Montezuma Tried Appeasement with Cortes

ConquistadorBK.jpg

Source of book image: http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/26910000/26912572.jpg

(p. A 13) Cortés was a man of deep contradictions. A devout Catholic, he was horrified by the sights and sounds of Aztec worship: its human sacrifices and cannibalism, its skull racks, its idols draped with human body parts, its priests with their blood-clotted hair. But he was not above massacring his enemies or burning them at the stake. He was genuinely dazzled by his first sight of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, with its tidy fields and gleaming stone causeways, a city of nearly a quarter-million people that was, he wrote in a letter to the Spanish king, more beautiful than any in Europe. Even so, he was ready to destroy it all to feed his desire for gold and to bend the Aztecs to his will.

If Cortés was a man of contradictions, Montezuma was not. Studious and conscientious, he had been trained for Aztec priesthood before becoming emperor in 1503 — the same year that Cortes set out from Spain for America. Montezuma believed in the rightness of his own convictions but also, it appears, in the importance of an open mind. As Mr. Levy shows, he always looked for ways to dispel a crisis by placating the feelings of all concerned. He would have made a fine college president. From his first meeting with Cortés in November 1519, though, he was desperately overmatched.
Montezuma hoped that, by giving Cortés magnificent gifts of gold and silver, he could make him go away. He made him want to stay instead. The Aztec ruler never quite shook off the suspicion that Cortés might be the Aztec god Quetzelcoatl returning home according to ancient prophesy — a suspicion that led Montezuma to want to treat the intrusive Spaniards as guests rather than a threat.
Cortés exploited Montezuma’s weakness without scruple, squeezing one concession after another out of him until, though outnumbered by more than 1,000-to-1, Cortés made him a hostage. When Montezuma had lost all credibility with his people and was no longer useful, Cortés cast him aside. Montezuma died a broken man — although probably not, Mr. Levy argues, at Cortes’s order. It is more likely that Montezuma died from wounds inflicted by his own subjects. When they saw him appear in chains and appeal for calm, they had bombarded him with stones and arrows. His weakness, they understood, had betrayed them to the Spanish.

For the full review, see:
ARTHUR HERMAN. “Bookshelf; Spain Says Hello.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 10, 2008): A13.

The reference for the book, is:
Levy, Buddy. Conquistador. New York: Bantam Books, 2008.

Evidence that Bush’s Iraq Surge is Working

 

  "LOVE PREVAILS. A bride and groom, surrounded by friends and a band, dressed for their wedding photos last week in Baghdad."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  BAGHDAD, Nov. 19 — Five months ago, Suhaila al-Aasan lived in an oxygen tank factory with her husband and two sons, convinced that they would never go back to their apartment in Dora, a middle-class neighborhood in southern Baghdad.

Today she is home again, cooking by a sunlit window, sleeping beneath her favorite wedding picture. And yet, she and her family are remarkably alone. The half-dozen other apartments in her building echo with emptiness and, on most days, Iraqi soldiers are the only neighbors she sees.

“I feel happy,” she said, standing in her bedroom, between a flowered bedspread and a bullet hole in the wall. “But my happiness is not complete. We need more people to come back. We need more people to feel safe.”

Mrs. Aasan, 45, a Shiite librarian with an easy laugh, is living at the far end of Baghdad’s tentative recovery. She is one of many Iraqis who in recent weeks have begun to test where they can go and what they can do when fear no longer controls their every move.

The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.

As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.

Iraqis are clearly surprised and relieved to see (p. A8) commerce and movement finally increase, five months after an extra 30,000 American troops arrived in the country.

 

For the full story, see: 

DAMIEN CAVE and ALISSA J. RUBIN.  "As Security Improves, Baghdad Starts to Exhale."  The New York Times   (Tues., November 20, 2007):  A1 & A8.

(Note:  the slightly different online title was "Baghdad’s Weary Start to Exhale as Security Improves.")

