May 29, 2009

End of the Month Usual

With apologies for the dictates of the calendar and the necessity for these requests, I will humbly direct your attention here. Everything is pretty much the same as described in that entry from a month ago, except that I've felt remarkably terrible health-wise for the last day or two. At the moment, I'm experiencing a distracting amount of discomfort and pain of several kinds, in addition to which I'm so exhausted that I'm sleeping about 16 hours a day. This is not precisely helpful in my efforts to get some writing done.

I hope this episode passes in another few days. I'm pleased with some of the articles I've posted in recent weeks. The essay about "The Troops" received some notice, which I found very satisfying. Lots more where that came from, once my ability to focus for more than a few minutes at a time returns.

As always, my sincere gratitude for your consideration, and for the remarkable generosity displayed by some readers. I managed to put together a post earlier today; the fearsome prospect of Terrorist Pianos of Doom! will dependably revive me for a little while. But shortly, the cats and I will return to our hopefully restorative slumbers...(It always works for them, and I keep asking them to tell me their secret. But they appear to be advocates of the pedagogical method of showing, rather than telling. So I study them with great care. One day, their wisdom shall be mine!)

Terrorist Pianos of Doom!

Toward the end of April, a noteworthy incident occurred in the classical music life of Los Angeles:
Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman, who is widely admired for his virtuosic performances and who famously tours with his own custom-altered Steinway, created a furor at Disney Hall on Sunday night when he stopped his recital to announce that this would be his last American appearance -- in protest of the nation's military policies overseas.

In a low voice that could not be heard throughout the auditorium, Zimerman, universally considered among the world's finest pianists, made reference to Guantanamo Bay and U.S. military policies toward Poland.

"Get your hands off my country," he said.

Then he turned to the piano and played Szymanowski's "Variations on a Polish Folk Theme" with such passion and intensity that the stunned audience gave him multiple ovations.

Earlier, about 30 or 40 people in the audience had walked out after Zimerman's declaration, some shouting obscenities. "Yes," the pianist, known in Poland as "King Krystian the Glorious," answered, "some people, when they hear the word military, start marching."
Bravo, Maestro! I offered the same reaction in a similar situation involving another pianist, Leon Fleisher.

"Get your hands off my country." A simple and eloquent statement of the basic principle that should properly inform every nation's dealings with all other nations. But, as I recently explained in connection with the U.S.'s deliberate ratcheting up of tensions with North Korea, noninterventionism does not mean "doing nothing": it means diplomatic recognition, free trade and open cultural exchange, among many other possible methods of engagement. (See a follow-up post on North Korea, as well.) In all other respects, and especially wth regard to the U.S.'s preferred methods of aggression -- punitive sanctions (which, hardly incidentally, never succeed in their stated aims, but instead only punish the innocent general populace of the targeted nation), and frequently repeated threats of destruction (the bullying language of phrases such as, "all options remain on the table," which the rulers of Empire pull out whenever anyone commits the unforgivable sin of not doing exactly as he is told) -- "hands off" is the only legitimate, sane, and peaceful course of conduct.

The L.A. Times story discusses some of the history behind Zimerman's comments, including this:
Just a week ago, before an appearance in Seattle, Zimerman expressed frustration about the hassle and expense of touring the U.S. with his piano.

Shortly after Sept. 11, his instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. Thinking the glue smelled funny, the Transportation Security Administration decided to take no chances and destroyed the piano. Since then he has shipped his pianos in parts, which he reassembles by hand after he lands. To get from city to city within the U.S., he hires a driver to take the shell of the piano, and he drives another car that holds the precious custom-designed keys and hammers.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this is insane. The "glue smelled funny..."??? So they destroyed the piano?!?!?! Mr. Zimerman is a world-famous pianist of enormous accomplishment. A custom-designed concert grand is hardly a trivial personal possession. Surely there were other, less drastic methods of inquiry, if indeed the "glue smelled funny." But in the great wisdom of the TSA, a final solution was needed. Total destruction certainly fulfills that requirement. Frankly, I'm surprised that Zimerman ever returned to the U.S. after that incident.

As to the intensity of the insanity that gripped the U.S. after 9/11, I discussed some of the dynamics involved in, "The United States as Cho Seung-Hui: How the State Sanctifies Murder." Commenting about observations from Robert Jay Lifton, I wrote:
The similarities between Cho's psychology and the forces that drive United States foreign policy ought to be startling, and profoundly disturbing: the feelings of vulnerability, victimization, humiliation and rage are the same -- as is the determination to restore one's own dominance through violence and murder. But be sure you appreciate the the chronology and the causal chain that Lifton correctly identifies: just as Cho did not suddenly become a murderer on the morning of April 16, but only reached that awful destination after years of inexorable psychological development along one particular path, so too the United States was not instantaneously transformed into an unfocused, rage-filled international murderer after 9/11. As Lifton states, "The war on terrorism, then, took amorphous impulses toward combating terror and used them as a pretext for realizing a prior mission aimed at American global hegemony."
As I went on to explain, these dynamics and the policies to which they lead have directed U.S. foreign policy for a century and more. In the wake of 9/11, certain aspects of this behavior became explicit and much more extreme, but the basic elements had all been central to the U.S.'s behavior for a very long time.

And even though the intensity of the reaction after 9/11 has somewhat subsided, those dynamics and policies have not altered or vanished. To the contrary, they are all being inexorably institutionalized, regularized and legalized -- a task that the Obama administration has fervently and bloodily embraced.

For those people who proclaim that artists such as Zimerman or Leon Fleisher should confine themselves to their chosen field and otherwise keep their mouths shut: this view is absolutely wrong. I've discussed the contrary example of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and her involvement with the Nazi regime, a history which she subsequently minimized and rationalized in notably dishonest ways. In part, I wrote:
My ultimate objection to this particular avoidance of responsibility and this refusal to acknowledge the significance of our individual acts is much broader and all-encompassing. Our devotion to art, indeed our devotion to any field of work, does not relieve us of our wider obligations as human beings living in a particular society at a particular time. As discussed above, the actions of a culture or a specific country are the sum of the actions of countless individuals; if enough of them made different decisions and acted in different ways, the society itself would alter. It would act differently. The horrors of the Nazi regime were not inevitable and preordained, just as the horrors of our world today are not unavoidable. We permit them to continue because not enough of us act to stop them in ways that matter.
I recommend that earlier essay especially for the vision of art and its meaning and function expressed in magnificently eloquent and moving terms by Harold Clurman: "Let Us All Become Artists unto Ourselves."

Along the same lines, when writing about Fleisher's admirable actions when he was among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors, I said:
It would take me too far afield to consider in detail the advisability of government acknowledgment of artistic achievement -- although some might argue, and I would not disagree, that that is the issue: by such means, the government seeks to appropriate notable individual work to enhance its own carefully crafted image of a benevolent, enlightened and increasingly despotic state -- just as the state appropriates more and more aspects of its subjects' lives and, ever more frequently, those lives themselves. When it is so inclined, the state also disposes of those lives, usually as it murders still more people.

Tragically, however, this is where we are. Except for a very few disaffected souls like mine, almost no one will tell the state what it can do with its "honors." Almost everyone believes that the state should be in the business of setting national goals in every area of life, of guiding its subjects' paths, of reordering their lives and the world. Most people argue only about particular choices and the degree of control involved. Almost no one will challenge the principle itself. So for most people, if they are so "honored," the only options concern their response.


Almost everyone accepts that the state should be in this kind of business. Charen doesn't question that; neither does Fleisher. Given this axiomatic view of the way the world works, and the way the world should work, to make known one's disapproval in the manner Fleisher did requires a considerable degree of courage. Since the state seeks to use its subjects' accomplishments to burnish its own image, it is precisely when the state seeks to use you that you must make your disagreements known. This is what Fleisher did, and I applaud him for it.
Despotic and authoritarian governments always regard the arts as a potential source of great danger to authority and to the power of the State. They are correct to do so: the power of artistic vision, and its moral power most especially, can cause many people to protest and to act in other ways that seek to undermine the power of those who would control our lives and, all too often, destroy them.

