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DANGEROUS FLAILING AND BELLOWING OF THE BEAST

John Chuckman

When I think of America’s place in the world today, the image that comes to mind is of a very large animal, perhaps a huge bull elephant or even prehistoric mammoth, which long roamed as the unchallenged king of its domain but has become trapped by its own missteps, as caught in a tar pit or some quicksand, and it is violently flailing about, making a terrifying noises in its effort to free itself and re-establish its authority. Any observer immediately knows the animal ultimately cannot succeed but certainly is frightened by the noise and crashing that it can sustain for a considerable time.

I think that is the pretty accurate metaphor for the situation of the United States today, still a terribly large and powerful society but one finding itself trapped after a long series of its own blunders and errors, a society certain ultimately to become diminished in its prestige and relative power with all the difficulties which that will entail for an arrogant people having a blind faith in their own rightness. America simply cannot accept its mistakes or that it was ever wrong, for Americanism much resembles a fundamentalist religion whose members are incapable of recognizing or admitting they ever followed anything but the divine plan.

America has made a costly series of errors over the last half century, demonstrating to others that the America they may have been in awe of in, say, 1950, and may have considered almost godlike and incapable of mistakes, has now proved itself indisputably, in field after field, as often not even capable of governing itself. The irony of a people who are seen as often unable to govern themselves advising others how to govern themselves brings a distinct note of absurdity to American foreign policy.

America’s establishment, feeling their old easy superiority in the world beginning to slip away in a hundred different ways, seems determined to show everyone it still has what it takes, determined to make others feel its strength, determined to weaken others abroad who do not accept its natural superiority, determined to seize by brute force and dirty tricks advantages which no longer come to it by simply superior performance.

Rather than learn from its errors and adjust its delusional assumptions, America is determined to push and bend people all over the world to its will and acceptance of its leadership. But you cannot reclaim genuine leadership once you have been exposed enough times in your bad judgment, and it is clear you are on the decline, just as you cannot once others realize that they can do many things as well or better than you.

In the end, policies which do not recognize scientific facts are doomed. Policies based on wishes and ideology do not succeed over the long run, unless, of course, you are willing to suppress everyone who disagrees with you and demand their compliance under threat. The requirement for an imperial state in such a situation is international behavior which resembles the internal behavior of an autocratic leader such as Stalin, and right now that is precisely where the United States is headed. Stalin’s personality had a fair degree of paranoia and no patience for the views of others. He felt constantly threatened by potential competitors and he used systematic terror to keep everyone intimidated and unified under him.

Stalin’s sincere belief in a faulty economic system that was doomed from its birth put him in a position similar to that of America’s oligarchs today. They have a world imperial system that is coming under increasing strain and challenge because others are growing and have their own needs and America simply does not have the flexibility to accommodate them. America’s oligarchs are not used to listening to the views of others. Stalin’s belief in a system that was more an ideology than a coherent economic system is paralleled by the quasi-religious tenets of Americanism, a set of beliefs which holds that America is especially blessed by the Creator and all things good and great are simply its due. Americanism blurrily assumes that God’s promise in the Old Testament that man should have dominion over the earth’s creatures applies now uniquely to them. Such thinking arose during many years of easy superiority, a superiority that was less owing to intrinsic merits of American society than to a set of fortuitous circumstances, many of which are now gone.

In Vietnam, America squandered countless resources chasing after a chimera its ideologues insisted was deadly important, never once acknowledging the fatal weaknesses built right into communism from its birth. Communism was certain eventually to fail because of economic falsehoods which were part of its conception, much as a child born with certain genetic flaws is destined for eventual death. America’s mad rush to fight communism on all fronts was in keeping with the zealotry of America’s Civic Religion, but it was a huge and foolish practical judgment which wasted colossal resources. In Vietnam, America ended in something close to total shame – literally defeated on the battlefield by what seemed an inconsequential opponent, having also cast aside traditional ethical values in murdering great masses of people who never threatened the United States, murder on a scale (3 million) comparable to the Holocaust. It used weapons and techniques of a savage character: napalm, cluster bombs, and secret mass terror programs. The savagery ripped into the fabric of America’s own society, dividing the nation almost as badly as its Civil War once had. America ended reduced and depleted in many respects and paid its huge bills with devalued currency.

Following Vietnam, it has just been one calamity after another revealing the same destructive inability to govern, the same thought governed by zealotry, right down to the 2008 financial collapse which was caused by ignoring sound financial management and basically instituting a system of unlimited greed. The entire world was jolted and hurt by this stupidity whose full consequences are not nearly played out.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were completely unnecessary, cost vast sums, caused immense misery, and achieved nothing worth achieving. We now know what was kept hidden that more than million Iraqis died in an invasion based entirely on lies. These wars also set in motion changes whose long term effects have yet to be felt. Iraq, for example, has just about had its Kurdish, oil-producing region hived off as a separate state.

America’s primitive approach to the Soviet Union’s collapse, its sheer triumphalism and failure to regard Russia as important enough to help or with which to cooperate, ignored America’s own long-term interests. After all, the Russians are a great people with many gifts, and it was inevitable that they would come back from a post-collapse depression to claim their place in the world.

So how do the people running the United States now deal with a prosperous and growing Russia, a Russia which reaches out in the soundest traditional economic fashion for cooperation and partnership in trade and projects? Russia has embraced free trade, a concept Americans trumpeted for years whenever it was to their advantage, but now for Russia is treated as dark and sinister. Here America fights the inevitable power of economic forces, something akin to fighting the tide or the wind, and only for the sake of its continued dominance of another continent. Americans desperately try to stop what can only be called natural economic arrangements between Russia and Europe, natural because both sides have many services, goods, and commodities to trade for the benefit of all. America’s establishment wants to cut off healthy new growth and permanently to establish its primacy in Europe even though it has nothing new to offer.

America’s deliberately dishonest interpretation of Russia’s measured response to an induced coup in Ukraine is used to generate an artificial sense of crisis, but despite the pressures America is capable of exerting on Europe, we sense Europe only goes along to avoid a public squabble and only for so long as the costs are not too high. The most intelligent leaders in Europe recognize what the United States is doing but do not want to clash openly, although the creation of the Minsk Agreement came pretty close to a polite rejection of America’s demand for hardline tactics.

The coup in Ukraine was intended to put a hostile government in control of a long stretch of Russian border, a government which might cooperate in American military matters and which would serve as an irritant to Russia. But you don’t get good results with malicious policy. So far the coup has served only to hurt Ukraine’s economy, security, and long-term interests. It has a government which is seen widely as incompetent, a government which fomented unnecessary civil war, a government which shot down a civilian airliner, and a government in which no one, including in the West, has much faith. Its finances are in turmoil, many important former economic connections are severed, and there is no great willingness by Europe, especially an economically-troubled Europe, to assist it. It is not an advanced or stable enough place to join the EU because that would just mean gigantic subsidies being directed to it from an already troubled Europe. And the idea of its joining NATO is absolutely a non-starter both because it can’t carry its own weight in such an organization and because that act would cross a dangerous red line for Russia.

Kiev is having immense problems even holding the country together as it fights autonomous right-wing outfits like the Azov Battalion in the southeast who threaten the Minsk Agreement, as it tries to implement military recruiting in Western Ukraine with more people running away than joining up, as it finds it must protect its own President with a Praetorian Guard of Americans from some serious threats by right-wing militias unhappy with Kiev’s failures, as it must reckon with the de facto secession of Donetsk and the permanent loss of Crimea – all this as it struggles with huge debts and an economy in a nosedive.

America is in no position to give serious assistance to Ukraine, just plenty of shop-worn slogans about freedom and democracy. These events provide a perfect example of the damage America inflicts on a people with malicious policy intended only to use them to hurt others. There is such a record of this kind of thing by America that I am always surprised when there are any takers out there for the newest scheme. One remembers Kissinger encouraging the Iraqi Kurds to revolt against Saddam Hussein and then leaving them in the lurch when the dictator launched a merciless suppression. I also think of the scenes at the end of the Vietnam War as American helicopters took off in cowardly fashion from the roof of the embassy leaving their Vietnamese co-workers, tears streaming down their faces, vainly grasping for the undercarriages of helicopters, a fitting and shameful end to a truly brainless crusade.

I don’t know but I very much doubt that the present government of Ukraine can endure, and it is always possible that it will slip into an even more serious civil war with factions fighting on all sides, something resembling the murderous mess America created in Libya. Of course, such a war on Russia’s borders would come with tremendous risks. The American aristocracy doesn’t become concerned about disasters into which they themselves are not thrust, but a war in Ukraine could easily do just that. In ironic fashion, heightened conflict could mark the beginning of the end of the era of European subservience to America. Chaos in Ukraine could provide exactly the shock Europe needs to stop supporting American schemes before the entire continent or even the world is threatened.

I remind readers that while Russia’s economy is not as large as America’s, it is a country with a strong history in engineering and science, and no one on the planet shares its terrifying experiences with foreign invasion. So it has developed and maintains a number of weapons systems that are second to none. Each one of its new class of ballistic missile submarines, and Russia is building a number of them, is capable of hitting 96 separate targets with thermo-nuclear warheads, and that capability is apart from rail-mounted ICBMs, hard-site ICBMs,  truck-mounted missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, sea-launched cruise missiles, and a variety of other fearsome weapons. Modern Russia does not make threats with this awesome power, and you might say Putin follows the advice of Theodore Roosevelt as he walks softly but carries a big stick, but I do think it wise for all of us to keep these things in mind as America taunts Russia and literally play a game of chicken with Armageddon. I don’t believe America has a legitimate mandate from anyone to behave in this dangerous way. Europe’s smartest leaders, having lived at the very center of the Cold War and survived two world wars, do understand this and are trying very carefully not to allow things to go too far, but America has some highly irresponsible and dangerous people working hard on the Ukraine file, and accidents do happen when you push things too hard.

In another sphere of now constant engagement, instead of sponsoring and promoting fair arrangements in the Middle East, America has carried on a bizarre relationship with Israel, a relationship which is certainly against the America’s own long term interests, although individual American politicians benefit with streams of special interests payments – America’s self-imposed, utterly corrupt campaign financing system being ultimately responsible – in exchange for blindly insisting Israel is always right, which it most certainly is not. An important segment of Israel’s population is American, and they just carried over to Israel the same short-sightedness, arrogance, and belligerence which characterize America, so much so, Israel may legitimately be viewed as an American colony in the Middle East rather than a genuinely independent state. Its lack of genuine independence is reflected also in its constant dependence on huge subsidies, on its need for heavily-biased American diplomacy to protect it in many forums including the UN, and on its dependence upon American arm-twisting and bribes in any number of places, Egypt’s generous annual American pension requiring certain behaviors being one of the largest examples.

Here, too, inevitability has been foolishly ignored. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, and they have demonstrated the most remarkable endurance, yet almost every act of Israel since its inception, each supported by America, has been an effort to make them go away through extreme hardship and abuse and violence, looking towards the creation of Greater Israel, a dangerous fantasy idea which cannot succeed but it will fail only after it has taken an immense toll. Despite America’s constant diplomatic and financial pressure on other states to support its one-sided policy here, there are finally a number of signs that views are turning away from the preposterous notion that Israel is always right and that it can continue indefinitely with its savage behavior.

Recently, we have had a great last effort by America and covert partners to secure Israel’s absolute pre-eminence in the Middle East through a whole series of destructive intrusions in the region – the “Arab Spring,” the reverse-revolution in Egypt, the smashing and now dismemberment of Iraq, the smashing and effective dismemberment of Libya, and the horrible, artificially-induced civil war in Syria which employs some of the most violent and lunatic people on earth from outside and gives them weapons, money, and refuge in an effort to destroy a stable and relatively peaceful state.

I could go on, but I think the picture is clear: in almost every sphere of American governance, internally and abroad, America’s poor political institutions have yielded the poorest decisions. America has over-extended itself on every front, has served myths rather than facts, has let greed run its governing of almost everything, and has squandered resources on achieving nothing of worth.

I view America’s present posture in the world – supporting dirty wars and coups in many places at the same time and treating others as game pieces to be moved rather than partners – as a desperate attempt to shake the world to gain advantages it couldn’t secure through accepted means of governance and policy. America is that great beast, bellowing and shaking the ground, and for that reason, it is extremely dangerous.

