Sunday, September 14, 2014
John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and concern for human decency. John regards it as a badge of honor to have left the United States as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the country embarked on the pointless murder of something like 3 million Vietnamese in their own land because they embraced the wrong economic loyalties. He lives in Canada, which he is fond of calling “the peaceable kingdom.”
John’s writing appears regularly on many Internet sites. He has been translated into at least ten languages and has been regularly translated into Italian and Spanish. Several of his essays have been published in book collections, including two college texts. He has published a book, The Decline of the American Empire and the Rise of China as a Global Power, published by Constable and Robinson, London. John also writes book reviews.
Apart from his writing since retiring from the oil industry, John has taught university courses in economics, done a good deal of private tutoring, served as a professional newspaper restaurant reviewer (he likes cooking), followed his favorite hobby of photography, and created a popular family of image blogs on the Internet.
John may be reached directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
SOME INTERNET SITES FROM JOHN CHUCKMAN:
CHUCKMAN'S ILES DE LA MADELEINE (MAGDALEN ISLANDS)http://chuckmanmagdalenislands.wordpress.com/
CHUCKMAN PHOTOS ON WORDPRESS: CHICAGO NOSTALGIA AND MEMORABLIA (SELECTED POSTCARDS AND RESTAURANT ITEMS)
CHUCKMAN’S PLACES ON WORDPRESS
CHUCKMAN’S PHOTOS ON WORDPRESS: TORONTO NOSTALGIA AND MEMORABLIA
CHUCKMAN' S NON-SPORTS TRADING CARDS OF THE 1950s VOL.1/4
CHUCKMAN’S GALLERY OF GROTESQUES
CHUCKMAN’S CARTOON COMMENTS
CHUCKMAN'S MISCELLANEA OF WORDS
CHUCKMAN'S COMMENTS FROM THE WORLD PRESS
CHUCKMAN'S POLITICAL ESSAYS
NATION OF COWARDS
What else can you fairly call a people who attack a population of refugees confined to a small space surrounded on every side by fences and machine-gun towers, a population with nowhere to run? No, that is not put strongly enough. Not just attack, but use the latest and most ferocious weapons from the American arsenal to slaughter more than 2100 people, including more than 500 children, destroying along the way a major portion of the housing, businesses, and institutions of a poor people.
The definition of a coward is not the traditional military one of a soldier who won’t fight. No, that’s far too simplistic and self-serving. The genuine meaning of the word, the meaning that warrants our full sense of revulsion and contempt, is someone who attacks someone far weaker than themselves. A large man who beats a woman or a child with his fists or a policeman who clubs a handcuffed prisoner – that is the accurate and meaningful definition of the word. And the people of Israel responsible for Operation Protective Edge are as sadly perfect examples of genuine cowards as you can find in the world.
What remarkable courage it takes – outfitted as the IDF is with Kevlar armor, the latest intelligence gadgets, satellites, radios, support of every imaginable kind, and immensely powerful weapons (they even get hot pizzas delivered as they pause in their gruesome work) - to shoot people who cannot run away, are often poorly fed and clothed, and who mostly have no weapons. And the courage of the Israeli pilots who make bombing runs over homes, schools, apartments, and stores from the safety of their supersonic fighters is surely remarkable. They remind me of the American pilots who shot and incinerated countless retreating Iraqi soldiers in the (engineered) First Gulf War while the television broadcasts caught their gleeful shouts of “Wow, it’s just like shooting fish in a barrel!”
Yes, Americans are the only comparable example of Israel’s cowardice, the Americans who literally enable Israel’s savagery but also themselves have given the world the best part of half a century of savagery abroad, the deaths of literally millions of civilians in half a dozen countries – deaths by carpet bombing, napalm, missiles, white phosphorus, various poisons, and the razor-like shards of cluster bombs.
The United States, like Israel, is never called to account for the worst record on the planet of mass killing and destruction. You simply cannot name a contemporary criminal enterprise or a so-called terrorist organization which has a record so steeped in horrors as those two.
Wholesale death inflicted with utter disregard for international law and custom has become standard policy for both countries. Yes, there are always excuses for mass murder, the weasel words such as communists or terrorists or dictators and weapons of mass destruction (Americans ironically being the only people on earth who actually used them, twice, on civilians) – all of them having no more real meaning than Stalin’s chilling wreckers, a word he used to signal his creatures that it was time for a new bloody purge. In some cases those purged were simply people Stalin did not like or of whom he felt jealous, but in most cases of the millions smashed or consigned to hell on earth, the only motive was to terrify a population into submission, and that is exactly what Israel’s motive is for its periodic massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese.
Anyone of moderate intelligence who reads and thinks must know Israel is in no danger from anyone, least of all the Palestinians who have no organized army, no navy, and no air force, not to mention very little of anything else. Israel is armed to the teeth with conventional and non-conventional weapons, it leans back arrogantly into the arms of super-power America and plays the victim in a land it victimizes, and it functions as a garrison state whose major purpose is to hold down and make miserable millions of people who happen not to be Jewish, all the while hoping they will one day pick up and leave. It is absurd to say Israel’s security is endangered by anyone, and especially by the hopeless, lifetime prisoners of Palestine.
Turning a blind eye to the Holocaust three-quarters of a century ago was an unforgivable thing, but in at least one very real sense, it is now even more culpable the way the West turns a blind eye to Israel’s horrors. The Holocaust was perpetrated in great secrecy, and there was no Internet or international media equipped with satellites to tell the world what was happening. There was no United Nations or other international organizations watching. Today, what Israel does is everywhere to be seen. People in America eat their suppers watching Israeli jets bombing homes. Without much effort you can find images of Palestinian children with portions of their heads missing. And we all saw the Israelis from Sderot sit in lawn chairs on a bluff in the evening breeze laughing and applauding as women and children writhed in agony far below much like ants being stepped on.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
MODERN CIVILIZATION AND RELIGION
“I, at any rate, am convinced that He [God] does not throw dice.” Albert Einstein
Even the greatest minds sometimes are befuddled by emotional preconceptions, as this famous quote shows Einstein was by his rejection of randomness implicit in quantum mechanics. Ironically, Einstein himself was one of the founders of quantum theory with his work on black-body radiation.
Nothing is more befuddling than the topic of religion because it consists of nothing but preconceptions, veiled under the more seemingly-weighty word, faith. The topic destroys friendships, has caused immense oppression, and has started many bloody wars. These facts alone should provide strong warning against bringing it into public political discourse.
Not everything an individual deems as good for himself is good for society. This touches one of the basic flaws in Christian thinking which can so destructive to civil society. Christians regard all people as being essentially the same in the sense that they all are expected to be nearly identical over a wide range of human behaviors. It is departure from this set of expected behaviors that marks a person as a sinner. But it is easy to see that people are not the same in almost any physical and mental characteristic you care to measure: they in fact represent a spectrum of differences in each category of human behavior and thought, the mix being never quite the same twice.
The Christian way of looking at people is just another, older stream of 1950s’ thinking about what is normal. In those days, it was easy to be classed as deviant or abnormal just on the basis of dress or behavior which did not fit into society’s fairly narrow expectations for normality. Those were the days when the FBI busied itself with matters like garbage checks on people such as Einstein himself. Those were the days when a boy could become a Junior G-Man for snitching on someone. Those were also the days when people with mental illnesses could be involuntarily institutionalized and even lobotomized. Government took full advantage of the 1950s’ frame of mind, indeed it helped create it, encouraging the idea that those looking or acting different are potentially dangerous. The naturally-occurring paranoia which has always been a feature of American society (a genetic heritage from the Puritans perhaps) just needs a framework like that to kick into high gear with witch hunts and citizens snitching on their neighbors. In both cases – Christianity and secret police - there is an underlying impulse to regiment and classify a population, much as every army recruit receives a buzz-cut, dog tags, and standard issue underwear.
The people who classify others as sinners or deviants, of course, believe they are promoting good behavior, but the idea of good in both cases is not a standard set by anyone but themselves in their interpretations of ancient texts, often corrupt from generations of copyists, always inaccurately translated, censored and picked through by the Church ages ago for what is acceptable and what is not, and readily misunderstood in the ambiguity or even nonsense of various passages. Even with such specific and generally accepted ideas as “Thou shalt not kill,” we know modern courts recognize many kinds of killing, not all carrying the same blameworthiness and penalty. Remember the famous line by Hannah Arendt about “the banality of evil”? That is a perfect description for both the Stasi/FBI-friendly citizen and a good many Christians: in being repressive, they think they are doing good by the accepted norms of their society.
