Archive for the ‘SOCIAL DARWINISM’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: UNCANNY PARALLELS IN CHARACTER – NETANYAHU AND HITLER

 

UNCANNY PARALLELS IN CHARACTER

John Chuckman

I’m not one of those who scribble blunt little mustaches on pictures of politicians I dislike, but here I make some uncomfortable and I believe accurate observations comparing personality and character traits of a contemporary politician with one of history’s darkest figures.

I don’t know whether anyone else has noticed the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolph Hitler share uncomfortably similar personality and character traits. Certainly there are, and have been, other politicians who also share the same traits, but it is of particular concern today that a man of this nature dominates events in the Middle East. In the case of Hitler we can read about his personality and character in any of a number of scholarly biographies and histories of World War II. In the case of Netanyahu, we can see them displayed on the world stage despite an immense amount effort by public relations flaks and apologists to airbrush them. We have also, something we do not always have for contemporaries, the first-hand testimony of several world figures about key aspects of his behavior to which we wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.

One of Hitler’s most prominent traits was a driving will, really a consuming obsession, to re-build the world he inhabited into a place which conformed to his wishes, illusions, and prejudices. He was, if you will, the dangerous ideologue or dreamer par excellence. Several sweeping idees fixes dominated his thinking.

Identifying with Germany rather than the small country of his origin, Austria, he wanted to see that nation become as great and powerful as possible. Caught in the general blind enthusiasm when World War I was declared, he volunteered for service with Germany. He served with decorated bravery, receiving serious wounds, and ended with crushing disappointment over Germany’s defeat. Within a few years, if not earlier in private, he began thinking of himself as Germany’s man of destiny to lead the nation to future victory, making up for the humiliations of World War I. Undoubtedly, his own odd early life, full of humiliations for a man who always regarded himself as quite special, undoubtedly contributed force to his thinking.

Hitler was a supreme narcissist, one who came eventually around to regarding himself in messianic terms with regard to the German people and their future. As with all narcissists who gain authority through their skills and charm – yes, Hitler could be quite charming in private as many contemporaries have testified – it is easy for them to slip into sociopathic behavior. Lying and dissimulation were as natural as breathing for Hitler, and again as with all narcissists, there was no sense of wrong-doing but rather a sense of success in fooling others to serve his purposes. These qualities are not unknown in the politics of other democratic states, and we observe them in everyday life in fields such as finance or big-time selling.

Hitler was famous for the terrifying rages he could throw in private. Sometimes they were employed against generals or officials who raised objections to an idea or plan of his. It was a favorite method he used on the leaders of foreign states from whom he tried to extract concessions during a crisis negotiation. One can almost picture him sometime after the raging meeting, relaxing in private, laughing about the poor shocked witnesses. The rages were undoubtedly often genuine but they were also a part he played, and played quite convincingly.

Psychiatric studies of Hitler fail to find a psychotic mind. He was not mad, which of course makes his acts all the more frightening. It is easy to dismiss the violent acts of madmen, but the banality of evil is a far less predictable force in human society.

Hitler understood that America’s sheer size in population and resources made her very powerful through huge internal markets and economies of scale, and he wanted to achieve the same status for Germany. His central idea for doing so from his earliest days was the conquest of Russia, whose great resources and lands would be exploited by Germans and whose Slav population would be reduced to slavery. The world’s German people, according to his thinking, would then flourish and increase their numbers. His ideas about Russia had in part a fairly old lineage, there having been many past schemes and efforts to connect German know-how with Russian resources. Many thinkers in the world at the time saw Germany as the most important economic, scientific, and cultural force in Europe and saw Russia as an immense place inhabited by less enlightened people. All of his early victories in Europe were in preparation for the great Russian assault, many of them taken in reaction to those who sought to stop him.

Of course, Hitler’s thinking in such matters as the conquest of Russia was never just straightforward or analytical, being always blurred with a deep sense of values, almost a mysticism, related to early German mythology. Embracing the barbarism represented in these stories was his way of freeing himself of constraints he saw in German society holding back its progress, and embrace it he did.

Hitler had what all educated people today would regard as crackpot ideas about the nature of human biology, but they actually did not seem quite so far out in the 1920-30s when general understanding of such matters was rudimentary. Terms like race purification were not heard only from Hitler but from a surprising assortment of people in the West. The “land of the free,” for example, had government eugenics programs well before Nazi Germany, programs in which tens of thousands of American citizens were involuntarily sterilized, having been judged unfit for reproduction. Many famous American business barons supported these and other related views and policies, most notably Henry Ford who wrote openly, among other things, of the need for eugenics and of his visceral hatred of Jews. Hitler actually kept a photo of Ford in his Chancellery office. Other Americans who went out of their way to demonstrate sympathy with the Nazis included Prescott Bush, Randolph Hearst, Irénée Du Pont, Henry Luce, Joseph Kennedy, John Rockefeller, Thomas J. Watson, Charles Lindbergh, plus a host of executives in major American corporations who did business with the Nazis and generally regarded them exactly as Hitler regarded himself, as a bulwark against communism and social chaos.

