Days of Minor Fast Days
Arwen of Anthropologist for Corporate America
Grichu of Grichu's World
Nani of Placeholder

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chanukkah: Chanukiah Part II

First of all, I'd like to post a message that Yitz Jordan, aka Y-Love sent to Harley and myself, and a number of other bloggers. According to him: A set of ready-to-light Chanukah lights are a potential fire hazard and are causing damage to homes which use them. This product must be removed from Jewish stores at once. Chanukah Oil Candles as distributed by Ahron's Judaica are a potentially life-threatening hazard. He even provides some rather harrowing images of the melted candles on a menorah.

Secondly, on a more positive note (sort of) my Mom bought me a Chanukiah. Cute, right? She bought me a very pretty silver one, complete with candles; the type that you can keep for a lifetime. The only issue? It isn't kosher.

This is a kosher chanukiah. See how all of the branches are at the same height? All eight in a line? With an extra higher/same height shamash (worker candle)? That is basically all that is required.

Below is an image of the chanukiah that I recieved. In a Madden-esque touch, I've circled the relevant parts.
See how the branches are of differing heights? And how there are only eight branches? Pretty, but unkosher. Now, I do not blame my mother for this. Her formal Jewish education is limited, and she has learned what she can as an adult. You know who I do blame? West Side Judaica. They sold my mother an unkosher chanukiah without even mentioning: "hey, not sure if you care, but thought that you might want to know, this chanukiah does not fulfill the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukkah." Seriously, that was jerk of them. So now I have to bring it back, which I HATE doing, a) because now my mom feels like an idiot, b) because I hate returning things, and c) because it is f*ing heavy.

Severed Heads?

No, this post has nothing to do with Chanukkah, or macabees, but instead with this story. If you will recall, a week or two ago I posted on my pet peeves, one of which was "operas where they promise a sea monster in the second act, and it never appears." Well, apparently in the German version of that opera not only are there sea monsters, but also the severed heads of Jesus, Posidon, Muhammed and Buddha. WTF? The Met is lame.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rhapsody in Jew

In honor of Hanukkah, I feel compelled to write on the history of the Maccabean Revolt and it’s effects. Today, I offer a rhapsody on Hellenization and its relationship to the Revolt, according to master of Ancient Israel, the brilliant Seth Schwartz (as paraphrased from all the information I absorbed during his lectures):

Historiographically, several sources for this period of history survived, all fraught with their own agendas: I Maccabees, II Maccabees, and Josephus. In the secondary literature, two schools of thought reign regarding the Maccabean Revolt. The first, elucidated in Ben Sasson’s A History of the Jewish People, portrays the revolt as a massive Jewish uprising against a foreign oppressor. The other tendency views the revolt as primarily a war between two different Jewish groups. I Maccabees, which provides a partial account, emphasizes foreigners as the main enemy, but also includes “sinful” Israelites in their ranks. II Maccabees focuses on the Greeks as the great enemy. Both texts unabashedly decry assimilation (whether explicitly labeled Hellenization or not) as the true great enemy of this period.

Hellenization had serious religious consequences. Before discussing the effects of Hellenization on Judea and its role as the impetus for revolt (or not) , we must first have a full appreciation of its meaning and implications. In general, Hellenization refers to the process by which people from a non-Greek background become Greek. Over the course of 1000 years of Greek history, the implications of hellenization shift along with the changing Greek culture and context. Under Alexander (the Hellenistic Period), Greek culture was a privilege to be earned by the elite (a result, in part, of Alexander’s Macedonian heritage). By the time of the High Roman Empire, Roman culture consciously manipulates Greek culture to integrate its Empire, forcing the culture on its constituents to create a common cultural currency. The effect of this process was that, by the time of the Christian Roman Empire, Greek culture differentiated the pagans, who were educated in Greek culture, from the Christians, who denounced that system and culture. Because Greek was a religious, not secular, culture and entirely polytheistic, non-polytheists (such as the Israelites) had to take the religious aspect into account when considering hellenization. To become Greek would mean to embrace Greek polytheisms, as well as the other cultural trappings. Cultural reorientation, without a comprehensive cultural change, was extremely common in this period; cultural reorientation indicates that the next generation is educated as Greeks and raised Greek, but your generation does not have to abandon non-Greek cultural practices.