At least general thinking in our society has progressed somewhat beyond that of the 1950s, although the FBI carries on in its frat-boy-with-a-badge stupidities, just having new targets. The fundamentalist Christians also carry on with hell-fire sermons, often invoking intense and mindless hatreds, as of homosexuals or foreigners. One well known preacher, Franklin Graham, invoked the use of atomic weapons after 9/11. Another, Pat Robertson, blamed destructive hurricanes on homosexuals and advocated assassinations. Then there are the folks who writhe on the church floor blubbering incoherent grunts and shouts, calling it “speaking in tongues,” those who insist on poisonous snake-handling as part of worship, and many, many who practice prayer for winning football games, particularly homecoming games when grateful alumni can fill the institution’s coffers in their delirious happiness over victory . Hard to see anything of what we know of Jesus in any of that, yet it all has legions of eager American consumers.
Apart from such carnival side-show excesses, all Christians believe they have a set of received truths and that everyone should be brought to hear them, rejecting them at their peril. These truths include the odd conception that all men are hopeless sinners without Christianity. This very urge to convert others, this belief in a single, unchangeable truth, and, importantly, the implicit idea that all people are somehow just alike is destructive to democratic thinking and the values of modern free society.
The very sins of the sinners tend to be defined by criteria that science daily reduces to nonsense. Many differences among individuals - from sexual behavior to truthfulness, from propensity to violence to compassion, from ability to understand to various mental illnesses - reflect nothing more than differences in the make-up of individuals, differences largely in genetic endowments but also to a lesser degree in environmental experiences. Even the tendency to embrace certain religions and political parties as opposed to others almost certainly is shaped by these fundamental differences in make-up. The genuine acceptance of differences is a key to a modern democratic society.
And if there is one country in the advanced world that often does not accept this principle, it is the United States. In its foreign affairs, it is guided by what often are called Christian principles - a rather fuzzily defined and selective set of them and certainly not the rigorous precepts of historical Jesus so far as we know them. These principles are not written down, codified, or officially announced, but casual discussion and the words of innumerable private and religious organizations confirm the widely-held view. This explains in part the embrace of modern Israel, a relationship as destructive to civil society in its nature as the two-thousand year-old, frightening hallucinations of the Book of Revelations upon which it is partly based. Well, the conflation of ancient rubbish and modern society’s needs doesn't work well even within the United States - that is why it is such a divided and angry society - and it certainly doesn’t work for the world in general.
And the United States is a divided and angry society. It is revealed in the rhetoric of many politicians, it is revealed in the sermons of many extreme preachers, it is evident in the extreme violence and lack of regard for citizens of police forces all over the country, it is revealed in the countless schemes to defraud ordinary people, it is revealed in the intolerance for so insignificant a difference as a politician not wearing an American flag lapel pin, it is felt in the embrace of utterly ignorant political figures (Sarah Palin, George Bush, Newt Gingrich, John McCain) by large factions, and its pulse can be felt in many television shows such as the ones showing police doing their worst nasty work on citizens.
Once admitted to public institutions and policy, religion, in any form, leaves little room for rationality or criticism or individuality, which is almost identical to saying, it leaves little room for thought. You are not supposed to criticize someone’s religion – it tends to create anger and aggression - so what do you do when people bring their religion into public institutions with which you must deal? The human race has terrible, bitter experience with this conflict in everything from the long creaking span of the Dark Ages to countless murderous, meaningless wars. And it is important to understand that religions are not always about a god. They may equally be about an ideology or cult of personality. Communism and fascism were both modern religions in every sense of the word, as is every form of inflexible political ideology.
But the human race learns only very, very slowly from its own history. Why else do we keep commemorating the horrors of World War I? Why else do people feel it necessary to build things like Holocaust museums? You might think such titanic murderous events could no more be forgotten than a natural disaster, but then natural disasters are forgotten regularly. The human brain does not want to dwell on past pain. It is a survival mechanism. And likewise each generation wants to create and experience new dreams and hopes. Too often, though, sweeping dreams and hopes are dangerous fantasies which threaten, perhaps unintentionally, to repeat forgotten horrors. Dreams and hopes, especially sweeping ones, are often the begetters of new and dangerous religions.
The continued commemoration of past horrors is itself a religious rite, one not useful for any good social purpose. World War I, for example, was little more than a gigantic blunder made by men bristling with pride and religious-like patriotism. Twenty million died horribly just so one branch of a royal family could not dominate in Europe at the expense of another. It achieved nothing, and indeed set the stage for the even worse terrors of World War II, including the Holocaust. We commemorate World War I largely to keep young men inspired enough to go off to the next useless war their shabby political leaders decide to fight. The constant commemoration of the Holocaust also is a religious rite using guilt and fear to manipulate support for Israel in the face of what is plainly its own savagery towards neighbors.
For as little as we might like it, it is a fact that all of humanity's great horrors grew out of sweeping dreams and hopes taken to extremes, from the Crusades and the Hundred Years War to the Holy Inquisition and the great world wars. Catholicism, for example, provided and helped enforce for centuries the dangerous and delusional idea of the divine rights of kings. It blessed the conquest and slaughter of great Indian civilizations in the Americas. One Pope even issued a special gold medal commemorating Catherine de Medici’s work for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which thousands of French Protestants were slaughtered in their beds or on the streets. And through the centuries of the Church’s dominance in society, its followers believed they were doing what is right because a respected authority told them it was.
Fascism and Communism were only the Twentieth Century's contributions to religion in politics. Wisdom from the writings and speeches of a few men with either messianic claims for themselves or claims for great sweeping changes in society were received by millions who had suffered bad times. It might not be bad to reflect on the fact that Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were all raised in the Church.
In America, fundamentalist Christianity was the main pillar of slavery for centuries. Christianity, from the early Great Awakenings (a series of mass, semi-hysterical back-to-Christian-basics movements in early America) to the Scopes Monkey trial in the 1920s, has always been in the forefront of rejecting new ideas and supporting human oppression in one form or another. Missionaries have gone hand-in-hand with the military seizure of other people's lands time and time again, the case of the Hawaiian Islands being only one of the most egregious. The only time these people served a progressive influence in their long history was a period of advocacy for public education – something many have turned their backs on now – which had the motive of exposing all to the Gospels. A small portion of them also spoke out against slavery in its last days.
Christianity appears to have arisen as a sect or sects of Judaism. Look at the bloody turmoil of the Old Testament. Murder, war, rapine, slavery are just a few of its delightful themes. That is why the most bloody-minded Israelis or Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israel can cite scripture to support almost any excess that appeals to them. 19th Century Zionism also was one of the modern forms of fanatical political religion, and the damage it has done is there for all to see. In its early days, it never went beyond being a narrow cult rejected overwhelmingly by Jews, but the fears and guilt around the horrors of World War II enabled it to gain a serious foothold and begin its own horrors inflicted on innocents.
We now regularly make new discoveries in almost every branch of science, and, with each advance in rapidly-changing technology, we acquire still more able tools with which to make still more discoveries. This process is only going to accelerate to rates we cannot imagine, and, indeed, with which much of humanity may have great difficulty coping. The received popular wisdom about things changing so rapidly now is close to meaningless small talk: things began to change rapidly at the dawn of the modern era, five or six centuries ago, the change gaining in rapidity with each significant increment of time, and there is nothing to say the established pattern should not continue. Coming, just over the horizon, are the assembly of synthetic life forms, robots that can do almost anything, and machines that will replace the experts in every profession, but even those coming “scary” realities are only the beginning of a journey whose end, if it ever has an end, none can imagine. Any trouble in our coping along the way may well be met with new intrusions of religion into public life, either from traditional faiths feeling oppressed or new secular ones having sprung into being, a disturbing possibility.
All discoveries in science tend to confirm and reinforce the concept of randomness and such fundamental ideas as evolution and quantum theory. Remarkable new fossils are discovered and dated almost weekly, pointing to the rise and fall of innumerable species over time as well the interrelated nature of all life. At the microscopic level, studies of human and animal DNA point in the same direction, that is, to the interrelated nature of all life. In astronomy, the strange nature of the cosmos comes to us in wave after wave of discovery from black holes and dark matter to the very chemical building blocks of life being randomly created in the turmoil of galactic clouds, perhaps to be randomly rained down on countless passing planets with only those randomly possessing the suitable physical conditions becoming the incubators of life.
It is more than a little odd that the only source, regarded by Christians and other faiths as authentic, for the idea of intelligent design has not been supplemented in two thousand years, since the time when some religious eccentrics living in caves scribbled their dreams, hopes, and poetic fantasies on papyruses, giving their work the most sweeping publisher's blurb of all time, that of being authorized by the Creator Himself.
