April 25, 2007

The United States as Cho Seung-Hui: How the State Sanctifies Murder

The most crucial argument concerning the horrifying killings at Blacksburg, Virginia, last week -- the argument that implicates the foundational moral and political principle that ought to most concern us at this moment in history -- was, of course, the one that almost all mainstream commentary studiously avoided. The monolithic, unassailable mythology that is America's lifeblood is never to be questioned; the cacophony of national voices may disagree about numerous other subjects, but American culture is united in its conspiracy of silence on every matter of genuine importance. In our blindness, we have brought ourselves as close to perfection as is possible for human beings: we obliterate and distort the past, we render ourselves incapable of grasping the present, and we blindly plunge into an increasingly desolate future, with all our cognitive abilities rendered permanently disabled. Our ignorance is complete.

The horror of the murders at Virginia Tech was genuine; the primary narrative automatically tendered by the custodians of our national story was false in every aspect. The killings were paralyzing in their monstrousness because this kind of incident is so mercifully rare, we were told. It is terrifying, our commentators informed us, that one individual can become so filled with delusional rage that he will murder 32 innocent strangers. What could possibly cause a person to be so angry that he would lash out in this way, and what could render him so ultimately despairing of the world and his own life that he would end his campaign of destruction by killing himself?

Bob Herbert offered a useful summary of the dynamics involved with killers like Cho Seung-Hui:
More than four decades [after the University of Texas killings] we still profess to be baffled at the periodic eruption of murderous violence in places we perceive as safe havens. We look on aghast, as if the devil himself had appeared from out of nowhere. This time it was 32 innocents slaughtered on the campus of Virginia Tech. How could it have happened? We behave as if it was all so inexplicable.

But a close look at the patterns of murderous violence in the U.S. reveals some remarkable consistencies, wherever the individual atrocities may have occurred. In case after case, decade after decade, the killers have been shown to be young men riddled with shame and humiliation, often bitterly misogynistic and homophobic, who have decided that the way to assert their faltering sense of manhood and get the respect they have been denied is to go out and shoot somebody.

Dr. James Gilligan, who has spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts, and as a professor at Harvard and now at N.Y.U., believes that some debilitating combination of misogyny and homophobia is a "central component" in much, if not most, of the worst forms of violence in this country.

"What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal," he said, "is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act."

Violence is commonly resorted to as the antidote to the disturbing emotions raised by the widespread hostility toward women in our society and the pathological fear of so many men that they aren’t quite tough enough, masculine enough — in short, that they might have homosexual tendencies.

In a culture that is relentless in equating violence with masculinity, "it is tremendously tempting," said Dr. Gilligan, "to use violence as a means of trying to shore up one’s sense of masculine self-esteem."
I underscore the centrality of feelings of shame and humiliation in this kind of psychology, combined with a desperately felt need to prove one's "masculine" self-worth, in a culture where masculinity is equated with dominance over one's enemies to be achieved by physical violence, thus rendering those enemies either entirely submissive -- or dead.

In my introductory comments to an essay entitled, "American Apocalypse," I said:
I originally wrote this on March 18, 2005. I republish it here for reasons that will be obvious. These ideas are central to our current foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq and the possible coming crisis with Iran. And the Lifton article that I excerpt is an invaluable aid in tying together many of the themes that concern me. More particularly, Lifton's approach (and that utilized by James Carroll, too) perfectly complements Alice Miller's analysis of the psychological dynamics involved to provide what is, in my view, the most comprehensive picture of the forces that give rise to the present crisis -- and this combined analysis also points to the solution, if people will only confront all the sources of the immense destructiveness men perpetually inflict on others, and on themselves. In addition, as Lifton and Miller note and as I mention in the essay about Paul Berman I've also reposted, the desire for revenge features prominently in all of these dynamics. People usually underestimate the significance of that desire, in terms of the scope of its power and its full reach. They shouldn't: the consequences of all these forces tragically continue to play out before the entire world, every day.
Keep in mind Herbert's summary of the dynamics involved in a case like that of Cho Seung-Hui as you read the following excerpts from Robert Jay Lifton:
[W]e are experiencing what could be called an apocalyptic face-off between Islamist forces, overtly visionary in their willingness to kill and die for their religion, and American forces claiming to be restrained and reasonable but no less visionary in their projection of a cleansing warmaking and military power. Both sides are energized by versions of intense idealism; both see themselves as embarked on a mission of combating evil in order to redeem and renew the world; and both are ready to release untold levels of violence to achieve that purpose.

