This week, super-compassionate, deeply caring progressive David Atkins (of Hullabaloo) read a story in the New York Times about farmers in the "Deep South" suffering from ruined crops after weeks of unusually heavy rains. The farmers face economic disaster not only from the loss of this summer's crops, but also from the effects that the swampy weather is likely to have on fall crops as well. This follows last year's ravaging droughts, which also left many farmers with ruinous losses.
But super-compassionate, deeply caring progressive David Atkins doesn't give a damn about these farmers, or their families, or their communities. Why? Because he doesn't believe they are fully human. He thinks that all the people in the "Deep South" are a single undifferentiated monolithic mass -- not individual human beings with their own particular thoughts, feelings, beliefs, concerns, interests and allegiances. And he believes that this blank, subhuman entity that he calls "the Deep South" deserves to suffer.
Why? Apparently because not enough of the individuals in these states vote the way David Atkins thinks they should vote. These states -- or rather, a subset of individuals in these states which sometimes accounts for a majority of those who bother to vote, but not the actual majority of the population -- keep electing cranks who deny the existence of global climate change. (As do subsets of populations in, say, the Southwest, the West, and the Midwest.) And because of these subsets and politicians in the "Deep South," it is not only fitting that the region's farmers should suffer, but, in Atkins' weighty thought, we are also intellectually justified in condemning the entire region, collectively, without the slightest nuance or differentiation.
Atkins reads the NYT story and writes: "I wish I could make myself feel more sympathy for the plight of farmers in the Deep South, but it's difficult." He then quotes 11 paragraphs from the story detailing said plight. He finishes with this biting rhetorical flourish:
One would hope that even the Deep South wakes up and realizes that whatever ideological reasons they might have to protect the oil industry, they're not worth the cost.
The entire NYT story has 24 paragraphs. In not a single one of them is there the slightest mention allusion to the issue of global climate change one way or another. Nor a single mention of the farmers' political beliefs or ideological inclinations or scientific knowledge. Nor how they voted in any election, local, state or national. Unless Atkins has carried out some hitherto undisclosed survey of all the farmers in the "Deep South," he has absolutely no way of knowing what the farmers quoted in the story -- or any single individual farmer in the entire region -- thinks about global climate change. He has no information on this. Zero. Yet to him, they are all either vicious Tea Party types or ignorant dupes of the oil industry.
Atkins' collective denigration rests on the entirely George Zimmerman-like assumption that certain kinds of people -- kinds of people "we" don't like -- must all think and act in the same way. "They" are all "like that." A black teenager in a hoodie is always a dangerous thug; a peach farmer in Georgia (of whatever race, creed, color, political affiliation, personal history, psychological makeup or national origin) is always a reactionary ignoramus.
But wait -- that's not an entirely accurate portrayal of Atkins' stance. He doesn't just believe that farmers in the "Deep South" are dangerous cretins who are killing the planet; he clearly believes that every single person in the "Deep South" is a dangerous cretin who is killing the planet. "They" are all "like that." That is the import of what he actually says.
Consider again that stirring flourish: "One would hope that ... the Deep South wakes up and realizes, etc., etc." Not "politicians in the Deep South." Not "the vested corporate interests who buy and sell politicians in the Deep South just like they do all over the country." Not even "the majority of voters in the Deep South who keep backing politicians who won't take action on climate change." No, there is not the slightest differentiation in Atkins' thought here: it is the "Deep South" as a whole, a single entity, that needs to wake up -- and is scorned for not doing so.
Perhaps we're being unfair here. After all, as Atkins never stops reminding us, he is himself an honest-to-God working politician, a middling muckety-muck in California's Democratic Party apparatus. And no one expects a politician to be accurate, or nuanced, or even humane when they are pouring out partisan bile. So in that sense, we are wrong to hold Atkins to any kind of journalistic -- or moral -- standard. He's a party hack; subsets of the various state populations in the South support his political enemies; therefore that whole region is "bad," and everyone who lives there must pay for their sins by suffering Biblical plagues of drought and rain. In this, he is no different than the partisan hacks on the other side who glory in the ruin of Detroit or New Orleans because they don't like the politics -- and the certain kind of people -- who live there.
