Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Yima, the Iranian Prometheus

The killing of Yima/Jamshid, illustration from an old Persian manuscript, copied from his Wikipedia page.

In a number of mythologies, the primordial state of mankind is a blissful Golden Age of plenty, joy, universal love, harmony and often immortality. Then humans do something they shouldn't, usually in violation of an explicit divine order. They taste a forbidden fruit of knowledge, or steal the fire, or become greedy for gold, or something of this sort. This leads to a Fall - an abrupt termination of the Golden Age and establishment of the human condition as we know it.

These recurrent tales are more related to psychology than to anthropology. An age when "the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly" (quote from Works and Days, by ancient Greek poet Hesiod, translation by Evelyn-White) of course never existed in reality. Moreover, anthropologists have not found a single primitive human society, ancient or modern, to rely on the "fruits born by the fruitful earth". So it is striking that in Golden Age myths, humans are invariably plant eaters.

Besides animal food, our mythic ancestors are deprived of another human trait - consciousness. They are peaceful and vegetarian as oxen, and almost as intelligent. They have everything they need, because they lack the mental skills needed to figure out that they need more than they have, nor can they plan how to acquire it. Small wonder that these wretched pea-brained humans usually cannot manage even the Fall on their own and need a snake to tell them that knowledge is power, or a Prometheus to bring them the stolen fire.

The earliest text about Prometheus, Hesiod's Theogony, actually mentions another sin besides the theft of fire: tricking Zeus to take only the bones of a sacrificed ox and to leave the edible parts to humans. The quote below is from Evelyn-White's translation:

"(507-543) Now Iapetus took to wife... Clymene, daughter of Ocean... And she bare him... clever Prometheus... and scatter-brained Epimetheus who from the first was a mischief to men who eat bread; for it was he who first took of Zeus the woman, the maiden whom he had formed... 

And ready-witted Prometheus he (Zeus - M.M.) bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set on him a long-winged eagle, which used to eat his immortal liver... That bird Heracles... slew... Though he (Zeus - M.M.) was angry, he ceased from the wrath which he had before because Prometheus matched himself in wit with the almighty son of Cronos (this is again Zeus - M.M.).  

For when the gods and mortal men had a dispute at Mecone, even then Prometheus was forward to cut up a great ox and set portions before them, trying to befool the mind of Zeus. Before the rest he set flesh and inner parts thick with fat upon the hide, covering them with an ox paunch; but for Zeus he put the white bones dressed up with cunning art and covered with shining fat. Then the father of men and of gods said to him: 

(543-544) `Son of Iapetus, most glorious of all lords, good sir, how unfairly you have divided the portions!' 

(545-547) So said Zeus whose wisdom is everlasting... But wily Prometheus answered...:

(548-558) `Zeus, most glorious and greatest of the eternal gods, take which ever of these portions your heart within you bids.' 

So he said, thinking trickery. But Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, saw and failed not to perceive the trick, and in his heart he thought mischief against mortal men which also was to be fulfilled. With both hands he took up the white fat and was angry at heart, and wrath came to his spirit when he saw the white ox-bones craftily tricked out: and because of this the tribes of men upon earth burn white bones to the deathless gods upon fragrant altars. But Zeus who drives the clouds was greatly vexed and said to him: 

(559-560) `Son of Iapetus, clever above all! So, sir, you have not yet forgotten your cunning arts!' 

(561-584) So spake Zeus in anger, whose wisdom is everlasting; and from that time he was always mindful of the trick, and would not give the power of unwearying fire to... mortal men who live on the earth. But the noble son of Iapetus outwitted him and stole the far-seen gleam of unwearying fire in a hollow fennel stalk. And Zeus who thunders on high was stung in spirit, and his dear heart was angered when he saw amongst men the far-seen ray of fire. Forthwith he made an evil thing for men as the price of fire..."

To cut the long story short and spare you a larger dose of the cumbersome Hesiod's narrative, let me just mention that the "evil thing" was the woman. With or without an accompanying jar of other evils, she was given to Prometheus' stupid brother, Epimetheus. Pay attention that, although the pious poet stresses that Zeus "whose wisdom is everlasting" saw through the trick from the beginning, he was actually duped; otherwise, it is difficult to explain why "wrath came to his spirit when he saw the white ox-bones craftily tricked out".

