Skip navigation

Tag Archives: TERROR AND WAR ON TERROR

 

RUNAWAY TRAIN

America’s election and its inability to alter the nation’s deadly course

 

John Chuckman

 

America is engaged in another of its sprawling and costly national election campaigns. A few of the events, such as the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa Caucus, I’m sure have participants seeing themselves as Thomas Jefferson’s sturdy yeomen doing their civic duty. But such humble and misty-eyed tableaux can be deceiving for the big picture is quite disturbing, including, as it does, billions of dollars spent and a lot of noise generated about things which will not change in any outcome.

America is, despite all the noise and expense of its election campaigns, not a democracy, and, as the world’s greatest imperial power, it is not a place which genuinely honors human rights, either at home or abroad although its politicians never stop talking about them. It is a country controlled by wealth whose purpose is the acquisition of still more wealth, equipped with a military that in scores of wars and interventions has fought, arguably, precisely once for the country’s defense.

It marked a fateful time in the modern era when America, under Harry Truman, decided to partner with the emerging state of Israel, a very fateful time indeed. Today much of the Middle East is in ruins, whole states and societies have been destroyed, at least a million have died, and some of the world’s great archeological and historical treasures have been destroyed as though by a gang of gleeful wanton young men.

Accompanying America’s long march of destruction through the Middle East – the work both of its own armed forces and of various proxies – has been the rise of a phenomenon called international terrorism. Our newspapers and broadcasters all focus on this last, leaving the preceding great acts of destruction unquestioned. After all, America’s much-consolidated press is an industry like any other and is owned by a relatively small number of wealthy people, and it depends upon good relations with other great industries for its revenue and with the government for its operating environment. It never questions policies, no matter how brutal, and it never scrutinizes what those policies are doing to people. America’s major allies all carry on in exactly the same fashion for they have become highly dependent on America’s goodwill.

Day after day, our press gives horrifying accounts of events such as the bombing in Brussels or the attacks in Paris, and it has been doing so since 9/11, providing a relentless war chant of “See what these bastards do!” These horrors are always treated as though they had no context, having sprung full-blown from the minds of bizarre people who think nothing, for example, of blowing themselves up. But I’m pretty sure that virtually every person who does such things sees himself or herself in the same light as the Japanese Kamikazes everyone once fearfully admired.

When was the last time your newspaper or broadcaster featured life in Gaza or in Syria or in Iraq or in Libya or in Yemen? It simply does not happen, and except for the rare independent article or book, our information about these places and the terrible assaults they are under is deliberately constrained. I am convinced that the natural human sympathy of most people, including many residents of imperial America, would respond to such sights and reports, but you are simply not given the opportunity to do so.

For me, this subject is the pivotal matter in the upcoming American election. Donald Trump, despite many unpleasant views and much careless rhetoric, seemed to have a spark of something new, an independent mind not shaped by America’s political establishment, and he an extremely successful and self-confident man in business not beholden to the special interests which shape the insincere news and own the loyalty of a great many politicians. He has made a number of encouraging statements, saying America should get along with Russia and China, leave Syria for Russia to clean-up, and talked about making deals instead of conflicts, but, most remarkably, he said that Israel should pay for its own defense. That last, something most timorous American politicians wouldn’t dream of uttering, is an example of bravery under the threat of fire, a quality I admire and one sorely needed to ever have a hope of having America extricated from the its Middle East’s Gordian Knot.

But two things just recently have given me pause: Trump’s words about using torture and the recent appointment to his foreign relations team of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Torture is unacceptable, ever. Legally innocent people are kidnapped and hurt in the mere hope they know something of interest, and in the process many die, convicted of nothing. The CIA has killed a number of prisoners in its Rendition Gulag since 9/11, whether accidentally or deliberately almost doesn’t matter, but their filthy work violates every principle we hold dear.

Calls for more torture are not new thinking, and they are repulsive. They ignore the actual cause of terror, which is America’s treatment of countless people in societies swept aside and rudely rearranged as though their homes and places were toy living room furniture being tossed by an angry child giant. As for Senator Sessions, there is a man who gets along just fine with the bloodiest people in Washington doing the rearranging.