But in a manner typical of the simple and simple-minded, often absurd anti-intellectualism of the United States, our government and the TSA frequently reduce this truth to a literal, physical component. Some will suggest that I should hold a somewhat more expansive view on this issue.

I suppose they might have a point. After all, we must always be on guard in a dangerous world. You never know when you might encounter the next Terrorist Piano of Doom.

Tremble! Do what you're told, and shut up. And for God's sake, stop playing, unless you're performing government-approved music. The future of civilization lies in the balance.

May 27, 2009

The Borg Welcomes Its New Members

Jacob Sullum:
"Apparently using the word war where terrorists are concerned is starting to feel a bit dated," former Vice President Dick Cheney complained in his speech at the American Enterprise Institute last week. Although he implied that the Obama administration showed weakness by using "euphemisms that suggest we're no longer engaged in a war," he added that "these are just words, and in the end it's the policies that matter."

But as President Obama showed in the speech he delivered the same day, he still clings to the language of war when discussing terrorism. Like his predecessor, he uses such rhetoric selectively, to justify departures from standard legal procedures when they prove to be inconvenient.


[A]n institutionalized system of preventive detention, justified by a war that Obama concedes will never come to a definitive end, could be worse than Bush's ad hoc unilateralism.

Obama's preview of the standards for "prolonged detention" was puzzling. ...

As Obama noted, defendants like these have been successfully prosecuted in federal court. The only specific reason he suggested why some detainees can't be was "tainted" evidence. By that he presumably meant "statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods," which were never admissible in federal court and which Obama wants military commissions to exclude as well.

If there are other reasons why trials are not feasible for some terrorism suspects, Obama needs to explain them. The extraordinary, ominous step of preventive detention cannot be justified simply by saying these detainees "remain at war with the United States." Cheney is right: These are just words.
With regard to this issue and many others, the Obama administration diligently continues the abominable work of its predecessor. And Obama is advancing the reach of the authoritarian state in one respect of terrible significance: as Sullum suggests, the Bush administration committed its crimes in an ad hoc, piecemeal fashion. Now Obama institutionalizes those crimes -- that is, he fully normalizes and legalizes them.

It is at this point that I must issue my periodic reminder yet another time:
I stress the man-made aspect of law, because it is so often neglected or emphasized too little. As I said in the earlier piece, laws are devised by particular people, in particular circumstances, with particular friends and interests. ... And those people who devise a system of law are members of the ruling class; that is why they are devising the laws, and not others. Thus, law is the specific means by which the ruling class utilizes the power of the State and directs that power to the ends they desire.

Moreover, as I have often had sad occasion to note, even dictatorships have laws, and even the most brutal and crushing of totalitarian systems. Even under a dictatorship, there must be a minimal appearance of law as a phenomenon providing fairness, stability and predictability -- even as the people struggle under the burden of sensing that any and all laws can be changed at a moment's notice, that what is punished today may be rewarded tomorrow, and that the ruling class may disregard the law with impunity and indeed live largely outside the law altogether, while those who are disfavored by the State may be punished at any time for any reason or for no reason whatsoever. The United States has not yet reached the stage of outright dictatorship, although it must be emphasized that all the mechanisms for the establishment of a dictatorship are now in place (see here, here and here, for example). But with regard to the operation of our system of law, you might well ponder how close to a dictatorship we have already come. I encourage you to do precisely that.
To the ongoing final destruction of the last shreds of a constitutional republic at home, we must add the continuing, criminal occupation of Iraq (discussed here, together with some words about many progressives' profound disregard for slaughter without end) and the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the hideous prospect of additional wars -- perhaps with Iran, or North Korea, or with another country or countries that the Obama administration decides it would be advantageous to target. Thus does the Empire continue its insatiable drive to power and control, to be achieved by bloody and bloodthirsty devastation in every direction.

Some of us warned that this result was inevitable in the case of Obama, given the information about him that was readily available to any observer who wished to inform himself of the relevant facts. Just over a year ago, in "Killing Truth and Hope -- The Fatal Illusion of Opposition," I excerpted Pam Martens, who in turn referenced Black Agenda Report:
Why do Wall Street and the corporate law firms think they will find a President Obama to be accommodating? As the Black Agenda Report notes, "Evidently, the giant insurance companies, the airlines, oil companies, Wall Street, military contractors and others had closely examined and vetted Barack Obama and found him pleasing."
And a year before that, in "Songs of Death" published on May 1, 2007, I analyzed what Obama announced as the foreign policy he had fully embraced, the foreign policy that he follows today. As I said, this policy rests on the conviction that it is the "birthright" of Americans (at least, certainly of America's ruling class), to "have our way. To make certain we always do, we must have more, more, more! More weapons, more soldiers, more bombs, all of which inevitably and necessarily means more death."

In "The Fatal Illusion of Opposition," I also wrote:
You desperately need to understand this: the next President of the United States, no matter who it is, will enter office knowing that he or she can systematically and regularly authorize torture, order mass murder, direct the United States military to engage in one campaign of criminal conquest and genocide after another, oversee uncountable acts of inhumanity and barbarity -- and he or she will never be challenged or called to account in any manner whatsoever. It may have taken the Bush administration two terms to bring us to the point where such evils are committed and even boasted about in broad daylight, while almost no one even notices -- but this will be where the next President starts.

And for this monstrous, unforgivable fact, you can thank the Democrats and those who whore themselves for the Democrats' success in our disgustingly meaningless elections.
Yet I do not believe in holding grudges. So to many of those who voted for Obama, including all those liberals and progressives who now not only fail to oppose his policies of barbarism and death but cheer themselves hoarse with shouts of approval for ongoing murder and destruction (see the Laura Flanders article excerpted here), as well as to all those who attempt to minimize or find excuses for the many crimes of today and tomorrow, I say: Congratulations. Your assimilation has been successful. You are now part of the Hive Mind.

Some of us saw all this, and we therefore declined to vote for Obama. For identical reasons, we refused to vote for McCain. "A Choice of War Criminals" is no choice at all, not if one values innocent life and the honor of being human. But many of those who insisted that all "decent" people must vote for Obama dismissed our concerns, or attempted to marginalize and minimize them. They said we weren't "realistic."

To all such people, I say: you yourselves were certainly "realistic." I would suggest that one other element of what now unfolds is also realistic: the blood that drips from your hands, and the nightmares that ought to sear your souls.

There's realism for you, you miserable sons of bitches.

Oh, People...People...

During the Pleistocene Epoch, I had a tenth-grade English teacher. Mrs. Comstock was a lovely, gentle woman, who adored reading anything and everything and encouraged all her students to develop the same passion. Her gentleness carried a risk, one that was actualized on a number of occasions. Many of the students were typical teenagers, not notably aggressive or dangerous, but boisterous, if you will. Mrs. Comstock's soft-spoken, kindly manner opened the door to times when the class became rather noisy and unfocused.

But Mrs. Comstock was exceptionally skilled at using her dulcet tones with great effectiveness. As a look of grave disappointment and pain so all-encompassing that it seemed metaphysical in nature spread across her face, she would gaze around the room, meeting one set of recalcitrant eyes after another. She would slowly shake her head, always very, very gently, and declare, without raising her voice in the smallest degree, "Oh, people...people." Within moments, the room grew quiet again. The lesson recommenced.

Today, as on many tragically similar occasions in recent years, I am in desperate need of Mrs. Comstock's skills. As Drudge falls to the repellent task of unforgivably enthusiastic war-mongering (hardly for the first and certainly not the last time), he repeats an equally repellent and unforgivable headline: "NKorea Threatens to Attack US, SKorean Warships." All that is omitted are the reasons for these threats, that is, the actions of the United States and South Korea to which North Korea is responding.