Prometheus was made popular by a later play, traditionally attributed to Aeschylus, which concentrated on the theft of fire and other contributions to civilization and omitted (and even negated) the sacrifice trick; this is why the latter is not known to the general public. It is clear that the deceptive sacrifice and the theft of fire were initially independent elements. They do not fit well together because animal sacrifice requires fire (a more logical combination would be theft of fire first, sacrifice trick second). The theft of fire, though present in many mythologies, is not typical for Indo-Europeans. It is likely to have been borrowed from the Caucasus, where different variations of it exist, some including the eagle and some without it. As for the sacrifice, scholars tend to dismiss it as a local "etiological myth" to explain why humans eat most of the sacrificial animal and burn only the bones at the gods' altars. Some even suspect that it is Hesiod's invention. Therefore, I was surprised to read that as early as 1975, Bruce Lincoln had written the following:

"I attempted to trace out a myth of Indo-European provenance that detailed the events which were believed to have been crucial in the establishment of the world as the Proto-Indo-Europeans knew it. There I argued that this myth told of two brothers, *Manu- "Man" (Sanskrit Manu, Avestan *Manus, Germanic Mannus being linguistic correspondences; Old Norse Odinn and Latin Romulus being structurally related) and *Yemo- 'Twin" (Sanskrit Yama, Avestan Yima, Old Norse Ymir, and Latin Remus being linguistic matches; Germanic Tuisco being a semantic match; Sanskrit Mandvi and Purusa, Pahlavi Gayomart being structurally related). Originally, this myth told of how *Manu, a priest, sacrificed *Yemo, a king, together with a bovine animal, and then created the world from their respective bodies..."

This setting - two brothers, a bovine, and a sacrifice - immediately reminded me of the Mecone scene, which, if not world-creating, was at least world-shaping. Because "Prometheus" and "Epimetheus" are clearly epithets and not true names, it does not matter that they do not sound like "Yemo" and "Manu". "Prometheus" means "Forethinker", various authors have tried other etymologies using the Sanskrit words for "fire-stick" or "steal", but if we leave aside the non-Indo-European theft of fire, we can easily derive it from "prototype sacrifice", which can be reconstructed in Sanskrit as "pra-medha". As for Epimetheus, he assaulted nobody and we don't know whether he was even present at Mecone. However, after the sacrifice, he got a role by becoming a puppet of his brother's enemies and a tool of their revenge.

I looked for more information about other "Yemos". Only the Indian and Iranian versions are preserved well enough. The oldest Indian sacred text is the Rig Veda. In it, there is a remark about Yama finding and bringing fire:

"3 In many places, Agni Jātavedas (Agni is the god of fire - M.M.), we sought thee hidden in the plants and waters.
Then Yama marked thee, God of wondrous splendour! effulgent from thy tenfold secret dwelling...
(Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn 51, translated by R. Griffith.)

Yama initially was a man, the first man who died and traced the path for others. Then he became god of the dead and ruler of the underworld. However, neither in the Rig Veda nor in later texts you will find how and of what he died. The only clue seems to be this:

"4 He, for God's sake, chose death to be his portion. He chose not, for men's good, a life eternal
They sacrificed Bṛhaspati the Ṛṣi. Yama delivered up his own dear body
(Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn 13.)

The hint may be that Yama accepted death so that to find or build an underworld for other souls to inhabit. However, it is also possible that he died in some suicide mission which the authors of the scripture preferred not to specify.

More information comes from Iran, though it has passed through not one but two reforms imposing monotheistic religions, first Zoroastrianism and then Islam. The counterpart of Yama is named Yima in the oldest texts (the Avesta) and Jam or Jamshid ("King Jam") in later ones. It seems that Zoroaster (Zarathustra) was not altogether happy with Yima, but had to accommodate him somehow, because he was too popular to be simply left out. The Avestan references to Yima are fragmentary, maybe because Yima was well known to Zoroaster's original audience and no detailed descriptions were needed.

