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OBAMA’S TEARS

 “Even those tears, I me mine

“I me mine, I me mine” – the Beatles

 

John Chuckman

 

Had I seen the image of Obama, weeping over American gun deaths, seven years ago, I know I would have been deeply moved. It would have reinforced my view of him then as an empathetic, bright, and progressive politician. And I did then, and do now, find America’s violence – all of it, not just the small fraction of it seen in street killings – an appalling assault on the human spirit.

But the image comes seven years later, following a period of Obama’s proving himself an utterly cold and dry-eyed killer. Actually, apart from seven years packed with regular killing and support of others doing killing in at least half a dozen lands, he is reliably reported to have once said at a high-level meeting, without tears or the least change in demeanor, “I’m pretty good at killing.”

I don’t know whether the recent tears were artificially induced, as by an irritant placed on a fingertip to be touched to his face at the right moment of his performance, or squeezed out from heretofore unknown political acting talent. Perhaps they just reflect a kind of strangely compartmentalized brain.

This last possibility would make him more bizarre than I had come to regard him. I had come pretty much to accept him as just one more of the garden-variety psychopaths who have held the American Presidency for decades. There were even rumors, stemming from gaps in his resume, that he was CIA, an organization that employs a lot of psychopaths and has now deeply penetrated America’s elected government, having itself produced several presidents – George Bush père for sure – and other high office holders. The practice is equivalent to the Mafia’s having a “made man” on the bench of a high court.

After seven years of mass murder, dirty tricks destroying countless lives and destabilizing many peaceful lands, thousands of extrajudicial killings conducted by young thugs from basement computer-games rooms at CIA, and unblinking acceptance of such brutal savageries as we’ve seen from Israel or Saudi Arabia or Turkey, his tears truly mean nothing, except perhaps somewhere in the back of his own dark and terrible mind.

Only a few days before my writing this, I read of Israel spraying a huge swath of land inside the boundary of Gaza with a deadly herbicide. So these miserable people – these people who cannot even import cement to repair Israel’s savage destruction of homes and schools and public sanitation in 2014 – are now also to live with reduced arable land plus the virtual certainty of heavy future birth defects, much as the Vietnamese still experience from America’s hellish saturation of their land with Agent Orange about half a century ago.

That Nazi-like behavior solicited no teary scenes from Obama, just as Israel’s slaughter of more than 500 children and 1,700 adults in 2014 solicited not a tear from Obama, not so much as an awkward throat-clearing.

I don’t know what caused him to cry in his little performance about guns in America, but if you tell me it was because a decent human was overwhelmed momentarily by America’s hideously murderous society, I will not even bother to answer.

As remarkably few in other lands appear to grasp, America is a massively brutal society. This is true both at home and abroad, and I should know because I grew up there. I also know it will not change within the lifetimes of any readers, the overwhelming size and nature of the situation being beyond what many outside observers can imagine.

Certainly the insipid measures Obama has taken will not make a dint in the toll. Strangers to American society simply cannot imagine how many guns are floating around there. A recent Small Arms Survey estimated 270 million small arms, but there are a remarkable number of military-grade weapons in private hands as a result of exposure to a vast armed services with its galaxy of local military bases, major national guard organizations and facilities in every state, and the past heavy arming of police and numerous agencies such as the TSA. The kind of police who beat up drug suspects and take their money are also the kind of police who illicitly trade in guns, and America has large numbers of them amongst its rag-tag collection of a million or so.

America swims in guns, and there is a vast market just in private sales and stolen guns. There will always be a market under such conditions no matter what regulations Washington may impose. And increasingly, the individual states have permitted what was in my day in Chicago a serious felony, the concealed carrying of guns. Some also allow citizens to carry them openly in holsters.

Remember, there is not just the matter of thousands of murders and countless maimings each year. There is, as was revealed by The Guardian for the first time ever, 1,134 people killed by their own police in 2015. It all charges the atmosphere of the United States with a kind of regular, low-grade terror. And America’s prisons have an international reputation for brutality. They include such barbaric innovations as super-max prisons (in which prisoners live out entire lives in total isolation), private profit-motivated prisons, and a prison population whose total size dwarfs that of all other advanced countries.

I read in British newspapers, discussing Obama’s efforts, expressions from readers such as “it’s about time” or “those awful Republicans,” and I know they reflect views of people who just really do not understand America.