Hitler’s views on race and people were twisted outgrowths of his brutal – he liked that term, considering it a compliment to his hard-nosed insight and rejection of sentimentality – views on the economy and the state. Despite using the word socialist as part of the name of his party, Hitler was a social Darwinist, a philosophy shared in one degree or another by many influential Americans even today from corporate leaders and “think tank” flaks to the Tea Party and many so-called libertarians. He used the term socialist as just one lure for support in the chaos of Germany from the 1920s into the early 1930s, a time when he tried fervently to be elected to office, something he never achieved (about 37% of the vote at his high-water mark, eventually being appointed as Chancellor by an aged President), but he used the term also because he felt always the state had the right and obligation to interfere in the economy to serve greater ends. Not a few Americans embrace the same view, so long as the areas of concern are limited to the military, the national security apparatus, or the well-being of huge corporations – with none of which Hitler would have disagreed.

He viewed the military as the supreme tool of the state, and he once said, when reminded many young men would die, that that was what they were for. Through the early- and mid-1930s, he built formidable new armed forces in Germany which put him in a position eventually to carry out his dream. In the end, Hitler did achieve something out of ancient Germanic mythology, not the part he wanted but something terrible which destroyed the lives of tens of millions, Gotterdammerung.

Netanyahu is also something of a transplant, having been born in Israel but having spent many years in the United States. His English has an American accent.

Netanyahu is notorious for his lying and his rages. While the general public often would not be able to detect all of the lies, those involving confidential or secret matters, we have the extraordinary testimony of former presidents Clinton and Sarkozy as well President Obama that you cannot believe one word that Netanyahu utters. He spins whole webs of lies to get what he wants or to avoid what he doesn’t want. I think it pretty clear that anytime he uses the words peace or a Palestinian state, he is lying. President Obama, in his earlier dealings with Netanyahu and before he was quite reduced to a spineless servant of powerful lobbyists, actually said he did not believe Netanyahu wanted peace. Certainly every step of Netanyahu’s political career supports the perception, from his early rejection of the Oslo Accords to his mass slaughter of fenced-in civilians in Gaza. Yes, he has made speeches about peace, but then so did Hitler who made a speech about peace in the 1930s, William Shirer called one of the greatest ever made.

His rages, at least some of them, are public knowledge. You may easily search for pictures on the Internet of Netanyahu shouting, finger pointing, red in the face, and virtually spitting with his eyes bulging like those of some ancient Asian warlord in a scroll painting. As was the case sometimes with Hitler, some of the rages may be deliberate acts but that does not make them any less frightening.

Netanyahu also adheres to a mythology, the biblical myths about the Promised Land and the narcissistic stuff about God’s chosen people, and that expression “God’s chosen people” is frightfully reminiscent of Hitler’s vision of the Germanic people. So far as I am aware, Netanyahu has not used that expression in public, but belief in it is implicit in so much that he does. It certainly is implicit in the very concept of claiming the ancient land of Israel as belonging to you and your people. People may be forgiven for believing such things in private as part of their religious faith, but when they provide templates for a state and its policies, they are utterly pernicious nonsense. Also, Netanyahu is known to have uttered in private and in not-so-private situations many contemptuous expressions describing Palestinians and Arabs.

There is a second layer of myth in Netanyahu’s thinking, one just as fantasy-like as Hitler’s Germanic myths, and that is the idea that he and his fellow countrymen are descended from the biblical Hebrews. The Ashkenazi Jews who are the bone and sinew of modern Israel are simply a European people, the name Ashkenazi meaning German. Recent DNA tests suggest the Ashkenazi trace to a woman from around Italy who migrated to Germany maybe a thousand years ago. Other tests suggest Ashkenazi origins as the Kazhars, a Caucasian tribe who were converted to Judaism and lived in and around modern Ukraine a thousand years ago, later migrating west, settling in a number of Eastern and Central lands. Some of the early Zionists and future Israeli politicians were well aware of this latter possibility, there being many suggestive clues in language and cultural artifacts, because they wrote and spoke of it. In all events, the native language of many Ashkenazi people is Yiddish, a hybrid of German evolved over a very long period. Hebrew has long been studied in the Hebrew schools associated with temples in many places as part of religious observance the same way many Muslims learn some Arabic and by biblical scholars in universities, but until it was artificially imposed on Israel, it was virtually a dead language spoken day-to-day by no one.