Global climate change is a real threat. Many millions of people in the "Deep South" -- including some farmers! -- know this. Many of them are actively working to understand and address this threat. I have personally worked with many of these people, on the issue of climate change, right there in the "Deep South," as long as 25 years ago (when I doubt climate change was even a gleam in Atkins' eyes). But Atkins doesn't know or care about these many millions of people. Even though he has made himself an ardent champion of global climate change, and preaches often about how this universal threat transcends all borders and political ideologies, he still can't refrain from using it to score partisan points against his own ideological enemies, while denigrating entire populations who happen to live within the "wrong" borders.
This is modern "progressivism" in action: compassionate, caring, open, embracing -- unless you're the wrong kind of person, living in the wrong place. Then you are ripe for collective punishment. In Atkins' case, of course, this blind, blanket "signature strike" is merely rhetorical. But in the hands of the national leader of Atkins' party, the Peace Laureate himself, the modern "progressive" principle of undifferentiated dehumanization takes on a more literal -- and far more sinister -- cast.
Here's one for all those who look on horrors and desperate needs, yet still stand paralyzed, distracted, bowing to the world; for all of us who've let someone else call the tune and tell the story -- and fight the fight.
Everything I see condemns me for the years I've thrown away Everything I see condemns me for the waste Everything I see condemns me for the evil I've let stand Everything I see condemns me to my face.....
Many people have worried about the fate of Bradley Manning, a lone soldier who informed the world of war crimes being committed by the War Machine that has devoured the American republic and turned its ravaging, profit-reaping fury on the world. As we all know, Manning is now in the iron grip of that Machine, facing the prospect of life in prison for his truth-telling, having already endured a long incarceration marked by episodes of relentless psychological torture. Many people quite reasonably dread what awaits Manning when the Military Court hands down its inevitable verdict against him.
But wait -- perhaps all is not lost after all. In the long dark night of our military imperium, a shaft of light, of hope, has suddenly appeared. And it comes from -- of all places -- the very pinnacle of the military justice system that is bearing down on Manning: the Court of Appeal of the Armed Forces of the United States.
For it turns out that if a military prisoner has faced the least mistreatment during incarceration, even a temporary abuse of due process, then all charges against him will be dropped and he can walk free. And since Manning has manifestly faced any number of abuses of due process and egregious mistreatment, then we can be supremely confident that the military Court of Appeal -- which enshrined this Solomonic principle in a recent case -- will act with perfect consistency and release Bradley Manning in good time, whatever the eventual outcome of his current trial.
After all, that's what the Court has done for poor Lawrence Hutchins III, the good Marine who has been persecuted for years merely for carrying out his duty during America's "extraordinary achievement" -- as Barack Obama so aptly termed it -- in ousting the dictator Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. (It seems there were some other reasons adduced for the invasion back in the day -- something sort of dubious? even spurious? -- but thankfully, these have long been forgotten as America has put aside the petty squabbles of the past and returned once more to implacable sense of righteousness that wraps the nation's every action in a golden, godly glow.)
All Sgt. Hutchins did was lead his team on a night raid against a private home in the Iraqi town of Hamdania. All he and his team did was break into the house, grab an innocent retired policeman named Hashim Ibrahim Awad, drag him down the road to the site of a IED attack, tie him up, shoot him dead in cold blood, then dump his body in the IED hole, remove the plastic restraints, and leave a stolen AK-47 rifle next to the corpse to pretend Awad was a terrorist who had been killed in a firefight. That's all Hutchins did. Oh yes, that, and have his men shoot Awad repeatedly in the face, in the hope of obliterating his identity. But family members recognized the body and demanded justice from their American military occupiers.
Then came the real crime, the misdeed that would later lead the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces of the United States to carry out its humanitarian intervention and set Hutchins free. As AP reports, Hutchins was arrested by the military brass and held "in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for seven days during his 2006 interrogation in Iraq." Thus Hutchins -- who was facing a term of 11 whole years for kidnapping an innocent man, shooting him in the face then covering up the crime -- was released from custody last month by the Court of Appeals, which cited the six-day spell in solitary as the basis for overturning his conviction.
Who knew that the American military justice system was so fiercely adherent to due process that it would even let a killer go free on a "technicality", like a bunch of wimpy ACLU lawyers? Who knew they would act with such exemplary exactitude in applying letter of the law down to the last jot and tittle? Yet this is the principle they have firmly established with their ruling on Hutchins: the failure to safeguard a military prisoner's full panoply of legal rights in every respect must result in the overturning of any subsequent verdict against that prisoner, and his release from captivity.