 

 

 

 

 

THIS IS WHAT WAR DOES

John Chuckman

 

A Canadian photographer named Bryan Adams (yes, the rock singer) has done something extraordinary in publishing a book of photographs of what war does to soldiers. The wounds of his subjects are not covered with gore as they would be on the battlefield. His pictures are clean studio shots. The subjects sometimes even are smiling. Their wounds are healed, at least as much as such wounds can ever be called healed, but the surrealistic sense of the pictures says something profound story about our society. We’ve done these savage things to our own young, and then left them to spend the rest of their lives struggling with the results.

For an institution which quite literally dominates human history, it is a remarkable that the real face of war is never seen by most people. The press goes so far in avoiding it that it creates a fantasy picture, in many respects resembling those beautifully done dioramas of lead soldiers in famous battles. It’s the same psychology at work when caskets containing the blasted remains of soldiers are draped with bright, cheery flags. And when war is over, there’s the home town parade with flags and drums and high-stepping baton twirlers in cute little sequinned outfights, with no sign of death or gore to be seen.

A few times in my life a bit of the truth has leaked out. During Vietnam, the first major war in the mature television age, the public was exposed to some of it. Not a great deal, mind you, but it was enough to provide governments a harsh warning on the effects such images have upon the public’s support for war.

Fairly early, television showed us Marines dutifully torching the thatched homes of peasants, I’m sure never giving a thought to someone’s doing the same to Mom and Dad’s farmhouse back in Indiana. But still we never saw a hint of the wholesale slaughters of a war which extinguished three million lives. We saw the distant flashes and puffs of smoke of bombings, including the instantaneous infernos of that hellish stuff, napalm, ripping across a landscape, but never a single frame of the resulting incinerated bodies. No newsreel ever showed close-ups of a village or city after American carpet-bombing by B-52s. We did see the odd distant shot of a prisoner falling from a high-flying helicopter but never the preceding close-up scene of his being hurled out by American Special Forces or intelligence operatives unhappy with his answers to questions.

I recall an American deserter speaking at a public meeting in Toronto of his raping a young Vietnamese woman and then emptying his rifle into her, an atrocity which is reported to have been repeated many times over the years. After all, what do you think happens when young men, often from the most marginal backgrounds, are dumped in a foreign place they cannot understand and often hate, armed with powerful weapons and under no normal restraints? Young men, especially under stress, are capable of almost any savagery, and you do have a responsibility to consider that reality before sending them off to terrorize others.

Early during Vietnam I recall another young man briefly interviewed on television whose face had been turned into a molten-looking mass, perhaps from napalm, his mouth consisting of a hole into which a straw could be inserted. What purpose could possibly be worth that sacrifice? I’m not sure, but I know it wasn’t a dirty colonial war in Vietnam started by cheating and lying to the people who had to fight it.

When Britain went to war in the Falklands, the warning of Vietnam was heeded. All the British people saw were selected, cleaned-up images of another dirty colonial war, images like a stalwart Maggie Thatcher waving off the Falklands fleet, and who on this planet could better play the role of a stern and impressive god of war than Mrs. Thatcher? She gave Winston Churchill himself a run for his money.

I did read of one instance of a dead or dying invading British soldier having been photographed on the beach with bowels torn open and spilled out, but the image was suppressed.

Some very heroic cameramen from the Middle East did obtain shocking images of the savagery of America’s war in Iraq, a war in which cluster bombs were heavily used but also white phosphorus and depleted uranium shells. I recall images of horribly mangled children, burnt smudgy corpses, a woman virtually smashed into the ground, and others, but they were only a small sample of America’s destruction of a million or so souls.

The images were found on not-widely-known sites on the Internet, even Al-Jazeera itself being then not familiar to most Americans. The images never made their way onto the pages of The New York Times or the evening news on NBC where they would have been seen by the millions of ordinary Americans in whose name the atrocities were committed. The American military does appear to have made an effort to target foreign journalists trying to capture some truth, killing the messengers, as it were, in the spirit of vicious boys ripping the wings off butterflies.

There were still other images from Iraq on the Internet, and these came straight from America’s own dear “boys in harm’s way.” There was an Internet site, briefly, which provided young American soldiers with free access to raw pornographic sexual images in return for their submitting raw pornographic war images, as from cell phones and the like. There were reportedly large numbers of takers on the offer, sending in their snaps of things like bloody boots with bits of leg sticking out or of a human head half turned into beef tartar before Pentagon matrons dedicated to decency in war closed the operation down.

America’s horrors at Abu Ghraib were heavily censored. According to America’s best investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, we saw only the most innocuous images of degrading treatment, the frat-boy pranks with naked humans, dog leashes, and shit. We did not see the hard-core stuff of torture, rape, including of children, and death, pictures which did in fact exist but were suppressed. The stuff from Guantanamo was along the same lines, images of degrading treatment, men in jump suits and chains kneeling in tiny cells – just enough for the folks back home to say “Good, it’s what they deserve,” but not enough to shock or terrify Americans about what was being done in their name.

I recall an image from Israel’s first savage assault on Gaza, one killing several hundred children and more than a thousand others, an image of a narrow  street running with a small river of blood and desperate people trying to pass without stepping into it. Such images are rare because Israel allows no one access to document its filthy work. Even after the savagery is over, various organizations and officials generally are refused entry even on humanitarian missions, as is the case today after a second mass murder in Gaza killing even more children than the first.

War is such a time of fearful darkness and chaos that great horrors can be hidden easily under its cover. In Afghanistan, three thousand American prisoners were “disappeared” by one of America’s war lord allies by being taken out in sealed trucks into the desert to suffocate, their bodies then dumped into mass graves. This occurred shortly after American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a shameful Nazi-like public statement that the large numbers of Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan should either be killed or walled away for the rest of their lives. This war crime was committed right under the noses of occupying American soldiers and clearly with Mr. Rumsfeld’s secret blessing, and it has never been featured or investigated except by a British documentary film maker.

It is invariably human nature to show others our work, of any kind, when we are proud of what it is that we have done. The great irony of war is that we invariably are ashamed of what we have done, and yet we repeat, some of us, the work again and again.

Another great irony of war is that it is almost never about defending ourselves, although that is what the propaganda never stops telling us that that is what it is about. That is why America uses the term Department of Defense, and Israel calls its army the Israeli Defense Force.

What was America defending in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Serbia, in Afghanistan, or in Iraq? Only its right to tell others what to do, a right based solely on the concept of might makes right, the slogan of the bully. So too for its many violent and destructive interventions using hired thugs into the affairs of others, whether in Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Iran, Syria, Ukraine, or other places.

What does Israel defend in its endless assaults upon its neighbors, none of them remotely capable of seriously threatening Israel much less destroying it, and its ceaseless hectoring for even more war in the region? Again, nothing more than the right to tell others what to do, a right based only on might makes right. And what of its countless assassinations in half a dozen countries, of its interference into the affairs of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and other countries?

I notice something in what I’ve written. While I started with war’s effect upon soldiers, almost all my words deal with civilians, and that brings us to the greatest irony of modern war: soldiers are just a tiny part of those killed and brutally injured. It cannot be otherwise with missiles, heavy bombing, and other indiscriminate weapons. Modern war is mass killing of civilians, always and everywhere, a practice which evolved in World War II and has done nothing but progress in that direction since. Even when they aren’t the actual targets, as in America’s nightmarish assassination-by-drone project, large numbers of dead or mangled civilians are the unavoidable consequence. Well, if you’re in for killing mere suspects as in the drone project, I guess extra civilians don’t mean much, do they? “In for penny, in for pound,” as they say.

We’ve even developed special language for the realities of indiscriminate killing. Israel, at the very least, always is said to be killing “militants.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a “militant,” and I doubt I’d be able to recognize one walking down the street. But our clever press instantly recognizes them when they are shot full holes by Israeli soldiers. You see, Israel simply can never be wrong in our press, so if it hasn’t killed terrorists, it has to have killed “militants,” and that’s surely almost as good.

As for the tens of thousands maimed and slaughtered by America’s hideous bombings in many lands, well, they are called, right on the evening news by announcers in pancake makeup with blow-dried hair in momentarily subdued tones just before moving on to the sports scores, “collateral damage.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A VAST WASTELAND OF EFFORT SPENT: AMERICA’S RAMPAGE THROUGH THE MIDDLE EAST

John Chuckman

I read that six thousand people have been killed by sectarian violence so far this year in Iraq, surely a good rough measure of what America’s invasion achieved there. In Afghanistan, America’s chosen man publically disagrees with America’s ideas of what withdrawal means, how many occupying American forces should remain, and the role the Taleban should play. Killing remains a daily occurrence, including regular instances of American special forces murdering civilians, drugs flow freely through the country and out to the world, and most women still wear the burka. Libya is reduced to rag tag bands engaged in fighting like rival gangs of bandits. Syria writhes in agony as the victim of an artificially-induced civil war with even the use of nerve gas on civilians by America’s proxy fighters winked at and lied about.

Such are just the continuing aftershocks of America’s violent, senseless campaign on the Middle East and the Muslim world.

The screams of the hundreds of thousands of initial victims of cluster bombs, Hellfire rockets, depleted uranium explosions, and white phosphorus were what Condi Rice once described as “the birth cries of a new Middle East,” likely just before she set off on another shopping spree to New York for more cute new shoes. You might say Condi and her psychopathic associates assumed the God-like perspective in their work, as the people being devastated were regarded with the importance of ants being squashed by gleeful children in a playground.

Ideas of “nation building” around all the slaughter and destruction are now almost forgotten in the press where they were once earnestly discussed like big government social programs of the 1960s. It is hard to know whether those ideas were ever taken seriously in Washington by the platoons of Pentagon consultants over expense account lunches or whether they were never intended as more than glib slogans and talking points for politicians’ convenience, banners with nice words to cover piles of bleeding bodies. No clear-thinking person ever took the idea seriously, but as we know there is not a great deal of clear thinking in times of war, nor is there much of it at any time among American politicians.

The notion that you can change the basic culture and social structure of a nation of tens of millions over a foreseeable time span is laughable. Culture, including the unpleasant parts contained by any of them, is a complex of habits, beliefs, relationships, and prejudices formed over an immensely long period in the workings of a people’s economy. Just as language and religious traditions cannot be greatly altered or undone quickly, so too all the other aspects of a culture. It is simply nonsense to believe otherwise. The efforts, over much of a century, by Russia’s Communists to change an ancient culture, including its church and national customs, should serve to intimidate glib references to nation-building.

The single most important part of any serious effort to change a place and its ways of doing things is the steady advance of its economy. It is the fluidity of a nation undergoing long-term economic growth that gradually washes away old and inefficient and fearful customs, changing everything from the nature of marriage and the way families work to the kind of clothes people wear and food they eat. After all, America’s backwaters still enjoyed family picnics at public lynchings as late as Franklin Roosevelt’s day, and it was largely the cumulative effects of economies restructured over decades with increasing opportunities and movement of people and ideas that brought those ghastly practices to a close.

Even changing minor aspects of an entire society, as we’ve seen many times in our own, is a long effort. Smoking is the clearest example of this, it having taken over half a century, despite medical understanding of its hazards, to move us from smoking being a stylish part of every Hollywood film to cigarettes being hidden behind the counters at corner stores.

And this is all the more true when you employ force, as the United States does habitually. People do not react well to aggression, and it is not the way to change anything which it may be desirable to change. On even so basic a level as raising children, our laws and courts and schools have evolved to rule out physical force. And despite decades of the war on drugs with its seemingly endless march of folly – armed raids, mass arrests, seizures, and imprisonment plus tens of billions spent – we have made no perceptible progress on what all of us recognize as a gigantic medical and social problem.

But when the force you employ includes B-52s, F-16s, and private armies of hired cutthroats, it is a certainty you will change little beyond the death rate.

The United States government now has been swept by a new enthusiasm in the application of violence. It is a new interpretation of the concept of airpower. In places like Libya, America embraced the almost benign-sounding concept of a “no-fly zone” to bomb and shoot the crap out of a national army fighting rebels. It developed the concept over the decade after the first Gulf War where it enforced a no-fly zone that was actually an active program of attacking any Iraqi installation or suppressing any movement it wanted while an embargo continued to inflict terrible suffering on the children of Iraq. Another version of the concept was used in the invasion of Afghanistan. The United States bombed the country with everything it had, including B-52s doing carpet-bombing, while most of the fighting done on the ground was done by other Afghans, the tribes of the Northern Alliance serving as American stand-ins.

