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DANGEROUS FLAILING AND BELLOWING OF THE BEAST

John Chuckman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

THIS IS WHAT WAR DOES

John Chuckman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME

John Chuckman

 

Despite my title, this is not a memoir, dealing as it does with some of the most deadly serious subjects on the planet.

I was brought up by a hard-working, fiercely honest woman. She was brave in the most profound way, not the momentary, over-hyped stuff of soldiers and sports stars, but the unsung stuff of facing great odds and painful situations and doing her duty, not for moments or days, but for year after year. She was unusual for the early 1950s, a time of great social conformity in America, for having left my father whose drunken abuse she refused to endure. She set off on her own with two very young boys and never looked back. She always set an example of high standards, expecting the same from my brother and me, made us regular church-goers, and generally bestowed a great deal of love on us.

For the greatest part of my life, I believed in the same values and precepts she taught although I parted with church-going before I was a man. I was not without cynicism about many things I observed through life, but now, in my old age, I realize forcefully how entirely different are the rules which actually govern human affairs, and especially those pertaining to international affairs. Virtually everything my mother taught me, and my church too, was mistaken.

We hear a good deal these days about the problem of bullying in schools, and my instincts always put me on the side of victims and make me question teachers and authorities who do not step in to protect the innocent. But just look at the major political and economic leaders of our time: virtually every one of them has been an unqualified bully. It appears that being a bully features prominently on the road to success.

And we all believed that the bad guys never won and that time would see victims receive justice. The painful truth is though that the bad guys, at least all the clever and well-connected ones, always win and their victims almost never receive justice.

My mother had no tolerance for lying, and obvious lies still try my patience, but lying is in fact one of the chief occupations of those who govern us. Messrs. Obama, Netanyahu, Cameron, Harper are all the grossest liars, as were Sharon, Clinton, Blair, Bush, Cheney, and a very long list of others notable for their positions and the headlines they generated. Most of these individuals, along with a good many others, likely have never, in their entire careers, uttered a single truthful sentence, discounting the platitudes and bromides they are accustomed to delivering.

The issue of lying most comes into prominence in the case of war. I have seen so many wars in my lifetime, and it is painfully clear that every one of them was based on lies. The poor citizens of every land are never told why their lives are being snatched and their wealth squandered. They are certainly never consulted about whether so terribly serious a measure as war should be undertaken. Instead they are lied to. The ghastly horror of Vietnam, all that vast work of death and destruction on a genocidal scale – carpet bombing, napalm, and poisons dropped – was about nothing which mattered to almost all ordinary people, it was about blood-drenched lies their leaders told them.

And how can you possibly have meaningful democracy when the voters are lied to daily by those running for office and those holding office? You cannot, clearly.

And today, the whole Middle East is either in flames or has recently passed through war or revolution – Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, and still others. We are given many reasons for this phenomenon, but at the heart of the matter, there really is only one cause, and that cause is never mentioned in our press.

In all cases, American is found either covertly directing affairs or at least pouring money and weapons into countries to de-stabilize them. And why does it do this? It reflects a vast effort to mold the Middle East into a shape comfortable for the rather unusual requirements of its colony in the region, Israel. Why unusual requirements? What other small country in the world seems to need to control and dominate everything around it for at least a thousand miles? And this is only necessary because Israel refuses to obey almost any of the laws and customs of nations as we have grown to understand them in modern times. Israel continues to rule areas conquered in what itself was a fraudulent war, the Six Day War, nearly fifty years ago, and it doesn’t just rule these places against all international law and conventions, it treats their millions of residents as entitled to no law or justice, no hopes or aspirations, and not even entitled to hold the property they have because whenever a chunk of it appeals to Israelis, they simply take it.

Such is the behavior of the self-designated “only democracy in the Middle East,” a glib and meaningless phrase which completely ignores the fact that half the people ruled by Israel have no votes and no human rights. Actually, it is a good thing there are not more such “democracies,” or the region would be total hell on earth. Democracy for some is not democracy at all. Think of Orwell’s precept in Animal Farm, a book intended to satirize Stalin’s Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal.” That could have been just as well written about modern Israel. Israel’s embrace of neighbors who are virally anti-democratic – from Egypt to Saudi Arabia – again says something profound about the nature of Israeli “democracy.”