If one takes the trouble to read the story (and understand it, I should doubtless add) -- but in this kind of atmosphere, one disgustingly typical of the "noble," "peace-loving" American people and their rulers, how many people can be bothered with context or facts? -- those actions to which North Korea is responding quickly become obvious:
North Korea threatened military action Wednesday against U.S. and South Korean warships plying the waters near the Koreas' disputed maritime border, raising the specter of a naval clash just days after the regime's underground nuclear test.

Pyongyang, reacting angrily to Seoul's decision to join an international program to intercept ships suspected of aiding nuclear proliferation, called the move tantamount to a declaration of war.

"Now that the South Korean puppets were so ridiculous as to join in the said racket and dare declare a war against compatriots," North Korea is "compelled to take a decisive measure," the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by state media.


North Korea's latest belligerence comes as the U.N. Security Council debates how to punish the regime for testing a nuclear bomb Monday in what President Barack Obama called a "blatant violation" of international law.

Ambassadors from the five permanent veto-wielding council members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - as well as Japan and South Korea were working out the details of a new resolution.

South Korea, divided from the North by a heavily fortified border, had responded to the nuclear test by joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led network of nations seeking to stop ships from transporting the materials used in nuclear bombs.

Seoul previously resisted joining the PSI in favor of seeking reconciliation with Pyongyang, but pushed those efforts aside Monday after the nuclear test in the northeast.

North Korea warned Wednesday that any attempt to stop, board or inspect its ships would constitute a "grave violation."

The regime also said it could no longer promise the safety of U.S. and South Korean warships and civilian vessels in the waters near the Korea's western maritime border.
So who exactly is ratcheting up tensions in this situation? North Korea, which is conducting tests and has not threatened to initiate the unprovoked use of whatever weapons it might be able to deliver sometime, somewhere -- or the U.S. and South Korea, which are threatening "to intercept ships suspected of aiding nuclear proliferation"? The seizure of ships of a sovereign nation is certainly an act of war. When such seizure is predicated on suspicion, perhaps well-grounded, perhaps supported by absolutely nothing, we have moved into utter lawlessness.

But the U.S. and its allies always represent Pure and Unalloyed Good, Now and Forevermore. And North Korea is Ultimate Evil; never mind the Ultimate Evil about which the United States claimed to have equally certain knowledge yesterday or all the days before that. Pure and Unalloyed Good does not require reasons. How shabbily unenlightened of you to demand otherwise.

War-mongering of this kind never fails to resonate with the Good and Virtuous American People. I've previously described the mechanisms involved:
For a very long time, the United States government has specialized in the pattern pursued by Israel. The vastly more powerful nation wishes to act on a certain policy -- almost always territorial expansion, for purposes of access to resources, or to force itself into new markets, or to pursue the evil notion that economic and ideological success depend on brutality and conquest -- but a specifically moral justification for its planned actions does not lie easily to hand.

So the powerful nation embarks on a course designed to make life intolerable for the country and/or those people that stand in its way. The more powerful nation is confident that, given sufficient time and sufficient provocation, the weaker country and people will finally do something that the actual aggressor can seize on as a pretext for the policy upon which it had already decided. In this way, what then unfolds becomes the victim's fault.

The United States government has utilized this tactic with Mexico, to begin the Spanish-American War, even, dear reader, in connection with the U.S. entrance into World War II, most recently in Iraq, possibly (perhaps probably) with Iran in the future, and in numerous other conflicts. It's always the fault of the other side, never the fault of the United States itself. Yet the United States has always been much more powerful than those it victimizes in this manner. The United States always claims that its victims represented a dire threat to its very survival, a threat that must be brought under U.S. control, or eliminated altogether. The claim has almost never been true. This monstrous pattern is "The American Way of Doing Business."
And as Robert Higgs has observed:
No one should be surprised by the cultural proclivity for violence, of course, because Americans have always been a violent people in a violent land. Once the Europeans had committed themselves to reside on this continent, they undertook to slaughter the Indians and steal their land, and to bullwhip African slaves into submission and live off their labor—endeavors they pursued with considerable success over the next two and a half centuries. Absent other convenient victims, they have battered and killed one another on the slightest pretext, or for the simple pleasure of doing so, with guns, knives, and bare hands. If you take them to be a "peace-loving people," you haven’t been paying attention. Such violent people are easily led to war.
Oh, people...people. You can never have too many wars, can you?

Never too much death, never too much devastation, never too much suffering, until all the world is a wasteland.

Mrs. Comstock would not be pleased. Neither am I, and neither is any decent human being who remains remotely civilized.

As for Obama's claim that North Korea's actions constitute a "blatant violation" of international law: you have one hell of a nerve, you bastard. For my reasons (in addition to those identified above) and a discussion of what the United States ought to do, see my post on the same subject from just yesterday.

May 26, 2009

The Great but Unacknowledged Wisdom of Doing Nothing


The U.S. ruling class, almost all of American media, and virtually all commentators across the "respectable" political spectrum regard the "right" of the United States to dictate events around the globe as an axiomatic truth, never to be challenged or questioned in even the smallest particular. This quasi-religious belief, precisely identified by William Pfaff as the "unjustified utopianism" that permits "Americans [to] think that history has an ultimate solution, and that the United States is meant to provide it," has served as the foundation for American foreign policy for over a century, and it has become imperishably engraved in our profoundly distorted national self-conception in the decades following World War II.

One of the numerous awful results of this mythologized version of history and reality is that every event is perceived through a series of distorting lenses. The latest story about North Korea provides yet another specimen for the laboratory of the study of national denial and self-flattering mythology:
President Barack Obama said on Monday that nuclear and missile tests conducted by North Korea were a "grave concern to all nations" and a legal violation that warranted action by the international community.

"North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security," Obama said in a statement after Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test and reportedly fired a short-range missile.

The nuclear test was a major diplomatic challenge to Obama at a time when he is facing a global economic crisis and working to curb Iran's nuclear enrichment program, which the West fears is aimed at producing nuclear arms but Tehran says is for energy.

Obama vowed when he took office to extend a hand to troublesome countries "willing to unclench your fist" but so far he has had little success with North Korea or Iran, which have continued to advance their nuclear programs and showed little interest in renewed dialogue.
A person who maintains only a slender but still meaningful connection to facts might well throw up his hands at this point, wondering if there is any point at all in trying to address people who have so enthusiastically retreated into the world of make-believe.

Does no one recall what a "test" is? Or the meaning of "attempts"? And some of us have a rather different view of what "constitute[s] a threat to international peace and security." How about one of the following items?

A criminal war of aggression, followed by a criminal occupation of what will most probably be decades-long duration, which has led to a world-historical genocide, the destruction of an entire country -- a country which had never attacked or seriously threatened the aggressor nation -- and millions of refugees?

Unending threats against another nation that does not threaten the United States, and which could not seriously threaten the U.S. even if it did have nuclear weapons?

A widening war in two additional countries, neither of which represents a threat to the U.S.? In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, civilian casualties continue to rise in horrifying numbers. Except for a few voices, does anyone give a damn? Do most of the prominent voices who claimed to be "anti-war" when a Republican ordered the slaughter care now that a Democrat orders the deaths without end? No, they do not.

How about all of these items? Yes, all of them are true of the peace- and stability-loving U S of A. (And that list is hardly complete; I'll get to further instances of U.S. criminal aggression in time.) A sane person might be heard to ask that Mr. Obama and his Ministers of Death "unclench" their fists. The fist of the United States and its military is not only clenched, but that murderous fist dispenses death and destruction across the world, just as it has for over a century. If you're looking for the source of international instability, start with the United States. And for the most part, and certainly today, that's where your inquiry can end.

Our national mythology forbids recognition or even discussion of this indisputable truth. And the reaction to North Korea's latest test reveals only that our ruling class and the majority of Americans become deeply unhinged when any country, anywhere, at any time dares to thwart our supposed national "will." Why, they won't behave in precisely the manner we demand! Fury ensues:
The governing class, including the foreign policy establishment, have been convinced of the truth and rightness of this view for over 60 years. This view led us into Korea, into Vietnam, into Latin America, into the interventions of the 1990s, into Afghanistan, into numerous other interventions, and into Iraq. Hillary Clinton believes it, so does Obama, so does Bush. With only one or two exceptions, every national politician believes it.

