Archive for the ‘WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: NATION OF COWARDS   Leave a comment

 

NATION OF COWARDS

John Chuckman

 

What else can you fairly call a people who attack a population of refugees confined to a small space surrounded on every side by fences and machine-gun towers, a population with nowhere to run? No, that is not put strongly enough. Not just attack, but use the latest and most ferocious weapons from the American arsenal to slaughter more than 2100 people, including more than 500 children, destroying along the way a major portion of the housing, businesses, and institutions of a poor people.

The definition of a coward is not the traditional military one of a soldier who won’t fight. No, that’s far too simplistic and self-serving. The genuine meaning of the word, the meaning that warrants our full sense of revulsion and contempt, is someone who attacks someone far weaker than themselves. A large man who beats a woman or a child with his fists or a policeman who clubs a handcuffed prisoner – that is the accurate and meaningful definition of the word. And the people of Israel responsible for Operation Protective Edge are as sadly perfect examples of genuine cowards as you can find in the world.

What remarkable courage it takes – outfitted as the IDF is with Kevlar armor, the latest intelligence gadgets, satellites, radios, support of every imaginable kind, and immensely powerful weapons (they even get hot pizzas delivered as they pause in their gruesome work) – to shoot people who cannot run away, are often poorly fed and clothed, and who mostly have no weapons. And the courage of the Israeli pilots who make bombing runs over homes, schools, apartments, and stores from the safety of their supersonic fighters is surely remarkable. They remind me of the American pilots who shot and incinerated countless retreating Iraqi soldiers in the (engineered) First Gulf War while the television broadcasts caught their gleeful shouts of “Wow, it’s just like shooting fish in a barrel!”

Yes, Americans are the only comparable example of Israel’s cowardice, the Americans who literally enable Israel’s savagery but also themselves have given the world the best part of half a century of savagery abroad, the deaths of literally millions of civilians in half a dozen countries – deaths by carpet bombing, napalm, missiles, white phosphorus, various poisons, and the razor-like shards of cluster bombs.

The United States, like Israel, is never called to account for the worst record on the planet of mass killing and destruction. You simply cannot name a contemporary criminal enterprise or a so-called terrorist organization which has a record so steeped in horrors as those two.

Wholesale death inflicted with utter disregard for international law and custom has become standard policy for both countries. Yes, there are always excuses for mass murder, the weasel words such as communists or terrorists or dictators and weapons of mass destruction (Americans ironically being the only people on earth who actually used them, twice, on civilians) – all of them having no more real meaning than Stalin’s chilling wreckers, a word he used to signal his creatures that it was time for a new bloody purge. In some cases those purged were simply people Stalin did not like or of whom he felt jealous, but in most cases of the millions smashed or consigned to hell on earth, the only motive was to terrify a population into submission, and that is exactly what Israel’s motive is for its periodic massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese.

Anyone of moderate intelligence who reads and thinks must know Israel is in no danger from anyone, least of all the Palestinians who have no organized army, no navy, and no air force, not to mention very little of anything else. Israel is armed to the teeth with conventional and non-conventional weapons, it leans back arrogantly into the arms of super-power America and plays the victim in a land it victimizes, and it functions as a garrison state whose major purpose is to hold down and make miserable millions of people who happen not to be Jewish, all the while hoping they will one day pick up and leave. It is absurd to say Israel’s security is endangered by anyone, and especially by the hopeless, lifetime prisoners of Palestine.

Turning a blind eye to the Holocaust three-quarters of a century ago was an unforgivable thing, but in at least one very real sense, it is now even more culpable the way the West turns a blind eye to Israel’s horrors. The Holocaust was perpetrated in great secrecy, and there was no Internet or international media equipped with satellites to tell the world what was happening. There was no United Nations or other international organizations watching. Today, what Israel does is everywhere to be seen. People in America eat their suppers watching Israeli jets bombing homes. Without much effort you can find images of Palestinian children with portions of their heads missing. And we all saw the Israelis from Sderot sit in lawn chairs on a bluff in the evening breeze laughing and applauding as women and children writhed in agony far below much like ants being stepped on.

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE FIGHTER PILOT AND THE PRINCESS IN AMERICA’S PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES   1 comment

THE FIGHTER PILOT AND THE PRINCESS IN AMERICA’S PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES

John Chuckman

The fighter pilot of this story is, of course, John McCain, but the princess is not Hillary Clinton as some readers might have guessed. The princess in the story is Britain’s late Princess Diana.