And the much bigger country which likes to style itself, the world’s oldest democracy and the land of the free, not only supports Israel in its disregard for law, customs, and international conventions, it finances a great deal of the tyrannous behavior. Where is the regard for democracy, rights, or even due process in that?

The always-tolerated violation of accepted principles by Israel which seems most remarkable to me is its regular theft of homes and farms. Americans are comfortable with bombings and assassinations and torture, at least judging from their national behavior over a good many decades in a number of countries, but when you consider how Americans revere property rights above all else in their society, it does seem it should be another matter when it comes to property being swiped in public. Property and profits are the truest guiding, long-term principles in American society. So you might think, despite the shower of lies in which Americans are immersed concerning Israel and its neighbors, public theft would stir something deep in their hearts. So why don’t we see American leaders, even if they can’t get worked up over endless occupation and abuse and killing and apartheid-like laws, at least strenuously objecting to Israel’s regular, high-handed thefts of property?

America’s politicians always back Israel because America’s government is constituted on the fallacious and unethical concept that money is free speech when it comes to political campaign contributions – fixed by a Supreme Court whose history includes vigorous support of such other glorious principles as slavery. When you allow such a political financing system to dominate your politics, it follows, ipso facto, that those able and willing to give very large sums as campaign contributions (as well as favorable press coverage, there not being a single major newspaper or network in America which does not play the game of boosting Israel) receive access and have their voices heard to the virtual exclusion of others.

What is certainly one of the most efficient and untiring lobbies, the Israel lobby, understands America’s system perfectly and has adapted over time to work it perfectly, resulting almost in a custom-designed, industrial-scale machine for turning out loyal and uncritical politicians in one country concerning the acts of a foreign country. Again, there’s very little truth and even less democracy in that way of conducting politics.

AMERICA’S BRUTAL TACTICS

John Chuckman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOMETHING MONSTROUS THIS WAY COMES

John Chuckman

I won’t listen to, or read, the news of the war. The only news I want to hear is that the murder is over.

Murder? Yes, that word is carefully chosen.

I can easily imagine how the expression “shock and awe” was born. Remember, in America, marketing comes before anything. Everything from breast-cancer treatment to Jesus is loudly marketed in this bizarre society. That’s not even a slight exaggeration, although if you haven’t lived there, you’ll have to take my word for it. They are busy marketing terror, insecurity, and xenophobia right now, and that makes your chances of visiting to research questions of this kind not very good.

If you’re a full-blooded American, marketing murder, even mass murder, is just like marketing anything else. You can’t be squeamish about it. You need a good turn of phrase or slogan, an eye-catching logo, and perhaps some stirring theme music. You need what will convince jaded consumers that something new and exciting is about to appear on their television screens. The need is greater than ever now that entertainment and information have been fully merged on American broadcasting – broadcasting, by the way, owned by a remarkably small number of people, all of whom just happen to share the same interest in keeping the Pentagon’s furnaces stoked with four-hundred billion dollars a year.

I imagine platoons of Pentagon consultants, each earning hundreds of dollars an hour, coming and going for months before the war with their expensive laptops in designer leather cases, making presentations of their marketing proposals, each hoping to land the big contract. Then one day someone stunned the crowd with a super presentation of just the right concept, “shock and awe,” with plenty of special effects guaranteed to play well on television.

It can’t be that none of the creased-pants innocents in the Pentagon ever heard of the Western Front in the First World War where truly horrifying bombardments, with guns that could shatter your eardrums if you were too close, sometimes went on for days before the troops jumped the tops of their trenches and charged the barbed wire of the other side across fields raked with heavy machine guns and cratered by shell holes where mustard gas lingered like a poison fog ready to blind and burn out the lungs of anyone unfortunate enough to stumble in.