There is no record of the original Hebrew people of the Bible having been expelled en masse from Palestine, and such behavior was totally uncharacteristic of the Romans. The Romans faced many ferocious enemies in their conquests – the Celts, the Gauls, Germanic tribes, and others – as well as many people whose customs they regarded as barbarous, but they did not expel any of them en masse, or the Roman Empire would have been very thinly populated with no agricultural economic base to pay the taxes and tributes Rome always exacted. The stories of an expelled people wandering about here and there for ages are certainly as fanciful as the older Hebrew stories of Jonah or Lott’s wife or slavery in Egypt (which not one bit of archeological evidence has ever confirmed). All such stories are just as unsuitable to claiming territory as the Teutonic myths would be.

And they are particularly unsuitable to claiming a place already long populated by another group of people. In saying this, I do not question the existence of Israel, just its belligerent expansion. I do believe supporting its 1948 unilateral declaration was a matter of poor judgment and political skulduggery, particularly by the United States, because it created something completely not-in-keeping with its environment and a source of future ceaseless hostilities. But the mistake was made, and the world can accept an Israel which keeps to its early boundaries and behaves civilly to its neighbors – and that includes the Palestinians and even Hamas, it being a Netanyahu lie that Hamas will never do so since it has already said in private that it will. The problem is precisely that Netanyahu’s Israel does not want to keep those boundaries. The creation of Greater Israel is something we see underway year in and year out, slowly and brutally doing something not entirely different to what Hitler had dreamed of for Russia, taking the land and reducing its natives to slaves or people with no status and rights, untermensch, as he called them dismissively.

Some Israelis compare what they are doing to Palestinians with North America’s treatment of indigenous people, but that is an entirely false comparison. All indigenous people in Canada and America are citizens, and they may go to live and work where they wish. That is certainly not what Palestinians under Israeli control experience, nor is it what the Netanyahu-minded of Israel have in mind for the future, demanding always recognition as an exclusively Jewish state, a seemingly simple formulation which hides a multitude of potential evils. In any event, comparing the ethics of your behavior in the early 21st century to what others did in the 18th century – a time of general slavery, inferiority of women, and capital punishment for modest crimes – is a ridiculous proposition.

Although he has never declared so in public, judging by the totality of his aggressive acts and seizures with flimsy excuses, Netanyahu is dedicated to some form of Greater Israel, an Israel which includes the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem and even parts of Syria and Lebanon in most definitions. The Six Day war was deliberately engineered by like-minded Israelis earlier to lay the foundation of a future grander state. Netanyahu has never indicated disagreement with what was done. The millions of people who live in those places now are either to simply pick up and leave everything behind – going someplace, any place, Jordan or the Sinai having featured in Israel’s wishes at times – or accept perpetual existence as nonentities living in unconnected reservations behind walls and fences and earning their living as cheap temporary labor for Israel. If Netanyahu did not embrace this vision, he has had plenty of opportunity to end the nearly half century of repressive occupation but has never made the smallest effort to do so, only adding his own large-scale confiscation of more peoples’ homes and farms and a terrible, bloody investment and invasion of the open-air prison of Gaza. And when soldiers in the occupation zones kill innocent people, as they frequently do for slight provocations, they are never held to account, so too in the case of fanatical “settlers” who periodically swarm poor Palestinian farmers, chopping down or burning ancient olive trees or other property. Netanyahu’s voice is never once heard against outrages.

Netanyahu’s version of Greater Israel is a place that influences events and peoples around it for a thousand miles, as it already is doing in its early days, which is why the people of Egypt again live under American-influenced tyranny, the people of Syria are fighting armed madmen owing in part to Israel’s dark collusion, Iraq is left a broken and bleeding state, as is Libya, and Iran, which has started no wars and never threatened Israel, is threatened regularly in ugly rants from Netanyahu much resembling those of Hitler aimed at Czechoslovakia or other non-offending states he was eventually to destroy. It is of course to be a Greater Israel only for one kind of people. Those living in the occupied territories are kept miserably uncomfortable in hopes they will leave. Even the Arabs who are citizens of Israel – an unintended accident of events in 1948 and a purely technical status for them – are undoubtedly seen as leaving one day after living under the duress, as they do, of unequal laws and frequent attacks on their loyalty, especially once Israel has formal recognition as a Jewish state. Can you image a better formula for endless war and instability, a formula strongly resembling Hitler’s vision of Greater Germany, ending his rhetorical thousand year Reich in just twelve years?

Just as was the case for Hitler, Netanyahu is not a majority leader, his government depending on alliances with some even more unpleasant, extremist personalities, as for example his present Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who has made outrageously racist speeches and openly suggested pushing Israel’s non-Jewish citizens out of their homes. This sly pattern of underlings making distasteful suggestions represents a game Hitler, too, played. He did not always go on record himself saying the most terrible things. He often let lieutenants say them, observing to see the strength and direction of public reaction. All reasonable people will agree that the leader of a country must be held responsible for what his ministers say, unless the leader refutes the words in public and dismisses the offending minister, something we do not see from Netanyahu.