What possible connection is there between the late Princess Diana and John McCain? Well, as it proves, there are connections of serious importance to American voters and citizens of the world.

There is today an unpleasant but necessary, excruciatingly-detailed inquiry into Diana’s death underway in Britain. It is unpleasant because no one should have every private thought and act exposed this way, but it is necessary because the Princess’s own actions and words left millions believing dark, paranoid fantasies around her death. Her remarks and notes in private about believing she would be assassinated, her batteries of obsessive telephone calls, her reported private fits of moodiness and hysteria, her going public with private marital problems – these and other events point to a person with mental instability. Detailed revelations of the inquiry come as no surprise because many sensed something more than her wonderful public charm and grace, and her family does have other such cases in its history.

McCain has all the signs of a similar personality disorder. He can be charming in public, and he has a reputation as an interesting maverick. He is sometimes bluntly truthful, as when he talked about the Religious Right in his 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination.

But McCain has the same highly inconsistent pattern as Diana in public and private behavior. In private, he is famous for a colossally ugly temper. McCain has made some absurd claims over the years, reminding me very much of Princess Diana’s whispers and notes about people in high places wanting to assassinate her, all the while smiling beguilingly in public.

Recently, McCain told us he would still have invaded Iraq, even without the excuse of “weapons of mass destruction.” He has learned nothing from all that pointless death and misery.

McCain promised voters in South Carolina that he’d hunt down Osama bin Laden, even if it took him “to the gates of hell.” And he swore he knows just how to do the job. Good Lord, if McCain knows, why has he kept it secret all these years?

“The gates of hell”? McCain in 2000 made fun of hellfire Christian fundamentalists’ role in politics, now he’s feeding them their own lines.

I think we know that Osama has long been dead, despite the CIA’s phony periodic tapes released to intensify the public’s paranoia to support the war on terror. The government hasn’t wanted to claim credit because that would make Osama a martyr. His remains are buried under a million tons of rock in the mountains that had the destructive equivalent of World War II dropped on them. And were it possible that Osama did miraculously survive, would hunting him down now be a high priority to a rational person? Two unfinished wars are underway. McCain’s promise is just one for increased destruction and horror abroad.

Recently, he told a crowd in South Carolina that the state “was, hands down, the most patriotic in the nation.” First, what does his utterance mean? Nothing, it is empty rhetoric of the worst kind. Two, keeping Dr Johnson’s dictum on patriots in mind, who cares who is most patriotic? That way is the certainty of more war. Noisy patriotism is a valued characteristic only to the brain-washed, feeble-minded, and aggressors. Three, regardless of the meaning you attribute to McCain’s statement, if you account for the historical facts, quite the opposite is the truth. South Carolina was the state that started secession from the Union at the start of the Civil War. South Carolina was also “hot to trot” back in John Adams’ day under the secret promptings of anti-federal opposition leader Jefferson. Again, in Andrew Jackson’s day, South Carolina pitched the national government into a crisis over a state’s right to nullify federal law. Jackson threatened troops to put an end to it.

When McCain told us he would still have invaded Iraq, even without the excuse of “weapons of mass destruction,” he had one of his tasteless, juvenile joking sessions before reporters about bombing Iran, complete with vicious, laughing antics. The man has learned nothing from all the death and misery of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam.

McCain simply loves death and killing, just as it can be argued Princess Diana regularly flirted with death. She had deliberately turned down requests to increase the level of protection about her. She needlessly drove off on wild adventures like the ride in Paris that killed her.

After seven years of the low-grade psychopath, Bush, and the destruction on every front he leaves as his legacy, the last thing humanity needs is the smiling death’s head of John McCain as commander-in-chief.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: BLACK HOLES   Leave a comment

BLACK HOLES

John Chuckman

One of the great discoveries of the late 20th century was the existence of black holes.

Their existence was implied by Albert Einstein’s relativity theory, and their necessary characteristics were worked out by Stephen Hawking and others. Eventually, a new generation of powerful visible-light telescopes and x-ray observatories gave us direct observations supporting what had only been theory.

As every kid fascinated by science knows, black holes come from stars that collapse as their fusion engines sputter out of fuel. The resulting, unimaginably-dense bits of mass have the remarkable ability to grow by capturing matter and energy entering their space-bending gravitational fields.