 

 

"COMMERCE RETURNS. A Baghdad market, shut by violence, recently reopened."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above. 

 

Not All World Views Can Be Accommodated

 

   1935 photos of painted Caduveo women from Claude Lévi-Strauss Structural Anthropology.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

I remember in a philosophy class back in the 1970s, the philosopher Stephen Toulmin mentioning that he had once attended a conference with the famed anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.  For a long while Lévi-Strauss sat in silence.  Finally he stirred himself to speak, and Toulmin wondered what wisdom the great man would pronounce. 

His comment was something like:  "It is hot in here.  Will someone open a window?" 

 

News of the death of the philosopher Richard Rorty on June 8 came as I was reading about a small Brazilian tribe that the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss studied in the 1930s. A strange accident, a haphazard juxtaposition — but for a moment this pragmatist philosopher and a fading tribal culture glanced against each other, revealing something unusual about the contemporary scene.

. . .

For Mr. Rorty, the importance of democracy is that it creates a liberal society in which rival truth claims can compete and accommodate each other. His pragmatism was postmodern, tolerant to a fault, its moral and progressive conclusions never appealing to a higher authority.

. . .

The Caduveo founding myth recounts that, lacking other gifts at the moment of creation, the tribe was given the divine right to exploit and dominate others.

. . .

But there was also something else about this tribe that drew Mr. Lévi-Strauss’s attention: “It was a society remarkably adverse to feelings that we consider as being natural.” Its members disliked having children. Abortion and infanticide were so common that the only way the tribe itself could continue was by adoption, and adoption — more properly called abduction — was traditionally implemented through warfare. The tribal disdain for nature extended into its active denigration of hair, agriculture, childbirth and even, perhaps, representational art.

. . .

In reasoning one’s way into pragmatism, in minimizing the importance of natural constraints and in dismissing the notion of some larger truth, the tendency is to assume that as different as we all are, we are at least prepared to accommodate ourselves to one another. But this is not something the Caduveo would necessarily have gone along with. Mr. Rorty’s outline of what he called “the utopian possibilities of the future” doesn’t leave much room for the kind of threat the Caduveo might pose, let alone other threats, still active in the world.

One tendency of pragmatism might be to so focus on the ways in which one’s own worldview is flawed that trauma is more readily attributed to internal failure than to external challenges. In one of his last interviews Mr. Rorty recalled the events of 9/11: “When I heard the news about the twin towers, my first thought was: ‘Oh, God. Bush will use this the way Hitler used the Reichstag fire.’ ”

If that really was his first thought, it reflects a certain amount of reluctance to comprehend forces lying beyond the boundaries of his familiar world, an inability fully to imagine what confrontations over truth might look like, possibly even a resistance to stepping outside of one’s skin or mental habits.

But in this too the Caduveo example may be suggestive. As Mr. Lévi-Strauss points out, neighboring Brazilian tribes were as hierarchical as the Caduveo but lacked the tribe’s sweeping “fanaticism” in rejecting the natural world. They reached differing forms of accommodation with their surroundings. The Caduveo, refusing even to procreate, didn’t have a chance. They survive now as sedentary farmers. Such a fate of denatured inconsequence may eventually be shared by absolutist postmodernism. The Caduveo’s ideas weren’t useful, perhaps. Some weren’t even true.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

EDWARD ROTHSTEIN.  "CONNECTIONS; Postmodern Thoughts, Illuminated by the Practices of a Premodern Tribe."  The New York Times   (Mon., June 18, 2007):  B3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

 RortyRichard.jpg Levi-StraussClaude.jpg   Rorty on left; Lévi-Strauss on right.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

Brookings Harsh Critics of Bush Iraq Policies, Surprised to See Military Progress in Iraq

 

Please note that the commentary excerpted below was published on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, and was written by two policy experts at the Brookings Institute, the leading think-tank of the Democratic party.

 

Washington.  VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

. . .

