E S S A Y S
on war, peace & in between
By Sam Smith
The Progressive Review
Iatrogenic security threats
Dealing with myth
Why you want to talk with terrorists
Dealing with evil
Preserving a Jewish state or the Jewish soul?
Why is the military sacred?
Why we need history
The immigration myth
How the media and the politicians make the Mid East worse
The real Holocaust denial
Not Pearl Harbor but Dien Bien Phu
End of empire
The trouble with moats
Follow the limousines
Toward a more perfect union
Privatize war not social security
September 11, 2003
Can Israel avoid multi-ethnicity?
The role of respect in peace
The end of treason
Doctors & destroyers
Writing about war
What Tim McVeigh and I had in common
Iatrogenic security threats
READER DAN writes in response to our listing of American corporations tied to Israel: "Do you have a comparable list of corporations that remain silent when a Palestinian bomb explodes aboard an Israeli bus? The policies of the Israeli government are abhorrent, but the tactics of the Palestinians are inexcusable as well."
When I raised a similar argument as a kid, my mother's response was, "If Johnny were to jump off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff, too?" I never could come up with good answer to that and so eventually had to concede that somebody else's stupidity was not a good excuse for my own.
The underlying problem is that we are funding Israel's violence but not that of Palestine. We are not directly responsible for the bombs on Israeli busses but we are very much responsible for the wrongs that Israel does. Further, if you occupy and oppress a people long and hard enough they will do all sorts of things to fight back that don't fit the definition of civil discourse.
The "well, what about their violence?" argument was used against the North Vietnamese and in just about every war since. Implicit in this is the idea that what we do wrong is excusable because it has been matched - or allegedly so - by the other side. Of course, the other side doesn't see it that way so you end up with a perfect stalemate of violence.
In fact, Israel - as does America - largely faces a security threat that it has created by its own supposed remedies. Both America and Israel are far more in danger now than they were before 9/11 because an ever growing portion of the world doesn't like the vicious cure they are offering.
During a 1999 anti-war speech in Washington's Dupont Circle, I addressed a similar problem in the Balkans:
There is a name for this sort of medicine. It is called iatrogenic - in which the disease is caused by the physician. Doctors who cause diseases or ruin the health of the patient through arrogance, incompetence, and mindless machismo have large insurance policies because people sue them for something we call malpractice. In medicine this is considered a bad thing.
We have just gone through yet another iatrogenic war, in which our elites have argued falsely that their stated intentions outweigh any actual consequences. The patient is in far worse shape than before this war began, the victim of arrogance, incompetence, and mindless machismo. . .
[Latest research puts the Balkan military and civilian deaths in the range of 100,000 with 1.8 million displaced]
We, of course, have had other iatrogenic wars. This is what happened in Vietnam when we declared that it was necessary to destroy villages in order to save them. This is what happened in Iraq when in the name defeating a modern Hitler we caused the post-war death by disease and malnutrition of far more people than Hussein himself had killed. And it is what happened when NATO declared that Slobadon Milosevic's crimes against humanity were such that they justified the brutal destruction of a country and the pain and death and the very ethnic cleansing we said we sought to avoid.
In fact, every moral act in the face of mental or physical injury carries twin responsibilities: to mend the injury and to avoid replacing it with another. This twin burden is faced every day by doctors. Every police officer faces it. Every firefighter. It was what I was taught as a Coast Guard officer. It's well past time for our politicians do so as well.
The point of speaking of the evils of a Milosovec or a Hussein is to raise the alarm. But once that has been successfully done, this alarm may not rightfully be used as a perpetual excuse for our own misdeeds. From the moment we commence a moral intervention we become a part of the story, and part of the good and evil. We are no longer the innocent bystander but a full participant whose acts will either help or make things worse. Our intentions become irrelevant; they are overwhelmed by the character of our response to them. The morality of the disease is supplanted by the morality of the cure. Any other course amounts to reckless and negligent political malpractice.
The security threat that both America and Israel now face is, in no small part, iatrogenic. The first step towards a cure rather than continued harm is to take responsibility for our own actions and not hide behind the violence of those who oppose us.
This means doing things that are an anathema to the politicians and media in this country such as actually talking - even seemingly forever - with those with whom we disagree. It means an end to showboating and the beginning of endless tiny steps towards accommodation. It means saying you're sorry when you have done wrong. It means finding things - like economic projects and programs - that benefit both sides and that make their former quarrels less important. It means giving dollars instead of shooting bullets. It means helping both sides choose to be survivors of their past rather than its perpetual victims. And it means putting away the guns, the threats and the bombast and looking for, in Benjamin Franklin's phrase, "the little felicities of every day."
Above all, it means taking constant and self-critical responsibility for our own acts and for those of our allies and not finding false moral shelter in the violent reactions they provoke. As Gandhi put it, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
Dealing with myth
Having been an anthropology major, I don't get as riled up about mythology in public life as many in the media and politics. Myths can be helpful, benign, sad, or deadly but mostly they're there to fill the empty places in reality.
Sometimes myths are carried on the backs of famous people because the reality isn't powerful enough to do the job. A classic case involves the death of Dr Charles Drew, the famous black surgeon.
It is widely told that Drew, then 46, died in North Carolina in 1950 following a car accident for which he was unable to get treatment at a white hospital and had to be transported to a much more distant black hospital, wasting critical treatment time.
But the Annals of American Survey notes:
"The authoritative work by historian Spencie Love entitled, One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles Drew, described how the myth has been cultivated because of the time and place of Dr. Drew's death and serves as an unfortunate filler between living memory and written history. True enough, a 23-year-old black World War II veteran by the name Maltheus Avery was critically injured in an auto crash on December 1, 1950, exactly 8 months after Dr. Drew's death. He was a student at North Carolina A&T, a husband, and a father of a small child. Like Dr. Drew, he was treated initially at Alamance General Hospital. He was transferred to Duke University Hospital and subsequently turned away because they had exhausted their supply of beds for black patients. Mr. Avery would die shortly after arrival at Lincoln Hospital, Durham, North Carolina's black facility. Spencie Love's book discusses how the story of the lesser-known Maltheus Avery confronted the circumstances of the death of the more prominent Dr. Drew, and thus a myth was born."
Something similar was at work in the black response to the OJ Simpson case. To many blacks, Simpson was carrying the mythic weight of decades of ethnic abuse under the justice system. In a column at the time for Pacific News Service, a black journalist, Dennis Schatzman, outlined some of the black context for the Simpson trial:
Just last year, Olympic long jumper and track coach Al Joyner was handcuffed and harassed in a LAPD traffic incident. He has settled out of court for $250,000.
A few years earlier, former baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was "handcuffed and arrested at the Los Angeles airport because police believed that Morgan 'fit the profile of a drug dealer.'" He also got a settlement of $250,000.
Before that, former LA Laker forward Jamal Wilkes was stopped by the police, handcuffed and thrown to the pavement.
A black man was recently given a 25-year to life sentence for stealing a slice of pizza from a young white boy.
In 1992, a mentally troubled black man was shot and killed by LA sheriff's deputies while causing a disturbance in front of his mother's house. Neighbors say they saw a deputy plant a weapon by the body.
Simpson case detective Mark Fuhrman was accused of planting a weapon at the side of a robbery suspect back in 1988. The LAPD recently settled for an undisclosed amount.
In North Carolina, Daryl Hunt still languishes in jail for the 1984 rape and murder of a white newspaper reporter, even though DNA tests say it was not possible.
These examples would be rejected as irrelevant by the average lawyer or journalist but in fact OJ Simpson's case served as the mythic translation of stories never allowed to be told. The stories that should have been on CNN but weren't. Everything was true except the names, times and places. In Washington, they do something similar when stories can't be told; they write a novel.
Something parallel took place around the same time when militia members imagined that the Bloods & Crips were being armed by the US government or when blacks believed the same thing about the militias. Or when the UN was thought to on the verge of invading the U.S.
Like urban blacks considering the justice system, the rural right saw things the elite would prefer to ignore. It observed correctly phenomena indicating loss of sovereignty for themselves, their states and their country. They saw treaties replaced by fast-track agreements and national powers surrendered to remote and unaccountable trade tribunals. And they saw a multi-decade assault by the federal government on the powers of states and localities.
Like urban blacks, they were not paranoid in these observations, merely perceptive. But because the story could not be told, could not become part of the national agenda, they turned, as people in trouble often do, to a myth -- and, yes, sometimes a violent myth -- that would carry the story.
We tend to get very self-righteous when dealing with other people's myths but very tolerant about our own. Thus a conference dedicated to spreading doubt about the Holocaust is an outrage but a generation of teaching Americans fabrications about the economy in the name of robber baron capitalism is perfectly fine even if it has done infinitely more damage than an anti-Holocaust conference.
The Holocaust conference was a mythological alternative to doing what many participants would like to do but can't: invade and destroy Israel. Defeat is a prime breeding ground of myth.
But even as the Washington Post was attacking the conference, it was slipping in its own myth, witness this report:
Even by the standards of Neturei Karta, these most ultra of ultra-orthodox Jewish Hasids took a step into the world of the very strange, if not the meshuga, or crazy, when they showed up as honored guests at a conference of Holocaust skeptics and deniers in Tehran. With a hug and a smile for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rabbi Aharon Cohen walked into a conference room with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, discredited academics, and more than a few white supremacists and served up a rousing welcome speech. . .
Neturei Karta is best understood within the confines and context of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which harbors the world's largest ultra-orthodox Jewish shtetl, or community. Here the garb -- black coats and hats for the men, wigs and demure dresses for the women -- is that of the 18th century, Yiddish is the lingua franca and there is no deviation from the teachings of Torah and Talmud. The Satmar sect dominates this ghetto, and anti-Zionism is central to their identity. . .
Neturei Karta acknowledged never before having gone to a Holocaust deniers meeting but offered no apologies; they are practiced practitioners of the outrageous. Chaim Freimann used to hang around hotels in Washington during the 1992 Mideast peace talks, wearing a Palestinian flag in his lapel and giving old-comrade greetings to Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokeswoman.
The Post thus declared as outrageous the idea of a Jew being on friendly terms with a Palestinian. And what is a Jew doing at Mideast peace talks anyway?
Once again, proof that it's a lot easier to explode the other guy's myth than to examine one's own.
America's view of the Holocaust, for example, is filled with its own myths. Such as the one that redefines Nazism and the European conflict primarily by its anti-Semitic manifestations, safely exempting us from considering the changes in German governance that led to these manifestations, changes that are becoming uncomfortably familiar in America.
And it is missing important stories, stories like the one Richard Rubenstein tells in the Cunning of History about a Hungarian Jewish emissary meeting with Lord Moyne, the British High Commissioner in Egypt in 1944 and suggesting that the Nazis might be willing to save one million Hungarian Jews in return for military supplies. Lord Moyne's reply: "What shall I do with those million Jews? Where shall I put them?" Writes Rubenstein: "The British government was by no means adverse to the 'final solution' as long as the Germans did most of the work. " For both countries, it had become a bureaucratic problem, one that Rubenstein suggests we understand "as the expression of some of the most profound tendencies of Western civilization in the 20th century."
And this one from the Village Voice:
The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number. And now it's been revealed that IBM machines were actually based at the infamous concentration-camp complex. . . The new revelation of IBM technology in the Auschwitz area constitutes a final link in the chain of documentation surrounding Big Blue's vast enterprise in Nazi-occupied Poland, supervised at first directly from its New York headquarters, and later through its Geneva office. . . IBM spokesman Carol Makovich didn't respond to repeated telephone calls. In the past, when asked about IBM's Polish subsidiary's involvement with the Nazis, Makovich has said, "IBM does not have much information about this period." When a Reuters reporter asked about Poland, Makovich said, "We are a technology company, we are not historians."
Similarly, in a mythology obsessed with Israel, the American story of secular Judaism has all but disappeared. Last century's great immigration of European Jews brought with it many rebels who had rejected Zionism if not religion. As I wrote in Why Bother: "They became part of a Jewish tradition that profoundly shaped the politics, social conscience, and cultural course of 20th century America. It helped to create the organizations, causes, and values that built this country's social democracy. While Protestants and Irish Catholics controlled the institutions of politics, the ideas of modern social democracy disproportionately came from native populists and immigrant socialists. It is certainly impossible to imagine liberalism, the civil rights movement, or the Vietnam protests without the Jewish left. There is, in fact, no greater parable of the potential power of a conscious, conscientious minority than the influence of secular Jews on 20th century modern American politics."
