May 29, 2007

When Acknowledging the Pain Is a Weakness to be Condemned

After you read the excerpts from the story below, you might want to remind yourself of the insane and unimaginably nightmarish world represented by combat, as described in the Paul Fussell passages in "Let Us All Become Cowards."

From an article in the Marine Corps Times:
In the three months after Marine Maj. John Ruocco returned from Iraq feeling numb and depressed, he couldn’t sleep. He had lost weight. He had nightmares. He was distracted and withdrawn from his two young sons.

One night, he promised his wife, Kim, that he would get help. The next morning, he was dead. The 40-year-old Cobra helicopter pilot, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., had hanged himself.

There are others. Army reservist Joshua Omvig. Army Capt. Michael Pelkey. Marines Jonathan Schulze and Jeffrey Lucey. Each came home from tours in Iraq and committed suicide.

Veterans’ groups and families who have lost loved ones say the number of troops struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues is on the increase and not enough help is being provided by the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department.

For some, there are long waits for appointments at the VA or at military posts. For others, the stigma of a mental health disorder keeps them from seeking help.

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says that although suicides among troops returning from the war is a significant problem, the scope is unknown.

"The problem that we face right now is that there’s no method to track veterans coming home," said Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq as a platoon leader in the first year of the war. "There’s no system. There’s no national registry."

More than four years into the war, the government has little information on suicides among Iraq war veterans.

"We don’t keep that data," said Karen Fedele, a VA spokeswoman in Washington. "I’m told that somebody here is going to do an analysis, but there just is nothing right now."

The Defense Department does track suicides, but only among troops in combat operations such as Iraq and Afghanistan and in surrounding areas. Since the war started four years ago, 107 suicides during Iraq operations have been recorded by the Defense Manpower Data Center, which collects data for the Pentagon. That number, however, usually does not include troops who return home from the war zone and then take their lives.


Floyd "Shad" Meshad, president and founder of the California-based National Veterans Foundation, has no doubt that military suicides are a growing problem. He said he receives 2 to 3 calls each week from Iraq veterans contemplating suicide — or from their families.

A Vietnam veteran who has counseled other vets for more than 30 years, Meshad runs a toll-free support line based in Los Angeles. He was asked recently to help train counselors at the Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles, where a spike in calls from veterans has been reported.

One of the biggest challenges for troubled vets is the stigma of a mental health disorder, said Meshad. "It’s very, very hard for you to reach out and say 'I’m hurting.' It’s hard for men to do it, but particularly (for) a soldier who’s endured life and death situations."

Kim Ruocco of Newbury, Mass., said her husband, John, was a role model for the young Marines he led in war. He worried about the ramifications of seeking help, personally and professionally.

"He felt like that was the end of everything for him," Kim Ruocco recalls. "He felt like his Marines would, you know, be let down."

Ruocco ended his life in February 2005, a few weeks before he was to redeploy to Iraq.

Joshua Omvig, 22, a member of the Army Reserve from Grundy Center, Iowa, also took his own life. In December 2005, he shot himself in front of his mother after an 11-month tour in Iraq.

His parents, Ellen and Randy Omvig, say Joshua wouldn’t talk much about Iraq. They tried to get him help, but he worried that it would hurt his career if the Army found out, said his father.
From an earlier essay, "'Suck It Up': The Denial Continues, and Kills Once More":
Most of the friends and relatives of those who commit suicide never think they will take their own lives -- until they do. And their major advice is always the same: don't feel the pain. Deny it. "Suck it up."

But some people can't and won't deny the pain. As the horrors accumulate, and when far too few people will listen when those who feel the pain all the way down want to talk about it, we should not wonder when the pain finally becomes too great.

And yet, some will still say that a man like Sergeant Accardo was "weak," and that he "couldn't handle it anymore." If he had been "stronger," he would have been able to "shake it."

For some people, when "handling it" means that they must kill their souls in slow motion, the price is too high. And almost no one will acknowledge just how horrifying the truth is.

So sometimes they kill themselves. Don't wonder why. Most people who wonder know why -- they just won't admit it. Even now.

Even now.
And perhaps this makes clearer some of the reasons underlying my comments in, "Of Thicker Skins, and Sucking It Up":
Ask yourself this: if I developed a "thicker skin," would I be able to write an essay like "We Are Not Freaks," or my many essays about the suffering of innocent Iraqis, or my Alice Miller articles...or indeed most of my essays? I would not. Perhaps some people could, but not me. But I strongly doubt that even some people could: when your skin becomes thick enough, such subjects no longer concern you -- they are too threatening, and they bring up precisely those memories and emotions that we seek to avoid by such means.

In "We Are Not Freaks" (and in many other pieces), I spoke of the emotional repression that is a hallmark of our culture. Telling people to "develop a thicker skin," to "suck it up," and all the rest, is one of the primary ways that such emotional repression is created and maintained. It is one of the major messages most parents deliver to their children: you have to be "tough" to survive in this world. You might also consider the numerous ways in which those attitudes are related to traditional, conventional views of "masculinity."

Among the final results of such messages are war, and endless death and suffering. I understand those are not the results that *you* intend...but there it is, nonetheless. (And no: such attitudes cannot be "compartmentalized," and one cannot simply use a "thicker skin" to get through the day. Like any psychological mechanism, once in use, it either grows or diminishes: it does not stay the same, and it does not remain localized.)

I read only the first line of your message, about my needing "a thicker skin." I stop reading such messages after a phrase of that kind. It comes from a world that is not mine, and that I fight against every day, as I have all my life. In the end, my battle is not about politics at all: it is about culture, and psychology, and the endless barrage of destructive messages that inundate us all every single day. Implemented to any significant degree at all, such messages ultimately cripple people's souls, just as they destroy many people's lives.
Related Essays: Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards

We Are Not Freaks

"Suck It Up": The Denial Continues, and Kills Once More

When the Pain Can Be Borne No Longer

The Indifference and Denial That Kill

When the Demons Come

When the Deaths of the Innocent Do Not Matter

The Suicide Taboo

The Dynamics of Suicide, Revisited

The Ignored Casualties of War

The Alice Miller Essays

May 26, 2007

Low comedy, so low that, as they contemplated the sunset which, unbeknownst to those who enjoyed their final moments of sanity...

The book contains passages like this one:
"One would have to be dead, very stupid Fuchida thought," the book says about the fighter pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, "not to realize they were sallying forth to war."
As a man, and a gay man, I think "harrying forth" might suggest more force and concentrated power, but I'm tolerant with regard to such stylistic issues.

And then there are sentences like this, concerning a man about to eat lunch:
James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked a bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversations to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.
See Janet Maslin's review of Pearl Harbor, by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, for further examples.

This novel (it appears I use the word imprecisely) was written (imprecision, once again). It was edited, or at least had an editor (or two or three) assigned to it. And it was published, by an imprint of St. Martin's Press. It is 366 pages long.

Suicide seems an entirely reasonable course of action at the moment.

P.S. I had a longer title, but it wouldn't fit in the title field. The injustice! Here it is:
Low comedy, so low that, as they contemplated the blazing sunset which, unbeknownst to those who enjoyed their final moments of sanity, seemed to arise from nether regions never explored by men, or perhaps even by women, since history tends to overlook, as is often its pattern, one which is repeated from age to age, when cultures appear to...
There. I think that's more in the spirit of the proceedings.

The Politics of Murder, and the Democrats' War

Dave Lindorff:
Pelosi and Reid, too timid to seriously confront President Bush and call a halt to the disastrous war on Iraq by simply refusing to fund it, have orchestrated a bill that provides the president full funding to carry on with the killing for the rest of his term, while allowing those of them who have to confront anti-war voters to claim they voted against their own measure.

"I will vote against this bill," says Pelosi, who personally crafted this cave-in to Bush and Cheney.

The whole Democratic Party caucus in Congress has morphed horribly into John Kerry clones.

They will be voting against the war funding bill that they engineered, knowing that with Republican support, the bill will pass and go to the president with no strings attached.

The Iraq War is now fully a Democratic War.
With regard to the general contours of United States foreign policy for the last hundred years, and especially in the six decades following World War II, the catastrophe of Iraq has always belonged to both the Republicans and the Democrats. Both parties, and all leading national politicians, subscribe to the goal of American world hegemony, and America's "right" to encircle the globe with a military empire and intervene anywhere, anytime, for any reason we contend is related to "national security," a phrase purposely defined so broadly as to encompass any imaginable set of circumstances.

We should endeavor to be minimally honest, despite the fact that even an infinitesimal amount of veracity will forever destroy the continuation of our deadly political charade. The only reason -- the only reason -- the Democrats strongly criticize the Iraq chapter in our book of Empire is that it has "failed." In terms of the moral principles implicated, it had to fail, since it was and is a war and occupation of aggression, waged against a nation and a people that never constituted any serious threat. Such moral factors are, of course, entirely irrelevant to our ruling elites; in the name of realism, let us therefore set them aside.

Given that we waged a war of conquest, if we had succeeded in installing a minimally functioning and compliant government on the colonial model, the Democrats would have no objection at all. Neither would the American people. We have a long history of brutality and butchery; it is not as if a significant number of Americans would suddenly have undergone what would amount to a miraculous revival (or discovery in the first instance) of moral values and conscience. With only a few exceptions, those who pursue national office are entirely devoid of morality, conscience and even a modicum of decency. The deficiency is a necessary prerequisite for those who seek advantage and influence via a government and a state swimming in blood and violence. The first Americans spoke of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind"; today's political leaders respect no one -- not those who elect them, not themselves, and certainly not those whose slaughter they manage, fund and approve.

The Democrats will not end the murder of Iraq and of Iraqis -- first, because they do not acknowledge that it is murder, since they believe other nations and peoples are ours to dispose of as we will, and second, because they do not think it is to their political advantage to do so. The Democrats engineered this latest episode in murder at one remove precisely to maintain the lie that the destruction of Iraq is solely the act of Republicans, while the Democrats themselves make certain that the destruction will continue unimpeded.