Of course, these bombardments were aimed at soldiers, not at a city like Baghdad, but perhaps I quibble.

Americans don’t fight that way anymore. Actually, since Vietnam – where they were sent running even after they managed to napalm a good portion of the nation’s villages – Americans don’t fight at all. There have been attempts to re-institute the practice here and there, as in Mogadishu, but the results weren’t happy – a few dead soldiers and America turned and ran. Of course, it didn’t have to be that way if they hadn’t muddled a humanitarian mission with the urge to mow down every local who looked at them the wrong way. Maybe they just hadn’t done enough focus groups and marketing surveys before that sour-smelling little mission.

Now, America simply commits mass murder with computer-controlled weapons from a safe distance and calls it fighting. When the explosions and screaming stop and the brave American lads set out on their mission of occupation from air-conditioned quarters (they don’t do trenches anymore) in their air-conditioned armored cars, dressed in bullet-proof kevlar suits and equipped with sun-tan lotion and freeze-dried linguini, there isn’t a lot for them to do but avoid slipping and falling in the human gore splattered everywhere by missiles and high-tech bombs. They also must remember to don their bubble-boy suits and respirators in areas saturated with tons of vaporized depleted uranium.

There’s very little risk to the “boyz” – all of whom, regardless of steroid-induced, bovine bulk and savage-looking buzzed-off hair, are affectionately regarded as awkward, young Ricky Nelsons (at least, before his cocaine phase), who always say things like “sir” and “aw, heck.”

I’ve written before about the approaching age of American high-tech Puritanism, but I didn’t expect it to be upon us so completely quite so quickly, reminding one of the sudden onset of a new ice age. America is able to destroy anyone or anyplace it finds displeasing or just suspicious – this is Sharon’s Israel occupying Palestine on a global scale.

No consultations with others are needed, or if Americans do briefly consult, it will be a marketing ploy taken in full confidence they are free to ignore everyone and push them aside, even when this happens to include, as it does in the case of Iraq, most of the world’s people.

In hopes of gaining some outward show of respectability, this time America conducted a very unpleasant behind-the-scenes campaign of threats and bribery. Again, that is not an exaggeration, that is how they obtained that pathetic list of thirty countries not one in ten Americans has ever heard of, but, even then, most of these places are not joined in the killing, just signaling support in some diffuse way as a response to pressure from the world’s economic pituitary giant.

When you really think about it, who else could join in the killing? Who else is equipped for long-distance computerized murder? But America always looks to others to occupy and police, relieving the “boyz” even of these tasks.

You might think that if there had been any true case for war, it would be obvious to more of the world’s leaders. Why would you need all the browbeating and threats? But the case was not obvious, because some very bright people in the UN Security Council, all in fact friends of the United States, thrashed it out and could not agree. Mostly, all they wanted was time and patience for inspections. But Mr. Bush, gifted intellect and learned scholar that he is, knew better than all of them, and besides, in the Texas he comes from, all that matters is that you have the biggest fists or are first out with your gun.

Maybe next time, America will feel it can dispense with respectability. It really got very little for its effort. That’s what America’s frighteningly rat-like neocons are telling us with their talk about a damaged UN and Atlantic Alliance. They just neglect to mention that it is the U.S. that did the damage.

We all know what Lord Acton said about power and absolute power. His words remain perhaps truer than anything ever uttered about human behavior, and they should serve as a warning, but I fear they provide only consolation. Just imagine a world where it has become possible to slaughter any number of people, virtually with impunity – a world where that kind of power is in the hands of a relatively small group of narrow, earnest, self-satisfied people possessing virtually limitless material resources and believing themselves somehow guided by God as no one else on the planet is privileged to be.

It’s a dismaying picture of the future, but if you are watching or listening to the news about Iraq from the Pentagon’s just-built, custom-designed, super-deluxe, press-conference studio, you’re getting a first hard look at that very future.

SOME LONG-TERM IMPLICATIONS OF THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

High-Tech Puritanism’s Future

JOHN CHUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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