These stories make the Holocaust more complex than we would like it to be.
Elsewhere in Why Bother, I discussed a less contentious example of myths at work:
Consider, for example, the Ojibwa, described by Brian Morris in Anthropology of the Self. These Indians, a group of nomadic hunters and fishers living east of Lake Winnipeg, "do not make any categorical or sharply defined differentiation between myth and reality, or between dreaming and the waking state; neither can any hard or fast line be drawn between humans and animals. . . . A bear is an animal which unlike humans hibernates during the winter, but in specific circumstances it may be interpreted as a human sorcerer. . . . The four winds are thought of not only as animate by the Ojibwa, but are categorized as persons."
Not only may a culture define the four winds as persons under certain circumstances, it may also define a slave or someone from another tribe as not a person at all. Nonetheless the slave or the outsider really exist so at some level are treated as a person anyway. Hence people in such societies may trade goods with the stranger or attempt to convert the slave to Christianity even though they are not considered human. Or the society may try to quantify such anomalies as Americans did when they declared a black legally equal to three-fifths of a white person. Or it may create a hierarchy as Aristotle did when he confidently declared that "the deliberative faculty in the soul is not present at all in a slave: in a female is present but ineffective, in a child present but undeveloped." Or it may declare that "all men are created equal" but really mean only white male property owners. Or it may fight a revolution for liberty but leave women as chattel. Or the culture can painfully change such values over two centuries and still have to go repeatedly to court to fight over what was really meant by the change. . .
Here is how anthropologist Morris describes his own western culture: "It is individualistic, and has a relatively inflated concern with the self which in extremes gives rise to anxiety, to a sense that there is a loss of meaning in contemporary life, to a state of narcissism, and to an emphasis in popular psychology on 'self actualization.' "
Bad as this sounds, though, you will probably get along better in New York or Chicago with a loss of meaning, state of narcissism, or overflowing self-actualization than if you try to escape your angst by acting like the Ojibwa. In the Big Apple, to lack a sharply defined differentiation between myth and reality, between dreaming and the waking state; or between humans and animals, risks not only ridicule but actual legal sanctions. Even in a culture that celebrates the power of the individual, the restraints on that individualism are substantial and we, like peoples everywhere, go about our daily business regarding them as largely normal."
Mythology soars when a culture is under threat or in great isolation. Might the fact that the U.S. hasn't talked with Iran for 27 years have anything to do with the latter's current treatment of the Holocaust?
And what changes this? I have argued that if you want to bring peace in the Israeli-Palestine conflict you just put a few Wal-Marts. Thus you would rid the area of both feuding cultures and replace them with Wal-Mart customers.
The theory behind this is more serious than it appears. People get on better when there is something more important going on than what it is that divides them. Thus, despite all the talk about cultural diversity in liberal circles and on campuses, the places where you are most likely to find people of different ethnic backgrounds mixing well include shopping malls, the military, sports teams and ethnic restaurants. Key to the relationship is the fact that everyone thinks they're getting something out of the deal.
The same principle would work in foreign policy. The best way to deal with a harmful myth is to eliminate the anger, isolation and other problems that caused it to thrive in the first place. You replace them with a deal that works well for everyone.
These myths are not the problem; they are just good warning signs of the problem. Solve the problem and you'll get much better myths.
Israel is a state like all the rest.
AIPAC is just another political group like the National Rifle Association. It is not a religion but one more Washington lobby corrupting the political process and making American voters less powerful.
The policy of the Israeli government is clearly distinguishable from the theology of Judaism to all but a small yet powerful and noisy crowd including neo-conservatives, cable TV anchors and semantic bomb throwers. Israeli policy reflects Judaism about as well as George Bush reflects Christianity.
Our policy towards Palestine, based on polling, is one of the major issues dividing us from the Muslim world. This policy helped lead to the World Trade Center attack and the international disasters that have occurred since. It has also made Israel less safe. We can not solve our current crises nor end our manic fears of the Muslim world without changing our policies towards Palestine and the Middle East.
Osama bin Laden is a monster created by American foreign policy. You can kill him but unless our foreign policy changes, there are more monsters where he came from.
If what goes on in the synagogue doesn't stay in the synagogue than it can not be expected to be treated as though it were still there. In other words, if you're going to ask American taxpayers to subsidize Israel and back its policies, the matter should be handled no differently than building a B2 bomber or putting a federal agency's office in some congress member's district. If you want to play by religion's rules act like a religion. Otherwise, the rules of politics govern. And anyone who calls that anti-Semitic is either a cry baby or a scoundrel.
Just because you're pro-Israel doesn't mean you have to be anti-Muslim. The present crisis stems in no small part from conflating the two. American policy has been anti-Muslim or cynically manipulative of Islamic states for decades. No policy of ours has been more wrong-headed.
If there is another disaster such as the World Trade Center, it will also be in no small part due to our policies in the Middle East including that towards those toward Palestine. No issue has done more damage to America and none continues to cause a greater threat.
Why you want to talk with terrorists
Bush's history is as bad as his politics. Of course, there can be peace with so-called terrorist organizations; it's just a matter of whether one waits the better part of a century like the British in Northern Ireland or you start talking and negotiating now. The latter course would seem advisable in the Mid East given the prospects for the PA even with the "democratic institutions" the American empire is "acting to establish" - a neat trick not unlike forced consensual sex. Besides terrorists are just people with weapons with whom America doesn't agree; the other ones are called allies and by definition there isn't all that much to negotiate with them about.
Further, one of the reasons America is in so much trouble is because it happily makes all sorts of compromises in order to get along with large dictatorships such Russia and China, but thinks it can handle smaller operations like Hamas, North Korea, and Iran by simple obstinacy and belligerence. In other words, it is happy to talk with big terrorists, just not little ones. In fact, most of these small entities - and those who lead them - suffer from extreme inferiority complexes. By threatening war, imposing massive embargos and so forth, America merely feeds the sense of persecution and encourages the least rational reaction. A more sensible approach would be to constantly negotiate with these leaders and edge them towards reasonable participation in world affairs.
Dealing with evil
LISTENING TO Peter Kornbluth the other evening discuss the progress of the Pinochet case brought to mind some questions seldom discussed in such celebrity prosecutions:
- Beyond the obvious requirements for justice what is achieved by such cases? For example, Kornbluth suggests that the Chilean elite is now far less favorable toward Pincochet because of revelations of his secret financing dealings. But what is the effect outside of Chile?
- Some of these cases morph into political tools - both positive and negative - not directly related to the cases themselves. For example, the Pinochet case might have improved democracy in Latin America but, on the other hand, the arrest of Osama bin Laden before November 2 will clearly be used to help George Bush win reelection.
- What have we really learned from such noted examples as the Nuremburg trials or Holocaust education? Do we overestimate the importance of such examples given the frequent reappearance of truly bad guys in world politics, our failure to deal in a timely manner with African genocide, or the failure of even Israel to grasp some of the lessons of the Holocaust? Is the way we handle these events actually an iconic escape valve by which we indicate our concern without dramatically changing our ways?
- Under what circumstance are truth & reconciliation commissions, reparations or major miscreant trials the desired course?
- What are some of the best and worst examples of post-evil reaction by specific countries or international groups?
Imagine if we had told Israel and Palestine a couple of years ago that if they would just make nice we would give them enough money to equal Israel's GDP for one year and Palestine's for three. Take the time off, go to the Riviera or the Catskills, forget about productivity, and just party thanks to the American taxpayer. Or if Israel and Palestine wanted to be really sensible, they could have invested in their country's future instead.
Think how much safer we would be today.
But where would such a large sum of money come from?
Well, gentle reader, all we would have had to have done was to cancel the planned invasion of Iraq and used the money as a carrot rather than as a bludgeon. For that is just what it has cost us so far.
PS: Name one major American news outlet that offered you an option even close to this.
Preserving a Jewish state or the Jewish soul?
VIGDOR LIEBERMAN, that nasty member of the Israel cabinet, wants to get rid of the Arabs so his country can remain a Jewish state. It's not a new idea; shoving Arabs around helped Israel get started. And it didn't work all that well. Fifty years of misery as the Israelis and the Arabs competed to prove whose victimhood was the worse, a battle no one ever wins. And Israel still has more Arabs than America has Latinos.
Gene McCarthy once said that 80% of the world's problems could be attributed to British mapmakers. A slight exaggeration to be sure, but it is still true that souls and governments don't live in the same places. And when governments "settle" a dispute they don't pay much attention to how people really live. They just draw a line and say, Well, now, that's taken care of." And, of course, it isn't.
One of the rare exceptions happened in Switzerland. Dietrich Fischer described it in the Progressive Review in 1991:
"[The] conflict developed in the 1950s in the canton Bern in Switzerland, where a French speaking Catholic minority in the Jura region felt constantly overruled by the German speaking Protestant majority. The cantonal government in Bern sought to persuade the French speaking minority that it was in their own best interest to remain with the canton, since they received economic subsidies.
"But only the people of the Jura themselves could decide what they valued more, economic subsidies or self-government. As the process dragged on, demonstrations became more frequent, and some cases of politically motivated arson occurred. No one was killed, but there is little doubt that if the conflict had remained unsolved, it could ultimately have developed into a civil war like that in Northern Ireland.
"After a long delay, the Bernese government finally agreed to hold a referendum to let the people in the Jura decide whether they preferred to form their own canton or to remain within the canton Bern. The first vote was about evenly split. So a second vote was held separately in each of six districts. Three districts, bordering on the German speaking part of the canton, had majorities preferring the old arrangement, while the three districts that were farther removed from the center preferred separation.
"After that vote, each community along the borderline was allowed to choose whether it preferred to stay where it was or switch sides. Some switched. In 1978 the new canton Jura was founded and welcomed by the voters of Switzerland as a member of the confederation. Since then, the violence has subsided, since most people got what they wanted, or respected the verdict of the voters.
"Self-determination is an effective means of conflict resolution. It does not guarantee that the optimal decision will be taken in all cases. But if people make a mistake and suffer the consequences, they have nobody but themselves to blame, and they simply have to try to do better at the next opportunity. If, however, some far removed central government makes a decision for the people and they suffer, they have good reason to project their anger at those responsible. . .
"The secret of Switzerland's long-lasting unity and stability may lie in its diversity. It does not impose uniformity from a center, but allows a great deal of local self-determination. Cooperation is the result of negotiations between all of the parties involved and is entirely voluntary, not forced upon them."
A number of factors involved in the Swiss case have been absent in the Middle East:
- Opportunity for self-determination
- Flexibility in drawing borders based on small scale preferences that reflect community desires rather than those of nation states.
- The substantial devolution of power so that subcultures call their own shots wherever possible.
- Change by negotiation and cooperation.
Of course, it was easier since the parties all had loyalty to a common state. But it would be a far more sensible route than the one that Israel has been following.
Israel faces the prospect of one day becoming like much of the world - a culturally diverse and contentious population living under a single flag. It can, in fact, point to few parallels - the Vatican is among the lonely - for its dream of ethnic purity. The last big country to try it included Jews among its victims and, in the end, lost the battle.
The mythology of a Jewish state as a noble goal can be easily punctured by imagining someone campaigning in the U.S. for a white Christian state and, in the spirit of Lieberman, proposing to moving our latinos down to Mexico. But then you don't have to imagine. We have such people. Only we call them Nazis but they also hate Jews which makes it all a bit confusing.
The fact is that the airplane and television pretty much sabotaged any dreams of ethnic purity around the world. No lawyer or dictator in the world has yet figured how to get around them. And it's probably time for Israel to accept the fact.
Admittedly the job of retaining a culture is incredibly difficult these days but using apartheid and cluster bombs isn't going to help. Having something that others admire and encourage will.
Most of all, a culture is transmitted by the magic of its nature and the witness of its members. This Anglo-Irish kid was raised in an era when Jews were saving our politics, writing some of our best literature, and keeping us laughing. You couldn't help but become a citizen of the Jewish state of mind. That's one reason I'm both angry and sad about Israel's present course. It purports to be preserving itself but is really tearing itself apart and alienating the very people it should instead be offering passports to its soul.
A good place to start getting things back on track would be to pull out the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel which describes a place that "will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and
And the nice thing is, you don't need cluster bombs to get people to go along with that.