Perhaps I should not have allowed a glimmer of hope that at least in one part of America’s domain a few things might change for the better. After all, seven years ago, I had hopes for a young black man with a charming smile and a tendency to talk and act with more independence than we usually see in Washington, not afraid sometimes to wear sandals and do without the primordial totem of an American flag pin always fixed to his lapel, but look what happened to him. He joined the great game and became nothing less than a mass murderer. Oh, he had one or two modest successes, as in stopping Israel’s raging demands to attack Iran, a country which has attacked no one in its entire modern history, but otherwise his is a long and dreary tale.

He has America still killing in Iraq, still killing in Afghanistan, destroying a decent civilization in Libya, supporting destruction in beautiful Syria, re-inserting an absolute dictator into Egypt to keep its prickly neighbor Israel happy, and creating an armada of drones to assassinate people in far off places guilty of no crime, killing in the process many others besides the innocent targets. Oh, and there are many other Neanderthal stupidities, from creating a coup and ensuing civil war in Ukraine to demanding Europe join in destructive economic sanctions and a huge military build-ups tight on Russia’s borders. And then there are all the efforts to intimidate China in its own sphere of influence.

You see, these are all the brutal stupidities of America’s establishment which our press would have you ignore while it goes on and on with its war chant about mindless international terror, virtually all of which is simply a pathetic human response to the stupidities, a response likely as unavoidable as having accidents if you go around driving drunk.

I say unavoidable, but that is not absolutely true. If a society goes far enough into the suppression of rights, terrorism can be almost eliminated. Stalin’s Russia did not experience much in the way of terrorism. Neither does Netanyahu’s Israel. And there is no doubt that America’s huge effort to suppress traditional rights and freedoms since 9/11 reflects that understanding, and the effort at suppression is not over. New surprises await Americans and their allies without question. It is an interesting sidelight to this ongoing process of building a super-security state that it just happens also to leave the ruling establishment increasingly unchallenged and unchallengeable. It is, indeed, a very dark path America has taken.

Is it any wonder I would grab at straws to see some change, even a modest re-think about what is being done? But I do fear that’s just what it is, grabbing at straws. The only realistic alternative is Hillary Clinton, a proven killer and serial liar and someone who much resembles Tony Blair for repulsive insincerity and selling herself to wealthy interests.

Indeed just at this writing, Radovan Karadzic has been convicted of war crimes during the Serbian war. I think it would be impossible to convincingly distinguish a great deal of what he did to Muslims in Bosnia and what Hillary Clinton did in Libya, which included running a program to gather small armies of thugs and arm them for insertion into Syria where they helped kill more than a quarter of a million people and create devastation. Her satanic laughter over her own bizarre joke about the leader of Libya, “We came, we saw, he died,” speaks volumes about her. This was a leader who had for decades given his people enlightened state policies and who ended being murdered in an American-created chaos.

It has been interesting to see the reactions to organized opposition against Trump, opposition taking a form sadly resembling 1930’s German Brownshirts shoving, threatening, and shouting at political rallies. Trump’s base, which is not only part of the Right but includes people who decades ago would have been Democrat-voting union people before their jobs disappeared, has very confusingly attributed all the organized opposition to “liberals.” Well, George Soros and Hillary Clinton are not, by any stretch of the imagination, liberals. Soros is in the CIA’s pocket, as Russia well knew when it recently banned his NGOs from operating there, and Hillary is just a plain killer.  I’m pretty sure America has no liberals anymore, at least as an organized body. George Soros and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are perhaps best described as neocon “fellow travellers.”

Now, in case you don’t know who the neocons are, they are a group of influential people in the Washington establishment and in Right-wing publishing who forcefully advocate that America use its full might to re-order the planet to its liking. Many of the best known of them are Jewish Americans who never have Israel far from their concerns. There was a natural meshing of interests in supposedly re-making and stabilizing the Middle East with support for Israel. All the countries flattened or decimated in recent years effectively represent a collective effort to make the Middle East safe for Israel, to surround it with a vast cordon sanitaire, eliminating virtually all independent-minded leaders in an almost continent-sized region, and assuring Israel’s hegemony as a kind of regional miniature replica of what the United States has become in the world.

