“You cannot murder a man without destroying yourself. Nor can you murder a people without destroying your own.”
A weak and defenseless nation invaded and attacked by imperial forces has no option but to fight an asymmetrical war. If the people fighting this way for survival in their own land are able somehow to withstand the assault, or realize any gains no matter how small, imperial power moves quickly to assassinate them further in a relentless campaign of propaganda, portraying them as a monstrous enemy engaging in immoral, inhuman acts of resistance. The propaganda war, which must accompany every war of aggression, is itself a huge crime against humanity, involving wider participation from the culture of the aggressor, wrapping it in the mantle of victimhood and righteousness, always deflecting responsibility from itself and foisting it onto the people whose country the military occupation has destroyed.
The United States has created for itself precisely this situation with the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, and also with Palestine through Israel, its proxy. Indeed the US offers to the world a leadership of injustice so corrupt, all it can do is to repeat the pattern and add more people to the list. Are Iraqi, Afghan and Palestinian societies perfect of themselves? Of course not, but that’s entirely beside the point. Each has been subjected to various forms of intervention, invasion and occupation from imperial power for decades. How could any society maintain its integrity under such conditions? The corruption, brutality and violence that prevail in these devastated societies cannot be separated from the corruption, brutality and violence of the imperial culture which has sought to dominate them for so long. The whole point of imperial violence, whether overt or covert, is to prevent examples of political autonomy; to keep societies from organizing around democratic and egalitarian principles. Case- after case-study in the history of US foreign policy confirms this basic truth and how terrible the consequences have been for the world. Yet in the fun house of American propaganda the public understands it no better than esoteric number theory. So US taxpayer-supported violence brings nation after nation to ruin and despair, a crime beyond all telling.
But empire consumes all people including its own. Across broad layers of American society ignorance, hypocrisy, fear and contempt are cultivated like a cash crop – a direct result of the corporate takeover of government and culture (a process with deep historical roots going back for centuries, causing chaos for as long). The goal is to maintain a population harvest-ready, so to speak, in the service of power and profit. And these are the qualities that are needed. Institutions operating in major spheres of influence (political, commercial, social) achieve the effect by enforcing strict hierarchies (virtual dictatorships) and adopting policies rooted in corporate greed. Among other things, this means privatizing the commons as much as possible; destroying democratic values (public interest, solidarity, civic responsibility, shared destiny); promoting corporate values (viral self-interest, cynicism, unaccountability, atomism) – a monumental crime against humanity with a nonpoint source, as the source is everywhere all the time. Widespread ignorance, hypocrisy, fear, contempt (acting as receptor sites for empire’s propaganda) ensure that multitudes will not see the military project for what it is: terrorism on a massive scale to extend by force the influence of fools.
In December 2009, the deeply cynical “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign at Auschwitz was stolen, then quickly recovered. Israeli officials immediately declared the theft “an act of war” and condemned the thieves as “twisted criminals.” Such is the depravity of Israeli leadership: in Zionist ideology the theft of a fetishized symbol of the Holocaust is an act of war, but the truly pathological, Nazi-like treatment of the Palestinian people (as wicked as anything in history) must proceed unabated. So nothing but scorn from Tel Aviv for the UN Goldstone Report (presented Sept 2009 to the Human Rights Council in Geneva) citing Israel for war crimes in its military rampage through Gaza (Operation Cast Lead: Dec 27, 2008 to Jan 18, 2009). Yet it must be noted: the man who led the investigation, South African Justice Richard Goldstone, a Jew and a Zionist, never questioned the legality of the military action – a crime from the start and absolutely sure to produce atrocities for the people of Gaza. Deferring obsequiously to the violence of state power, international politics makes a mockery of justice: though the UN may investigate glaring evidence of war crimes in Gaza, the criminal invasion that was sure to produce them cannot be challenged.
But even this narrowly parsed virtue is too much justice for the US government. Though the world voted to support the Report in UN resolution (114 to 18), the US House condemned it (344 to 36). Among Obama’s base of addle-brained liberals hope is the dope that narcotizes, but Tel Aviv knows exactly where its blood brother stands. Israel’s savage assault with brutal weaponry on a besieged population, utterly destitute and virtually defenseless, killing more than 1400 people, almost all civilians, many of them children (not counting untold lingering deaths and horrific life-long injuries) was in effect a huge vat of Palestinian blood poured over Obama’s head on the eve of his big day in DC. But golly whoppers! What’s the US President Elect to do, if not mouth correct shibboleths on Israeli security, embrace the slaughter, don the tuxedo?
Many critics who analyze US policy from the left say that Americans as a category are a good and decent people. The history of their expansion across the continent by force, fraud and deception argues strongly for a different national characterization. The Bush Administration was not a deviation but a continuation of deep political currents. Failure to grasp how septic the heart is at the center of the American body politic keeps the left in a pattern of hating Republicans and colluding with Democrats, as if both parties weren’t equally invested in the same paradigm of disaster.
Obama sailed into office on billowy messages of hope and change; then went straight to bat for corporate interests, notably in banking and finance, healthcare, mining and war (treasonously controlled by corporate agendas using the federal government as a legitimizing front). Politics has always been fertile ground for careerism, but because of his color Obama has given this very corporate value a decided victory in the field. Capitalism hates the public servant who uses the power of government for what it’s meant for: to build a society more equitable and democratic, more responsive to human needs. These are statesmen and -women who believe in statecraft. While few of them can survive even in Congress, the legacy of FDR taught the tyrants of capital to take no chances on the White House.