Why is the military sacred?
ONE OF THE MOST costly and immoral lies of our culture is that the military is a sacred institution. John Kerry recently bumped into this lie while telling a truth, that as a practical matter, one shouldn't mention a week before the election, namely that the military has always been a haven for those who couldn't hack it in the civilian economy. "Education. . . if you make the most of it and you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well," said Kerry "If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
You need only watch the military's own recruiting ads to know the importance of the economic harbor. Which is why these ads promise to train you so you'll be able make it in the 'free market' when you go back.
The military is America's largest religion. If in public office, you may no more take its name in vain than those of the lesser gods revered by more modest religions like Christianity.
In fact, the military has a permanent exemption from the strictures of Christianity. Otherwise, instead of going after cohabiting gays, the church's rightwing would be attacking the Pentagon for violating such strictures as:
"The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
"Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 'But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
"Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword."
But none of that matters to the Christian apostates who control the discussion of both religion and the military in our political debates. These frauds have blasphemed their own purported religion and betrayed its fundamental principles. And nowhere is this more apparent than their allegiance to the military, the most un-Christian institution of our world.
Of course, if you're a Seventh Day Agnostic like your editor, you can get away with saying such things. It is those who seek power but can't quite get the hypocritical rhetoric down who end up in trouble.
Like John Kerry who was taken to the reamers for violating the first law of heroism - let someone else do the talking about what you did - and who now is in trouble for not seeing the military as heroic enough. It's often like that; it's the errant priests who get into real trouble, not the outlanders, the unsalvageable.
And the reason he is in trouble is because not just the GOP spin machine but everyone in public office and the bulk of the media believe one should speak no evil of the military. On no single issue, is the media's pretension of objectivity more regularly violated. Its true purpose in this matter is to perpetuate the myth of the sacred role of the warrior.
In fact, as Joseph Conrad noted, the hero and the coward are those who, for one brief moment, do something out of the ordinary. At least the ones we honor, that is. The career firefighter, the inner city grandmother raising six grandchildren whose father is in jail and mother has a lousy job, or the teacher year after year helping to save those who society has preemptively discarded are not treated as sacred, as heroes, or as worthy of special honor during political campaigns and or on the evening news. But killing some Iraqis, or being killed by them: that's the real thing.
That's why you won't hear any politician or commentator quoting Eugene Debs: "I would no more teach children military training than I would teach them arson, robbery, or assassination."
There is also the little problem of winning. If you're going to justify war without concern for its morality, you still are left with the practical problem of victory. Since World War II, America has had no victories save against minor military enemies such as Granada. Even if we were to declare victory against Iraq it would be the equivalent of Notre Dame defeating St Joseph's Junior High School.
I sometimes fantasize that war will be the slavery of the 21st century, which is to say a concept once widely accepted is turned into the pariah practice it should always have been. For this to happen abolitionism will have to replace pacifism; it is not the good of the resister that is important but rather the evil of the practitioner. We need to demystify the military, pointing out not just its moral weaknesses but its logical fallacies. We should sensibly regard people who walk around with pins on their chests celebrating their life as, at best, somewhat unstable. And we need to remind the media that it can not call itself objective and repeatedly rebuff the voices of peace.
Why we need history
Now that Frances Fukuyama has rediscovered history, the Nation Magazine's Katrina Vanden Heuvel would like to put it to bed again. In the best tradition of the establishment's view of "civil discourse" - i.e. avoiding the real issues - Vanden Heuvel suggested in the :Washington Post that we "stop equating our opponents with famous dictators, their chief executioners, police apparatus or ideologies. I'm all for learning from history, but times are hard enough in American politics - with war, threats to national security, the greatest divide between rich and poor in our history and deep cultural divisions. Present differences deserve to be described in contemporary terms. The purpose of public speech is not just to restate anger but to clarify the principles and evidence that fuel it -- in ways that invite discussion, not inhibit it."
Vanden Heuvel is dead wrong. The reason people get away with bad historical analogies is because we don't discuss history enough. We are left with an assortment of myths, stereotypes, and trite metaphors. Our present state is in no small part the result of not understanding and discussing our past. For example:
Have we always been so publicly callous about torture before?
Why have we passed more laws in the past 30 years than we did in our first two hundred?
Whatever happened to the Tenth Amendment?
Have corporations always been granted the status of individuals in our society?
The list is endless, but let's just consider the aspect of history that Vanden Heuvel doesn't want us to mention: similarities between present day American politicians and politics and some unpleasant precedents.
Her examples remind us that people can make these analogies crudely, wrongly, or for nefarious purposes. But if Vanden Heuvel felt more at home with history she would realize that this is part of a great American tradition: putting up with a certain amount of nonsense in order to preserve our freedoms including that of speech.
But what if we ignore Vanden Heuvel's advice and ask ourselves, for example: how close are we to Hitler's Germany? What can we learn from even a cursory consideration of history?
In the first place, one needs to separate Hitler, Nazism and fascism. Conflating these leads the unwary to assume easily that all three are inevitably characterized by anti-Semitism, when in fact only the first two are. By avoiding this distinction we don't have to face the fact that America is closer to fascism than it has ever been in its history.
To understand why, one needs to look not at Hitler but at the founder of fascism, Mussolini. What Mussolini founded was the estato corporativo - the corporative state or corporatism. Writing in Economic Affairs in the mid 1970s, R.E. Pahl and J. T. Winkler described corporatism as a system under which government guides privately owned businesses towards order, unity, nationalism and success. They were quite clear as to what this system amounted to: "Let us not mince words. Corporatism is fascism with a human face. . . An acceptable face of fascism, indeed, a masked version of it, because so far the more repugnant political and social aspects of the German and Italian regimes are absent or only present in diluted forms."
Thus, although the model generally cited in defense of organized capitalism is that of the contemporary Japanese, the most effective original practitioners of a corporative economy were the Italians. Unlike today's Japanese, but like contemporary America, their economy was a war economy.
Adrian Lyttelton, describing the rise of Italian fascism in The Seizure of Power, writes: "A good example of Mussolini's new views is provided by his inaugural speech to the National Exports Institute on 8 July 1926. . . Industry was ordered to form 'a common front' in dealing with foreigners, to avoid 'ruinous competition,' and to eliminate inefficient enterprises. . . The values of competition were to be replaced by those of organization: Italian industry would be reshaped and modernized by the cartel and trust. . .There was a new philosophy here of state intervention for the technical modernization of the economy serving the ultimate political objectives of military strength and self-sufficiency; it was a return to the authoritarian and interventionist war economy."
Lyttelton writes that "fascism can be viewed as a product of the transition from the market capitalism of the independent producer to the organized capitalism of the oligopoly." It was a point that Orwell had noted when he described fascism as being but an extension of capitalism. Lyttelton quoted Nationalist theorist Affredo Rocco: "The Fascist economy is. . . an organized economy. It is organized by the producers themselves, under the supreme direction and control of the State."
The Germans had their own word for it: wehrwirtschaft. It was not an entirely new idea there. As William Shirer points out in the Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich, 18th and 19th century Prussia had devoted some five-sevenths of its revenue on the Army and "that nation's whole economy was always regarded as primarily an instrument not of the people's welfare but of military policy."
Has "civil discourse" been harmed by knowing the foregoing and the uncomfortable similarities it bears with what is happening to our country today?
Another more complex example is Adolph Hitler. On many grounds, the analogy does not serve us well:
Germany's willingness to accept Hitler was the product of many cultural characteristics specific to that country, to the anger and frustrations in the wake of the World War I defeat, to extraordinary inflation and particular dumb reactions to it, and, of course, to the appeal of anti-Semitism. Still, consideration of the Weimar Republic that preceded Hitler does us no harm. Bearing in mind all the foregoing, there was also:
- A collapse of conventional liberal and conservative politics that bears uncomfortable similarities to what we are now experiencing.
- The gross mismanagement of the economy and of such key worker concerns as wages, inflation, pensions, layoffs, and rising property taxes. Many of the actions were taken in the name of efficiency, an improved economy and the "rationalization of production." There were also bankruptcies, negative trade balance, major decline in national production, large national debt rise compensated for by foreign investment. In other words, a hyped version of what America and its workers are experiencing today.
- The Nazis as the first modern political party. As University of Pennsylvania professor Thomas Childers explains, the Nazis discovered the importance of campaigning not just during campaigns but between elections when the other parties folded their tents. With this "perpetual campaigning" they spread themselves like a virus, considering the public reaction to everything right down to the colors used for posters and rally backgrounds. Knowing this, one can not watch the manic manipulations of public moments by the Bush regime without a sense of déjà vu.
- The use of negative campaigning, a contribution to modern politics by Joseph Goebbels. The Nazi campaigns argued what was wrong with their opponents and ignored stating their own policies.
- The Nazis as the inventors of modern political propaganda. Every modern American political campaign and the types of arguments used to support them owes much to the ideas of the Nazis.
- The suddenness of the Nazi rise. The party went from less than 3% of the vote to being the largest party in the country in four years.
- The collapse of the country's self image. Childers points out that Germany had had been a world leader in education, industry, science, and literacy. Much of the madness that we see today stems from attempts to compensate for our battered self-image.
So while many of the behaviors that would come to be associated with Nazis and Hitler - from physical attacks on political opponents to the death camps - seem far removed from our present concerns, there is still much to learn from their history.
We are clearly in a post-constitutional era; the end of the First American Republic. Depending on what day it is we think of its replacement variously - ranging from an adhocracy to proto-fascism. But one does not need to know the end of the story to know that we headed at a rapid pace away from the extraordinary principles of American democracy towards the dark hole of power with impunity, to the sort of world in which, as Rudolph Giuliani has calmly asserted, "freedom is about authority."
If we describe present differences only in contemporary terms then we have nothing to guide us but what happened yesterday.
George Bush and his capos have capitalized on this disinterest in history to rewrite the Constitution and other things. He's not the first.
For example, Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic stated, "In case public safety is seriously threatened or disturbed, the Reich President may take the measures necessary to reestablish law and order, if necessary using armed force. In the pursuit of this aim, he may suspend the civil rights described in articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153, partially or entirely. The Reich President must inform the Reichstag immediately about all measures undertaken . . . The measures must be suspended immediately if the Reichstag so demands."
It was this article that Hitler used to peacefully establish his dictatorship. And why was it so peaceful and easy? Because, according to Childers, the 'democratic" Weimar Republic had already used it 57 times prior to Hitler's ascendancy.
There are eerie similarities between Article 48 and George Bush's approach. When you add to this the remarkable incompetence of the current regime, the collapse of both traditional liberal and conservative politics, and the economic crises, it feels like a new Weimar Republic setting the stage for awful things we can not at this point even imagine. It may be that history has something to tell us after all.
The immigration myth
IT IS taken as a given in the immigration debate that our current system for dealing with the issue has some sort of historical logic. It doesn't. The story of immigration in the U.S. is a mishmash of hospitality and hatred, encouragement and restriction.
The Naturalization Act of 1790, for example, said that "any alien, being a free white person, may be admitted to become a citizen of the United States." Blacks, indentured servants, and most women couldn't be citizens no matter where they came from, but the underlying approach to immigration would boggle the mind of today's strict constructionists. If you were a free white male, you came, you saw, and you signed up. As the Citizenship and Immigration Services describes ti, "the law required a set period of residence in the United States prior to naturalization, specifically two years in the country and one year in the state of residence when applying for citizenship. When those requirements were met, an immigrant could file a Petition for Naturalization with "any common law court of record" having jurisdiction over his residence asking to be naturalized. Once convinced of the applicant?s good moral character, the court would administer an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution of the United States."
The essence of immigration as we know it today - i.e. the restriction of immigration - didn't become a major issue until the Chinese exclusion Act of 1882, hardly something of which Americans should be proud. This was the period of the great post-reconstruction counter revolution during which corporations gained enormous power but the rest of America and its citizens lost it.
The counter-revolution was not only an attack on would-be immigrants, it was aimed at American ethnic groups who had proved far too successful at adding to their political clout in places like Boston and New York City.
Richard Croker, a tough 19th century county boss of Tammany Hall, grew almost lyrical when he spoke of his party's duty to immigrants:
"They do not speak our language, they do not know our laws, they are the raw material with which we have to build up the state . . . There is no denying the service which Tammany has rendered to the republic. There is no such organization for taking hold of the untrained, friendless man and converting him into a citizen. Who else would do it if we did not? . . . [Tammany] looks after them for the sake of their vote, grafts them upon the Republic, makes citizens of them."