The new approach has several advantages. It sends fewer coffins back home so that political opposition to the killing abroad never grows as it did in the Vietnam holocaust. It’s likely cheaper, too, than sending in and supplying large numbers of troops. After all, I read somewhere that just the air-conditioning bill for American troops in Iraq ran into many billions of dollars. And it maintains a kind of polite charade about not really invading a place.

Over the same period, another form of airpower came into its own, drones used as platforms for Hellfire missiles targeted by remote control. The Israelis, always leaders in the work and technology of murder, used a version of this method in what they blithely call “targeted killings,” a long series of acts known to most of the world by the terms “extrajudicial killing” or “disappearing people” or “political assassination.” Al Capone might have called it simply “rubbing guys out.” Well, whatever you choose to call it, the United States is in the business in a serious way now, having murdered people in Somalia, Bahrain, Pakistan, Yemen, and perhaps other places we don’t yet know about.  It has killed several thousand this way, many of them innocent bystanders and all of them people charged with no crime and given no due process.

Of course, Israel’s long string of murders have achieved little beyond making still more enemies and dragging in the gutter any claim it may once have had to ethical reputation or worthy purpose. And just so with America’s valiant effort by buzz-cut thugs sitting in crisply-pressed uniforms at computer screens playing murderous computer games with real people in the explosions.

As for diplomacy and reason and rule of law, these are practices almost forgotten by America in the Middle East, as it mimics Israel’s reprehensible behavior towards the people of the occupied territories and neighboring states. And all democratic values have been laid aside or bulldozed over in Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and other places as Israel’s special interests are put before the democratic and human rights of many, many millions of people.

JOHN CHUCKMAN

A note to readers: Normally, I post my book reviews only on another site of mine, Chuckman’s Miscellanea of Words, but because of the nature of this book and its being the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I am also posting on this site.

I have long been an admirer of the work of Anthony Summers, one of the world’s great investigative journalists.

His biographical notes on J. Edgar Hoover, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover are required reading for an understanding of how the center of American power operated for a major portion of the 20th century.

His first book on the Kennedy assassination, Conspiracy, is the greatest book ever written on that event, and it has never been surpassed for the depth of its analysis and gripping nature of its writing. Indeed, because so little new evidence of any importance has emerged since that time, it remains the definitive study.

When I read that he was publishing a book on 9/11 – an event around which swirl clouds of doubt and mystery as great as the ferocious storm of dust which swept through lower Manhattan when the World Trade Center collapsed – I was ready to devour it.

And while there is a good deal to admire in the new book, my lasting impression is one of disappointment. It simply does not measure up to what I think of as the standard of excellence set previously by Mr. Summers.

There are assumptions here I cannot accept without better evidence, much of the main thread of detailed facts contained come ultimately from American torture of countless people in the CIA’s “rendition program,” a bureaucratic euphemism for an international torture gulag, and there are important facts not even touched on.

I have never accepted notions like insider plots and false flag operations pertaining to this event, but anyone who has followed matters over the last decade knows that a great deal remains obscured and unexplained, almost certainly deliberately so by the American government.

Mr. Summers believes it is essentially for several reasons: one is to cover up the close to utter incompetence of the CIA and other agencies leading up to the event. Another is to cover up the almost criminal incompetence of the Bush administration both before and after the event. And another is to guard the long and deep and fairly secret intimate relationship America has with Saudi Arabia.

I accept all of these, but none of them comes as news to critical observers over the years, and I do not believe they add up to an explanation of what happened on 9/11.

The CIA has flopped countless times – failing to correctly read the Soviet Union’s economic and military power, failing even to predict its collapse, failing completely in either preventing or investigating Kennedy’s assassination, and being the author of countless lunatic plots like the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The agency has squandered vast amounts of money in often counterproductive schemes since its creation following World War II, so its failure with regard to 9/11 was for me the expected norm.

The same Bush administration, which gave us a world record limp and pathetic performance for a government during Hurricane Katrina, could not be expected to operate in an entirely different mode around 9/11, and it most certainly did not.

The relationship with Saudi Arabia is one of those not-much-discussed matters in America, but it is a necessity so long as America keeps building three-car garages out into the desert of the Southwest.

New facts Summers presents us with are interesting and not contemptible, but they are inadequate to our curiosity. Some of those involved in 9/11 from Saudi Arabia may well have been double or triple agents for Saudi intelligence. Osama bin Laden was paid handsomely by Saudi princes to keep his various operations off Saudi soil, thus indirectly funding 9/11. After dumbly dawdling at a school-reading photo-op, Bush was finally whisked away in Air Force One where the commander-in-chief was virtually out of the loop with remarkably faulty communications. His Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, the number two man in a wartime chain of command, was for some time wondering around the Pentagon unavailable to military commanders needing his authority.

Summers pretty well accepts the official version of 9/11, with the important proviso that the official version, the commission report, includes such matters as the fact that there was little cooperation from Bush officials during the investigation, and the CIA certainly did not explain itself adequately.

The collapse of building 7, which was not hit by an airplane and which occurred after the collapse of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, is attributed to debris falling from the other towers. I just don’t know, but it did bother me that Mr. Summers seemed to go out of his way to poke fun at some of the scientists or engineers who doubt that.

The large effort of Israeli spies around 9/11 is not even mentioned in the book, and I found that a disturbing omission.

There was a group of five Israeli spies who were seen on the roof of their truck taking pictures of the explosions and then behaving in a raucous congratulatory manner, yelling and high-fiving. The police were called and they were arrested, but we know nothing of their purpose or achievements. There was another large group of Mossad agents posing as art students who travelled around the country apparently following some or all of the 9/11 plotters. They, too, were arrested and later deported, but we know nothing of them.

Summers accepts the “let’s roll” scenario for the fourth high-jacked plane which crashed in Pennsylvania, but I have always doubted it. First, the photos of the debris field certainly suggest to a non-technical person that it may have been shot down. Second, after three deliberate crashes into buildings, it seems almost unbelievable that the huge air defenses of the United States had not finally taken action. Third, on at least one occasion, Donald Rumsfeld spoke to the press inadvertently using the expression “shooting down” the plane over Pennsylvania in discussing the high-jackings. Fourth, only naturally, the United States’ government would not publicize the shooting-down of a civilian airliner because the resulting lawsuits would be colossal. I am willing to be convinced otherwise, but Mr. Summers does not succeed in doing it for me.

Another important fact is not mentioned in the book. An American consular official at the time was complaining in public about all the visas they were issuing in the Middle East owing to pressure from the CIA. It was not a headline story, but it was an important clue to something unusual going on.

I have always regarded it as a strong hypothesis that the high-jackers were part of a secret CIA operation which badly backfired, an operation which saw many questionable people receiving visas and being allowed to do some pilot training. Risky CIA operations have a number of times backfired, and they even have nickname for that happening, blowback.

Of course, we could see the entire matter also as blowback from the CIA’s secret war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan, Mujahideen, were recruited, provided training and money and sophisticated weapons to fight the Soviets. Several billion dollars were poured in. Osama bin Laden was himself part of the business, but, as Mr. Summers agrees, he later did not see the United States as any different to the Soviets when they sent troops onto the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Summers is trying to place a good deal of blame on the Saudis for their funding and secret operations, and while I regard it as an interesting observation that certain members of the royal family paid Osama, I do not regard that as a stunning fact. After all, Saudi Arabia’s countless billions come in good part either directly or indirectly from the United States and Osama bin Laden’s family was a very successful wealthy contractor there, so you could say in the same sense that the United States subsidized Osama’s operations. And it goes deeper than that, for Saudi business connections in the United States, including connections directly with the Bush family, go back many years.

This reader for one would like to see some hard proof of some things that Mr. Summers takes as fact. First, that bin Laden even was responsible for 9/11: the public has never been provided a shred of good evidence. Second, that bin Laden was not in fact killed in the unbelievable bombardment at Tora Bora, his death being kept hidden to prevent martyrdom. Third, that the recent assassination in Pakistan was genuine, not the effort of a president down in the polls and feeling that after ten years he could afford to make the claim.

Fourth, that there ever was an organization called al Qaeda. I know that sounds odd to people who assume everything they hear on television is true, but there are good reasons for doubting it. While Mr. Summers gives one translation for the Arabic word, people who speak Arabic have said it commonly means toilet, and surely no one running a terror organization would use such a name. Indeed, we have several very prominent people quoted in the past, including former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, saying that al Qaeda was just a derogatory catch-all term used for various “bad guys” out there. That is a tremendously meaningful difference between the two things, but Mr. Summers does not touch the issue.

Again, I cannot stress how important it is for all decent-minded people holding to democratic values to accept neither the CIA’s international torture gulag nor the results of its dark work. Yet the bulk of Mr. Summers’ idea of events is based on evidence deriving ultimately from torture, the people being tortured never receiving the benefits of counsel, fair trial, or even opportunity to rebut.

In summary, a book worth reading, if only to get mad at, but it hardly represents a definitive effort on its subject.

A RESPONSE TO HILLARY CLINTON’S ASSERTION THAT ALL NATIONS SHOULD PLAY A PART IN THE AFGHANISTAN MISSION

John Chuckman

Hillary Clinton, in a just-published piece on the Afghanistan mission (see note at bottom), offers us nothing helpful or enlightening, only boiler-plate American slogans, the kind of stuff you’d hear from some provincial Congressman giving a Fourth of July speech in a place like Muncie, Indiana.

Indeed, her use of the question-begging word “mission” in the title to describe what has been the pointless conquest and occupation of a people signals the vacuity of the words that follow.

“The violent extremism that threatens the people and governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan also undermines the stability of the wider region and threatens the security of our friends, allies and interests around the world.”

No government in Afghanistan or Pakistan was threatened until the U.S. became involved. Yes, they are poor regions with much backward fundamentalism, but those governments knew how to handle the difficulties of their own affairs before the U.S. bombed and machine-gunned its way in.

No matter what the U.S. does, short of exterminating an entire class of people (for the Taleban is not an invading guerilla force but a substantial portion of the population), the fundamentalism is not going to go away in our lifetimes.

It would take decades of very healthy economic growth to bring these places forward, and so far America’s only contribution has been to kill tens of thousands of people and destroy a great deal of the meager physical assets in these places.

I would remind Ms. Clinton that it was only as recently as the 1930s, and into the 1940s, that families in the American South, likely considering themselves good Christians all, would attend picnics to watch the lynching of some black men. I am not exaggerating: such events were common even in Franklin Roosevelt’s day, and he never spoke out against them, despite prodding from Eleanor, for fear of losing his political support in the South.

Yet that grotesque horror has come to an end. How did it happen? The answer is decades of strong economic growth bringing jobs, wealth, and fresh air to America’s once-fetid South.

How much larger is the problem in a land that lives, to a considerable extent, in the 17th century? Immensely larger.

How is the security of the world threatened by these people? It’s not and never has been. The very fact that NATO countries have made such almost laughably small contributions is the strongest possible evidence that Ms. Clinton is not believed by any of them.

Imagine a genuine world threat in which the many countries of NATO each sent the troop equivalent of the police force of very modest-sized cities?

They have only indeed sent those owing to constant American browbeating, cajoling, and, in some cases, threats: the U.S. colossus can summon a great deal of economic and political force in getting its way.

Which fact brings us to the question of why the U.S. did not use those great non-lethal powers in Afghanistan after 9/11.

It simply demanded the extradition of people without supplying a shred of proof to the Afghan government, the Afghan request being the normal procedure for extradition anywhere.

Then the U.S. invaded while lining up a façade of support from the U.N. and NATO, everyone at that time being under both pressure from the U.S. and only naturally feeling sympathy over 9/11 .

What was America’s purpose? No person in the American government today, not Clinton and not even Obama, can give you a lucid and reasonable answer, because the truth was that there was nothing lucid or reasonable about the invasion. The purpose was blinding white-hot rage for revenge.

Once the U.S.got there, beyond its early cheap victory over 17th century people, it did not know what to do, and it still does not know what to do. Its victory consisted of displacing the Taleban with warlords of the Northern Alliance, supported by a level of horrific bombing perhaps not seen since America’s holocaust in Vietnam.