I think we can all rest easier knowing that this principle will now be guiding the decisions of the U.S. military justice system from now on. For surely it will be applied universally, not only to Bradley Manning but also to, say, the captives in Guantanamo Bay, who are subject to the same military justice system. Surely, it cannot be that this strict adherence to the legal niceties will only be applied in cases where an American soldier has brutally murdered some worthless towelhead in some piece-of-shit foreign hellhole we had to invade for some reason or another a long time ago, so who cares anyway.
No, surely, that cannot be. For as our recent history clearly shows, the operators of our War Machine always adhere strictly and consistently to the highest and most noble principles, applying them to all equally, the great and the low, without fear or favor, or the slightest hypocrisy.
So many of our vaunted dissidents have made 'transparency' one of great goals of their unending agon with the imperial state. If only, they cry, we can let more daylight in on the crimes and atrocities of security apparat and the war machine, then …. well, it's not entirely clear what they believe will follow from this. Probably that 'the people,' now armed with the facts about the filth their rulers wallow in, will rise up and force our elites to sin no more.
But as Silber points out, the historical record belies this comforting little fantasy. Greater 'transparency' about government crime does not translate into mass opposition to these evils. Indeed, it almost always results in widespread indifference to state atrocities -- when it doesn't inspire enthusiastic embrace of them. Gitmo, aggressive war, Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, drone wars, Orwellian surveillance, White House death squads -- in none of these examples, drawn from just the past 10 years, has greater 'transparency' produced any kind of effective, widespread public opposition.
Quite the contrary. Torture, aggression, the rape of privacy and assassination are now widely accepted as ordinary tools of statecraft. The 'scandals' that sometimes surround the initial revelation of this or that course of imperial crime never do anything to alter the system itself. In fact, as Silber notes, once the our rulers sees that people don't really care about torture, surveillance or state-sanctioned murder, they are happy to be even more 'transparent' about their activities in these fields.
Silber cuts right to the heart of the matter. As he says, the point is not to be 'transparen't about these unspeakable evils, but to stop them:
The endless harrumphing about the critical importance of "transparency" is one of the more ridiculous fetishes on the part of many of the State's critics, and especially as voiced by many "dissidents." A monstrous criminal, who rapes, tortures and murders an endless number of people -- women, men and children -- tells us all about his crimes and how and why he commits them. He continually manages to elude the authorities, and he goes right on committing his heinous crimes. But we know every single detail about what he's doing and why. Explain to me why that represents some kind of moral improvement. …
Evil does not become less evil because people are "open" about it. It is not miraculously transformed into good through some mysterious process of alchemy. Evil becomes only worse, infinitely worse. ...
With regard to the State's Murder Program, its surveillance activities, and every other means by which the State seeks to subjugate and control all of us, I am not the least interested in oversight, accountability or transparency. I want all such programs and activities to stop. That's it. I want them to stop.
But you mark my words: the State will make additional, continuing efforts to be more "transparent." Many of the State's alleged "critics" will herald this important change in how the State functions. The "critics" will trumpet their victory, and talk endlessly about how this proves the importance of "constructive engagement" with the State.
And while the State is being so blessedly transparent, it will not only continue all its present programs: it will expand them -- but now with a touch of transparency added. The programs will expand and get progressively worse, and any criticisms that are still to be heard will steadily grow softer and more infrequent.
The State is far better at this game than its critics. The State knows all about providing a sufficient illusion of oversight and transparency to satisfy those critics -- while the State proceeds to do precisely what it wanted to do all along.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman for his killing of Trayvon Martin has already sparked a torrent of fervid commentary -- millions of words -- and will no doubt produce many millions more in the days and weeks to come. But good sense and insight have been near-impossible to find in the roiling surges of this tsunami. One place where you can find these rare commodities is -- as you might expect -- Arthur Silber's blog. Silber has posted a powerful essay on the case and its implications, extending and deepening a likewise excellent piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, which Silber builds upon to striking effect.
You should read the whole piece -- read the whole of both pieces -- but be prepared for some counter-intuitive conclusions, the chief of which is this: in the Trayvon Martin case, the system did not fail; the system worked, it did what it was supposed to do. The problem is that what it is supposed to do is to maintain and replicate the brutal, violent and, above all, dehumanizing injustice encoded in the core of the national culture.