Alexander B. Callow Jr. of the University of California has written that Boston pol Martin Lomansey even met every new immigrant ship and "helped the newcomers find lodging or guided them to relatives. James Michael Curley set up nationalization classes to prepare newcomers for the citizenship examination . . . Friendly judges, anticipating election day, converted their courts into naturalization mills, grinding out a thousand new Americans a day. . . . Flags were waved, prose turned purple, celebrations were wild on national holidays. . . . Patriotism became a means for the newcomer to prove himself worthy."
By 1891 the federal government had assumed control of admitting or rejecting all immigrants and one year later Ellis island opened. By 1903 we had a law restricting Mexican laborers and during and after World I, laws were expanded greatly including a ban on all Asians save the Japanese.
We did not have the equivalent of a green card until 1940 and the actual card of that name only came in during the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. What we think of as our immigration system is in no small part a leftover from the McCarthy era.
It is common today to discuss immigration as though it were primarily an employment and economic matter. The trouble with this claim is that many of the people who are most anti-immigration are the same who have caused infinitely more economic harm to the country through globalization and outsourcing.
In truth, what really scares the exclusionists is the politics of immigrants, potentially more progressive than they would like. From Nordic populists in the northern middle west to European socialists, to the right immigration has meant left.
This, of course, isn't always true as in the case of Cuba but it helps to make the debate a bit clearer to understand what it is about.
In the end, we don't really have an immigration policy but an exclusion policy, outsourcing our prejudices by not letting their targets enter the country.
How the media and the politicians make the Mid East worse
Although Hamas says it is interested in a political truce with Israel, the news got little attention and even in the AP story it was coupled with a death dealing qualifier:
"The Palestinians' incoming prime minister said Sunday that Hamas is interested in a long-term truce with Israel but has no intention of seeking a formal peace agreement that would recognize the Jewish state."
The implication is that if Palestine won't "recognize" the Jewish state, then nothing much has changed. In fact, a political truce is a highly desirable goal whatever Palestinians and Israelis continue to think of each other. It's a little bit as if the Catholic Church were interested in ordaining women but still refused to approve of contraception. The two issues are important but they are not inexorably intertwined. Americans should be able to understand this being a society which has integrated much of its life but still leaves the Confederate flag flying abundantly.
The best way to make progress in such situations is to concentrate on people's behavior, not their beliefs and symbols. Both Israel and Palestine have arguable mythical versions of the past that will last for the indefinite future, but at the moment debating whatever should have happened decades ago to the land in dispute does not advance sanity or peace one iota. In such situations it is far better to win a compromise over reality than a controversy over myth.
What is needed is a Palestinian and a Israeli state based on the most reasonable agreement that can be reached to this effect. Every increment in this direction should be hailed and used like a cane to help the weak legs of those in conflict make the next step. The symbolic syrup that politicians and media like so much - such as "recognizing Israel's right to exist" - will come naturally after far more important work has been achieved, which is to get the two sides to stop killing - and start dealing with - each other.
The real Holocaust denial
THE jailing of Holocaust denier David Irving in Austria is a reminder of how easy it is to imitate evil even as one excoriates it. The law that convicted Irving is of the sort the Nazis would have invoked, albeit for far different purposes, and was a routine offense in Orwell's 1984.
Many fail to see this irony because they are engaged in the greatest Holocaust denial of all: a refusal to look seriously at why there was a Holocaust in the first place. To blame it all on anti-Semitism is as dangerously ahistorical as to deny its existence. Yes, Jews were the victims, but why did an ancient and widespread prejudice produce such an extreme result in this case?
We avoid this question because it takes us places we don't want to go. Like the role of modern bureaucracy and technology in the magnification of evil. Like the commingling of corporate and state interests in a way the world had never seen before. Like the failure of Germany's liberal elite to stand effectively against wrong eerily echoed today in the failure of America's liberal elite to do likewise.
Some of the most important lessons of the Holocaust are simply missed. Among these, as Richard Rubenstein has pointed out, is that it could only have been carried out by 'an advanced political community with a highly trained, tightly disciplined police and civil service bureaucracy.'
In The Cunning of History, Rubenstein also finds uncomfortable parallels between the Nazis and their opponents. For example, a Hungarian Jewish emissary meets with Lord Moyne, the British High Commissioner in Egypt in 1944 and suggests that the Nazis might be willing to save one million Hungarian Jews in return for military supplies. Lord Moyne's reply: "What shall I do with those million Jews? Where shall I put them?" Writes Rubenstein: "The British government was by no means adverse to the 'final solution' as long as the Germans did most of the work. " For both countries, it had become a bureaucratic problem, one that Rubenstein suggests we understand "as the expression of some of the most profound tendencies of Western civilization in the 20th century."
How many school children are taught that, worldwide, wars in the past century killed over 100 million people? In World War I alone, the death toll was around ten million. Much of this, including the Holocaust, was driven by a culture of modernity that so changed the power of institutions over the individual that the latter would become what Erich Fromm called homo mechanicus, "attracted to all that is mechanical and inclined against all that is alive." Becoming, in fact, a part of the machinery -- willing to kill or to die just to keep it running.
Thus, with Auschwitz-like efficiency, over 6,000 people perished every day during World War I for 1,500 days. Rubenstein recounts that on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the British lost 60,000 men and half of the officers assigned to them. But the bureaucratic internal logic of the war did not falter at all; over the next six months, more than a million British, French and German soldiers would lose their lives. The total British advance: six miles. No one in that war was a person anymore. The seeds of the Holocaust can thus be found in the trenches of World War I. Individuals had became no better than the bullets that killed them, just part of the expendable arsenal of the state.
But we don't talk about this do we? We don't teach our children about it, do we?
The problem with
using the outcome rather than the origins of the Holocaust as
our metaphor and our message is that we are totally unprepared
for those practices, laws, and arguments that can produce similar
outcomes. We study the death chambers when we should be learning
about the birth places.
THE NEW REPUBLIC, purveyor of cheap paradigms to the Washington elite, has included some of your editor's comments on the current crisis in its "Idiocy Watch," described as "our attempt to keep up with all the dumb and outrageous things being said and written about America and the terrorists."
The words in question
- "The World Trade Center disaster is a globalized version
of the Columbine High School disaster. When you bully people
long enough they are going to strike back," - were delivered
in a speech to a Green Party conference.
The New Republic staff, rather than describing as "idiots" those urging a rational response, could better use their time apologizing for their part in creating the crisis that America now faces. And while they're it, they might explain how those crushed Afghans came back to life.
[The following is an excerpt from your editor's memoirs that documents some of the steps I went through to arrive at full opposition to the war in Vietnam. It may helpful - and perhaps hopeful - to those trying to change minds about the current Bush war. Note how eerily contemporary my earliest comments about Vietnam seem.]
SAM SMITH, "MULTITUDES" - Although a researcher stumbling upon The Idler might regard it as an early example of the alternative press, I initially saw myself more as an unconventional member of the establishment rather than its opponent. Early on, I tried to explain to readers I suspected were considerably more traditional than myself some of the remarkable changes that were occurring in America and how they might best adapt to them. If anything, my view of American radicalism was that of a sympathetic, albeit sometimes patronizing, observer. Among other things, The Idler in its three short years of existence, tracked my sometimes awkward, equivocating, or pompous pilgrimage away from what I had been taught and still in many ways believed I was. In June 1965, for example, I wrote:
"There is a new radical spirit. It has drawn much of its strength from the civil rights movement, but it goes far beyond that, challenging not just America's racial attitudes but some of her most cherished and smug assumptions, It protests the whole humdrum, humbug world of white urban American sophistication with its self-serving definition of success, its indifference towards the socially and economically disenfranchised of the country, its phony values and its 8 oz. drip-dry culture. It is as purposeful as a March on Montgomery and as pointless as an obscene sign on the University of California campus."
Yet when it came to applying such principles to our increasing involvement in Vietnam, I found myself on far less certain ground. For example, from a piece in September 1965:
"President Johnson is faced with two major dangers. He must not let this war expand beyond reasonable limits and he must not negotiate a phony and ignominious settlement. The president is fully aware of these dangers and, no doubt, personally confident that he can avoid them. At present our strategy appears to be based on the concept of holding Saigon and selected areas along the east coast, then moving out into the countryside as conditions permit. According to news reports, we have also determined not to waste American troops in missions with high ambush potential, and instead will reserve them for battalion-size action. This is a realistic strategy. It makes much more sense than one based on the false hope of negotiation or false faith in expansion. It implies a lengthy stay in Vietnam and it means, for perhaps years to come, something less than total victory against the V.C. But it also represents our best hope of saving what is left of South Vietnam without paying an unreasonable price . . .But the public must be conditioned to the realities of the situation. They must be made to understand the necessity of the undramatic, sufficient, and lengthy application of American force in South Vietnam."
This was written by a 27-year-old barely a year out of the military, raised in the bosom of cold war liberalism, conscious of my responsibility to realpolitik, and influenced by friends and media to whom even such cautious words bordered on questionable. It perhaps provides some perspective to quote a small item that appeared in a box in the same issue:
"We sent a classified ad up to the Saturday Review not so long ago and got back a reply which said, in part, 'After careful consideration, our Acceptability Board came to the conclusion that it would prefer not to run your ad.' We had hoped that the Saturday Review would be able to find a little space for us amongst their other ads concerning Sell's Famous Liver Pate, WBAI-FM, exotic tropical fruit, work for an ex-convict, sex education records, and a private party wishing to buy Horatio Alger books. So we called them up to find out what was wrong. Nothing wrong with the ad, the lady told us. 'The board just decided your magazine was a little too liberal.'"
It was not the harshest view. Among the notes received was a subscription blank that read: "You all go to hell as Reds. We're on to you and we'll fight you to the death." The subscription form was made out for "Martin Luther Coon" Further expiation may be found in the fact that I wrote those words only months after the anti-war movement had begun. Howard Zinn remembers because he was there:
"The movement against the war in Vietnam started with isolated actions in 1965. Black civil rights activists in the South were among the first to resist the draft. SNNC's Bob Moses joined historian Staughton Lynd and veteran pacifist Dave Dellinger to march in Washington against the war, and Life Magazine had a dramatic photo of the three of them walking abreast, being splattered with red paint by angry super patriots. In the spring of 1965 I spoke at what was to be the first of many anti-war rallies on the Boston Common. It was a discouragingly small crowd - perhaps a hundred people. . . ."
Over the next year, my views, like that of many others would undergo major transformation. By March 1966 I was still writing things such as:
"We must learn the limits of a realistic American role and not exceed them. The specific extent of this role is hard for one sitting at a desk half a world away to suggest. But it would seem to include defense of major South Vietnamese population centers and areas of strategic importance, including all or part of the Mekong Delta. It includes the presence of large numbers of American troops, the provision of technical assistance and supplies to the South Vietnamese army and a far higher level of economic assistance than that at present.'
But I was also suggesting limits and alternatives:
"[The proper role] does not include bombing North Vietnam, ravishing South Vietnam's villages in order to flush out a few Vietcong. or wasting American lives in battle for ground not worth the powder to blow it to hell. We may have to stay in Vietnam a long time. The American public will accept this if it feels the course we pursue there is reasonable, just as the public has accepted the large number of American troops in Europe for over two decades. But if we repeatedly engage in actions that are neither moral nor productive, the public at home and the nations abroad will reject our role. The Americans in Vietnam will become lonely, hated men fighting a lonely, hated war. As I write, the big peace offensive is still underway. I hope it will be by the time this reaches the reader. For we have not, until recently, been as diligent in escalating the peace as we have been in escalating the war. We could too easily slip back into the old ways of battle. The big lesson of the Cold War is that careful, conscientious escalation of the peace works to the benefit of everyone, despite the minor immediate losses of face and compromised ideological goals. We can always risk taking a few halting steps away from disaster."
Then in April 1966:
"Perhaps it is not too late to salvage our position in Vietnam, but if we are to do it there are going to have to be some fairly dramatic changes made,. . . .The overriding fact of the Vietnamese war is that neither we nor the South Vietnamese are doing a good job at it. One does not improve a bad situation by enlarging its scope."
