Essays

Big Brother Is (Still) Watching You: The Xinjiang Crack-Down

 

Xinjiang is China’s westernmost province, inhabited predominantly by Muslim ethnic minorities, the largest of these the Uighurs. For several years, this province has been the target of a wave of Chinese government repression that is apparently motivated by fears of terrorism and separatism. This repression has turned Xinjiang into something approaching a giant prison.

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“Somewhere Else When the Trigger Is Pulled”: Orwell and War

 

As an opponent of capitalism, imperialism, and tyranny, George Orwell filled his writings with fierce condemnations of various de-humanizing injustices. War was harder for him to condemn, though. Sometimes Orwell supported war—occasionally with shocking callousness. Other times he criticized war’s violence in ways peace advocates would appreciate.

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Recognizing Humanity: Orwell and the Consistent Life Ethic

We’re 70 years from the publication of one of the 20th century’s most influential books: Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell’s 1949 novel about future life under a dramatically repressive regime has shaped political debate and popular culture for decades. The novel’s anniversary will doubtless prompt further reflections. I reflect on Orwell’s concern for defending human dignity against many threats—a concern that resembled the consistent ethic of life.

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Nuclear Disarmament as a Social Justice Issue

Activists seeking to end or radically reduce nuclear weapons’ threat may find it difficult to get public attention. Despite the high stakes involved—the lives of millions and even humanity’s survival—the nuclear threat frequently seems distant and abstract. The danger is future and hypothetical, in contrast to current, actual situations of people dying or suffering from other injustices. Anti-nuclear peace activists should recall how the struggle against nuclear weapons has been connected to other struggles: for gender and racial equality, against poverty, and for the protection of preborn humans. These connections between the nuclear disarmament cause and other causes have a long history.

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Political Action’s Opportunities and Dangers: Some Lessons from Bayard Rustin

Social movements learn from one another: strategies and tactics that work on behalf of one cause may also work for another. Learning from other activists requires discernment, though: times and circumstances differ, so what worked for one movement at one historical point may require adaptation and selectivity to be effective for a different movement. The consistent life ethic (CLE) movement is no exception to these principles. Being dedicated to connecting several distinct causes—such as the pro-life and peace causes—CLE activists should be especially attentive to how other movements connected or failed to connect issues.

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Human Rights & the Right to Life: Reconsidering Conventional Human Rights Activism

 

Respecting people’s human rights should go hand in hand with upholding the consistent life ethic. The concept of “human rights” broadly means those conditions that people can legitimately claim as necessary to living a decent human life. Life itself is one of these conditions, and many human rights documents recognize a right to life. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” (Article 3). In principle, the wide-ranging respect for life practiced by advocates of the consistent life ethic should be perfectly compatible with human rights activism. In practice, however, contemporary human rights activism can often promote  the destruction of life that consistent life ethic advocates work to stop. We should recognize this conflict and change how we look at the practice of human rights advocacy today.

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The Wages of War, Part 2: How Forced Sterilization Came to Japan

 

World War II’s devastation of Japan, and the politics of the post-war American occupation, led to the Japanese Diet [parliament] passing the Eugenic Protection Law 70 years ago, in 1948. The law legalized abortion in Japan, with millions of Japanese children being killed in womb over subsequent decades. The law also legalized a non-lethal but still violent and eugenicist practice: forced sterilization. This aspect of post-war Japanese life confirms the connections, so familiar to defenders of life, between ableism and violence.

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To Save Humanity: What I Learned at the “Two Minutes to Midnight” Conference

 

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decided earlier this year to adjust the “Doomsday Clock,” the organization’s index of probable nuclear and other dangers facing humanity. Tensions between the United States and nations such as North Korea, Russia, and China, among other factors, prompted the Bulletin to move the Doomsday Clock’s hands to two minutes to midnight—“midnight” representing apocalypse. The current status is the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953, during one of the coldest periods of the Cold War.

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Apocalypse Averted: The Brink’s Tale of Near-Nuclear War

 

The world might have come close to ending in the early 1980s. Tensions had been rising between the United States and the Soviet Union for years, and Soviet leaders were convinced that their American counterparts were planning to launch a nuclear war. The Soviets became hypersensitive to possible warning signs of an impending American or NATO attack and responded with heightened military preparations of their own. An annual NATO military exercise known as “Able Archer,” meant to rehearse procedures for using nuclear weapons, caused special alarm among the Soviets in the fall of 1983. In such circumstances, a minor US-Soviet confrontation, a false alarm, or some other moment of bad luck could have led to World War III.