Trayvon Martin's life was broken on the hard, metallic spikes of this core; an unspeakable personal loss. But the travesty was not the case itself -- an inevitably ambiguous affair (an unwitnessed encounter between two men, one of them left dead) hobbled with a daunting burden of legal proof required to produce a guilty verdict. No, the real travesty is the system that produced the volatile circumstances of that fateful night, and all of the seething, hateful, fearful, alienating currents that lay behind the encounter.
But read the eloquent insights of Silber and Coates for more.
Atrios, ever alert to any follies on the political landscape that might be worthy of one of his Instapunditish snippets, names Laura Rozen as his "Twit of the Day." (A lesser punishment, one supposes, than being labelled his "Wanker of the Day" or, dread fate, being placed in the fearsome stocks of his "Worst Person in the World" sobriquet). Rozen's crime, apparently, is voicing mild approval of the idea of appointing Joe Lieberman as the new head of the sinister bureaucratic boondoggle known as the Department of Homeland Security.
Rozen's comment came -- of course -- via Twitter. Our entire political discourse -- at least in the rarefied climes of media-world -- now seems to take place almost solely through this remarkable medium, where the instantaneous, scarcely masticated outpourings of third- and fourth-rate brains are offered up in dumbed-down tidbits, which appear as momentary blips in a long string of juvenile, even infantile formulations. As a prime example, see Rozen's own tweet, which, in making a case for Lieberman's nomination, says it would involve "easy confirmation, he's in charge when uhohs"
I actually went into the cacophony of baby talk and invective on Twitter to see if perhaps Rozen had inadvertently broken her tweet in half or mangled it somehow. But no, she really did mean to end with the idea of Lieberman being in charge "when uhohs." I assume the infantile rubric "uh ohs" is meant to represent domestic terror attacks -- death, destruction, maiming, disembowelment and all the other contingencies that the lard-dispensing, crony-fluffing DHS is ostensibly set up to deal with. All of this is reduced to "uhohs." And thus the Tellytubbyization of our political debate continues apace.
But Atrios -- and "Steve M." at No More Mister Nice Blog, whose blog post provides the substance of Atrios' brief snarkish link -- are not voicing objections to Rozen's goo-goo/ga-ga version of public communication. No, what really steams them, as "Steve M." makes clear, is the fact that a Lieberman nomination to this ludicrous, place-holding sinecure would -- wait for it -- alienate Obama's political base. No really, that's what bothers them. As "Steve M." notes:
And though it's a small step in the scale of things, it could also be the final straw, the act that finishes the job of alienating the liberal base that worked to elect Barack Obama twice. So we could just kick back and binge-watch SharkNado: The Series in 2014, secure in the knowledge that there's no need to pay attention to the midterms, because nobody's going to show up to vote Dem and Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell can start arranging their office swap now. Better to see that coming early, I suppose....
Man, is this bitter, savvy cynicism, or what? Watching 'SharkNado' instead of working the phones to bolster Barack? Get back, dude, that's some really heavy anarcho-bolshevik shit you got going on there.
But what is really being said here by our guardians of progressivism? They are saying that Obama's "liberal base" will swallow death squads, drone wars, Orwellian-level level illegal spying, prosecution for whistleblowers on torture but protection and promotion for the torturers themselves, etc. etc., etc. -- but they will finally balk at .... Joe Lieberman??? That's what will alienate them?
There are a multitude of responses one could make to this idea, but if we may riot in temperance, restraint and understatement, let us say simply that this feared "alienation" of Obama's "liberal base" is highly unlikely to happen -- even if Obama appoints Dick Cheney as head of the DHS. A "liberal base" that would countenance and champion a president who every week decides to kill people all over the world -- including their fellow citizens -- without trial, without charges, without judicial process, without defense -- as well as all the other manifest crimes being continued and expanded by this murderous militarist state, will not, in the end, be unduly put off by the appointment of this or that figure who once, long ago, fell outside the purview of respectable progressive opinion.
Arthur Silber is in trouble. The IRS has targeted his sole source of income -- PayPal donations to his website -- and have taken everything that was in it. Now his PayPal account is unusable. His situation is dire.