"[LBJ's] Vietnam escapade has been an abject failure."
"If we pursue the war to ultimate military victory, which appears the present goal of our government, we shall have surrendered reason and justice to the temptations of brazen power. We may defeat the communists, but we shall have also defeated ourselves."
"Some, including myself, are not psychologically inclined to have their heads bashed in by a US Marshall guarding the Pentagon. Still it seems almost inevitable that extraction from the mess of SE Asia or of our cities will not come without vehement, even violent, confrontation, Those willing to risk that confrontation on behalf of those less bold are more to be honored than censured."
The same issue contained an article by Howard Zinn defending radical protests against the napalm-maker, Dow Chemical. I had become a full-winged dove. The story came from Liberation News Service, which I described as a "news service for the so-called underground press." That month I turned thirty, the age that one could no longer be trusted. In fact, most of those on the streets were younger than I; those condemning and suppressing them were older. I had wandered into a generational no-man's land and never would have guessed that over thirty years later, I would be one of the few members of the "so-called underground press" still at it.
ONE SIGN OF CULTURAL DETERIORATION is when once foul words lose their derogatory meaning or - as presently the case with the word "torture" - you eliminate meanings from the definition. Thus things that once were considered torture, like sleep deprivation and forced painful posture, are now enhanced interrogation techniques and, if you believe the Pentagon, not criminal at all.
Another case comes from CNN, which reports that "North Korea kept up its anti-U.S. rhetoric today, saying that economic sanctions against the communist regime would amount to an act of war."
While North Korea did engage in anti-U.S rhetoric, saying that sanctions are an act of war was not part of it. It was the truth. Sanctions, when acting as a de facto blockade, are clearly an act of war; the only thing that has changed is our spin on the word. Similarly, our sanctions against Iraq have been an act of war, thus what is pending is not really war but a new phase of an existing one.
Finally, we have in the NY Times a Harvard official making us feel much better about the word "empire." Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center at the Kennedy School of Government, writes, "Those who want America to remain a republic rather than become an empire imagine rightly, but they have not factored in what tyranny or chaos can do to vital American interests. The case for empire is that it has become, in a place like Iraq, the last hope for democracy and stability alike."
When the NY Times promotes empire over a republic without so much as a debate on its op ed page, you know things are collapsing pretty fast. As for Iraq, let's hope Ignatieff's prescience is better than his colleagues' was when they tried to serve as a new Russia's "last hope for democracy and stability alike."
The curable cause of the present disaster is not to be found in a cave in Afghanistan nor at a military headquarters in Palestine. Rather it is to be found in a half century of abusive American policy towards the Islamic world including a deadly, criminal embargo against Iraq; the permanent suppression of Palestinian statehood; the promotion, assassination and/or manipulation of a string of leaders against the best interests of peace and our own security; the covert employment (to our later regret) of the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein; and our repeated refusal to listen to the nearly unanimous voice of the United Nations in general assembly. We have wantonly - and at enormous damage to our creditability, safety and honor - pursued the goals of militarists, CIA adventurists, the oil industry, the Israeli lobby, and the Ivy League imperialists of the Council on Foreign Relations - all mindlessly cheered on by a servile and slanted media.
We have absolutely nothing to gain by continuing to follow the self-serving, avaricious, and reckless goals of those who have caused our nation such hurt. By admitting that these policies have been wrong, we have nothing to lose but decades of bad advice and the shame that has accompanied it.
These policies have not been American policies in any indigenous sense; rather they have been the work of greedy corporations, arrogant intellectuals in search of machismo, violent militarists, and a stunningly uncritical press. Nowhere is the defense of Israeli aggression mentioned in the Constitution. Patrick Henry did not say, "Give me a pipeline or give me death." Nathan Hale did not declared, "I regret have but one life to give for hegemony in Eurasia."
In fact, no policy by any president has been more alien to American ideals than that now being pursued by George W. Bush. He is destroying our Constitution, bringing disgrace to our history, and endangering the entire planet.
Many say there is no other course, but this is absolutely false. One reason it doesn't seem so is because the media refuses to give time or space to other than apostles of violence and revenge. The voices of calm, reason, and rational resolution have been blacklisted by almost all the major media - including those supported by tax dollars and public contribution.
If it were otherwise, we might realize that even the far from adequate efforts of the Clinton administration brought a calm to the world that has been abruptly destroyed by the codependent, abusive egos of bin Ladin, Sharon, and Bush. In 1995, by the State Department's own count, there were 6,400 terrorist casualties around the world, including 70 Americans. By 1999 there were only 939 including 11 Americans. Only seven casualties occurred in North America.
Clinton, in a last burst of self-aggrandizement, attempted to reach a Middle East settlement before leaving office. But he so built up his effort that when it failed, it was seen not merely as his failure but that of all future possibility. Within months, the violence began escalating and the voices of vengeance with it.
We can still stop the madness. All we need is enough humility to admit that our country has been wrong, enough rationality to understand that one does not eradicate evil by compounding it, and enough courage to oppose the evisceration of our liberties and values by those whose words do not reflect patriotism but blasphemy.
Or, on the other hand, we can condemn ourselves and our children to lives of fear, anger, and confusion - and perhaps even worse - all because our leaders were unwilling to act with the honor, decency, and sense of fair play that were once the hallmark of an American.
Not Pearl Harbor but Dien Bien Phu
It was less than a year ago that Bill Clinton was hoping to strike a deal between the Palestinians and Israel. In fact, it can be argued that if he had been willing to leave office simply with some progress rather than with a major personal triumph, the next months might have worked out differently. Instead, the failure of his efforts seemed an excuse to all sides to revert to their worst behavior. If George Bush had picked up the pieces, this might have been prevented; instead he turned his back on the Middle East, obsessed with a far less fatal but still misbegotten tax policy. There was, in short, nothing inevitable about what happened. In fact, guerilla attacks had plummeted in the 1990s, thanks in part to peace efforts such as those in the Middle East.
Now we are told that we must take effective action. And what, pray tell is that? We seem to have forgotten, for example, that in the spring of 1996, President Clinton signed a top secret order authorizing the CIA to use any and all means to destroy Osama bin Laden's network.
The media and politicians call what happened terrorism. This is a propagandistic rather than a descriptive term and replaces the more useful traditional phrases, guerilla action or guerilla warfare. The former places a mythical shroud around the event while the latter depicts its true nature. Guerillas do not play by the rules of state organization or military tactics. This does not make them cowardly, as some have suggested, but can make them fiendishly clever. The essence of guerilla warfare is to attack at times and places unsuspected and return to places unknown. You can not invade the land of guerillas, you can not bomb them out of existence, you can not overwhelm them with your technological wonders.
This was a lesson we were supposed to have learned in Vietnam but appear to have forgotten. The journalist Bernard Fall early noted that the French, after Dien Bien Phu, had no choice but to leave Southeast Asia. America, with its vast military, financial, and technological resources, was able to stay because it had the capacity to keep making the same mistakes over and over. Our war against "terrorism" has been in many ways a domestic version of our Vietnam strategy. We keep making the same mistakes over and over because, until now, we could afford to. One of these has been to define the problem by its manifestations rather than its causes. This turns a resolvable political problem into a irresolvable technical problem, because while, for example, there are clearly solutions to the Middle East crisis, there are no other solutions to the guerilla violence that grows from the failure to end it.
In other words, if you define the problem as "a struggle against terrorism" you have already admitted defeat because the guerilla will always have the upper hand against a centralized, technology-dependent society such as ours. We will always be blindsided, just as Bernard Fall said the French were under much simpler circumstances: "What surprised the French completely was the Viet-Minh's ability to transport a considerable mass of heavy artillery pieces across road less mountains to Dien Bien Phu and to keep it supplied with a sufficient amount of ammunition to make the huge effort worthwhile."
There is one way to deal with guerilla warfare and that is to resolve the problems that allow it to thrive. The trick is to undermine the violence of the most bitter by dealing honestly with the complaints of the most rational. As we have demonstrated in the Middle East, one need not even reach a final solution as long as incremental progress is being made. But once that ceases, as has happened in the past year, the case for freelance violence is quickly strengthened and people simply forget that peace is possible.
In the present instance,
we may have met our own Dien Bien Phu in our long, senseless,
and self-defeating effort to subdue and control those of the
Muslim states. The answer - humiliating as it may seem over the
short run but courageous as it really would be - is not to commence
yet another war of empire against the Muslim world, but to end
the one we have conducted for far too long.
Among those supporting the liberation of Algeria was the existentialist Jean Paul Sartre. As Danielle Costa has written, he "argued that the violence in Algeria was the French people's collective responsibility. He felt that the initial and fundamental violence in the Algerian situation was colonialism itself. He argued that the colonial system was based on violence - first conquest, then different forms of exploitation and oppression, and then pacification. By its own violence, colonialism had taught the natives to understand only violence. By colonialism's intransigence, it forced the native to resort to violence."
We have built our own colonialism using corporations rather than cavalry and with foreign trade rather than with the Foreign Legion. But the effects have been much the same.
The trouble with moats
So here we are a year later, $37 billion out of pocket and still scared as hell someone's going to attack us. We're not the first with the problem. Many years ago some people built castles and walled cities and moats to keep the bad guys away. It worked for a while, but sooner or later spies and assassins figured out how to get across the moats and climb the walls and send balls of fire into protected compounds. The Florentines even catapulted dead donkeys and feces during their siege of Siena.
The people who built castles and walled cities and moats are all dead now and their efforts at security seem puny and ultimately futile as we visit their unintended monuments to the vanity of human presumption.
Like the castle-dwellers behind the moat, we are now spending huge sums to put ourselves inside a prison of our own making. It is unlikely to provide either security for our bodies nor solace for our souls, for we are simply attacking ourselves before others get a chance.
This is not the way to peace and safety. Peace is a state without violence, interrogations, and moats. Peace is a state of reciprocity, of trust, of empirically based confidence that no one is about to do you in. It exists not because of intrinsic goodness or rampant naiveté but because of a common, implicit understanding that that it works for everyone.
This discovery is
often hard to come by, but it is still cheaper, less deadly,
and ultimately far more effective than the alternative we seem
to have chosen, which is to imprison ourselves in our castle
and hope the moat keeps the others out.
End of empire
The initial theme for today is a modest one: the collapse of the American empire and its associated culture. One test of the state of an empire is whether a handful of angry young men with box cutters can wreck your major economic and military edifices and throw the country into total panic. One test of the state of your culture is whether you can think of much over the past few years to which you reacted by thinking "that's the best [whatever] that I've seen-heard-read in a long time." Another test is when you find yourself saying of some public figure, "I'm sure glad such people are around at a time like this."
Based on these tests, it seems that, at the very least, America will have to be held back next year - no matter how hard are media and our politicians try to give it a social promotion. When you can't trust your presidents of either major party, your beloved Constitution is in tatters, you have to submit to investigative fondling before flying to Des Moines, your Catholic cardinals say it's okay to bugger little boys as long as you don't do it too often and it doesn't become "notorious," a corporation thrice declared by Fortune Magazine to be the most innovative in the country turns out to be a den of thieves, the accountants who are meant to protect us from such scoundrels turn out to be co-conspirators, our lawmakers spend most of their time finding new things to prohibit, we feel we have to give kids drug tests to make sure they're safe to sing in the choir, our teachers have forgotten how to teach our children how to read, our journalists have forgotten how to write or to tell a lie from a fact, and our music doesn't even have 7th chords in it anymore, you've got a problem and one that's not really Al-Queda's fault.
Empires and cultures are not permanent and while thinking about the possibility that ours is collapsing may seem a dismal exercise it is far less so than enduring the dangerous frustrations and failures involved in having one's contrary myth constantly butt up against reality like a boozer who insists he is not drunk attempting to drive home. Instead of defending the non-existent we could turn our energies instead towards devising a new and saner existence.
THROUGHOUT THE DAY came contrasting images of Americans. The indefatigably courageous rescue workers - turned gray and white by pulverized matter - pressing on despite reports in the case of the firefighters of a 50% casualty rate. The innocent survivors resourcefully joining hands to follow the one flashlight out of a building or using a cell phone to locate themselves under the rubble. The Washington officials noisily locking the barn door too late and creating a new crisis (of the sort they could understand): a massive traffic jam. The glamorous anchors and TV correspondents, children of Pleasantville II, suddenly discovering that news can be real.