Society’s needs through politics, government, and public institutions can hardly benefit from concepts unchanged in two thousand years. Saying otherwise really is a bit like saying we should still use chariots and papyrus and oxen in the fields, but then there are religious groups who do pretty much that. Amish, Mennonites, strict Catholic religious orders, and ultra-Orthodox Jews all live as if it were another century. Just why each of them settles on a particular era’s set of conveniences and dress is rather a mystery. Why the 18th or 19th century rather than, say, 50 BCE or the Stone Age? The choices are just a few of the countless irrationalities displayed by religions, with the intensity of the irrationality being greater the more extreme the faith. And this is no less true of the political religions, from those who insisted on an ancient Indian symbol on armbands to those insisting on little enameled flag pins on lapels.
As someone who cherishes human freedom and democratic values, I certainly don’t oppose the practice of religion, but I very much oppose any of those practices being imposed on public institutions or manipulated for political purposes. As someone wisely observed, freedom of religion means also freedom from religion. Jesus himself said that prayer was for your private closet, not for exhibition as practiced by the publicans of his day. Remember, as soon as any politician or public official flaunts any kind of religiosity – from public prayer to the display of giant flags, you are being emotionally manipulated by the suggested support of higher powers for particular policies and acts, much as the Catholic Church once crowned and blessed the acts countless bloody kings and tyrants.
Thursday, September 04, 2014
PENETRATING THE DARKNESS COVERING TWO MALAYSIAN AIRLINE DISASTERS
In each case, there appears to be only one explanation consistent with known facts
I wrote previously of a second great mystery surrounding the disappearance over the Indian Ocean of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, and that second great mystery is the United States’ utter silence surrounding its disappearance, despite its being the very nation able to offer the best information from the world’s most sophisticated radars and spy satellites. There can be no question that the United States gathered data on that catastrophe because its military and intelligence surveillance is unblinking. The fact that we did not hear a word from America, and still do not, can only mean its government wants the event, like the airplane itself, to sink, in this case into public forgetfulness.
Now we have a second Malaysian Airliner destroyed (its national origin is presumably sheer coincidence), Flight MH17, this time at a location from which the wreckage was recoverable. The American press immediately jumped to the conclusion that a Russian high-altitude anti-aircraft missile called BUK was responsible, which surely reflected nothing more than suggestive whispers from American intelligence since no evidence was offered. The altitude of the plane before it was destroyed excluded other ground-based missiles.
But Russia had no possible motive for attacking the airliner, and, indeed, the unfortunate event has only served as fodder for a Western press eager to declare Russia a new threat to the world. The Russian-speakers of eastern Ukraine who broke away from that country’s new American-installed government simply do not have this missile in their arsenal, but Ukraine’s government definitely does. These basic facts demonstrate the inappropriateness of the American press’s early suggestions, but we know that in the disinformation business the first one out with even a remotely plausible story repeated loudly enough leaves a lasting impression, as witness the sad fact that polls show a sizeable proportion of Americans yet believe Saddam Hussein hid terrible weapons.
Despite the wreck’s physical accessibility, there were substantial delays getting investigators to it as Ukraine’s new government pressed attacks against its own eastern, Russian-speaking population. We cannot know, but the long delay may well have permitted sanitizing of the crash site. When able to access the site, experts found the flight recorders intact, but, to this writing, nothing from those recorders has been made public. I don’t recall another case of a major crash when at least some information from an intact flight recorder was not made public quickly. After all, the principle behind such data is to discover problems for civilian aviation, enabling others to avoid them. The data, under international civil aviation agreements, is not anyone’s private property, it is to be shared with all in a timely fashion.
But we have heard nothing except a promise that the investigation’s findings will eventually be made public. With such a suspicious delay, the possibility of tampering or destruction of data cannot be ruled out. And here, too, we have silence from the United States which would have the best supplementary data in the form of radar tracks and satellite images on a European event not far from Russia’s border, an area of intense interest to America. Why don’t they produce them? Moreover, despite repeated requests from Russia and others, Ukraine’s new government has released no data of its own, things we know it must have, such as tower-to-pilot recordings. Clearly, information is being deliberately suppressed, and when we hear in our press and from American-influenced governments about Russia’s underhandedness, it is only a loud diversion from that disturbing fundamental fact.
Do you see the television networks and newspapers in the United States calling for the immediate release of information? No, instead you see the suggestion, sometimes far more than a suggestion, that Russia is responsible for destroying the airliner, and this accusation is made with no evidence and without shame.
You might say we have a conspiracy of silence around an event of international importance. But why should that be so? Why is a country whose politicians regularly make speeches praising themselves about openness, democratic values, and fairness, found withholding critical information in two catastrophes of international importance?
In the first case over the Indian Ocean, it is almost certainly because the United States itself shot down the airliner, either mistakenly or deliberately as it may have been regarded as a potential threat to the secret base at Diego Garcia. Neither of these possibilities would be new experiences for America’s military which, over the years, has been involved in destroying at least half a dozen civilian airliners (see my essay with its footnotes, “The Second Mystery Around Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370” found at Chuckman’s Words on Wordpress).
In the case of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, destroyed over Ukraine, I believe the United States is hiding the fact that the Ukrainian armed forces shot it down. Why would the United States do this? We know, there being a great deal of good information in the public record, that the United States has made a huge investment in Ukraine over the past few years trying to destabilize an elected government, one friendly to Russia, and it succeeded when that government fled from a coup. Imagine America’s embarrassment at the world’s seeing its new proxy government, its supposed champion of eastern democracy, first misdirecting a civilian airliner, Flight MH17 having inexplicably been sent off course over a war zone, and then shooting it down with a fighter. Russian data, released to the public, shows a Ukrainian fighter was near the airliner, and an early photo of the wreckage leaked to the world clearly shows a large fuselage panel from the pilot’s cabin riddled with holes as by heavy caliber ammunition from a fighter’s canon.
That embarrassment would come on top of a series of embarrassments America’s meddling in Ukraine’s affairs has produced: over the general revolt of Russian-speaking Ukrainians against a new government openly unfriendly to their interests; over revelations that Nazi-like groups – and Ukraine has a number of them, notably the Right Sector - committed the sniping murders of hundreds of civilians from rooftops in Kiev in support of the original coup; over Ukraine’s pathetic military failures on the ground with its soldiers displaying poor morale and worse leadership; over the world’s seeing Ukraine bombing and rocketing its own citizens; over the failure of various cheap ruses such as using repainted surplus Hungarian T-72 tanks, fit only for scrap, to pass as invading Russian armor (while this ruse failed, it did for a while take in a lot of Western journalists, surely a reflection on the depth of their investigations); and, perhaps, most grating of all for the engineers of the whole murderous and destructive scheme, some deft statesmanship by Vladimir Putin snatched from their grasp important expected fruits of the enterprise.
In a number of instances the Ukrainian armed forces have demonstrated embarrassing incompetence, and reading between the lines of screaming propaganda and demands for this or that, appear actually to be losing the highly unequal fight. They do not fight with motivation for their new American-installed government, with its neo-Nazi auxiliaries, and against fellow citizens. I believe the shooting down of the airliner was one of many blunders, and the recordings from the black boxes, if revealed without doctoring, would unambiguously prove this to be the case. As would Ukraine’s flight controller recordings, still held secret.
The United States, despite embarrassments and setbacks, has worked to make other gains out of its dirty work in Ukraine. It has been able to use almost comical assertions of a new Russian threat to strengthen its hold on NATO, an organization which has been obsolete for years and which serves only to thinly disguise American hegemony in Europe. Even now it pushes members for increased military spending to a minimum of two percent of GDP as the admission price for playing with the big boys in NATO. For America, the great appeal of increased expenditures would be a further subsidizing of its costly presence in Europe. NATO is held together by America’s financial, economic, and diplomatic power, still great despite that country’s having entered its relative decline in world influence. It can still grant rich favors and contracts or it can work away quietly against the interests of a dissenting state. A Europe with the many economic problems we see today is naturally fearful of summoning America’s wrath.
Altogether, it’s a vast and shameful enterprise the United States has launched, and while most of its unpleasant consequences have yet to be seen, it has certainly brought war and grief to a previously peaceful region. But the stark truth is that, in recent years, bringing war and grief seems to be a core mission of American foreign affairs.
Monday, September 01, 2014
THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME
Despite my title, this is not a memoir, dealing as it does with some of the most deadly serious subjects on the planet.