America is God. God's Will be done.
This is the hallmark of the vicious, bloodthirsty bully. Bullying of this kind is one of the U.S.'s specialties; it is also one of the primary "virtues" we teach our children, thus ensuring that the devastation will continue into the future.

Another part of this typical reaction is hysteria, sometimes barely controlled and not infrequently screaming its guts out. I've previously described this phenomenon as the Joan Crawford School of Foreign Policy. And it sounds like this (from "Unreasoning Hysteria as the Default Position: Joan Crawford Does Foreign Policy"):
You're all trying to destroy me! You're all against me, you bastards! You broke my heart, and now you want to kill me! But I won't let you, do you hear me? I won't let you! I'm going to live, damn you, I'm going to LIVE!
In very large part, this is what passes for foreign policy "analysis" today.

I wrote about North Korea in particular in a post several years ago: "Please, Sir, May I Have Another War?" That entry began with a discussion of some gibberings from the reliably awful Andrew Sullivan. (Far too much attention is paid to Sullivan, and he receives largely unmerited praise for certain of his positions. Rejecting the barbarity of torture should not represent an achievement of note; such a rejection should be the requirement for any minimally civilized human being who wishes to discuss political matters, or anything at all. Moreover, Sullivan's specific arguments against torture are far from compelling and, in the end, they will prove almost entirely futile, issues I discussed in detail here and here. For another analysis of Sullivan's numerous deficiencies, see: "Undying Myths, and Sullivan's Lies on the Path of Penance.")

In that older post of mine about North Korea, I excerpted a valuable article by Randal Mark. Mark's argument remains fully applicable today:
In reality, North Korea, although highly militarized, is a small, impoverished, Third World dictatorship that is comprehensively outclassed, in technological and numerical terms, by the U.S. and its allies. The U.S., on the other hand, currently spends almost as much on military force as the rest of the world put together, and has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over.

There are no conceivable circumstances whatsoever in which North Korea could substantively attack the U.S., or any ally the U.S. chooses to shield, without facing its own certain, immediate, and total destruction. There is no plausible future scenario in which this situation could change.


In the meantime, however, confrontation merely confirms to the North Korean people that their government's claims of an external threat are true.


Here, then, is the simple policy solution to the "problem" of North Korea for the U.S. president: do nothing. It's also known as masterly inactivity. In due course, the nature of the North Korean regime will change, whether that change is peaceful or violent. It will probably change a lot more quickly if North Korea's economy has more wealth and wider links with the outside world, rather than being further isolated by demonization and sanctions on top of the constraints imposed by its own government. It will also help if Kim's attempts to seek nationalist legitimacy by claiming an external threat aren't regularly demonstrated true by Washington. In the meantime, North Korea isn't going to attack anybody so long as Kim knows that the result would be his own destruction.
All of this is true not only with regard to Kim, but in connection with anyone who might succeed him.

In fact, those of us who advocate nonintervention do not propose doing "nothing." We advocate diplomatic recognition, free trade and unimpeded cultural exchange, among other avenues of engagement. Such a course is much more likely to lead to those changes in other nations more conducive to a future of peace and freedom. We know what a policy of endless militarized aggression leads to: a huge number of deaths, an infinite amount of suffering, and growing instability across entire regions of the globe. If one genuinely desires peace, isn't it long past time to consider an alternative? But of course, endless confrontation and war is of inestimable benefit, financial and otherwise, to the military-industrial-congressional complex and to the ruling class generally. Until and unless that changes, nothing else will, not in any significant way.

So instead of the nauseating spectacle of the world's guiltiest aggressor nation constantly lecturing everybody else about the requirements of peace and "civilization" -- requirements that the U.S. itself has systematically disregarded for over a hundred years -- we would be well-advised to change ourselves, and to do so radically.

To put it more simply: the United States should mind its own goddamned business. If anyone actually wishes to "give peace a chance," start there. And otherwise, shut the hell up.

UPDATE: More on the United States' determined march to confrontation and possibly war, here. You can never have too many wars, not if you are the United States and its ruling class...

May 22, 2009

Pleasant Nightmares

I will return to the realities of Obama's foreign policy -- as opposed to the empty (and/or frequently awful) words he offers, words that appear to delude many people who ought to know far better, certainly by now -- in an upcoming installment of my "Against Prosecution" series. But in my unstinting efforts toward the elusive goal of more completeness in all things terrifying and unnerving, I provide you this:
Obama Orders Update to Iran Attack Plan

On NBC’s Today Show this morning, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that President Obama has ordered him to update the plans for a US attack on Iran, plans which were last updat[ed] during the Bush Administration. Gates says the plans are “refreshed” and insists that “all options are on the table” with respect to the potential attack.

It was only a month ago that Secretary Gates was warning vigorously against the potential attack, saying that it would create a “disastrous backlash” against the United States to hit Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities. The Obama Administration has insisted it is intending to pursue the matter diplomatically with Iran, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said the administration doesn’t expect diplomacy to work, and the effort seems to be primarily to rally international support for more measures against Iran.


It is unclear whether Gates’ revelation portends a serious potential for an imminent US attack on Iran, or whether the move is more international posturing. Still, it seems unlikely the news will be greeted warmly in Iran, which is in the middle of an election campaign in which potential US talks are a major issue.
In "Played for Fools Yet Again: About that Iran 'Intelligence' Report," after analyzing the numerous conventional misunderstandings and deliberate lies about the nature of "intelligence" and the role it plays in policy decisions (distortions and lies which are accepted by almost everyone, on both left and right), I wrote:
As I said above, this latest NIE makes it considerably more difficult for the [Bush] administration to use this particular argument to justify a criminal act of aggression against a non-existent threat. But if the administration is determined to attack Iran, they have plenty of other arguments to use, and many of those arguments have the full and enthusiastic support of the Democrats. See "The Worsening Nightmare," and the numerous related essays listed there: the drive to worldwide dominance, by means of military force as required, is a fully bipartisan affair, as it has been for over a century and especially since World War II.


Now, with the news of the latest NIE about Iran, many people breathe sighs of relief, believing the danger has lessened. It has not, except perhaps for a tragically brief moment. Their relief, even in the smallest degree, reveals their inability and/or refusal to understand the lethal forces in play, and their inability and/or refusal to comprehend that those dangers continue on their murderous and bloody path.

And so we still refuse to move, even now.

Even now.
All this continues to be fully applicable to the Obama administration. As just two examples out of many, see "Songs of Death," about the overall contours of Obama's foreign policy, and "The Hideous Horror of the Biden Selection," about, well, the hideous horror of the Biden selection.

Yes, I told yo--- Never mind. I say that too often (the final section of that post discusses what I found to be a very interesting analysis from Jonathan Turley about why the Democrats act, and fail to act, as they do; torture was among the subjects he touched on). If only events would cease providing an endless array of opportunities for me to do so...and frequently about, you guessed it, Iran. Funny, that.

This is yet another example of why I recently remarked to a friend that I am seriously, very seriously, considering going into fortune-telling. There's a huge demand for that sort of thing. That's where the money is, certainly not here.

Yet I have a regrettable aversion to lying and pretense. A terrible pity. I must get over it someday soon. I shall work on it over the weekend.

No, I Do Not Support "The Troops"

I. Introduction

I have intended to write this post for the last few years. As Memorial Day approaches, I thought: why not do it right now? Indeed, why the hell not? I have never sought outrage for its own sake; I write what I do because I am convinced it is true, and I am arrogant enough to believe that some of what I write concerns matters of importance. But I am prepared to admit that outrage -- especially when it proceeds from sentimental, superficial, aggressively anti-intellectual cultural pieties that enjoy widespread acceptance -- is a highly enjoyable side effect. Now that I consider the matter, at least insofar as negative reaction to certain of my essays is concerned, outrage is most typically not a side effect at all, but the reaction in toto. This was certainly true of the criticism that greeted, "Yes, I Want the United States to Lose," an article written in early 2007.