Eight years later, there is no democracy in Afghanistan, elections being pretty much a sham. The burka is still worn by most of the women in Afghanistan: after all, many members of the Northern Alliance are just as backward and vicious as the Taleban. General Dostum, for example, is a certified mass murderer, a man whose ghastly, brutal excesses were winked at by Bush and Rumsfeld, if indeed not quietly encouraged.

I heard an interview recently with the only woman elected to the Afghan legislature – since tossed out by the warlords – who says that nothing really has changed and, indeed, some things are even worse than they were under the Taleban.

I have heard from other sources that schools for girls are closed almost as soon as they are opened because no money flows to pay salaries and because of the threats from local authorities. The openings of such institutions are often little more than Potemkin village photo-ops. The Bush people used women’s rights as a propaganda tool to gain domestic support for their invasion, and, like all good propaganda, it worked because it was based on truth.

The truth is that Afghanistan is not even a country in the sense that we understand it. It is a remote, impoverished land of about 30 million where tribes live hardscrabble lives with almost no economic progress, steeped in superstitions having the same force they did in 17th century Spain with its Holy Inquisition. Even its border with Pakistan is artificial, never properly defined with the same tribes living on both sides.

You simply cannot change these realities, and certainly not with bombs.

The world is full of awful places. They burn brides in India, force child marriages, and treat young widows who were married to old men in horrible fashion.

The great irony is that the Taleban need never have been an enemy. No Taleban invaded anyone. No Taleban was involved in 9/11. That atrocity was committed by a group largely of Saudis. Importantly, they virtually all held valid American visas and were almost certainly part of secret CIA training program that failed terribly.

By the way, to this day, there is not one shred of valid evidence that Osama bin Laden did anything like the U.S. claims he did. Yes, he was a guest of the Taleban, but then he also was a past CIA operative, something that only enhanced his status for many in the region. Does that mean the CIA is responsible?

The entire Afghanistan invasion and occupation is an unqualified disaster.

One can only hope that Obama intends to use the next year or two to come to a reasonable modus Vivendi with the Taleban and then to withdraw.
________________________________

Note: Ms. Clinton’s piece may be read at:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/6722751/Hillary-Clinton-All-nations-must-play-a-part-in-Afghanistan-mission.html

AMERICA’S BRUTAL TACTICS

John Chuckman

Naturally enough, few details of what American troops do in Iraq and Afghanistan reach the nation’s television screens, the main source of news for most Americans. American television takes the approach of the New York Times when it refers to professional soldiers as GIs, as though they were humble mechanics and bricklayers of America drafted into the titanic struggle against Hitler and Tojo.

But if you are genuinely interested in discovering the truth, there are plenty of sources for first-hand information. And anyone taking a little time to search through some of these comes away with a sick feeling.

From several ex-soldiers comes a vivid image of America’s house-to-house methods of searching for “insurgents.” A small block of C-4 plastique is fixed to the front door of a house, the door is blown in, and several armored giants rush through the shock and smoke with their automatic weapons at the ready. Women and children are held to one side at gunpoint, while any men are taken roughly for questioning. In most cases, the men have nothing worthwhile to say, but they and other members of their families are left with a terrifying experience they will never forget.

These violent procedures have been repeated thousands of times, both in Iraq and in the mountain villages of Afghanistan. Could this be part of what Condoleezza Rice meant when she said recently in Britain that despite thousands of tactical mistakes, America’s basic strategy was sound? Can you imagine her saying the same thing if Washington-area police blew her door down and stormed into her home in Chevy Chase or whatever other exclusive area she lives, perhaps looking for drug dealers or murderers, suspecting her home because she is black?

Another aspect of America’s crude tactics has been their way of responding to periodic mortar fire. The American forces use a high-tech radar gizmo that tracks the path of such shells supposedly to permit accurate return fire by artillery. Unfortunately the gizmo often does not work properly, and even when it does operate well, the tactics of mobile guerillas firing a shell from a truck or car and driving away leave the data of the gizmo useless. Well, not completely useless, because American artillery still responds. It’s just that all they hit are innocent residences or businesses.

The trigger-happy nature of Americans at check points is a well-established fact. These boys, many of them having joined up for benefits like money for college, do not want to be in these places, and they are irritated by the strange tongues and cultures and the blazing heat and sandstorms. They simply shoot first and ask questions after. I suppose this tactic might have been appropriate on the Eastern Front in World War II, but it is totally unsuited to a place you are occupying after having invaded, a place where the overwhelming majority of people with which you interact are just ordinary people going about their lives.

There have been dozens of pictures on the Internet of whole families obliterated in their cars by American soldiers. Children have been pumped full of holes. A kidnapped Italian journalist almost lost her life on her short journey back to freedom. The brave Italian secret service agent who had secured her freedom and was accompanying her to freedom was pumped full of holes. Yet this car and its contents were well known and had been identified to American forces.

It is extremely unlikely this was an error, the Italian journalist being someone hated by American occupation authorities for her critical stories. Such a number of unarmed journalists have been shot by American troops that the idea of the accidents of war is not credible. Of course, the recent revelation in Britain that Bush actually discussed bombing offices of Aljazeera adds another dimension to these events.

A number of British soldiers, Britain’s pathetic Blair being America’s only true ally in the phony coalition America’s press never fails to name, have gone on record about American tactics. These include several senior officers, an unprecedented criticism of an ally during war. What they have said to the press is that American tactics are brutal and thoughtless, almost certain in the long run to produce more enemies than friends. Few forces in the world have more genuine experience than Britain’s after decades in Northern Ireland, yet all their advice is treated with contempt by arrogant American commanders and politicians.

It seems both public and press have forgotten the words of Donald Rumsfeld not long after the U.S. triumphed in Afghanistan, the words being among the most shameful in American history and certainly ranking with anything a dread figure like Reinhard Heydrich uttered. On what to do with the thousands of prisoners taken in the invasion, Rumsfeld publicly stated they should be killed or walled away forever. It does appear he was taken at his word, for thousands of prisoners disappeared around the time. There are many eye-witness reports – a documentary film was made by a Scots director – about Afghan prisoners having been taken into the desert in trucks to suffocate in the blazing heat. American soldiers, if they didn’t actively help, just stood around and let it happen.

In the early part of the invasion of Afghanistan, tens of thousands of emergency de-hydrated food packets were dropped by American planes in some of the same areas that cluster bombs were being dropped. As pictures on the Internet testify, the bomblet canisters (pressure-sensitive cans packed with something like razor wire and high explosive) and the food packages were virtually the same optical yellow color. Imagine how many hungry peasants and children were attracted to these deadly areas by the food packets, only to be torn apart?

Bad publicity all over the world did stop the Pentagon’s grotesque practice, but the question of using cluster bombs near civilian populations remains. It was done both in Afghanistan and Iraq. The brave journalists of Aljazeera took dozens of pictures of what these bombs did to children in Iraq, their publication providing one of the reasons for the Pentagon’s and Bush’s intense hatred of the network.

The revelations about the behavior of American soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison are well known, although the last round of abuse and torture pictures released did not include the worst stuff that American Senators saw in closed session a while back. It’s almost as though the “tamer” stuff was released to defuse demands for more information. America’s great investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has said the worst stuff included boys being raped by American soldiers.

How many senior officers or officials have paid for these horrors that absolutely had to be known to them? The answer is none. What did Lieutenant Calley and Captain Medina suffer for the mass murder and rape of women and children in Vietnam a few decades ago? Not much, and their seniors nothing at all.

Of course we know from many sources including amateur plane spotters and flight records that America runs a gigantic secret prison system. Sources in Europe say that 14,000 are held in Iraq alone. There are also secret prisons in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and at Guantanamo. All of these prisoners are held with no legal rights whatever, just as though they had disappeared into Stalin’s Gulag.

In most cases the prisoners are simply people who fought Americans in their invasions of two lands. Since when do we do this to the fighters who oppose us in war? Americans themselves in the past have joined foreign wars as idealists or as mercenaries. This happened in South Africa, various African anti-colonial wars, Central America, South America, Indo-China, Spain, and other places. It’s an old tradition going back to Lafayette and Pulaski in the American Revolutionary War. The men, and boys, America now holds with no rights were doing no more than what tens of thousands of Americans and others have done previously.

As I have written before, if you want the rule of law, you cannot stand outside the law and claim its moral support. What America is doing in its “war on terror” is little more than freshened-up fascism. It wants a pipeline through Afghanistan and a subservient government in Iraq, and it dresses up the brutal tactics used to achieve these goals as a war on terror.

A TOXIN IN THE BLOOD

John Chuckman

Like acrid fumes seeping from a chemical dump long thought dormant, attitudes of an unmistakably-fascist nature are drifting through American society. One catches whiffs of the dreadful stuff on almost every breeze from America.

Just the day before the recent Congressional election, the CIA laid claim to the assassination of six men in Yemen. The men were, of course, described as associated with al Qaeda, and may, for all I know, have been so, but just when did bragging about the public murder of six people by a government agency become acceptable practice to Americans? No charges, no trial, no evidence – just murder.

That act was in keeping with the spirit of America’s treatment of prisoners from its stupid, disastrous war in Afghanistan. First, many hundreds of prisoners were murdered under American auspices. Second, thousands were illegally detained and abused. Many were tortured. Hundreds remain prisoners in cages thousands of miles from their homes with no legal rights. A scholastic nonsense about these men being held away from the rights-protected soil of America appears adequate to make their treatment acceptable.

The murder also is in keeping with the alliances and interests America has been forming abroad. Perhaps the most murderous elected leader in recent memory, Mr. Sharon, responsible literally for the deaths of thousands and for keeping an entire people hopelessly crushed into apartheid-style camps is called a “man of peace.” His works of assassination and destruction are blessed and supported more cordially than I remember support for America’s old friend, the Shah of Iran, who smiled at dinners in the White House while his secret police, Savak, pulled out the fingernails of screaming opponents and suspects.

Russia’s Mr. Putin wages the most devastating small war of recent times, a relentless, murderous effort to hold a people who do not want to be held, reducing their towns and farms to burnt-out wasteland, and he, too, is regarded as a partner for peace and an opponent of terror. I wonder how many Americans caught the little-noted fact that not one Chechen left the theater in Moscow alive, despite all having been knocked out by gas. I’m not objecting to effort to free hostages, only to the clear fact that every Chechen was summarily murdered in scenes that must have recalled the old NKVD’s bullet to the back of the head. I wonder was the old Soviet practice of charging relatives for a cartridge followed?

A military dictator in Pakistan is regarded as an ally against terror, as are bestial war lords in Afghanistan.

The Attorney General of the United States tells Arab Americans they are fortunate not to be treated the way Japanese Americans during World War II were – that is, fortunate not to be thrown into concentration camps and have most of their property seized, never to be returned. More disgusting yet, coming as it does carefully wrapped in robes of reasoned debate, are the words of a American lawyer on the need for establishing legal procedures governing the proper use of torture in the country.

It does suit the tenor of times in which U.S. border officials have been routinely photographing, fingerprinting, and grilling visitors for hours from certain countries even though they may have taken up a new citizenship. Prize-winning Canadian author Rohinton Mistry, a man born in India and whose religious background is a form of Zoroastrianism, about as far removed as you can get from being a Muslim Arab, cut short his American reading tour after being stopped and interrogated every time he caught a plane.

Another Canadian, unfortunate enough to have been born in Syria many years ago, was refused entry to the U.S. and deported. Not serious you say? Well, yes, had he been deported to his home in Canada. But the INS in a frenzy to demonstrate appropriate zeal, deported the man to Syria, leaving his family in Canada desperate for some while trying to locate him. It’s the kind of activity Germans in the 1930s used to call fondly “working towards the Fuhrer,” that is, guessing what action might please the leader.

There’s been a lot of “working towards the Fuhrer” lately in America. It seems to come quite naturally to a significant number of people. I am reminded of the farce in Florida when a mindless police chase was created by the paranoid reports of an overheard conversation. Or the universities and colleges where dissenting views are punished. Or the lists published of dissenting voices. Or the nonsense that pours from mainstream American media like CNN or the New York Times, as when recently they deliberately underreported the size of an anti-war rally in Washington.

Ah, the New York Times, that courageous tribune of the people – people, that is, who make well in excess of $100,000 a year and think the word empire when applied to America is actually a benevolent concept. Does that motto about all the news “fit” to print not suit well?