I was brought up by a hard-working, fiercely honest woman. She was brave in the most profound way, not the momentary, over-hyped stuff of soldiers and sports stars, but the unsung stuff of facing great odds and painful situations and doing her duty, not for moments or days, but for year after year. She was unusual for the early 1950s, a time of great social conformity in America, for having left my father whose drunken abuse she refused to endure. She set off on her own with two very young boys and never looked back. She always set an example of high standards, expecting the same from my brother and me, made us regular church-goers, and generally bestowed a great deal of love on us.
For the greatest part of my life, I believed in the same values and precepts she taught although I parted with church-going before I was a man. I was not without cynicism about many things I observed through life, but now, in my old age, I realize forcefully how entirely different are the rules which actually govern human affairs, and especially those pertaining to international affairs. Virtually everything my mother taught me, and my church too, was mistaken.
We hear a good deal these days about the problem of bullying in schools, and my instincts always put me on the side of victims and make me question teachers and authorities who do not step in to protect the innocent. But just look at the major political and economic leaders of our time: virtually every one of them has been an unqualified bully. It appears that being a bully features prominently on the road to success.
And we all believed that the bad guys never won and that time would see victims receive justice. The painful truth is though that the bad guys, at least all the clever and well-connected ones, always win and their victims almost never receive justice.
My mother had no tolerance for lying, and obvious lies still try my patience, but lying is in fact one of the chief occupations of those who govern us. Messrs. Obama, Netanyahu, Cameron, Harper are all the grossest liars, as were Sharon, Clinton, Blair, Bush, Cheney, and a very long list of others notable for their positions and the headlines they generated. Most of these individuals, along with a good many others, likely have never, in their entire careers, uttered a single truthful sentence, discounting the platitudes and bromides they are accustomed to delivering.
The issue of lying most comes into prominence in the case of war. I have seen so many wars in my lifetime, and it is painfully clear that every one of them was based on lies. The poor citizens of every land are never told why their lives are being snatched and their wealth squandered. They are certainly never consulted about whether so terribly serious a measure as war should be undertaken. Instead they are lied to. The ghastly horror of Vietnam, all that vast work of death and destruction on a genocidal scale – carpet bombing, napalm, and poisons dropped - was about nothing which mattered to almost all ordinary people, it was about blood-drenched lies their leaders told them.
And how can you possibly have meaningful democracy when the voters are lied to daily by those running for office and those holding office? You cannot, clearly.
And today, the whole Middle East is either in flames or has recently passed through war or revolution – Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, and still others. We are given many reasons for this phenomenon, but at the heart of the matter, there really is only one cause, and that cause is never mentioned in our press.
In all cases, American is found either covertly directing affairs or at least pouring money and weapons into countries to de-stabilize them. And why does it do this? It reflects a vast effort to mold the Middle East into a shape comfortable for the rather unusual requirements of its colony in the region, Israel. Why unusual requirements? What other small country in the world seems to need to control and dominate everything around it for at least a thousand miles? And this is only necessary because Israel refuses to obey almost any of the laws and customs of nations as we have grown to understand them in modern times. Israel continues to rule areas conquered in what itself was a fraudulent war, the Six Day War, nearly fifty years ago, and it doesn’t just rule these places against all international law and conventions, it treats their millions of residents as entitled to no law or justice, no hopes or aspirations, and not even entitled to hold the property they have because whenever a chunk of it appeals to Israelis, they simply take it.
Such is the behavior of the self-designated “only democracy in the Middle East,” a glib and meaningless phrase which completely ignores the fact that half the people ruled by Israel have no votes and no human rights. Actually, it is a good thing there are not more such “democracies,” or the region would be total hell on earth. Democracy for some is not democracy at all. Think of Orwell’s precept in Animal Farm, a book intended to satirize Stalin’s Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal.” That could have been just as well written about modern Israel. Israel’s embrace of neighbors who are virally anti-democratic – from Egypt to Saudi Arabia – again says something profound about the nature of Israeli “democracy.”
And the much bigger country which likes to style itself, the world’s oldest democracy and the land of the free, not only supports Israel in its disregard for law, customs, and international conventions, it finances a great deal of the tyrannous behavior. Where is the regard for democracy, rights, or even due process in that?
The always-tolerated violation of accepted principles by Israel which seems most remarkable to me is its regular theft of homes and farms. Americans are comfortable with bombings and assassinations and torture, at least judging from their national behavior over a good many decades in a number of countries, but when you consider how Americans revere property rights above all else in their society, it does seem it should be another matter when it comes to property being swiped in public. Property and profits are the truest guiding, long-term principles in American society. So you might think, despite the shower of lies in which Americans are immersed concerning Israel and its neighbors, public theft would stir something deep in their hearts. So why don’t we see American leaders, even if they can’t get worked up over endless occupation and abuse and killing and apartheid-like laws, at least strenuously objecting to Israel’s regular, high-handed thefts of property?
America’s politicians always back Israel because America’s government is constituted on the fallacious and unethical concept that money is free speech when it comes to political campaign contributions – fixed by a Supreme Court whose history includes vigorous support of such other glorious principles as slavery. When you allow such a political financing system to dominate your politics, it follows, ipso facto, that those able and willing to give very large sums as campaign contributions (as well as favorable press coverage, there not being a single major newspaper or network in America which does not play the game of boosting Israel) receive access and have their voices heard to the virtual exclusion of others.
What is certainly one of the most efficient and untiring lobbies, the Israel lobby, understands America’s system perfectly and has adapted over time to work it perfectly, resulting almost in a custom-designed, industrial-scale machine for turning out loyal and uncritical politicians in one country concerning the acts of a foreign country. Again, there’s very little truth and even less democracy in that way of conducting politics.
Monday, July 28, 2014
CBC's MANAGEMENT TALKS ONLY OF TECHNICAL CHANGES TO COME, IGNORING THE VITAL MATTER OF DEGRADED CONTENT
CBC's MANAGEMENT TALKS ONLY OF TECHNICAL CHANGES TO COME, IGNORING THE VITAL MATTER OF DEGRADED CONTENT
LETTER TO CBC MANAGEMENT AFTER ANNOUNCEMENT OF COMING CHANGES BY SENIOR MANAGEMENT
CBC’s President and its Vice-president for English Broadcasting spoke in radio interviews about technical matters, using words like “mobility” and almost not a word about content.
It is CBC’s degraded content that deeply concerns those concerned about CBC, not technical matters.
Of course the hope is that technology will reduce costs and that is good but far, far from sufficient. CBC today - and I speak to CBC Radio, the service I have long used - is fast approaching irrelevance. The emphasis on pop music, on being almost an amateur-tryout outlet for hopeful wannabes, has swamped everything.
Appointed new hosts over recent years are a collective disaster: Jian Ghomeshi, Gill Deacon, Brent Bambury, Matt Galloway, and one or two others are simply uninteresting minds, yet they dominate the schedule, people who talk in trivialities about celebrities and pop music and never utter an incisive word. Even guest hosts on shows now are often of the same poor quality, people who cannot conduct an interesting or informative interview, for example the “The Current”’s summer host, a person of minimal apparent talent.
CBC Radio’s broadcast news is filled with trivialities, unexamined notions, pointless “soundbites,” even errors, and virtually no digging-in to anything, besides being annoyingly and infinitely repeated. I am amazed at times on hearing a story on so-called national news that no editor said before putting it on air, “Well, that raises more questions than it answers.”
There are only a few hosts left worth hearing: Anna Maria Tremonti, Bob McDonald, Eleanor Wachtel, Michael Enright, and one or two others. Considering the ages of these excellent few, what comes after them? More dull mediocrity, without a doubt.
Instead of a broadcast service featuring Canada’s best, something of which we can be proud, something which informs, you’ve been building an all-day Ed Sullivan Show.
Monday, July 07, 2014
REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGINS AND MEANING OF AMERICA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY - RE-POSTED FROM 6 YEARS AGO, NOTHING HAVING CHANGED
REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGINS AND MEANING OF
Why no on should be surprised when
behaves as an international bully America
If you relish myths and enjoy superstition, then the flatulent speeches of
Independence Day, July 4, were just the thing for you. No religion on earth has
more to offer along these lines than America celebrating itself. America
Some, believing the speeches but curious, ask how did a nation founded on supposedly the highest principles by high-minded men manage to become an ugly imperial power pushing aside international law and the interests of others? The answer is simple: the principles and high-mindedness are the same stuff as the loaves and the fishes.
The incomparable Doctor Johnson had it right when he called patriotism the last refuge of scoundrels and scoffed at what he called the "drivers of negroes" yelping about liberty.