In one sense, and as deeply loathsome as both parties are today, the Republicans are a very small step closer to reality: the Republicans murder and proudly take responsibility for it, while the Democrats murder and deny they are doing so. Since they both murder, the difference is meaningless in moral terms, although specialists in the extremes of pathology might find it worthy of inquiry.

This is your government today, and these are the elites who rule you: with a handful of exceptions, they are murderers, one and all. Their only concern is power, and who wields it; mounds of corpses that rise to eclipse the sun mean absolutely nothing to them.

Throughout this weekend, many millions of Americans will celebrate the military that executes the murders. This is the symptom of the death spasms of Empire and of the moral death that preceded it, as the evil erupts to the surface without apology: rejoicing in murder, and honoring our monstrous ability to cause destruction on a scale never before witnessed. And there may well be further and worse destruction to come.

In such circumstances, anyone who remains at all decent must be a coward. If humanity manages to survive the coming decades, judgments will need to be made at some point. Those who sided with power, violence, butchery and death will be identified -- as will those who took up the defense of the innocent, and who recognized the inviolable sanctity of a single life.

Our government and our ruling class have decided, and history will remember what they have done. This weekend is a very good time to consider what your choice is, and how you choose to be remembered.

May 24, 2007

Our Disgusting, Sickening, Impenetrable National Narcissism

So if you look at the losers of the situation, there are three -- Democrats, who just reinforced the frame that they are weak and afraid to stand for what they believe in, and the troops who are stuck, away from their families, in that meat-grinder in the desert.

And then there's the American people, who have made it clear time and time again that they want this thing over, yet are denied representation by this Congress and White House.

And the reason is Congressional Dems and their leadership (notwithstanding the rebels fighting them on this), who still don't realize that the way to show "strength" to voters is to, you know, act strong.
Joan Walsh:
While cowardly antiwar Republicans confide they're giving the president until September, more American soldiers are dying. This has been the bloodiest six-month period since the war began. If I had a child fighting in Iraq -- and like the vast majority of the American media and political elite, I don't -- I'd be furious that Democratic leaders were trying to bill their cave-in to the president as a victory.
You can find many similar passages in the writings of various liberals and progressives following the Congressional Democrats' decision to support the ongoing, massive war crimes committed by the United States.

Notice anything missing? Oh, it's nothing much. Nothing very important. Only a few small details.

Over 650,000 dead Iraqis, the overwhelming majority of whom never threatened or harmed the U.S., or even wished to. The number is probably much closer to one million now.

A completely devastated and destroyed country, which huge numbers of people have been forced to flee, and to which they may never be able to return.

And all this with regard to a country that had not attacked us, and that did not threaten us. We had a choice: by definition, we were not compelled, by facts, or morality, or history, or by any other factor, to initiate a criminal war of aggression, an offensive war similar in principle to Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland, a pattern most of our national leaders continually announce they may well repeat with Iran.

The Iraqis -- the dead, mutilated, maimed, and displaced Iraqis -- did not have a choice.

In November 2005, I wrote an essay entitled, "American Narcissism: Dangerous, Deadly, Wrong and Futile." In that piece, I excerpted a Norman Solomon column:
If the Pentagon had been able to subdue the Iraqi population, few in Congress or on editorial pages would be denouncing the war. As in so many other respects, this is a way that the domestic U.S. political dynamics of the war on Iraq are similar to what unfolded during the Vietnam War. With the underpinnings of war prerogatives unchallenged, a predictable response is that the war must be fought more effectively.

That's what the great journalist I. F. Stone was driving at when he wrote, a few years into the Vietnam War, in mid-February 1968: "It is time to stand back and look at where we are going. And to take a good look at ourselves. A first observation is that we can easily overestimate our national conscience. A major part of the protest against the war springs simply from the fact that we are losing it. If it were not for the heavy cost, politicians like the Kennedys [Robert and Edward] and organizations like ADA [the liberal Americans for Democratic Action] would still be as complacent about the war as they were a few years ago."

In the United States, while the lies behind the Iraq war become evermore obvious and victory seems increasingly unreachable, much of the opposition to the war has focused on the death and suffering among U.S. soldiers. That emphasis has a sharp political edge at home, but it can also cut another way -- defining the war as primarily deplorable because of what it is doing to Americans. One danger is that a process of withdrawing some U.S. troops could be accompanied by even more use of U.S. air power that terrorizes and kills with escalating bombardment (as happened in Vietnam for several years after President Nixon announced his "Guam Doctrine" of Vietnamization in mid-1969). An effective antiwar movement must challenge the jingo-narcissism that defines the war as a problem mainly to the extent that it harms Americans.
I went on to say:
Solomon concludes his article by noting that the war "has not gone wrong" -- "It was always wrong."

That's true not only and, from a more inclusive perspective, not even primarily because of what it has done and is doing to us -- but because of what it's done and is still doing to Iraq and Iraqis.

It's not only about us. We talk and act that way a lot of the time. It's never been true, and it's not true now. But the kind of "jingo-narcissism" that Solomon accurately describes is immensely destructive, and we may not have seen its worst effects in Iraq even now. It also is futile, on every level, and it only sows the seeds for more resentment and even hatred directed at the United States.

Surely, that is the one result we should do our utmost to avoid.
From an essay I wrote in February of this year, "The Unspeakable Horror of What We Have Done":
Much of the world now considers us to be a barbarian, pariah nation. From the Philippines, through Vietnam, and via many other interventions in Latin America, the Middle East and around the world, there is a monumental amount of evidence to prove the claim. We can appeal all we wish to the "principles" and "freedom" for which we allegedly stand -- but, and here is the point that most Americans refuse even to consider: to the extent those principles were once genuinely admirable, important and good, they are not operative with regard to our conduct abroad. That conduct arises from entirely different motives and concerns, as I am documenting in my Dominion Over the World series.

To continue to believe that we are "the Good Guys" in some unique manner, people must blind themselves to evidence that crashes over us at least several times a day. People must render themselves unforgivably ignorant, and criminally stupid.
And we are indisputably not the "Good Guys" in Iraq.

So to Kos, Joan Walsh (who believes that Michael Tomasky's analysis -- this analysis -- is "smart"), 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:


That was very rude. Extraordinarily rude. Yes, indeed it was.

On some occasions, there is just no other accurate way to address certain people.

May 23, 2007

Heard on the Ray-Dee-O

Ah, me. When idiots speak. I'm listening to this guy on this guy's show. They're yakking about The Most Evil Bill Ever Ever Ever for All Time and Unto Eternity, which will allow millions of "those people" to come to and/or remain in the United States, irrevocably change "our way of life," and Destroy All The Universes and Maybe God, Too.

The ever so distinguished Congressman said, paraphrasing but close to verbatim: "We're going to be giving amnesty to lots of people who don't share our values, who don't want what Americans want, and who only want to come here..."

Wait for it. Wait. Be patient.

"and who only want to come here...TO MAKE MONEY!!!!!"

Note: he's a conservative. So is the host, who completely agreed that all this was inexpressibly terrible. I thought the supremely goody goodness of the desire "to make money" was a core conservative belief and the essence of what it means for conservatives to be a "good American," no? I guess, ah, no. Or maybe making money is fine, unless you're one of "those people." Who are just like real Americans in their desire "to make money," but in all other ways, not so much.

Leaving aside all the details of the ridiculously, absurdly long immigration bill, which obviously no single individual has read or will probably ever read in its entirety (memories of the original "Patriot" Act, that lots of Congresspeople voted for, having no idea at all what was buried in its bowels), let us acknowledge -- although I hardly think this ought to be a controversial point -- that the vehement opposition to the bill is motivated in large part, in fact in largest part, by the vicious racism that runs throughout our entire history. A recent installment of my "Dominion Over the World" series discussed this strain in America's past, and you'll find links there to further entries on this subject. Of particular note are, "Why the Stories We Tell Matter So Much," and "Myths of New Orleans."

In this connection, permit me to remind you of some excerpts I've offered before from Matthew Frye Jacobson's, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples At Home and Abroad, 1876-1917, in my essay, "The Old Theme -- A 'Redeemer Nation,' with Some Explaining to Do." Jacobson writes:
It is one of the strange throughlines in the history of U.S. nationalism that since at least the mid-nineteenth century Americans have fancied their country as the savior of the world's peoples--redeemer nation, civilizer, beacon of liberty, asylum of the oppressed--even as they have expressed profound anxiety that the world's peoples might ultimately prove the ruin of the republic. The period between the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 and World War I was a critical epoch in the twin development of these contending ideas. Americans erected a magnificent statue in New York Harbor beckoning the "tempest-tost" and "wretched" refugees of the Old World through the "golden door" of new hope, and yet they developed in succeeding decades an elaborate biological explanation of the superiority of "old-stock" Americans and the undesirability of the "backward" or "useless" races who were overrepresented among the new immigration. ... What America had to offer seemed too good not to extend to the benighted peoples of the world (by force, if necessary); but what those people threatened to return in the bargain ultimately seemed too bad to risk.

My focus on the years 1876 to 1917 in this book is meant to redress two striking failures of our national memory--one regarding immigration; the other, imperialism.

Recent debates over immigration have revolved around highly idealized images of the "good" European immigrant of a bygone era.


It is useful to know, in this connection, that--however safely "assimilated" now--at the moment of their arrival the waves of European immigrants constituted a full-blown political crisis in the United States, and that it was a crisis articulated in exactly the terms used today by the likes of Patrick Buchanan, Pete Wilson, or Border Watch in reference to Asian and Latin American immigrants. ... The myth of yesterday's "good" European immigrant resides at the heart of this popular misreading of the period, screening the fact that today's "bad" immigration represents precisely the threat that the republic has faced and overcome many times before. Evidently the capacity of the republic to withstand its own diversity is greater than the capacity of many citizens to imagine an America that departs significantly from the demographic status quo (and lives to tell about it--in English).