This government has given America corruption, poor appointments to important posts, a huge and wasteful increase in military spending, not a single worthy humanitarian initiative, and it has set its jaw in grim contempt for the sensibilities of virtually the rest of the planet. It is determined to launch a war for which there is not one sound reason, a war that promises to send the world into a downward spiral of resentments, uncertainty and death.

Yet Americans have given it a vote of confidence.

A political party that in one generation has included as prominent spokesmen and leaders Jesse Helms, Tom De Lay, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, John Ashcroft, Bob Barr, Pat Buchanan, and Newt Gingrich, that attracts vultures like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and whose spokespeople include genuine hate-mongers like Ann Coulter cannot be regarded as harmless. There is a large enough cesspool of ignorance and arrogance here to threaten all people who regard human decency and rationality as important.

Students of history will know that not every member of the Nazi party in Germany at the height of its prestige and power around 1940 shared the poison dreams of its leadership. People joined because of social pressure or the requirements of career advancement or agreement with limited aspects of the Nazi program. Yet we do not sort this all out when we speak of Nazis. Who on the planet does not use the term Nazi as one of contempt and anathema?

Of course it is not just the bulk of “decent” Republicans who fail to speak against genuine evil. The Democrats are softer spoken, more benign in their use of words, but they have utterly failed to provide leadership here. They have not raised their voices against torture and abuse of prisoners, against public murder, against policies advocating unprovoked attack, against the wanton destruction of a generation’s work on treaties and conventions for international cooperation, or against unholy alliance with thugs like Sharon, Putin, Musharraf, and General Dostum.

Mr. Clinton’s eight years in the White House were not marked by particularly enlightened measures either at home or abroad, although almost anyone would agree that his smiling intelligence was more reassuring than the numb-faced, thick-tongued mumbling of Mr. Bush. All decent people had sympathy over the low-life dragging of Mr. Clinton’s private life into the glare of publicity, but that fact did not render him a particularly enlightened leader on the world’s scene.

America spends on its military as much the next thirty countries in the world combined spend on theirs. This gigantic flow of money, like a monstrously-swollen river roaring over the landscape, erodes every value and decent aspect of American life. It simply cannot be otherwise. And it erodes America’s every relationship with the rest of the world. It has been observed by numerous historians that the very presence of great armies helps induce war.

Please remember that not once did Hitler attack a country without a plausible excuse, and the emotional tug of his arguments resonated in many capitals outside Berlin. Moreover, he had what he regarded as a visionary purpose for his belligerence. He spoke of terror against the German people. He wanted to secure Germany’s long-term future as a great and powerful nation. He wanted to end the barbarism of Bolshevism. He also pleaded eloquently for peace at times. Yet the sum total of his work was the greatest destruction in human history.

MONDO CANE

John Chuckman

I have to confess I don’t watch television. And if I did, CNN would not be a stop on the dial.

The subject of this story was raised by a friend. Details were obtained on the Internet where more information is to be had with a half hour’s effort than from a week in front of a television.

CNN has broadcast some videotape, supposedly from a secret al-Qaeda library in Afghanistan. Of course, like so many things touching Afghanistan, the use of the word library ever-so-slightly stretches the truth.

Journalists who have actually visited some of the caves in Afghanistan, said by the Pentagon to be the mountain redoubts of al Qaeda and the Taleban, have stressed how primitive and small they actually are. But from the American mainstream press and Pentagon press releases, you’d think Flash Gordon had discovered a stunning underground city on the planet Mongol. We’ve had secret laboratories, vast weapons caches, and now we have al Qaeda tape libraries.

Rarely emphasized in these reports are the details – the weapons caches, for example, having consisted of small piles of outdated arms, poorly stored, likely left over from the 1980s conflict with the Russians, and whose owners are unknown. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

Now we have videotapes of experiments with “possible weapons of mass destruction” consisting of three dogs dying after being administered an unknown substance at an unknown location by some unknown people. This is film we might obtain on any given day at hundreds of humane societies and city dog-pounds across North America. Truly terrifying stuff.

The tape undoubtedly provides proof positive, if any were needed, of the wisdom of America’s spending tens of billions of dollars to blow up anyone in sandals and the wrong-colored headdress standing on a mountain in Afghanistan. First three dead dogs, tomorrow thermonuclear weapons. Now, on to Iraq.

One is tempted to ask why the American government didn’t have CNN’s remarkable staff handle all searches for al Qaeda information? Why bother with costly, inept lugs from the special forces and CIA when a couple of reporters from CNN can tuck into Afghanistan and come away with an intelligence coup?

But who ever expected truth in war? Much less in something so dimly defined as the War on Terror, whose sole accomplishment so far is the overthrow of a fairly stable, unpleasant government and its replacement with an unstable, unpleasant government that busies itself assassinating its own members and murdering prisoners of war.

I suppose, from the perspective of the kind of people who brought napalmed villages, tens of thousands of midnight throat-cuttings, and barbed-wired pacification centers to Vietnam, this may be viewed as a kind of progress.

All I can remember from having seen CNN years ago was “journalism” that consisted of reporters making life miserable for an innocent man, Richard Jewell, after the Atlanta Olympics bomb by shoving microphones at his face everywhere he went and broadcasting remarkably-informative footage of his car driving away. This network, of course, has distinguished itself since on a number of occasions, including the fiasco of the Operation Tailwind investigation.

They also specialize in that most American of television institutions, the meaningless argument show that provides loud, cheap talk from two sides in pancake make-up and blow-dried hair-dos. No scholarship, no experts worthy of the name, just glib, Washington-hugging journalists eager for an extra pay check and professional think-tankers peddling views from their latest pamphlets. Very informative.

The video tape shows us three appealing dogs, animals that might almost have been groomed by a CNN makeup expert for one of the network’s pathetic argument shows. The improbability of this originating from a cave or shack in a part of the world where poverty allows few people to keep pets and where the ones they do keep often resemble hungry coyotes is not discussed. As I wrote above, these dogs are killed by an unknown substance by some unknown people in some unknown location. Sandals are seen scurrying.

It is truly unpleasant to see dogs die. There are, fortunately, a limited number of people in the world who take satisfaction in such things. But there are such people, and the viewers of CNN likely never gave a thought to the ones who have killed countless thousands of animals in U.S. Army weapons laboratories over the last five or six decades using everything from nerve gases and blister agents to botulism and radioactive isotopes.

And let’s not forget the human experiments. There were the CIA’s experiments with LSD and other drugs on unwitting subjects that resulted in suicides. There were the Pentagon’s many experiments with the effects of atomic radiation in the 1950s, including deliberately exposing tens of thousands of “the boyz” to atomic-test blasts. There were also secret, controlled releases of radiation into the atmosphere over the United States to see how it would travel and where it might be deposited.

One might include the Americans exposed to massive amounts of Agent Orange and the hideous inoculations of unproven substances given troops in Desert Storm. How about all the thousands of depleted-uranium shells tested at proving ranges? Or are those only tested in places like Afghan villages? Did those thousands of sheep who suddenly died in Colorado near an Army chemical-weapons facility some years ago represent a unique event?

Just how does anyone think those clean-cut, pressed-shirt boys at the Pentagon managed to build a hellish arsenal of poison gases, putrid chemicals, engineered disease germs and viruses, plus nuclear and thermonuclear weapons? Why, the number of Americans killed by air and groundwater contamination alone from nuclear-weapons processing facilities likely equals the toll for a small war.

Ah, but that’s our side, the good guys. What counts is that the bad guys, whoever they are on that video, killed three dogs.

The most interesting aspect of CNN’s propaganda video, uncritically passed off as a startling revelation, is that it doesn’t make any difference whether it is authentic or not.

As I’ve written before, the most effective propaganda is always based on truth. So, maybe someone somewhere in Afghanistan once did poison three dogs. This tells us precisely nothing that can be dignified as information.

But broadcasting the video will have sickened a lot of people watching the news over dinner. And that gut-form of argument without content is almost impossible to counteract. With one blow, men in sandals are reduced to dog-hating fiends, the suggestion is planted that they were doing horrifying experiments, and the implicit argument is made that only the kind of violent, stupid action taken in Afghanistan will preserve us from future horrors.

(For unfamiliar readers, Mondo Cane – “world of dogs” – was a documentary film in the early 1960s that shocked audiences with exotic scenes of human cruelty and primitive behavior.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT

Full of sound and fury signifying nothing

John Chuckman

It’s almost as though American policy in Afghanistan had followed the script for a Hollywood summer blockbuster. A potboiler-epic aimed at pleasing affluent, pimply teenage boys, dreaming dreams of power and adventure, its script mixing generous helpings of Cecil B. deMille, Steven Spielberg, explosive special effects, bad dialogue, and a lack of intelligible plot.

That may not be an exaggeration. Only reflect that America’s second-last, dangerously hare-brained president, Mr. Nixon, used to watch the movie Patton over and over again, hoping to derive inspiration in dealing with the catastrophe he himself created.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a movie. Real lives and real villages are being torn apart by a slightly-earlier generation of pimply American boys at the controls of some of the world’s most hellish weapons. Boys like that eager fellow, reportedly nick-named “Psycho” by some of his comrades, who ignored procedures to get “a kill,” his target being a group of Canadian soldiers carrying out known exercises.

(Canadians, by the way, will be grateful that the county’s modest contribution to insanity in the mountains will end soon. America brow-beat its allies into playing supporting roles, hoping to give vengeance the color of a genuine international cause. It was easier this time than it was for Vietnam owing to people’s initial, instinctive sympathy for those killed September 11. But one remembers the story of how Lyndon Johnson grabbed Prime Minister Lester Pearson, winner of the Nobel peace prize, by the lapels and tried intimidating him into contributing troops for Vietnam. Thank God, Pearson stood his ground against the Texas thug.)

In December of last year, U.S. planes mistakenly attacked a convoy of tribal elders, killing 65 people. There were reports that this ugly incident had an even uglier origin: Americans had been deliberately tricked by one of the cut-throat factions now ruling the country into eliminating some political opposition. Since then there have been many lethal attacks on the wrong people.

Now we have the report of a wedding party in southern Afghanistan blown to bits. The government in Afghanistan reports 40 killed, including the bride and groom, and 100 injured, by some trigger-happy fly-boy undoubtedly trying to clutch Psycho’s fallen laurels. (Actually this was the second wedding party attacked, the first was in eastern Afghanistan in May with 10 killed.)

I suppose we can be grateful the Pentagon much earlier gave up its disgusting stunt of dropping food-ration packets along with 500-pond bombs. Imagine bags of freeze-dried rice dropped on the bodies of the bride and groom?

Does anyone understand why American planes are still bombing Afghanistan? Oh, yes, I forgot, to destroy any elusive al Qaeda who might still be clambering the rocky slopes in sandals threatening New York. And it makes such good sense to do this with bombs from the air where you cannot distinguish a cleric from a warrior, a rifle from a hoe. Perhaps al Qaeda members are supposed to wear transponders for easy identification?

Recent stories from Britain reveal the utter contempt in which American tactics are held by senior officials there – information suppressed until now by the heavy hand of Prime Minister Tony Blair who seems keen to play dwarf armor-polisher to America’s idiot-prince. The tactics in question include American special forces in Pakistan and border areas of Afghanistan conducting searches for hidden al Qaeda by breaking into village homes with weapons blazing away, completely oblivious to the fact that this is not a part of the world where arrogant, insulting behavior is easily forgiven.

Can you imagine what a hellish storm of vengeance and terror Northern Ireland would have reaped had British troops behaved that way? In more than a quarter century of civil unrest in Northern Ireland, bad as it was, fewer people died on all sides than the number in Afghanistan killed by Americans during just a few months. You might think Americans had some valuable lessons to learn from Britain’s long, demanding experience in Northern Ireland, but the kind of Americans in Bush’s crowd already know everything, possessing wisdom magically sprung from the head of Zeus.

Not that you’d know it from America’s limp press, but it does appear that the country’s special forces, whose every member has more expensive outfits and fancy equipment than the deluxe jet-set, celebrity edition of Barbie comes with, have pretty much come up short in every significant operation so far.

Except, of course, for the massacre at Mazar-I-Sharif. Scots film maker Jamie Doran has shown parliamentarians in Europe the first portion of his documentary on the disappearance of about three thousand prisoners after their surrender. The film has terrible things to say of American participation. Hundreds of Taleban prisoners were driven in vans out into the desert by order of a local American commander, and those not suffocated by the heat were shot dead by General Dostrum’s troops while Americans casually watched.