The chief problem here has been the murder of huge numbers of people and the perfectly natural reactions of many to revenge what has happened to their families, friends, and lands. If that is to be called terror, so be it, but in other times we have called the same reaction everything from the resistance or national liberation to war by other means or simple vengeance. The most important thing to understand about it is that it is not some unnatural eruption of insane extremists as our press constantly makes every effort to impress upon us.

The only way to control terror is to stop your part in it. The biggest part of all modern terror is the work of the United States, unless you regard a family blown up in Damascus or Tripoli or Fallujah or Gaza City or Sana’a as being somehow different in kind to the victims in Brussels or Paris. America also pressures all its traditional allies to support the work with efforts of one kind or another, anything from arms to training, always maintaining the stance that it opposes terror and insisting they do the same. Well, it does oppose terror, but only the wrong kind of terror, the terror which does not support or advance America’s efforts. America’s destruction and mass killing in recent years are the great bulk of what any reasonable person, one not dedicated to the silly idea that America is a benign force, would call terror. Events in Brussels or Paris or even New York have been only the results of what America and its allies have been doing, the “blowback” as they quaintly put it in intelligence circles.

Well, it has been my faint hope that Trump might represent at least some progress in this horrible business, but I am growing to doubt that possibility. I do think for many reasons things are rather out of control, hence my reference to a runaway train. The American establishment of wealth along with its Praetorian Guard of military and security services is firmly in control and the ability of any elected individual to redirect things seems remote, as does the initial likelihood of such a person even being elected to office.

In my heart of hearts I do still believe that Obama was the kind of man who wanted things otherwise, but the realities of those meetings at huge conference tables surrounded by square-jawed generals in uniforms stiff and glittering with brass and medals and the sneering, elusive country-club types of the security services, impenetrably self-confident in all their secret operations and resources, many of which will never even be known to a president, made him what he has become. That and the pressing demands of hugely wealthy individuals and corporations, powerful lobby groups, and the virtually daily calls from people like Netanyahu (we do know that “daily calls” is no exaggeration from a slip of Obama’s tongue several years back) have given us this failed man who may well have had good intentions at the start.

The cause of so much of the war and terror in the world, the artificial re-creation of Israel and its endless demands for the re-ordering of its region, will likely just have to run its course. It is a state which, rather surprisingly, shares a great many features with the former Soviet Union. It is monstrously over-militarized, occupied by vast and invasive security services, with no guarantees of any rights, holding millions down who don’t want to be held, and boasts an inefficient economy only kept afloat by huge subsidies from outside. I do think, just like the Soviet Union, it eventually will collapse on its own weak foundations.

As for the United States, I have long believed that the era of its unquestioned authority in the world, which it has always greatly abused, is drawing to a close. The world is not only becoming multi-polar, the United States simply cannot govern itself in many of its activities, almost like a great spoiled child who cannot stop gobbling ice cream cones. It is always pushing to excesses. Its finances are in appalling shape and it can only be a matter of time before huge corrections occur with all the terrible consequences they entail for many. It is spending unconscionable amounts it doesn’t even have on its military and security, and the exaggerated, paranoid perceptions of need motivating these expenditures reflect all that we’ve discussed above. But perhaps most important of all, it has no effective leadership, and its absolutely corrupt political system is unable to provide any, allowing the inside ruling coterie to just keep stumbling along towards we don’t know quite what.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

HOW TERROR HAS LOST ITS MEANING

John Chuckman
Why does terror dominate our headlines and the attention of our governments going on six years after 9/11? The answer cannot be what George Bush says that it is: it is not the fault of people who hate democracy and freedom.

We know this for a great many reasons. One of the world’s oldest terrorist organizations, the IRA, had no interest in British government and society. It was interested only in being free of their control.