And too often during the day there were the incompetent, mendacious, and terminally hubristic voices of an American elite who had helped create a country so hated that some would kill themselves to define their antipathy. There was Madeleine Albright who five years ago said that killing a half million Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions was worth the price. There was Charlie Rose, listening even more intently that usual, to his roundtable of failed, fatuous experts. The only bright spot was when Tom Clancy mercilessly quizzed Clinton-in-waiting John Edwards as to what specifically he would do and Edwards could produce nothing but photogenic platitudes. There was talk of instant revenge, of instant action, talk that echoed that of our generals in Vietnam. We have only failed in quantity and not in quality, they repeatedly told us then.
The Washington Post, as during Vietnam, helped lead the macho masochists. It even published a column by Robert Kaman which declared, "Congress, in fact, should immediately declare war. It does not have to name a country." The rest of the media was not far behind.
Notably absent from the airwaves were Muslim Americans and those who favored resolution rather than retribution. Instead, there was a steady procession of figures who had supported or helped form a foreign policy that has made us the earth's most despised nation, who had insisted that the way to a better world was to arm Israel and anathematize Arabs, who had claimed that the civil liberties we have surrendered over the past two decades would make us safer, and who have told us we must choose between security and freedom and in the end have denied us both. In the face of such overwhelming evidence of their failure, if they did not have the grace to resign, they should at least shut up.
Follow the limousines
THE VARIOUS stories about the Bush regime's reaction to September 11 bring to mind the Cold War advice for DC residents: in case of emergency follow the black limousines out of town. It is clear that our leaders are more interested in their own safety than ours, thus such phenomena as John Ashcroft not flying on commercial planes last August while not letting us in on the secret. Or George Bush deserting us on Air Force One right after the attacks.
It has been clear from the start that the best thing the government could do to insure our safety would be to change its foreign policy but since that has been ruled out, its next best idea has been to protect itself from the consequences of its insanity and let the rest of us pretty much fend for ourselves.
A thought occurred to me as I sat in my car the other day waiting for a presidential cavalcade to make its way noisily down a Washington street: perhaps we should insist on a bit less protection for our leaders based on the theory that if they felt more endangered they would have more sympathy for the rest of us. And their policies might improve. After all, the justification behind the hyper security is that the lives of presidents and the like are simply too valuable to risk. The logic of this can be easily refuted by simply listening to one of their speeches. Sooner or later even the terrorists would realize that when it comes to George Bushes, we've got a million of them - and give up in frustration.
Before the Bush regime, I caught then Governor Tommy Thompson down on the Mall during the Folk Life Festival. He was surrounded by Wisconsinites, some of them drunk, some of them merely enthusiastic. I think I spotted the governor's security man but I wasn't certain. In any case no one - unlike much of downtown Washington on a typical day - looked afraid of anything.
Thompson had clearly not yet become accustomed to Washington ways where even the mayor of this city gets a security detail worthy of a small dictatorship fearing an imminent coup.
In the end, a lot of what passes for security is just a matter of culture. There are two basic ways of securing oneself against others: (1) not making them mad at you and (2) defending yourself when they are. What is so striking about our leaders is that they spend so little effort on the first option and so much on the second.
The problem with this is that you not only shield yourself from bullets but from the rest of life as well. And it's worth remembering that no one lives in a medieval castle for protection anymore. It turned out that they weren't as safe as the inhabitants thought. - Sam Smith
Toward a more perfect union
This essay appeared in a Tom Paine ad on the op ed page of the New York Times on September 11, 2003
Still missing in the rubble of 9/11 is the idea of America that enriched, strengthened and protected us for more than two centuries. Overcome with fear and anger, and later in denial parading as pride, we hardly noticed it was gone. The idea that we lost was not a superlative -- most powerful or richest -- but rather a promise. The wondrous mystery of America is found not in its perfection but in its ability to improve, its perpetual search for a more perfect union. The idea had been fading for some time, not just because we came to think of power as an adequate substitute, but because we came to ignore such mundane matters as teaching children democracy with the same vigor that we teach them how to drive or about the dangers of drugs. And so we tried to recover from 9/11 with a flag and loyalty to a place called America, but without its dream. We used instead military power, anti-democratic security measures, seductive technology, and yet another elephantine bureaucracy -- offering still more temptations for guerillas with simple weapons and no love of life. The 9/11 attackers, and the tens of millions around the world who share some measure of their anger, have only seen our money and our fist -- not the decency, democracy, and dream that made America strong in the first place. These virtues are still lying in the rubble of the past year. Our job is to recover them, revive them, share them, and become once more a model rather than a target. Only then will we be both safe and free.
Privatize war not social security
IF THE CONSERVATIVES insist in leading us into war, they should at least follow their own principles as they do so. This would mean putting the whole thing on a pay-as-you-go basis - which is to say paying for conflict at the gas pump. During the earlier iteration of the Gulf War I figured that about $15 a gallon would do the trick.
Now it's true that the Bush administration is a little confused on this matter - for example it wants to privatize Social Security but use the Treasury to subsidize religion - but surely the oil industry is pure capitalism at its best and ought to act that way by paying a user fee to the Pentagon for its war, which it can then retrieve from its customers. And if the latter are not quite as patriotic as they were when the true cost of war was better hidden, it will merely prove again the omnipotent magic of market forces.
I was 34 when the draft ended. In the preceding years my own views had shifted from those of a cold war liberal to those of an ambivalent apathetic and finally to those of a situational pacifist. But whatever my personal beliefs, I was deeply and constantly conscious of the inevitability of the military's involvement in, and power over, my life. The impact of this certainty on young men was profound and it led also to a sense of inevitability about the purposes for which the draft had been created.
My eldest son is 34. He was almost six when the draft ended. Our only conversation on the subject I remember took place a bit earlier. We were driving in the car and he, in a bit of precocious career planning, asked, "Dad, do they draft baseball players?" I was troubled to hear the fear and sense of inevitability being passed to yet another generation.
I knew about it because they had been passed on to me as well. Both my parents had lost brothers in World War I and my mother had also lost a cousin.
The fears, however were soon gone and my son joined a generation coming to maturity with war being only a distant, surrogated, and sanitized interruption to the regular programming.
In this parable of fathers and sons may lie an important part of today's story: a generation raised to see war and its military instruments as an essential part of life confronting another to whom war and its accessories had become, for the most part, history.
Nothing has been so moving and heartening as the young students walking out of high schools and middle schools to protest this war and the millions in the streets marching while there was still time to do something about the madness rather than as a belated expression of regret. For these seem manifestations of a changed consciousness in the human spirit, one of those moments when the weak and many leap ahead of the powerful and the few and alter history forever.
I have seen this once before - during the civil rights movement, a rebellion not just against the specifics of power but against the paradigms, paradoxes, and presumptions that created that power, the lies that made segregation as inevitable, say, as war.
One of the great turnings in this struggle - and it happened like a virus rather than as a revolution - was when the merely reprehensible became truly incomprehensible as well.
Segregationists were no longer only evil; they became anachronistic as well, eventually so much so that when they would reappear, it would be as if suddenly confronting a strange and vicious animal thought long extinct.
I have had this feeling in recent months, as though - totally unexpected and unprepared - I had been tossed back into a Jurassic ecology surrounded by violent creatures I believed gone except in memory and that my sons would only have to confront in books and on film.
This is frightening, it is surprising, it is unpredictable. But history moves in both directions and America may well have run out of progress. Yet even in the barbaric awfulness cabled into our homes there is reason for hope - if the protests are truly what they seem: not merely a complaint about policy but the rising of a new definition of decency, calling not just for the end of a war but for an abolition of our deepest assumptions about the inevitability of war.
Hopeful as the manifestations may be, the new abolitionism faces mighty hurdles. Among them, of course, is a media that has become the pet poodle of power, one inundates us with assurances of the normalcy of violence. The semiotic bunker bombs began landing deep inside our brains long before Iraq; you can find their provenance in TV's celebration of state violence against drug users or in the tacitly approved brutality of reality police shows.
Less noted is the continued allegiance to state violence by the Anglo-American academic elite. To unlearn what those middle schoolers walking out of class already know about war requires some heavy education.
Places like Harvard
and Oxford - and their after-school programs such as the Washington
think tanks - teach the few how to control the many and it is
impossible to do this without various forms of abuse ranging
from sophism to corporate control systems to napalm. It is no
accident that a large number of advocates of this war - in government
and the media - are the products of elite educations where they
were taught both the inevitability of their hegemony and the
tools with which to enforce it.
The final challenge is the most confounding: violence resulting from the demands of technological and bureaucratic 'progress.' What we call modern warfare developed because we had the means to carry it out. Richard Rubenstein has pointed out that Nazism could not have arisen without the sort of bureaucracy needed to support the Holocaust. It is no accident that both Hitler and Lenin turned to the teachings of American technocratic apostle Frederick Winslow Taylor to carry out their evil or that the Nazis used IBM cards to help manage their death camps.
We prefer a simpler story of the Holocaust as one of power and hate and ignore the much more relevant one of technocratic organization. Thus we don't hear its echoes in the Department of Homeland Security or in journalistic celebration of new technologies of war.
At the heart of a technocratic system is the willingness of individuals to give up their own morality, judgment, and perceptions in return for a job, perceived safety, or escape from fear - to become in Eric Fromm's term, homo mechanicus, "attracted to all that is mechanical and inclined against all that is alive." Our society is increasingly structured on this mechanization of the human spirit and while the military may be the ultimate example, the modern American corporation is not far behind.
So it's far too early to cheer, but we have also come too far in the past few months to despair. We must just keep on leading our leaders until they also see war as wrong - and as archaic - as slavery or segregation.
September 11, 2003
TODAY WE memorialize a tragic result of fifty years of bad foreign policy towards the Arab and Muslim world. We do it in what has become typically hyperbolic fashion - with a disneyfication of death that exploits the pain of those who lost friends and relations and the memory of those who were lost.
We also memorialize two years of denial. Although surveys show we feel no safer now than before the attacks, we continue to act as though the foolish, ineffective, oppressive and anti-constitutional steps taken in reaction are our only choice. Thus, America has become to the rest of the world as Israel is to the Middle East - a moated castle massively armed, ready for vengeance, suppression, and revenge, yet incapable of defending itself against shoe bombs and box cutters, or the lone attacker to whom suicide seems the only option.
This irony is not only without resolution, it is driving us mad. Like Israel, we have traded our ideals, our decency, and our raison d'etre for the illusion of safety and the transitory satisfaction of retribution. We are destroying ourselves rather than admit we have been wrong and must now try another way.
No more billions of dollars, star chamber proceedings, de facto constitutional amendments, or invasions with CNN as bugle boy will change this. To be safe, we must start over, removing the causes of anger and distrust against us with the same vigor as if we were dismantling weapons of mass destruction, which, after all, is what they really are.
Can Israel avoid multi-ethnicity?
An aspect of the Middle East crisis that is not getting the coverage it deserves is Israel's fear of having to become a multicultural state. Many Israeli Arabs have lived in the country as long as Jewish citizens and have no particular desire to be evicted. They are, however, growing faster than the Jewish population especially since Jewish immigration isn't what it once was.
Thus it is not surprising that Haaretz reports, "More than half of Israelis think the government should encourage its Arab citizens to emigrate from Israel, according to an annual survey by the Israel Democracy Institute. A poll published Tuesday on the state of democracy in Israel found that 62 percent of Israelis support government-backed Arab emigration. . . "
The leadership is even more insistent. Reports Ynet: "The Knesset will mark a special day dedicated to Theodor Herzl on Monday evening, in accordance with a law passed two years ago. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during a speech that 'we must ensure that there will be a proven Jewish majority in the State of Israel, otherwise the term Jewish state becomes empty of meaning. The obligation of the national leadership is to be responsible to the vision of Herzl and to ensure a Jewish majority in the State.'"
"Olmert said that 'this special Knesset session is dedicated not only to marking Herzl's birthday but also the discussion of his heritage. . . He didn't invent Zionism, which existed before him, but he turned the dream into a political destination and the dreamers into a national movement. We must live as one people, connected not only to all of the scattered Jewish nation, we must lived as united nation here too. That is Herzl's vision. His vision, that the Jewish nation has an independent state, was realized, but the mission is not over,' added Olmert."
