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Employees of the U.S. government refer to people they murder as "bugsplat." They pretend that the men, women, and children they are killing with drones are just bugs, because they just look like little fuzzy creatures on a computer screen. Thank goodness for the artists who have put a giant portrait of a child in a field for the drone murderers to see and think about. Maybe the rest of us could think about it, and do more than think about it, too.
In Davidson, North Carolina, among many other places in the world, wealthy people ignore the suffering of the poor right nearby them as well as thousands of miles away. A fraction of what the U.S. government spends killing people with drones could end starvation in the world, and many certainly seem not to care. A fraction of what someone spends in a shopping mall could make a real difference in the life of someone sleeping on a bench, but most people provide no help.
But in an odd irony, many people in North Carolina, among many other places in the world, cling to ancient magical beliefs that just happen to include worshiping a man who was poor and who recommended caring for the poor. A sculpture of a homeless Jesus, a man you're supposed to worship because he has nail marks on his metallic feet, has got some people wondering whether they should find a little decency and compassion for those homeless people on benches who are made of flesh and blood.
CIA Director John Brennan, aka Obama's Cheney, was dispatched to Ukraine, where the U.S. had already spent $5 billion stirring up trouble. Ukrainian troops were immediately sent to attack protesters in eastern cities. Brennan may have had drones in his head. Drones have been known to crash, but never to stop and have a beer with the enemy. Drones often blow up the "wrong people," but they don't invite people to climb on board and share a laugh. When unarmed Ukrainians confronted tanks, many soldiers joined the people. How Brennan thought Ukrainians could be sent to kill Ukrainians seems a mystery after the images of human decency have taken over. How Christians think the poor and homeless, the hungry and ill-clothed can be blamed for their own inability to satiate their greed seems baffling when faced with the homeless Jesus. How drone "pilots" can sit and take part in the world's worst real-life Milgram experiment ought to horrify anyone who stops and thinks -- and nothing can make people stop and think the way a great work of art can. A picture is worth a million words, and a few lives let's hope.
Ian Morris has stuck his dog's ear in his mouth, snapped a selfie, and proclaimed "Man Bites Dog." His new book War: What Is It Good For? Conflict and Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots is intended to prove that war is good for children and other living things. It actually proves that defenders of war are growing desperate for arguments.
Morris maintains that the only way to make peace is to make large societies, and the only way to make large societies is through war. Ultimately, he believes, the only way to protect peace is through a single global policeman. Once you've made peace, he believes, prosperity follows. And from that prosperity flows happiness. Therefore, war creates happiness. But the one thing you must never stop engaging in if you hope to have peace, prosperity, and joy is -- you guessed it -- war.
This thesis becomes an excuse for hundreds of pages of a sort of Monty Python history of the technologies of war, not to mention the evolution of chimpanzees, and various even less relevant excursions. These pages are packed with bad history and guesswork, and I'm greatly tempted to get caught up in the details. But none of it has much impact on the book's conclusions. All of Morris's history, accurate and otherwise, is put to mythological use. He's telling a simplistic story about where safety and happiness originated, and advocating highly destructive misery-inducing behavior as a result.
When small, medium, and large societies have been and are peaceful, Morris ignores them. There are lots of ways to define peaceful, but none of them put the leading war maker at the top, and none of them place at the top only nations that could be imagined to fall under a Pax Americana.
When societies have been enlarged peacefully, as in the formation of the European Union, Morris applauds (he thinks the E.U. earned its peace prize, and no doubt all the more so for its extensive war making as deputy globocop) but he just skips over the fact that war wasn't used in the E.U.'s formation. (He avoids the United Nations entirely.)
When the globocop brings death and destruction and disorder to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Yemen, Morris sticks his fingers in his ears and hums. "Interstate wars" he informs us (like most of his other claims, without any footnotes) have "almost disappeared." Well isn't that great news?! (Morris grotesquely minimizes Iraqi deaths from the recent [nonexistent?] war, and of course supplies no footnote.)
In a culture that has long waged wars, it has been possible to say that wars bring courage, wars bring heroism, wars bring slaves, wars bring cultural exchange. One could have asserted at various points that wars were the only way to a great many ends, not just large societies that reduce small-scale murders. Barely a century ago William James was worried there was no way to build character without war, and defenders of war were advertising it as good for its participants in a much more direct way than Morris has been reduced to. Has war been the means of building empires and nations? Sure, but that neither means that empires are the only way to peace, nor that war was the only nation-building tool available, nor that we must keep waging wars in an age in which we aren't forming empires or nations any longer. That ancient pyramids may have been built by slaves hardly makes slavery the best or only way to preserve the pyramids.