We know Bush is wrong also because the people who genuinely hate democracy and freedom – the world’s oligarchs, dictators, and strongmen – are people who hate terror themselves because it threatens their security.

Strong absolute states have no tolerance for terror. The Soviet Union never had a serious problem with terror, neither did East Germany, nor did Hussein’s Iraq.

Absolute states are also frequently supported by, or allied to, the United States, presumably for reasons other than promoting terror. We don’t need to go into the long history of the Cold War to find this. It remains true following 9/11. Contemporary examples include Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt.

Bush is wrong, too, because all evidence, whether from polls or interviews or writing, shows that people living in lands without democracy overwhelmingly would embrace freedom were it available to them.

Of course, all such generalizations are statistical in nature. That is, they are about trends or tendencies that reasonably describe the overwhelming bulk of specific examples. There are always exceptions, extreme examples, what statisticians call outliers, but you cannot talk about any subject sensibly when you talk about only exceptions.

We also know, despite truckloads of publicity saying otherwise, that terror is not by any measure one of the world’s great problems. The number of people killed in the World Trade Center, the largest terrorist attack by far, was less than one month’s carnage on America’s highways. It was equivalent of about two months of America’s murdering Americans on the nation’s streets.

Terror is intended to frighten and intimidate people, its secrecy and methods calculated to make deaths, even a small number of them, more shocking than everyday deaths. But if we look at societies that have undergone horrors beyond most people’s ability to imagine, horrors greater than any modern terror, we find something very interesting.

Life in London carried on during the Blitz. Germany maintained a huge armaments production despite thousand-plane raids day and night. The people of Leningrad, despite 800,000 deaths from being shelled and starved during the German siege, managed to carry on a kind of society. People in Sarajevo made do through a long and agonizing terror. Even the seemingly-hopeless inmates of death camps often made remarkable efforts to maintain some semblance of normality.

Perhaps the greatest terror experience in modern history was American carpet-bombing in Vietnam. We know from Vietnamese war veterans that these were their most feared events. They were horrific, and the United States left Vietnam having killed something like 3 million people, mostly civilians. But it did leave, and the people it bombed so horribly won a terrible war.

Now all of these experiences, plus many more we could cite, have the elements of randomness for victims and methods that just could not be much more horrible. They all are experiences in terror in the broadest sense. What they tell us is that terror does not work, despite its ability to make people miserable.

I like the anecdote that following the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima, within weeks, wild flowers were spotted growing in the cracks of the pavement. I very much like to think of that as representing the human spirit.

Terror as we traditionally think of it is a method of redress or vengeance for those without great armies or powerful weapons, those at a great disadvantage vis-à-vis some powerful oppressor or opponent. Generally the grievances behind terrorist acts are reasonable demands that have been ignored or have even been suppressed for long periods of time.

Although sometimes, they are unreasonable demands, but in this they are no different than the grievances that often lead to wars or invasions or occupations by powerful states.

Terror generally kills innocent people, something no decent-minded person can accept, but what is always forgotten in the press and government treatment of terror as something alien and unimaginably bad is that war in the contemporary world does precisely the same thing.

We have a powerful trend over the last century shifting the victims of war from armed forces to civilians. In World War I, there were many civilian deaths, but most of went on at the front was the killing of soldiers. By the time of Vietnam, and even more so Iraq, literally most of the deaths are civilians, overwhelmingly so. The fire-bombing and nuclear-bombing of cities during World War II marked the first great shift, returning military operations effectively to the world Before the Common Era when sacking and raping cities was ordinary.

Why has this happened? The chief reason is increasingly destructive weapons capable of being used from a great distance. Those pressing the buttons not only don’t see what they are doing in any detail, but the damage of which they are capable increases every year. A single plane today can drop enough munitions to destroy utterly a small town. In 1917, a plane could carry enough munitions to destroy a small house, if the pilot were lucky about air currents and other variables.

America makes claims about using ‘smart’ weapons, but these claims are highly deceptive. First, smart weapons are costly, and most bombs dropped are still ‘dumb’ ones. The percentage used in the first Gulf War, a time when there were many press conferences glorifying precision weapons, was on the order of five percent smart weapons.

