Posted by: quiscus | June 1, 2009

June 1, 2009

1.  “The War Party Returns

Repudiated at the polls, they’re back – in a new liberal guise
The War Party, driven from power by the Bush defeat, has regrouped and had a makeover: in their new guise as nation-building humanitarians, they’re not making war – they’re conducting an Overseas Contingency Operation. Instead of the damn-the-torpedoes approach taken by his predecessor, this president is not averse to euphemism and what passes for subtlety in pursuing the very same ends. Yet the real contingency here is the patience of the American people, which is fast coming to an end. How long the Obamaites can delay the inevitable revolt is a matter of pure speculation. However, I’m willing to bet it’ll be sooner than they fear.”

2.  “Empire of Dread

If you stepped back and viewed the situation without preconceptions, you would think that the United States would be the least fearful nation in the history of the world. The U.S. spends more on military power than the rest of the world combined. Geopolitically speaking, the U.S. has no major rival, as it did during the days of the Cold War. China is still a rising power, but since it is the major purchaser of U.S. government debt, its economic fate is so intertwined with that of the United States that there is no reason but utter stupidity (which one shouldn’t count out) for the U.S. and China to engage in military conflict.

Even with a financial crisis, and perhaps even with the overwrought, excessive, and often misdirected response to it, the U.S. economy is hardly a basket case yet. People are feeling insecure and less inclined to spend lavishly than a couple of years ago, but that’s probably not a bad impulse. Historically speaking, and in comparison with most of the rest of the world, most people in the U.S. are still doing reasonably well economically. Economists may be predicting an “L-shaped” recovery – bottoming out and staying at a low level of economic growth for some time before there’s a substantial pickup – but the bottom of a U.S. “L” is a more prosperous place than the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants have ever experienced.

And yet this is a nation of many fears, some encouraged by politicians, who have known since the dawn of time that a fearful population demanding protection is an important key to increasing governmental and political power, at home and abroad. Just now we are justifiably fearful about our economic future, especially since the chief remedy for our credit binge seems to be more credit and more consolidation of power. But judging by the actions of our politicians in recent weeks, we also seem to be fearful about detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison even setting foot on U.S. soil – even when some detainees were designated by the Bush administration as no threat to the U.S. and the rest are slated to be stored in maximum-security prisons until their ultimate destinations are determined.

Many of us seem to be dreadfully fearful that a failed nation halfway around the world, with virtually no natural resources, has tested rudimentary nuclear weapons and fired off a few missiles. The notion that a North Korean nuke might be able to hit somewhere in Alaska next week or next year is patently absurd. Like a petulant child, North Korea does provocative things when it wants to garner the attention of the world, or – more likely in this instance – to secure the support of the military for a succession plan that is still being improvised. Its recent tests haven’t altered its strategic position, which is still that of a pip-squeak. While it does have lots of conventional missiles and artillery aimed at the South Korean capital of Seoul, North Korea is impoverished and isolated. It can barely threaten its neighbors, let alone the United States.

Yet Barack Obama overreacts and calls it “a great threat to the peace and security of the world.” Hillary huffs and puffs about “consequences” and trots off to get the UN to pass a tougher tut-tut resolution than the last one that North Korea ignored and the world forgot. It’s all fuss and feathers and overreaction to what is essentially a non-event.

We are fearful of Mexican gardeners taking our jobs, of having our jobs shipped overseas, of exporting too much, of exporting too little, of importing too much, of importing too little, of China buying up the government’s debt, of China deciding to stop buying the government’s debt, of globalization continuing, of globalization coming to a screeching halt, of an end to affluence, of the return of mindless consumerist sensitivity-destroying affluence. Some of us worry that the president is a socialist, and some of us worry that he isn’t. We are worried about the continuation of stateless terrorism, and worried that if it ends nothing will be left to conjure up a sense of American unity. We worry about Middle East war and Middle East lack of war.

One is reminded of H.L. Mencken’s injunction: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” The fact that not all the hobgoblins are entirely imaginary does not deprive the statement of its essential truth.”

3.  President Carter and Top Iraq Commander Call for Truth Commission on Torture

Former President Carter is calling for a truth commission on torture, and disagrees with Obama’s decision not to release the torture photos.

And Richard Sanchez, the former commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, is calling for a truth commission to investigate the abuses and torture which occurred there.

Sanchez joins the ever-growing list of experts who say that torture doesn’t work:

During my time in Iraq there was not one instance of actionable intelligence that came out of these interrogation techniques.