Modern Israel started as a bright star of an idea, a place of refuge for a horribly abused people, but many observers today might agree that the bright star appears to be collapsing into a dark mass bending the geopolitical space of the entire planet.

The world waits for Mr. Bush to launch a terrible war against Iraq. The only purpose for this war is a preemptive strike at Israel’s most tireless opponent. But the honesty of national debate in America is so distorted by massive gravitational tides, even many of the war’s opponents do not understand what it is they are opposing.

No meaningful evidence has been offered for Mr. Bush’s shrill assertions. An argument for protecting intelligence sources might be accepted as reason for not releasing details to the general public, but what is ridiculous is that no evidence has been supplied to the leaders of major NATO allies. France and Germany would not require the “report” now being quickly cobbled together for Mr. Powell were the case otherwise.

Iraq has bothered no one for twelve years, so why the sudden rush to war before weapons inspectors even complete their work? The only explanation appears to be so that the furious, temporary momentum of American public opinion generated by 9/11 can be harnessed for a war that would not be supported otherwise.

Never mind the deliberately-misleading, invented term weapons of mass destruction, there is no evidence that Iraq has strategically-significant weapons. There is virtual certainty that Iraq has no fissile materials for nuclear weapons, and we know from the previous chief weapons inspector that Iraq’s costly facilities for manufacturing fissile materials were destroyed.

There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein had any past dealings with al Qaeda. Indeed, it is known there was considerable animus between Hussein and bin Laden.

The notion that secret national weapons programs, if any have been reconstituted since weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, can be successful when teams of well-equipped inspectors, kept informed by intelligence agencies, roam over the Iraqi countryside, free at any time to enter any facility, truly is delusional. And delusional notions are a mighty dangerous basis for going to war.

To reassure Israel, all reasonable parties are willing to see a strict inspection regime maintained in Iraq, but this is not enough for the single-minded American President who insists on going to war and inflicting more horror on Iraqi civilians. And it is certainly not enough for Mr. Sharon who cheers Mr. Bush on and proclaims maniacally that Iran should be attacked next.

How easily people forget, or perhaps they do not care, that modern war means killing civilians in large numbers. The proportion of civilians killed to military personnel killed has grown exponentially since World War I. America’s focus on overwhelming air power and its reluctance to accept any casualties of its own only makes the trend worse. The question of going to war now is one in which Americans take little account of death, for the deaths are almost all on the other side and remain unseen by a comfortable public thinking itself informed by its heavily-biased press.

General Schwarzkopf’s well-staged press briefings with highly-edited film clips during Desert Storm left the impression that precision munitions have turned war into a neat, almost bloodless computer game. The truth is that about 95% of the munitions used in Desert Storm were not precision. Precision munitions are extremely costly, they slow operations down, and they can themselves go wrong, so they are reserved for special applications. Good old-fashioned dumb bombs and artillery are the only thing to use when you want to do a lot of killing in a hurry. Something like a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians were killed by American munitions that were not precision.

As we wait for this war, we feel the world’s economy buckling and yielding to the threats and uncertainty of a vast, destructive enterprise, to the promise of inflation and dislocation that always accompany war, and to unavoidable, crazed gyrations in the price of oil.

As we wait for this war, the President addresses an uneasy world in the cadences of a fundamentalist tent-preacher thumping his pulpit and threatening hell’s fire, offering the five and three-quarters billion people who live outside America but are still affected by its arbitrary decisions, such reassuring observations as, “The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.”

This President compounds economic uncertainty by running huge deficits and offering to keep preoccupied Americans happy with huge tax cuts – a bizarre, economically illiterate version of, “You can have it all and have it all now!”

As we wait for this war, Israel reduces the West Bank to an utterly bleak and hopeless landscape. All past commitments, as those of the Oslo Accord, are ignored. All the many past resolutions of the United Nations imposing obligations on Israel remain ignored, even while the U.S. asserts Iraq must be attacked precisely for ignoring other United Nations’ resolutions. The leader of the Palestinians is degradingly treated as a criminal virtually under a form of house arrest with whom no discussion can possibly be held.

No more worthy foes of injustice and hatred breathe than Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They have made unmistakably clear what they see in the West Bank – a repeat in virtually every detail of South Africa’s hateful apartheid regime, but the collapsing star’s force field sucks in even the sympathetic emotions these observations should elicit from Americans.