Second, smart weapons require excellent intelligence, something you cannot have under many circumstances. The infamous bomb-shelter event in Baghdad during the first Gulf War, which incinerated four hundred civilians in an instant, happened because American officials thought there were party officials hiding there, but they were wrong.

Third, even with intelligence, decisions are made which are poor ones. The Baghdad bomb shelter is an example here, too. Even were there some party officials there, killing nearly four hundred others to get them was the kind of savage decision Israel so often makes to its shame.

Fourth, smart weapons do make mistakes with chips or programming or flight controls that are faulty.

Fifth, the better the weapons get, the more the temptation to use them, and the more they will be misused by poor judgment and poor intelligence.

There is no prospect in our lifetime that so-called precision weapons can change the tendency towards killing civilians rather than soldiers.

Terrible weapons are under constant research efforts at ‘improvement.’ The United States has developed gigantic flammable-liquid bombs, the size and weight of trucks. It is busy developing compact nuclear warheads that are, in the view of the kind of people associated with George Bush, both useable and practical.

The problem with modern weapons is not only their great power and complete removal of users from ghastly results, it is their capacity to alter the psychology and morality of those possessing them.

Where great power exists, it tends to be used, sooner or later. This intuitive idea was part of the reason in the eighteenth century for opposing large standing armies. Expert historians have attributed at least part of the cause of World War I to huge standing armies and a ferocious arms race.

It is hard to think of a horrible weapon that has not been used fairly soon after its development: the flame thrower, poison gas, germ warfare, machine guns, landmines, cluster bombs, napalm, and nuclear weapons.

Imagine the psychology of politicians and war planners in Washington, sitting in air-conditioned offices, perhaps just returned from expense-account lunches, discussing developments in, say, Iraq. They don’t see or hear or smell the misery of a people without sanitation or electricity – these having been deliberately destroyed by the United States in the previous Gulf War and never repaired. These planners, looking at charts on their expensive laptops, only know from certain graphs that they have what they see as a problem and that they have the ability to reduce it or make it go away, almost like wishing away something you don’t like.

The solution comes down to such pragmatic considerations as to whether Tomahawks or B-52s or a wing of fighter-bombers will best meet the ‘need,’ and perhaps the availability of each, and perhaps even comparative benefit-cost ratios (kills per buck), also charted on their laptops.

If this isn’t the banality of evil, I don’t know what is. And when the planners decide which weapon or combination of weapons will best alter the graph, the orders go out, the buttons are pressed, and no one but the poor half-starved people living in dust and squalor have any idea of what actually happens, which people in the neighborhood have their bodies torn apart or incinerated, which houses are destroyed, which children mutilated. The people who carry out these acts see only puffs of distant smoke.

This is modern war as practiced by an advanced society.

On a smaller scale than Iraq, we’ve all read the endless reports of Israeli incursions and assassinations: an entire family wiped out on a beach by distant shelling, an apartment building full of families hit by a missile intended for one resident, pedestrians cut into pieces as a missile hits a targeted car on a crowded street. All of it is put down to stopping terror, all of it is done from a safe distance, all of it kills mainly civilians, and all of it is indistinguishable from terror.

If challenged today for a definition of terror, I doubt anyone could produce a sound one that limits the meaning to the acts of those constantly in our headlines. Rather those acts are now reduced to special cases of something a great deal larger.

Which was the more ghastly act of terror, 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq? 9/11 killed about 3,000 people and destroyed a building. The invasion of Iraq killed more than 600,000, destroyed the irreplaceable records and artefacts of an ancient civilization, and left a nation of more than 20 million desperate for work, clean water, and electricity. And it should be stressed that although 9/11 came first, there were no connections between these events, except that the one was used as an excuse for the other.

When we hear the word terror in the news, we are conditioned to think that only civilians have died, but how is it different now for news of an attack by American forces or a reprisal raid from the Israeli army? It isn’t. We know immediately that civilians die every single time. Indeed, what we often do not know is whether any “bad guys” were killed.