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MICHAEL E. O’ HANLON and KENNETH M. POLLACK.  "A War We Just Might Win."  The New York Times  (Mon., July 30, 2007):  A19.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

“Just Because George Bush Said It Doesn’t Mean It’s Wrong”

 

KerreyBobSenator.jpg   Former Nebraska Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey.  Source of photo:  online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.

 

WASHINGTON – Raising a lonely voice in the Democratic Party, former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska says he strongly opposes any dramatic U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Such a retreat, Kerrey says, would hand radical Islamic terrorists a substantial victory and enable them to destroy the fledgling democracy in Iraq.

In an article published Tuesday and in an interview, Kerrey said terrorists would gain safe haven from which to launch further attacks on American citizens like those of Sept. 11, 2001.

Kerrey said that if the United States shows weakness in Iraq, it will "pay a terrible price."

"The forces of al-Qaida have demonstrated a tremendous capacity, and they’ll use that capacity if we withdraw from the playing field," said Kerrey, a former two-term U.S. senator.

In the interview, Kerrey also had a message for fellow Democrats: "Just because George Bush said it doesn’t mean it’s wrong."

 

For the full story, see:

JAKE THOMPSON.  "Kerrey says U.S. mustn’t look weak in Iraq."  Omaha World-Herald  (Wednesday, May 23, 2007):  1A & 2A.

 

The link to Kerrey’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal is:

BOB KERREY.  "The Left’s Iraq Muddle."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., May 22, 2007):  A15. 

 

Bush Remembers Steadfast Washington

BushGeorgeWashingtonGeorge.jpg   Bush meets an actor playing the role of Washington at Mount Vernon on President’s Day.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

“With the advantage of hindsight, it is easy to take George Washington’s successes for granted,” Mr. Bush said after enumerating Washington’s achievements as commander of the Continental Army and later as president. But “America’s path to freedom was long and it was hard,” he continued, “and the outcome was never really certain.”

. . .

“I’m reading about George Washington still,” the president told reporters at a December news conference where he defended his Iraq policy. “My attitude is, if they’re still analyzing No. 1, 43 ought not to worry about it and just do what he thinks is right, and make the tough choices necessary.”

. . .

Mr. Bush spoke of General Washington’s “many challenges,” noting that the Continental Army “stood on the brink of disaster many times.” And he spoke of Washington’s resolute determination: “His will was unbreakable.”

The president spoke as well of a brief retirement at Mount Vernon between Washington’s return from the Revolutionary War and his presidency. Mr. Bush is already laying the groundwork for his own retirement with plans for a presidential library at Southern Methodist University, Laura Bush’s alma mater.

“All he wanted to do was return here to Mount Vernon and to be with his loving wife, Martha,” the 43rd president said of the first. “As he wrote with satisfaction to his friend Lafayette, ‘I am become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, and under the shadow of my own vine and my own fig tree.’ ”

 

For the full story, see: 

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG.  "Defending Nation’s Latest War, Bush Recalls Its First."  The New York Times   (Tues., February 20, 2007):  A16.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

The Resilience of Markets

 

(p. A11)  Bystanders pulled an 8-year-old boy from the charred wreckage of a marketplace where the poor come to buy used clothes and household goods.  Two of three explosions in the city claimed the lives of at least 17 people, including the boy’s parents.

Vendors said the bombs, which killed seven people, were planted in wooden carts by two strangers who set up shop near the entrance and exit to the market and left just before the explosions.  After the initial shock of the explosions, shoppers and vendors resumed haggling over underwear and socks, eating shish kebab and turnips sweetened with date syrup.

"If I would go home, then what would my family eat?" said vendor Jabbar Shnawa, 35, who, after the explosion, sold a compact disc for 500 Iraqi dinars, about 40 cents.

 

For the full story, see:

Hennessy-Fiske, Molly.  "Saddam could be hanged by weekend."  St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/29/2006):  A1 & A11.

(Note:  article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.)