In reviewing that essay today, I see that I've been making one foundational argument for some time: that the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted and constitutes today an incomprehensibly monstrous series of war crimes. I extended this argument in a piece concerning the last two presidential candidates, "A Choice of War Criminals." I have yet to see a convincing argument that these actions by the U.S. do not constitute war crimes. The reason for that is simple and unavoidable: such an argument does not exist -- not, that is, if one actually examines the relevant evidence. Almost all American politicians, and almost all commentators and bloggers, resolutely refuse to consider that evidence, just as they refuse to consider the conclusions it compels. Instead, either by conscious design or (more commonly, at least as far as those not regularly concerned with politics are concerned) by unthinkingly absorbing basic assumptions from the cultural atmosphere, they believe and advance the central tenets of the American myth.

In this respect, they function in a manner identical to that employed by Barack Obama. In analyzing the monumental series of lies offered by Obama in his widely-praised speech about race in America -- and that praise revealed in a notably unforgiving manner just how remarkably stupid our public discourse has become -- I wrote:
The resistance of the ruling class and of most Americans to one aspect of the truth about 9/11 remains astonishing, and it demonstrates how puerile our national conversation is. Of course, the ruling class cannot admit that to state the obvious fact that actions have consequences is not to say that the U.S. "deserved" 9/11 -- for to acknowledge the millions murdered by the U.S. government and our policy of aggressive military intervention across the globe would subject our own actions to the kinds of judgments that only the United States is entitled to make, and only about the actions of others. The United States is uniquely exempt from the standards we apply to everyone else; thus runs the catechism at the church of our inherent national superiority.


Our national catechism tells us that America is Good -- and that America's murders are Good Murders. You may not say otherwise.
In this manner, among many others, liberal critics of the Iraq catastrophe have long demonstrated that they do not disagree with the basic foreign policy methods and goals put forth by conservatives (and by neoconservatives as well). Certainly, they do not: over the last hundred years, liberals have utilized endless global intervention in service of worldwide American hegemony, usually more determinedly and more bloodily than the conservatives themselves (always excepting the criminal reign of George II). In this respect, as in everything else of importance, Obama rigorously and unforgivably continues what went before, just as George W. Bush did. Neither Obama nor the liberals challenge even one of the fundamental premises underlying United States foreign policy; as a result, the devastation and death continue unabated. (As just a few recent examples, see here and here.) In the same way, liberals will almost never challenge the widespread practice of frequently repeated adulation of "the troops," and we will shortly examine one revealing instance of this dynamic.

As indicated, in some respects this current essay may be considered a companion piece to, "Yes, I Want the United States to Lose." This article also amplifies some themes in a piece I wrote for Memorial Day two years ago: "Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards." The starting point of that essay was an appreciation of an altogether remarkable film, The Americanization of Emily, with its extraordinary screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky. About that film, I said:
Chayefsky's target is the one identified by [Charlie Madison, the film's protagonist]: it is the glorification of war, and the countless ways in which all of us "honor the institution." We build statues of our war heroes and name streets after them; we erect shrines to the dead. We insist on the "ideals" for which we fought, and the "goodness" of our intentions. Many of us do this in the misdirected and destructive search for "meaning" in our lives: our own stunted souls prevent us from finding fulfillment and happiness in our individual lives, so we look for "glory" by climbing over endless piles of corpses.

And what is lost in all of this is the unbearable horror and pain inflicted on individual human beings, and the particularized, specific costs of our quest for glory, or meaning, or "national greatness," or honor.
If you want to begin to appreciate what happens in war -- what actually happens, not what you read in most books or see in almost all films -- I recommend you begin with the Paul Fussell books mentioned and the excerpts I offered in the earlier essay.

And to set the broader context for our consideration of the unquestioning reverence offered by virtually everyone for "the troops," I also provide these passages from, "Let Us All Become Cowards":
I recall that, several months ago, there was some discussion on various blogs about a particularly awful aspect of the obvious propaganda campaign leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and the public's eager willingness to believe all of it, or at least their notable failure to resist it. It was suggested that we had lost our "horror" of war, on the assumption that we had in some other time appreciated the monstrousness of the slaughter of human beings. This is an utterly naive and grossly mistaken rewriting of American history, one that proceeds directly from critical aspects of the mythology we tell ourselves about ourselves: that we are unique in all of history, that our form of government is the greatest and best possible to mankind, toward which all others should and must strive, and that our national character is predisposed toward compassion and peace.

Lies on top of lies, on top of still more lies, all of it.


So the myths prevail. Our wars are always noble, fought for the purest of motives. Our warriors are similarly noble, engaged in a high-minded crusade. They butcher and slaughter, and are butchered and slaughtered themselves, so that "civilization" might be preserved. Never mind that many of the warriors themselves would not agree. Never mind that the front-line soldiers know that war is insanity, and only insanity. Never mind the overwhelming, senseless, futile, endless horror of what actually happens in combat, and the details that never reach the public.

II. "The Troops" as the Crucial, Indispensable Element of Imperial Power

Because a certain kind of defender of American mythology will be eager to misunderstand and distort my argument, I must briefly clarify a few preliminary matters. This piece concerns "the troops" as an institution; that is, it concerns the U.S. military as the indispensable and primary means of implementing and realizing the goals of the U.S. ruling class. The major goal is worldwide dominance, to be achieved by, among other elements, a global empire of bases. As detailed in that essay, not only Republicans but Democrats as well, and also liberal bloggers such as Atrios and Think Progress, support an ever bigger and bigger military, regardless of the fact that the U.S. spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. This, too, is a goal embraced by Obama, as noted in a typically bloodthirsty appreciation offered by Media Matters and discussed in the middle section of this recent article.

Please note that this goal of worldwide control has nothing whatsoever to do with self-defense in any meaningful way. It is a policy of offensive aggression, unceasing and with an unending list of possible targets. Thus, the primary purpose for which "the troops" are utilized is not defensive in nature, but offensive, against countries that have never threatened the U.S. and that most often could not threaten the U.S. in any serious manner. A person who joins the military is obliged to understand this, on the general principle that an adult ought to know what he is doing. This is especially true when a person seeks to become an instrumentality of death, either firsthand and directly, or indirectly, by offering support in any one of numerous ways for those who commit the murders.

Having said this, I will add that in many instances, I will decline to pass moral judgment in an individual case. To make that kind of judgment, one would need certain information: the understanding of the particular individual him or herself, what information he is aware of and has access to, and similar kinds of matters. In addition, I am painfully aware that, for many people, there appear to be no other avenues for education and advancement (economic and otherwise), a terrible truth that has broader application as the U.S. economy collapses. (Do you think it is a coincidence that government and military service become one of the last remaining secure areas of employment? I encourage you to consider the issue again. I am not suggesting that the ruling class has engineered widespread economic collapse to drive people into government service, military or of other kinds, but I do not suggest that primarily because I don't think any group, no matter how powerful, could control the huge number of variables involved, although they might believe they could. Hubris and narcissism usually go together. But I certainly do suggest that the government and the ruling class is more than willing to take full advantage of this calamitous state of affairs.)

Even though I will not offer moral judgments across the board, I will make judgments in certain categories of cases. Two major categories deserve condemnation in the strongest terms: those who torture other human beings, and those who diligently train to murder individuals who have never threatened them or their country and who, all too often, then do murder them. We correctly condemn those who offer the defense made -- and subsequently rejected -- on behalf of the war criminals of World War II, that they were only "following orders." But those war criminals were not soldiers for the Great and Good United States. For the sake of the latter, most Americans of all political persuasions will enthusiastically accept the Nazi defense. Our national denial is fully comprehensive, and contemptible in the extreme.