Yet, hellenization did not necessarily mean “becoming Greek.” Historians distinguish between these two types of hellenization. On the one hand, non-Greeks were allowed to become Greek. Although it didn’t lose its connections with genetics/ancestry, people could become Greek by reshaping their city as a Greek polis* or obtaining citizenship in an extant Greek city. Becoming Greek meant giving up all other identity markers. The other type of hellenization refers to the process of “acting Greek” without literally “becoming Greek.” Over the course of a thousand years of Greek cultural dominance, no one dwelling in the Empire could entirely avoid elements of hellenization, which ranged from using Greek pottery and material goods to serious engagement in Greek language and literature. This second type of hellenization did not preclude a distinct cultural identity, simply adopting the trappings of Greek culture. In most cities of the Empire, the upper classes were already Hellenized in this fashion, before they “became” Greek.

Most cultures of this period were polytheists, like the Greeks, so they continue to worship their gods, but with Greek names, adding on Greek rituals and maybe some Greek gods, for good measure. By the 3rd Century BCE, Greek culture made inroads in Judea, but had yet to take profound hold. Judean elites superficially adopted elements of Greek culture, but had yet to Hellenize in the formal sense. II Maccabees portrays Jason, Judea’s High Priest in the late 3rd C BCE, attempt to turn Jerusalem into a Greek city by adopting their gymnasium and ephebate system. II Maccabees recounts how the young priests neglect their duties to spend their time in the gym, reflecting shift in values. Ancient sources are silent on Judean reaction to Jason’s reforms, but the silence also speaks to the absence of violent Jewish response. Had there been an uprising, Josephus of the Maccabean texts would have recorded it. Jason’s reforms did destabilize Judea by attempting to formalize the superficial hellenization of the elite classes (of which the priestly class was a part). Unlike other Hellenizing cities, traditional Judaism precludes all other gods, the jealous Israelite God enforced religious particularism, meaning that adopting Greek culture (i.e. Greek religion) undermined the basic precepts of Israelite religion, which also composed the hierarchy of Israelite governance.

The II Maccabean account of the Revolt describes a war against Jason’s reforms, but it was truly in reaction to Antiochus IV’s decrees. Although Jason abrogated the constitutional and legal authority of the Torah, the King explicitly supplanted the legal authority of the Torah and established his own law. The two books of the Maccabees record markedly different accounts of the wars. In I Maccabees, the word Greek never appears in negative light; rather, the book depicts the Jews fighting the Gentiles and their sinful Jewish supporters. In contrast, II Maccabees explicitly illustrates the revolt as a war between the Jews and the Greeks, between Judaism and Hellenism. The political motivations of these two works reveal the motivation for their conflicting narratives. Whereas I Maccabees was concerned with legitimizing the Hasmonean family through a neo-Biblical narrative. For II Maccabees, the Hasmonean family was beside the point; its focus is on asserting the legitimacy (kashrut) of the second Temple: although God allowed the Temple to fall into foreign hands, it’s still culture.

Soon after the revolt, the Hasmoneans became proponents of adopting elements of Greek culture, without becoming Greek. In their dealings with the Greek royal court, they discovered that Greek was the language and culture of power. The Hasmoneans stood for continuing the constitutional status of the Torah, but not with combating hellenization (as has been portrayed in the re-imagining of the Maccabean myth since that time period). In the aftermath of the revolt, to refuse superficial hellenization would undermine the Hasmonean’s perilous grasp on power.

Tomorrow: the Revolt and its aftermath!

I am so in demand, part II

Well, not really me this time. This Washington Post article made me a bit crazy. It is the story of a girl whose mother got pregnant via anonymous sperm donation, and then the discussion of her piece.