The war on Iraq--a country with longstanding aspirations toward weapons of mass destruction but with no evident stockpiles of them and no apparent connection to the assaults of September 11--was a manifestation of that American visionary projection.


The American apocalyptic entity is less familiar to us. Even if its urges to power and domination seem historically recognizable, it nonetheless represents a new constellation of forces bound up with what I've come to think of as "superpower syndrome." By that term I mean a national mindset--put forward strongly by a tight-knit leadership group--that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it the right to hold sway over all other nations. The American superpower status derives from our emergence from World War II as uniquely powerful in every respect, still more so as the only superpower from the end of the cold war in the early 1990s.

More than mere domination, the American superpower now seeks to control history. Such cosmic ambition is accompanied by an equally vast sense of entitlement--of special dispensation to pursue its aims. That entitlement stems partly from historic claims to special democratic virtue, but has much to do with an embrace of technological power translated into military terms. That is, a superpower--the world's only superpower--is entitled to dominate and control precisely because it is a superpower.

The murderous events of 9/11 hardened that sense of entitlement as nothing else could have. Superpower syndrome did not require 9/11, but the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon rendered us an aggrieved superpower, a giant violated and made vulnerable, which no superpower can permit.

Indeed, at the core of superpower syndrome lies a powerful fear of vulnerability. A superpower's victimization brings on both a sense of humiliation and an angry determination to restore, or even extend, the boundaries of a superpower-dominated world. Integral to superpower syndrome are its menacing nuclear stockpiles and their world-destroying capacity.

In important ways, the "war on terrorism" has represented an impulse to undo violently precisely the humiliation of 9/11.


The war on terrorism is apocalyptic, then, exactly because it is militarized and yet amorphous, without limits of time or place, and has no clear end. It therefore enters the realm of the infinite. Implied in its approach is that every last terrorist everywhere on the earth is to be hunted down until there are no more terrorists anywhere to threaten us, and in that way the world will be rid of evil.


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. The attack on Iraq reflected the reach not only of the "war on terrorism" but of deceptions and manipulations of reality that have accompanied it. In this context, the word "war" came to combine metaphor (as in the "war on poverty" or "war on drugs"), conventional military combat, justification for "pre-emptive" attack and assertion of superpower domination.


The amorphousness of the war on terrorism carries with it a paranoid edge, the suspicion that terrorists and their supporters are everywhere and must be "pre-emptively" attacked lest they emerge and attack us. Since such a war is limitless and infinite--extending from the farthest reaches of Indonesia or Afghanistan to Hamburg, Germany, or New York City, and from immediate combat to battles that continue into the unending future--it inevitably becomes associated with a degree of megalomania as well. As the world's greatest military power replaces the complexities of the world with its own imagined stripped-down, us-versus-them version of it, our distorted national self becomes the world.
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."

I am documenting the nature and roots of that "prior mission aimed at American global hegemony" in my series, "Dominion Over the World." The goal of global hegemony long predated both George W. Bush and 9/11, and it is not a goal held only by Republicans: the identical goal has been pursued for over a century by both Democrats and Republicans, and it has been justified in the same general terms. It was hinted at in the annexation of Hawaii, and then solidified in the horrifying episode in the Philippines. This foreign policy went fully international with Woodrow Wilson and the United States entrance into World War I, and the world role of the U.S. following World War II ensured that global hegemony would remain the overriding purpose of the entire American foreign policy establishment and our governing class ever since, as it is still the purpose today. The catastrophe of Vietnam was yet another manifestation of the same policy, as were the other numerous U.S. interventions overseas since World War II, as were Clinton's interventions in the 1990s.