The second piece of public amnesia addressed here concerns turn-of-the-century empire-building, an area even more striking for the totality of its disappearance from public discussion. ... Not only do most Americans know nothing about the conduct of the Philippine-American War; many do not even know that such a war took place.

The stakes are quite high for Americans' national self-conception. In expurgating the period of U.S. expansionism that bridges the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Americans adopt a broken narrative that casts Manifest Destiny and continental expansionism falsely adrift from "modern" U.S. history, and obscures the extent to which the modern state was built, and modern nationalism generated, in close relation to the imperialist project. The effect is to mystify U.S. involvement in global affairs by hiding the very moment when global power was so lustily seized. If there is no turn-of-the-century expansionism, then Manifest Destiny becomes an irrelevance of dim antiquity, and both the Wilsonian internationalism and the Cold War interventionism of the twentieth century can be imagined as developing upon an entirely different epistemological footing. Without the Philippines, in other words, it becomes easy to suppose a radical historical disjuncture separating the plains wars of the mid-nineteenth century and the Southeast Asian wars of the mid-twentieth: that U.S. soldiers referred to areas within Vietnam as "Indian Country" becomes a matter of simple metaphor, not of deeper ideology. But our first land war in Asia was fought not in 1950-53 but in 1899-1902, and it was waged largely by American officers who had received their practical training in campaigns against the "savages" of the Western plains in the 1870s.

This erasure has generally allowed a view that the United States has played its part as a power on the world scene only reluctantly. The triumph of American innocence, as Stuart Creighton Miller has called this willful revision, constitutes a pillar of twentieth-century American liberalism. Unabashed discussion of racial conquest has long faded from American political discourse; there is simply no longer a place in national self-conception for the rhetoric of "waste spaces" and of "unfitness for self-government," or for the glorious war against "savages" that obtained in Theodore Roosevelt's day. And yet Americans still find themselves in possession of an empire marked by myriad alliances with pliant dictators, by an unbroken history of military interventions, by a twelve-digit defense budget, and by a global network of military bases--and so they have some explaining to do.
As I often have occasion to note these days, most Americans know none of this history. They are entirely unaware that almost all of our current debates and most heated controversies, including that concerning immigration, are identical to those of earlier eras. As Jacobson emphasizes, the truth is even worse: we are not only ignorant of our own history, but we rewrite it so that it accords with our current prejudices. Thus, the once deeply detested European immigrant becomes "good," and we forget the immense hatred that was focused on Germans, Italians, the Irish and other groups, when their arrival in large numbers on these shores still constituted a new phenomenon.

We've seen all of it before. The earlier immigrants finally became a full part of America and made the country enormously richer, with their work and their desire "to make money," with their cultures and histories, and even, yes, with their languages. The heavens did not fall, the fabric of America and "our way of life" was not shredded and torn apart, and the universes were not destroyed.

But we refuse to learn a single damned thing, so we repeat it all, and we insist that today's "crisis" is unlike any we've seen before. None of it is true, and most Americans are too ignorant to even begin to understand just how grievously wrong they are.

We are perilously close to perfect in one respect: our self-willed ignorance and stupidity is all-encompassing. One of these days, it just may suffocate us.

A Murderer's Confession

While I realize that this manner of proceeding flies in the face of the aggressive anti-intellectualism of today's political "debates," where everyone adamantly refuses to identify the true meaning of his statements and will never acknowledge the premises underlying his argument, let me indicate briefly the reasons for my position, and my ultimate conclusion:

Iraq did not attack us.

Iraq did not threaten us.

Both facts were known to our political leaders and to many "ordinary" citizens before U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003. Thus, our invasion and occupation of Iraq are criminal acts of aggression, and crimes against humanity.

Every day that we have been in Iraq, and every day that we remain, we murder and maim innocent people who never harmed us, and who never wished to harm us.

The United States government and its military are engaged in large-scale acts of murder, torture and many other forms of monstrous inhumanity. Every person who supports and makes possible these continuing acts is similarly a murderer -- in spirit at a minimum, if not in fact.

At the opening of "The Missing Moral Center: Murdering the Innocent," I wrote:
If you have ever wondered how a serial murderer -- a murderer who is sane and fully aware of the acts he has committed -- can remain steadfastly convinced of his own moral superiority and show not even the slightest glimmer of remorse, you should not wonder any longer.

The United States government is such a murderer. It conducts its murders in full view of the entire world. It even boasts of them. Our government, and all our leading commentators, still maintain that the end justifies the means -- and that even the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents is of no moral consequence, provided a sufficient number of people can delude themselves into believing the final result is a "success."

We are a nation that has voluntarily renounced all its most crucial values, and all its founding principles. We can appeal all we want to "American exceptionalism," but any "exceptionalism" that remains ours is that of a mass murderer without a soul, and without a conscience. We have destroyed the most basic foundation of liberty -- and the nature and meaning of our act has already, in less than a couple of weeks, almost entirely vanished from public discussion. It is useless to appeal to any "American" sense of morality: we have none. It does not matter how immense the pile of corpses grows: we will not surrender or even question our delusion that we are right, and that nothing we do can be profoundly, unforgivably wrong.

Remember the five-year-old Iraqi girl who was killed by the same bombs that killed al-Zarqawi. Remember the following, and try to understand it at long last. ...
Now, after the latest collapse of the Democrats on the funding bill for the ongoing slaughter in Iraq (in an eternal series of such collapses), Michael Tomasky, leading "intellectual" and "strategist" for the Democrats and beloved by most online liberals and progressives, writes:
As indefensible and tragic as the war is, this is the best Democrats can do right now. De-funding would have handed the Republicans a great argument going into next year's election--which is, of course, one in which Democrats have their best shot at winning the White House in a long time. Iraq is Bush's war, and Democrats need to make certain that it stays that way.
I saw this confession of complete and irredeemable moral bankruptcy via IOZ, who comments:
What's a little death between Super-Delegates? Blood under the bridge. But you know, this is America's war, and to an Iraqi the difference between George W. Bush, Harry Reid, Michael Tomasky, and the soldier holding a gun to his wife's face is really vanishingly small. Each speaks English; each is a coward; and none of them truly gives a damn.
Expressing much the same thought, I offer you the following from Chris Floyd, whom you should be reading every day -- and supporting, if you possibly can. And be sure to read Chris's latest, on the coming attack on Iran, an attack for which many Democrats appear to long even more than Bush. But that's alright: don't trouble yourselves to do a goddamned thing to prevent it.

This was contained in an email to me and, because it captures the point so perfectly, I asked Chris for permission to share it with you here, permission he very kindly granted:
Every day brings fresh news of how deeper we are digging the festering pit, and it is far past time for tinkering around with kid-glove "political tactics" that might, eventually, possibly result in the Democrats feeling bold enough to perhaps, in theory, take an action that could, conceivably, produce some infinitesimal mitigation of the hell we are living in now, and the greater hell we are feverishly constructing for the future. -- But hey, how about that Harry Reid, eh? I hear tell he's going to call some mini-sessions during the August recess to keep Bush from making interim appointments to a few minor posts here and there. That'll show 'em! Give 'em hell, Harry! [This of course after he finishes "negotiating" with Bush in order to keep funding the slaughter in Iraq.]
What is additionally nauseating, unforgivable and profoundly dishonest is the Democrats' attempt to convince themselves and the American public that the horrors of Iraq are acts that Democrats would never commit. As I demonstrate at length in the "Dominion Over the World" series, this is an outright lie. Both parties and all national leaders, save a handful of individuals, are committed to American world hegemony. Over the last hundred years -- beginning with Wilson, through Roosevelt, on to Korea and Vietnam, through Latin America, into the Balkans -- the Democrats have instigated more wars and covert operations, and been responsible for more deaths, than the Republicans. I say this while also recognizing the deep loathsomeness of the Bush administration. A tragically small number of us are capable of identifying evil and murder when they are committed by members of either party; not all of us are blinded and rendered implacably stupid by the demands of the most primitive and barbaric tribal loyalty.

The Democrats will not alter our foreign policy in any fundamental way. For God's sake, they began our current foreign policy, they crafted it, they maintained it throughout endless decades of slaughter -- and to judge by the statements of the major contenders, a future Democratic president will surely begin a war with Iran, if Bush does not do so first.

Almost every national politician embraces the murder of the innocent, funds it, approves it, and seeks to continue it. So, too, do inhuman monsters like Tomasky. These people have no souls that are recognizable, and the irreplaceable value of an individual human life has no reality to them. Iraqis are eviscerated, ripped apart, and mutilated every day -- and Tomasky and his fellow criminals refuse to defund the war, because it would hand "the Republicans a great argument going into next year's election."

God damn all these people to hell. And if you agree with and support any of them, God damn you as well.

May 22, 2007

Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards

Gentle readers, to provide a proper acknowledgment of the upcoming Memorial Day, I give you Charlie Madison:
War isn’t hell at all. It’s man at his best; the highest morality he's capable of … it’s not war that’s insane, you see. It’s the morality of it. It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It’s not war that’s unnatural to us – it’s virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved.


I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war. ... It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it’s always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades … we shall never end wars ... by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows’ weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud.


[Y]ou see, now my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September. May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave.
Charlie Madison is the protagonist of an extraordinary film, The Americanization of Emily. The astonishing screenplay is by Paddy Chayefsky.

If we were genuinely concerned with honoring those who have died in war, we would make it our sacred task to eradicate the causes of war. Of course, many Americans -- including most notably our leading politicians -- couldn't care less about truly honoring those whose guts have been ripped out, whose limbs have been bloodily and painfully mutilated, whose minds have been destroyed. For the state and its enablers, the war dead are props used to purify and sanctify the ongoing and future campaigns of slaughter, in an endless procession of slaughters throughout history. The war dead are especially useful, since they have been rendered forever mute; they are unable to tell us the truth of what they endured, or about the lies for which they died.