There remains, of course, the irony of Jews supporting the emigration of those of a socially undesirable ethnic background as well as the anomaly of America supporting apartheid in the name of democracy and religious freedom. In the end, however, Israeli Jews may be left with two choices: either have a lot more babies or get used to multi-ethnicity much as white America did after segregation.
Further, the idea of a Jewish state flies in the face of both history and current trends. There are exceptions but they tend to be along the lines of Utah polygamists or Pennsylvania Amish. There's also the Vatican, to be sure, but the popes have had a number of centuries to establish their ground rules and most of their neighbors believe in them. For its own happiness and even survival, Israel might want to reconsider its mono-cultural myth. Who knows, with some more Arab ministers, judges and legislators, they might even find themselves living in a more peaceful Middle East.
The role of respect in peace
If you deconstruct the language of those who Bush would have us believe form the axis of evil, one finds not so much megalomania as insecurity, hurt feelings, and bitterness over their global inferiority.
This has become particularly apparent with the rise of Chavez and Ahmadinejad, two national leaders who have proved unusually adept at using contemporary media to make their case. They represent, perhaps, a new generation of national figures who - all politics aside - make the staid habits and behavior of the Council on Foreign Relations genre of diplomacy seem pointless, lifeless and antiquated. In other words, while Bush is still stuck in the politics of a Masterpiece Theatre plot, Ahmadinejad, despite the pull of his traditional culture, is working overtime to join the hip hop generation.
At the core, the language and behavior of a Bush or Blair is based on notions of purportedly deserved power and how the less powerful are supposed to behave towards their betters. The language and behavior of Ahmadinejad and Chavez is popular, populist and evangelical and directed at winning the very hearts and minds of which Bush speaks repeatedly but doesn't have the faintest idea how to reach.
Thus we find the Islamic Republic News Agency reporting that Ahmadinejad plans to come to the UN and speak the same day as Bush and a day before Chavez. Both and Chavez will fly from Havana after meeting with the longest plank holder of power of our era: Fidel Castro. This isn't diplomacy; this is show business.
Castro, in his early days, also spoke at the UN. But, just as Mitt Romney recently refused state police protection for the ex-president of Iran, so the hotels of New York refused space for Castro. The result: Malcolm X found him a hotel in Harlem and a key step was taken in the alienation of a man who, with just a little respect and effort, might not have tormented every American president since by refusing to die or fade away.
The U.S. is in a similar stage with Chavez and Ahmadinejad. It is slamming every door that possibly opens between our country and theirs, gratuitously shunning and dissing them along the way - with the media helping on the ridicule end. But, as Castro proved, it doesn't work.
What can work is respect.
A letter from Ahmadinejad to German prime minister Merkel is remarkable not only in its words of respect expressed towards her and her country but in the clear longing for a similar respect for himself and his own land. This guy is smart and articulate and desperately wants the bigger guys to admit it. You don't have to agree with a single political point he makes to note this.
For example, even if one fully supports the creation of Israel, there is still room for empathy for those displaced to make way for it. Those who mediate for a living will tell you that you must hear the pain of both sides. Not just the threats felt by Israelis, but those felt by its neighbors.
And you might even find yourself faintly nodding your head as you read: "You are familiar with the pains and sufferings currently afflicting our world. Today, the pain and suffering of the people of Iraq that come from occupation, absence of security and daily acts of terrorism are tormenting the entire humanity. Relentless interferences of some bullying powers in the internal affairs of other nations, antagonism toward the inalienable rights of nations to have access to more advanced technologies, subjecting nations to permanent threats by relying on arsenals of chemical and nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, opposition to popular governments in Latin America, supporting coup d'etat and dictatorial regimes, absence of due attention to Africa and taking advantage of the power vacuum there to plunder their wealth are among the problems facing our world today."
Respect is important because it is one of the few doors wide enough for peace to enter. It is the antithesis of the bullying, bombastic, holier-than-thou approach of the Bush regime. It is also futile to speak only to one's friends or to establish impenetrable concessions one's opponents must make before you sit down with them. Now that we have seen how pointless such approaches have been, it is perhaps time to try something else.
Chavez and Ahmadinejad are leaders of weak countries with a strong need for respect. It does not hurt our oil supplies, our military strength or our economy to grant them this. Our continued refusal will, just as it did with Castro, only makes the times harder and the hard times longer.
The end of treason
If treason, in one of its typical forms, consists of trading the national interest of one's country to another for profit, then FBI Agent Robert Hanssen had some stiff competition. In the past decade or so this form of disloyalty has been codified, advocated, and revered not only by our own leaders in the government, media, and business, but by their peers in what is still quaintly known as the "free world." You can find it in its most precise form in various trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT, in its mathematical form in the listing of foreign contributions to our political campaigns, and its rhetorical form in the statements of many of our most favored political commentators.
Beyond doubt, the new trade agreements have done more damage to our national, state and local sovereignty than any foreign enemy or all the spies of American history combined. The last three presidents have helped give the Chinese more secrets than they could ever have hoped to acquire through archaic techniques of personal espionage. And in the end, we have learned not to worry because it has all occurred for trade not treason, corporate not individual profit, and public policy rather than private perversion.
Consider, for example, some words Vaclav Havel wrote in that intellectual Leisure World for lemming liberals, the New York Review of Books:
"In the next century I believe that most states will begin to change from cult-like entities charged with emotion into far simpler and more civilized entities, into less powerful and more rational administrative units that will represent only one of the many complex and multileveled ways in which our planetary society is organized."
"The practical responsibilities of the state -- its legal powers -- can only devolve in two directions, downward or upward; downward, to the non-governmental organizations and structures of civil society; or upward, to regional, transnational and global organizations."
Thus in a few paragraphs, Havel scraps democracy at every level of society leaving us to be run, presumably, by business improvement districts and NATO. It is a profoundly anti-democratic and anti-patriotic view, because at none of Havel's levels is the consent of the governed considered.
He is not alone. Here was Strobe Talbott writing in the July 20, 1992 issue of Time: "Within the next hundred years . . . nationhood as we know it will be obsolete; all states will recognize a single, global authority . . . All countries are basically social arrangements, accommodations to changing circumstances. No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact they are all artificial and temporary."
Agent Hanssen, you are hereby charged with betraying the sacred trust of a cult-like entity - basically a social arrangement that is artificial and temporary, otherwise known as the United States of America. It just doesn't have quite the ring of a capital crime.
In fact, though, nothing has been more central to the character of American politics over the past few decades than a cynical, corrupt, unconstitutional and, yes, commercial betrayal of the national interest. The continuing symbiosis of drug lords, politicians, and law enforcement has betrayed our land and our constitution. The Iran-Contra affair involved not just bad politics but the betrayal of America for profit. The cover-up of the BCCI scandal by the first Bush administration was a betrayal of America to protect, in no small part, foreign profits.
Perhaps China represents the best case in point since the Chinese know as much about espionage as anyone. While the Soviets and then the Russians were allegedly playing their John LeCarre games with Agent Hanssen, the Chinese were taking care of serious business.
As journalist Robert Parry has noted, "Little-noticed evidence from the Iran-contra files reveals that it was the Reagan-Bush administration that opened the door to sharing sensitive national security secrets with communist China in the 1980s. This clandestine relationship evolved from China's agreement to supply sophisticated weapons to the Nicaraguan contras beginning in 1984, a deal with the White House that entrusted China with one of the government's most sensitive intelligence secrets, the existence of Oliver North's contra supply network. In the years after that secretly brokered deal, the Republican administration permitted trips in which US nuclear scientists. . . visited China in scientific exchange programs. Those visits corresponded with China's rapid development of sophisticated nuclear weapons, culminating in the apparent compromise of sensitive US nuclear secrets by 1988. Seven years later, in 1995, a purported Chinese defector walked into US government offices in Taiwan and turned over a document. Dated 1988, the document contained detailed information about US-designed nuclear warheads. The document showed that Chinese intelligence possessed the secrets of the W-88 miniaturized nuclear bomb by the last year of Ronald Reagan's presidency. China's first test of a light warhead similar to the W-88 was conducted in 1992, the last year of George H.W. Bush's presidency."
The Chinese connection exploded with the arrival of the Clinton administration. A younger crowd of American politicians had skipped the part about patriotism, about the pledge of allegiance, about loyalty not only to country but to much of anything other than themselves. The Clinton policy towards China was merely an extension of these values: what's in for us and how soon? The notion of national security was almost alien to them; besides they had the new paradigm of globalization to keep them warm. Here are just a few of the things that happened along the way:
- Named Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown treated his post as just another place to wheel and deal. He was irrepressible, on one occasion okaying the sale of new American engines for China to put in its cruise missiles. The engines had been built as military equipment but Brown reclassified them as civilian.
- Neither was Brown above doing a little business on the side. The Saudis wanted some American planes; Brown told them: you want the planes you also want a phone contract with ATT. Cost of the planes and hardware: $6 billion. Cost of the phone contract: $4 billion. Part of the deal, it turned out, was an ATT side agreement with a firm called First International. The owner: Ron Brown
- According to the New York Times, Clinton removed $2 billion in trade with China from national security scrutiny. Among the results: 77 supercomputers - capable of 13 billion calculations per second - that could scramble and unscramble secret data and design nuclear weapons. These were purchased by the Chinese without a peep stateside. At least some of them would be used by the Chinese military.
- With the transfer of the Panama Canal, four of Panama's ports ended up being controlled by a company partially owned by Hutchinson-Whampoa Ltd., which in turn was owned by Li Ka-Shing, a billionaire so close to the Chinese power structure that he was offered the governorship of Hong Kong. Another owner of the Panamanian ports was China Resources Enterprise, called an "agent of espionage" by Senator Fred Thompson. CRE was also a partner of the Lippo Group, owned by the Riady family that played a central if mysterious role in the rise of William Clinton. According to congressional testimony by ex-JCS chief Admiral Thomas Moorer, Hutchinson-Whampoa won the right to pilot all ships thought the Panama Canal, including US naval vessels.
- President Clinton signed national security waivers to allow four US commercial satellites to be launched in China, despite evidence that China was exporting nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan and Iran, among other nations. One of these satellites belonged to Loral. Nine days later a Chinese Long March rocket carrying a $200 million satellite belonging to Loral failed in mid-flight. A subsequent law suit charged that the circuit board from the highly classified encryption device in the satellite was found to be missing when the Chinese returned debris from the explosion to US authorities, even though a control box containing the circuit board was recovered intact. After the crash, NSA reportedly changed the encoded algorithms used by US satellites because of the apparent release of highly classified information.
- President Clinton approved a waiver allowing the launch of another satellite on board a Chinese rocket, despite a recommendation by the Department of Justice that the waiver would have a significant adverse impact on any prosecution arising from its pending investigation of Loral.
- The NY Times reported in 1998 that the Defense Technology Security Administration said Loral's unauthorized release of sensitive technology to the Chinese gave rise to at least three "major" violations of US national security, three medium violations and twelve "minor" infractions.
- Throughout these dealings, the CEO of Loral, Bernard Schwartz, contributed at least $1.5 million to the Democrats, making him the single largest contributor to these groups during the period in question.
- Softwar newsletter reported that that some of the radios and cell phones being used by Chinese police in their campaign against dissidents were those sold the Chinese by Motorola after Clinton overrode human rights objections by the State Department.
- In the end, the brunt of the evidence was that the Chinese had obtained more American military secrets over the past two decades than all the previous spies in American history put together. They had basic information on all nuclear weapons systems, they got our most advanced supercomputers, they gained extraordinarily important information about satellite systems. Some of this knowledge they used for themselves; some they retrofitted and repackaged and sold to other countries like Iraq, where it was used against our own fighter planes. While the problem occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations, it got completely out of hand under Clinton. Some of the information was stolen, some was given to China in the classic manner of spies, but a stunning proportion was obtained either as a direct result of political and economic decisions by the Clinton administration or as a result of what can best be described as premeditated indifference.
- Three major players in the China scandal - John Huang, Charlie Trie and Johnny Chung - were all allowed by the Justice Department to cop pleas.
- Carol Cameron of Fox News reported that cover stories provided by Chinese operatives to hide China's illegal campaign contributions may have come from or been approved by President Jiang Zemin. Johnny Chung told Congress he was under orders from the Chinese to keep the whole thing quiet. His orders, he said, came from a suspected Chinese intelligence operative named Robert Luu, who worked for a Los Angeles law firm. In a phone conversation tapped by the FBI, Chung was told by Luu to say the campaign money came from the so-called princelings: Chinese leaders' grown sons, who live, study and often live lavishly in the West.