Regular readers here will know that Silber -- a peerless, powerful voice on the many madnesses that beset our world today -- is dealing with catastrophic health issues and crippling poverty. Yet still he manages to produce an astonishing body of work -- important essays of original, astringent insight and raucous, penetrating wit. Quite simply, there is no one else like him writing in the political blogosphere (or elsewhere). His is a vital voice that we cannot afford to lose.
But in this, our low, dishonest century, we see that at every turn, great criminals are lauded, honored, protected and rewarded, while those who speak the truth to power -- and about power -- are crushed beneath the boot heels of the imperial machinery. This can take high-profile form -- as in the cases of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, for example -- but it also happens every day to countless people across the land, and across the world, who never make the headlines, who simply try their best to live their lives with integrity and compassion, yet fall into the maw of the machine. Such virtues have no place in the rapacious world constructed by, and for the benefit of, our gilded elites.
Silber's work blazes with integrity and compassion. He's not a hack chewing partisan cud or a guru belching dogma, but a thinker thinking thoughts that can grow, evolve, deepen and change. You will never come away from his essays without having your mind engaged, invigorated, spurred to further, fruitful reflection, even turned in new directions. What more can you ask of a writer? And how many writers do we have like that?
So I would urge you to get over to his site and read the recent posts (here and here) that outline his present situation. He needs, first of all, some legal help in treading the IRS labyrinth, and also your continued support to sustain his work, which benefits us all. (He gives an address where people can contact him regarding ways of donating despite the current blockages.) Again, do go there, and do whatever you can.
Here is my latest column for the print edition of Counterpunch.
Shamming into Syria
When I saw the news on June 13 that Bill Clinton had joined with John McCain in blasting Obama's "inaction" on Syria and calling for direct U.S. military intervention in the conflict, I knew we would soon hear the other shoe dropping. And lo, just hours later, pat it came, with that reliable old house organ of the power structure, the New York Times, portentously reporting that “intelligence” had “confirmed” the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government -- the flashing "red line" that Obama had declared would be the trigger for more American intervention.
One day later, the New York Times reported that the White House will now supply the rebels with arms -- yet another loose, uncontrollable flood of weaponry washing through the most volatile region on earth, guaranteeing more death, more ruin, more terrorism, more needless suffering not only on the Syrian killing grounds, but far beyond as well -- exactly as we saw in the Libyan intervention. And no doubt the Sunni militants in Iraq -- currently killing dozens of people weekly in the sectarian hell created by the American invasion -- will love the U.S. ordnance they'll soon be getting from their al Qaeda allies in the forefront of the Syrian rebel campaign.
The move by Clinton, the progressive’s beloved “Big Dawg,” move was obviously part of a sham operation to "force" poor, peace-loving Obama into significantly ramping up American military involvement in Syria. (And the sight of this self-infatuated gasbag -- with the blood of half a million sanction-murdered Iraqi children on his hands – now demanding more bloodshed for innocent people was truly sickening. Especially the "reasoning" he gave for urging action, despite that fact that intervention is opposed by 85 percent of the American people: if Obama failed to help kill more people in Syria, Clinton said, he would end up "looking like a wuss." Yes, that really is the level of intellect that drives policy at the highest reaches of the American power structure. Yes, they really are juvenile neurotics with third-rate minds obsessed with their illusory "manhood," which can apparently be expressed only by the large-scale slaughter of human beings and military domination of the whole earth. Christ Jesus, boys -- ain't you ever heard of Viagra? Bob Dole can get it for you wholesale. You really don't have to kill people just to get it up.)
For months, Obama has been playing this rope-a-dope game, stringing along both the rabid interventionists and the remaining "progressives" who still believe, against all evidence, in the president's good intentions. But now the time has come to up the ante. Why?
One reason -- noted by the Times -- is the fact that the Syrian rebels are clearly in danger of losing, despite the best efforts of close American allies like the woman-hating, head-chopping, extremism-abetting religious tyrants in Saudi Arabia to keep the bloodshed going. Indeed, as As'ad AbuKhailil points out, the Saudi and Qatari gun-runners and paymasters of the predominantly Sunni rebels in Syria are increasingly using the conflict to foment a genocidal fury against Shiites and related sects across the Middle East. As in Iraq, Western intervention is fuelling a spiral of uncontrollable sectarian violence at a level unseen in the region for centuries, AbuKhalil notes. And American warmongers love to see Muslims killing each other, especially if it opens up new opportunities for war profiteering and oil deals, as in Libya and now in Syria. For example, just one day before the intelligence apparat “confirmed” chemical weapon use by Syria, the administration eased export restrictions to “help facilitate oil sales from rebel-controlled areas,” Reuters reports. One of life’s little coincidences, I reckon.