To return for a moment to the determinative role played by feelings of vulnerability, victimization and humiliation and by the desire to reassert one's own power by means of violence, even if it is violence directed against people who have absolutely nothing to do with the actual source of one's grievance, I offer what is probably a familiar additional piece of confirming evidence. Here is Thomas Friedman, writing in June 2003:
The "real reason" for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. Afghanistan wasn't enough because a terrorism bubble had built up over there — a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured. This terrorism bubble said that plowing airplanes into the World Trade Center was O.K., having Muslim preachers say it was O.K. was O.K., having state-run newspapers call people who did such things "martyrs" was O.K. and allowing Muslim charities to raise money for such "martyrs" was O.K. Not only was all this seen as O.K., there was a feeling among radical Muslims that suicide bombing would level the balance of power between the Arab world and the West, because we had gone soft and their activists were ready to die.

The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, house to house, and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble. Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world.
Consider this, too, from Jonah Goldberg in October 2003, in "The Case for War":
Q: If you're a new sheriff in a really bad town, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Smack the stuffing out of the nearest, biggest bad guy you can.

Q: If you're a new inmate in a rough prison, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Pick a fight with the biggest, meanest cat you can — but make sure you can win.

Q: If you're a kid and you've had enough of the school bullies pants-ing you in the cafeteria, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Punch one of them in the nose as hard as you can and then stand your ground.

Q: If you're the leader of a peaceful and prosperous nation which serves as the last best hope of humanity and the backbone of international stability and a bunch of fanatics murder thousands of your people on your own soil, what's one of the smartest thing you can do?

A: Knock the crap out of Iraq.

Why Iraq? Well, there are two answers to that question.

The first answer is "Why not?" (If it helps, think of Bluto burping "Why not?" in Animal House.)

The second answer: Iraq deserved it.

Now. Here's the important part: Both of these are good answers.
(I analyzed Goldberg's repellent and truly sickening arguments in some detail at the time his column first appeared; I will republish that piece sometime in the next week.)

One of the better commentaries I've read about the Blacksburg tragedy in the broader context of world events is by John Brown, one of three State Department employees to resign in protest against the Iraq war. In "The Cho in the White House," Brown writes:
Given my own twenty-plus years in the Foreign Service, on occasions like this I find myself looking at my own country from a non-American perspective. I must confess that, when I first saw psychopathic mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui's photographs of himself savagely pointing a gun at the camera, I was reminded not only of the violent images in our popular culture, but also of George W. Bush and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to speak of the thrust of his whole foreign policy.

Indeed, for others on our globe, mass murder in Iraq, scenes of degradation from Abu Ghraib, CIA extraordinary rendition expeditions, and our prison at Guantanamo have already become synonymous with the U.S. government and the President; so, it would not be surprising if Cho's actions and Bush's foreign policy were linked in the minds of people outside the United States. I see several reasons why, for non-Americans, a mad student and our commander- in-chief could appear to be two sides of the same all-American coin.


Bluntly put, overseas the U.S. government (and, by association, the country as well) -- thanks in large part to Bush and his foreign policy -- is now widely considered the Cho of our world, despite the often risible efforts of Karen Hughes, the administration's Image Czarina, to improve America's international standing through what she calls the diplomacy of deeds. The fact of the matter is that the President's deeds have led other countries to see our government, in its aggressive unilateralism, as unreliable, if not deranged; obsessed beyond all reason with putative enemies and globe-spanning organizations of terrorists that despise us; ready to respond with unjustified violence to any perceived slight; unwilling to listen to, or accept, advice; and unconcerned with the consequences of what it does, even when this results in widespread death and destruction in one of the birthplaces of civilization, where Bush and his top officials now pride themselves on their latest accomplishment, a military "surge" that only seems to further encourage mass murder.