In February 2006, I offered an appreciation of Chayefsky's notable achievement in The Americanization of Emily, in "Against Sentimentality, and In Praise of Cowardice." In part, I wrote:
Chayefsky's target is the one identified by Charlie: 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.
Almost every war in every era could have been avoided, if the majority of men were not motivated by the basest, most repellent and petty of factors: the lust for power, greed, and the pathetic search for "meaning" and "glory" in one's life by killing the designated "other" of a brief historical moment. 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. As Robert Higgs notes in the passages excerpted here:
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.
While Americans have always had a thoroughly sickening love of violence and cruelty, there is one kind of horror that they have never understood: the absolute, mind-obliterating insanity of war in the modern era. The explanation for this failure is obvious: the wars of the last hundred years have always been fought "over there," never here. As long as our noble warriors were dismembering the Evil Hun or disemboweling the Yellow Jap "over there," which geographic displacement conveniently allowed us to avoid contemplation of the details smeared with entrails, our complacency continued undisturbed. But then came 9/11. We reacted as any deeply neurotic narcissist bent on world domination would, in the manner of a violent nation suffering from "superpower syndrome" as described by Robert Jay Lifton: "You can't do this to us! You can't attack us here! We kill you bastards there, and we love it, but you can't come here!"

Today, rather than seeking justice, many Americans still want revenge for this challenge to their delusions of invincibility, to their belief that we are entitled to inflict violence on anyone else at all, even if they do not threaten us in the least, but that no one else may dare do the same to us. In our endless quest to sate our national rage, any target will do. Why not Iraq? Why not, indeed, as soulless monsters like Jonah Goldberg maintained.

In an essay written some time ago, I quoted Paul Fussell at length, on "The Culture of War, and the Culture of Chickenshit." Fussell has written at least two indispensable books: The Great War and Modern Memory, about World War I, and Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. In Wartime, at the opening of the chapter, "'The Real War Will Never Get in the Books,'" Fussell writes (highlights added and footnotes omitted in all the following excerpts):
What was it about the war that moved the troops to constant verbal subversion and contempt? It was not just the danger and fear, the boredom and uncertainty and loneliness and deprivation. It was rather the conviction that optimistic publicity and euphemism had rendered their experience so falsely that it would never be readily communicable. They knew that in its representation to the laity what was happening to them was systematically sanitized and Norman Rockwellized, not to mention Disneyfied. They knew that despite the advertising and publicity, where it counted their arms and equipment were worse than the Germans'. They knew that their automatic rifles (World War One vintage) were slower and clumsier, and they knew that the Germans had a much better light machine gun. ... And they knew that the greatest single weapon of the war, the atomic bomb excepted, was the German 88-mm flat-trajectory gun, which brought down thousands of bombers and tens of thousands of soldiers. The Allies had nothing as good, despite one of them designating itself The World's Greatest Industrial Power. The troops' disillusion and their ironic response, in song and satire and sullen contempt, came from knowing that the home front then (and very likely historiography later) could be aware of none of these things.

The Great War brought forth the stark, depressing Journey's End; the Second, as John Ellis notes, the tuneful South Pacific. The real war was tragic and ironic, beyond the power of any literary or philosophic analysis to suggest, but in unbombed America especially, the meaning of the war seemed inaccessible. As experience, thus, the suffering was wasted. The same tricks of publicity and advertising might have succeeded in sweetening the actualities of Vietnam if television and a vigorous uncensored moral journalism hadn't been brought to bear. America has not yet understood what the Second World War was like and has thus been unable to use such understanding to re-interpret and re-define the national reality to arrive at something like public maturity.
The truth today is still worse, for we have significantly regressed. Even as our governing class remains absolute in its determination to avoid the central and most fundamental lessons from Vietnam, it has remembered and applied certain lessons very well indeed. The horrors of Iraq, including the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent Iraqis, never even enter the consciousness of most Americans. The dead and horrifically injured Americans are shuffled offstage without ceremony. The great majority of Americans continue in their preferred mode of existence: intellectually ignorant and lazy, spiritually fat and self-satisfied, and completely oblivious to the unimaginable suffering their government inflicts in other parts of the world.

Our national media remain cowed and intimidated, and they refuse, a few honorable exceptions aside, to provide details of the daily and hourly horrors in Iraq to the public. A single major newspaper could provide a noble and invaluable service: if they gave a damn at all about unnecessary death and suffering, they would select the most awful and horrifying picture they could find -- a body with its guts falling out, a bloody corpse shorn of arms and legs, a mutilated face made unrecognizable -- and fill up their entire front page with it, a new one every day. Perhaps after a month or two, enough Americans would demand that their government stop butchering people who never harmed us. [To achieve the sought-for effect, the pictures obviously should be of Iraqis, and only Iraqis. The Iraqis had no choice about our criminal war of aggression, and the endless destruction we have unleashed; the United States did -- and does, even today. We could leave, as we quickly would if we had any remaining decency and humanity, but we won't.]

Most Americans have no idea at all what happens in war. I certainly don't pretend that I do, either -- but I read a great deal on the subject, and I try to learn. From Fussell's Wartime again:
What annoyed the troops and augmented their sardonic, contemptuous attitude toward those who viewed them from afar was in large part this public innocence about the bizarre damage suffered by the human body in modern war. The troops could not contemplate without anger the lack of public knowledge of the Graves Registration form used by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps with its space for indicating: "Members Missing." You would expect front-line soldiers to be struck and hurt by bullets and shell fragments, but such is the popular insulation from the facts that you would not expect them to be hurt, sometimes killed, by being struck by parts of their friends' bodies violently detached. If you asked a wounded soldier or marine what hit him, you'd hardly be ready for the answer, "My buddy's head," or his sergeant's heel or his hand, or a Japanese leg, complete with shoe and puttees, or the West Point ring on his captain's severed hand. What drove the troops to fury was the complacent, unimaginative innocence of their home fronts and rear echelons about such experiences as the following, repeated in essence tens of thousands of times. Captain Peter Royle, a British artillery forward observer, was moving up a hill in a night attack in North Africa. "I was following about twenty paces behind," he says,
when there was a blinding flash a few yards in front of me. I had no idea what it was and fell flat on my face. I found out soon enough: a number of infantry were carrying mines strapped to the small of their backs, and either a rifle or machine gun bullet had struck one, which had exploded, blowing the man into three pieces -- two legs and head and chest. His inside was strewn on the hillside and I crawled into it in the darkness.

Sometimes damage to the body was well beyond endurance, for those perceiving as well as those damaged. Once in the Normandy battles a British major accompanied a stretcher party searching for a wounded man earlier parties had missed. "Sure enough," he says,
we found a poor little chap with both legs blown off above the knees, moaning softly and, I remember, he was saying, "Oh dear! Oh dear!" The stretcher-bearer shook his head and, I thought, looked pointedly at my revolver.
And there's an indication of what can be found on the ground after an air crash in one soldier's memories of a morning after an artillery exchange in North Africa. Neil McCallum and his friend "S." come upon the body of a man who had been lying on his back when a shell, landing at his feet, eviscerated him.
"Good God," said S., shocked, "here's one of his fingers." S. stubbed with his toe on the ground some feet from the corpse. There is more horror in a severed digit than in a man dying: it savors of mutilation. "Christ," went on S. in a very low voice, "look, it's not his finger."
Toward the end of the same chapter, Fussell writes about "Eugene B. Sledge's memoir of a boy's experience with 'the old breed,' the United States Marines," which Fussell describes as "one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war." Fussell says the tone of Sledge's book is "unpretentious, unsophisticated, modest, and decent." Fussell continues:
But for Sledge the worst of all was a week-long stay in rain-soaked foxholes on a muddy ridge facing the Japanese, a site strewn with decomposing corpses turning various colors, nauseating with the stench of death, "an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell's own cesspool." Because there were no latrines and because there was no moving in daylight, the men relieved themselves in their holes and flung the excrement out into the already foul mud. It was a latter-day Verdun, the Marine occupation of that ridge, where the artillery shellings uncovered scores of half-buried Marine and Japanese bodies, making the position "a stinking compost pile":
If a Marine slipped and slid down the back slope of the muddy ridge, he was apt to reach the bottom vomiting. I saw more than one man lose his footing and slip and slide all the way to the bottom only to stand up horror-stricken as he watched in disbelief while fat maggots tumbled out of his muddy dungaree pockets, cartridge belt, legging lacings, and the like. . . .

We didn't talk about such things. They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans. . . . It is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane. . . . To me the war was insanity.
And from the other side of the world the young British officer Neil McCallum issues a similar implicit warning against the self-delusive attempt to confer high moral meaning on these grievous struggles for survival. Far from rationalizing their actions as elements of a crusade, McCallum and his men, he says, "have ceased largely to think or believe at all":
Annihilation of the spirit. The game does not appear to be worth the candle. What is seen through the explosions is that this, no less than any other war, is not a moral war. Greek against Greek, against Persian, Roman against the world, cowboys against Indians, Catholics against Protestants, black men against white -- this is merely the current phase of an historical story. It is war, and to believe it is anything but a lot of people killing each other is to pretend it is something else, and to misread man's instinct to commit murder.
Accounts of this kind are unknown to the American public. Most Americans are unaware of any and all such details; most Americans do not want to know them and will stop you, should you try to tell them. To the extent our political leaders are cognizant of such facts, they do everything in their power to prevent them from reaching the public. After all, our governing class might undertake the next campaign of slaughter any day now; if Americans knew what that slaughter actually entailed, they might not go along with the smug complacence they have exhibited on all such previous occasions. In an identical manner, if the ignorance of the American public were penetrated to any significant degree, they might demand an immediate end to the pointless murder in Iraq. But our governing class must maintain its prerogatives; as Higgs notes, it would not do to let the inmates run the asylum.