Again, looking for pictures on the Internet, it is not hard to find some of Netanyahu suggesting the ability sometimes to charm with a sly smile and inviting gestures. Here we also have the testimony of some world figures. He is apparently able to be quite charming in private, while at the same time lying through his teeth. The narcissism is clear.

The army too is the primary tool of state for Netanyahu. He himself served, was wounded, and he expects others to do so uncomplainingly, including those with religious objections. Israel spends an inordinate amount of money – its own and a great deal from others – on armed forces which are immensely out of proportion to its size and legitimate needs – that is, if you aren’t thinking in terms of conquest and occupation and arrogant demands, just exactly the terms which characterize Netanyahu’s entire career.

One of the interpretations of Hitler’s statesmanship and conquests, that of a modern biographer, Ian Kershaw, sees him as having been an obsessive high-rolling gambler who just kept raising the stakes until luck abandoned him. I actually cannot think of a better description of Netanyahu’s entire political career.

More than a few well known observers have said that Netanyahu quite possibly will end by destroying Israel, something I regard as distinctly possible, a parallel to Hitler’s Gotterdammerung for Germany. And in the meantime, countless people will be threatened, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured, or killed needlessly over a set of feverish, unrealistic obsessions.

Apologists for Israel often say that it acts with great restraint in its violence. Yes, Israel has not murdered the millions who live under its endless occupation, and in that limited sense only does Israel show restraint. Hitler murdered millions, but he did so largely in secret and under cover of the bloodiest war in all of human history, the invasion of Russia. The whole world watches Israel, even though Israel does a great deal to make observation and reportage difficult. But Israel works under conflicting impulses. It desperately wants to be considered as an open, modern, and democratic society, notions promoted in Netanyahu’s every speech aimed or delivered abroad and through truckloads of slick propaganda. It must be mindful of attracting immigrants and avoiding an exodus. It simply isn’t possible to completely shut the world out without Israel imploding, and it is hardly a merit not to have imitated Hitler.

But, remember, Israel has kept millions as prisoners for nearly half a century, depriving them of all rights, depriving them of property, offering them no hope, and terrorizing them with periodic home invasions, attacks, and atrocities. Freely-elected members of Palestinian governments have been arrested, leaders have been assassinated, and thousands of innocents at any given time languish in Israeli prisons where torture is common. The Palestinians have experienced such horrors as water wells poisoned, human waste dumped or sprayed, crops poisoned or otherwise destroyed, shops bulldozed, children shot for throwing rocks, and an entire police-state apparatus of check-points and identity papers and outrageous rules imposed twenty-four hours a day. There is nothing in Israel’s behavior resembling ethics or human values or even a genuine democratic impulse, and calling it restraint ranks as some of the world’s sickest humor.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: AS I LAY DYING

Posted June 5, 2009 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: HITLER’S SHADOW AND THE COMING STORM

HITLER’S SHADOW AND THE COMING STORM

John Chuckman

Despite many differences, there are striking parallels between Bush’s invasion of Iraq and Hitler’s invasion of Russia, and understanding these parallels serves to warn of the coming storm Bush is calling down upon all of us.

Hitler’s decision to invade Russia was a horrific turning point in history, certainly the most consequential decision of the twentieth century and likely the most destructive in all of history. We still live with some of its terrible results.

In material terms, America’s invasion of Iraq cannot be compared to the invasion of Russia. Germany took on a gigantic opponent, arrogantly regarded as its inferior in civilization and technology.

America’s invasion was of a country with one-twelfth its population and, of more importance from a military point of view, with roughly one-twelfth its per capita income. America’s tiny victim was sick, too, with water systems, electricity, and other vital infrastructure demolished by the first Gulf War, ten years of sporadic bombing by U.S. planes supposedly enforcing a no-fly zone, and a cruel embargo which took countless lives.

Germany greatly underestimated Russia’s strength. Hitler said privately it would all be over in three weeks. Naturally, with the prevailing ethos of “working towards the Fuehrer,” more accurate assessments had a limited constituency. Besides encountering what must rank as the most heroic human resistance in history, the Germans were shocked to find that the Russians were not quite so backward after all, the T-34 tank for example proving superior to much of German armor. The invasion of Russia gave us history’s most terrible battle, Stalingrad, and its greatest tank battle, Kursk. It left 27 million Soviets dead, a loss that dwarfs the loss of any other country in any war.

The military capability of Iraq was grotesquely over-stated before America’s invasion. Iraq’s actual capabilities were well known to a number of experts, including weapons inspectors, intelligence services, and a number of international agencies and governments – not just its lack of sophisticated weapons but the terrible state of its basic infrastructure and the sheer physical exhaustion of its people. Informed voices were literally drowned out by propaganda and manipulation. Skewed editorials, planted news stories, deliberately provocative opinion pieces, forged evidence, and phony expert books tumbled from all the outlets of America’s Ministry of Truth to make the declared enemy seem far more menacing than he was.