Regrettably, I fear that, after more than six years of George W. Bush, Baghdad and Blacksburg are, to many on our planet, not that far apart.
With the history and the evidence I am presenting in "Dominion Over the World" firmly in mind, we can see that Brown's focus is too narrow: the problem is not simply with "Bush and his foreign policy," for Bush's foreign policy is that of the U.S. governing elites. You may consider the Iraq war and occupation particularly insane, and I will not dispute the issue. But the critical and larger point is this one: Bush would not have been able to launch this war with strong bipartisan support, and there would not have been as little opposition as there was, unless the overall foreign policy objectives were shared by virtually the entire governing class. As in the case of Cho, the ground had been prepared for a long time. Moreover, nothing essential has changed, even as the bloody nightmare of Iraq grinds on day after day: witness the identical proclamations about what "we" must do to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons issuing from prominent politicians from both major parties.

Remember, too, Madeleine Albright's statement about Iraq, from 1998:
But let me make the following point; which is that the United States is the only superpower. We have responsibilities as such. We stand tall and therefore we can see further. And we are very concerned about this threat to all our societies, due to weapons of mass destruction. And if we have to go it alone, we will go it alone. But we are always, that's kind of where we are in the international system at the moment. We look for partners; we seek help from others that are like-minded; we have a lot of help. But ultimately, Ted, we are the United States, and we are the indispensable power.
With only a handful of exceptions, every member of our governing class believes this as much as Albright does. Albright's perspective, one which I again emphasize is that of our entire foreign policy establishment, is that if the United States employs violence, it is only because we were forced to by the actions of others. (See, e.g., this article: "'If diplomacy runs out, we have reserved the right to use force and if we do so it will be substantial,' she said." Such statements can be recycled for an endless number of wars, and almost every prominent national politician, Republican and Democrat, now says the same about Iran.) When we begin wars, it is only because we had to. That most of our overseas interventions are naked acts of aggression is a fact that is obliterated under the force of this kind of unrelenting propaganda.

This dynamic of victimization ("You made me do it!") coupled with vicious aggression against utterly innocent bystanders is another deeply troubling similarity between Cho and U.S. foreign policy. Not surprisingly, Jonathan Schwarz very perceptively focused on this startling fact, and illustrated it with two brief quotes:
Cho Seung-Hui, in the video mailed to NBC:
"You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today...You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."
George Bush, three days before the invasion of Iraq:
"Tomorrow is the day that we will determine whether or not diplomacy can work...You see, the decision is [Saddam's] to make. And it's been his to make all along as to whether or not there's the use of the military. He got to decide...these are his decisions to make."
As I said, the horror of the Blacksburg killings was genuine. But consider the immense difference in scale between the expressions of grief and horror at Cho's actions -- which led to the deaths of 32 innocent people -- and those that have arisen out of our war of aggression against Iraq, and the subsequent hellish occupation. The Blacksburg murders consumed our country for a week, blotting out almost all other news; the horrors and deaths in Iraq, which far outnumber Cho's killings on any single day, receive mention, but nothing remotely approaching the frequency and intensity of coverage that followed the Virginia Tech incident.

As I have repeatedly stated, Iraq had not attacked us and constituted no serious threat to our nation. These facts were entirely clear in the spring of 2003. Thus, our invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are immoral, illegal, and an unending war crime. We have murdered well in excess of half a million innocent human beings; the number creeps closer to one million with each day that passes. Cho unforgivably murdered 32 people who had done him no harm. What are we to say about the actions of the United States in Iraq? In addition to murdering over half a million people, we have murdered a very significant part of an entire culture's past; we have murdered the present, and in addition to all the deaths and grievous injuries, we have created a largely ignored and momentous refugee crisis; and we have murdered the future:
About 70% of primary school students in a Baghdad neighborhood suffer symptoms of trauma-related stress such as bed-wetting or stuttering, according to a survey by the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

The survey of about 2,500 youngsters is the most comprehensive look at how the war is affecting Iraqi children, said Iraq's national mental health adviser and author of the study, Mohammed Al-Aboudi.

"The fighting is happening in the streets in front of our houses and schools," al-Aboudi said. "This is very difficult for the children to adapt to."

The study is to be released next month. Al-Aboudi discussed the findings with USA TODAY.

Many Iraqi children have to pass dead bodies on the street as they walk to school in the morning, according to a separate report last week by the International Red Cross. Others have seen relatives killed or have been injured in mortar or bomb attacks.