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.

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 21, 2007

Come September...Come January...Come May...Come September...

You can believe Patrick Cockburn, an incisively intelligent and knowledgeable reporter who has worked in and observed the Middle East for decades (and whose work I have highlighted in Embracing Ignorance on Principle, Sacred Ignorance, Give Up the Fantasies, and A Genuine Mission Impossible, among other entries), when he writes the following:
The war in Iraq that started in 2003 has now lasted longer than the First World War. Militarily, the conflicts could not be more different. The scale of the fighting in Iraq is far below anything seen in 1914-18, but the political significance of the Iraq war has been enormous. America blithely invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein to show its great political and military strength. Instead it demonstrated its weakness. The vastly expensive U.S. war machine failed to defeat a limited number of Sunni Arab guerrillas. International leaders such as Tony Blair who confidently allied themselves to Washington at the start of the war, convinced that they were betting on a winner, are either discredited or out of power.

At times, President Bush seemed intent on finding out how much damage could be done to the U.S. by the conflict in Iraq. He did so by believing a high proportion of his own propaganda about the resistance to the occupation being limited in scale and inspired from outside the country. By 2007, the administration was even claiming that the fervently anti-Iranian Sunni insurgents were being equipped by Iran. It was a repeat performance of U.S, assertions four years earlier that Saddam Hussein was backing al-Qaeda. In this fantasy world, constructed to impress American voters, in which failures were sold as successes, it was impossible to devise sensible policies.

The U.S. occupation has destabilized Iraq and the Middle East. Stability will not return until the occupation has ended. The Iraqi government, penned into the Green Zone, has become tainted in the eyes of Iraqis by reliance on a foreign power. Even when it tries to be independent, it seldom escapes the culture of dependency in which its members live. Much of what has gone wrong has more to do with the U.S. than Iraq. The weaknesses of its government and army have been exposed. Iraq has joined the list of small wars -- as France found in Algeria in the 1950s and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s -- that inflict extraordinary damage on their occupiers.
Those are the concluding paragraphs of a lengthy article detailing recent chapters in the Iraq catastrophe, which I urge you to read in its entirety.

Or you can believe a fantasist and propagandist like Frederick Kagan, who corresponds from an alternative universe which he fervently hopes and prays will, by some miraculous means heretofore unknown to man, supplant the real world, when he writes, in "You Bet We Can Win":
Iraq is the central front in the war against Al Qaeda. And we are beginning to win. These are not talking points. They are facts on the ground, as I saw during my recent trips there.


This is not the moment to consider withdrawal time lines that would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as the U.S. Congress seems determined to do. It is the time to redouble our efforts.

It is true that the overall level of violence in Iraq remains high, and American soldiers are still dying. Scores of terrorists flow into Iraq every month, detonating suicide car bombs against civilians, Iraqi security forces and American troops. This is the core of the security problem faced by our troops and by innocent Iraqis.

But looking at these casualty numbers alone distorts reality. Security is improving across Baghdad, even in traditionally bad areas. In early May, I walked and drove through these neighborhoods. Haifa St., scene of day-long gunfights between Al Qaeda terrorists and coalition forces in January, is calm and starting to revive. Its market is open and flourishing.

Even in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, some of which remains very dangerous, the market now has more than 200 shops - up from zero in February. Across the city, Iraqis are reaching out to coalition and Iraqi troops with tips and requests for help.
But these repetitions of the propaganda we've heard countless times before are not the important part of Kagan's column. This is:
It will take time for that safety to take hold. It will take time for our enemies to accept their defeat and stop fighting. Demanding total victory by September is unrealistic. But we are making progress, and by then, I am confident we will be making more.
I cannot make the following point without appearing rude. The truth is not subject to endless manipulation, much as the Kagans of the world might wish it were: anyone who believed for a minute that September, or "the fall," or any other month or time period, represented the moment when a fundamental reassessment of our Iraq policy would occur, perhaps to be followed by an American withdrawal, is a fool.

Even if a withdrawal did take place, it would only be a withdrawal of "combat troops," and not even all of those. Combat troops represent less than one-quarter of all the U.S. forces in Iraq.

The permanent bases will remain, and many thousands of troops will be stationed at them.

It appears one project may be completed by September -- the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad:
Rising from the dust of the city's Green Zone it is destined, at $592m (£300m), to become the biggest and most expensive US embassy on earth when it opens in September.

It will cover 104 acres (42 hectares) of land, about the size of the Vatican. It will include 27 separate buildings and house about 615 people behind bomb-proof walls. Most of the embassy staff will live in simple, if not quite monastic, accommodation in one-bedroom apartments.

The US ambassador, however, will enjoy a little more elbow room in a high-security home on the compound reported to fill 16,000 square feet (1,500 sq metres). His deputy will have to make do with a more modest 9,500 sq ft.

They will have a pool, gym and communal living areas, and the embassy will have its own power and water supplies.


Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 about 1,000 US diplomatic and military staff have been using one of his former palaces as a make-shift embassy, which several observers have criticised as giving the regrettable impression that the Americans merely replaced Saddam's authoritarian rule with their own. ...

Joost Hildermann, an Iraq analyst with the International Crisis Group, said of the new embassy: "This sends a really poor signal to Iraqis that the Americans are building such a huge compound in Baghdad. It does very little to assuage Iraqis who are angry that America is running the country, and not very well at that."


Already, however, there have been suggestions that the compound will not be large enough to house hundreds of diplomats and military personnel likely to remain in Iraq for some time.
I have explained these issues in detail before, and I will once again state the primary point very simply:





Unless most of the Middle East erupts in a regional war, with nuclear Armageddon possibly thrown into the mix to make it especially interesting -- and which eventuality would most likely result from a United States attack on Iran -- tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be in Iraq for the rest of your lifetime. I confidently say that with regard to every one of you reading this.

For the rest of your lifetime. Get used to it.

May 20, 2007

And Don't Say A Single Goddamned Word

I don't often write in the blunt and rude manner used in what follows. But at this point, I know of no other way to try to break through the impenetrable wall of resistance and denial on this subject.

Let it be noted that, should the unimaginably awful happen and the United States should attack Iran, the Democratic Congress will be the co-equal creators of a catastrophic war crime that will place the U.S. on the list of the most monstrous nations in all of history, along with Nazi Germany.

The list of people who should be regarded as future war criminals will also include most of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. With all their sickening drivel about leaving "all options on the table" and talk about "offensive military action," they only make the likelihood of an attack more probable -- to say nothing of the loathsome Obama's leading the charge to impose punitive sanctions on Iran, the kind of sanctions championed by the Clinton administration that helped lead directly to the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the Bush administration.

Alain Gresh writes:
Silently, furtively, sheltered from cameras, the war on Iran has begun. Numerous sources confirm that the United States has intensified its aid to several armed movements with an ethnic base - Azeris, Baluchis, Arabs, Kurds: minorities that together represent about 40 percent of the Iranian population - with the objective of destabilizing the Islamic Republic. In this context, ABC television revealed in the beginning of April that the Baluchi group, Jound Al-Islam ("The soldiers of Islam") which had just led an attack against the Guardians of the Revolution (about twenty dead) had enjoyed secret American assistance. A report by the Century Foundation (1) reveals that American commandos have been operating in the interior of Iran itself since the summer of 2004. January 29, 2002 in his State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush classified Iran, along with North Korea and Iraq, in the "Axis of Evil." On June 18, 2003 he asserted that the United States and its allies "would not tolerate" this country's accession to nuclear weaponry. It is perhaps useful to recall the context of the time. Mr. Mohammad Khatami was then president of the Islamic Republic and was multiplying his appeals for a "dialogue of civilizations." In Afghanistan, the United States had benefited from the active support of Tehran, which had used its many connections to facilitate the overthrow of the Taliban regime. On May 2, 2003 during a meeting in Geneva between Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif and Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad - then President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan - the Tehran leaders submitted a comprehensive negotiation proposal to the White House that covered three issues: weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and security, and economic cooperation (2). The Islamic Republic declared itself ready to support the Beirut Summit (2002) Arab Peace initiative and to contribute to the transformation of Lebanon's Hezbollah into a political party. On December 18, 2003 Tehran signed the additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a protocol that several countries only have ratified and which considerably strengthens the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) surveillance capabilities.

All these overtures were purely and simply swept aside by the American administration, which remains focused on one goal, the overthrow of the "mullahs' regime." To create the conditions for a possible military intervention, it continues to brandish the "nuclear threat." For years, alarmist reports have been produced by successive American administrations and always refuted. In January 1995, the director of the American agency for weapons control and disarmament asserted that Iran could have the bomb in 2003; simultaneously Defense Secretary William Perry asserted that that objective could be reached before ... 2000. These "forecasts" were repeated the following year by Mr. Shimon Peres (3). Yet, in 2007, in spite of the progress made by Iran with respect to uranium enrichment, the IAEA deemed that Tehran will not have the "capabilities" to produce the bomb sooner than four to six years from now.

What is the situation, really? Since the 1960s, i.e., well before the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iran sought to develop a nuclear infrastructure to prepare the post-oil period. With the development of technologies, complete mastery of the civilian nuclear cycle makes the shift to military usage much easier. Have the leaders in Tehran made that decision? Nothing allows us to assert that. Does the risk exist? Yes, and for reasons that are easy to understand.

During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Saddam Hussein's regime used chemical weapons against Iran - in violation of all international treaties: neither the United States nor France became indignant over this usage of weapons of mass destruction, which traumatized the Iranian people. Meanwhile, American troops are encamped in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iran is surrounded in a dense network of foreign military bases. Finally, two neighboring countries, Pakistan and Israel, have nuclear weapons. What Iranian political leader could be insensitive to such a context?

