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Learning without Flinching from History

“The United States has been the imperial power of record on this planet since World War II. Lately, the economic and moral aspects of that power have waned, even as our military power remains supreme (though without being able to win anything whatsoever). That should tell you something about America. We’re still a “SmackDown” country, to borrow a term from professional wrestling, in a world that’s increasingly being smacked down anyway.

Harold Pinter, the British playwright, caught this country’s imperial spirit well in his Nobel Prize lecture in 2005. America, he said then, has committed crimes that “have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Anyone with a knowledge of our history knows that there was truth indeed in what Pinter said 15 years ago. He noticed how this country’s leaders wielded language “to keep thought at bay.” Like George Orwell before him, Pinter was at pains to use plain language about war, noting how the Americans and British had “brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call[ed] it bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.”

The point here was not simply to bash America. It was to get us to think about our actions in genuine historical terms. A decade and a half ago, Pinter threw down a challenge, and even if you disagreed with him, or maybe especially if you did so, you need the intellectual tools and command of the facts to grapple with that critique. It should never be enough simply to shout “USA! USA!” in an ever-louder fashion and hope it will drown out not only critics and dissenters but reality itself — and perhaps even your own secret doubts.

And we should have such doubts. We should be ready to dissent. We should recognize, as America’s current attorney general most distinctly does not, that dissenters are often the truest patriots of all, even if they are also often the loneliest ones. We should especially have doubts about a leader who threatens to bring violence against another country 1,000 times greater than anything that country could visit upon us.

I don’t need the Catholic Church, or even Christ in the New Testament, to tell me that such thinking is wrong in a Washington that now seems to be offering a carnivorous taste of what a future American autocracy could be like. I just need to recall the wise words of my Polish mother-in-law: “Have a heart, if you’ve got a heart.”

Have a heart, America. Reject American carnage in all its forms.”

The massive disparity between the social classes in the US make it difficult to find the equality as set down by their law, in their society.

“1. The United States, by the way, is fundamentally unjust. Even before the Trump Virus sparked a depression and corporate bailout that deepened inequality in the U.S., the three wealthiest Americans’ combined wealth already exceeded that of the nation’s bottom 50 percent. The top tenth of the upper U.S. One Percent already had a shared net worth greater than that of the nation’s bottom 90 percent and median Black household wealth amounted to 6 cents on the white median household dollar. The nation has long been riddled by massive, interrelated disparities of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and power that make an abject mockery of its claim to represent democracy and equality before the law. Exhaustive empirical research shows that progressive majority public opinion is close to irrelevant in the making of “public” policy, which consistently reflects the preferences of the wealthy Few and their giant corporations and financial institutions. You can learn all about this from mainstream researchers and journalists who never identify with “ideologies such as Marxism” or acknowledge that significant socioeconomic disparity and top-down class rule are inherent to the profits system.”

 

The US would do well to start to manage the current distribution of wealth.  A country that is run for the benefit of a small elite is a society that is doomed to fail.

 

 

  Very happy to be in Canada for this particular emergency.  The US administration was all over the map has the pandemic started and is paying the price now for having a doofus as head of state.

 

Long-Simmering Realities

In many ways, the current crisis has, of course, just exposed conditions that should have been attended to long ago. Much that suddenly seems broken was already on the brink when the coronavirus appeared. If anything, the pandemic has simply accelerated already existing trends. As a December 2019 Century Foundation report on “racism, inequality, and health care for African Americans” concluded, “The American health care system is beset with inequalities that have a disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized groups.” In fact, in 2019, the London-based Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index had already ranked the American healthcare system 59th in the world for its standard of services.

As bad as Donald Trump and his administration have been, the growing American coronavirus disaster can’t simply be blamed on them. Covid-19 has brought home to the rest of us how over here over there really was. And now, the pathetic White House leadership in this crisis has raised another possibility: autocracy.

The Trump administration’s failure to handle the crisis competently stems in part from the president’s perception that whatever he says, in autocratic fashion, goes — or, as he has often put it, “I can do whatever I want.” From his early assertion that the virus was destined to go from 15 cases to one or disappear in the warmth of April to his fantasy numbers when it came to virus testing or obtaining crucial medical equipment to his recent advocacy of ingesting disinfectants as an antidote for Covid-19, the leader of the United States has come to resemble a run-of-the-mill autocrat spreading disinformation in his own interests. It’s one thing to point to the power-grabbing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the underhanded machinations of the dictator of North Korea, or the ruthlessness of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. It’s quite another to have a power-hungry leader as our own head of state. Once again, we are not immune. There is here.