To me, this seems like shameless self-promotion, and self-interest. Poor baby, your mother wanted a child so badly that she went to "extremes" to have one. Here are my "favorite" bits from the conversation:

Katrina says: One thing that needs to be understood is the lack of good arguments against anonymous donors back in the 1970s, 80s, and even the early part of the 90s.

Me: Yes, you are correct, single motherhood was soooo acceptable then. Social sanctions? None whatsoever. Especially not for a working-class woman, or one who was not entirely financially stable.

Chevy Chase says: I found your article very interesting but I am intrigued by your sense of entitlement. You state that you have a basic "right" to know who your biological father is. I am not so sure.

And Katrina replies: Certainly my particular stand point (being synonymous with many other donor conceived people) of absolving anonymous donations would be in the United States, as it is now in the United Kingdom, a deterrent for the whole donor conception industry simply because it would force donors, recipients, and everyone involved to seriously mull over and give thought to more possible ramifications of their actions. Imagine that.

Me: Yes, Katrina, imagine a world in which you did not exist. And where lesbians, as well as infertile couples would be unable to have children, just because it might cause their children some psychological trauma. Some. Is this your biggest problem right now? Get some therapy and get over it. Adopted kids have to deal with issues of abandonment, and often have no connection to a biological parent, what about kids who have lost a parent? As Harley says, you don't really want to phase out anonymous donors, what you want is for people to feel bad for you. You even say it in your article, that you were jealous of the support garnered by your friend whose parents were getting divorced.

I would be inclined to participate in egg donation, if, for instance, either of my brothers prospective wives, or any family member, for that matter, was infertile and wanted to have children. I'd probably help out friends too. And you know what? I don't think that I'd feel like the kid is mine, because all I've donated is some cell matter. Should I feel responsible to everyone who has gotten blood or bone marrow from me? In that case I would especially want to be anonymous

All in all? Shame on the Post for printing pieces like this one, and like this one on a woman who takes her two kids to meet their sperm donor. The piece is subtitled: "Why would Raechel McGhee fly her two beloved children across the country to stay with a man they had never met? Because he is their father." NO HE ISN'T! He is their sperm donor. Father is a social construct.

With these pieces, I feel like the Post is taking a pro-life standpoint. That parenthood starts at conception, and is not an earned title. Said simply, if fatherhood is based on sperm donation, then the act of sperm donation is what creates parenthood, creates a life. And I do not believe that life begins at conception.

Harley says: Damn the heteronormative construction of the nuclear family.

And I am inclined to agree. Last thought: read this book!

Know Your Jewish Community: Annie

TR said:

As a non-religious person, I find it fascinating when a child (belonging to any faith) is more observant than his or her parents. It makes me question two assumptions of my assumptions:

1) That children are brainwashed by their parents to conform to a certain religion. The fact that you are more religious than your parents certainly suggests that you chose Judaism to some extent.

2) That religion is becoming increasingly obsolete and will eventually vanish from technologically advanced societies. If enough people maintain or increase the level of observance that their parents had, this will not be the case.

For the record, I was raised in a not-so-strict Episcopalian household. Both of my parents believed in God. If I wanted children (I don't), I would raise them as agnostics and strongly discourage, but not prohibit, them from joining a religion.

Annie, I am very curious as to why you decided to be more observant than your parents. Don't elaborate on this point if you don't want to, but if you did, I'd be very interested.


Now, I know that you all have been wondering about me, so I'll try to address The Rooster's comments, in as non-confrontational a way as possible.

1) I'd like to point out that I am not "more religious" than my parents, just more traditionally observant. I'm not really sure about their beliefs, but I am fairly certain that they line up with mine. My parents are dedicated members of a Conservative synagogue (my Dad is currently serving as president), and have been for many years. That said, my parents definitely instilled me with Jewish values and beliefs, and provided an atmosphere where I could grow Jewishly.