A secret report released to the New York Times indicates that even American authorities know what a failure the war has been. It has only succeeded in dispersing anti-American terrorists throughout the Muslim world.

The actual membership of al Qaeda was always very small, far smaller than any Chicago street gang, and never bore any relation to the addled claims of Mr. Bush. They might have been dealt with handily by a set intelligent policies and diplomatic moves rather than a mindless crusade costing tens of billions of dollars.

The recent, much-publicized loya jirga, a grand council of delegates from all over Afghanistan, did little more than set up a temporary figurehead government, a kind of national fig leaf for the nakedness of the war lords who now rule most of the country. Astute readers will rightly ask how delegates could possibly have been chosen in any representative fashion from regions governed by war lords, places that are no-go areas for foreign troops.

At least now the way is clear for America, in its usual end-of-bombing fashion, to hightail it out after a decent interval. Ari Fleischer will blubber claims of having brought democracy to Afghanistan. Who knows, maybe Billy Graham will join in with prayers of thanksgiving before a joint session of Congress for all the swarthy heathens killed? Only the keen political sensibilities of George Orwell could have fully appreciated America’s second wave of destruction in Afghanistan being celebrated as an achievement.

All these developments – Afghanistan left in turmoil, war lords in control, stupid tactics creating many more angry young men seeking vengeance, the dispersal of anti-American leaders – together with the ugly new line on the Palestinians that the weak Mr. Bush has been cornered into accepting, promise little peace or security for anyone. It’s almost as though Ariel Sharon had been named special advisor to the president, and a stunning appointment it is: a man who has spent his life killing innocent people as an envoy for peace.

I reflect back to the Pentagon general who announced not so very long ago, as the forces of the Northern Alliance bravely swept across a landscape first cleared by American carpet-bombing, that this promised to be one of the most effective military actions in history. Here was a case of “pride goeth before the fall” if ever there was.

Of course, you must take account of the fact that he spoke from the perspective of half a century of costly, unprincipled, and often inept American colonial military action – the murderous shame of Vietnam, the pointless destruction in Cambodia, the almost-laughable theater of the absurd in Somalia, the marines providing live targets in Lebanon, the Army’s School of the Americas training the creatures of dictators in the fine points of torture and killing, the destruction of an Iranian civilian airliner with three-hundred souls aboard (an act which also deserves rarely-given credit for the reprisal destruction of the Pan-Am Lockerbie flight), the sinking of a Japanese civilian ship, the vicious fly-boy pranks that hurled an Italian gondola full of people down a mountain, the numerous rapes and assaults by troops in Okinawa.

The general’s breast swelled with the proud reflection that Americans had been so stunningly-successful where the Russians had miserably failed. Of course, he ignored the fact that Russia attempted something quite different to what America has attempted. He also ignored the fact that the Russians worked against a vast secret war waged by the CIA, whose activities in Afghanistan are what made September 11 possible. But most of all, he arrogantly ignored the fact that the play in Afghanistan has not gone beyond the first scene of the first act.

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A final note of irony: How sound is government now in Afghanistan? In early July, just after this piece was written, the Minister for Public Works, Abdul Qadir, who also served as one of three vice-presidents, was assassinated in Kabul. Last April in Jalalabad, there was an attempt to assassinate Mohammad Fahim, Interim Defense Minister. In February, Abdul Rahman, Civil Aviation Minister, was assassinated at the airport in Kabul, other ministers being implicated in his death. Readers should note that Kabul, where two of these assassinations occurred is the most secure part of the country.

Despite their over-advertised nastiness, this is exactly the anarchy the Taleban ended before American bombing ended the Taleban. So far as we know, the Taleban had nothing to do with September 11, and they were willing to extradite Osama bin Laden and others upon America’s producing evidence of their guilt, a universally-accepted practice in legal extradition. But this was not acceptable to Mr. Bush, and, apart from its many other costly failures, his crusade in Afghanistan has not produced bin Laden.

DARK TALES FROM THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH

John Chuckman

Wars always have their propaganda, but it is often not very subtle. In the first world war, the Germans bayoneted babies, and nearly a century later, in a rework of the same false story, the Iraqis tore babies from respirators. But if you want to study the techniques of effective propaganda, you could hardly do better than the War on Terror.

For many, the word propaganda raises an image of ham-fisted Soviet commissars insisting that black is white. But effective propaganda is far more subtle than that. And who should understand better the dark art of planting suggestions than the most practiced people on the planet at advertising and marketing?

The most effective propaganda theme during the Afghan phase of the War on Terror was the status of women under the Taliban. Almost as if by magic, when the B-52s were ready to make those Afghan heathens understand what red-blooded Christians really mean by hell, articles and broadcast commentaries sprang up like mushrooms after a humid spell to enlighten us on the plight of women in Afghanistan. The subject seems to have been of rather marginal interest before saddling up the B-52s with their thirty-ton loads of high explosive and shrapnel.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, women were treated hideously under the Taliban. But women were treated horribly anywhere during the fourteenth century, and that is approximately the phase of development in which the average Afghan lives. Women fared little better under some of the thugs in the Northern Alliance when they ruled previously.

And women do not exactly thrive under the absolutism of Saudi Arabia, a country whose important financial support of the Taliban has been more or less expunged from the record by America’s informal-but-effective Ministry of Truth. Women are not treated well in Pakistan either, a vital supporter of the Taliban now redeemed by a cornucopia of bribes.

Wherever economies are poor and backward and wherever religious fundamentalism plays a significant role, women are not treated as full human beings. My goodness, just think of all those old Virginia planters, Thomas Jefferson among them, using their young female slaves for sex.

An interesting sidelight to the Jefferson-Hemmings story, one that gives you a good raw whiff of life under American slavery, is that Sally was the half sister of Jefferson’s dead wife, and she resembled her closely. The existence of half-brothers and sisters by slave women was an ordinary fact of Southern plantation culture, but it was not one discussed at Sunday dinner after church.

The American notion that you can just sweep political players off the board and change the basic patterns of a society has no basis in history. It is wishful thinking at best. Advanced societies evolve over long periods of economic growth in which large numbers of people gain the influence that comes with economic resources. This is the way democracy and modern attitudes towards human values develop. This is the story of civilization since the dawn of the modern era about five hundred years ago.

The record of political revolutions when societies were not ripe for their results is one of utter failure. After the American Civil War – a truer political revolution in many respects than the original American Revolution – blacks were fitted into a new, more sophisticated form of bondage for another century. As late as the 1930s in the American South, lynchings were an occasion for family picnics. Only long-term, solid economic growth bringing an end to rural stagnation made it possible to change the status of America’s blacks.

Now America has just about achieved its limited purpose in Afghanistan. America is not about to try occupying the place as the Russians tried doing, nor does it seem likely that truly generous financial assistance will be given to these very poor people once our dirty work is done. No, that kind of generosity is saved by the State Department for places we need to bribe.

Does anyone believe that the status of Afghan women will change greatly after the first photo-op schools for girls, with a few hundred token students, have been adequately featured in our press? Or that we will ever hear much about anything in Afghanistan once we have destroyed what we came to destroy?

I hope I am wrong, but history doesn’t support optimism here. Afghanistan – like Haiti, following a more elaborate, showboat intervention – will recede from our view and sink back more or less to the same early state of economic and social development that characterized it before.

The point of the propaganda effort on women’s rights was that the subject should be on people’s minds when it counted, when our bombs were blowing the limbs off peasants. Aroused concern in America over those rights blunted potential criticism by middle-class women to the bombing. It made the sensibilities of soccer moms safe for Bush. And, like all the best propaganda, it started with truth.

Another line of propaganda in Afghanistan, less subtle and less truthful, has been that familiar refrain, “weapons of mass destruction.” This phrase, so overused in the case of Iraq, is beginning to sound a bit tinny and hollow, but it proved still serviceable for Afghanistan. Although coming as it does from the only nation that ever totally incinerated two cities full of civilians, it is remarkable that the speakers have not choked on the words.

One cannot help recalling Secretary of Defense Cohen at a pulpit in the Pentagon a few years ago, preaching to us about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. In his best, earnest vacuum-cleaner salesman’s style, he held up a bag of sugar to illustrate how small a quantity of some nasty things could destroy American society.

The truth is that there is only one weapon of mass destruction, and that weapon is a nuclear or thermonuclear device. Biological agents, while all advanced countries have experimented heavily with them, are not effective weapons of mass destruction.

The actions of our own armed forces support this assertion. The Pentagon never saw a weapon it didn’t like, so long as it does a good job of killing people – and that is the very reason it strongly opposes the international treaty against land-mines. But the Pentagon is not uncomfortable with existing international regimes concerning biological warfare.

Sophisticated delivery systems are essential to any success with these weapons – we saw with the anthrax scare that crude distribution methods render biological agents to be anything but weapons of mass destruction. Even with such delivery systems, weather and other factors make using these weapons full of uncertainty.

Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War did not use his supply of biological and chemical weapons. American and Israeli nuclear weapons provided a complete check against his paltry arsenal. The calculation is easy enough to make: inflict some highly uncertain and limited damage on your enemy in exchange for the certainty of being obliterated. Even a man often called mad was unwilling to take those odds.

Now, anyone with a fully-functioning brain knows that a true terrorist would relish having a nuclear weapon. I am sure Timothy McVeigh dreamed dreams of possessing such power. And the boys who were to die slaughtering their fellow students at Columbine High School undoubtedly enjoyed such fantasies. But what has that to do with reality? Reports of pieces of paper with such dreams found in Al Quaida caves are meaningless, except to scare people by combining the words nuclear and bomb and Al Quaida in the same statement.

The only kind of bomb involving nuclear material that an organization like Al Quaida would be remotely capable of making is a conventional bomb wrapped in radioactive material. Such a bomb would leave an area littered with radioactive debris, but it is not a particularly effective weapon. Discussing it in the same breath with a device capable of a nuclear explosion is confusing and dishonest.

Nuclear weapons still represent a massive technological and financial undertaking, far beyond the resources of an Al Quaida, and Washington’s experts know this. Even Iraq, with all its oil wealth and the kind of government that can direct resources without answering to anyone, working very hard to develop a nuclear weapon, remained at least a few years from getting it.

INSPIRATION FROM THE TOP
Observations on the President Addressing the Nation in the War against Terror

John Chuckman

Millions of Americans settle into their couches with bowls of popcorn, bags of potato chips, and diet cola. They enjoy the color pictures on the evening news report of bombs exploding in Afghanistan. Pictures of explosions are always popular in America, no matter what their meaning or origin.

True, news pictures are less impressive than Hollywood special effects, and you generally don’t get to see any blood or bodies – that would be unsuitable for a family show – but these pictures have their own thrilling quality, much like those grainy pictures of violent arrests or sting operations photographed with pin-hole cameras that are so popular. They offer the satisfaction of peeping into the face of horror, into the anguish of others from the complete safety of your living room.

The television pictures do bring a satisfying sense of justice being done, of having witnessed America’s retribution on the godless, or at least on those unlucky enough to have embraced the wrong god. Satisfaction lingers into the evening while families munch their way through the next couple of hours before the big event: The president is going to address the nation.

“Boy, he’ll tell us what we need to know!” flashes through minds as the scene from the Oval Office suddenly snaps on. An objective observer, perhaps a de Tocqueville-like visitor from another planet, might wonder at such thoughts, for here is a provincial politician, a flop at business but with impeccable contacts, who bragged about never reading the international section of the newspaper just before his election to national office. But an objective observer might not be aware that except for enjoying explosions on the evening news, most Americans share the president’s level of interest when it comes to foreign affairs.

The boyish-faced president, his hair suitably graying enough to suggest the heavy burden of office, with a perfectly-knotted, thick silk tie and an obviously expensive suit whose shoulders look a little over-padded, seems just slightly uncomfortable at his desk, like a home-town actor playing his first big role in the amateur-theater group, but it is a look generally interpreted as humility or decency rather than ineptitude or fear.

If he were a better actor, a few gulps to tug at his Adam’s apple and a suggestive bit of moisture at the corners of his eyes might evoke images of Jimmy Stewart speaking on behalf of the little man. But Jimmy Stewart through the lens of Frank Capra is as outdated in America as the stirring tones of Franklin Roosevelt re-assuring people with ideas like fear itself being the only fear they need have. And, as for the little man, well, that’s just not a topic of discussion any more, suggesting, as it does, the existence of class in America.