There are a few lonely exceptions to this unreflective acceptance of war crimes committed by the United States. Following the dictates of national mythology, those war crimes become "blunders" at worst. To name unflinchingly murder and war crimes for what they are would call into question those necessary articles of national faith that support most Americans' conception of themselves and their country. One notable and heroic exception is Lt. Ehren Watada, whose example I wrote about in, "The Personal Factor: You're Either With the Resistance -- or With the Murderers." When Watada refused to be deployed to Iraq, he understood precisely the nature of his action and what the consequences were likely to be: "My participation would make me party to war crimes." Heroes of this kind are rare in any age. In our time, they are almost unheard of, just as most Americans never knew who Watada was, or know today. As I wrote in "The Personal Factor":
It is the person who says, "No," whom we must seek to understand. It is not melodramatic or engaging in overstatement to say that he or she is our salvation.
On the general subject that concerns us, I strongly recommend to your careful consideration an article by Laurence Vance, "Should Anyone Join the Military?" I made a note of Vance's article when it first appeared in October 2007, and I have been meaning to excerpt it ever since.

You should consult the article in its entirety for Vance's full argument. Here, I will offer only too-brief excerpts. Vance begins his approach to the question in his title from an explicitly Christian perspective, but he immediately broadens that approach to all individuals:
Should anyone join the military?

Here are seven reasons why I think that no one, regardless of his religion or lack of it, should join today’s military.

1. Joining the military may cost you your limbs, your mind, or even your life.


2. Joining the military may have an adverse effect on your family. The breakup of marriages and relationships because of soldiers being deployed to Iraq and elsewhere is epidemic. Multiple duty tours and increased deployment terms are the death knell for stable families.


3. Joining the military does not mean that you will be defending the country. The purpose of the U.S. military should be to defend the United States. Period. Yet, one of the greatest myths ever invented is that the current U.S. military somehow defends our freedoms. First of all, our freedoms are not in danger of being taken away by foreign countries; if they are taken away it will be by our own government. It is not a country making war on us that we need to fear, it is our government making war on the Bill of Rights. And second, how is stationing troops in 150 different regions of the world on hundreds of U.S. military bases defending our freedoms? It is not the purpose of the U.S. military to change regimes, secure the borders of other countries, or spread democracy at gunpoint. The Department of Defense should first and foremost be the Department of Homeland Security.

4. Joining the military means that you will be helping to carry out an evil, reckless, and interventionist U.S. foreign policy. For many, many years now, U.S. foreign policy has resulted in the destabilization and overthrow of governments, the assassination of leaders, the destruction of industry and infrastructure, the backing of military coups, death squads, and drug traffickers, imperialism under the guise of humanitarianism, support for corrupt and tyrannical governments, interference in the elections of other countries, taking sides or intervening in civil wars, engaging in provocative naval actions under the guise of protecting freedom of navigation, thousands of dubious covert actions, the dismissal of civilian casualties as collateral damage, the United States being the arms dealer to the world, and the United States bribing and bullying itself around the world as the world’s policeman, fireman, social worker, and busybody.

5. Joining the military means that you will be expected to unconditionally follow orders.


6. Joining the military means that you will be pressured to make a god out of the military.


7. Joining the military means that you may be put into a position where you will have to kill or be killed. What guarantee do you have that you will always be in a non-combat role? You are responsible for the "enemy" soldiers you kill as they defend their homeland against U.S. aggression. It may soothe your conscience if you attempt to justify your actions by maintaining it is self-defense, but it is hardly self-defense when you travel thousands of miles away to engage in an unnecessary and unjust war. You are responsible for the civilians you kill. Dismissing them as collateral damage doesn’t change the fact that you killed someone who was no threat to you or your country. You are responsible for every soldier and civilian you kill: not Bush, not Cheney, not Rumsfeld, not Gates, not your commanding officers, and not Wolfowitz, Feith, Hadley, Perle, Abrams, Tenet, Powell, Rice, and the other architects of the Iraq War. Bush and company will not be firing a single shot. You will be expected to do their dirty work and live with it the rest of your life. "Thou shalt not kill" is not just a tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition; it is part of the moral code of every civilization, pagan or religious.

Should anyone join the military? Certainly not today’s military. And until a major change in U.S. foreign policy occurs, not tomorrow’s military either. So be all you can be: Just don’t be it in the U.S. military.
For further details, study the full article. With regard to points five and six identified by Vance, you might want to read another of my essays: "The Obedience Culture, and the Death of the Mind." In that article, I quoted Paul Fussell on the broader significance of the dynamic that is crucial to any military's identity and operation:
Now my point is simple: if you are trained to be uncritical of the military, you can easily go a little further and learn to be uncritical of government and authority, and even to be uncritical of all established and received institutions. The ultimate result is the death of the mind, the transformation of the higher learning and independent scholarship into a cheering section for whatever popular notions and superstitions prevail at the moment. ... I wonder if the habit of unthinking obedience is a good one to instill in young Americans. For one thing, what is clear about the culture of war is that it is necessarily an obedience culture. In armies, as one critic has noticed, where there must be unquestioning obedience, there must necessarily be passive injustice. And not just that--the obedience culture is certain over the long-run to shrivel originality and to constrict thought, to encourage witless adaptation and social dishonesty.

III. The Non-Opposition of the Liberal-Progressives

Vance's article is not the only one from several years ago I've held in reserve. Another piece I noted, in January 2006, was a column by Joel Stein. The perspective Stein offered was a singularly unusual one, highly unusual even among liberals and progressives. My primary objection to the column is its jokey, humorous tone; this subject is one to which such a tone is especially unsuited. (I say that about very few topics; torture is another.) But this approach is part of Stein's writerly persona; we might wish it were otherwise, at least on a few topics, but such a wish is extremely unlikely to find fulfillment.

And despite what I consider to be this very regrettable flaw, Stein is entirely correct on the major substantive points:
I don't support our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car.


I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken -- and they're wussy by definition.


Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there -- and who might one day want to send them somewhere else. Trust me, a guy who thought 50.7% was a mandate isn't going to pick up on the subtleties of a parade for just service in an unjust war. He's going to be looking for funnel cake.


After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.

But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. ...

I do sympathize with people who joined up to protect our country, especially after 9/11, and were tricked into fighting in Iraq. ...

But when you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you're not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you're willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism, for better or worse. Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo, but other times it's Vietnam.


I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea. All I'm asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return. But, please, no parades.
I note that, despite my agreement with Stein on the subject of supporting "the troops," he also provides confirmation of two of the deepest self-delusions still maintained by almost every liberal and progressive you will encounter, including almost all bloggers. The first is that anyone was "deceived by false intelligence." This is a deeply dangerous canard, one I have examined repeatedly and in detail. You can start with, "Played for Fools Yet Again," and follow the numerous links. The second is the lie about "ethnic genocide in Kosovo." I note again and again that liberals and progressives still repair to this awful lie about Clinton's disastrous interventions (as Clinton himself did in the first instance); I mentioned it just the other day (again, follow the links to much, much more; you might start with this one for the truth about the "genocide" claim in particular).

But about "the troops" and the reverence for them demanded by our culture of obedience, Stein is absolutely right. And note that one of his concerns (his reference to "no parades," for example) is the issue targeted by Chayefsky: the glorification of the military, and everything that follows from that glorification. It was tiresomely predictable that numerous conservative voices would be raised in ferocious denunciation of Stein. You can find many nauseating, self-congratulatory examples of that kind easily enough on your own, if the thrillingly outraged, incoherent, nearly unintelligible grunts of those who never learned to think are of interest to you.

Of more interest is denunciation from another corner, from what styles itself as the "opposition," except on any issue that matters. For example, this:
Wanker of the Day

Joel Stein

Bring on the parades. If our military rank and file have been betrayed by their civilian leadership they deserve our respect doubly.
To discourage any misperception, Atrios waded into the swamp of his own comments section. Many of those comments endeavored mightily to determine if Stein was "serious" in his argument -- this despite the fact that, regardless of Stein's persona as a humorist in large part, his seriousness about this argument was entirely obvious. So much for the contention that liberals as a group demonstrate unusual perceptiveness. Atrios had the answer for this maddeningly complex question:
stein's serious and should be dropped into baghdad along with goldberg and malkin
So much for the claim that liberals as a group exhibit great compassion and tolerance, especially where dissenters to the central claims of liberal orthodoxy are concerned. But Atrios's own vicious denunciation is part of the other major concern revealed in the comments: that "people like Stein" give liberals "a bad name," and allow conservatives to make the argument that liberals are "weak on national security." Never mind genocide in Iraq or the argument that condemns it as an unforgivable war crime. Forget all that, and instead contemplate the unspeakable tragedy of liberals being misperceived as weak when it comes to murdering the innocent.