My brother(s) were both exposed to roughly the same atmosphere and made very different choices. The kid is anti-Judaism (as well as anti just about everything else), he just wants to fit in and be like everyone else, while my older brother is rather apathetic (those who know him may disagree with me here) although he has a very strong Jewish identity, and plans to marry Jewish and have Jewish babies. Which, as we know, is the most important thing.

2) If you look at the numbers (a la a recent study by Steven M. Cohen), I am not an anecdotal case, there is a demographic shift towards observance (for those who are affiliated within the Jewish community), and Orthodoxy. I personally believe that it is, in part, because traditionally observant people who have no wish to be clergy feel that they don't have a real place within the Conservative movement, outside particular centers such as Teaneck, NJ and Sharon, Mass.

As for my personal choices: when I was about 11 my family moved out of the US, as you may know in the rest of the world the choices for Judaism are Orthodox, or Orthodox. So we went to an Orthodox synagogue, and made good friends. I saw their lifestyle and really enjoyed it, the spirituality, the fact that there was a code of law which provided moral and ethical guidance for most situations and the sense of community. I liked having an enforced day off for prayer, reflection, study, and family. I liked that even eating was raised from being merely a neccesity to being an expression of faith... you can't just eat anything, you have to think about if it is acceptable, and then thank G-d for it.

As I got older I also began to enjoy the text study and intellectual side of Judaism. I love learning Mishna, and to a lesser extent Talmud. I find it a fascinating window into my people's past, and am often surprised at how sensitive the rabbis were to the needs of individuals; not just economically, but also emotionally. Yes, they were chauvenist, and racist/xenophobic, etc, but they were also of their time. I, like the late, great, Tikvah Frymer-Kensky, believe that Judaism isn't inherently patriarchal or chauvenist, but that it did not develop in a vacuum, and has been affected by its surrounds for thousands of years.

Hope that that answers your question. Anything else?

I feel like Lady Macbeth

Except with latke smell instead of blood. I was sitting in synagogue on Friday night, convinced that I still smelled of frying, even post-shower and new clothes. So I did what any reasonable human being would do, I made all of my friends sitting near me smell me to see if I did, in fact smell of latkes. I did.

In other news, while the growing tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia are in no way funny, this quote is:They gave the Ethiopian government seven days to withdraw its military troops from Somalia or that they would face an all-out war. The Ethiopian government in response said, "bring it on". Really? Really the Ethiopian government said "bring it on?" And in a similar turn, the Tamil Tiger representative said of the Sri Lankan government that it "takes two to tango." I find it hard to believe that they used such colloquial English, instead I think that the translators are taking some liberties.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Not filler, but Filling: part II

Matthue of Jewschool is totally into the Chicago Plan. CJ is not.

Most amusing search terms that have lead to this blog? T. That is it, just the letter t. I am not entirely sure how that works. A close second is "reconstructionist get halakha." Now that I read it, I realize that they were probably talking about a get, or Jewish divorce document, which isn't funny at all.

My roommates and I have tested some latke recipes, and the favorite (by far) has been Grandma H's (OB"M). So, thanks Aunt L, they worked out really well and were amazingly easy.

Last, but not least, my parents are coming to my apartment for Shabbat dinner. This is a cause for excitement not only because they are bringing pickled okra, and a chanukiah, but also because I love my parents. Here is the issue though: my parents aren't staying with me, or even in the city. You see, my parents aren't shomer shabbat. They keep a strictly kosher home, raised three kids with good Jewish content, but they drive to shul. It's that but that gets me.

As much as I am thrilled to see them, I dread explaining, that yes, they are coming for dinner, but no, they aren't staying in the city. There is a moment of incomprehension before I see the understanding dawn in someone's eyes. And then the obligatory "oh, right, sorry." Sorry? So they aren't shomer shabbes. So what? I'm shomer shabbes. I'm not embarassed of them, they made their choices, and raised me so that I can make mine. Then I feel like I have to make excuses for them, oh, they live too far from shul, it isn't financially viable for them to move closer, etc, etc.