Heavens! America long ago abolished class by declaring everyone a consumer. No bleeding-heart garbage about class and society, no boring stuff about citizenship and responsibilities – just a nation of open mouths with differing abilities to fill them. Inspiring.

Indeed, ideas themselves are pretty much outdated in a place totally immersed in the shallow fantasies of advertising, self-help books, television series, and vacations in Disneyland – the only exceptions being ideas about how to make lots of money.

And besides, this president is a man who actually works for the likes of Claude Rains’ and Raymond Massey’s most memorably villainous characters. Nothing he says, nothing he does, is not first carefully scrutinized and sniffed by teams of mole-like eyes and noses. He went through a few hundred million dollars of their money getting elected, and he’s not about to let them down now.

As always, he is surrounded by flags, beautifully-sewn flags, as thickly textured and elegantly draped as the president’s custom-made clothes, undoubtedly provided fresh from a supportive manufacturer hoping to receive the much-coveted White House letter on elegant stationery suitable for framing and showroom display. In fact, it is known that this president goes nowhere without two fresh, four-hundred square foot flags, one just for backup. Rumor has it that the labels, “Made in China,” are carefully snipped before shipment.

The excessive use of flags and patriotic slogans has always been suggestive of the tyrant’s temperament, even when soft words are used (after all, Hitler, who never went anywhere without scores of monster flags, made one of the most effective speeches about peace ever heard). But this man could not possibly be confused with a tyrant. First off, he’s just too gawky and ordinary.

Yes, there is an underlying sense of meanness that pokes through his words, here or there, like elbows protruding from the frayed fabric of a comfortable jacket, especially when he talks about death-row inmates or terrorists dying. His harsh, almost adolescent sense of humor, displayed on a number of occasions during the campaign, betrays something fairly mean in his make-up. Maybe, Mama Bush wasn’t all that warm and loving after all.

But for the most part, the look and sound are what Americans like to call family: it’s kind of a code word for a set of qualities that might be summed as three-car-garage Christian.

There is something in his character much like the hamburger oases that dot the American landscape, so beloved by suburban families on shopping safaris in air-conditioned Jeeps – safe-and-cheerful way stations replicated beyond counting across a continent, offering the assurance today in Wichita of exactly what you had last year in Greensboro. Of course, these are the very qualities for which he had his pockets stuffed with cash to play leader of a party actually run by people whose faces won’t bear much direct exposure without revealing the hard lines and ugly attitudes of lives spent in predatory behavior.

And when you have nothing to say, flags help a lot. It is almost impossible for any crowd to boo when flags are present in a country whose Congress has passed an anti-flag-burning amendment to the Constitution 437 times. Only the ponderously slow, complex, and costly provisions of an 18th century constitution have prevented this glorious measure from taking its rightful place with freedom of speech.

This president is Disney’s version of Fred McMurray giving calm, fatherly advice about joining Neighborhood Watch or coaching Little League as a helpful public response to terrorists crashing airliners into skyscrapers.

This is Fred McMurray without the cigarettes and booze of his early film-noir career. There is an aura in his tone and looks of redemption, of having moved on from drunken midnight pranks and naked table-dancing to bowing in prayer and dispensing the Lord’s justice as Governor of Texas. Some might say his manner of dispensing justice in Texas, or in Afghanistan for that matter, reflects the self-hatred characteristic of alcoholic personalities.

And redemption is a favorite with Americans who just never tire of the tales of country-and-western singers who hit bottom and live to strum and strut with a wireless mike once again. Only celebrity beats redemption in the admiration of America. And anyone, anyone, who gets to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to put his benignly smiling face on television, no matter how wooly and slurred his words, no matter how banal his thoughts, no matter how unexceptional his achievements, is a celebrity in America.

For some sentences the president manages to keep a carefully-coached cadence, but too often his words take on the urgency of a nervous teen-ager trying to speed through a recitation without missing a line. You almost expect to hear him to say, “Whew, Miss Jones, I did it!” at the end of tough passages. He arouses the same kind of anxiety you feel about watching a kid wobble down the street on a bicycle for the first time – eliciting the indulgence of viewers brought up on The Little Engine That Could and winning the same kind of unearned praise that a cute child receives for a charmingly bad performance in a school pageant.

It is very important for politicians in class-less America, even when they come from wealthy, privileged families and hold offices in which they serve almost exclusively the interests of other wealthy, privileged families, to assume a tone of ordinariness, with no high-falutin’ airs. And this president excels at doing so. He is the best since Richard Nixon talking about his wife’s cloth coat.

His accent is a disconcerting blend of slightly ineffectual, preppy kid who never did his own homework and the corn-husk intonations of the land of armadillos, rattlesnakes, stolen elections, and Confederate battle flags on pick-up trucks – a place that has blessed the country with a vastly-disproportionate share of its more lunatic politicians.

And tent-preachers – yes, there is the unmistakable cadence, however subdued for a national audience, of innumerable, heads-bowed invitations under the sweltery fabric of tents filled with damp white shirts stuck to the backs of folding chairs and mosquitoes droning between the notes of electric organs.

It is difficult to reconcile this man in this office with the Founding Fathers’ vision of the nation. What an immense distance for a people to have traveled in just two centuries under the influence of a feverish consumerism, of a selfish, grasping, child-centered culture in which the children are the adults, of entitlements with no sense of responsibility or citizenship, of unspoken imperialistic attitudes that color all foreign policy under the guise of freedom, and of the influence of a section of the country that supposedly lost the Civil War but now dominates the nation’s political culture and imbues it with stagnant, backwater values.

THE FIRST VICTIM IN THE WAR AGAINST TERROR

JOHN CHUCKMAN

It takes a good deal of time to realize the full impact of any large and sudden change in foreign policy, and this is especially true of the kind of sudden, violent interventions often undertaken by the United States since the end of World War ll.

In the case of Mr. Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, it took the best part of a decade for results to unfold: a beautiful, peaceful country was reduced to despair and savagery by bombing, a coup, invasions, and a politically-motivated holocaust.

The men responsible for destabilizing Cambodia in the name of expedient policy were not only ten thousand miles removed from the misery they created, they were soon gone from office, busying themselves with memoirs justifying their deeds to others also ten thousand miles removed. In all cases, the stench never quite reached their nostrils.

The most important antecedent of the War against Terror was another expedient, violent policy – the recruitment, training, and supply of Islamic fighters for a proxy war against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Once America’s immediate goal had been met in that war – that is, inflicting maximum damage on the Soviet Union – the mess created in achieving it was of no interest. Just as was the case in Cambodia. And just as was the case in many lesser American interventions from Chile to El Salvador.

Part of the behavior exhibited in these examples is a direct extension from American domestic life – enjoy your beer and toss the can for someone else to pick up. Only in foreign affairs, it’s other people’s lives being tossed.

The impact of intervention in Afghanistan during the 1980s has only been realized more than a decade after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The Afghan people have experienced more than a decade of anarchy, tribal warfare, and the Taliban’s coming to power as a result (Despite the Taliban’s obvious shortcomings as a government, they came to power to end the violence that Americans, after arming everyone to the teeth, couldn’t be bothered about, and they did succeed at least in cleaning up America’s carelessly tossed trash).

The War against Terror itself will have many unforeseen results. This very fact was one of the soundest arguments against proceeding in the fashion that Mr. Bush has done, without ever attempting to use diplomacy or international institutions to bring to justice those responsible for terrible acts. Now, with the fairly rapid collapse of the Taliban, the Bush people are having a difficult time controlling a tendency to smirk, but the savage work of B-52s does seem an odd thing to smirk about.

The first clearly discernable victims of carpet-bombing Afghanistan and overthrowing its government (other than dead and starving Afghan peasants, streams of refugees, murdered prisoners of war, and a new bunch of thugs in power – none of which appear to be of great concern to Americans or their government) are the Palestinians.

Mr. Bush’s actions in Afghanistan have made it almost impossible for him to resist the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon. After all, Bush’s approach to terror originating out of Afghanistan is the Israeli model: you destroy things and kill people even if their only connection with an attack is shared geography.

The absurdity of the policy is made clear by analogy. Imagine the American government bombing the city of Buffalo, New York, because that is where Timothy McVeigh grew up. Or bulldozing the homes of his relatives.

The futility of the policy is obvious from Israel’s decades-long experiment on unwilling subjects. She has succeeded only in raising new generations of bitter enemies – groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad, more fanatical than the PLO, are in large part creatures of Israeli policy.

Despite extremely harsh practices, Israel has never succeeded in silencing such opposition groups in territories she herself occupied. Despite a lifetime’s experience in brutality, Mr. Sharon is not able to stop desperate young men from committing kamikaze acts in the heart of Israel. Yet we have Mr. Sharon’s demand that Mr. Arafat, with his pitiful resources and unstable political environment, do so as a pre-condition even for talking. At the same time, Mr. Sharon labels Mr. Arafat “irrelevant,” proceeds with a policy of serial assassination in the West Bank, and blows up the tiny bit of infrastructure that gives Arafat’s government any sense of authority.

This is plainly irrational, yet Mr. Bush is in no position to say so. Mr. Sharon has very pointedly made the comparison between the two situations, Bush bombing Afghanistan and Sharon bombing the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, there are many differences in the two situations, starting with the fact that the Palestinians live under conditions that most Americans would never tolerate without making full use of Second-Amendment rights. But the differences are too complex to explain to a broad political audience, while the gross parallels are obvious to everyone – facts which work in Mr. Sharon’s favor.

In the long term, Mr. Sharon’s approach is hopeless, but hopeless policies can do a lot of damage in the meantime. The Palestinians are not going to disappear or become, as so many of Israel’s leaders have wished them to be, absorbed by Jordan. Israel with her policy of settlements in the West Bank has always talked of having “facts on the ground,” but there are no more convincing facts on the ground than a few million people with a high birth rate.

And a few million people living with no hope, right next to a few million people who regard them darkly only as something to contain while themselves living in considerable comfort, is by definition a volatile and dangerous situation. Israel controls this situation, just as South Africa did in very similar circumstances (even more so, since the Palestinians are a minority rather than a great majority). It seems almost sarcasm to write or speak, as most of our press does, of two “partners” in a “peace process” and how one of them, the Palestinians, has utterly failed its responsibilities.

A viable Palestinian state with generous Israeli assistance for its economic success is the only intelligible concept of peace. But it seems impossible that the statesmanship required can ever come from a man with as much blood on his hands as Mr. Sharon, or from his nemesis, the Nixonesque Mr. Netanyahu who waits grinning darkly in the wings. And it seems equally impossible that Mr. Bush, purring with satisfaction over the immediate results of his nasty work in Afghanistan, can rise to what is required of an American president with any pretensions to genuine leadership in the world.

SOME LONG-TERM IMPLICATIONS OF THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

High-Tech Puritanism’s Future

JOHN CHUCKMAN

How did carpet-bombing Afghan villages and conducting air strikes against Taliban prisoners represent the actions of a free people, of a great democracy? The forces of darkness required an immediate, crushing response rather than any mere effort at securing justice through diplomacy and existing international institutions.

However disturbing to some, the answer does accurately reflect important American attitudes about the War in Afghanistan. The success of the war, as measured by the fairly rapid change in that country’s government and quite apart from what will almost certainly prove a failure to end terrorism, may well usher in a dangerous and bizarre era of international relations.

Since the collapse of the Cold War, America has addressed the world with a new emphasis on democracy and human rights. We enjoy official pronouncements on these precious concepts at fairly regular intervals, although they are often used in ways that resemble chamber-of-commerce boosterism, trade-concession negotiations, or just plain advertising and leave one’s hunger for worthy principles in international affairs satisfied only by the taste of flat beer or stale bread.

Apart from the statements’ too-often self-serving nature, and apart from their considerable selectivity and inaccuracy, they generally contain an implicit assumption that democracy is always and everywhere good. But this is far from being true. Democracy is subject to the same arbitrary and unjust measures as every other form of government, requiring only the shared prejudices, hatreds, or selfishness of a bare majority to inflict pain on others.