How then to avoid Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons, which would relaunch the arms race in a region already highly unstable and which would deal a fatal blow to the Non-Proliferation Treaty? Contrary to what is often suggested, the essential obstacle does not reside in Tehran's desire to enrich uranium: Iran, according to the NPT, has the right to do that, but has always asserted that it was ready to voluntarily allow restrictions to that right and to accept a reinforcement in the IAEA's controls to avoid any potential use of enriched uranium for military purposes.

The Islamic Republic's fundamental preoccupation lies elsewhere, as the agreement signed November 14, 2004 with the European "troika" (France, United Kingdom, Germany) proves: Iran agreed to provisionally suspend uranium enrichment, with the understanding that a long-term agreement "would furnish firm commitments on security issues." Those commitments having been rejected by Washington, Iran resumed its enrichment program.
Gresh has more. Read it.

Almost three months ago, I described in detail a series of actions that might help deter the current administration from launching an attack on Iran. You can probably think of a number of others, if you seriously put your mind to it. Some of those actions require the Democratic Congress to do something, or at least try to do something. Thus far, the Congress has not seriously tried to do even one of them: it has not moved to rescind either AUMF, nor has it passed a resolution condemning a possible attack on Iran, let alone proposed that such a non-defensive attack would be an impeachable offense. It has done nothing. Periodically, a few Democrats will make noises about doing something -- at some time in some indeterminate future.

What in God's name are they waiting for? The possible (and maybe probable) end of civilization as we have known it, a world crisis that we cannot even begin to imagine, and perhaps the imposition of martial law in the U.S.?

I also proposed certain actions that individuals, including the leading liberal bloggers -- who enjoy a combined readership somewhere between half a million and one million people per day -- could take. If they chose to, these bloggers could mobilize their readers to put enormous pressure on the Democratic members of Congress. They could continue the pressure every day, which is what it would take with these worthless cowards, until the Congress did something. With only one or two exceptions, they have done and do nothing. Why not? There are not that many explanations, and all of them are uniformly awful: they're too stupid to realize how catastrophic the consequences of an attack on Iran would be; they understand what the consequences would be, but they're too cowardly themselves to take any action that might matter; they value their "influence" and their "connections" with prominent Democrats too highly even to consider endangering them; or they agree that America is uniquely great, so great and so indescribably good and perfect that we have the right to tell the entire rest of the world how it must conduct itself. And if anyone dares to defy us, they further agree we have the right to murder millions of people who never attacked us, and who do not even threaten us.

So let me tell you something. If this paralysis and inaction continues, and if the Bush administration does order an attack on Iran, I don't want to hear one goddamned word from a single goddamned Democrat about how terrible and calamitous it is. They've been able to take action for months, and they can take action now. They do nothing.

And for all those goddamned bloggers who have done and continue to do nothing: if an attack should come, don't say a goddamned word about how monstrous it is. You had your chance. You blew it. You didn't give a shit.

I don't want to hear a single goddamned word. Not one.

May 19, 2007

The Compleat Phony, Warmongering Cad

I suppose I must swallow my gorge, and give credit where it's due. Barack Obama may well be the most entirely nauseating politician to come along in a quite a while. Consider:

500 points for cheap, reprehensible gay-baiting -- if it's terrible when Ann Coulter does it (and it is), it's just as terrible when Obama does it.

1,000 points for regurgitating all the myths of "American exceptionalism" without omitting even a single element -- and without including one original thought. It's a measure of Obama's marketing skills, or of the intellectual wasteland that is our political culture today, or both, that a large number of people believe Obama has "new" ideas, when every vapid phrase he employs dates back almost a century.

An as yet undetermined number of points for warmongering in that special way beloved by Democrats -- you know: Hey, this war in Iraq stinks because it's so incompetently managed. Not that we have anything against wars of conquest in principle, which we assure you we don't. Still, we don't want another war, and we don't want to be forced to attack Iran, for Pete's sake! But if we do have to, Iran will have made us! And we remember how fabulously successful sanctions always are, so that's why I'm proposing this:
Neo-conservatives, some of whom have claimed to see hopeful glimmers in Sen. Barack Obama's foreign-policy positions of the kind of interventionism that gets them excited, should be further heartened by the presidential hopeful's sponsorship of a new bill that, if passed, is certain to increase tensions not only with Iran, but with Washington's European allies as well.

The bill, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007, would require the federal government to publish a list of U.S. overseas subsidiaries and foreign companies that have invested more than $20 million dollars in Iran's energy sector. It would also authorize state and local governments to divest the assets of their pension and other funds from any company on that list and protect fund managers who divest from listed companies from lawsuits by investors unhappy with the results.

"The Iranian governments uses the billions of dollars it earns from its oil and gas industry to build its nuclear program and to fund terrorist groups that export its militaristic and radical ideology to Iraq and throughout the Middle East," Obama said in a statement released by his office this week. "Pressuring companies to cut their financial ties with Iran is critical to ensuring that sanctions have their intended result."

The bill, which was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos and Financial Services chairman Barney Frank, is part of a much broader national divestment campaign spearheaded by some of the most hawkish neo-conservative groups, notably Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy (CSP); the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, as well as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). I wrote about the neo-con role in driving the divestment campaign last week.


Acutely aware of public disenchantment with Iraq and opposition to an attack on Iran and convinced that the UN Security Council will never be willing to impose serious sanctions of its own, neo-conservatives, in apparent co-ordination with the right-wing "Israel Lobby," have been trying for much of the past year to rally support for tougher unilateral economic sanctions, including divestment, against Iran. Determined to sabotage any move by ascendant "realists" in the Bush administration to seriously engage Tehran, they have depicted the unilateral sanctions as the logical middle ground between engagement and military action.


Of course, in the context of domestic politics, Democratic presidential hopefuls like Obama are eager to show that, even as they join the growing clamor for an early withdrawal from Iraq and oppose war against Iran (while insisting, along with the administration, that all options should remain on the table), they remain "tough on Iran" – even if that could well make war before the end of Bush's term more likely, rather than less.
I think I'll award Obama 5,000 extra-special bonus points -- for his advocacy of policies that have completely failed in the very recent past, his embrace of the lethally mistaken ideas that have led to almost a century of destruction and death across the globe, and his total refusal to question even one premise of "conventional wisdom."

Quite a piece of work, that Mr. Obama. Why, he's perfectly awful. Just as with movie reviews, his campaign strategists can omit the rest of that last sentence, and simply pluck out:



I always try to be helpful.

May 18, 2007

Things That Amuse

Well, well. Within just a few hours after the appearance of this post, several people who recently made donations want refunds. That's fine with me; I would hardly want anyone to support writing he or she finds deeply objectionable. I guess that essay upset some folks. Good. I'm pleased. Poorer, but pleased.

If your writing doesn't upset or anger people, and upset at least some of them a lot, it probably isn't worth a damn. Progress.

Dominion Over the World (IX): The Elites Who Rule Us

In Part II of this series, "Why the Stories We Tell Matter So Much," I quoted Philip Pullman (author of the genuinely wondrous, His Dark Materials) on the critical importance of stories, and of time for reading and reflection. At the conclusion of his remarks, Pullman said:
We don't need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do's and don'ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.
It was because of the immense significance of the stories we tell, of the narratives that compel our attention and that very frequently move us to action, and with Pullman's comments in mind, that I titled this blog, "Once Upon a Time."

Earlier in that same essay, I wrote:
As concisely stated by Philip Pullman at the beginning of this essay, we cannot live without stories. It is therefore of vital importance whether the stories we choose to tell are creative or destructive with regard to their deepest meanings and implications, whether they encourage a reverence for life in general and for the sanctity of each particular life, or lead to a casual dismissal of the value of others' lives if those others are "different" or obstruct our own desires, and -- if our stories purport to capture actual events, past or present -- whether they are accurate and solidly grounded in demonstrable fact, or misleading and distorted. As I have discussed in many essays and will analyze further, most of the stories that permeate our national discussion today are grossly wrong, and most often dangerously wrong.
The major narrative to which I have devoted a number of essays -- a narrative which is profoundly false both in its general outlines and in every detail, and one which has been and continues to be literally lethal in its effects -- is the tale of "American exceptionalism." Assuming that one knows even a minimal amount of history (which, I grant, is far too often a completely unjustified assumption today, even and especially with regard to the "best educated" Americans and the members of our ruling class), and if one considers this mythology with any degree of honesty, its inconsistencies, outright contradictions, and numerous points of incoherence quickly become apparent. Yet the overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe this fable, and the regular invocation of America's "unique" characteristics, which make us "better" than any other people who have ever lived and which, for reasons that are never explained, entitle us to direct events across the globe, is nothing less than a religious ritual.

At the opening of the last installment, I summarized certain common errors regarding American history committed by many liberals and conservatives. In large part, those errors arise and continue to find new life because of many people's adherence to this American mythology. People with views across the political spectrum are unable to recognize the realities of American political and social history because those realities would fundamentally challenge the fable to which they are so devoted: conservatives cling to the notion that American progress and superiority are the result of free and unfettered capitalism, that is, the result of the operations of private business in an essentially laissez-faire environment, while liberals see the steady advance of America as due in significant part to the growing influence of the interests and wisdom of "the common people." As one result, both groups have the identical blind spot: both appear unable to fully appreciate the joining together of government power with certain influential (and usually exceedingly wealthy) private citizens and businesses. This combination, which began in the late nineteenth century, gathered force in the two decades following 1900, and was firmly cemented in place by World War I and then the New Deal, resulted in the creation of a class made up of the American elites. It is in these elites that almost all power is concentrated, both the power of the state and the power of the dominant private interests.