Equally coincidental, no doubt, is the fact that this intelligence “finding” comes just as Team Obama is reeling from revelations of the Orwell-surpassing cyber-panopticon it has imposed on the entire populace. What better distraction from domestic skullduggery than the ever-reliable foreign threat: “Look over yonder -- WMDs!” Time to rally round the flag – and fill airtime and newsprint with endless blather and Pentagon propaganda about the noble humanitarian “surge” against Syria.
This is a momentous move -- however juvenile and shallow and irredeemably stupid its perpetrators may be. Syria is not Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, isolated regimes on the outskirts of the Middle East. It is in the very center of the powder keg. And it has powerful allies in Russia and Iran. Expanding the civil war there could draw those countries more directly into the conflict, as well as Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, even Turkey. The risk of a wider regional war -- even a world war -- is very real.
This is the reality we are now entering. It's not just blasts of point-scoring partisan rhetoric ricocheting around Capitol Hill, cable news and Twitter. There is a real world out there beyond the various screens that transfix us all, sealing us in an abstract, virtual space of light and pixels. Real people will die from this decision, and from the ludicrous, sinister games played by the stunted power-seekers on every side of the increasingly savage conflict.
David Bromwich has some pertinent thoughts on Edward Snowden and his revelations about our USA (Unrestrained Stasi of Authoritarianism). Note: Bromwich was writing, in the LRB, before Snowden left Hong Kong.
In ‘this our talking America’ (as Emerson called it), we prefer to talk about personalities. It could be anticipated that the ‘leaker’ of NSA secrets, and not the trespass by government against the people, would become the primary subject of discussion once the authorities produced a name and a face. He was destined to have his portrait fixed by the police and media, blurred and smeared to look, in some vague way, probably psychopathic, and once arrested to be dispatched to trial and prison. …
…The first wave of slanders broke as soon as the video interview was released. What was most strange – but predictable once you thought about it – was how far the reactions cut across political lines. This was not a test of Democrat against Republican, or welfare-state liberal versus big-business conservative. Rather it was an infallible marker of the anti-authoritarian instinct against the authoritarian. What was distressing and impossible to predict was the evidence of the way the last few years have worn deep channels of authoritarian acceptance in the mind of the liberal establishment. Every public figure who is psychologically identified with the ways of power in America has condemned Snowden as a traitor, or deplored his actions as merely those of a criminal, someone about whom the judgment ‘he must be prosecuted’ obviates any further judgment and any need for thought.
...Snowden’s profile differed from that of the spy or defector (which he was already charged with being) in one conspicuous way. He did not think in secret. In conversations with friends over the last few years, he made no effort to hide the trouble of conscience that gnawed at him. It also seems to be true – though in the interview he doesn’t clearly formulate the point – that even as he went to work and made use of his privileged access, he felt a degree of remorse at the superiority he enjoyed over ordinary citizens, any of whom might be subject to exposure at any moment by the eye of the government he worked for. The remorse (if this surmise is correct) came not from a suspicion that he didn’t deserve the privilege, but from the conviction that no one deserved it.
And yet, the drafters of the new laws, and the guardians of the secret interpretation of those laws, do feel that they deserve the privilege… We, in America, now support a class of guardians who pass unchallenged through a revolving door that at once separates and connects government and the vast security apparatus that has sprung up in the last 12 years. The cabinet officers and agency heads and company heads ‘move on’ but stay the same, from NSA to CIA or from NSA to Booz Allen Hamilton; and to the serious players, this seems a meritocracy without reproach and without peril. ...