The Bill of Rights in the American Constitution exists precisely to protect people from the tyranny of a majority. But even a Bill of Rights often does not protect against injustice, for such tyrannies have existed through much of American history. Those held in slavery for most of America’s first century were held in a revised form of servitude for a second century precisely by the tyranny of a majority of voters. And the proverbial tyrant-sheriff or judge in backwater rural America or crooked machine-politician in larger cities has inflicted injustice on countless Americans, including stealing their votes and corrupting their courts, despite the high-sounding principles of the Bill of Rights.

Rights must be interpreted by courts, and members of any court generally reflect the attitudes and will of those in the majority or at least of that portion of the population that exercises effective power (which at America’s founding was tiny). The times that courts go beyond this fairly pedestrian role are rare and are invariably followed by accusations of having exceeded their authority. And, of course, even bringing issues to court implies the means to do so.

Apartheid South Africa was a democracy for whites that held a majority population of blacks in a form of perpetual bondage. Israel follows almost the same pattern except that the group held in bondage is a minority. But America only spoke out about South Africa’s practices in the last few years of its existence when tremendous international and private-citizen pressure had already been brought to bear. And America has yet to say anything about Israel’s practices.

America’s penchant to criticize, selectively, other forms of government and social arrangements together with new efforts to apply American laws abroad (examples here include: penalties under Helms-Burton against third-party business with Cuba; the abuse of American anti-dumping laws to change previously-negotiated terms of international trade agreements; frequent efforts to extradite citizens of other countries to face American courts; programs to control what farmers in other countries grow; the opening of FBI offices abroad; and, most recently, intense pressures on other countries to change their visa and refugee laws to be more consistent with America’s fairly harsh regime) signal a fervent, new burst of enthusiasm for shaping the world to America’s liking.

The world would almost certainly welcome the sincere application to American foreign policy of liberal principles. I mean, of course, the ringing 18th century meaning of liberal, not the degraded, pejorative that America’s right-wing establishment has worked so hard for decades to make of that word. (The widespread effort to debase the meaning of this fine word by our many commentators and politicians who promote attitude rather than analysis is itself evidence of insincerity concerning principles).

But America’s interventions in the world are shaped by a witch’s brew of self-righteousness, simplistic answers, and the same kind of narrow self-interests that have characterized the interventions of all former great powers. The world’s first (at least superficially) democratic great power, despite the official pronouncements about rights and freedoms, still does not match its interventions to broad principles that most of the world’s peoples would embrace.

An important and overlooked explanation for inconsistent words and actions is the nation’s legacy of Puritanism. This legacy generates the zeal about changing the world to our own liking while ascribing the actions to the very mind of God, at least as revealed through the Holy Writ of our Founding Fathers – Americans often having some difficulty distinguishing between the two.

We are taught in elementary school that the “Pilgrim Fathers” and other extreme, fundamentalist Christian groups came to our shores seeking religious liberty. The textbooks neglect to explain what truly nasty people the various Puritan groups of the 16th and 17th centuries were.

They were despised across much of Europe not so much for their private beliefs but for their intolerance of others’ beliefs and their vicious public behavior. Truly violent pamphlets and sermons about the beliefs of others were standard Puritan fare – most of their contents would meet the most stringent modern standard of hate-speech. Some Puritan groups went well beyond ranting to their own people. They crashed into the church services of other denominations to deliver vitriolic attacks on what was being preached.

And it was Puritan groups in England who, after the Reformation, raged through the beautiful old cathedrals, hacking up statues, destroying historic tombs, and burning priceless works of art that they regarded as idols – actions no different in any detail from recent ones by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

These furious, unpleasant people, dizzy with paranoid feelings of religious persecution, streamed onto the shores of America, hoping to create their own version of society. It was not their intention to permit religious liberty or any other liberty at odds with their harsh dogmas of predestination and damnation of all those not elected by God. It took worldly, late 18th-century skeptics like Jefferson making political alliances with the many schisms that irascible Puritan personalities created to bring the beginnings of what we understand as religious liberty to America.

Patterns of thought and behavior among America’s contemporary conservatives still strongly resemble those of Puritans from three centuries ago. Perhaps the most persistent, and for our theme the most relevant, is the inability to see gradations or subtleties in controversial situations.

You are either right or wrong, saved or damned. There is no middle ground. Note in this regard President Bush’s graceful, memorable words to the world about being either with America or with the terrorists. Thirty years before, during the War in Vietnam, one heard repeatedly, “Love it or leave it,” an ugly expression that has reappeared a few times even in the far less stressful domestic atmosphere of the War in Afghanistan.

So many American minds instinctively follow this pattern of thinking, one suspects it’s in the gene pool. During the insane episode of keeping a little boy away from his father and his country on the basis of ideology, a perceptive Australian wrote in a Sydney paper that he was grateful Australia got the convicts instead of the Puritans.

Americans are convinced they are the modern version of “God’s chosen people.” This identification with the struggles and fortunes of the Old Testament Hebrews was a strong Puritan characteristic. With Americans’ good fortune in growing up on a continent whose vast resources and space and favorable climate have nurtured health and prosperity as well as attracted ambitious and talented people from all over the world, who can fully blame them? A land of milk and honey, if ever there was one.

But much as the successful 17th-century Puritan businessmen typically did, many Americans regard their success as a visible sign of God’s favor. Favor, not blessing, is an important distinction. One is humbled and grateful by blessings, but hubris (or, its rough, earthy equivalent, chutzpah) and arrogance tend to be the less attractive results of believing oneself favored.

While historical events tend more to develop than erupt – eruptions, if you will, reflecting local pressures built up from years of the glacially-paced movements of history’s tectonic plates – the first massive eruption of American Puritanism on world affairs – there were earlier, lesser ones and a history of domestic ones – came with the closing days of World War ll.

Following the titanic, destructive failure of Nazi Germany’s crusade against Bolshevism (a fundamental part of Nazi ideology), America effectively took on the same burden with the Cold War. There was more of a direct connection here than is often realized, since not only German scientists were grabbed up in large numbers for military research but many political and industrial figures, with unmistakable Nazi pasts, were eagerly recruited and assisted after the war by the CIA and its predecessor agency.

This struggle was regarded by America’s establishment as a life-and-death one, much as Hitler’s Germany regarded it. Few Americans today realize how deadly serious it was. The “blacklisting” in Hollywood, featured on film and television as the tragedy of the era, was almost a trivial aspect of the struggle.

Warning the Soviets of America’s willingness to be ruthless was one of the important considerations in the decision to use atomic bombs on civilians in Japan. During the early Fifties, our government seriously planned a pre-emptive atomic strike on the Soviet Union. The full story here remains unknown, but perhaps only the revulsion of allies who learned of this prevented its taking place. (Revulsion at American attitudes and plans may have played a role in motivating some of the many extremely-damaging Soviet spies in Britain at this time).

It is an interesting observation that while classical economists and astute students of history always understood that Soviet-style communism must eventually collapse of its own structural weakness, much like a massive, badly-engineered building on a weak foundation, this knowledge seems not to have influenced American policy during the Cold War. Delenda est Carthago became a terrible, palpable presence in American society. Communism must be defeated because it was godless and failed to recognize the elect nature of America’s way of doing things.

The high-water mark in America’s impulse to wage holy war against the benighted adherents of communism and free their people to buy Coca-Cola and receive the Good Word was undoubtedly the war in Vietnam. While defeat in Vietnam proved a disaster not quite on a scale of Germany’s Götterdämmerung in Russia, it was a humiliating and destructive experience.

I often ask myself what America learned from the Vietnam War. Yes, we now have professional soldiers rather than conscripts. Yes, every congressman has added “boys in harm’s way” to his or her kit-bag of Rotary-Club phrases.

But in a more fundamental sense, I don’t think America learned a great deal. Most of the horror of Vietnam was inflicted on Vietnamese ten thousand miles away, a people who suffered death on a scale only Russians or Jews could appreciate with the equivalent of about fifteen million deaths when scaled to the size of America’s population. While the Vietnamese suffered a virtual holocaust in rejecting the wishes of the favored people, many Americans still believe they are the ones who suffered a massive tragedy, surely an extraordinary example of Puritan-tinged thinking.

If you compare America’s less than 60 thousand deaths – about a year and a half’s fatalities on America’s highways spread over ten years of war – to Vietnam’s loss of 3 to 4 million, you realize that the conflict marked a turning point in methods of war and the use of military technology. Our government’s efforts to limit unpopular American casualties – this was, after all, the youth generation of the Sixties intended according to all the advertising and pop magazine articles only to enjoy itself and never think of dying – meant a new reliance on air power and technology. The carpet in the carpet-bombing was in the homes of Vietnamese peasants.

Economists call this a substitution of one factor of production (physical capital) for another (labor) in the production function (in this case, destruction abroad).

This substitution has continued down to the present at an increasing pace. Indeed, the recent, much-criticized proposals of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld (I don’t know why, but I am always tempted to call him von Rumsfeld) really amount to an acceleration of the process. More technology, less soldiers mean more precision, less domestic political risk from deaths in conflicts, and, just as in any other industry, more efficiency (“bang for the buck” as the Pentagon so quaintly puts it).

Of course, taken too far, quite apart from possible specialized military implications, this substitution threatens to undermine America’s popular support for the military. “Joining up” with its advanced training opportunities, large benefits towards post-secondary education, and even tolerance for enlisted families and non-uniform life outside daily duties provides an important economic and social option for many young Americans, most of whom, naturally enough, never expect to see combat. For a couple of million people, the armed forces today offer one of the few equivalents of what a secure union job with plenty of benefits in a sound corporation was fifty years ago.

The greatest danger of the Vietnam War to America was that the nation showed genuine signs of beginning to crack apart, just as it actually had done a century before in the Civil War. Changes made in the nature of American interventions since that time reflect more an avoidance of this kind of internal divisiveness than a fundamentally different way of regarding the rest of the human race. They reflect also the unexpected collapse of Lucifer’s evil empire. We now have only the vicious scrambling of lesser demon-princes on which to focus our fury.

However, an increasingly technology-intensive armed forces comes to the rescue for hunting out these lesser varmints. Not only are our chosen enemies generally smaller and weaker, but our ability to reach out with fairly little risk to American lives is vastly improved.

While the Pentagon has not achieved the precision-capability that its spokesmen and supporters almost salivate describing, it has nevertheless come a very long way to delivering overwhelming destruction on selected targets with very little risk to its own pilots or troops, at least in the kinds of places it has been called upon to attack – that is, countries with small economies such as Iraq or Serbia and places still immured in the culture of earlier centuries, such as Afghanistan.

Over the long term, big investments in technology do pay off, as the last ten years of general American prosperity prove, and the military is no different in this regard.

But the ability to kill without being killed reflects a potentially destabilizing influence in world affairs. One of the few universally-true dictums ever uttered is Lord Acton on power.

Immense power in the hands of a people who neither know nor care about the world except as it reflects their own attitudes is inherently dangerous, but this is something Americans have already experienced in the post-war period. Even then, as in Vietnam, the results were often grim.

Given the ability to kill without being killed and with no other power great enough to offer counterbalancing influence, a new, bizarre version of Pax Americana is the prospect for decades ahead – at least until a united Europe, a developed China, and a reinvigorated Russia and Japan can offer effective alternate voices. (As for the influence of Puritanism within American society, only time plus lots of immigration seem likely to have effect).

And I believe this comes with its own built-in tendency towards instability, as people across the globe resent and resist the changes and adjustments expected by America, not only in the sphere of economics through developments in globalized free trade, but in the political and social spheres at an intensity rarely known before, except by unfortunate neighbors in the Caribbean Basin.

America’s inclination to ignore international institutions and to declare people or states as criminals whenever they seriously oppose its demands combined with its ability to punish with impunity unavoidably will increase resentments and bring relations to the boil over much of the world time and time again. New forms of terrorism, or what the dear old CIA has always euphemized as “dirty tricks” where it was doing the terrorizing to promote American interests, seem virtually certain. But wasn’t that what the war in Afghanistan was supposed to end?

Listen carefully to Mr. Bush’s words about a long, complicated war. I don’t think the words advisors have put into his mouth are just about Afghanistan or even about anything so specific as extending the action to Iraq. In effect, I think he’s talking about the kind of perpetual low-grade state of war that was part of Orwell’s vision for 1984. Only it’s not going to be Big Brother that prosecutes it, but the Puritan forces of America’s New Model Army.