Tying something good, such as ending slavery in the United States, to a war, such as the U.S. Civil War, doesn't make war the only way to end slavery. In fact, most nations that ended slavery did so without a war. Much less is continuing to wage wars the only possible way (or even a useful way at all) to hold off the restoration of slavery or to complete its eradication. And, by the way, a great many societies that Morris credits with making progress through war also had slavery, monarchy, women-as-property, environmental destruction, and worship of religions now defunct. Were those institutions also necessary for peace and prosperity, or are they irrelevant to it, or did we overcome some of them through peaceful means? Morris, at one point, acknowledges that slavery (not just war) generated European wealth, later crediting the industrial revolution as well -- the godfather of which, in his mind, was no doubt peace created by war. (What did you expect, the Spanish Inquisition?)
The tools of nonviolence that have achieved so much in the past century are never encountered in Morris' book, so no comparison with war is offered. Nonviolent revolutions have tended to dismember empires or alter the leadership of a nation that remains the same size, so Morris must not view them as useful tools, even when they produce more free and prosperous societies. But it's not clear Morris can recognize those when he sees them. Morris claims that in the past 30 years "we" (he seems to mean in the United States, but could mean the world, it's not totally clear) have become "safer and richer than ever."
Morris brags about U.S. murder rates falling, and yet dozens of nations from every continent have lower murder rates than the U.S. Nor do larger nations tend to have lower murder rates than smaller nations. Morris holds up Denmark as a model, but never looks at Denmark's society, its distribution of wealth, its social supports. Morris claims the whole world is growing more equal in wealth.
Back here in reality, historians of the Middle Ages say that our age has the greater disparities -- disparities that are growing within the United States in particular, but globally as well. Oxfam reports that the richest 85 people in the world have more money than the poorest 3.5 billion. That is the peace that Morris swears is not a wasteland. The United States ranks third in average wealth but 27th in median wealth. Yet, somehow Morris believes the United States can lead the way to "Denmark" and that Denmark itself can only be Denmark because of how many people the United States kills in "productive wars" (even though they have "almost disappeared"). Morris writes these scraps of wisdom from Silicon Valley, where he says he sees nothing but wealth, yet where people with nowhere to sleep but in a car may soon be banned from doing so.
We're also safer, Morris thinks, because he sees no climate emergency worth worrying about. He's quite openly in favor of wars for oil, yet never notices oil's effects until the end of the book when he takes a moment to brush such concerns aside.
We're also safer, Morris tells us, because there are no longer enough nukes in the world to kill us all. Has he never heard of nuclear famine? Does he not understand the growing risks of proliferating nuclear weapons and energy? Two nations have thousands of nukes ready to launch in an instant, every one of them many times more powerful than the two nuclear bombs dropped thus far; and one of those nations is prodding the other one with a stick in Ukraine, resulting in more, not less, violence in the beneficiary of such expansionism. Meanwhile the officials overseeing U.S. nukes keep getting caught cheating on tests or shipping nukes across the country unguarded, and generally view nuclear weapons oversight as the lowest most dead-end career track. This makes us safer?
Morris hypes lies about Iran pursuing nuclear weapons. He opens the book with a tale of a near nuclear holocaust (one of many he could have chosen). And yet, somehow disarmament isn't on the agenda, at least not with the priority given to maintaining or increasing war spending. Not to worry, he assures us, "missile defense" actually works, or might someday, so that'll protect us -- although he parenthetically admits it won't. The point is it's warlike, and war is good, because war spreads peace. That's the role the U.S. must play for the good of all: policeman of the world. Morris, while clearly a huge fan of Barack Obama, believes that all recent U.S. presidents should have a Nobel Peace Prize. Never does Morris comment on the fact that the rest of the world sees the United States as the greatest threat to world peace.
Morris admits that the United States is encircling China with weapons, but he describes in sinister tones China's response of building weaponry that will only serve a function near China's own shores, not as defensive or unimperialistic, but at "asymmetrical" -- and we all know what that means: unfair! China might make it hard for the globocop to wage war on and around China. This Morris sees as the looming danger. The solution, he thinks, is for the United States to keep its militaristic edge (never mind that its military makes China's look like a child's toy). More drone killing is not only good but also (and this sort of nonsense always makes you wonder why its advocate bothers advocating) inevitable. Of course, the United States won't start a war against China, says Morris, because launching wars hurts a nation's reputation so severely. (You can see how badly the U.S. reputation has suffered in Morris' eyes following its latest string of wars.)