With Covid-19, the very idea of American exceptionalism may have seen its last days. The virus has put the realities of wealth inequality, health insecurity, and poor work conditions under a high-powered microscope. Fading from sight are the days when this country’s engagement with the world could be touted as a triumph of leadership when it came to health, economic sustenance, democratic governance, and stability. Now, we are inside the community of nations in a grim new way — as fellow patients, grievers, and supplicants in search of food and shelter, in search, along with so much of humanity, of a more secure existence.

The world, in other words, has turned upside down.

A soldiers exit essay on leaving the US war machine.

 

What I Won’t Be Missing

“It’s time to wave goodbye to a litany of absurdity that I witnessed in the institution to which I dedicated my adult life. Some peers, even friends, may call this heresy — a disgruntled former major airing dirty laundry — and maybe in some way it is. Still, what I observed in various combat units, in conversation with senior officers, and as a horrified voyeur of, and actor in, two dirty wars matters. Of that, I remain convinced.

So here’s my official goodbye to all that, to a military and a nation engaged in an Orwellian set of forever wars and to the professional foot soldiers who made so much of it all possible, while the remainder of the country worked, tweeted, shopped, and slept (in every sense of the word). 

Goodbye to the majors who wanted to be colonels and the colonels who wanted to be generals — at any cost. To the sociopaths who rose in the ranks by trampling on the souls of their overburdened troopers, trading lives for minor bumps in statistics and pats on the shoulder from aggressive superiors.

Goodbye to the generals who led like so many lieutenants, the ones who knew the tactics but couldn’t for the life of them think strategically, eternally proving the Peter Principle right with every promotion past their respective levels of incompetence. 

So long to the flag officers convinced that what worked at the squad level — physical fitness, esprit de corps, and teamwork — would win victories at the brigade and division level in distant, alien lands.

Farewell to the generals I served under who then shamelessly spun through Washington’s revolving door, trading in their multi-starred uniforms for six- and seven-figure corporate gigs on the boards of weapons manufacturers, aka “the merchants of death” (as they were known once upon a distant time), and so helped feed the unquenchable appetite of the military-industrial beast.

Farewell to the senior generals, so stuck in what they called “their lane” that they were unwilling (or intellectually unable) to advise civilian policymakers about missions that could never be accomplished, so trapped in the GWOT box that they couldn’t say no to a single suggestion from chickenhawk militarists on the Hill or in the Oval Office.

Goodbye to the devotees of American exceptionalism who filled the Army’s ranks, stalwart evangelists of a civic religion that believed there was a secret American inside every Arab or Afghan, ready to burst forth with the slightest poke from Uncle Sam’s benevolent bayonet. 

Ciao to staff officers who mistook “measures of performance” (doing lots of stuff) for “measures of effectiveness” (doing the right stuff). I won’t miss the gaggles of obtuse majors and colonels who demanded measurable “output” — numbers of patrols completed, numbers of houses searched, counts of PowerPoint slides published — from already overtasked captains and the soldiers they led and who will never learn the difference between doing lots and doing well.

Goodbye to battalion and brigade commanders who already had their hands full unsuccessfully “pacifying” entire districts and provinces in alien lands, yet seemed more concerned with the cleanliness of troopers’ uniforms and the two-mile-run times of their units, prioritizing physical fitness over tactical competence, empathy, or ethics.

Godspeed to the often-intolerant conservatism and evangelical Christianity infusing the ranks. […]”

The need for security actions and endless wars is a self-justifying feature of the US economic and political landscape. The military industrial complex (MIC) is invested in all levels of American society and within the political realm. The MIC is not only good for business, but often it *is* the business providing jobs and civilian infrastructure back in Anytown USA. Certainly the products being made are for bringing death to people, usually brown, in far away lands but ethical concerns aside, everyone wins right?

The war in Oceania goes well.

The infinite war cycle is made possible only because we’ve changed what ‘victory’ looks like. These new victory conditions seem to work very will with the notion that war must remain a profitable endeavour for the American Empire. Nick Turse writes about how changing the conditions for a what a win looks like enables the system to cycle onward:

“Unlike in the Vietnam War years, three presidents and the Pentagon, unbothered by fiscal constraints, substantive congressional opposition, or a significant antiwar movement, have been effectively pursuing this strategy, which requires nothing more than a steady supply of troops, contractors, and other assorted camp followers; an endless parade of Senate-sanctioned commanders; and an annual outlay of hundreds of billions of dollars. By these standards, Donald Trump’s open-ended, timetable-free “Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia” may prove to be the winningest war plan ever. As he described it:

“From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”

Think about that for a moment. Victory’s definition begins with “attacking our enemies” and ends with the prevention of possible terror attacks. Let me reiterate: “victory” is defined as “attacking our enemies.” Under President Trump’s strategy, it seems, every time the U.S. bombs or shells or shoots at a member of one of those 20-plus terror groups in Afghanistan, the U.S. is winning or, perhaps, has won. And this strategy is not specifically Afghan-centric. It can easily be applied to American warzones in the Middle East and Africa — anywhere, really.