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War Is Not a Family Value: A Conservative Case for Peace

Support for American wars and military interventions, and the massive military establishment behind them, has been a feature of American conservatism for at least the last 70 years. The Cold War and more recently the War on Terror have been embraced by the Republican Party and such conservative publications as National Review, Commentary, and the Weekly Standard. Yet social conservatives who care about protecting marriage, children’s well-being, and stable family life would do well to reconsider their support for hawkish foreign policies and the politicians and pundits who endorse them. American history shows that war has harmed family life, at home and abroad.

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How to Move from Theory to Practice: Reading A Consistent Life

 

Let’s say you’ve succeeded in winning someone over to the consistent life ethic. This person now wants to defend human life against abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, war, and the myriad other threats to life. Now the question arises, “What should I do to promote the consistent life ethic?” A valuable new resource is now available for such a budding activist: A Consistent Life: The Young Advocate’s Guide to Living Peace & Justice Daily by Mary Grace Coltharp and Aimee Murphy, published by Consistent Life Network member group Rehumanize International.

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Tyranny Made Vivid: The Enduring Power of Nineteen Eighty-Four

A famous artistic denunciation of tyranny, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, is now almost 70 years old. Completed by Orwell in late 1948 and published the following June, the influence of Orwell’s novel over the following decades has been tremendous. Probably far more people are familiar with the fictional dramatically repressive, one-party state of Oceania than with the actual history of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s—the place and time that is the closest real-life parallel to Nineteen Eighty-Four’s dystopian society.

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The Wages of War: How Abortion Came to Japan

The conflict between Japan and the United States during World War II is remembered for its extraordinary brutality, culminating in the (to date) only wartime use of nuclear weapons, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Admiral Halsey’s alleged remark exemplifies this brutality. By contrast, the post-war American occupation of Japan and Japan’s subsequent history superficially offer a more benign picture of American-Japanese relations. The U.S. helped rebuild its former enemy and establish democracy, while Japan became an exceptionally prosperous nation, rivaling its one-time conqueror. Beneath the surface, however, the American-supervised reconstruction of Japan had a far more sinister side. A crucial change was legalizing abortion, 70 years ago this summer, leading to the deaths of millions of Japanese children.

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Extermination by Hunger: Red Famine’s Story of Lethal Injustice

Joseph Stalin took a fateful trip to Siberia in January, 1928. Stalin, soon to become the Soviet Union’s supreme leader, traveled to the country’s outskirts to identify the causes of poor agricultural production and food shortages. He concluded that Soviet farming was too small-scale: most peasants tended small farms that were not economically efficient, while larger, more efficient farms were in the hands of better-off peasants whom the Communist Soviet regime derided as exploitative kulaks (literally, “fists”). Stalin’s solution was to replace small-scale farming with collective farming. Peasants would communally hold and tend large farms for which the government would provide tractors and other machinery. In the following years, collectivization of agriculture became one of Stalin’s most important policies—and led to one of the worst famines of the 20th century.

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Finding Common Ground on and Learning from World War II

 

Writing on this blog, Consistent Life Vice President Rachel MacNair recently examined several moral issues related to the Second World War and how we interpret and remember that war today. An observation in that piece that struck me was that when a nonviolence advocate discusses war with someone who supports it, a war supporter who “understands things as complicated might be easier to talk into alternative methods of solving problems.” I agree that appreciation of an issue’s complexity can make someone more open to alternate views, even if complete agreement isn’t possible. I offer my own thoughts on how World War II’s moral complexity offers the possibility of finding some common ground between opponents and supporters of the war.

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Seeking Peaceful Coexistence: The Varied Ways of Supporting a Consistent Life Ethic

That consistent ethic of life advocates are at odds with more conventional American political categories—conservative, liberal, libertarian—is well recognized. Less often recognized are the ways different consistent life ethic advocates diverge from each other and the tensions this can cause. People can understand the consistent life ethic in different ways and have different reasons for opposing various threats to human life. Treating this diversity as a source of strength rather than division for the movement is vital.