And yet, what lies on the horizon, almost inevitably, Morris contends, is World War III.
There's nothing you can do about it. Don't bother working for peace, Morris says. But a solution may arrive nonetheless. If we can go on dumping our money into wars for just one more century, or maybe more, proliferating weapons, destroying the environment, losing our liberties in the model land of the free, then -- if we're really lucky -- the computer programmers of Silicon Valley will save us, or some of us, or something, by . . . wait for it . . . hooking us up to computers so that our minds all meld together.
Morris may be more confident than I that the result of this computerized rapture will be worldwide empathy rather than revulsion. But then, he's had longer to get used to living with the way he thinks.
Our society has lost a great activist today with the death of John Judge. No one spoke more clearly, strongly, and informedly on political power, militarism, and activism for positive change. While John lived nextdoor to Dennis Kucinich -- and with one of the best views and one of the best collections of political books and documents -- in Washington, D.C., it was as staff person for Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney that he advanced numerous causes of peace and justice and accountability for the powerful on Capitol Hill. On impeaching Bush and Cheney he was there first. John's expertise reached back into history and across continents. From the Kennedy assassination to conscientious objection to how-a-bill-becomes-a-law, he was a person to turn to for information and wisdom who was never anything but helpful, friendly, cheerful, and energetic. He could describe the hiring of Nazis in Operation Paperclip and the creation of the Cold War and then suggest that perhaps the Nazis actually won World War II. He could explain the creation of standing armies in such a manner that you knew without a doubt that either our society was insane or you were. He could get you thinking and get you active. And always with complete humility and good will. He will be missed.
I just opened this small selection of videos of John all at once, and it wasn't enough:
If an alien invader with a face were attacking the earth, the difficulties that governments have getting populations to support wars on other humans would be multiplied a thousand fold. The most common response to officials calling some petty foreign despot "a new Hitler" would shift from "yeah, right" to "who cares?" The people of the world would unite in common defense against the hostile alien.
If only it had a face. And what's a face anyway? Doctors can create faces now. You'd still love your loved ones if they lost their faces. And I hear there's a movie in which a guy falls in love with his faceless computer.
The point is that there is an alien invader attacking the earth. Its name is climate change. And Uncle Sam wants YOU to fight it, as does Uncle Boris and Aunt Hannah and Cousin Juan and Brother Feng. The whole family is in agreement on this one, and we are a family now all of a sudden.
Climate change breathes fire on our land and roasts it, killing crops, drying up water supplies, breeding dangerous diseases and infestations. Climate change circles over the oceans and blows tidal waves toward our coasts. It melts the icebergs in its evil claws and sinks our beach resorts beneath the sea.
How do we fight back? We organize quickly, as only humans can. We grab the $2 trillion that we spend on wars among ourselves each year, plus a few trillion more from some multi-billionaires who suddenly realize they don't have another planet to spend it on. We start coating the rooftops with solar panels, aimed right at the face of the monster. We put up windmills that will turn his nasty breath against himself.
And we hit him where it really hurts, we cut off his supplies with crippling sanctions: we stop buying and making and consuming and discarding such incredible piles of crap every day. Consumerism becomes rapidly understood as planetary treason, support for the Evil One. We put a stop to its worst excesses and begin reining it in systematically -- working together as we never have before.
Ah, but the dark lord of the heat is subtle. He has cells of loyalists among us. They push fossil fuels on us and tell us comforting lies. No longer! We will drag them before the House UnEarthly Activities Committee. "Are you now or have you ever been a promoter of oil, gas, or coal consumption?" They'll crumble under the pressure.
Imagine how we could unite for this battle, what wits and courage and self-sacrifice we could put into it, what inspiring acts of bravery, what stunning creations of intellect!
Ah, but climate change is not a person, so forget the whole thing. Did you ever notice what a funny grin Vladimir Putin has? It's beginning to get on my nerves.
Winslow Myers is an artist and activist who lives in mid-Coast Maine. For ten years he coordinated events and activities for Beyond War in central Massachusetts and led many seminars on personal and social change. Later he served on the board of Beyond War while it was based in Portland OR. He has written over a hundred opinion-editorial pieces on the subject of the prevention of war and building a world beyond war, some of which have seen print in national newspapers like the Christian Science Monitor, the San Jose Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and all of which have been published online. He is the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide. He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative, and is active in WorldBeyondWar.org. His website is WinslowMyers.com.