Decades after the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. military has finally solved the conundrum of how to “out-guerrilla the guerrilla.” And it couldn’t have been simpler. You just adopt the same definition of victory. As a result, a conventional army — at least the U.S. military — now loses only if it stops fighting. So long as unaccountable commanders wage benchmark-free wars without congressional constraint, the United States simply cannot lose. You can’t argue with the math. Call it the rule of 4,000,000,029,057.

That calculus and that sum also prove, quite clearly, that America’s beleaguered commander-in-chief has gotten a raw deal on his victory parade. With apologies to the American Legion, the U.S. military is now — under the new rules of warfare — triumphant and deserves the type of celebration proposed by President Trump. After almost two decades of warfare, the armed forces have lowered the bar for victory to the level of their enemy, the Taliban. What was once the mark of failure for a conventional army is now the benchmark for success. It’s a remarkable feat and deserving, at the very least, of furious flag-waving, ticker tape, and all the age-old trappings of victory.”

One of the small side problems of this MIC strategy is that the rest the ‘homeland’ society goes to shit while the arms makers and assorted war profiteers become obscenely wealthy, and then said obscene wealth is used to further distort the democratic system at home to better feed the MIC machine to make more war, and more profit and…

And once war with Oceania is done, the war in Eurasia can begin proper.

 

I’m reassured with the knowledge that a small legion of smart people are actively planning the demise of civilization and the majority of human life here on Earth.  I’m thinking that these people need to be called the Fermi Corps because they are actively trying to prove Fermi’s Paradox and associated theory theory to be correct.  Rajan Menon writes on Tom’s Dispatch on how our governments are attempting to normalize and rationalize nuclear solutions that spell the end of our world.

What is scary (on top of the base amount of scary) is how insular this report (NPR) seems to be.

“Instead, [the Nuclear Posture Review] it makes an elaborate case for a massive expansion and “modernization” of what’s already the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal (6,800 warheads versus 7,000 for Russia) so that an American commander-in-chief has a “diverse set of nuclear capabilities that provide… flexibility to tailor the approach to deterring one or more potential adversaries in different circumstances.”

The NPR insists that future presidents must have advanced “low-yield” or “useable” nuclear weapons to wield for limited, selective strikes.  The stated goal: to convince adversaries of the foolishness of threatening or, for that matter, launching their own limited strikes against the American nuclear arsenal in hopes of extracting “concessions” from us.  This is where Strangelovian logic and nuclear absurdity take over.  What state in its right mind would launch such an attack, leaving the bulk of the U.S. strategic nuclear force, some 1,550 deployed warheads, intact?  On that, the NPR offers no enlightenment.

You don’t have to be an acolyte of the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz or have heard about his concept of “friction” to know that even the best-laid plans in wartime are regularly shredded.  Concepts like limited nuclear war and nuclear blackmail may be fun to kick around in war-college seminars.  Trying them out in the real world, though, could produce disaster.  This ought to be self-evident, but to the authors of the NPR it’s not.  They portray Russia and China as wild-eyed gamblers with an unbounded affinity for risk-taking.

The document gets even loopier.  It seeks to provide the commander-in-chief with nuclear options for repelling non-nuclear attacks against the United States, or even its allies.  Presidents, insists the document, require “a range of flexible nuclear capabilities,” so that adversaries will never doubt that “we will defeat non-nuclear attacks.”   Here’s the problem, though: were Washington to cross that nuclear Rubicon and launch a “limited” strike during a conventional war, it would enter a true terra incognita.  The United States did, of course, drop two nuclear bombs on Japanese cities in August 1945, but that country lacked the means to respond in kind.  

However, Russia and China, the principal adversaries the NPR has in mind (though North Korea gets mentioned as well), do have just those means at hand to strike back.  So when it comes to using nuclear weapons selectively, its authors quickly find themselves splashing about in a sea of bizarre speculation.  They blithely assume that other countries will behave precisely as American military strategists (or an American president) might ideally expect them to and so will interpret the nuclear “message” of a limited strike (and its thousands of casualties) exactly as intended.  Even with the aid of game theory, war games, and scenario building — tools beloved by war planners — there’s no way to know where the road marked “nuclear flexibility” actually leads.  We’ve never been on it before.  There isn’t a map.  All that exists are untested assumptions that already look shaky.”