"Some of these children are suffering one trauma after another, and it's severely damaging their development," said Said Al-Hashimi, a psychiatrist who teaches at Mustansiriya Medical School and runs a private clinic in west Baghdad. "We're not certain what will become of the next generation, even if there is peace one day," Al-Hashimi said.
Cho was a detestable, sickening amateur. The governing class of the United States, together with its military of unprecedented strength, are professional killers. Even now, as all our politicians make calculations for the 2008 elections their overriding priority, there is no sense of urgency whatsoever about ending this ongoing, monstrous crime.

What explains the difference in our national reaction to Cho's killings and the neverending horrors of Iraq? There are many factors involved, including some I have analyzed in detail: our national narcissism, the racism that is woven into our history and into our foreign policy, the mythology of "American exceptionalism," as expressed by Albright and shared by the governing class and foreign policy establishment, and the related and inevitable conviction that we are entitled to be the global hegemon, as I'm discussing in "Dominion Over the World."

And here is one further reason for the difference. It is hardly an original observation to note that States, especially technologically advanced States like America, are capable of infinitely greater destruction than a single individual. But a large part of our horror in reaction to Blacksburg is that we know the identity of the single killer: this man destroyed all these lives. The guilt and the responsibility are unequivocal and undeniable. Many sins can be laid at the feet of the State, particularly when a State has metamorphosed into an advanced stage of fundamentally corrupt corporatism, where nominally private business and enterprise become inextricably intertwined with the workings of vast government bureaucracies, when often unidentified enforcers are capable of favoritism or punishment on a vast scale. When the State is also engaged in widespread intrusiveness into and surveillance of most aspects of its citizens' lives, that State has almost certainly passed the point of no return. But one sin of the State is notably terrible in its specifically moral implications: it dissolves guilt and responsibility, and it cloaks human action in protective anonymity. The State, including the government of the United States, destroys countless lives both at home and abroad every day. With rare exceptions, we are unable to say: "This person caused the destruction." We don't know who did it; everyone did, and no one. "The system" is responsible. Guilt for the State's crimes is undetected, and undetectable.

In his classic book, Our Enemy, the State (first published in 1935), Albert Jay Nock makes a fundamental distinction between government and the State, a distinction I will soon discuss in more detail. For our purposes here, I too briefly note only the following in this regard: by government, Nock means that system that spontaneously arises out of a social order, where "in [Thomas] Paine's view the code of government should be that of the legendary king Pausole, who presented but two laws for his subjects, the first being, Hurt no man, and the second, Then do as you please, and that the whole business of government should be the purely negative one of seeing that this code is carried out." Nock goes on to note: "Paine's theory of government agrees exactly with the theory set forth by Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence."

This was not the concept of government embodied in the U.S. Constitution. Nock makes the argument that with the adoption of the Constitution, our nation's fate was already sealed; I have to confess that the longer I consider the matter and the more I read of world history and political theory, the more I am convinced that Nock was correct. It is worth recalling that many of the founders were notably lacking in confidence about the longevity of the system of government they had devised. The Constitution represented the abandonment of government for the State:
The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner. On the negative side, it has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origins. Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State. Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution "forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors, and safeguarding itself against insurrection from within and attack from without. This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group."
But let us put this very complicated subject to the side for the moment. Regardless of one's theory about the ultimate origin of the State, Nock's observations about the "mass-man" who is the citizen of the State are very obviously correct on the major points. Nock writes:
The mass-man, ignorant of [the State's] history, regards its character and intentions as social rather than anti-social; and in that faith he is willing to put at its disposal an indefinite credit of knavery, mendacity and chicane, upon which its administrators may draw at will. Instead of looking upon the State's progressive absorption of social power with the repugnance and resentment that he would naturally feel towards the activities of a professional-criminal organization, he tends rather to encourage and glorify it, in the belief that he is somehow identified with the State, and that therefore, in consenting to its indefinite aggrandizement, he consents to something in which he has a share -- he is, pro tanto, aggrandizing himself. Professor Ortega y Gasset analyzes this state of mind extremely well. The mass-man, he says, confronting the phenomenon of the State, "sees it, admires it, knows that there it is ... Furthermore, the mass-man sees in the State an anonymous power, and feeling himself, like it, anonymous, he believes that the State is something of his own. Suppose that in the public life of a country some difficulty, conflict, or problem, presents itself, the mass-man will tend to demand that the State intervene immediately and undertake a solution directly with its immense and unassailable resources ... When the mass suffers any ill-fortune, or simply feels some strong appetite, its great temptation is that permanent sure possibility of obtaining everything, without effort, struggle, doubt, or risk, merely by touching a button and setting the mighty machine in motion."