The earliest and most important information is given in the Yasna, a part of the Avesta that includes mainly lithurgical texts. In Chapter 9, he is described as the king of mankind in the Golden Age at the beginning of the world:

"4... Yima, called the brilliant, (he of the many flocks, the most glorious of those yet born, the sunlike-one of men), that he made from his authority both herds and people free from dying, both plants and waters free from drought, and men could eat inexhaustible food.

5. In the reign of brave Yima was there neither cold nor heat, there was neither age nor death, nor envy demon-made. Like teenagers walked the two forth, son and father, in their stature and their form, so long as Yima, son of Vivanghvant ruled, he of the many herds!"

Then in Chapter 32, the Fall comes:

"8. Among these sinners, we know, Yima was included, Vivanghen's son, who desiring to satisfy men gave our people flesh of the ox to eat. From these shall I be separated by Thee, O Mazda, at last."
(Translation by L. H. Mills. Mazda is Ahura Mazda or Ohrmazd, the Zoroastrian God.)

As the end of the verse shows, the author is quick to distance himself from the wicked deed of Yima. And for good reason; because the supernatural forces, watching humans eat beef, got as angry as Zeus at Mecone. The gates of Hell opened - literally: humans were made mortal, and the first person to die was Yima himself. He was brutally slain. The Yasna keeps silence about this but another part of the Avesta, Yashts 19 - Zamyad Yasht or Hymn to the Earth, tells the story in a few words. First, it reminds us of the Golden Age in chapter 7:

"30. We sacrifice unto the awful kingly Glory, made by Mazda ....
31. That clave unto the bright Yima, the good shepherd, for a long time, while he ruled...
32. ...In whose reign... aliments were never failing for feeding creatures, flocks and men were undying, waters and plants were undrying;
33. In whose reign there was neither cold wind nor hot wind, neither old age nor death, nor envy made by the Daevas, in the times before his lie, before he began to have delight in words of falsehood and untruth.
34. But when he began to find delight in words of falsehood and untruth, the Glory was seen to flee away from him... When his Glory had disappeared, then the great Yima Khshaeta, the good shepherd, trembled and was in sorrow before his foes; he was confounded, and laid him down on the ground."

I find it interesting that, in a sacrifice context, Yima is accused in "lie, falsehood and untruth". Did he, like Prometheus, outwit the gods? Unfortunately, we are not told this. And what happened to him after he was laid on the ground? The answer is in the next chapter 8:

"46... Azhi Dahaka and Spityura, he who sawed Yima in twain" (translation by J. Darmesteter).

Azhi Dahaka is an evil spirit that in pre-Zoroastrian Iran must have been in the ranks of gods. I find it noteworthy that, while Yima managed the deceptive sacrifice and the Fall all on himself, or at least Yasna 32:8 tells us nothing about supernatural help, such help was needed for his murder. And who was the murderer, that obscure Spityura? As we should expect from the proto-Indo-European template, he was a brother of Yima. This is mentioned in a later text (the Bundahishn or Creation), chapter 31:

"3. Yim, Tahmurasp, Spitur, and Narsih... were all brothers... 
5. Spitur was he who, with Dahak, cut up Yim" (translated by E. W. West).

Yima also had a connection with fire: he established a sacred fire called Farnbag (Bundahishn, chapter 17). The way he died may be echoed in the sharp weapon inserted into the body of Prometheus, which would of course kill him if he were mortal and which is absent from the Caucasian versions of the myth known to me.

What happened to Yima after his death? The Zoroastrian scriptures say nothing. However, the Pahlavi Rivayat, a work from the 10th century (i.e. already in the era of Islam), tells about it in chapter 31. Briefly, Ohrmazd (Ahura Mazda) summons the soul of Jam (i.e. Yima) from Hell to show him to Zoroaster. The latter finds the punishment too severe. Yima confesses to have called himself Creator of the world, repents and advises Zoroaster not to repeat his mistake:

"31c5 'And I said that I (had) created all the creatures and creations of the spiritual and material worlds. 
31c6 'For those lies which I uttered, glory and lordship were taken away from me, and my body fell into destruction at the hands of the demons. 
31c7 'You who are Zoroaster, if hardship (or) if prosperity should befall you, do not desist from proclaiming the religion...
31c8 When Jam had spoken in this manner, then confession and contrition came into his account, and he was forgiven by Ohrmazd..., and he went from the northern direction [i.e. Hell] to the state of Limbo and to the lordship of Limbo."
(Translation by A. V. Williams.)