America is a country which has killed at least 6 million people over the last half century abroad, virtually all the killing to no purpose other than America’s trying to have its own way in places as distant as Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and still others. If you think violence officially sanctioned on such a scale has no effect on the country responsible for it, you are extremely naïve.

Much of the killing was savage beyond description, employing fire bombs, napalm, white phosphorus, Agent Orange, carpet bombing, and that truly hideous invention, cluster bombs.

America also remains the only country ever to use nuclear weapons, twice, on civilian targets of no military significance, and this after Japan had made strong feelers for its surrender. No, for America only unconditional surrender was acceptable. And a series of 12 atomic bombs for 12 cities was scheduled. Some sensible minds questioned the lunacy, considering that Japan had been almost flattened by a ferocious campaign of fire-bombing, so that not one primary or even secondary military target was left standing.

The fact that only two atomic bombs were used had nothing to do with America’s humanity. In later years, detailed plans for massive atomic attacks on Russia and China were drawn up, the last of which so far as I am aware was in 1961, being earnestly advocated to President Kennedy by the insane men then running the Pentagon. Nuclear weapons also were seriously discussed as options during the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War.

America is, far and away, the world’s largest arms dealer, literally dwarfing the trade in death machines of any other country, and it sells its arms to tyrants and madmen across the planet enabling players like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, or Egypt to hugely expand the total number of deaths for which America is responsible.

America also spends as much on its military as all the world’s militaries combined. It is an obscene amount of money dedicated to killing and oppression.

American advisors are in the business of advising kings and tyrants how they can control people and efficiently kill them if needed. America had an outfit called The Army School of the Americas which became infamous for its teaching military personnel sent from Latin America in the fine points of killing and torture. Today it’s been reborn as the bland-sounding Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

In a county like contemporary America, with its often poor employment prospects for young adults, the military is a major employer. It has an elaborate enticement system to attract young people. General military training anywhere consists of just two central matters: how to be doggedly obedient and how to kill people. So every year in America, many thousands of such young people are dumped back into the general population. Many of them then go on to become police because military service is a favorite entry qualification. Many of them remain unemployed. Some even homeless.

There are not just the regular armed forces involved in saturating the country with military values and attitudes, there are also the huge national guards and reserves and high school and college ROTCs. It is a massive effort, blanketing a supposedly democratic society with undemocratic and violent ideas. You might view it as kind of a national immunization program, immunization against democratic and human values, conducted year-in, year-out. So the young generation of Americans is constantly immersed in the concepts of blind obedience and killing. And all this is further reinforced by the vast numbers of Americans dependent upon work at its many regional military bases and other facilities.

Just a portion of this avalanche of annual spending on murder might have created countless new opportunities in America with new and better schools, better medical facilities, improved housing, and intervention into troubled families. No, instead, everything is just allowed to rip, and on the streets of Chicago and other cities, week-in and week-out, the toll of young blacks resembles minor battle scenes with as many as twenty-five shot (not all killed) on a single week-end.

That brings us to yet another aspect of American violence and passion for guns. America remains in many respects just as divided a society on racial lines as it was a century ago. The unspoken reason for many Americans keeping guns is the same one that caused Southern plantation owners to sleep each night with a knife and a pistol under the pillow. It rarely is openly discussed, but it is there like a great unnerving presence in a thousand dark places.

There is yet one more dimension to American violence. About half a dozen years ago, a study, led by a Harvard Medical School researcher, found evidence of mental problems in 26.4 % of people in the United States, versus, for example, 8.2% of people in Italy. The researchers were concerned with matters such as lack of access to treatment and under-treatment, but for those concerned about a safe and decent world, I think the salient finding is simply America’s high percentage. The world is being led by a nation where more than one-quarter of the people have genuine mental problems.

I’m afraid America’s movie industry has created sugary fantasies about America which still influence the views of many abroad. There really are no Jimmy Stewart types, with tears in the eyes and benign expressions, running America.

And in case you missed it, even in as sugary a confection as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” sobbed over by millions every Christmas season, some raw truth creeps in. Jimmy Stewart’s run-in with Bert the cop ends with Stewart running madly away in the snow and good old Bert pulling out his pistol and firing several times, trying to hit Stewart in the back and putting at risk pedestrians up and down the charming street. That’s the truest scene in the film.

And that is America. Fine-tuning and tears are about as fitting for the state of America as they would be on the Russian Front in World War II, the most horrendous conflict in all of human history in which 27 million Soviets and millions of Germans perished.

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

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.