The unquestioning, determined, even truculent maintenance of the attitude which Professor Ortega y Gasset so admirably describes, is obviously the life and strength of the State, and obviously too, it is now so inveterate and so wide-spread -- one may freely call it universal -- that no direct effort could overcome its inveteracy or modify it, and least of all hope to enlighten it. This attitude can only be sapped and mined by recurrent calamity of a most appalling character. When once the predominance of this attitude in any given civilization has become inveterate, as so plainly it has become in the civilization of America, all that can be done is to leave it to work its own way out to its appointed end. The philosophic historian may content himself with printing out and clearly elucidating its consequences, as Professor Ortega y Gasset has done, aware that after this there is no more that one can do. "The result of this tendency," he says, "will be fatal. Spontaneous social action will be broken up over and over again by State intervention, no new seed will be able to fructify. Society will have to live for the State, man for the governmental machine. And as after all it is only a machine, whose existence and maintenance depend on the vital supports around it, the State, after sucking out the very marrow of society, will be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that nasty death of machinery, more gruesome than the death of a living organism. Such was the lamentable fate of ancient civilization."
Depending on events, this process and this ultimate fate may take decades, or even a few centuries. But barring a fundamental change in direction, this is the course upon which we long ago embarked.

In the meantime, the death and destruction continue every day in Iraq. We may still undertake an additional campaign of destruction against Iran, where the results may be unimaginably horrifying, on a scale that is close to ungraspable. And still, almost no one seriously tries to stop the catastrophe of Iraq now, and Congress funds the murder for another year or two, or more, and no one appears seriously determined to prevent an attack on Iran, if that is possible. We condemn Cho's murders and recoil from them in horror; we witness the ongoing murder in Iraq, and most of us do nothing. We know Cho is guilty -- but whom do we blame for the horrors of Iraq? It is not an answer to say we are all guilty, for we are not. Those people who opposed this monstrousness before it began and acted to prevent it in every way they could are assuredly not guilty. Certainly, the members of the Bush administration are guilty -- but so are those in Congress who acceded to this madness and who continue to fund it today, as are those in the media who willingly amplified State propaganda to a credulous public. Some members of the military belatedly realized the truth of what we were doing; they finally said, "No," and were willing to accept the consequences. But the great majority of people in the military will not say, "No." Most of us will not discuss their degree of guilt, although I will analyze that issue in much more detail soon.

Iraq has not altered the fundamentals of our foreign policy in any significant way. Our ruling class continues to believe the United States is "the indispensable power," and that we have the "right" to direct events across the globe, and intervene whenever we deem it necessary for the protection of our "national interests." But those "interests" have long been defined in a manner which can justify almost any intervention, anywhere, any time. What we would vehemently condemn others for doing, including the invasion and occupation of a country that did not threaten them, is permitted to us, and to us alone. No action is prohibited to us, while only those actions are available to others that we choose to permit. At the end, Cho was enraged, megalomaniacal, and probably insane. What are we to say of the United States government?

But our nation's crimes are filtered through the State, which dissolves guilt and responsibility, as it sanctifies our sins. Cho is a monster. Our governing class and its unparalleled military commit crimes on a much vaster scale -- and our strongest criticisms are that the crimes were "incompetently managed," or that they represented "poor policy choices." If Cho had survived his massacre, our justice system would likely have killed him. Our State has done infinitely worse, and it has done so repeatedly over more than century.

Yet we do nothing. Our sleep is untroubled. Life goes on.

But not for everyone. No. Not for everyone.