As we wait for this war, Israel has approached the United States for another $10 billion or more in assistance, over and above the $3 billion it receives automatically each year (and, by rights, we should add the $2 billion paid annually to keep Egypt quiescent). This money is deemed necessary because Israel is run on a war-footing seemingly in perpetuity.

Israel behaves as a regional geopolitical-miniature replica of the United States, even to the extent of now building a triad of nuclear forces (land-based missiles, bombers, and submarine-based missiles – all nuclear-capable) – this in a country whose population is about the size of Ecuador’s, about one-tenth of one percent of the world’s people. The costly wastefulness of this is almost beyond description.

Bush’s War on Terror, rather than being a clearly-focused campaign against those actually responsible for 9/11, has become the label on a portfolio of grudges against all those in the world who balk at or oppose American foreign policy. The War on Terror is itself an emerging black hole sucking in resources, energy, and principles.

It’s not as though a good deal of the world does not understand what is happening. Voices of reason are heard from France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, Russia, China, and other lands, but Bush announces he is willing “to go it alone” if necessary, meaning the entire planet, willy-nilly, must be dragged into a great vortex of destruction.

Posted May 27, 2009 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: BAGHDAD’S THINK-TANK BOMB   Leave a comment

BAGHDAD’S THINK-TANK BOMB

John Chuckman

An independent think-tank in Britain, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, has published a report on Iraq’s nuclear capabilities. The report, which the Prime Minister’s office termed “highly significant,” was produced without access to the files of Britain’s intelligence services. It made headlines in many Western papers. The BBC’s Internet site made it top story.

The essence of the report is the sensational-sounding claim that Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon within months if it were to find a supply of fissile material. The report also says that Iraq has “probably” managed to conceal stocks of chemical and biological weapons and a small number of missiles.

The Prime Minister’s office, in comments that were remarkably well-coordinated with the report’s release, added that its own dossier on Iraq, which as always in these matters cannot be revealed without compromising intelligence sources, “paints a picture of a highly unstable regime.”

Astute readers will observe that this is essentially a non sequitur to a technical report’s subject, but a non sequitur that manages nicely to associate the words unstable and nuclear and Iraq. At this point, one’s antennas for detecting propaganda should be twitching furiously.

Recall that Tony Blair, in a big show of bravado against his critics months ago, promised to produce a dossier that would leave no doubt why invading Iraq was justified. He has failed even to attempt keeping that promise. Perhaps his government’s comments cut and pasted to this private technical report, itself a cut-and-paste job of widely understood concepts and iffy assertions, containing no intelligence whatsoever, are to be understood as fulfilling the promise?

Just for good measure, Downing Street added to its comments on the report, “This is clearly a very serious piece of work.”

But is it, in fact, a serious piece of work? Does it tell any reasonably well-informed person anything he or she did not know already? Let’s analyze some key points.

The most important assertion of the report is that, given the fissile material, Iraq could make a nuclear bomb in months. This is both true and utterly misleading.

The fact is even Botswana might cobble together a crude nuclear bomb of the “dirty” variety, given the fissile material. In fact, the key assertion of the report says virtually nothing unique to Iraq.

A modern nuclear weapon is a very sophisticated industrial product. It contains a precision-milled hollow sphere of fissile material, either plutonium or a form of highly-enriched uranium. So long as the material remains in that shape, it cannot produce a nuclear explosion.

The total mass of the little sphere equals what scientists call the critical mass (different in the case of each fissile material) – that is, the amount needed for the kind of chain reaction we call a nuclear explosion. An elaborate mechanism is needed to change the shape of the sphere at just the required moment to produce an explosion.

Surrounding the hollow sphere is in effect a second sphere, an armature of conventional explosives and high-tech switches designed to explode so as to crush the hollow ball it surrounds into a precisely-defined lump. That lump then instantly generates a nuclear explosion.

Few non-advanced countries are remotely capable of: 1) producing the fissile material: 2) milling the fissile material into a precision hollow sphere; 3) producing the special conventional explosives for the armature; 4) building the necessary precise configuration of these conventional explosives; 5) producing the high-tech detonation switches; 6) assembling all these into a precise and stable package; 7) plus many other aspects including safety and appropriate detonation devices.

But the fissile material itself is the crucial part, the sine non qua. Given that, it is possible to produce a primitive, much-simpler, “dirty” bomb.