Obama’s ascendency points to the triumph of corporate capital, which now has the White House so completely surrounded that only the most dedicated careerist with deeply internalized corporate values can find his way in – making it all but impossible for a statesman to land the job and use the power of the office for the public good. If Obama’s handling of healthcare reform and climate change weren’t proof enough of corporate sympathies and careerist tendencies, his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo (Dec 2009) inspires total revulsion. The flunky rhetoric of some four thousand words crunches down to three: “Krieg Macht Frei.” The Nobel Committee must shoulder the blame for this travesty. What did they expect from an undeserving, deeply indoctrinated leader of a belligerent superpower up to his eyeballs in two wars of aggression with no end in sight?
You cannot murder a man without destroying yourself. Nor can you murder a people without destroying your own. In affairs of the state, nothing can substitute for justice, honesty and commitment to the public weal. The unusually high suicide rate among servicemen and -women in the wars initiated under Bush and continuing under Obama reflects the intrinsic criminality of the project: murder, dispossession and resource theft in the service of unaccountable corporate interests.
Young men are generally not thinkers. They absorb ideas instilled in them by their elders, and reflect them back more intensely; they like to receive direction and prove their worth on a mission. This is their instinct, which means they are vulnerable. If the ideas and direction are false, corrupt or misleading, they may find themselves in crisis, and not know why. The American recruit is young, ranging mentally and emotionally from pre-adult to barely adult; short on experience and judgment, long on energy and ignorance; wanting to take orders, please his supervisors, belong to something bigger than himself; born into a corporate-dominated country waging at home the flipside of its foreign wars of aggression – an asymmetrical, slow-motion, stealth war of terror against working-class families, indeed his family, but how would he know it? The corporatized, privatized, robotically religious society that surrounds him all but guarantees that his opportunity for transformational experiences (social, educational, economic) will have been painfully circumscribed.
Though he live in a political and economic system approaching total dysfunction and failure, without external reference points, by which to measure and triangulate reality, everything seems normal. He’ll be at least conventionally religious and patriotic, possibly blindly so, wanting to serve “god and country,” make mom and dad “proud of his service.” He’ll want a decent job offering respect, responsibility, money, real-world experience. Soon he discovers that Uncle Sam’s army is the only game in town, appealing to his instincts, addressing practical concerns, satisfying his longing to escape and return with experience. Now he has his ticket to ride.
Just one problem: he has no idea who Uncle Sam is and what he does for a living. He also doesn’t know that large, overlapping systems of indoctrination have been working on his mind for years, building up a superstructure of false belief, fanatical tendencies and misleading assumptions, without which he could not easily be victimized. Herein lies a minefield of betrayal and ruin waiting to explode under the boots of the young recruit.
Second thoughts caused by the dehumanization of military training might save many a life, if only acted upon. But the training is short, and camaraderie born of the challenge, social bonding, the stigma of failure, even a sense of “going somewhere in life” keep most recruits on track, running full-bore towards the horror that awaits them. Soon they arrive in one of Nuncle’s combat zones on the other side world, replete with explosions from IEDs, rockets, mortar attacks; gun battles and ambuscades all around – time to kill or be killed. Severed heads, shattered limbs, broken spines; bombs and military hardware tearing up the land. What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they know we’re here to help? Citizen round-ups, gang rapes, detention and torture on display. Yeah, fuck ‘em…they all deserve to die! Now he’s been suckered by Uncle Sam and the society that raised him into committing unspeakable crimes against humanity, not knowing that invading armies never come to help, but to seize political and economic control over other nations – the ultimate in state-sponsored criminal enterprises.
But let’s say he wakes up; sees through the veil of blood crusting over his eyes. Maybe a peasant farmer, falsely blamed for a roadside bomb planted near his half acre, now forced to his knees at gunpoint begging for mercy, flashes our recruit a look of heart-breaking panic and fear, before some soldier punk pops him in the head, and he falls face-down in the dirt farmed by his family for centuries. Or maybe our recruit, running amok in armored humvee over other people’s land, pulls up to yon crumbling village of mud-brick, just blasted from US aerial attack, to see women and children, already living in abject poverty, now writhing and wailing in pain amid charred body parts. Maybe the ghastly images of this genius war – always planned and directed, remember, by America’s best and brightest – begin to work their evil magic on his psyche; now haunt and wrack without respite his body and brain, like the Furies of some Greek tragedy he never read.
Maybe, maybe not. The level of violence, ignorance, hypocrisy, contempt willfully generated and sustained in American culture is astounding. But honesty sometimes increases as one descends the social ladder. So let’s say our recruit wakes up to the fact that he’s been horribly duped (which happens in any case not infrequently). His integrity and honor, as one human being among many, sharing a finite planet in infinite space for but a moment in time on the cosmic clock, has been fatally compromised. To save himself from this ruin, all he had to do was nothing – take no action, refuse to believe, not enlist, stay home, grow a garden. Instead he listened to all the fools in his life, the imbeciles of AM radio, the god-pushing creeps of Christianity, the cowards of DC and mainstream media. Having no natural defense against the pure and polished lies of propaganda (corporate, state, religious, cultural) assailing him from all sectors of society, he picked up a gun and walked onto Uncle Sam’s Hollywood set of mayhem and murder. Now he’s covered in buckets of blood and up to his waist in a cesspool of crime, possibly an invalid and thoroughly insane with epic levels of rage, guilt, trauma, shame, the heart-exploding pain of betrayal.
Who could possibly live with this burden? Yet many do. But for those who don’t, surely suicide, like the samurai practice of hara-kiri as the only way to redeem oneself when honor and integrity as a human being are irretrievably lost, is the sincerest form of apology…and the soldier’s final statement that something is horribly wrong with America.
Little Big Pine: citizen, patriot, poet; may be reached at email@example.com.