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As Rebecca Gordon notes in her new book, Mainstreaming Torture, polls find greater support in the United States for torture now than when Bush was president. And it's not hard to see why that would be the case.
Fifteen years ago, it was possible to pretend the U.S. government opposed torture. Then it became widely known that the government tortured. And it was believed (with whatever accuracy) that officials had tried to keep the torturing secret. Next it became clear that nobody would be punished, that in fact top officials responsible for torture would be permitted to openly defend what they had done as good and noble.
The idea was spread around that the torture was stopping, but the cynical could imagine it must be continuing in secret, the partisan could suppose the halt was only temporary, the trusting could assume torture would be brought back as needed, and the attentive could be and have been aware that the government has gone right on torturing to this day with no end in sight.
Anyone who bases their morality on what their government does (or how Hollywood supports it) might be predicted to have moved in the direction of supporting torture.
Gordon's book, like most others, speaks of torture as being largely in the past -- even while admitting that it isn't really. "Bush administration-era policies" are acknowledged to be ongoing, and yet somehow they retain the name "Bush administration-era policies," and discussion of their possible prosecution in a court of law does not consider the control that the current chief perpetrator has over law enforcement and his obvious preference not to see a predecessor prosecuted for something he's doing.
President Elect Obama made clear in January 2009 that he would not allow torturers to be prosecuted and would be "looking forward" instead of (what all law enforcement outside of science fiction requires) backward. By February 2009, reports were coming in that torture at Guantanamo was worsening rather than ceasing, and included: "beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike." In April 2009 a Guantanamo prisoner phoneda media outlet to report being tortured. As time went by the reports kept coming, as the military's written policywould lead one to expect.
In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had "banned torture" by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the "banning") Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney saidthat Obama's continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney's) authorization of torture. David Axelrod, White House Senior Advisor, refused repeatedly, to dispute Cheney's assertion -- also supported by Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue. In fact, it did. The New York Times quickly reportedthat the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries. The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions that kept them in place, and a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment that kept it in place but formalized it, mainstreamed it. Before long Obama-era rendition victims were alleging torture.
As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation. It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure. And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice. While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).
"Look at the current situation," Obama said in 2013, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?" Well, it is certainly who some of us have become, including Obama, the senior authority in charge of the soldiers doing the force-feeding, and a human chameleon able to express outrage at his own policies, a trick that is perhaps more central to the mainstreaming of vicious and sadistic practices than we always care to acknowledge.
The mainstreaming of torture in U.S. policy and entertainment has stimulated a burst of torture use around the globe, even as the U.S. State Department has never stopped claiming to oppose torture when it's engaged in by anyone other than the U.S. government. If "Bush-era policies" is taken to refer to public relations policies, then there really is something to discuss. The U.S. government tortured before, during, and after Bush and Cheney ran the show. But it was during those years that people talked about it, and it is with regard to those years that people still talk about it.
As Rebecca Gordon's book, Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States, recounts well, torture has been around. Native Americans and enslaved African Americans were tortured. The CIA has always tortured. The School of the Americas has long trained torturers. The war on Vietnam was a war of mass-murder and mass-torture. Torture is standard practice in U.S. prisons, where the torture of Muslims began post-9-11, where some techniques originated and some prison guards came from via the National Guard who brought their torturing to an international set of victims for the Bush-Obama era.
One of Gordon's central points, and an important one, is that torture is not an isolated incident. Rather it is an institution, a practice, a collective endeavor that requires planning and organization. Defenders of torture often defend a widespread practice of purely vicious evil by reference to a single imaginary incident in which it would make sense to torture someone. Imagine, they say, that you knew for certain (as of course you would not) that many people were about to be killed unless a particular person revealed something. Imagine you were certain (as of course you would not be) that you had found that person. Imagine that contrary to accumulated wisdom you believed the best way to elicit the information was through torture, and that you were sure (as of course you would not be) that the information would be revealed, that it would be accurate (nobody EVER lies under torture), and that it would prevent the greater tragedy (and not just delay it or move it), with no horrible side-effects or lasting results. Then, in that impossible scenario, wouldn't you agree to torture the person?