The worst part, though, is the follow-up. Now people know that I am more observant than my parents (but honestly, in this generation of Modern Orthodox people, who isn't?), and they begin to make assumptions. They say things like "it must be so hard" when I go home for holidays. Yeah, not going to shul sucks, but so does not seeing your family. I am constantly put in the position to defend my family's way of life (which I no longer share), their education (well, do they know about shabbes?), their choices, and our relationship. People assume that I am BT (baal tshuva, one who has returned) because I'm more observant than my parents, but really, is my sabbath observance that far from girls who cover their hair, and observe the laws of family purity that their mothers' eschewed?

And in case you were going to ask, they don't f*ing roll on shabbes.

Sincerely Disingenuous

Several days ago, Anne Applebaum at Slate wrote a compelling piece on the Holocaust Deniers Conference in Iran. She discusses the implications of the conference for Israel and international politics, as well as for the future of the world and all living things. For a full appreciation of the impact of this conference, read her piece and also the New York Times article from Tuesday. Among her observations, Applebaum notes that Ahmadinejad frames the conference in terms of Free Speech and counters dissidents with the following brilliant piece of rhetoric: "Today, the worst type of dictatorship in the world is the American dictatorship, clothed in human rights." Ahmadinejad did not spawn this idea fully formed from his own brain, but echoes an argument made around the world, by dissidents in Russia and Venezuela, as well as the U.S.

In fact, as part of the Human Rights Program in college, I wrote a paper about how the U.S. government used human rights rhetoric to clothe policies that had little to do with protecting human rights and, at times, were the source of human rights violations. I would not call the American government a “dictatorship,” but I do think that the administration sounds disingenuous when espousing human rights rhetoric, while supporting policies and foreign governments that counter human rights law (and Ahmadinejad sounds like an idiot professing to support free speech and commenting on another government’s human rights record, considering his own). For a full record of U.S. foreign policy that led to unsavory dictatorships (speaking of which, Pinochet finally died), read David Schmitz’s Thank God They’re On Our Side (it’s marginally polemical, but also historically accurate).

Without further ado, a bit of history on the subject (a much revised version of the aforementioned paper):

In U.S. history, politics are not about human rights and foreign relations are not conflated with humanitarianism, regardless of the rhetoric used to legitimatize and justify national action. During the period of the Cold War, U.S. presidential administrations adopted the language of “right” and cast itself as the defender of “human rights,” a role that allowed the U.S. to act in its own foreign policy best interest under the guise of international protector. Initially,, the U.S. government defined human rights along the lines of Wilsonian liberalism. This formulation of human rights centered around the right to self-determination and national sovereignty germinated in the formation of the United Nations. This core principle distinguished the rights language of the interwar and Cold War period from today’s human right rhetoric. For example, writers often frame WWII through a humanitarian lens that obscures the principal motivations for going to war and the way that those motivations shaped the foundations of the United Nations. The war itself was not fought to combat genocide (particularly as Lemkin had yet to coin the term), but rather was a conflict of nations infringing on one another’s sovereignty. Thus, Great Britain did not declare war on Germany, although it knew of the Nazi regime’s human rights violations, until Hitler invaded Poland. In fact, Great Britain and France followed a policy of appeasement even after they learned of such atrocities as Kristal Nacht and the deportation of large homogenous groups to camps. The United States, likewise, did not enter the war until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. The first fundamental rights encoded in the United Nations Charter and in international human rights law when the war ended was the right of self-determination, through choosing who governs, and of governmental sovereignty. The U.N. chose to frame rights primarily in terms of national rights because the basic unit for ensuring human, individual, rights remained the nation-state.

In the beginning of the postwar era, the rhetoric used in foreign relations, especially when justifying foreign intervention, conformed to the primary rights encoded in the United Nations. The charter determined that in order to create “conditions of stability and well-being… based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self determinations of peoples.” (Article 55) The United Nations was prohibited by its own charter from intervening in the “domestic jurisdiction of any state.” (Article 2(7)). The United States, in its diplomatic language, reinforced that self-determination and the rights of nationhood are the key units to ensure human rights.