A transcript of the wiretap, obtained by Fox News, contains the following:
LUU: "Shove the blame on the shoulders of the princelings."
CHUNG: "So blame it on the princelings. Do not implicate the Chinese government."
LUU: "Yes. Chairman Jiang agreed to handle it like this; the president over here also agreed."
- Newsweek quoted intelligence officials as saying that the Chinese "penetration is total. They are deep into the (US nuclear weapons) labs' black programs."
- In an AP story ignored by major media, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey accused the Clinton administration of pursuing a policy of appeasement toward China and likened it to the way Britain and France dealt with Nazi Germany on Czechoslovakia before World War II.
- The Wall Street Journal wrote: "Top business executives are issuing a blunt warning to federal lawmakers: Vote against the trade deal with China, and we will hold it against you when writing campaign checks.
- Operating with an interim top secret clearance (but without FBI investigation or foreign security check) Commerce official Huang requested several top secret files on China just before a meeting with the Chinese ambassador. Huang and the Riadys then held a meeting with Clinton. Not long after, Huang went to work as a Democratic fund-raiser, but remained on Commerce's payroll as a $10,000 a month consultant. Huang raised $5 million for the campaign. About a third of that was returned as having come from illegal sources. Among the problem contributions: $250,000 to the DNC from five Chinese businessmen in order to have a brief meeting with Clinton at a fund-raiser.
- Macao businessman Ng Lap Seng, closely linked to a couple of major Chinese-owned enterprises, was regularly bringing in large sums of money to the US, according to customs records. On one occasion, he arrived with $175,000 and then two days later met with Charlie Trie and Mark Middleton at the White House. That evening Ng sat at Clinton's table at a DNC fund-raiser.
This is just a sample, not of treason, but of politics as it has been practiced. Now, let's turn to the recently arrested Agent Hanssen. So far there is no evidence that he helped the Russians build a missile, suppress dissidents, or buy US politicians. Instead, in the FBI's own words, "The affidavit alleges that Hanssen compromised numerous human sources of the US Intelligence Community, dozens of classified U.S. Government documents, including "Top Secret" and "code word" documents, and technical operations of extraordinary importance and value. It also alleges that Hanssen compromised FBI counterintelligence investigative techniques, sources, methods and operations, and disclosed to the KGB the FBI's secret investigation of Felix Bloch, a foreign service officer, for espionage."
Hanssen's major alleged crime, in other words, is not the betrayal of America but of the (note capital letters used in the charge) US Intelligence Community, its personnel, its manuals, and its tricks of the trade. Open up Robert Hanssen and - as with a Russian doll - you just get another spy who is busily betraying another spy, all of whom are keeping secrets not so much from some foreign country as from the citizens of their own.
It is all bizarre, incestuous, of little known purpose, and, in the best postmodern manner, flexible. Just as American politicians and lawyers have redefined bribery so that the official bribee can escape punishment for the same crime for which the citizen briber, so the rules of loyalty to one's country now vary immensely not according to the nature of one's action but according to one's position.
Don't look for it written down anywhere.
Except for the basic rule, laid down in 1613 by John Harington:
"Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why if it
prosper, none dare call it treason."
I am a native of this place. You might even call me an ethnic Washingtonian. For two centuries, this little colony of America has been denied the rights called for in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and more recently in the Charter of the United Nations.
At no time during this 200 years, however, has a single bomb been dropped on our behalf. In fact President Clinton and the Congress, now busy saving the Kosovars -- whether they survive to thank us or not -- conspired to remove what little self-government we had on the grounds of a budget deficit worth about the cost of four nights' Belgrade bombing runs. It was the greatest disenfranchisement of African-Americans since the end of post-reconstruction in the 19th century.
You will excuse me, therefore, if I am a bit skeptical about current professions of interest in democracy in distant places. As the Washington Star said many years ago, "What right have we to hurl denunciations and epithets at dictatorships and totalitarian states in other parts, when an almost perfect example of irresponsible forms of government is maintained by our national government in our own national capital?"
We gather here exactly 31 years and one month after William Jefferson Clinton was reclassified 1-A by his draft board during a war of which he wrote, "I didn't see how my going in the army and maybe going to Vietnam would achieve anything except a feeling that I had punished myself and gotten what I deserved." A lot has happened since then, including, under Clinton, more frequent and gratuitous military incursions into foreign lands than ever before.
To be sure, he merely ices a long trend. By the count of author Bill Blum, since 1945 we have bombed China, Korea, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cuba, Congo, Peru, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia.
The most striking exception to the ubiquitous futility of these deadly adventures has been a single unqualified military triumph -- we brought Grenada to her knees.
At what point does the constant reiteration of failed and fatal policy become a war crime and reckless incompetence become grotesque cruelty and tactics of death become -- to use a term used casually these days -- become genocide?
Well, consider this. The Holocaust resulted in some six million deaths. Now here are some other figures:
There were nearly two million killed during the Vietnam war, most by air attacks that dropped twice as many bombs as we did in all of World War II -- nearly one 500-pound bomb per person. One million civilians were killed by our strategic bombing in Japan even before we got to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than two million civilians were killed in our bombing runs over North Korea. And one million Iraqi have died as a result of our sanctions.
Add these up and
you come to the same figure as the Holocaust. Which is shocking
enough until you realize that together, the Holocaust and our
bombing raids of the past fifty years represent less than ten
percent of all the deaths by warfare in our century.
It is this violent, extremist center of American politics and culture that plays host today to the Armani coat mafia of globalization for corporations and marginalization for people. Just as it is this violent, extremist center that was responsible for the weapons, the ignorance, and the anger that helped kill 15 young people in Colorado. Mass murder is not genetic, it is a skill learned like other skills from other adults. Consider this. The boy killer in the shootings in Paducuh had never fired a real gun before, yet hit his target eight times with eight shots. Trained police officers are lucky to hit fifty percent of the time. The boy had learned his skill by playing video games. The free market taught him how to kill. Today, NATO is teaching others.
We have, of course, been trained to think of our own leaders as normal, sane people. That these destroyers of land, lives, and the ecological balance of the earth are wise and honorable men and women engaged in noble and difficult tasks. .
But ask yourself this:
Is it normal to kill millions of innocent people in the name of a freedom they will never live to know?
Is it normal to let the young and the ill suffer so you can support a military budget so huge that $30 billion a year simply can't be accounted for?
Is it normal to lock up nearly two million citizens -- the most of any country ever -- many of them for simply preferring marijuana over such legal drugs as vodka and cigarettes?
Is it normal, because of one's draconian penal system, to remove the franchise from one out of every seven black men?
Is it normal to damage the health of a planet for better 4th quarter profits?
Consider that the use of nuclear weapons as well as other forms of mass destruction presently depends upon the will of a brutal egomaniac in Belgrade, a terminal dipsomaniac in Moscow, and a felonious serial sociopath in Washington. This, my friends, is not normal.
When I was a child in this town, the cruelties of segregation were considered normal. An elite not unlike the one in charge today insisted it was so, just as they told us that if we crawled under our school desks we would be safe from the atom bomb.
Few in power dared tell us that what was said to be normal was actually madness. We had to find out for ourselves. And when we did, and when we discovered that others had as well, things began to get better.
Today we must make this same self-discovery, and learn from those on either side of us, in front of us and behind us, that we are not alone. The elite, including its media, will try to keep us from this news. They will not tell us the biggest secret of our age -- that the widest political, cultural and moral division on earth is not between right and left, east and west, or black and white, but between the peoples of the world and their own reckless leaders.
This weekend some of the latter have come to town and erected a Berlin wall behind which to conceal their deadly work. We on this side of the wall are the resistance. Not just against nukes. Not just against war. But a resistance against all the craven, cruel and corrupt madness of those who lead. And against the apathy and surrender that lets it happen.
Let me suggest a simple platform to replace this madness. That:
We seek to be good stewards of our earth, good citizens of our country, good members of our communities, and good neighbors of those who share these places with us. We seek a cooperative commonwealth based on decency before profit, liberty before sterile order, justice before efficiency, happiness before uniformity, families before systems, communities before corporations, and people before institutions. And that we, unlike so many who profess to lead us, seek to treat our politics, our country and each other with common decency, common sense and with a search for common ground.
So simple. So normal. And yet so far. . . .
At the end of the Second World War, Albert Camus wrote an imaginary letter to a German friend in which he said,
"This is what separated us from you; we made demands. You were satisfied to serve the power of your nation and we dreamed of giving ours her truth."
That is our business today, and every day, until those who lead us make it their's as well -- and no longer hide behind barricades celebrating mindless power, deadly weapons, and corrupt intentions. Until they turn instead to their proper business which is to join us in giving all the lands of this fragile earth their truth.
Writing about war
[A TPR story on the Balkan war won 12th place in Project Censor's list of the top 25 censored stories of 1999. The folks at the project asked your editor for some comments, so I wrote the following which appears in "Censored 2000: The Year's Top 25 Censored Stories"]
About the time the Balkan War broke out, I was working on a memoir of the '60s and read, with no little embarrassment, some of the things I wrote as a 27-year-old in 1965 about Vietnam. I found there the tracks of a Cold War liberal upbringing; recent service in the Coast Guard; the memory of a friend who was among the first 40 killed in Southeast Asia; but, most of all, of a young journalist unwilling to risk looking foolish to others. It took about a year before I could turn such influences aside and stare straight at the facts.
In the end it was a struggle that stood me in good stead. It taught me that war was the most seductive drama most of us will ever encounter, and that the media too often chooses the role of playwright rather than of honest observer.
The task has become much harder. Not only has military agitprop become infinitely more sly and manipulative, today's typical journalists are without personal experience of the system they celebrate. For this reason, I sometimes suggest a revival of the draft -- but only for reporters. That way they would not be so easily conned by the military "experts" they so gladly interview and quote.
A less painful solution, of course, would be a far more aggressive and skeptical journalism that did not repeatedly serve, in Russell Baker's phrase, as a "megaphone for fraud." For my part, I find myself increasingly covering Washington's most ignored beat: the written word. The culture of deceit is primarily an oral one. The sound bite, the spin, and the political product placement depend on no one spending too much time on the matter under consideration.
Over and over again, however, I find that the real story still lies barely hidden and may be reach by nothing more complicated than turning the page, checking the small type in the appendix, charging into the typographical jungle beyond the executive summary, doing a Web search, and, for the bravest, actually looking at the figures on the chart.
My work on the Balkan
War represents an effort of this sort. It is the result not of
investigative journalism, but of something that I fear is even
rarer these days: simple journalistic curiosity, a chronic dissatisfaction
with the loose ends of our culture and experience. The piece
was just a compilation of what should have been in my morning
paper, but was not.
What Tim McVeigh and I had in common
TIMOTHY MCVEIGH AND I had something in common: we both memorized William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus." I don't why McVeigh did it, but I did it as part of a grim Sunday lunch ritual during which my siblings and I were expected to demonstrate our mnemonic skills to my father's satisfaction. One of the examples was "Invictus" which went like this:
It was written by William Ernest Henley, an English editor, writer, playwright and poet who by 1877 had proved himself so unmarketable that he had to "addict" himself to journalism for the next ten years. He died in 1903, 98 years to the day that Timothy McVeigh was executed.
Learning "Invictus" was about the only thing that Timothy McVeigh and I had in common. I went to a Quaker school and later entered the Coast Guard where I learned how to save people. McVeigh went into the U.S. Army and where he learned how to kill people. He became so proficient that his military colleagues admired him and the U.S. government gave him a medal. The war in which he fought continues silently, with many people still dying because of the embargo and the toxics we left behind. We don't call it terrorism, however, because a government did it and not an individual.
Iraq was a good place for an American to learn how to kill large numbers of innocent people and then dismiss it as "collateral damage." That phrase wasn't from a poem; McVeigh may have picked it up from a White House press statement.
After I left the Coast Guard I got a job. After Timothy McVeigh left the Army, he didn't. This was not unusual. In fact, the unemployment rate of veterans 20-24 years old is twice that of those who have not had the benefit of Army training.
McVeigh has been made to take responsibility for his part in creating the Oklahoma City disaster. When does America take responsibility for its part in creating Timothy McVeigh?