Few Americans even understand that Johnson's first reference was to their sacred Founding Fathers (aka Patriots). I have seen a well known American columnist who attributed the pronouncement to Ben Franklin, a man who was otherwise admirable but nevertheless dabbled a few times in slave trading himself.
Johnson especially had in mind history’s supreme hypocrite, Jefferson, with his second reference. Again, few Americans know that
Jefferson kept his better than two
hundred slaves to his dying day. I know a well educated American who sincerely
believed Jefferson had freed his slaves. Such
is the power of the myths of the American Civic Religion.
The date we now celebrate, July 4, is based on the Continental Congress's approval of the Declaration of Independence, but in fact the date is incorrect, the document was approved on July 2.
Despite the document's stirring opening words, if you actually read the whole thing, you will be highly disappointed.
The bulk of it has a whining tone in piling on complaint after complaint against the Crown. Some would say the whining set a standard for the next quarter millennium of American society.
In Jefferson’s draft it went on and on about
slave trade. The 'slave trade' business was particularly hypocritical, trying
to sound elevated while in fact reflecting something else altogether. At the
time there was a surplus of human flesh in Britain , and prices were soft. Virginia
The cause of the Revolution is also interesting and never emphasized in American texts.
's imposition of the Quebec
Act created a firestorm of anti-Catholicism in the colonies. They were afraid
of being ruled from a Catholic colony. Britain
The speech and writing of American colonists of the time was filled with exactly the kind of ugly language one associates with extremist Ulstermen in recent years.
This combined with the sense of safety engendered from Britain's victory in the French and Indian War (the Seven Years War)and the unwillingness to pay taxes to help pay for that victory caused the colonial revolt.
Few Americans know it, but it was the practice for many, many decades to burn the Pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Day along the Eastern Seaboard. Anti-Catholicism was quite virulent for a very long time.
The first phase of the revolt in and around
Boston was actually something of a popular
revolution, responding to Britain's
blockading the harbor and quartering troops in . Boston
The colonial aristocrats were having none of that, and they appointed
commander over the heads of the Boston Militias who volunteered and actually
elected their officers. Washington
Washington, who had always wanted to be a British regular commander but never received the commission, imposed his will ferociously. He started flogging and hanging.
In his letters home, the men who actually started the revolution are described as filth and scum. He was a very arrogant aristocrat.
The American Revolution has been described by a European as home-grown aristocrats replacing foreign-born ones. It is an apt description.
Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and many other of the Fathers had no faith in democracy. About one percent of early
could vote. The
president was not elected by people but by elites in the Electoral College. The
Senate, which even today is the power in the legislature, was appointed well
into the 20th century. Virginia
The Supreme Court originally never dared interpret the Bill of Rights as determining what states should do. It sat on paper like an advertising brochure with no force. At one time,
Jefferson seriously raised the specter of secession, half
a century before the Civil War, over even the possibility of the Bill of Rights
being interpreted by a national court and enforced.
The Founding Fathers saw popular voting as endangering property ownership. Democracy was viewed by most the same way
Washington viewed the “scum” who started the Revolution
It took about two hundred years of gradual changes for Boston to become anything that
seriously could be called democratic. Even now, what sensible person would call
it anything but a rough work still in progress. America
It is interesting to reflect on the fact that early
was ruled by a portion of the population no larger than what is represented
today by the Chinese Communist Party as a portion of that country’s population. America
Yet today we see little sign of patience or understanding in American arrogance about how quickly other states should become democratic. And we see in Abu Ghraib, in
and in the CIA’s International Torture Gulag that the principles and attitudes
of the Bill of Rights still haven’t completely been embraced by . America
Contrary to all the posturing amongst the Patriots – who few were a minority at the time - about tyranny, the historical facts indicate that
on the whole actually had offered good government to its North American
Everyone who visited the Colonies from
Europe noted the exceptional health of residents.
They also noticed what seemed an extraordinary degree of freedom enjoyed by colonists. It was said to be amongst the freest place in the known world, likely owing in good part to its distance from the Mother Country. A favorite way to wealth was smuggling, especially with the
Caribbean. John Hancock made his
fortune that way.
Ben Franklin once wrote a little memo, having noted the health of Americans and their birth rates, predicting the future overtaking of
an idea not at all common at the time. America
Indeed, it was only the relative health and freedom which made the idea of separation at all realistic.
Britain was, of course, at the time viewed much
the way, with the same awe of power, people view today. These well-known
facts of essentially good government in the Colonies made the Declaration of
Independence list of grievances sound exaggerated and melodramatic to outsiders
even at the time. America
The combination of the Quebec Act, anti-Catholicism, dislike of taxes, plus the desire to move West and plunder more Indian lands were the absolute causes of the Revolution.
But people in the colonies were land-mad, all hoping to make a fortune staking out claims they would sell to later settlers. The map of
for example, showed the colony stretching like a band across the continent to
the Pacific. Massachusetts
did not agree. Britain
George Washington made a lot of money doing this very thing, more than any other enterprise of his except for marrying Martha Custis, the richest widow in the colonies.
The tax issue is interesting.
The French and Indian War (the Seven Years War) heavily benefited the Colonists by removing the threat of
in the West. Once the war was over, many colonists took the attitude that France
could not take the benefits back, and they refused to pay the taxes largely
imposed to pay the war's considerable cost. Britain
And Americans have hated taxes since.
By the way, in the end, without the huge assistance of
the Colonies would not have won the war. France France
played an important role in the two decisive victories, Saratoga
and Yorktown. At they had smuggled in the weapons the
Americans used. At Saratoga Yorktown, the final battle,
the French were completely responsible for the victory and for even committing
to the battle. Washington had wanted instead
to attack New York – which would have been a
disaster – but the French generals then assisting recognized a unique
opportunity at Yorktown.
After the war, the
never paid the huge
French loans back. Some gratitude. Also the United States renounced the
legitimate debts many citizens owed to British factors (merchant/shippers) for
no good reason at all except not wanting to pay. United States
It was all a much less glorious beginning than you would ever know from the drum-beating, baton-twirling, sequined costumes, and noise today. And if you really want to understand why
become the very thing it claimed it was fighting in 1776, then you only need a
little solid history. America
Saturday, June 21, 2014
IRAQ, ISIS, AND INTERVENTION: JUST WHAT IS GOING ON?
As so often is the case in foreign affairs, we will never know with precision what is happening in Iraq. The governments involved have reasons to disguise what they are doing, and a number of governments are indeed at work there. The press doesn’t spend the resources needed to discover the facts, thus saving government considerable embarrassment and themselves a good deal of work. But, if you look carefully, there are enough bits of information scattered around to gain an adequate picture of events, just as you might detect what people had been eating from the crumbs and splashes left on a dinner table.
From columnists and editorials, you can find almost any explanation of events in Iraq you care to find, all of them together yielding precisely a huge muddle. My favorite example of confusion is the story which made its way around about the way the United States and Iran were coming together to stop ISIS, each of them having their own reasons for doing so. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. Iran, indeed, cares deeply about stopping ISIS. The United States makes a good deal of noise – what else can it do when pictures are published, intended to inflame public opinion, of prisoners being violently murdered? – but it does nothing of substance because it does not want to do anything.
The less-than 300 troops America sent to Iraq are only for embassy protection, not fighting, the monster embassy the United States forced on occupied Iraq being a private city of spies and communication and resources, totally out of proportion to a country the size of Iraq – if you will, a Middle East branch plant for CIA headquarters in Virginia. Now the United States talks of sending 300 advisers to Iraq’s army. Advisers? Since when does the United States send advisers to a besieged area where it has vital interests? So, too, the matter of air support: Prime Minister al-Maliki is reported to have asked for air support, and the United States is reported to have responded that it will be sent if he resigns. That is a very odd response for a government supposedly having common cause with Iran.
Yes, ships with planes have been sent to the region, but I think they may well be used in a different fashion than how the press speculates.
ISIS (aka ISIL) is often called a powerful and frightening force, but that is almost laughably inaccurate. All estimates of its manpower range from 7 to 15,000 – that is not a lot of soldiers by any standard and no larger than some American street gangs. The Iraq military, in the last numbers I saw, had approaching 300,000 on active service and more than half-a-million reserves. You can find pictures on the Internet of ISIS forces on the move, a rag-tag bunch with small arms riding around in Japanese pick-up trucks. They would be scary for any individual or village, but they wouldn’t stand a chance against even a single division of a modern army. Iraq’s government has many hundreds of armored combat vehicles, including more than 200 heavy tanks, a mix of American M1A1s and Russian T-72s, and several billion dollars’ worth of other high-end military equipment.