This is done by dividing the critical mass of material into two lumps, neither of which can produce an explosive chain reaction, and mounting them on a device designed to hurl the lumps together at the appropriate moment. This simpler technique is inefficient and produces a lot of radioactive debris – hence, the name “dirty” – and a less-than-optimal blast.

This kind of bomb still requires efforts considerably beyond the scope of a Gyro Gearloose tinkering in the basement, but it is far more possible to build for a determined country of modest means than a sophisticated weapon. Only providing it possess an adequate quantity of plutonium or highly enriched uranium.

But that is precisely why there are stringent international controls. Unlike other control regimes, those concerned with the movement of fissile materials are given force by the constant scrutiny of the world’s major intelligence services. Nothing has changed in this regard. The world closely watches all such material. And, indeed, as the report states, Iraq possesses none.

Before Desert Storm, intelligence services had undoubtedly become aware that Iraq had a fairly sophisticated project underway to build nuclear weapons. The destruction of that capability was largely what Desert Storm was about, all the stuff about oil truly being a side issue except to the extent that additional oil revenues could speed or expand the project. Saddam was almost certainly lured into invading Kuwait so that he could be slapped down and deprived of this capacity. He was foolish enough to take the bait, and that is exactly what happened, he was deprived of the capacity. As an additional benefit to the most concerned party in the region, Israel, a substantial part of his army was destroyed.

What surprised the world back in the early days of the weapons-inspection regime was not that Iraq was trying to build a bomb, but how far along it had come to producing its own fissile materials. There are several costly and difficult methods for doing this, and Iraq apparently had constructed facilities for more than one of them.

However, these were totally destroyed, and it would be impossible for Iraq to reconstitute them without spending billions on a vast construction project that would be plainly visible to spy satellites. The days of being able to carry out a Manhattan Project in secret are gone, forever.

As for the report’s business about chemical and biological agents, that part is idle speculation. But even if it were accurate, these agents are pretty close to useless as “weapons of mass destruction,” despite the Bush administration’s constant efforts to obfuscate this fact. Indeed, the materials are pretty close to useless, period, without sophisticated dispersal systems, systems which Iraq never had and still does not have.

And the missiles? Perhaps a dozen SCUDs secreted away, with a strong emphasis on the perhaps. We all saw how totally ineffective SCUDs are as weapons of war during Desert Storm. They did no militarily-significant damage anywhere during that conflict. Like the V-2s of World War II , you would need thousands before regarding them as serious weapons. You don’t start a major war over the possession of something like these.

Of course, it only takes one nuclear warhead. And here we return to what is genuinely important: whether Iraq has fissile materials. But even this report, flimsy piece of propaganda that it so clearly is, does not claim that.

Moreover, has anyone ever asked, even if Saddam had nuclear weapons, how he could use them? Nuclear weapons are both a form of power and a trap for any state possessing them. The use of even one, inaccurately delivered by a SCUD, would invite instant retaliation from any likely target. Has Saddam ever demonstrated an inclination to suicide? Quite the opposite, he has always used immense resources to secure his person against harm.

And do we ever consider why Iraq might want nuclear weapons? They do live nearly cheek-by-jowl with a country armed to the teeth with almost every threatening weapon it is possible to have. A country that is effectively a garrison state, spending one of the highest percentages of GDP on weapons of any country in the world. A country that is now developing sophisticated cruise missiles, ones that can launched from submarines. A country that has put a satellite in orbit, demonstrating its capacity to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles. A country which we know has a nuclear arsenal comparable in some respects to those of traditional European powers like France or Britain. A country which refuses to join the international nuclear-inspection regime. A country which has previously invaded Iraqi territory to destroy a costly reactor. A country which has secretly assassinated some top scientists doing work for Iraq. A country which ignores long-standing UN resolutions. A country which has occupied the homes of several million Arabs for a third of a century. And most importantly, a country which does not appear to be under any effective checks or safeguards by its chief benefactor, the United States, itself a country mired in the internal affairs of every state in the Middle East.

Wouldn’t anyone feel insecurity under such circumstances?

Do these facts not demonstrate the immense obligation the United States has in the Middle East ? An obligation it should be attending to rather than planning to invade Iraq? Or vaguely threatening countries like Iran and North Korea?

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: MONDO CANE   1 comment

MONDO CANE

John Chuckman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: DARK TALES FROM THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH   Leave a comment

DARK TALES FROM THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH

John Chuckman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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