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BLACK HOLES

John Chuckman

One of the great discoveries of the late 20th century was the existence of black holes.

Their existence was implied by Albert Einstein’s relativity theory, and their necessary characteristics were worked out by Stephen Hawking and others. Eventually, a new generation of powerful visible-light telescopes and x-ray observatories gave us direct observations supporting what had only been theory.

As every kid fascinated by science knows, black holes come from stars that collapse as their fusion engines sputter out of fuel. The resulting, unimaginably-dense bits of mass have the remarkable ability to grow by capturing matter and energy entering their space-bending gravitational fields.

Modern Israel started as a bright star of an idea, a place of refuge for a horribly abused people, but many observers today might agree that the bright star appears to be collapsing into a dark mass bending the geopolitical space of the entire planet.

The world waits for Mr. Bush to launch a terrible war against Iraq. The only purpose for this war is a preemptive strike at Israel’s most tireless opponent. But the honesty of national debate in America is so distorted by massive gravitational tides, even many of the war’s opponents do not understand what it is they are opposing.

No meaningful evidence has been offered for Mr. Bush’s shrill assertions. An argument for protecting intelligence sources might be accepted as reason for not releasing details to the general public, but what is ridiculous is that no evidence has been supplied to the leaders of major NATO allies. France and Germany would not require the “report” now being quickly cobbled together for Mr. Powell were the case otherwise.

Iraq has bothered no one for twelve years, so why the sudden rush to war before weapons inspectors even complete their work? The only explanation appears to be so that the furious, temporary momentum of American public opinion generated by 9/11 can be harnessed for a war that would not be supported otherwise.

Never mind the deliberately-misleading, invented term weapons of mass destruction, there is no evidence that Iraq has strategically-significant weapons. There is virtual certainty that Iraq has no fissile materials for nuclear weapons, and we know from the previous chief weapons inspector that Iraq’s costly facilities for manufacturing fissile materials were destroyed.

There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein had any past dealings with al Qaeda. Indeed, it is known there was considerable animus between Hussein and bin Laden.

The notion that secret national weapons programs, if any have been reconstituted since weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, can be successful when teams of well-equipped inspectors, kept informed by intelligence agencies, roam over the Iraqi countryside, free at any time to enter any facility, truly is delusional. And delusional notions are a mighty dangerous basis for going to war.

To reassure Israel, all reasonable parties are willing to see a strict inspection regime maintained in Iraq, but this is not enough for the single-minded American President who insists on going to war and inflicting more horror on Iraqi civilians. And it is certainly not enough for Mr. Sharon who cheers Mr. Bush on and proclaims maniacally that Iran should be attacked next.

How easily people forget, or perhaps they do not care, that modern war means killing civilians in large numbers. The proportion of civilians killed to military personnel killed has grown exponentially since World War I. America’s focus on overwhelming air power and its reluctance to accept any casualties of its own only makes the trend worse. The question of going to war now is one in which Americans take little account of death, for the deaths are almost all on the other side and remain unseen by a comfortable public thinking itself informed by its heavily-biased press.

General Schwarzkopf’s well-staged press briefings with highly-edited film clips during Desert Storm left the impression that precision munitions have turned war into a neat, almost bloodless computer game. The truth is that about 95% of the munitions used in Desert Storm were not precision. Precision munitions are extremely costly, they slow operations down, and they can themselves go wrong, so they are reserved for special applications. Good old-fashioned dumb bombs and artillery are the only thing to use when you want to do a lot of killing in a hurry. Something like a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians were killed by American munitions that were not precision.

As we wait for this war, we feel the world’s economy buckling and yielding to the threats and uncertainty of a vast, destructive enterprise, to the promise of inflation and dislocation that always accompany war, and to unavoidable, crazed gyrations in the price of oil.

As we wait for this war, the President addresses an uneasy world in the cadences of a fundamentalist tent-preacher thumping his pulpit and threatening hell’s fire, offering the five and three-quarters billion people who live outside America but are still affected by its arbitrary decisions, such reassuring observations as, “The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.”

This President compounds economic uncertainty by running huge deficits and offering to keep preoccupied Americans happy with huge tax cuts – a bizarre, economically illiterate version of, “You can have it all and have it all now!”

As we wait for this war, Israel reduces the West Bank to an utterly bleak and hopeless landscape. All past commitments, as those of the Oslo Accord, are ignored. All the many past resolutions of the United Nations imposing obligations on Israel remain ignored, even while the U.S. asserts Iraq must be attacked precisely for ignoring other United Nations’ resolutions. The leader of the Palestinians is degradingly treated as a criminal virtually under a form of house arrest with whom no discussion can possibly be held.

No more worthy foes of injustice and hatred breathe than Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They have made unmistakably clear what they see in the West Bank – a repeat in virtually every detail of South Africa’s hateful apartheid regime, but the collapsing star’s force field sucks in even the sympathetic emotions these observations should elicit from Americans.

As we wait for this war, Israel has approached the United States for another $10 billion or more in assistance, over and above the $3 billion it receives automatically each year (and, by rights, we should add the $2 billion paid annually to keep Egypt quiescent). This money is deemed necessary because Israel is run on a war-footing seemingly in perpetuity.

Israel behaves as a regional geopolitical-miniature replica of the United States, even to the extent of now building a triad of nuclear forces (land-based missiles, bombers, and submarine-based missiles – all nuclear-capable) – this in a country whose population is about the size of Ecuador’s, about one-tenth of one percent of the world’s people. The costly wastefulness of this is almost beyond description.

Bush’s War on Terror, rather than being a clearly-focused campaign against those actually responsible for 9/11, has become the label on a portfolio of grudges against all those in the world who balk at or oppose American foreign policy. The War on Terror is itself an emerging black hole sucking in resources, energy, and principles.

It’s not as though a good deal of the world does not understand what is happening. Voices of reason are heard from France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, Russia, China, and other lands, but Bush announces he is willing “to go it alone” if necessary, meaning the entire planet, willy-nilly, must be dragged into a great vortex of destruction.

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