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Pro-Peace from Left and Right

   

These remarks were given by John Whitehead at the Pro-life March to Abolish Nuclear weapons, held in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2017

The theme of this rally and march, opposition to nuclear weapons from a pro-life perspective, has been at the heart of the Consistent Life Network from the very beginning. We were originally an organization called Pro-Lifers for Survival, which combined opposition to abortion with opposition to nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

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Making the Case for Peace to Conservatives

In the United States, political conservatives tend to support American wars and military interventions abroad and generally favor a hawkish foreign policy. People dedicated to peace and alternatives to violence need to persuade such conservatives to oppose U.S. military action more often. Persuading people, whatever their ideological affiliation, to change their minds is extremely difficult. No one approach is going to work with everyone. I will offer a few suggestions, however, of how at least to encourage conservatives to reconsider support for a hawkish foreign policy. A crucial principle that unites these suggestions is that showing someone how the peace cause is compatible with his or her existing views can open the door to consideration of your argument.

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Using Empathy during a New Cold War

An American contemplating the hostile state of current U.S.-Russian relations might well be pessimistic. Russia, this American observer might conclude, is an implacably hostile enemy whose actions reflect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambition to act aggressively abroad while suppressing dissent at home. From this perspective, America has no choice but to wage a new Cold War, acting forcefully to check Russian aggression. Such a perspective is not only dangerous—as it risks open warfare—but tragically narrow-minded. A view of U.S.-Russian relations that includes empathy for Russian policymakers and their perspectives allows an alternative interpretation of Russian actions. Putin and other policymakers may well be acting out of fear of the United States and seeking to protect Russia from a perceived U.S. threat. From this alternative perspective, avoiding provocations and working to relax tensions is a better option for the United States.

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Engagement, Not Confrontation: The Need for a New US Policy toward Russia

America and Russia are currently engaged in a new Cold War: a conflict marked by mutual suspicion and hostility; confrontation in certain regions of the world, such as Ukraine and Syria; and at least potential military competition. Over a quarter-century after the last Cold War ended with the Soviet Union’s formal dissolution in December 1991, the world once again faces the possibility of open military conflict breaking out between the Soviet Union’s heir—the Russian Federation—and the United States, with the catastrophic consequences such conflict might involve. This situation must not continue.

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Self-Defeating Violence: The Case of the First World War

The United States recently reached the 100th anniversary of American entry into the First World War. Although American businesses had provided arms and money to the Allied nations (which included Britain, France and Russia) in their war against Germany and the other Central Powers, US President Woodrow Wilson had sought to avoid sending American troops to fight in the war.  American support to the Allies led to an escalating series of confrontations between the United States and Germany, however, in the winter and spring of 1917. Wilson eventually called for a declaration of war, which the US Congress gave to him on April 6.

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Three Reasons for Opposing the US Bombing of Syria

The United States’ intervention in the Syrian civil war took a new turn on April 7, when American ships launched a missile strike on the Syrian government’s Al Shayrat air base. This attack on Bashar al-Assad’s regime marked a shift in US policy—previous American military actions in Syria over roughly the past two-and-a-half years had focused on various anti-government insurgent groups such as ISIS. US President Donald Trump apparently ordered the strike as a response to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons on April 4 against Syrians in an insurgent-held part of the country. While the Assad regime’s repression of its own people deserves unequivocal condemnation, the recent American military strike was nevertheless wrong, for three reasons. Attacking Assad’s regime is 1) unlikely to help the Syrian people; 2) not in American interests; and 3) of dubious legality under US and international law.

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Remembering Nat Hentoff (1925-2017)

Defenders of life lost one of their most eloquent, frustrating, and idiosyncratic voices earlier this year when Nat Hentoff died on January 7, at the age of 91. This Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, pro-lifer’s critiques of abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, poverty, racism, and war, provide much to inspire adherents of the Consistent Ethic of Life. Hentoff’s writings also provide much to disappoint this same audience, as toward the end of his life he fell away significantly from the Consistent Life Ethic.

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Waging Indirect War: How the United States Contributes to Yemen’s Agony

Led by Saudi Arabia, a coalition of Arab states has been conducting aerial bombing in Yemen for roughly 18 months. The Coalition’s air war, which is an intervention into Yemen’s civil war, has killed large numbers of civilians and severely damaged Yemen’s economy and infrastructure. Yet over the past year and a half this deadly air war has received support from the United States, which has given various forms of assistance to the Saudis and their Coalition partners.