This is maybe the only version where Yima finally becomes, like Yama, an underworld ruler.

Pious Zoroastrians are generally inclined to vegetarianism and sometimes blame Yima/Jamshid for giving people meat. This is no sin in Islam, so early Muslim authors have ascribed to him other crimes to justify his punishment, as evident from the above quote. Today, however, he is acquitted, like his relations - Prometheus, the Caucasian fire-thieves, and of course Eve and Adam. As B. Polka paraphrasing Kant says of the biblical story, it provides "a truly intelligible account of the transition of humankind from nature to freedom, from ignorance to reason, and so of the dignity of human beings who are to be treated as ends in themselves by all rational beings, including God." The same can be said of all mythic sinners who worked hard and took great risk to bring humanity out of the fools' Paradise.

(The outline of this post developed in a discussion on Bill Moulton's blog.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas ritual song

(Bulgarian readers can read this post here.)

When one is studying the mythologies of the Old Continent, he can mark Slavic lands as a giant black hole. Because Slavs had no alphabet before Christianization, and after it did not care to write down their old beliefs and legends. I suppose that this sad omission was due not so much to religious zealotry as to plain laziness and carelessness.

However, we can safely assume that Pagan Slavs worshiped the Sun. Traces of this can be found in the following Christmas tropar (ritual song):

We wrote the notes together with my father, who knows the melody from his father. The lyrics can be found also at the official site of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Its original text is in old Bulgarian, usually called "Old Church Slavonic" so that not to offend sensitivities of non-Bulgarian Slavs and other people. Here is a translation:

Your birth, Christ our God,
illuminated the world with the light of reason,
because with it a star taught star worshipers
to worship You, Sun of truth,
and to know You from the height of the East.
God, glory to You!

We see that the image of Christ fuses with that of the Sun rising again after the winter solstice.

The church recommends singing this song on Christmas. My grandfather did something else: on Christmas Eve he was singing it and making a tour around the house with an incense-burner in hand in order to chase any evil spirits away. Doesn't matter, merry Christmas to everyone and celebrate as you wish!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The case of Michael Brown

Michael Brown was an 18-yr-old black boy from Ferguson (a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri) who was shot dead by a white policeman on Aug. 9. He was unarmed. Initially, it was reported that Brown was shot multiple times while trying to surrender, with his hands up. Some said that he was on his knees and/or with his back to the policeman. The latter, who claimed self-defense, was not arrested. Heated protests by local blacks (who are majority in the population, but practically not represented in police and government) started immediately and continued for days.

In the beginning, I believed that the shooting was completely unjustified and that the policeman must have made a fatal mistake (mildly said), driven by anger, fear and possible racism. After all, such things do happen, don't they? However, 6 days later, the Ferguson police released two important pieces of information: the name of the policeman (Darren Wilson) and video evidence that Michael Brown, together with a friend who witnessed his killing, allegedly robbed a convenience store minutes earlier, taking some cigars. He used only his physical force to push the store clerk, no weapon. In US law, this is called "strong arm robbery".

As soon as I heard this, I changed my opinion. Nobody then could say whether Darren Wilson, who approached the two youths because of jaywalking, even knew about the robbery. However, I (and many others) immediately figured out that, regardless of whether Wilson knew or not, Brown knew perfectly well that he had just committed a robbery, and this influenced his behavior. I think that, if I were a Ferguson protester, at this point I would go home. Why? Because, first, it was quite possible that events had not developed exactly as Brown's friend and other witnesses had described them and the killing could be justified after all. When the size and weight of Michael Brown first became known - 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) and 292 lb (132 kg), his family and friends said he was a "gentle giant", so gentle that he could not play football. In the face of the new data, this now looked either deep delusion or, more likely, brazen lie; I was not happy with being lied, and wondered how many more lies were circulating.