Moreover, Sanchez echoed what many have been saying:

If we do not find out what happened,” continued the General, “then we are doomed to repeat it.”

4.  “War Is Sin

The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight.

Those who return to speak this truth, such as members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, are our contemporary prophets. But like all prophets they are condemned and ignored for their courage. They struggle, in a culture awash in lies, to tell what few have the fortitude to digest. They know that what we are taught in school, in worship, by the press, through the entertainment industry and at home, that the melding of the state’s rhetoric with the rhetoric of religion, is empty and false.

The words these prophets speak are painful. We, as a nation, prefer to listen to those who speak from the patriotic script. We prefer to hear ourselves exalted. If veterans speak of terrible wounds visible and invisible, of lies told to make them kill, of evil committed in our name, we fill our ears with wax. Not our boys, we say, not them, bred in our homes, endowed with goodness and decency. For if it is easy for them to murder, what about us? And so it is simpler and more comfortable not to hear. We do not listen to the angry words that cascade forth from their lips, wishing only that they would calm down, be reasonable, get some help, and go away. We, the deformed, brand our prophets as madmen. We cast them into the desert. And this is why so many veterans are estranged and enraged. This is why so many succumb to suicide or addictions.

War comes wrapped in patriotic slogans, calls for sacrifice, honor and heroism and promises of glory. It comes wrapped in the claims of divine providence. It is what a grateful nation asks of its children. It is what is right and just. It is waged to make the nation and the world a better place, to cleanse evil. War is touted as the ultimate test of manhood, where the young can find out what they are made of. War, from a distance, seems noble. It gives us comrades and power and a chance to play a small bit in the great drama of history. It promises to give us an identity as a warrior, a patriot, as long as we go along with the myth, the one the war-makers need to wage wars and the defense contractors need to increase their profits.

But up close war is a soulless void. War is about barbarity, perversion and pain, an unchecked orgy of death. Human decency and tenderness are crushed. Those who make war work overtime to reduce love to smut, and all human beings become objects, pawns to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the scenes of eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the cries of the wounded, all combine to spin those in combat into another universe. In this moral void, naively blessed by secular and religious institutions at home, the hypocrisy of our social conventions, our strict adherence to moral precepts, come unglued. War, for all its horror, has the power to strip away the trivial and the banal, the empty chatter and foolish obsessions that fill our days. It lets us see, although the cost is tremendous.

Wars may have to be fought to ensure survival, but they are always tragic. They always bring to the surface the worst elements of any society, those who have a penchant for violence and a lust for absolute power. They turn the moral order upside down. It was the criminal class that first organized the defense of Sarajevo. When these goons were not manning roadblocks to hold off the besieging Bosnian Serb army they were looting, raping and killing the Serb residents in the city. And those politicians who speak of war as an instrument of power, those who wage war but do not know its reality, those powerful statesmen-the Henry Kissingers, Robert McNamaras, Donald Rumsfelds, the Dick Cheneys-those who treat war as part of the great game of nations, are as amoral as the religious stooges who assist them. And when the wars are over what they have to say to us in their thick memoirs about war is also hollow, vacant and useless.

“In theological terms, war is sin,” writes Mahedy. “This has nothing to do with whether a particular war is justified or whether isolated incidents in a soldier’s war were right or wrong. The point is that war as a human enterprise is a matter of sin. It is a form of hatred for one’s fellow human beings. It produces alienation from others and nihilism, and it ultimately represents a turning away from God.”

The young soldiers and Marines do not plan or organize the war. They do not seek to justify it or explain its causes. They are taught to believe. The symbols of the nation and religion are interwoven. The will of God becomes the will of the nation. This trust is forever shattered for many in war. Soldiers in combat see the myth used to send them to war implode. They see that war is not clean or neat or noble, but venal and frightening. They see into war’s essence, which is death.

War is always about betrayal. It is about betrayal of the young by the old, of cynics by idealists, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians. Society’s institutions, including our religious institutions, which mold us into compliant citizens, are unmasked. This betrayal is so deep that many never find their way back to faith in the nation or in any god. They nurse a self-destructive anger and resentment, understandable and justified, but also crippling. Ask a combat veteran struggling to piece his or her life together about God and watch the raw vitriol and pain pour out. They have seen into the corrupt heart of America, into the emptiness of its most sacred institutions, into our staggering hypocrisy, and those of us who refuse to heed their words become complicit in the evil they denounce.”

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