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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.”

  William Astore writing for Tom’s Dispatch.   

 

      “I first came across the phrase “using a sledgehammer to kill gnats” while looking at the history of U.S. airpower during the Vietnam War.  B-52 “Arc Light” raids dropped record tons of bombs on parts of South Vietnam and Laos in largely failed efforts to kill dispersed guerrillas and interdict supply routes from North Vietnam.  Half a century later, with its laser- and GPS-guided bombs, the Air Force regularly touts the far greater precision of American airpower.  Yet in one country after another, using just that weaponry, the U.S. has engaged in serial acts of overkill.  In Afghanistan, it was the recent use of MOAB, the “mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon the U.S. has ever used in combat, against a small concentration of ISIS fighters.  In similar fashion, the U.S. air war in Syria has outpaced the Russians and even the Assad regime in its murderous effects on civilians, especially around Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State.  Such overkill is evident on the ground as well where special ops raids have, this year, left civilians dead from Yemen to Somalia.  In other words, across the Greater Middle East, Washington’s profligate killing machine is also creating a desire for vengeance among civilian populations, staggering numbers of whom, when not killed, have been displaced or sent fleeing across borders as refugees in these wars. It has played a significant role in unsettling whole regions, creating failed states, and providing yet more recruits for terror groups.

     Leaving aside technological advances, little has changed since Vietnam. The U.S. military is still relying on enormous firepower to kill elusive enemies as a way of limiting (American) casualties.  As an instrument of victory, it didn’t work in Vietnam, nor has it worked in Iraq or Afghanistan.

     But never mind the history lessons.  President Trump asserts that his “new” Afghan strategy — the details of which, according to a military spokesman, are “not there yet” — will lead to more terrorists (that is, gnats) being killed.

     Since 9/11, America’s leaders, Trump included, have rarely sought ways to avoid those gnats, while efforts to “drain the swamp” in which the gnats thrive have served mainly to enlarge their breeding grounds.  At the same time, efforts to enlist indigenous “gnats” — local proxy armies — to take over the fight have gone poorly indeed.  As in Vietnam, the main U.S. focus has invariably been on developing better, more technologically advanced (which means more expensive) sledgehammers, while continuing to whale away at that cloud of gnats — a process as hopeless as it is counterproductive.”

One can imagine the US military as a toxic convoluted ouroboros.  This particular snake creates its own problems and then has to fix them by creating more problems and then has to fix them…

But hey, as long as the right people are making profits its all sunshine and rainbows.  Right?  :/

 

The conclusion of an essay written by William Astore featured on Tom’s Dispatch.  As a member of the minority left, one of the questions frequently asked of us is well then what is your solution to the problems – criticizing is one thing actually putting forward a plan is quite another.  What now you pinko-commie-leftard?   Well, Mr.Astore has the blueprints right here, let’s get to work.

 

What Is to Be Done?

Slowly, seemingly inexorably, the U.S. is becoming more like the former Soviet Union.  Just to begin the list of similarities: too many resources are being devoted to the military and the national security state; too many over-decorated generals are being given too much authority in government; bleeding-ulcer wars continue unstanched in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere; infrastructure (roads, bridges, pipelines, dams, and so on) continues to crumble; restless “republics” grumble about separating from the union (Calexit!); rampant drug abuse and declining life expectancy are now American facts of life. Meanwhile, the latest U.S. president is, in temperament, authoritarian, even as government “services” take on an increasingly nepotistic flavor at the top.

I’m worried, comrade!  Echoing the cry of the great Lenin, what is to be done?  Given the list of symptoms, here’s one obvious 10-step approach to the de-sovietization of America:

1. Decrease “defense” spending by 10% annually for the next five years.  In the Soviet spirit, think of it as a five-year plan to restore our revolution (as in the American Revolution), which was, after all, directed against imperial policies exercised by a “bigly” king.

2. Cut the number of generals and admirals in the military by half, and get rid of all the meaningless ribbons, badges, and medals they wear.  In other words, don’t just cut down on the high command but on their tendency to look (and increasingly to act) like Soviet generals of old.  And don’t allow them to serve in high governmental positions until they’ve been retired for at least 10 years.

3. Get our military out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and other war-torn countries in the Greater Middle East and Africa.  Reduce that imperial footprint overseas by closing costly military bases. 

4. Work to eliminate nuclear weapons globally by, as a first step, cutting the vast U.S. arsenal in half and forgetting about that trillion-dollar “modernization” program.  Eliminate land-based ICBMs first; they are no longer needed for any meaningful deterrent purposes.

5. Take the money saved on “modernizing” nukes and invest it in updating America’s infrastructure.

6. Curtail state surveillance.  Freedom needs privacy to flourish.  As a nation, we need to remember that security is not the bedrock of democracy — the U.S. Constitution is.    

7. Work to curb drug abuse by cutting back on criminalization.  Leave the war mentality behind, including the “war on drugs,” and focus instead on providing better treatment programs for addicts.  Set a goal of cutting America’s prison population in half over the next decade. 

8. Life expectancy will increase with better health care.  Provide health care coverage for all using a single-payer system.  Every American should have the same coverage as a member of Congress.  People shouldn’t be suffering and dying because they can’t afford to see a doctor or pay for their prescriptions.

9. Nothing is more fundamental to “national security” than clean air and water.  It’s folly to risk poisoning the environment in the name of either economic productivity or building up the military.  If you doubt this, ask citizens of Russia and the former Soviet Republics, who still struggle with the fallout from the poisonous environmental policies of Soviet days.

10. Congress needs to assert its constitutional authority over war and the budget, and begin to act like the “check and balance” it’s supposed to be when it comes to executive power.

There you have it.  These 10 steps should go some way toward solving America’s real Russian problem — the Soviet one.  Won’t you join me, comrade?

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