In fact, liberals are unforgivably very far from "weak" in this regard. For many years, most liberals and progressives have revealed a sickening disregard for innocents slaughtered in the pursuit of Empire, an issue I explored just this week. "Exceptionally Awful," indeed.

I discussed some of the reasons for this perspective of most liberals and progressives in "The Obedience Culture, and the Death of the Mind":
The United States is fully militarized in a much deeper sense: it is now militarized psychologically and culturally. The other day, I analyzed how the critical lessons necessary to the achievement of an obedience culture are instilled in teenagers. As I noted there, the most fundamental lesson imparted to the high school students who peacefully protested the Iraq occupation is the necessity of obedience. Obedience, they were instructed, is the absolutely mandatory requirement -- if you wish to have a future, if you wish to pursue your goals, and if you wish to have any life at all.

As Fussell notes, and as I observed in my earlier discussion, you have only to give up a few things: justice, originality, honesty, and an independent mind. ...

Consider the people you know. Take a look at the views offered in our media. Consider the opinions offered on the most prominent and popular blogs, and the courses of action they support -- and the courses of action they reject. And then reflect upon the fact that the great majority of people are more than willing to give up all the values Fussell identifies. And for what? To be popular, to be successful, to wield "influence," to be "respectable."

In terms of its possessing a significant, genuinely vital intellectual and cultural life insofar as our political structures and governing purposes are concerned, the United States is already dead. That we refuse to recognize this does not alter the fact of our demise. Although it may take years or even decades for the rot to set in on a scale that forbids denial, all that remains for those of us who hope for a future of peace and liberty is to perform the autopsy, and to make certain we understand what went so horribly wrong.
Among liberal and progressive bloggers, you can find a very few honorable exceptions to the demanded liberal orthodoxy, which almost always apes the conventional (and conservative) orthodoxy in every significant respect. But those exceptions are very few; that they are, powerfully demonstrates the wide reach of the prevailing view, which inexorably pushes all dissenting views to the most distant margins.

IV. Conclusion

On the occasion of this Memorial Day and on the days to come, all of which promise to be deeply tragic and murderously bloody so long as the goals of the American ruling class remain unchanged, the objects of your reverence must be severely restricted. That reverence must be reserved for innocent lives, and especially for those innocent lives ended, maimed and altered forever by needless, futile, endlessly destructive war, past, present and future.

The historical and contemporary record makes possible only one conclusion: those needless and futile wars are not just "a few" or only "some" of them, and the trail of devastation is not the result of "regrettable misjudgments" for which amends have been made, or are even possible. No, almost every single war ever fought by the United States was entirely unnecessary in terms of any justifiable conception of self-defense; this is unquestionably true of every intervention since World War II. The murders are the result of intended and intentional policy, reached after deliberation and in service to the goals of the ruling class: power, wealth, dominion and control -- and always more power, wealth, dominion and control. To challenge those goals and to begin to alter them, you must challenge every assumption underlying the myths upon which the United States feeds, as it continues to brutalize and kill in vast numbers. One of the key assumptions that you must question and finally reject is the demand for glorification of "the troops."

To conclude, I offer again my words at the end of "Let Us All Become Cowards":
Chayefsky rejects the myths in their totality. He implores us to embrace cowardice. I beg you to follow his advice. You can be certain the cries for war will rise again, if not against Iran, then against North Korea, or in ten years' time against China, or against a country not now in the news, but which will fill the role required by the vast machinery of war. And when those cries overwhelm all facts and make reasonable argument impossible, and when they are amplified once again by an ever-compliant, always docile and obedient media, plead cowardice. If you value the sanctity of a single life, it is the only sane course to take, and the bravest.

May 20, 2009

The Only Monopoly that Matters

The crack-up of Empire will provide its all-too-brief episodes of amusement, for which we subjects must be duly grateful. ("You will be grateful, you pathetic pissants!" scream Our Masters in D.C.)

Here is Harry Reid on closing Guantanamo, releasing terrorists (alleged terrorists, to be accurate -- "NO!" loudly proclaim Our Masters. "They are terrorists, because we say so! Why would they be in prison if they weren't terrorists? Hah! Didn't think of that, did you, you piece of scum!" "Oh, thank you, sir," sez I. "Sorry, sorry, sorry. I forgot. Thank you, sir! Harder, sir! I deserve it!" grovel grovel grovel), and -- o, wondrous mysteries of life! -- the endlessly baffling epistemological and linguistic complexities raised by transferring a "terrorist" ("Oh, thank you, sir. That was a good one!") from one prison to another:
REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? I mean (OFF-MIKE).

REID: I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.
"Can't put them in prison unless you release them." Discuss.

This is like the hardest essay ever in an advanced philosophy seminar. That Harry Reid is some astoundingly stupid doofus impressive guy. ("Fixed it, sir! Sorry, sorry, very sorry!")

I detect another dynamic here. When we consider that the United States government slowly, inexorably transforms itself into institutionalized terrorism both abroad and at home (or not slowly at all, depending on where you are in relation to the bombs, bullets and numerous other instrumentalities of murder and control), we realize that Our Masters, with less than a handful of exceptions, are terrorists themselves.

So when Reid purports to speak for his fellow rulers as well as himself on this question, he inadvertently reveals their real concern.

They don't want the competition.

May 19, 2009

Exceptionally Awful

A few words about "exceptionalism," in two respects: with regard to America the Most Virtuous, the Uniquely Good, and the Highest Tippy-Top of Everything Possible in All the Universes; and with regard to the performance of the majority of liberals and progressives since the dawning of the Age of Obama. As long-time readers will know, my evaluation of the intellectual rigor and moral courage of Democrats and most liberals and progressives has been negative in the extreme for several years now. As a friendly reminder (just cuz I'm that kind of guy), here's a post I wrote immediately before the 2006 elections. All the predictions I made came true! Except that the post-election record compiled by the Democrats was far, far worse than I had anticipated. This is because, contrary to gossip of extraordinary viciousness concerning my own moral qualities, I am unusually kind and generous in my assessment of others. I start from the premise that everyone is a world-class genius with the sweet temperament of an unspoiled Shirley Temple. Shame on you for your cynicism that causes you to laugh at this unarguable and unadorned description of my perspective.

One particular aspect of the approach of many Obamized lib-progs has already proven to be extraordinarily nauseating, as well as inexhaustible and inextinguishable. John Caruso explains it well, in discussing the slime that recently emerged from the ruptured pustule that is Katrina vanden Heuvel's brain:
Here's how she explained her concern about the way that military escalation in Afghanistan might "endanger the Obama Presidency":
On Afghanistan, I am concerned that it will bleed us of the resources needed for economic recovery, further destabilize Pakistan, open a rift with our European allies, and negate the positive effects of withdrawing from Iraq on our image in the Muslim world.
Got that? Incinerating poor people in Afghanistan is bad because it might cost too much money to allow us to prop up the economy—among other similarly weighty and pressing concerns.

Note in particular the lack of any moral basis for rejecting a massive increase in the level of death and destruction inflicted by the American military in Afghanistan. This is par for the course for liberals these days; piffling considerations like human life or international law are discounted for them in the age of Obama, in which the golden calf of Pragmatism is worshiped with single-minded devotion. No, such outmoded concerns are the sole provenance of fuzzy-headed idealists who haven't managed to grasp that all the fundamental equations of moral calculus changed the instant a Democrat started doing the killing.