Nothing like this system was anticipated or could possibly have been admired by the framers of the constitutional democracies of the United States and Europe. The system, as Snowden plainly recognised, is incompatible with ‘the democratic model,’ and can only be practised or accepted by people who have given up on every element of liberal democracy except the ideas of common defence and general welfare. A few hours after the 11 September bombings, Cheney told his associates that the US would have to become for a time a nation ruled by men and not laws. But his frankness on this point was exceptional. It may safely be assumed that most of the players go ahead in their work without realising how much they have surrendered. Those who are under thirty, and less persistent than Snowden in their efforts of self-education, can hardly remember a time when things were different.
…Of the public expressions of contempt for the man who opened the door, one deserves particular attention. The New Yorker legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin said that Snowden was a ‘narcissist’, and the word was repeated by the CBS news presenter Bob Schieffer. What were they thinking? ‘Narcissist’ is so far from capturing any interesting truth about Snowden that the slip invites analysis in its own right. In this twelfth year of our emergency, something has gone badly wrong with the national morale. There are cultured Americans who have lived so long in a privileged condition of dependence on the security state that they have lost control of the common meanings of words. A narcissist in Snowden’s position would have defected anonymously to Russia, sold his secrets for an excellent price, and cashed in by outing himself in a memoir published in 2018, studded with photographs of his dacha and his first two wives. Whatever else may be true of him, the actual Snowden seems the reverse of a narcissist. He made a lonely decision and sacrificed a prosperous career for the sake of principles that no one who values personal autonomy can be indifferent to. That is a significant part of what we know thus far.
Fear must have been among the strongest emotions that penetrated Snowden when he grasped the total meaning of the maps of the security state to which he was afforded a unique access. In one sort of mind, and it characterises the majority of those in power, the fear turns adaptive and changes slowly to compliance and even attachment. In a mind of a different sort, the fear leads to indignation and finally resistance. But we should not underestimate the element of physical fear that accompanies such a moral upheaval. Since the prosecutions of whistleblowers, the abusive treatment of Manning and the drone assassinations of American citizens have been justified by the president and his advisers, a dissident in the US may now think of his country the way the dissidents in East Germany under the Stasi thought of theirs. ‘The gloves are off.’ Nor should we doubt that a kindred fear is known even to the persons who control the apparatus.
This is the country that the progressive liberal good-guy Nobel Peace Laureate has given us, carrying on the work of Dick Cheney and entrenching it and expanding it even further.
But of course we do wrong to intimate that the rampant criminality being perpetrated by the current manager of our bright shining Stasiland has its roots in the sinister machinations of the literally machine-hearted Dick Cheney and his chump of a frontman, the noted naked self-portraitist, George W. Bush. For as Fred Branfman reminds us in a powerful new piece, the Executive Branch of the United States government has murdered, maimed and dispossessed many millions of innocent people in the past few decades alone in senseless, pointless, criminal actions. It is a long and richly detailed piece, and should be read in full, but here are just a very few excerpts (see original for links):
…. To the 430,000 to 2 million civilians killed in Vietnam must be added those killed in Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other nations, all those wounded and maimed for life, and the many millions more forced to leave villages in which their families had lived for centuries to become penniless refugees. All told, U.S. Executive Branch leaders – Democrat and Republicans, conservative and liberal—have killed wounded and made homeless well over 20 million human beings in the last 50 years, mostly civilians.
U.S. leaders have never acknowledged their responsibility for ruining so many lives, let alone apologized or made proper amends to the survivors. Those responsible have not been punished, but rewarded. The memory of it has been erased from national consciousness, as U.S. leaders endlessly declare their nation’s, and their own, goodness. Millions of civilian lives swept under the rug, forgotten, as if this mass murder and maiming, the destruction of countless homes and villages, this epic violation of basic human decency—and laws protecting civilians in time of war which U.S. leaders have promised to observe—never happened.
Americans keep this secret because facing it openly would upend our most basic understandings about our nation and its leaders. A serious public discussion of it would reveal, for example, that we cannot trust Executive Branch leaders’ human decency, words, or judgment. And more troubling, acknowledging it would mean admitting to ourselves that we have been misleading our own children, that our silence has robbed them of the truth of their history and made it more likely that future leaders will continue to commit acts that stain the very soul of America.
It is a matter of indisputable fact that the U.S. Executive Branch has over the past 50 years been responsible for bombing, shooting, burning alive with napalm, blowing up with cluster bombs, burying alive with 500-pound bombs, leveling homes and villages, torturing, assassinating and incarcerating without evidence more innocent civilians in more nations over a longer period of time than any other government on earth today .... [Branfman then gives a detailed synopsis, with links to supporting material, of the major murder campaigns waged by the U.S. Executive in the past 60 years.]