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The Just War Case for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons

Although nuclear weapons receive far less attention today than during the Cold War, the weapons—and the dangers and ethical problems they pose—remain with us. The nuclear weapons currently held by the nine nuclear powers number almost 10,000. Of these, over 3,900 are deployed with operational military forces. Almost 2,000 nuclear weapons are on high alert and thus can be used at relatively short notice. This status quo is a dangerous and deeply unjust situation. The proper response to this situation is to renew global efforts to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenals dramatically and one day even eliminate them altogether.

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Varieties of Hawk: Clinton v. Trump on Foreign Policy

For an American peace advocate, the two major political parties rarely offer appealing candidates in a presidential election. The 2016 election is no exception to this rule. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the nominees for the Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively, seem dedicated to the continued use of American military force around the world. However they might differ in other respects, on foreign policy both take a hawkish stance. I will briefly review some of significant hawkish positions both candidates have taken and offer some tenative suggestions about how peace activists might respond to this situation.

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Reflections on the Consistent Ethic of Life

Having worked for several years to advance the Consistent Ethic of Life as an editor for Life Matters Journal and a member of the organization Consistent Life, I wanted to offer some thoughts on this principle. How should supporters of the Ethic understand it? What concerns should the Ethic include—and not include?

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Provide a Safe Haven: The Case for Admitting Syrian Refugees

 

The United States’ plans to admit 10,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war into the country has become the center of a major political controversy. The controversy began in the aftermath of the November 13 attacks in Paris by operatives of the Syria-based terrorist group ISIS that killed 130 people. The possibility that one of the attackers gained entrance to Europe posing as a Syrian refugee has provoked fears that Syrian refugees admitted to the United States may include ISIS agents ready to repeat the Paris attacks on American soil. Concern over this threat has prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill prohibiting Syrian and Iraqi refugees entrance to the United States, while governors of 31 American states have declared that they will not allow Syrian refugees into their states.

 

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Distorted Ethics: A Review of The China Mirage

 

The United States imposed an oil embargo in mid-1941 on Japan, which was then engaged in the military conquest of China and parts of Southeast Asia. As the United States was Japan’s leading oil supplier, this embargo threatened the future of Japan’s expansion, and the Japanese ultimately compensated for the loss by embarking on a comprehensive invasion of Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) in order to seize the region’s oil and other resources. To protect their conquests in Asia, Japan also declared war on the United States and attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

 

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Children of War: More Reasons Social Conservatives Should Oppose a Hawkish Foreign Policy

 

Social conservatives often express concern for children’s need for a stable and traditional home life, with both biological parents involved in their upbringing. In particular, the harm done to children by absent fathers is a common worry among such conservatives. This commitment to children is threatened, however, by social conservatives’ tendency to ally themselves politically with foreign policy hawks and to support a large defense establishment that engages in wars and other military interventions.

 

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Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: A Proposal
 

Relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated dramatically this past winter and spring as the result of the unfolding civil strife in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich accepted and then rejected a trade agreement with the European Union, resulting in popular unrest that led to Yanukovich’s overthrow. Russia then initiated a military occupation and annexation of the Crimea region in Ukraine. Meanwhile, a violent conflict has been unfolding within Ukraine between the new government and Russia-leaning separatists in the country’s eastern regions.

 

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Why the Campaign against ISIS Must End: A Just War Analysis

 

The myriad atrocities committed by the organization known variously as the Islamic State, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have filled the news for over a year now. ISIS’ activities have prompted a military response by the United States, which has bombed ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria and sent troops back into Iraq in support of the Iraqi military. Earlier this year, the Obama administration sent a request to Congress for an explicit three-year authorization to use military force against ISIS.

 

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Five Great Anti-War Movies


Movies can be a valuable resource for consistent life ethic activists. A movie that touches on one of the life issues can engage someone’s imagination and emotions in a way that an essay, a news article, or even a novel cannot. Further, hosting a screening is a relatively easy way for students, religious communities, or other activist organizations to gather a group of people together to think and, after the screening, talk about a life issue.

