Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The Banality (Yet Enduring Significance) of Race

In my week in Boulder for the Conference on World Affairs, there were two amusing moments and an endearing one.  All three were technically connected to the idea of race. 

CWA's keynote address this year was delivered last Monday by Army Lt. Col. Ike Wilson. The keynote was controversial for a few reasons -- both technical and philosophical. Wilson was essentially making a critique that the United States's misapllication of military force over the decades had actually helped sap its ability to exercise its power in optimal ways. Some participants liked the presentiation (which included Power Point) more than others.  Conservative Pepperdine professor Robert Kauffman hated it.  I was sitting two seats away from him and was expecting an implosion at any moment. 

In any event, I challenged the lieutenant colonel on an important point of his talk -- namely over Iraq and Afghanistan.  As part of his thesis, he called the former an "unjust" war, but also raised doubts about the latter because it had deteriorated (in his view) into a "civil war."  I got up and noted that Iraq is something of an "easy" thing to talk about in these matters because it is somewhat "settled" politically: One side thinks the war was "unjust" or illegal; the other doesn't.  Further judgments flow from that assessment.  Afghanistan is actually far more complicated -- precisely because of the broad unanimity that existed at the start of the war.  Nearly everyone was on board with Afghanistan because of 9/11 (though Wilson basically avoided using that phrase), so I wondered how does a nation reassess a war's goals on the fly.

Wilson's answer wasn't completely satisfactory, but for the purposes of this post, it doesn't matter.

Instead, it should be pointed out that Lt. Col. Wilson is an African-American about my age and height -- and shaves his head.
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