… One particular fact puzzled me during my investigations of the air war [working with refugees in Laos in 1969]. All the refugees said the worst bombing occurred from the end of 1968 until the summer of 1969. They were bombed daily, every village was leveled, thousands were murdered and maimed. But I knew from U.S. Embassy friends that there were no more than a few thousand North Vietnamese troops in Laos at the time, and that there was no military reason for the sudden and brutal increase in U.S. bombing. Why, then, had this aerial holocaust occurred?
And then, to my horror, I found out. At Senator Fulbright's hearing, he asked Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns why the bombing of northern Laos had so intensified after Lyndon Johnson's bombing halt over North Vietnam. Stearns answered simply:
"Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them stay there with nothing to do."
U.S. officials had exterminated thousands of people of the Plain of Jars, destroying their entire civilization, because the U.S. Executive just couldn't let its planes sit around with nothing to do….
…Realizing that a handful of U.S. Executive Branch leaders had the power, all by themselves, to level the Plain of Jars shook me to my core. Every belief I had about America was upended. If a handful of Executive leaders could unilaterally and secretly destroy the 700-year-old civilization on the Plain of Jars, it meant that America was not a democracy, that the U.S. was a government of men, not laws. And it meant that these men were not good and decent human beings, but rather cold-blooded killers who showed neither pity nor mercy to those whose lives they so carelessly destroyed.
On a deeper level, it meant that even core beliefs I took for granted were untrue. Might did make right. Crime did pay. Suffering is not redemptive. Life looks very different in a Lao refugee camp looking up than in Washington, D.C. looking down. In those camps I realized that U.S. Executive Branch leaders lacked even a shred of simple human decency toward the people of the Plain.
I remember once laying in my bed late at night after returning from an interview with Thao Vong, a 38-year old Lao farmer who had been blinded in a U.S. bombing raid. Vong was a gentle soul, displayed no anger to those who had turned him from a provider of four into a helpless dependent. I contrasted him and the other Lao farmers who had been burned and buried alive by bombers dispatched by LBJ, McNamara, Nixon and Kissinger. The latter were ruthless, often angry and violent men, indifferent to non-American life—precisely the qualities threatening all life on earth. Thao Vong was gentle, kind and loving, and he and his fellow Lao wanted nothing more than to be left alone to raise their families, enjoy nature and practice Buddhism — precisely the qualities needed for humanity to survive.
I also thought of sweet-faced Sao Doumma, whose wedding photo had so struck me, and who was killed in a bombing raid executed by Henry Kissinger seven years later.
And I found myself wondering: by what right does a Henry Kissinger live and a Sao Doumma die? Who gave Kissinger and Richard Nixon the right to murder her? Who gave Lyndon Johnson the right to blind Thao Vong? I found myself asking, what just law or morality can justify these "killers in high places" who burned and buried alive countless Lao rice farmers who posed no threat whatsoever to their nation, solely because they could?...
… Let us be resolved, right here, right now, that this reconciliation will not come to pass. That the evil impulse that infects us all -- implanted by God only knows what profound and projected pain, inflicted and passed down through thousands of generations, from the very beginning, from the first standing-up on the savannah, to now, to us, to the present firing of the electrics of our brain -- that this evil impulse, these perverted lessons taught by millennia of ignorance and error, will not, in our lifetimes and for untold generations to come, be reconciled with and overcome by the tiny sparks of goodness that have appeared, like miracles, like spandrels, in these same tormented electrics we all share. We will not see justice, we will not see peace, we will not see loving-kindness spread to cover the earth and become the norm, the law of nature, the governing principle of Being. Let us be resolved that we will not see this.
But who would be so base, who would be so dead, that they would not, with all that is left of their corroded, damaged soul, wish to see this reconciliation, and pray for its consummation, sometime in the distant eons of the future? We shall not have it, but oh, that those who come after will know it -- is that not hope enough to live upon?
We live in degradation -- look around you, look within you, and try to deny it; if you are honest, you cannot. But if even a spark of something better has appeared among us (and, in fact, these sparks are legion, and have been, down through all the ages), then we cannot, we must not give up on ourselves, on each other, on the world.