Our demise as a species is being laid out, piecemeal, by people who should know better.  Realistically the only ‘nuclear button’ needed by the the ‘great powers’ is one that is labelled “The End of All Civilization” because there are no winners in a nuclear exchange.

It might even be better just to have a button that incinerates one’s own country and civilian population, as a quick (relatively quick-ish) nuclear conflagration seems to be a more humanitarian endpoint than the slow starvation and decent into chaos that is promised with nuclear winter.

Sounds a bit macabre, I realize, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t prefer the nuclear winter option, as my mad blogging skillz and boff0 teaching portfolio have no utility in any sort of post apocalyptic  scenario.

If democracy is to be a useful concept for our future generations one aspect that is necessarily going to have to change is the level of engagement people have toward their political system.  What is in play now is a plutocratic distortion of what representative government is supposed to look like.  When our political representatives (continuously) fail at their mandated role – representing the people that voted for them – it is easy to see how the apathy sets in.  Consistently getting the short end of the stick from whichever party happens to be in control isn’t a very heartening situation.

The problem is that the current system works exquisitely well for a select few and thus, change to the political system would endanger their extravagant lifestyles an expectations.

And that, most certainly, will not do.

Therefore increasing voter apathy and furthering the disconnect between people and the political process is a necessity to maintain the current system.  The demobilization of the American public is evinced by the dull eyed phlegmatic indifference to such alarming concepts like that of ‘generational war’.  When people just shrug off the very real possibility of endless war (with Oceana) your society has a problem.   Stephanie Savell writes about the deadening of the public interest in her essay that appears on Tom’s Dispatch titled “The Hidden Costs of America’s Wars“.

 

“Of course, it’s hardly surprising these days that our government is far from transparent about so many things, but doing original research on the war on terror has brought this into stark relief for me. I was stunned at how difficult it can be to find the most basic information, scattered at so many different websites, often hidden, sometimes impossible to locate. One obscure but key source for the map we did, for example, proved to be a Pentagon list labeled “Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medals Approved Areas of Eligibility.” From it, my team and I were able to learn of places like Ethiopia and Greece that the military deems part of that “War on Terrorism.” We were then able to crosscheck these with the State Department’s “Country Reports on Terrorism,” which officially document terrorist incidents, country by country, and what each country’s government is doing to counter terrorism.

This research process brought home to me that the detachment many Americans feel in relation to those post-9/11 wars is matched — even fed — by the opacity of government information about them. This no doubt stems, at least in part, from a cultural trend: the demobilization of the American people. The government demands nothing of the public, not even minimalist acts like buying war bonds (as in World War II), which would not only help offset the country’s growing debt from its war-making, but might also generate actual concern and interest in those wars. (Even if the government didn’t spend another dollar on its wars, our research shows that we will still have to pay a breathtaking $8 trillion extra in interest on past war borrowing by the 2050s.)

Our map of the war on terror did, in fact, get some media attention, but as is so often the case when we reach out to even theoretically sympathetic congressional representatives, we heard nothing back from our outreach. Not a peep. That’s hardly surprising, of course, since like the American people, Congress has largely been demobilized when it comes to America’s wars (though not when it comes to pouring ever more federal dollars into the U.S. military). 

Last October, when news came out about four Green Berets killed by an Islamic State affiliate in the West African nation of Niger, congressional debates revealed that American lawmakers had little idea where in the world our troops were stationed, what they were doing there, or even the extent of counterterrorism activity among the Pentagon’s various commands. Yet the majority of those representatives remain all too quick to grant blank checks to President Trump’s requests for ever greater military spending (as was also true of requests from presidents Bush and Obama).

After visiting some congressional offices in November, my colleagues and I were struck that even the most progressive among them were talking only about allocating slightly — and I mean slightly — less money to the Pentagon budget, or supporting slightly fewer of the hundreds of military bases with which Washington garrisons the globe. The idea that it might be possible to work toward ending this country’s “forever wars” was essentially unmentionable.

Such a conversation could only come about if Americans — particularly young Americans — were to become passionate about stopping the spread of the war on terror, now considered little short of a “generational struggle” by the U.S. military. For any of this to change, President Trump’s enthusiastic support for expanding the military and its budget, and the fear-based inertia that leads lawmakers to unquestioningly support any American military campaign, would have to be met by a strong counterforce. Through the engagement of significant numbers of concerned citizens, the status quo of war making might be reversed, and the rising tide of the U.S. counterterror wars stemmed.”

The challenge here, in the beginning, is to raise awareness of the problems that face the American populace.  People need the context in order to name the problems that affect them.

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