Bush has quickly managed to forget weapons that never existed, but to this day he continues to deliberately, falsely blur terrorism with the invasion of Iraq, although every informed person on earth knows that absolute governments like Hussein’s are the most unfriendly to terrorism or any other “ism.”

Both Bush and Hitler came to office determined in favor of invasion. Their decisions reflected no informed judgment of new developments or the discoveries of intelligence services. It was quite the opposite in both cases. We know Hitler viewed the western Soviet Union in precisely the same way that the early United States viewed western North America – as a vast reservoir of resources and an expanse promising immense economies of scale for future agriculture and industry. He wrote about these matters as he served a brief prison term for the 1923 putsch. And his thinking on this was not original. There had been Germans of the extreme right – politicians, military men, journalists, and others – who thought in these terms for decades.

The decisions in neither case reflected genuine assessments of the risk involved. Hitler’s risk was immense, as events proved. The only risk Bush saw was the alienation of constituencies for which his political circle already had only contempt. There was never any question whether America could defeat Iraq’s armed forces. An apt comparison for the invasion might be a dozen well-fed bullies beating up one poor, crippled man.

Of course, Bush’s genuine risks, the ones of which he took no account whatever, were also large but longer-term. Unthinking people tend to ignore the long term and anything requiring some imagination. You might be able quickly to defeat Iraq’s army, but could you defeat an angry people humiliated by the squalid mess America made of their country? Could you stop the intense sense of injustice and anger at such treatment sweeping through the Islamic world? Could you keep American forces occupying Iraq for years to come? Could you stop the deep unease felt by many old allies at such high-handed tactics?

We know from good anecdotes that from the beginning of his administration, Bush was ready to invade Iraq were there an opportunity, and we know from the Downing Street Memos that Bush realized he had been given his opportunity after 9/11. After all, the Neo-cons, upon whom he seems to depend for his only association with anything superficially intellectual, had advocated an invasion for a decade as the way to end America’s complicated, nasty involvement with Iraq. And nothing could better please the majority of American Jews, who traditionally support Democrats, than knocking out Israel’s most implacable foe. I think many Neo-cons advising Bush, apart from their usual sheer relish in advocating military force, probably believed an invasion offered the foundation for a new national political coalition in the United States. In this at least they may have been correct.

Strategic thinking clearly is not part of Bush’s mental endowment, but the Neo-cons stand ever ready to supply the deficiency. It wouldn’t take great arguments to convince Bush because always in the background, there was Bush’s murky relationship with his father, predisposing a weak son towards one-upmanship and revenge. We don’t know for sure, but Hitler’s fairly successful and apparently brutal father, may well have helped set him on the path of destruction.

Attacking a relatively insignificant country is an easy way in America for a shabby politician to gain credentials for strength and determination, Americans already possessing considerable suspicion and contempt for the strange ways of faraway places. It’s a tired old political act, performed many times, but it still works.

Hitler and many Germans viewed Russia as a threat, one that could only grow over time as the Soviet Union developed economically. The invasion was justified in terms of stopping a menace before it became unstoppable. Long before the invasion, Hitler repeatedly appealed to the prejudices of Western countries concerning the horrors of a growing Bolshevik monster. Bush’s obtuse “Doctrine” concerning pre-emptive attacks on those regarded as threats is an exact mimicry of Hitler’s attitude towards Russia.

Hitler’s way of explaining to Germans his vision for gaining resources and the economies of scale to assure Germany’s future greatness was the word “lebensraum.” He hoped to duplicate the economic advantages of America’s size through a single great stroke in Russia.

Bush’s invasion was supported by a more modern and limited notion of lebensraum. Generally over the last half century of America’s world ascendancy, force is no longer used to extend the lands under direct American rule. There are minor exceptions, but directly ruling large additional portions of the world would be costly, inefficient, and often counterproductive. America’s homeland long ago reached a size adequate to guarantee it many future economic advantages. Locals may rule abroad so long as they do not question American policies and privileges. Force is used to intimidate or eliminate those who disagree.

The reason for the invasion of Iraq was to crush Israel’s chief opponent, a man who regularly put difficulties in the path of American freedom of action in the region, while putting great oil resources into friendlier hands and striking terror into any Middle Eastern leaders in whose hearts might lurk such evil as questioning America’s role. Bush and the Neo-cons like to talk of this last effect as bringing democracy to the region, but there is no basis for accepting such fatuous language. You don’t “bring” democracy to people, especially by killing large numbers of them and building air bases on their territory. We may be sure the Neo-cons will be happy to see the region’s clutch of suitably intimidated presidents-for-life and princes continue with their ways altered just enough to make Washington feel no sense of challenge.