Second, if a community is already stereotyped as pro-crime, the last things it needs is to rally behind a person shot by police in the immediate aftermath of a robbery. Making him a cause célèbre can only reinforce the stereotypes. Even if the shooting was unjustified, the way to help was by quietly donating to Brown's family to help them find good legal council - as I guess would happen if the victim was white, or of any other race. And it was time to end the meme of "police shooting the citizens they are to protect", because police are not to protect citizens like Michael Brown, but to protect other citizens from them. In fact, behavior such as Brown's on that day is the reason we need police in the first place.

However, Ferguson protesters were far from going home. On the contrary, their protests became more violent because police released Darren Wilson's identity too late (why in fact did they need the name earlier? to lynch him?) and because releasing the video of robbery was an attempt to smear Brown's character (though it was authentic). There had already been rioting and looting, but it became worse. What made in me a particularly ugly impression was that the store robbed by Brown was targeted (according to some reports, looters initially mistook it and looted another store first). I am not even talking about international reactions, whose indignation was proportional to their anti-Americanism (I've briefly mentioned the finger-pointing of Russia).

I still hoped, however, that reasonable people would stop defending the protesters and let the justice do its job. So it was unpleasant surprise for me when on Aug. 20 I found a strongly pro-protesters, pro-Brown post on Dr. Amy Tuteur's Skeptical OB, a serious blog devoted to the science of pregnancy, birth and child care. I posted the following comment:

"I disagree with this post. I do not think the police officer should have risked more serious injury than he allegedly already had in order to protect Brown. Would everybody be happy if he had not shot and was now in hospital with coma? I also wonder whether police guidelines say that you must check whether a suspect is armed before treating him as such. I guess they say quite different things. Because my common sense says that if police officers first check whether a violent person is armed, in too many cases they will not survive to finish the check.

I also think police was right to release the video. If Brown's character was of no importance, why were community members spreading lies about it? But the question is not even about the victim's character. The question is about his adequacy. If you are robbing a shop in your own town in broad daylight at 11 AM, this means you have completely lost touch with reality. And if the victim has done this minute before confronting the police officer, God knows what he did during the confrontation. Let's wait for the facts. But no, people rush to judgement based on the words of two or three biased witnesses, one of them allegedly Brown's accomplice in the robbery. We already know that some of the initial claims were false. They said that Brown was shot in the back, the autopsy shows all shots were from front. God knows how many more things will turn out different. But people have completely forgotten the "innocent until proven guilty", see themselves as a jury and have already convicted the policeman. Why should police apologize before it is proven that their man was wrong?

I think US citizens should support law and order and send a clear message that skin pigmentation does not put anyone above the law and does not entitle anyone to anything. Say that it is OK to attack a policeman as long as you use your bare hands only (never mind that many murders are done by bare hands and feet), say that looting and other property damage is legitimate expression of anger, and you are subscribing to more of the same

For this, I was called a racist with a tiny hateful brain (and many other names) and told to shut up and go away. In a word, my opponents, particularly those identifying themselves as non-white, were the most aggressive bunch of cyberbullies I've ever seen. For comparison, none of the Muslims to whom I have criticized their religion and their Prophet has come anywhere near this.

Among other things, protesters and other "progressives" demanded the case to be handled by a special prosecutor, because the local one was "biased" - his father had been a policeman and was killed by a black criminal some 40 years ago. (Someone commented that, by the same logic, this man should have been denied the job of a prosecutor altogether because he was likely to hold a general bias against criminals.) The only way the prosecutor could satisfy his critics was to indict Wilson. He, however, preferred to leave this job to a grand jury, a procedure existing within US law. Then, Brown supporters screamed that the jury was not adequate because it included 9 whites and only 3 blacks. The jury was constituted before the case and its "demography" matched that of the region; but apparently some people's idea of justice is to fill the juries with black racists who would pronounce verdicts based solely on the race of individuals involved, as in the O.J. Simpson case.