Twenty years later, in 1966, the United Nations confirmed this foundation in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In Part I, Article I, this declaration states, “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of the right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development.” The same year, the United Nations also established the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Again, the first part and first article of the document affirms “the right of self-determination,” using the exact phrasing as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For the United Nations, while the nation-state may be the unit whereby human rights are enforced, the primary principle of right is confirmed as self-determination. These covenants reinforce the validity of the language that the United States used to justify its intervention in Vietnam and Cambodia, amongst many other nations, which it felt need assistance in achieving independence and self-determination, particularly in the face of the hegemonic communist threat.

The United States, in declaring its intention to intervene on behalf of the French in Vietnam, illustrates this paradigm of national self-determination. With the onset of the Cold War, human rights rhetoric was molded by the bipolarity which enveloped international politics: human rights could only flourish within a democratic, Western- allied, non-socialist state. The Soviets, specifically, and the communists, in general, were de facto considered a bulwark to national sovereignty and democratic elections, without which human rights could not exist and flourish. The communist leanings of Ho Chi Minh were enough to drive the United States to determine that the future of Vietnam and the assurance of the people’s rights were at risk. The official position stated, “the United States Government, convinced that neither national independence nor democratic evolution exists in any area dominated by Soviet imperialism,” and Truman extended economic aid and military equipment to the Associated States of Indochina and to France, “in order to assist them in restoring stability and permitting these states to pursue their peaceful and economic development.” The truth behind the rhetoric was that the United States decided to bolster France, U.N. right to self-determination be damned. Regardless, the policy was framed in terms of human rights, validating the concept of international human rights, while simultaneously undermining its purpose.

The irony of the language, in terms of the Vietnam conflict, is that Ho Chi Minh saw the U.N. Charter and U.S. foreign policy as openings for his leadership of Vietnam independent of France’s oppressive rule. In his On Declaration of Independence of Vietnam, Minh quoted the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” He couched Vietnamese independence in the words of the UN Charter, arguing that the Allied Nations at Tehran and San Francisco reaffirmed the principles of self-determination. This principle would surely extend to Vietnam. Less than a decade later, the U.S. cited that same principle to justify its intervention on behalf of France.

Although Ho Chi Minh used the language of rights embodied in the UN Charter, the United States argued that the socialist government was in fact a puppet of imperialist Russia and not truly a result of the self-determination of the Vietnamese people. During the Geneva Conference, the United States declared, “In the case of nations now divided against their will, we shall continue to seek to achieve unity though free elections [because] people are entitled to determine their own future.” Again, the U.S. couched their policy in the language of rights in order to obscure that they were a barricade against free elections as they feared that the outcome would favor the communist Minh, who had large amounts of popular support, over their “nationalist” Ngo Dinh Diem. They undermined the unification and the elections, arguing that a communist government could not truly represent the people of Vietnam. Officially, the U.S. stance determined, “Although elections constitute one of the bases of true democracy, they will be meaningful only on the condition that they are absolutely free. Faced now with a regime of oppression as practiced by the Vietminh, we remain skeptical concerning the possibility of fulfilling the conditions for free elections in the North.” To the extent that the United States government was using unsavory tactics or supporting a government it knew to abuse human rights, the threat of communism to international human rights and to the particularist rights of nations was used as absolution. So long as the Soviets blocked the true voices of the people, the United States had a duty to intervene on behalf of those peoples whose basic rights were being violated.

Four successive Presidents of the United States used this language of “right” to support, justify, explain, and legitimatize military and political intervention in Vietnam. In the Fall of 1954, President Eisenhower wrote to Ngo Dinh Diem, the President of South Vietnam whom the United States had empowered, “Your recent request for aid to assist in the… movement of several hundred thousand Vietnamese citizens away from areas which are passing under the de facto rule and political ideology which they abhor, are being fulfilled. I am glad that the United States is able to assist in this humanitarian effort.” Communist rule was an imposition upon a people striving towards the Western democratic ideal (which was true of all people); therefore, the United States and Diem, in transporting the Vietnamese out of Communist-controlled areas were undertaking a humanitarian effort. This effort, while it effectively funded Diem’s terror of the countryside, ensured the particularist rights of self-determination and political freedom, even while violating universal rights.