Hitler gave no serious thought about how Germany would manage the tens of millions of Slavs falling under his rule. The long-term prospects, even had the invasion proved more successful, were not bright. Talk about reducing them to slavery to serve the Reich was easy enough, but just what would be entailed in such a vast scheme? The migration of Germans into the region, pushing Slavs from their homes, also would be a vast and long-term project. Would the German army have to occupy these lands in force indefinitely? Would they fight guerilla war for decades against enraged people? Perhaps some awareness of these problems generated Hitler’s demand for absolute ruthlessness in the conquered territories. Whole categories of people and officials were murdered outright. Prisoners were treated with no regard for law or humanity.

Bush faces something of the same problems on a smaller scale, and all indications are that little thought or planning was given to them. Hussein’s party had spent decades favoring friendly and tribal groups over the Shia majority and the Kurds. Huge amounts of land had been redistributed to the favored, and the original owners want their places back. The pressure on the U.S. would be all the greater since any effort to even begin establishing democratic institutions, Hussein’s repressed majority would be the people with whom you must work.

The Sunni whom Hussein favored are naturally at the heart of the fierce resistance movement that now has emerged. They not only lost their favored positions and good jobs but face the possibility of losing homes or farms. The resistance has in turn created such feared conditions that little progress has been made to repairing the vast destruction done to the country. Bombings in the occupied country within a week of the London Underground bombing killed many times as many people. People are still without work and without such basics as dependable electrical service. They must stay in broken homes without electricity, in fierce temperatures, avoiding the streets. All this might well have been anticipated, but thoughtless ideologues aren’t interested in such gritty realities when they launch their grand schemes at the expense of others.

American forces may not be engaging in assembly-line murder, but their behavior has been deplorable. The worst horrors of Abu Ghraib prison have been kept secret, including the rape of children. A gulag of secret prisons has been established in several locations of the world, including Afghanistan and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and nobody knows what goes on in these places. Activities at the Guantanamo torture chamber, approved and supported at the highest levels of the American government, rightly have damned any claims the nation has as being a leader in human rights. The CIA has such an extensive system of transportation for torture abroad there is a special name for it, rendition. The CIA also has murdered suspects. The disappearance of about three thousand Afghan prisoners still has received no official explanation, although witnesses say they were horribly murdered by warlords with American troops quietly watching. No one should forget Rumsfeld’s Reinhard Heydrich-like statement at about that time that prisoners in Afghanistan should be done away with or walled away for life.

Hitler was a fervent believer in raw Social Darwinism. He actually was a convert to a form of brutal paganism, captivated by the notion that brutality offered the necessary infusion of strength for a people somewhat enfeebled by the ethical norms of his time. He regarded Christianity as a weakness, although he could not openly speak that way. He often clearly misjudged who in fact were the fittest, but his enthusiasm was palpable when talking of the necessity for his generation of Germans to show utter ruthlessness in order to earn future greatness.

The talk of American Neo-cons is more tempered, but it comes from exactly the same moral and intellectual root stock. Social Darwinism and worship of force are conspicuously on display in Washington. Rather than hating Christianity, the Neo-cons have harnessed it, at least a substantial American portion of it, to their purposes.

Importantly, the Neo-cons have different Christian material with which to work: America’s fundamentalists display many attitudes and behaviors more in keeping with paganism than Christianity. This is particularly true when it comes to war and the military. America’s Jesus, the one embraced by millions of fundamentalists, seems to be heartily cheered by war. He doesn’t appear to oppose hate either since preaching against groups like gays comes pretty close to an obsession for many of His most prominent ministers. He can’t be opposed to money changers in the temple because that’s the main work of all those financial empire-building evangelists.

The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is not isolated. Reports of American troops recently firing on Syrian troops along the border intensify concerns about threats towards Syria and Iran, and although the ongoing mess in Iraq makes another invasion seem unlikely that says nothing of other aggressive or surreptitious acts. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that 9/11 was a direct result of the CIA’s huge dirty war in Afghanistan and that Al Qaeda is – or was, for I doubt its continued existence as an organization despite silly reports that somewhere on the Internet it continues taking credit for many acts – in great part an American creation.

What the Neo-cons call terror is not the true focus of their frenetic efforts. What they are after is control over change in key parts of the world that are now changing rather quickly. And their concern is not just with western Asia. China has become the target of new verbal attacks in Washington. American politicians, always friendly to foreign ownership so long as it is Americans doing the buying, have made ridiculous statements about China’s efforts to buy North American companies, particularly Unocal.

The Neo-con’s idea of a globalized world is one in which America owns all that it wishes abroad while getting to choose which nations abroad are acceptable to own something in America. This is quite revealing of the nature of their commitment to a globalized world, not a world of international give and take, relatively free trade, and fairly negotiated agreements but a world which operates by a biased set of rules laid down and enforced by the United States. It is free trade and internationalism according to the arrogant and oleaginous Thomas Friedman.