And doesn't that fantasy justify having thousands of people prepared to engage in torture even though they'll inevitably torture in all sorts of other situations that actually exist, and even though many thousands of people will be driven to hate the nation responsible? And doesn't it justify training a whole culture to support the maintenance of an apparatus of torture, even though uses of torture outside the fantasized scenario will spread like wildfire through local police and individual vigilantes and allied governments?
Of course not. And that's why I'm glad Gordon has tackled torture as a matter of ethics, although her book seems a bit weighed down by academic jargon. I come at this as someone who got a master's degree in philosophy, focusing on ethics, back before 9-11, back when torture was used as an example of something evil in philosophy classes. Even then, people sometimes referred to "recreational torture," although I never imagined they meant that any other type of torture was good, only that it was slightly less evil. Even today, the polls that show rising -- still minority -- support for torture, show stronger -- majority -- support for murder, that is for a president going through a list of men, women, and children, picking which ones to have murdered, and having them murdered, usually with a missile from a drone -- as long as nobody tortures them.
While many people would rather be tortured than killed, few people oppose the killing of others as strongly as they oppose torturing them. In part this may be because of the difficulty of torturing for the torturers. If foreigners or enemies are valued at little or nothing, and if killing them is easier than torturing them, then why not think of killing as "cleaner" just as the Obama administration does? That's one ethical question I'd like to see taken up even more than that of torture alone. Another is the question of whether we don't have a duty to put everything we have into opposing the evil of the whole -- that being the Nuremberg phrase for war, an institution that brings with it murder, imprisonment, torture, rape, injury, trauma, hatred, and deceit.
If you are going to take on the ethics of torture alone, Mainstreaming Torture provides an excellent summary of how philosophy departments now talk about it. First they try to decide whether to be consequentialist or deontological or virtue-based. This is where the jargon takes over. A consequentialist ethics is one that decides on the propriety of actions based on what their likely consequences will be. A deontological ethics declares certain actions good or bad apart from their consequences. And an ethics of virtues looks at the type of life created by someone who behaves in various ways, and whether that person is made more virtuous in terms of any of a long list of possible virtues.
A competition between these types of ethics quickly becomes silly, while an appreciation of them as a collection of insights proves valuable. A consequentialist or utilitarian ethics is easily parodied and denounced, in particular because supporters of torture volunteer such arguments. Would you torture one person to save the lives of two people? Say yes, and you're a simple-minded consequentialist with no soul. But say no and you're demonstrably evil. The correct answer is of course that it's a bad question. You'll never face such a situation, and fantasizing about it is no guide to whether your government should fund an ongoing torture program the real aim and results of which are to generate war propaganda, scare people, and consolidate power.
A careful consideration of all consequences, short- and long-term, structural and subtle, is harder to parody and tends to encompass much of what is imagined to lie outside the purview of the utilitarian simpleton (or corporate columnist). The idea of an ethics that is not based on consequences appeals to people who want to base their ethics on obedience to a god or other such delusion, but the discussions of deontological ethicists are quite helpful nonetheless. In identifying exactly how and why torture is as incredibly offensive as it is, these writers clarify the problem and move people against any support for torture.
The idea of an ethics based entirely on how actions impact the character of the actor is self-indulgent and arbitrary, and yet the discussion of virtues (and their opposite) is terrifically illuminating -- in particular as to the level of cowardice being promoted by the policy of employing torture and any other evil practice in hopes of being kept safe.
I think these last two types of ethics, deontological and virtue -- that is, ongoing discussion in their terms -- have good consequences. And I think that consequentialism and principled integrity are virtues, while engaging in consequentialism and virtue ethics lead to better deontological talk as well as fulfillment of the better imperatives declared by the deontologists. So, the question should not be finding the proper ethical theory but finding the proper ethical behavior. How do you get someone who opposes torturing Americans to oppose torturing human beings? How do you get someone who wants desperately to believe that torture has in fact saved lives to look at the facts? How do you get someone who believes that anyone who is tortured deserves it to consider the evidence, and to face the possibility that the torture is used in part to make us see certain people as evil, rather than their evilness actually preceding and justifying the torture? How do you get Republicans loyal to Bush or Democrats loyal to Obama to put human rights above their loyalty?
As Gordon recounts, torture in reality has generated desired falsehoods to support wars, created lots of enemies rather than eliminating them, encouraged and directly trained more torturers, promoted cowardice rather than courage, degraded our ability to think of others as fully human, perverted our ideas of justice, and trained us all to pretend not to know something is going on while silently supporting its continued practice. None of that can help us much in any other ethical pursuit.
Listen to the second of the two hours here.