Vice-President Johnson and President Ngo Dinh Diem, in a joint declaration on May 13, 1961, asserted: “The United States is also conscious of its responsibility and duty, in its own self-interest as well as in the interest of other free peoples, to assist a brave country in the defense of its liberties against unprovoked subversion and Communist terror. It has no other motive than the defense of freedom.” This declaration was issued almost exactly two years after Law 10/59, the juridification of the violent Anti-Communist Denunciation Campaign, was passed. Tens of thousands of people were arrested and killed on the basis of this law. The internal politics of the anti-Communist Diem regime, however, were beyond rapprochement insofar as the Cold War obscured the need for internal reforms. The particularist view of rights, therefore, was not primary simply because the United States had a tendency to emphasize the rights of nations, but also because such a view of human rights facilitated its pragmatic policies against Communism and the Red Menace.

The Communist government of North Vietnam was repeatedly characterized as a violator of human rights and international accords, validating the need for the United States to come to the assistance of South Vietnam as the protector and savior of those rights. President Kennedy wrote to Diem in December of 1961, “Your letter underlines what our own information has convincingly shown—that the campaign of force and terror now being waged against your people and your government is supported and directed from the outside by the authorities at Hanoi. They have thus violated the provisions of the Geneva Accords…” In villainizing the communist government and charging it not only with violating human rights, but also violating the Geneva Accords set out by the United Nations, President Kennedy ignores the fact that United States military intervention was itself a violation of the Accords; furthermore, the United States Government along with Diem had not signed the Accords and had used that fact to excuse themselves from the elections and policies outlined therein. Regardless, Kennedy maintains, “The United States… remains devoted to the cause of peace and our primary purpose is to help your people maintain their independence… we are confident that the Vietnamese people will preserve their independence and gain the peace and prosperity for which they have sought so hard and so long.” Kennedy thereby continues in the vein of particularist human rights rhetoric that President Eisenhower had used in the previous decade to justify his initial intervention in Vietnam.

Nixon, the last President to oversee the Vietnam War, avoided human rights rhetoric more than his predecessors, largely because his arguments were for Vietnamization and elimination of the United States presence in Vietnam. To that end, he argued that the United States had to gradually leave in order to ensure a peaceful and stable South Vietnam and his rhetoric was largely in terms of United States power and courage. Because he was working towards peace, at least in theory, Nixon did not need to justify his actions to the American people or to the world. Nevertheless, when he invaded Cambodia in 1970 and he had to explain to a nation why he was committing more troops to Southeast Asia, he did so in terms of “rights.” He said, “North Vietnam in the last 2 weeks has stripped away all pretense of respecting the sovereignty and neutrality of Cambodia… We take this action not for the purpose of expanding the war in Vietnam but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam and winning the just peace we all desire.” This action, which purported to be in defense of the “sovereignty and neutrality” of Cambodia, comprise of a massive bombing campaign and subsequent invasion, which devastated eastern Cambodia.

The tragedy of Cambodia lies not only in the contribution of the United States government to the construction of its situation, but also in the cynicism with which the United States public approached the reported human rights abuses. The essence of this tragedy in was that the human rights rhetoric the United States used as reason to intervene was not mere posturing, but was actually a statement of fact. The perceived hollowness of human rights rhetoric was a direct result of its overuse in Vietnam and other areas in which the United States had intervened. In A Problem from Hell, Samantha Powers notes that when the Ford administration reported in 1975, “The Communists are waging a total war against Cambodia’s civilian population with a degree of systematic terror perhaps unparalleled since the Nazi period—a clear precursor of the blood bath and Stalinist dictatorship they intend to impose on the Cambodian people,” (Power, 103) they were met with mistrust and disbelief. The report was seen as “anti-Communist paranoia” and was discredited by an administration still in the shadows of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Ironically, the abstract language of rights that was used during the Vietnam War to justify United States action was treated with credulity, while the public dismissed the specific reports of abuse in Cambodia as war-mongering.