For most Americans, full recognition of this reality is impossible, for it renders maintenance of the American fable of "responsive democracy" all but impossible. All our politicians appeal with thought-deadening monotony to the "will of the people." The fiction that the actions of the state and of the elites embody that "will" is the unappealable justification for whatever the ruling class might do, whether or not it is true (which it frequently is not). If public opinion on a particular question reaches a pitch and intensity that cannot be ignored, the ruling class might make temporary concessions to the public's demands. This is why I suggested a series of actions to focus public protest about what still seems to be the inevitability of an attack on Iran, under either the current administration or a future Democratic one. The program I put forth doesn't contradict these points about the power of the ruling elites; in extraordinary circumstances and on a particular issue, the elites will heed "the people's voice," if it becomes so insistent and is offered on a large enough scale that continuing to ignore it might threaten the elites' hold on power. But such occasions are extraordinary; for the most part, politicians and other members of the elites couldn't care less about what "the people" want. Yet the fable must be maintained, and "the people" need to be reassured that the state acts in accordance with their desires. We still have what, for the elites, must be an increasingly annoying formality, regular elections -- even though elections are now almost entirely an empty charade drained of all substance and meaning.

So the American mythology continues intact, untarnished and unthreatened by unpleasant facts. I had numerous reasons for referring to us as "A Nation of Stupid Children, Who Refuse to Give Up the Lies." Even intelligent and sometimes admirable prominent public voices give new life to the fable that sustains us. Bob Herbert is one of only a handful of commentators for whom I have significant respect; Herbert writes with great power and eloquence about the profound evil of torture, and he is often passionate in his defense of the powerless who are frequently treated with unimaginable cruelty. But our central myth is so pervasive that even Herbert absorbs it, and increases its reach. For example, in a column titled, "The System's Broken," from October 30, 2006, Herbert wrote:
The system is broken. Most politicians would rather sacrifice their first born than tell voters the honest truth about tough issues. Big money and gerrymandering have placed government out of the reach of most Americans. While some changes in the House are expected this year, the Brookings Institution and the Cato Institute tell us (in a joint report) that since 1998, House incumbents have won more than 98 percent of their re-election races.

Millions of thoughtful Americans have become so estranged from the political process that they've tuned out entirely. Voters hungry for a serious discussion of complex issues are fed a steady diet of ideological talking heads hurling insults in one- or two-minute television segments.

DePauw University held a two-day conference last week on issues confronting the U.S. I was struck by the extent to which the people who attended the forums were interested in seeking out practical, nonpartisan, nonideological solutions to the wide range of problems discussed.

The frustration with the current state of government and politics was palpable. One man, Ned Lamkin, asked me if it wouldn't be a good idea to create some sort of national forum for a serious extended discussion of ways to fix, or at least improve, the system. He's on to something. Among other things, I'd love to see a nonpartisan series of high-profile, nationally televised town hall meetings that would explore ways of making government and politics fairer, more open and more responsive to the will of the people.

American-style democracy needs to be energized, revitalized. The people currently in charge are not up to the task. It's time to bring the intelligence, creativity and energy of the broader population into the quest for constructive change.
While I'm somewhat sympathetic to the perspective Herbert expresses here, to say that his proposed solution is naive is to be exceedingly and foolishly kind. A "series of high-profile, nationally televised town hall meetings" -- as against a vast and intricate system of power that has become deeply entrenched in every aspect of our nation's life and activities over more than one hundred years?

Herbert regularly returns to his praise for the great wisdom embodied in "the will of the people," as in a column dated January 29, 2007, "More than Antiwar":
You can say what you want about the people opposed to this wretched war in Iraq, try to stereotype them any way you can. But you couldn't walk among them for more than a few minutes on Saturday without realizing that they love their country as much as anyone ever has. They love it enough to try to save it.


The goal of the crowd was to get the attention of Congress and persuade it to move vigorously to reverse the Bush war policies. But the thought that kept returning as I watched the earnestly smiling faces, so many of them no longer young, was the way these protesters had somehow managed to keep the faith. They still believed, after all the years and all the lies, that they could make a difference. They still believed their government would listen to them and respond. [It will not listen to them, and it will not respond.]


The public is way out in front of the politicians on this issue. But the importance of Saturday's march does not lie primarily in whether it hastens a turnaround of U.S. policy on the war. The fact that so many Americans were willing to travel from every region of the country to march against the war was a reaffirmation of the public's commitment to our peaceful democratic processes.

It is in that unique and unflagging commitment, not in our terrifying military power, that the continued promise and greatness of America are to be found.
This belief in the "promise and greatness" of "the American people" drenches our political debates, and makes serious, adult discussion a goal that is all but unattainable. You find it on the right, as in these comments from Romney at the first Republican debate in early May:
MR. VANDEHEI: Governor Romney, Daniel Dukovnic (sp) from Walnut Creek, California, wants to know: What do you dislike most about America?

MR. ROMNEY: Gosh. I love America. I'm afraid I'm going to be at a loss for words, because America for me is not just our rolling mountains and hills and streams and great cities, it's the American people. And the American people are the greatest people in the world. What makes America the greatest nation in the world is the heart of the American people -- hard-working, innovative, risk-taking, God- loving, family-oriented American people.

It's that optimism we thank Ronald Reagan for. Thank you, Mrs. Reagan, for opening up this place in his memory for us. It is that optimism about this great people that makes us the greatest nation on Earth.
With regard to the noxious idea that "the American people are the greatest people in the world," I am compelled to repeat some earlier remarks, from Part VII of this series, "The Mythology of the 'Good Guy' American":
We see our success, and our power on the world stage, as inherently tied to superior moral virtue. We are so successful because we are uniquely virtuous, and our national power confirms our morality, in relation to which all other peoples and all other countries can only suffer in comparison. One of the many dangerous and inevitable consequences of this view is an often virulent racism that has been reflected in our treatment of many very numerous groups of people: the Native Americans, the slaves who were brought here and were an integral part of the new country's economy, Germans in World War I (German-Americans were the "scum of the melting pot," who now needed to be gotten "rid of"), the Japanese in World War II (the "yellow Japs," who were "regularly compared" to "monkeys, baboons, and gorillas"), and a number of other foreigners and immigrants. Very recently, we witnessed the sickening spectacle of this atavistic racism unleashed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.


One point is crucial: a critical part of our national mythology is the insistence on viewing our nation and ourselves as Americans in comparative terms. When we insist that we are uniquely "good" and "virtuous," this logically necessitates a further conclusion: we are better than everyone else. We are "the Good Guys." The emphasis is not only on "Good," but on "the": we are the Good Guys in a way that no one else is, or can ever be. (On this issue, also see this post from yesterday, in response to this.)
And the paeans to "the will of the people" come from the left and from progressives, as in this entry from Matt Stoller, which is almost stupendously wonderful in its mind-destroying inanity:
I'm going to follow on Chris's posts on diversity by explaining why I blog. I have a certain set of values, and I want to see the political system adopt those values, including transparency, honesty, and civic democracy. My hypothesis is that these values are shared by a wide group, and that organizing through the blogs is one route to pressuring for social change. In other words, blogging is just a means to power for a progressive movement that I want to see succeed.

And surprisingly, it's not actually easy to have an impact on the political system. As weird as it sounds, a link from Atrios or Firedoglake, or a mention in the New York Times, does not change the political system. [Who woulda thunk?!] It is in fact a lot of work to get a change to happen.
The balance of Stoller's post, which identifies strategies that are not effective and those that might be, leads one to conclude that a rather unsophisticated irony might be the sought-after tone in remarks such as, "it's not actually easy to have an impact on the political system." It might be observed that for a political operative, for whom effective and clear communication is essential, the intended message and tone could be conveyed with just a bit more precision. And Stoller seems to genuinely believe that he is identifying an unappreciated fact that escapes most people when he remarks, "It is in fact a lot of work to get a change to happen." What can one say? Perhaps: D'oh! So let us be fair: let no one accuse certain progressive operatives of intellectual brilliance or original insight.

True, Stoller acknowledges that, "There's a small group of people who make policy in politics," but his overall argument (and his writing more generally) makes clear that the full reality of the complex mechanisms through which power is achieved, maintained, expanded and directed is entirely beyond his grasp. (It is possible that Stoller understands all of this, and also knows the vacuous phrases that he needs to throw up and out periodically, to assuage certain of his less than bright followers. If he does understand it, that, of course, would be unspeakably worse. But I seriously doubt he's that smart.) And then, of course, there is the unstated but clearly implied self-congratulation at the end: "There are big opportunities here. Seize them. No one is stopping you but you." You can be assured that Stoller is not stopping Stoller. His post is entirely appropriately titled, "Building Power." I note, without further explication, that you should read Stoller's post in conjunction with a genuinely awful entry from Chris Bowers, and you will then understand why I now think of them as the Evil Twins of Progressive Politics. The lust for power consumes them -- and I implore you to remember that power always must mean power over other people. As those who seek power always do, they regularly camouflage their lust with sentimental tripe about "transparency, honesty and civic democracy." If people studied and remembered history, they would realize that every leader, including the most brutally vicious and murderous, has always appealed to "the will of the people." It is on the basis of such platitudinous, vapid twaddle that crimes of immense scale and horror are committed.

As Romney's remarks make clear, the belief that the "heart of the American people" makes America "the greatest nation in the world" is one regularly trotted out by Republicans. However, I note again that these hackneyed phrases are primarily a public relations ploy, designed to drug unthinking Americans into apathy, secure in the conviction that the state is following their "will." On the right side of the spectrum, especially among many neoconservatives, the deep contempt for "ordinary" Americans is now occasionally acknowledged explicitly, together with the belief that these citizen-dolts must be told "noble" Straussian lies to get them to behave properly.

But among progressives, the appeals to the wisdom and infinite goodness of "the American people" are unending. So exactly which Americans are they talking about? We can safely assume they probably don't mean the 62 million people who voted for Bush in 2004, long after the criminally murderous nature of his policies had been made unequivocally clear, or the millions of Americans who still support Bush even today. They probably don't mean those Americans who enjoy hearty laughs watching repeated acts of torture on 24, and who wish only that their government used similar methods still more systematically (as if we don't use them systematically enough already). But here is where the genuinely religious nature of this belief in the innate goodness of "the people" becomes clearer. We should first note that, whenever political leaders or would-be wielders of power appeal to "civic democracy" or "the will of the people," they operate on a crucial but unspoken assumption: that the people they invoke just happen to agree with them. When these seekers after power use the state to force people to act in certain ways, they will only be doing what the people themselves want, for the beliefs of "the people" coincidentally overlap with their own at every important point. I repeat that every bloodthirsty dictator has said the same.