So why does Maliki seek American help? The Maliki government is not popular in Iraq, as proves the case so often with governments set up by the United States after its colonial wars. It has all the faults found throughout the Middle East of cronyism, nepotism, etc. And in a country with great divides of ethnicity and religion – Arabs, Kurds and Sunni, Shia – plus still other regional divides – oil-producing, agricultural, plains and mountains, urban and rural - any central government is bound to suffer unpopularity. Democracy has no history here, so popularity is not necessarily even a relevant criterion. But Maliki also is not popular with his original benefactor, the United States, almost certainly a far more relevant fact.
On the other hand, the Maliki government has become quite well disposed towards Iran, far more so than the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel like. Some earlier observers of America’s handiwork in Iraq said that the ultimate beneficiary might just prove to be Iran. Israel, in one of the more informative statements made about the situation, said that Iran was far more a threat to the region than ISIS. Maliki’s government forms an important link in an arc of Shiite power through the region from Iran through Syria (Assad is Shia) to Hezbollah in Lebanon (also Shia). The Shia are viewed by many in the Muslim world, which is overwhelmingly Sunni, much the way Protestants in the 17th century were viewed by the Catholic Church, as a minority which has broken old traditions, cultural patterns, and loyalties. All of the great reformers of Protestantism were viewed by the Catholic Church as heretics, and as many Protestants as possible were disposed of in bloody persecutions like the Holy Inquisition or the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. It is actually the politics and attitudes of the Shia, rather than this or that minor difference in theology, which makes them unwelcome to the folks running Saudi Arabia, much as was the case with the Reformation and Rome, the rulers of Saudi Arabia being in general about as genuinely religious as many of the old hedonistic popes in Rome.
Some observers, early in the American occupation, predicted that Iraq would crumble into three rump states, and to some extent their expectations have proved perceptive. It is not clear that America would have been entirely averse to that development since it would have eliminated a state which might one day again possess the strength to oppose Israel. Saddam Hussein held Iraq together through ruthlessness towards any who were opposed or questioned his central authority, but he did represent more than a simple bloody dictator. He was also building something of a modern secular society with public institutions serving welfare needs, more rights for women, and the advance of education and science – in many ways, his Iraq was the most advanced state in the Arab world, and undoubtedly the growing middle class his policies helped create would have brought democracy one day after his death. The American invasion smashed all of that, leaving little of which to be proud and three regions pulling in different directions. To the degree Maliki has again tried to impose a will on the situation, he naturally has not been popular. And his efforts to work with Iran, a natural and powerful regional ally for him to turn, have made him loathed in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
ISIS, whatever the exact paths from its origins, represents just one more of the rag-tag groups that Saudi Arabia and Turkey, working under the close eye of the United States, introduced into Syria to topple Assad in an engineered civil war. We have many reports of ISIS members with British or American passports. The past Benghazi, Libya fiasco, never explained by Washington, was part of these efforts, the murdered American ambassador running a black operation to collect weapons and radical fighters to ship to Turkey for insertion into Syria when he was caught in what intelligence agencies call “blowback,” a group of those with whom he was dealing turning on him, viewing an available American ambassador as perhaps a more worthy target than Assad. ISIS has expanded its horizons to include Iraq, and it has been encouraged and assisted to do so by the Saudis.
Why do jihadist types hate Assad enough to go there risking their lives? Apart from the natural attractions for some young men of adventure, war, and escape from rules, it is because Assad, like Hussein, actually represents some progressive, modern developments in a large Arab state. He has at his disposal fewer resources, not being a major oil producer like Hussein’s Iraq, but, within the limits imposed on him, Syria exhibits secular tendencies and some openness to modern trends. The great irony of the region is that the very states with which Israel keeps the best relations are absolute ones doing all they can to dampen social progress, places like Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
ISIS is a perfect mechanism for two American goals, the first being to assist in the disposal of Maliki, something which would make Israel very happy because it would cut the Iran connection. Second, ISIS can be used as an excuse for American air attacks into Syria, perhaps even the insertion of limited ground forces there. Assad and the Syrian army have foiled the elaborate secret effort to topple him, and a great opportunity, from America’s point of view, stands to be lost if some additional effort is not made. ISIS being chased into Syria by American jets and Special Forces may just be an opportunity not to be missed: attacks on Syrian forces staged as hot pursuit of repulsive ISIS fanatics. And the fanatics, having served their purpose from America’s point of view, will be slaughtered too. Of course, none of this has anything to do with the welfare of the Syrian people who have endured countless horrors as though their country were a dump site for the toxic wastes of some great corporation.
ISIS has been given waves of publicity for its ferocity and barbarism, but as with all such publicity, we must make allowances for inflated claims. We do have reports that in villages where residents ran from ISIS, they are returning and being treated decently. Would anyone return to place occupied by a wild band of cutthroats? If such a force shows up at a town or village where there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Maliki government, it is not hard to see how the locals might run, but how do we explain reports of those who ran away being welcomed back?
The key factor as to whether Maliki can stop ISIS is the loyalty of the army as well as local populations, and that is not certain at all. It is extremely likely that strategic payments to soldiers and others are being made to secure results like those of the early ISIS victories, the funds coming from Saudi Arabia. Soldiers running and leaving behind modern tanks when confronted with a mob in Japanese pick-ups are not credible otherwise. Remember, Iraq is a place where pallet-loads of freshly-printed United States’ hundred dollar bills disappeared in countless payments and bribes to silence various groups active in the violent wake of America’s so-called victory. It is the way the place has worked for a decade of corrupt American influence.
A high Israeli official was quoted recently saying it was Iran’s influence that is most dangerous in the region, not that of ISIS. Of course, that should tell us a great deal. In this part of the world, Israel’s views count for far more than those of all the other countries put together, at least, so far as the United States’ government is concerned, the ridiculous lopsidedness in that reflecting the best Congress campaign funding can buy.
Monday, June 16, 2014
GENOCIDE, GREAT WARS, AND OTHER HUMAN DEPRAVITY
The word genocide, coined in 1944 in an effort to describe what the Nazis called “the final solution” and what today we call the Holocaust, attempted to distinguish the crime of killing people of a certain identity in such great numbers that you tried eliminating them as a group. Earlier in that century, there had been the mass murder of Armenians by the Turks, an event Hitler once cynically reminded associates was not even remembered only a few decades later.
Some would include in the category the terrible starvation induced in Ukraine by Soviet agricultural policies and ineptitude, an event which indeed killed millions, or the ruthless policies of Mao’s China which caused many millions of peasants to starve. But these events, utterly nightmarish as they were, begin to lose the legitimate sense of genocide. Although we cannot rightly call these genocides, they remain depravity on a colossal scale, but I am not sure the distinction is one with great meaning, and certainly not for any of the victims. After all, when nations go to war, the job defined for each soldier is to kill as many of the people from another land as possible. Our great wars now typically kill vast numbers, and it is just a fact of history that since the 19th century we have moved from killing mainly other soldiers to killing mainly civilians.
I think it likely there were many genocides through early human history because humans are little more than chimps with large brains, and we know through long-term studies that chimps are quite murderous, making regular expeditions to slaughter neighboring tribes of their own kind. One of the theories for the extinction of the Neanderthals is that they were murdered off by our kind some thirty thousand years ago. Recorded human history, not counting archeological digs, goes back less than three thousand years of homo sapiens’ half million years or so, and even much of that small fraction of our history is poorly recorded by modern standards of scholarship, but we have so many dark legends which almost certainly point to horribly brutal unrecorded events: ghouls, vampires, monsters, cannibals, human sacrifice, and tales of savage hordes. The Old Testament, thought to have been written largely from 1000 to 600 BCE, itself is rich with tales of mass murder and killing determined by identity, rather disturbingly for a book embraced by so many as God’s own word.
There really are few limits to human depravity. The word genocide hadn’t been invented yet, but think of Columbus or the Conquistadors wiping out entire native populations regarded as savage. Or think of the centuries of Christianity in Europe in which countless people were garroted or burned at the stake over some turn of phrase in the liturgy. The Crusades over centuries killed whole populations owing solely to their religion, with Popes in Rome having been among their biggest organizers and supporters. The Hundred Years’ War, mid-14th to mid-15th centuries devastated Europe. In the 20th Century, Europe thought little of entering a conflict which would kill 20 million over which branch of the same royal family would dominate the continent. Having settled nothing by that carnage, much the same forces about twenty years later engaged in an even greater conflict which would destroy more than 50 million people.