The Lon Nol government that the United States had funded for the previous decade as a bulwark against the Communists was itself guilty of human rights violations (echoing Diem’s Anti-Communist Denunciation Campaign and Law 10/59). Therefore, when confronted with both the blood that was on Nol’s hands and the blood being shed as a result of the civil war, the argument on behalf of human rights to continue to resist the Khmer Rouge was invalidated. As one senator asked, “Suppose we are asked to address either 75,000 or 100,000 of those Cambodians who may very well lose their lives or be maimed by our military assistance for the next 3- month period… and they said to you, “Why do I have to die?”… What would you tell them? That we are doing it in order to avoid a bloodbath?” (Power, 103) Furthermore, Lon Nol’s departure from a position in power was seen as a success for those interested in stopping human rights abuses. (Power, 113) The United States government could not legitimately argue that bloodshed now was superior to predicted bloodshed later, particularly after the Vietnam War had just ended. Furthermore, the Ford administration was discredited as its past condemnations of violence and abuse had been rationalizations for extending more aid to Lon Nol and the public feared that the reports of violence were simply an excuse for entering Cambodia with a military presence.

Four years later, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ended the Khmer Rouge’s genocide, the actions of the United States and United Nations in response was paradigmatic of the triumph of particularist views of human rights over the universalist conception. The question that the administration had to ask itself was, “Which was the lesser evil, a regime that had slaughtered some 2 million Cambodians or a Communist regime backed by the Soviet Union that had flagrantly violated an international border and that now occupied a neighboring state?” (Power, 146) This administration, furthermore, was not just any administration, but that of Jimmy Carter, champion of human rights. Surely, the human rights language used throughout the Cold War finally applied without bias. By that time, the violence and murder perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge was well documented and unquestioned. The United States, however, had other considerations. Not only did its alliance with China impede its freedom to support what was essentially a Vietnamese puppet regime, but the axis of its human rights rhetoric was self-determination. Likewise, “The UN charter had made noninterference into sovereign states a sacred principle. No doctrine of humanitarian intervention had yet emerged to challenge it.” (Power, 151) The moral and political tension that the U.S. and the UN faced in Cambodia was the tension between the particularist views of human rights (the rights of states and nations, especially the right to national self-determination and securing) and the universalist view of human rights (the rights of human-beings, particularly the right to physical protection, political liberty, and social justice.)

The issue came to fruition when the UN had to decide who would occupy Cambodia’s seat in the UN. That is, which regime would be labeled as the legitimate government of Cambodia? In September of 1979, a vote on the floor of the UN officially granted the Khmer Rouge Cambodia’s seat. Behind the scenes, the United States had fought hard to ensure that they won. Furthermore, despite evidence to the contrary, the UN refused to file genocide charges against the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. Thus, the particularist view of human rights superseded the universalist view. Although the murderous regime caused the death of 29% of its population (to put that number in perspective: if 29% of the U.S. population were murdered, that would be 80,000,000 people dead at the hands of our government), the U.N. recognized the Khmer rouge as legitimate because it was created internally. Meanwhile, the Vietnam regime was condemned for crossing an international border and intervening in a sovereign nation, regardless of the fact that its intervention stopped the genocide.

The chasm that arose during the Cold War between United States rhetoric (and perhaps intention) and the results of its actions indicates that so long as the United States framed human rights ideals in terms of particularism, their pragmatic policies served to deprive individuals of their universalist human rights. By placing universalist and particularist views of human rights in opposition, the United States and the United Nations compromised human rights as a whole. The language that the United States used during the Cold War may have followed the letter of human rights, but not the intention. The human rights abuses in Vietnam and Cambodia resulted in part from the United States government’s rigid conception of rights and how those rights are ensured. Only by realizing that national security objectives and human rights can be attained simultaneously, will the United States implement polity where its rhetoric and the consequences of its actions conform to human rights principles.