It is an old truism in politics, that justice is due even one’s enemy.
That is to say in other words, the truth is more important than friendship.
I had the occasion of pointing out the age of this adage to a much more widely published author in the history of astronomy than I, Gale E. Christianson. In my review of Isaac Newton and the Scientific Revolution I noted its author believed the first entry in the 1663 section of Newton’s Philosophical Notebook to be what it wasn’t. Newton wrote, Christianson stated,
the following revolutionary sentence at the top of the first page: “I am a friend of Plato, I am a friend of Aristotle, but truth is my greater friend.”
— to which I commented,
But as the Latin tag “amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas” is a translation of a phrase commonly attributed to Aristotle, Newton was more likely paraphrasing his textbook here [the textbook in question was the work of Aristotle] than announcing a new program for looking at the world.
Modern-day scientists may honor truth above friendship, at least rhetorically, but that honor goes back in time much further than Isaac Newton — who personally may, come to think of it, have read the magis amica part in an esoteric way as “friend of the mage.”
Two recent magisterial treatments of the inner dynamics of Stalinism, by Robert C. Tucker and by Martin Malia (for whom I once acted as teaching assistant — full disclosure) remind the reader how intelligent, adaptable, and successful this “best Leninist” had been prior to 1927. Malia in his lectures, less so in his book, spoke of the decision to launch mass collectivization of the peasants in 1929 as a “democratic” one as far as the Bolshevik Party was concerned. Stalin was in deed carrying out the collective will of the Party which ruled Russia: if a million innocents died in the course of “building socialism,” then it would simply be a cost to be borne.
Thus I show two examples. Of them, the one from the history of philosophy shows how prone to misunderstanding the biographer of Newton was by lack of acquaintance with the context. The other, from two politically conservative analysts of what was termed “Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin” -ism, shows the explanatory power of adopting that stance, to see the strengths of your opponent. From the reviews provided for each of these books, you can see they are extraordinary works.
Well, last Saturday morning I picked up the Pravda-on-the-Hudson and found buried on the bottom of Page A12, underneath the short piece entitled, West Virginia: One Dead, Scores Injured in Collision. the most important news of the day. “Another Military Commander Is Fired.”
Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who oversees the nation’s arsenal of intercontinental missiles, was fired on Friday for personal misbehavior, the Air Force said, adding that the matter was not tied to readiness or security. On Wednesday, the deputy commander of United States Strategic Command, which oversees America’s nuclear arsenal and space operations, was removed in a gambling investigation. The Air Force did not say what General Carey did wrong but provided a list of things he was not being accused of, including sexual misconduct.
Beyond the charming picture of a miscreant having a list of what he has not [yet] been accused of — our post-modern touch of Kafka, to be sure — there is a pattern emerging of President Obama firing important generals.
Look, I regard Obama as a political enemy: I don’t want to hear any 1960s rhetoric about how he’s the only President we have. To be blunt he is a tyrannical shill for corporate interests. But his clear pattern of firing without compunction his top generals means, it logically follows, that there exists no “military” as a protected elite position against whom the usual laws do not apply — the inevitable result of oligarchic rule.
The top politicians, bless their souls, are held harmless for treason and war crimes; bankers are too big to fail, as the non sequitur term of art has it. But generals can be fired, and are being fired, frequently. And, as we see, right up to the top. I give Obama credit for that.
The American Empire is under strict civilian control. Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex lacks a military wing, so to speak; we live under a reigning Political-Industrial Complex. War profiteers may give the politicians orders, but the military does not.
As ol’ Walter Cronkite used to say, That’s the Way It Is.