If words mean anything, you might think genocide is a word that would never be carelessly used, but it is, and quite regularly. Indeed, few words today are more abused than genocide. When relatively small groups of people are killed (“small” in the scheme of things - after all, we are discussing mass killings) in places of interest to the West (i.e., Serbia) where war or civil war is underway, the killings are frequently characterized as genocide by our politicians and their faithful echoes in the press, trying to squeeze out every last possible bit of dread and horror from audiences. There was a large effort in the early part of the last decade to sell the conflict at Darfur as genocide, but I suspect it actually closely resembled primitive wars from the early times of human history.
When a million or so people are killed in places of little interest to the West (i.e., Rwanda), it is ignored in all but words, the sensational stories used to sell newspapers and books and juice-up television’s talking-head shows after the fact.
Genocides do periodically still occur, but when has any powerful nation like the United States, or international organization like NATO, stood in the way of genocide in the post-war period? Has the United States or NATO ever opposed genocide other than with cheap words? In these matters, the United States’ government’s declarations so often resemble press releases from, say, the Vatican with ineffectual and wheezing platitudes about some horribly bloody war. It is the United States which holds political and economic sway over international organizations like the United Nations and NATO, and it is the United States which has the military power to do something when events require it.
We have had several unmistakable genocides in the last fifty years, and, regrettably, not once did America lift a finger to help. Indeed, the United States actually played a role in establishing or extending the circumstances for a couple of these ghastly events, but you’d never know that when American politicians rise to huff and puff about what is happening in a place far away or in a place not necessarily far away but whose government is intensely disliked. And, of course, you’d never know it from the pages of the mainline press, without doing more detective work than most people are willing to do.
We had what everyone agrees was genocide in Rwanda with around a million people killed simply for their tribal identity, with further destructive aftershocks in neighboring states for some while after. The United States’ government, immediately well aware of what was happening there, simply refused to allow the word to be used in its internal communications, and the cowardly Bill Clinton avoided the rhetoric he employed on Serbia, a place where mass murder came in at literally one percent the rate of Rwanda.
We had genocide in Cambodia with perhaps a million and a half killed, and it actually was precipitated by America's de-stabilizing of the once peaceful, but neutral, country with secret bombings and invasions during its Captain Ahab-like madness over “victory” in Vietnam. Neutrality, where America wants something, as it did in Vietnam, is simply not an option. When tough little Vietnam, despite the massive horrors it had just suffered at America’s hands, stepped in to do something about what was happening on its border, the United States’ government stood back and bellowed, “See, we told you, there’s the domino theory at work! We did have a reason to fight in Vietnam after all.”
We had a true genocide in Indonesia with the fall of Sukarno in 1965. Half a million people, vaguely identified as communists, had their throats slashed by machetes and their bodies dumped into rivers: it was said that the rivers ran red for a time. Not only did the United States’ government do nothing to halt the rampage, officials at the State Department busied themselves with phones late into the night, transmitting lists of persons suitable for the new government’s attention, the word “communist” then possessing for America’s government about the same power to dehumanize a victim as “heretic” did for The Holy Inquisition a few centuries earlier.
I would argue, too, that America's slaughter in Vietnam was a genuine genocide, the greatest of the post-war period, but even if you do not grant the word genocide in this case, it remains still the greatest mass murder since World War II. About three million were killed, mostly civilians, often in horrible fashion as with napalm, for no reason other than their embracing the wrong economic system and rejecting the artificial rump state America tried to impose. Hundreds of thousands more were crippled and poisoned, and a beautiful land was left strewn with land mines and noxious pools of Agent Orange to keep killing for decades more.
So when an American President speaks to stir his audience with ghost-written words from his teleprompter machine about some new outrage somewhere, trying to cast someone else in the role of demonic villain, we had better always be careful about taking him at his word. And it is a good practice to judge the words, weighing them against the United States’ own abysmal record over the last half century.
It is one of the gravest of contemporary truths that the greatest modern historical sufferers of genocide, the Jewish people, should be found now treating millions of others in brutal and degrading fashion, something now continued for more than half a century. Israel hasn’t killed millions, but it has killed tens of thousands in its wars and suppressions and their aftermath, including necessarily thousands of children in Middle Eastern populations heavily skewed to youth, and it holds millions in a seemingly perpetual state of hopelessness and degradation and without any rights, a situation America’s government effectively has ignored, failing to use its power for good yet again.
It is a natural human tendency to try forgetting our terrifying experiences, and nature does seem to have constructed us with varying abilities to do so, being if you will an extension of “sleep that knits the ravelled sleeve of care.” But human perversity is intent on remembering many of our horrors, always citing the provably false slogan about those who forget history being condemned to relive it. Of course, such forced (and cleaned-up) memories have other purposes, as for example keeping each generation of young men ready to grab a gun at the beat of the drums. I feel this keenly every time poppies come up for sale again, much as I sympathize with the old men selling them and much as I’m aware of what occurred in Flanders Fields. It is time to stop sentimentalizing an event too ugly to accurately remember: the stench of the battlefields of 1914-8 and the endless screams of mangled men dying slowly in the mud and the rats eating corpses – these are things no one in their right mind wants to remember, and remembering anything else really isn’t remembering at all.
As for the idea of “Never again!” when it comes to human depravity, it is best to remember that the words are just a slogan – as we've conclusively proved over fifty years - and, like all slogans, it is selectively applied to sell something.
Recently we saw some glamorous celebrities, as we have before from time to time, at a large, well-publicized gathering decrying the use of rape in war, and, after a moment’s curiosity as to whether they continued afterward over cocktails and nibbles, all I could do was wonder what it was they hoped to do and what audience they thought they were addressing? Armies have always raped, it is one more of the many ugly facts of war we keep out of school books and remembrance ceremonies. War is, quite simply, the end of the rule of law for a time, and because that is a set of circumstances especially attractive to the population of sociopaths and violence-prone people we have always among us, an inordinate number of men who enjoy killing and raping always will be attracted to war. Yes, armies have codes and courts martial, and I’m sure rape is technically illegal in any modern army, but those codes are mainly established for public consumption, being rarely enforced. When you are engaged in bloody war, there is almost no motivation for leaders to pause events for trials. Knowing that, soldiers so inclined will always feel free to rape. Even in peace, we see from the statistics in the contemporary United States’ military, rape is quite a problem right on bases and ships. How much more so in war? Why not decry the mass murder we call war in the first place? If there were no wars, there could be no mass rapes. Doing anything less seems a form of cowardice.
Thursday, June 05, 2014
UNDERSTANDING ISRAEL’S CORROSIVE INFLUENCE ON WESTERN DEMOCRACY
Something troubling is quietly underway in the Western world, that portion of the world’s governments who style themselves as liberal democracies and free societies. Through a number of avenues, people’s assumptions about the role of government are being undermined as their governments evolve towards a pattern established in the United States. No, I do not mean in building a neo-Roman marble repository of sacred founding writ and adopting three wrangling branches of government with empty slogans about freedom and justice for all. I do mean in the way governments, however elected and organized, regard their responsibilities towards their citizens and the world community.
Of course, the United States in many matters often prods, cajoles, or threatens other states to follow where it leads, such as with votes at the U. N. or whether a country should send at least token forces for one of America’s colonial wars to lend appearances of international effort. Despite America’s poor economy and declining relative future prospects, it still has many resources for pushing others, much like the profligate grandson of a magnate whose once great family fortune is in decline but still large. Still, a good deal of what is happening results from new forces which only reinforce America’s imperial tendencies.
People in the West often elect governments who turn around to do things voters did not want done, and they realize they being lied to by their governments and corporate press, but they pretty much feel helpless to remedy the situation. London saw the largest peace march in history just before Tony Blair secretly threw in his lot with the criminals who hit Iraq with the equivalent in deaths and destruction of a thermonuclear bomb on a large city. Special interests increasingly dominate the interests of government because they increasingly pay its campaign costs and extend other important favors. Citizens in many places feel the meaning of casting a ballot has been diminished as they watch their governments ignore extreme injustice, hear their governments make demands and threats over matters which do not warrant threats, see themselves become ensnared in wars and violence they never wanted, and generally feel their governments are concerned with matters of little concern to them. That, if it needs to be said, is not what democracy is about. And where do we see governments making reforms to remedy the situation threatening democracy? Almost nowhere.