 

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Renewing the Peace Movement
 

One part of promoting a consistent ethic of life is a cause very dear to my heart, namely, the pursuit of peace, of finding ways for nations or other communities to resolve their conflicts nonviolently, without resort to the organized, large-scale killing that is war. In this piece, I will explain precisely how, as a Christian and specifically a Catholic, I understand the pursuit of peace and why this cause is important to me. I will then offer some comments on the peace movement in the contemporary United States: my hopes for this movement and future peace activities that I think could be valuable.

 

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War on Marriage: Why Social Conservatives Should Oppose a Hawkish Foreign Policy

 

Americans who favor traditional marriage and family life—sometimes referred to as “social conservatives”—tend to be lumped together politically with those who favor hawkish foreign policies. In many cases, this categorization is no doubt accurate: many social conservatives do favor American military interventions. The association between concern for marriage and the family and a hawkish foreign policy is a misguided one, however: war threatens marriage and those who wish to preserve traditional married life should be cautious about endorsing it. 

 

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A Globe-Trotting Detective Story: A Review of Dirty Wars
 

Dirty Wars, the documentary film counterpart to the book of the same name, begins its investigation of the secretive world of U.S. counterterrorism operations with a disturbing episode set in Afghanistan. The book’s author, Jeremy Scahill, was working as a war correspondent in Afghanistan when he looked beyond the limited flow of information provided by the American and allied military authorities to report on the killing of Mohammed Daoud, an Afghan police officer, and others—including two pregnant women—in the town of Gardez. The killing appeared to be the work of American forces, and, after initial evasions, the United States eventually acknowledged and apologized for the operation. Investigating the Gardez incident led Scahill, who currently writes for The Nation and narrates the documentary, to the agency responsible for the killings: the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive branch of the military that carries out certain covert operations.

 

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The Ongoing Struggle over Guantanamo Bay

 

Detainees at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been on hunger strike since early this year. The strike began in February 2013, with perhaps as few as 14 men participating; the number of participants grew over the following months and, as of July 2013, 106 detainees out of the total prison population of 166 have joined the strike. Of the men on hunger strike, 44 are being fed twice a day by Guantanamo authorities using a tube threaded through the nose and into the stomach.

 

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Three Questions on US Targeted Killings

 

The US government policy of killing suspected terrorists, whether by means of pilotless drones or Special Forces strikes, is now at least 10 years old. Estimates of how many have died because of this policy vary, but a conservative estimate is that roughly 2,000 people have been killed to date. Most of these targeted killings have taken place in Pakistan, but they have also occurred in Yemen and Somalia. The killings date back at least to November 2002, when President George W. Bush’s administration used a drone to kill six people in Yemen. The number of targeted killings has significantly increased under President Barack Obama’s administration. With Obama’s reelection, the killing policy will presumably continue (although the policy would also likely have continued had Mitt Romney become president in 2013).

 

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The Obama Administration’s Broadly Defined Lethal Powers

 

Two documents have been made public this year that provide more information about the Obama administration’s targeted killing policy. The first is a Justice Department paper that describes the administration’s justification for killing American citizens who are living overseas and are thought to be terrorist leaders. The second is a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder on whether the government could kill an American citizen living within the United States. Both documents raise troubling questions about the expansive scope of the president’s ability to order people killed without trial.

 

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The “Light Footprint”: Economy and Secrecy in Obama’s Military Policies

 

Barack Obama is now more than three-and-a-half years into his presidency and at least a preliminary assessment of his approach to foreign policy is possible. Three journalists have each written such analyses, all of them published this year: Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, by Daniel Klaidman; The Obamians: The Struggle inside the White House to Redefine American Power, by James Mann; and Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, by David Sanger. Klaidman is a Newsweek special correspondent; Mann is a former LA Times reporter who now works at Johns Hopkins University; and Sanger is chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times.

 

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No-Win Scenario for Consistent Lifers? Thoughts Inspired by Bloodlands

 

History has a way of challenging your beliefs. Past human experience, with all its complexity, ambiguity, hard cases, and agonizing choices, can cast doubt on previous certainties about justice or right and wrong. Advocates of the consistent life ethic might find their beliefs challenged in this way by the extremely dark chapter of human experience recounted in Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (2010), by Yale historian Timothy Snyder. The history covered in this book raises disturbing questions about how to fight aggression and injustice. Both consistent lifers who adhere to pacifism and those who adhere to Just War Theory might find that these questions defy any easy answer.

 

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