This is not to say these liberals don't care about human life, of course, even deeply; they just keep it in its proper perspective, as political expediency and U.S. exceptionalism demand.
Before continuing with our major topic, let us offer a brief diversionary note. About this from Katrina the Kut-up: "negate the positive effects of withdrawing from Iraq..." In what universe is maintaining a residual force of 50,000-75,000 American personnel, military and otherwise, for decades to come, along with a series of "enduring bases" and an embassy the size of Vatican City, in what is in every operative respect an American colony, considered "withdrawing"? You silly goose: in the universe of the lib-prog who lies steadily and with malice aforethought when it suits her political purposes. But this is lying for a Democratic president, so it's All Exceptionally Good. About Iraq and America's plans for same, one might say: We Are Not Leaving. One might say that, as I did a few years ago. I just looked at that post for the first time in a long time, and I see that I had some words about the more general topic here:
It is deeply regrettable, and also inevitable -- since the world of political blogs cannot be other than a reflection of the larger culture -- that this same indifference to human pain and suffering infects the approach of the great majority of political bloggers. For all their ferocious opposition to the Bush administration and to Republicans generally, liberal and progressive bloggers act as if they are largely indifferent to bringing about a quick end to the incomprehensibly deadly Iraq occupation. They certainly demonstrate no sustained, serious effort to pressure Congressional Democrats into defunding the war -- or into acting to oppose an attack on Iran in every way possible. The concerns of these bloggers and the Washington Democrats are perfectly coextensive: they will condemn the Iraq war and act to block an attack on Iran only to the degree such actions will not endanger their perceived political opportunities in 2008.
The ongoing, sickening disregard exhibited by many lib-progs for the criminal murder of large numbers of innocent people has thus been a constant feature of our repellent political discourse for some time. And I will note that, despite the Shirley Temple metaphysics that undergirds my analysis, a few of us have regularly pointed out the gaping, bloody hole where their souls ought to be for several years.

I discussed this issue in another entry from almost exactly two years ago: "Our Disgusting, Sickening, Impenetrable National Narcissism." I began with comments about odiferous oozings offered by Kos and Joan Walsh, and then offered observations on the broader topic. It now appears that this commentary from a time of comparative innocence will find application in the coming months and years on occasions too numerous to count.

I wrote:
So to Kos, Joan Walsh ... and everyone else who mouths the same empty platitudes, the identical fundamentally false and thoroughly conventional phrases that spring from a perspective drenched in "American exceptionalism," which views the United States as the highest possible point of human development and Americans as uniquely good and virtuous in the entire span of history, and which reduces all other peoples to fifth-rate bit players in an increasingly desperate global drama, I have this to say:

I think this formulation reveals an equanimity and kindness that are thoroughly admirable in the circumstances.

Feel free to apply these thoughts as you will, and as seems required. I would recommend not using them more than five or ten times daily, although the temptation will doubtless arise. But repetition dulls the sword, etc.

I do feel compelled to make one acknowledgment. As my most recent posts indicate (here and here), the United States and the corporatist-authoritarian-militarist system that has come to dominate its operations over the last century most certainly do produce exceptional war criminals.

We're Number One! We're Number One!

It doesn't mean what you thought it did. Pity.

May 18, 2009

"Cowboys" and Other Horrors of Empire, Version Obama 1.0

It is certain we will see many future iterations of Imperial Wars in the Age of Obama, together with additional locales -- but it always deserves emphasis that all those variations, under Obama or any of the presidents that preceded him, utilize the same general tactics, just as they pursue the same overall goal. That goal is the expansion, maintenance and consolidation of American global hegemony; I have documented the development and implementation of that policy in my "Dominion Over the World" series. (All of the installments in that series are listed at the conclusion of Part IX.)

I will be discussing various aspects of this policy and the means used to achieve the ruling class's goals in the continuation of the "Against Prosecution" series. I now want to draw your attention to some follow-ups concerning my article from a few days ago, "Barack Obama, Murderer and War Criminal-in-Chief." That post of mine described, among other things, how many "liberal" and "progressive" organizations have enthusiastically fallen in line to support the horrors of Empire, now that those depredations are directed by the political party with which they happen to identify. To say that such organizations and individuals who make those arguments are deeply unprincipled and utterly unserious about the positions they take is the kindest observation that can be made. My argument drew the predictable response from some partisan defenders of the bloody Glories of Obama, which Chris Floyd addresses here. Floyd also discusses the growing horrors in Afghanistan and Pakistan in this entry.

To those discussions, you may add this from Patrick Cockburn:
It is astonishing to discover that the same small American unit, the US Marine Corps' Special Operations or MarSOC, has been responsible for all three of the worst incidents in Afghanistan in which civilians have been killed. Its members refer to themselves as "Taskforce Violence" and the Marines' own newspaper scathingly refers to the unit as "cowboys".

The US military commanders in Afghanistan must have known about MarSOC's reputation for disregarding the loss of life among Afghan civilians, yet for 10 days, they have flatly denied claims by villagers in the western Afghan province of Farah that more than 100 of their neighbours had been slaughtered by US air strikes.

Everything the US military has said about the air strikes on the three villages in Bala Boluk district on the evening of 4 May should be treated with suspicion – most probably hastily-concocted lies aimed at providing a cover story to conceal what really happened. Official mendacity of these proportions is comparable to anything that happened in Vietnam.


Survivors from Gerani, Gangabad and Khoujaha villages say that there had been fighting nearby but the Taliban had long withdrawn when US aircraft attacked. This was not a few errant sticks of bombs but a prolonged bombardment. It had a devastating effect on the mud-brick houses and photographs of the dead show that their bodies were quite literally torn apart by the blasts. This makes it difficult to be precise about the exact number killed, but the Afghan Rights Monitor, after extensive interviewing, says that at least 117 civilians were killed, including 26 women and 61 children.

The US military has now fallen back on the tired old justification that the enemy was using civilians as human shields. This certainly is not satisfying infuriated Afghans from demonstrating students at Kabul university all the way to President Hamid Karzai. Whatever MarSOC troops thought they were doing in Bala Boluk, the killing of so many civilians will do nothing but strengthen the Taliban.
On Cockburn's final point, too, the Obama administration faithfully follows the Bush model, which again is the model followed by all administrations. I summarized certain of the basic principles involved several years ago, in "The Folly of Intervention":
Intervention always leads to more intervention: the first intervention leads to unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as the justification for still further intervention. That intervention in turn leads to still more unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as yet another justification for still further intervention. The process can go on indefinitely, and the ultimate consequences are always disastrous in the extreme.


These are only some of the very bitter fruits of foreign intervention: uncontrollable consequences are always set loose and, all too often, those consequences are directly opposed to what the original stated purpose had been. And yet, like the insane man, we repeat this behavior over and over again, insisting that this time the result will be different, and it will finally work -- and we'll get exactly the result we want, and no others at all.
Consult that earlier essay for details of the disastrous results of the Clinton administration's interventions in the Balkans, consequences which liberals and progressives uniformly ignore. In addition, almost all liberals and progressives continue to defend Clinton's interventions to this day; to do so, they steadfastly rely on a series of outright lies, which I detailed here and here (the latter post discusses Biden's notable lies about Bosnia, as well as most liberals' willingness to believe that we "succeeded" there -- absolutely none of which is remotely true; follow the links in those pieces for still more). And if you continue to offer the lie that "a genocide was going on," I suggest you study this post in particular. Unfortunately, it has been my repeated experience that most political partisans have no interest in the truth on this point or on most others.

The determined refusal of liberals, progressives and sundry other defenders of the U.S.'s interventions and wars of conquest and control (but only when those interventions and wars are directed by Democrats) to see that the Bush administration represented a continuation of what had gone before and was not in any significant way a "break" with the past representing some "unique" evil, results in commentary that is hopelessly superficial and completely useless in terms of political and historic analysis. As is true of Obama himself, all such liberals and progressives offer no serious challenge to the existing system of oppression, destruction and death; to the contrary, they are the most faithful representatives and adherents of the system that causes havoc in every area it affects, both abroad and at home. Anyone who expected otherwise hadn't been paying attention and had understood very little about world and national events, if anything at all.

As I say, I will soon have much more on these issues.