It might at first seem an odd thing to write - considering the influence Israel exerts in the Western world (what other country of 7 million is in the press virtually each day?) and all the favorable press it receives (every major newspaper and broadcaster having several writers or commentators who see their duty as influencing public opinion on Israel’s behalf, and The New York Times submits all stories about Israel to Israeli censors before publishing) - but Israel is an inherently unstable state. No matter how much money is poured into it for arms and force-fed economic development, it cannot be otherwise. Its population is hostile to the people with whom it is surrounded and intermixed, living something of a fantasy which shares in equal parts ancient myths and superstitions and white-picket-fence notions of community with no neighbors who do not resemble each other. Its founding stories also have a fairy tale quality, heroic with a mythical division of good and evil, always ignoring the violence and brutality which cannot be forgotten so easily by its victims and the manipulation of imperial powers which defrauded others as surely as any phony mining stock promotion. Its official views and the very language in which they are expressed are artificial constructs which do not accurately describe what they name, words like “militant” or “terrorist” or “existential.” Its official policy towards neighbors and the people it displaced has been one of unrelenting hostility. Its leaders in business and government almost all securely hold dual passports, hedging their bets. Its average citizens face a hard time in an economy shaped, not for opportunity and economic freedom, but for war and the policing of millions of captives and unwelcome residents. None of this is indefinitely sustainable, and modern Israel is a highly artificial construct, one neither suited to its regional environment nor amenable to all the powerful trends shaping the modern world: globalization, free movement of peoples, multiculturalism in immigration, and genuine democratic principles, not the oxymoron of democracy for one group only.
It is the many desperate efforts to work against these hard realities, almost like someone screaming against a storm, which have unleashed the forces now at work on the Western world. Israel, as just one example, against the best judgment of many statesmen, was permitted and even assisted to become a nuclear power. The thinking being that only with such weapons can Israel feel secure and be ready to defend Jews abroad from a new Gotterdammerung. The truth is, as is the case with all nuclear weapons, Israel’s arsenal is virtually unusable, except, that is, as a powerful tool for blackmail. Israel has blackmailed the United States several times, the latest instance being over Iran’s nuclear program, a program which every reliable intelligence source agrees is not aimed at producing weapons. More than one Israeli source has suggested that low-yield nuclear weapons are the best way of destroying Iran’s technology, buried deeply underground, a suggestive whisper in American ears to do what Israel wants, or else.
Analysis suggests that what Israel truly wants is the suppression of Iran as a burgeoning regional power so that Israel can continue to perform the powerful and lucrative role as the United States’ surrogate in Western Asia along with its always-held-quiet, numerous dealings with that other great bastion of democracy and human rights, Saudi Arabia.
There have been many unanticipated, and extremely unpleasant, results from just this one matter of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Take Israel’s relationship with the former South African government and that country’s own drive decades ago to achieve status as a nuclear power. We do not know all the details, but we know from now-published documents that Israel once offered literally to sell nuclear warheads and compatible missiles to apartheid South Africa. We know further that South Africa did achieve its goal, there having been a rush, secret program to remove its weapons when the apartheid government fell, Britain’s late weapons expert, Dr. Kelly, possibly having been murdered for the detailed information he possessed on the disposition of South Africa’s fissile material. We know further that there was a nuclear device tested at sea, likely a joint Israeli-South African test, its unmistakable flash having been recorded by an American satellite. Just this one aspect of Israel’s behavior worked directly against the aims and wishes of many in the West, supporting both apartheid and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Further, in order to accomplish these things, large efforts had to be made at deception and secret dealing with a number of governments whose intelligence services would certainly have come across trails of evidence. Those are rather weighty matters for governments to decide without the knowledge of voters.
Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons acts both as a threat and a stimulus to other states in the region to obtain their own. Iraq tried to do so and was stopped, twice. Finally, America used, as a pretext for a bloody invasion which killed at least half a million, Iraq’s nuclear weapons when it was clear to all experts by that time that Iraq no longer had any working facilities for producing them. It violently swept Iraq off the region’s chess board to please Israel, much as today Israel wants it to do with Iran. Countries which have seriously considered, or once actually started, working towards nuclear weapons in the region include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, and in all cases their motives involved, at least in part, Israel’s arsenal. The United States today is in the midst of a massive, years-long campaign to cleanse the Middle East of what its rulers regard as undesirable elements. What determined these undesirable elements? The chief characteristic was whether they respect the general foreign policy aims of the United States, including, importantly, the concept of Israel as favored son of the United States in the region with all the privileges and powers accorded that status.
Certainly the selection had nothing to do with whether the countries were democracies, and certainly it had nothing to do with whether the countries recognized and respected human rights, John Kerry’s pandering or Hillary Clinton’s histrionics to the contrary. America pays no attention to such niceties when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, and many other places of strategic interest to it, including Israel. The values given lip service in the American Constitution and at Fourth of July picnics have as much to do with foreign policy as they do with the muffled screams from Guantanamo and the rest of the CIA’s torture gulag or the horrific invasion of Iraq and the systematic, large-scale use of extrajudicial killing.
There is elaborate machinery which has grown up around the relationship between America and Israel since 1948, when President Truman made the fateful decision, reportedly against his own best private judgement, to quickly recognize the government of Israel and extend to it the then-immense prestige of the United States in the immediate postwar period. That machinery – its chief features being highly-organized and well-funded special interest campaign financing, assays of every elected or appointed American official for his or her friendliness to Israel as with regular junkets for new Congressmen, and the most intimate and regular access by both lobbyists and Israeli officials to the highest officials in Washington - is now part of the political landscape of the United States, taken for granted as though it were the most natural thing in the world. But it is not natural, and, over the long term, it is not even in keeping with the interests of the United States.
Being enmeshed in that decision-distorting machinery, rather than simply demanding Israel return to the Green Line and support a reasonable settlement, is what ultimately produced 9/11, the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, systematic extrajudicial killing, the consignment of tens of millions of people to tyranny, including the people of Egypt and Palestine, the dirty business of the engineered civil war inflicted upon Syria, and swallowing America’s national pride many times as with the Israeli attack on an American spy ship, Israel’s seizure of neighboring land, and Israel’s incessant espionage on its greatest benefactor. And some of these avoidable disasters had further internal effects in rationalizing the establishment of many elements of an American police state.
The nature of this relationship itself demonstrates something about the unstable nature of Israel. America has many allies and friends who do not behave in these ways because it is simply not necessary, but Israel is constantly reaching, trying to improve or enhance or consolidate its situation, trying to seek some greater advantage. It assumes in its external affairs what appears a completely amoral, results-at-any-cost approach, from stealing farms and homes and water to stealing secrets, playing a long series of dirty tricks on the world along the way, as it did at Entebbe or in the Six Day War or in helping South Africa or in releasing horrible malware like Stuxnet or in abusing the passports of other nations to carry out ugly assassinations – all secure in the knowledge that the world’s most influential nation is captive to the machinery, unable to criticise or punish. The trouble is that such acts endlessly generate new hostilities every place they touch. It cannot be otherwise, yet Israel and its apologists speak only in terms of rising anti-Semitism to shut critics up, a practice which generates still more hostilities since most people don’t like being called names and the act of doing so only increases awareness of the many dishonesties employed to keep Israel afloat.
The nature of the American-relationship machinery has proved so successful in shaping policy towards Israel that it has been replicated in other Western countries. Only recently, we read the words of a former Australian Prime Minister warning his people of the machinery there now influencing government unduly. In Canada, traditionally one of the fairest-minded of nations towards the Middle East, our current, extremist prime minister (an unfortunate democratic deficit in Canada making it possible to win a majority government with 39% of the vote) has trashed Canada’s traditional and respected position and worked steadily towards establishing the same backroom-influence machinery. So now we experience such bizarre events as a federal Minister suddenly, much like Saul struck along the road to Damascus, blurting out some sentence about Israel, unrelated to anything else he was saying or being asked by reporters present. Our 39% Prime Minister himself has assumed the exalted role of Canada’s Don Quixote in the fight against Anti-Semitism, despite the fact that genuine anti-Semitism almost does not exist in our tolerant country. But prominent apologists for Israel have in the past complained of Canada’s balanced policies not favoring Israel enough, and our Don Quixote has ridden to their rescue. Of course, along the way, his party will enjoy a new source of campaign funding, adding yet a new burden to Canada’s existing democratic deficit.
No one I think entirely planned from the beginning this set of outcomes. It really has been a matter of innumerable adjustments, accommodations, and opportunistic maneuvers which no one might have predicted in 1948, those days which were, at one and the same time, joyful for many Jews staring back into the utter darkness of the Holocaust and tragic to a people having nothing to do with those murderous events, who were stripped of property and rights and dignity, a situation which has only become worse since what they quite understandably call Nakba. But the corrosion of democracy in Western governments afraid of ever saying no to Israel and too willing to add to party political coffers in exchange for favorable words and acts is real and palpable, and it is going to do nothing but become worse. The situation is best characterized as a race for the bottom.