But note a further religious element involved. Every fervent "believer" thinks that if only others saw the truth as he does, if they only had all the "facts," they would be overwhelmed by his particular vision, and come to see its indisputable veracity. In exactly the same way, all these seekers of political power think that if only "the people" had all the "facts" (which are the ones they view as important, and no others), they would embrace every significant part of their political program. This avoids one obvious and fundamental aspect of human nature, and human behavior: people can have precisely the same information -- yet they will reach vastly different conclusions because they operate on the basis of different moral premises and values. People make different choices; as we all know, those choices are often entirely unlike ours, and not infrequently directly opposed to ours. Keep in mind that the state is a system of obedience: the essence of the state is force and compulsion. If you violate the state's requirements, you will pay a penalty. But this reality is washed away with appeals to "the will of the people": the power-seekers convince themselves that you are only being forced to act in ways that you would choose yourself. This is only a very brief beginning on what is an inordinately complex subject; I will return to these issues in much more detail in an upcoming series about the primitive tribalism that has overwhelmed our politics today.

Let's go back to the mythical "good American." In a very valuable article from the indispensable Robert Higgs, "How Does the War Party Get Away With It?" (published in September 2003), Higgs eloquently makes a number of the same points I refer to above:
Presidents decide to go to war in the context of a favorably disposed mass culture. Painful as it is for members of the Peace Party to admit, many Americans take pleasure in "kicking ass," and they do not much care whose ass is being kicked or why. So long as Americans are dishing out death and destruction to a plausible foreign enemy, the red-white-and-blue jingos are happy. If you think I’m engaging in hyperbole, you need to get out more. Visit a barbershop, stand in line at the post office, or have a drink at your neighborhood tavern and listen to the conversations going on around you. The sheer bellicosity of many ordinary people's views is as undeniable as it is shocking. Something in their diet seems to be causing a remarkable volume of murderous, barely suppressed rage.


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.

Public ignorance compounds the inclinations fostered by the mass culture. Study after study and poll after poll have confirmed that most Americans know next to nothing about public affairs. Of course, the intricacies of foreign policy are as alien to them as the dark side of the moon, but their ignorance runs much deeper. They can’t explain the simplest elements of the political system; they don’t know what the Constitution says or means; and they can’t identify their political representatives or what those persons ostensibly stand for. They know scarcely anything about history, and what they think they know is usually incorrect. People so densely ignorant that they have no inkling of how their forebears were bamboozled and sacrificed on the altar of Mars the last time around are easily bamboozled and readily sacrificed the next time around.
Earlier in the same article, Higgs is similarly eloquent and perceptive on the major theme of this essay:
In view of the evident futility, and worse, of nearly every war the United States has fought during the past century, how does the War Party manage to propel this nation into one catastrophe after another, each of them clearly foreseen by at least a substantial minority who failed to dissuade their fellow citizens from still another march into calamity?

An adequate answer might fill a volume, but some elements of that answer can be sketched briefly. The essential components are autocratic government, favorably disposed mass culture, public ignorance and misplaced trust, cooperative mass media, and political exploitation for personal and institutional advantage.

By "autocratic government," I refer to the reality of how foreign policy is actually made in the United States. Notwithstanding the trappings of our political system’s democratic procedures, checks and balances, elections, and so forth, the making of foreign policy involves only a handful of people decisively. When the president and his coterie of top advisers decide to go to war, they just go, and nobody can stop them. The "intelligence" agencies, the diplomatic corps, and the armed forces do as they are told. Members of Congress cower and speak in mealy-mouthed phrases framed to ensure that no matter how the war turns out, they can share any credit and deny any blame. No one has effective capacity to block the president, and few officials care to do so in any event, even if they object. Rarely does anyone display the minimal decency of resigning his military commission or his appointment in the bureaucracy. In short, in our system the president has come to hold the power of war and peace exclusively in his hands, notwithstanding anything to the contrary written in the Constitution or the laws. He might as well be Caesar.

(In the late 1930s, Congress considered the Ludlow Resolution, which would have amended the Constitution to require approval in a national referendum before Congress could declare war, unless U.S. territory had been invaded. Franklin D. Roosevelt vigorously opposed such an amendment, writing to the Speaker of the House on January 6, 1938, that its adoption "would cripple any President in his conduct of our foreign relations," and the resolution was narrowly voted down [209 to 188] in the House soon afterward. Can’t let the inmates run the asylum, now can we?)
Higgs has more, and I encourage you to read it.

To fill in these identifications with some further detail, I turn once again to Christopher Layne, whose very valuable book, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy From 1940 to the Present, I excerpted in Part III, "The Open Door to Worldwide Hegemony." In his concluding chapter (at pp. 200-201), Layne writes (the highlights are mine, and I've omitted the footnotes, with the exception of one indicated by an asterisk):
By abandoning hegemony in favor of offshore balancing, could the United States have maintained its security at a lower price? If the United States, at an earlier stage, could have extricated itself from the hegemonic dimension of its cold war strategy, and its concomitant burdens, it would have been in its interest to do so. This, of course, raises another important question: Why has the United States stuck so long with its hegemonic strategy? Were U.S. policymakers foolish, or were they willfully indifferent to the burdens placed on the United States by its grand strategy?

The answer is both complex (a topic worthy of a book in its own right) and yet simple. In his book Myths of Empire, Jack Snyder talks about elites "hijacking" the state. This fails to make the point quite strongly enough. Dominant elites do not hijack the state; they are the state. The United States pursued hegemony because that grand strategy has served the interests of the dominant elites that have formed the core of the U.S. foreign policy establishment since at least the late 1930s, when the New Deal resulted in the domestic political triumph of what Thomas Ferguson calls "multinational liberalism." At the core of the multinational liberal coalition were large capital-intensive corporations that looked to overseas markets and outward-looking investment banks. This coalition displaced the so-called system of 1896, which was organized around labor-intensive industries that favored economic nationalism and opposed strategic internationalism.
[That last sentence is not entirely correct in my view, as I will explain when I return to the actual history of the Progressive movement, as opposed to the widely accepted mythology about its achievements.]

The multinational liberal coalition that cemented its hold on power during the New Deal had its roots deep in the Eastern establishment: it also included the national media, important foundations, the big Wall Street law firms, and organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations.* This coalition favored economic and political Open Doors and the strategic internationalism that accompanied them. Although the bipartisan consensus among the U.S. foreign policy establishment favoring strategic internationalism and U.S. hegemony that was forged some six decades ago has occasionally been tested -- notably during the Vietnam War -- it has proved remarkably durable. Unless it undergoes a Damascene-like intellectual conversion, as long as the present foreign policy elite remains in power the United States will remain wedded to a hegemonic grand strategy. It probably will take a major domestic political realignment -- perhaps triggered by setbacks abroad or a severe economic crisis at home -- to bring about a change in American grand strategy.
The asterisk following the reference to the Council on Foreign Relations refers to a footnote that is also worth reproducing:
The terms "dominant elite" and "foreign policy establishment" as used here carry no ideological connotations. It is well recognized that a dominant elite and a foreign policy establishment do exist in the United States. In their fascinating -- and very mainstream -- portrait of Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, Charles Bohlen, John McCloy, George Kennan, and Robert Lovett, Isaacson and Thomas explain that they selected these six because
they represent a cross section of the postwar policy Establishment. The values they embodied were nurtured in prep schools, at college clubs, in the boardrooms of Wall Street, and at dinner parties in Washington. They shared a vision of public service as a lofty calling and an aversion to partisan politics. They had a pragmatic and businesslike preference for realpolitik over ideology. As internationalists who respected the manners and traditions of Europe, they waged a common struggle against the pervasive isolationism of their time. (Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986], 25)
The idea that the United States operates or even could operate to any significant degree like a vast town meeting of 300 million people is utter nonsense. To think for even a moment that nationally televised town meetings or a fictitious "responsive, civic democracy" could, at this late date, seriously impact a complex, sprawling system of immense, almost unimaginable power is absolutely fantastic. And even if such a "civic democracy" were somehow made operational in some science fiction universe, when one considers the actual nature and predilections of far too many Americans, if their "will" were to be fully realized, the results might well horrify even those who regularly offer their sentimental, empty, cloying appeals to Americans' inherent "goodness."

This is the reality that the widely accepted mythology is designed to avoid, a reality that rests upon an intricate series of connections among government, corporations, national media, foundations, law firms, and additional elements (including, very significantly, a massive defense industry). These are the elites who run our government, and who direct our lives. These are the elites who continue the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people who never threatened us and the destruction of entire countries that never attacked us, and who ache for still another war. These are the elites who oversee death and destruction on a vast scale, who seek to eliminate what little remains of our liberties, and who are never satisfied. No matter how much power they have, they always want more, unto the end of time. You can comfort yourself with delusions about "civic democracy" and "national town meetings," but this reality is the one that runs your life in countless ways, and that might end it someday.

I suppose I could briefly summarize the argument in the following manner: Grow up. Be adults about this. And for God's sake, be serious.

Part I: Iraq Is the Democrats' War, Too

Part II: Why the Stories We Tell Matter So Much

Part III: The Open Door to Worldwide Hegemony

Part IV: A "Splendid People" Set Out for Empire

Part V: A Global Empire of Bases

(Sidebar): Ah, Democracy...Ah, Peace

Part VI: Global Interventionism -- A Disastrous Policy Supported by Indefensible Ideas

Part VII: The Mythology of the "Good Guy" American

Part VIII: Unwelcome History -- Religion, the Progressives, Empire and the Drug War