It occurs to me, part of the attitudes now on display in Washington go back a very long time, far before the Cold War. The cliff-hanger movie serials of the 1930s were filled with them. From Ming the Merciless, ruler of the planet Mongol, in Flash Gordon to the Dragon Lady of Terry and the Pirates, China has been a troubling psychological presence in the American mind. Western Asia featured heavily, too, in serials about the Foreign Legion. An early one, called The Three Musketeers, had an American adventurer-pilot (John Wayne, in an early role) throwing in his lot with a group of Legionnaires somewhere on the Sahara fighting the evil of one El Shaitan, head of a secret organization called the Devil’s Circle opposed to the French. Everything about this pot-boiler prefigured the saga of Osama and Al Qaeda by half a century. Most interestingly, the secret identity of El Shaitan turned out to be some kind of vaguely western merchant.

The recent words of Rumsfeld on the threat of China’s new build-up of arms read almost like black humor. Here is a man a man who has presided over two invasions, a man who actually called for killing prisoners, a man who supports torture, a man who encourages a new generation of “usable” nuclear weapons, and a man who has a military budget greater than the combined military spending of half the planet, expressing concern over China’s modernizing of some of its military forces. Washington’s just-announced plans for nuclear cooperation with India are threats aimed directly towards China.

Ironically, important parts of China’s modernization, more and longer-range missiles, represent precisely the response experts warned Washington of if it insisted on proceeding with its high-risk project for missile defense which, of course, carries a threat of neutralizing the nuclear deterrents of China and Russia. Russia earlier had announced a dramatic new technology for its long-range warheads to avoid interception as a response to the same American developments. Other parts of China’s build-up reflect concerns over American threats to block China’s claim to Taiwan, a claim Washington accepted in writing under Nixon, but one over which Neo-cons today are making all kinds of threatening noises.

American hostility towards China is all the more fascinating since China with regard to the external world has been a relatively peaceful country for half a century. Over that same time, America has chalked up dozens of bloody interventions and wars. Fifty-five years ago, when China did enter the Korean War, it was only after strenuous efforts to warn Washington that MacArthur’s army must not approach North Korea’s main border with China, the Yalu River, warnings that simply were ignored.

Bush’s Washington has been periodically bellicose towards China from the beginning, taking cues from the Neo-cons who singled out a rising China years ago as a potential case for Cartago delenda est. But now the pace of threatening gestures and remarks is becoming steadier and more dangerous. Any one who knows anything about modern China understands that serious American efforts to undermine China’s claim to Taiwan will result in conflict. The case is just as certain as someone provoking the United States by claiming California is ready for independence and actively working to promote it. This does not necessarily mean all-out war, for the Chinese are subtle and understand American technical superiority (for now) in advanced weapons. There are many ways for China to strike at the United States, including at the extreme of allowing some of its excellent missile technology and nuclear know-how to fall to the spies of hostile lands.

Bush is working hard to give us a world characterized by divisiveness, resentments, suspicions, and violence because that is the kind of world in which America may freely act as arbiter, seeming to stand above the turmoil like Zeus with his thunderbolts. In part this derives from lack of understanding, in part arrogance, but control over the lives and institutions of others is the greatest motivator for Bush, just as it was for Hitler. Of course, he believes, or pretends to believe, that he is working towards a world of peace and democratic values, but it is to be a world where peace, democracy, and rights are defined exclusively on his terms. Recent events in London and earlier in Spain show exactly what Bush’s legacy is to be, a world full of people seething with resentment over what the U.S. has done, angry and frustrated enough to attack even those browbeaten and bribed into the fatuous Coalition of the Willing. The London bombers appear to have been home-grown, not imported. Moreover we live in a world, particularly considering Eastern and Western Asia, where there are far more of “them” than “us.”

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

“I spent 33 years in the Marines. Most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

USMC Major General Smedley Butler

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: HATING AMERICA   Leave a comment

HATING AMERICA

John Chuckman

Recently there has been a thunderous outburst of accusations about “hating America” with lightning strokes crackling towards France and Germany. Some of this storm front rattled into Canada when a member of Parliament, upset over Mr. Bush’s relentless demand for war, made the mistake of muttering an aside about hating Americans, a statement which any thoughtful person understood immediately as frustration rather than hatred.

But how is it even possible to hate so vast and complex a thing as America?

America is sweaty, droning backwaters, and it is great institutions of research and culture. America is shameful ghettos and shantytowns, and it is Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and Frederick Law Olmstead. It is the hateful shouting of right-wing radio personalities, and it is Studs Terkel reminiscing on great past events. It is Know Nothings, and it is Lincoln; lynchings and Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. It is “freedom-loving” Patriots who bought, sold, and beat slaves, ran Loyalists out of the country and stole their property when they didn’t just burn them out, and it is Benjamin Franklin. It is local sheriffs enjoying petty tyrannies, gangs running neighborhoods, crooked politicians fixing elections, and it is the Bill of Rights. It is a churning sea of selfishness and unprincipled grasping, a hideous noise of marketing and insincerity, and it is sacrifice and devotion to principles. America has a character historian Page Smith called, in a usage that is now dated and inaccurate but still understandable, “schizophrenic.”