As time passed, more and more facts came out and the initial testimony of many witnesses turned out to be, as a deputy prosecutor put it, "a bunch of lies". Gradually, the following reconstruction of events emerged: In his last morning, Michael Brown was walking with his friend and showed the first sign of inadequate behavior by stopping to give a perfect stranger an unsolicited lecture about Jesus. Immediately after that, the two entered the convenience store. Brown took some cigars (worth a little less than $ 50) to use them for smoking marijuana. He was still under the influence of previously consumed marijuana. Contrary to those who describe the incident as "shoplifting", Brown tried to bring out the cigars openly, not secretly, and pushed back the store clerk who attempted to stop him.

The clerk never called police, a fact described by some clueless Brown supporters as a proof that the robbery had not taken place. Actually, it is an ominous sign that in Ferguson, the law of the jungle was overcoming the rule of law, and law-abiding citizens were submitting to criminals. However, in civilized societies, there is always resistance to the law of the jungle. Another customer called 911 to report the robbery.

After that, Brown and his friend did not use the sidewalk but walked in the middle of the street. This seems to be done by some young men for the sole purpose of harassing motorists. The two young men apparently were so used to it that did not realize how unwise it was in their situation. Darren Wilson, who had just heard about the robbery, saw them and told them to go to the sidewalk. Brown's friend, by his own admission, answered, "We are less than a minute to our destination" (translation: we'll leave the middle of the street when we want to, not when you tell us).

Wilson had driven a little away when he realized that Brown fitted the description of the robbery suspect and was holding cigars. He returned and tried to apprehend Brown. There was a scuffle in the car. Wilson, who shot Brown in the hand, claimed that Brown tried to take his gun, and the physical evidence was in agreement with this. Then Brown and his friend ran away. Wilson told them to stop. Brown stopped and turned around. It seems that at some moment Brown's hands indeed were up, but he was far from surrendering. He walked towards Wilson and the latter shot him several times. The last two shots, in the head, were fatal.

To my (and not only my) opinion, these facts showed that Michael Brown brought about his own death - as is said in such cases, committed "suicide by cop". However, when the facts didn't back his supporters' narrative, they dismissed the facts. And when on Nov. 24 the grand jury, predictably, decided not to indict Wilson, enraged protesters left Ferguson in shambles. I wonder, did they really expect the jurors to indict a probably innocent person just to appease rioters, looters and arsonists? I have little sympathy even to the peaceful protesters. They actually demanded mob justice. They wanted Wilson to be stripped of his right to self-defense, and of fair trial after successful self-defense. And, while accusing him and all whites of racism, they were themselves bitterly racist - because they would never protest if Wilson had been black. We never see protests against black police, although they are as likely as their white colleagues to kill a black citizen in the line of duty. The only good thing in peaceful protests was that their peaceful nature made it possible to ignore them. From moral point of view, however, these racist protesters against justice were hardly better than pro-lifers or religious fanatics protesting over cartoons.

Unlike some who place heavy blame on Michael Brown and his parents, I think that the problem lies deeper. It is an open secret that among too many black Americans, there is a subculture in which the proper way to get things is violence, and hard-working law-abiding blacks are "Uncle Toms" who must be despised for "acting white". This culture more than anything else keeps blacks behind. As the protests proved, it has deep roots in Ferguson; and I guess that only rare strong personalities can escape its grip, so it is not entirely fair to blame Michael Brown, an 18-yr-old with modest intellectual ability, for failing to do such a feat. Here, I wish to cite Brian Willingham, a black church pastor and policeman: “I now realize, that we who consider ourselves leaders in the black community can’t just be against racism. We have to also be against a portion of black culture that has become increasingly anti-authority and antisocial to a point of self-destruction. This is an enemy we’ve yet to engage in the black community."

I also think that those white "liberals" who supported the protests and keep lamenting about "white privilege" are doing a disservice to everybody. And especially to the black Americans they allegedly want to help. By encouraging social ills, these whites are behaving as bad neighbors and bad citizens.