One of the threads holding together the vast, chaotic, noisy battle that is America is the simplistic patriotism instilled like religious fervor with anthems, uniformed marching bands, baton twirlers, slogans, color guards, and a pledge foisted on children that has always smacked of what one expects in authoritarian societies.

Patriotic excess has at least two roots. One is the desire by those with power to hold this explosive thing called America together and to use its resources and influence to their own ends. Thus we almost never see figures like George Bush or Dick Cheney without American flag pins on their lapels and big American flags as backdrops to speeches, as though one could possibly forget what country they come from. These symbols are being used as powerful totems. You can’t sneer at the flag even when it is a pathetic mediocrity or an essentially evil figure wrapping himself in it.

The other root is the almost excruciating sensitivity many Americans feel about their national identity. This is something one expects to find in any young and raw society, but America does appear a bit slow in maturing beyond it. Undoubtedly, the discomforting nature (for some) of a highly diverse population whose composition actually keeps changing provides a retarding effect. So, too, does America’s crude social Darwinism. This is a land where it is not hard to find a lot of loneliness and anger, people ready to embrace those chest-thumping moments of presumed society.

Of course, a confident individual doesn’t need to strut or brag or threaten. Brash patriotic displays reveal a childish need for constant reassurance. This doubt and uncertainty is a theme running through American history with, for example, the highly self-conscious efforts of the Concord Group about seeing an American literature created, or with authors like Henry James, T.S. Elliot, or James Baldwin effectively fleeing either the excesses or the cultural sterility of their native land.

That is the more charitable explanation, and I believe it holds for the most part. But there also is that dark corner of the American soul with its attraction to fascism. After all, fascism represents in part a desire for certainty and predictability. Perhaps only the Hitler-tinged figures of the world feel the need for a vast dumb-show of patriotism every time they give a speech or make an appearance, and I believe what we see in George Bush who is more given over to this display than most American presidents hints at something quite dark and fearful.

Many outsiders do not understand that in American society, two or more great and divergent currents run simultaneously at all times on most issues. I refer to something more profound than the existence of two political parties, neither of which stands for any great principles. For example, many think of America as the land of casualness, lack of formality, hatred of bureaucracy, and the embrace of the individual. And in part, they are right, but only in part.

At the same time that noisy right-wing hacks blubber night and day about unlimited individualism, Americans in their ordinary lives experience some of the world’s more intense spasms of mindless bureaucracy and anti-liberalism, often the result of legislation created by the very same right-wing forces with their seemingly irresistible desire for control.

As any potential immigrant, even the spouse of an American citizen ostensibly entitled to live in the country, soon learns, the paperwork, restrictions, and bureaucratic hurdles of legal immigration to the United States are formidable, ungenerous, and costly, something that was true even before 9/11.

As anyone who has taken a mortgage in the United States knows, the transaction involves one of the largest and most complex piles of paperwork that can be imagined. Something like an inch-thick stack of legalistic documents no ordinary person can hope to understand must be signed.

As anyone who has filed income tax in the United States knows, the forms and rules must rank as among the ugliest, most complex, and indecipherable on the planet.

And, of course, there are the many intrusive, blundering public and secret agencies with which America abounds. The FBI, the NSA, the CIA, the ATF, the DEA, Homeland Security, military intelligence, naval intelligence, State Department intelligence, state and urban police security agencies, the INS…. New ones are created regularly, especially when right-wing extremists enjoy power as they do now.

Albert Einstein wrote to a friend in 1947, “America has changed…. It has become pretty military and aggressive. The fear of Russia is the means of making it digestible to the plebs.” Since Einstein was a refugee from Nazi Germany and always displayed great sensitivity to signs of authoritarianism, his words offer an important historical insight to distinct change in the external policies of the United States. What has followed is a long series of colonial wars and interventions, a remarkable portion of which have been unsuccessful and pointlessly bloody or have resulted in the establishment of tyrannies. It is not hard for a thinking person to find things to “hate” here without reflecting on any broader concepts of America.

As for what Canadians represent, I can only think of Canada fighting Hitler two years before America, suffering in World War Two about twice as many deaths per capita as Americans did. I think of America’s kidnapped diplomats in Iran and the brave Canadian diplomat who hid some of them from danger. I think of the wonderful people of Newfoundland generously, without charge, putting up hundreds American air-travelers grounded for days following 9/11. I think of the many generous gifts Canadians sent to 9/11 families. I think of Toronto sending a fleet of men and equipment to Buffalo, New York, when it was buried in seven feet of snow.

Anyone with sense would be grateful for a neighbor like that, but Canadians still have no use for your damned war.