Last but not least, let's remember that Brown did the fatal petty robbery in order to smoke marijuana, and he was under the influence of a previous dose of marijuana. He behaved like a person obeying a vital necessity, like someone dying of hunger who will break a shop window to steal bread. People say that marijuana is not addictive and does not cause violent behavior. However, we see that anecdotal evidence points otherwise. In my country, one of the most cruel and senseless murders in recent years was also over marijuana - in 2011, a 17-yr-old butchered his 12-yr-old friend for breaking a pot with the precious plant (link in Bulgarian). Marijuana is to be decriminalized in the USA. I am not firmly against it, but I fear that it will add fuel to the widespread opinion that it is innocent. Because people, even when claiming self-reliance and ability to make wise choices, usually regard the state as a nanny that will spin a safety net around them and protect them from their own stupidity. So it goes, "after it is allowed, it is not too dangerous". Let's keep in mind that it is a mind-altering substance with poorly known effects that have not been extensively tried in our culture and, as far as I know, in any culture.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

US official defends betrayal of Ukraine

From AFP via Yahoo! News:

"US rejects criticism of historic Ukraine nuclear deal

Kiev (AFP) - A top US official hit back on Friday against accusations the West has failed to live up to promises made exactly 20 years ago to Ukraine in exchange for it giving up nuclear weapons.

The Budapest Memorandum that came into force on December 5, 1994 led to Ukraine voluntarily giving up the huge stockpile of nuclear warheads it inherited from the Soviet Union.

In exchange, Britain, the United States and Russia agreed to respect Ukraine's borders and ensure its security -- a promise which many Ukrainians see as unkept in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for eastern separatists this year.

But on a visit to Kiev on Friday, Rose Gottemoeller, head of arms control and international security for the US government, said her country "has gone every step towards continuing to defend and develop a means of bolstering Ukraine". 

Gottemoeller, who was a negotiator at the Budapest talks 20 years ago, sidestepped questions from reporters on whether Ukraine would have been spared a Russian invasion if it still had nuclear weapons.

"We regret of course that Russia has not lived up to its commitments," she said.

But she added that the failure to rid Ukraine of atomic bombs "would have contributed to a very unstable 20 years not only in Ukraine's history but also in the history of the entire world because it would have placed a barrier in the way of further nuclear disarmament elsewhere."..."

This is a perfect example of the impotent arrogance that creates anti-Americanism even in decent people.

It is clear to everybody that Britain and the USA were not to sign that they would not violate Ukraine's borders, because they were never likely to do so in the first place. Only Russia was a threat to Ukraine, and the signature of the USA was to guarantee that the USA would not let Russia attack Ukraine. (Small Britain was invoked only to prevent the agreement from looking like the bilateral deal it was.)

Ms. Goettemoller claims that the USA "has gone every step towards continuing to defend and develop a means of bolstering Ukraine". I'd wish to hear what these steps were. Because what I see is that Russia invades Ukraine and grabs its land with impunity, and the USA stands by and doesn't move a finger.

In the face of the relentless Russian attack against Ukraine, Ms. Goettemoller's statement that the continuing presence of atomic bombs in Ukraine "would have contributed to a very unstable 20 years... in Ukraine's history" sounds like cruel mockery. And it sounds so because it is so.

As for the opinion that such continuing presence "would have placed a barrier in the way of further nuclear disarmament elsewhere" - I haven't heard of any other country renouncing its nuclear arsenal. But even if any nuclear power had intention to disarm, it will surely renounce this good intention, seeing the consequences of USA tricking Ukraine to give up its only means for self-defense. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if some unstable countries are now conceiving their own nuclear programs for first time, and I would not blame these countries.

Of course, it is wonderful to wish a world without nuclear bombs. However, this doesn't justify using false promises to make other countries defenseless and then abandoning them to the mercy of their enemies. In a word, Ukraine was sold out by the great country that is too often tired of being the only civilized superpower.

If you think that Americans are not obliged to die for other countries, I'd answer - true, but then your government must not sign defense treaties with other countries, knowing all along that it does not intend even to begin "living up to its commitments". This is disgrace, and I think that US citizens should not ignore it.