When Donald Rumsfeld used to hold press conferences about the Iraq war, the press corps would giggle at the clever ways in which he refused to actually say anything or answer any questions.
In a new film about Rumsfeld called The Unknown Knowns, the aging criminal is occasionally confronted with evidence that what he's just said is false. He maintains a frozen grin and acts as if nothing has happened. The film's director, interviewing Rumsfeld, never presses the truly uncomfortable points.
The closest the film comes to asking Rumsfeld about the wrongness of launching a war on Iraq is with the question "Wouldn't it have been better not to go there at all?" Not "Wasn't it illegal?" Not "Do you believe 1.4 million Iraqis were killed or only 0.5 million?" Not "When you sleep at your home at the Mt. Misery plantation where they used to beat and whip slaves like Frederick Douglass how do you rank the mass slaughter you engaged in against the crimes of past eras?" Not "Was it at least inappropriate to smirk and claim that 'freedom is untidy' while people were destroying a society?" And to the only question that was asked, Rumsfeld is allowed to get away with replying "I guess time will tell."
Then Rumsfeld effectively suggests that time has already told. He says that candidate Barack Obama opposed Bush-era tactics and yet has kept them in place, including the PATRIOT Act, lawless imprisonment, etc. He might have added that President Obama has maintained the right to torture and rendition even while largely replacing torture with murder via drone. Most crucially for himself, he might have noted that Obama has violated the Convention Against Torture by barring the prosecution of those responsible for recent violations. But Rumsfeld's point is clear when he notes that Obama's conduct "has to validate" everything the previous gang did wrong.
I've long included Rumsfeld on a list of the top 50 Bush-era war criminals, with this description:
"Donald Rumsfeld lives in Washington, D.C., and at former slave-beating plantation "Mount Misery" on Maryland's Eastern Shore near St. Michael's and a home belonging to Dick Cheney, as well as at an estate outside Taos, New Mexico. He took part in White House meetings personally overseeing and approving torture by authorizing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding on specific people, and was in fact a leading liar in making the false case for an illegal war of aggression, and pushed for wars of aggression for years as a participant in the Project for the New American Century."
The National Lawyers Guild noted years ago:
"It was recently revealed that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and personally oversaw and approved the torture by authorizing specific torture techniques including waterboarding. President Bush admitted he knew and approved of their actions. 'They are all liable under the War Crimes Act and the Torture Statute,' Professor [Marjorie] Cohn testified. 'Under the doctrine of command responsibility, commanders, all the way up the chain of command to the commander-in-chief, are liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them, and they did nothing to stop or prevent it. The Bush officials ordered the torture after seeking legal cover from their lawyers.'"
This doesn't come up in the movie. Rumsfeld does shamelessly defend abusing and torturing prisoners, and maintains that torturing people protects "the American people," but he passes the buck to the Department of Justice and the CIA and is never asked about the White House meetings described above. When it comes to Abu Ghraib he says he thought "something terrible happened on my watch" as if he'd had nothing to do with it, as if his casual approval of torture and scrawled notes about how he stands up all day and so can prisoners played no part. (He also claims nobody was killed and there was just a bit of nudity and sadism, despite the fact that photos of guards smiling with corpses have been made public -- the movie doesn't mention them.) Asked about abuses migrating from Guantanamo to Iraq, Rumsfeld cites a report to claim they didn't. The director then shows Rumsfeld that the report he cited says that in fact torture techniques migrated from Guantanamo to Iraq. Rumsfeld says he thinks that's accurate, as if he'd never said anything else. Rumsfeld also says that in the future he believes public officials won't write so many memos.
The central lie in Rumsfeld's mind and our society and The Unknown Knowns is probably that irrational foreigners are out to get us. Rumsfeld recounts being asked at his confirmation hearing to become Secretary of So-Called Defense "What do you go to sleep worried about?" The answer was not disease or climate change or car accidents or environmental pollution or starvation any actually significant danger. The answer was not that the United States continues antagonizing the world and creating enemies. There was no sense of urgency to halt injustices or stop arming dictators or pull back from bases that outrage local populations. Instead, Rumsfeld feared another Pearl Harbor -- the same thing his Project for the New American Century had said would be needed in order to justify overthrowing governments in the Middle East.
Rumsfeld describes Pearl Harbor in the movie, lying that no one had imagined the possibility of a Japanese attack there. The facts refute that endlessly repeated lie. Then Rumsfeld tells the same lie about 9-11, calling it "a failure of imagination." What we're going through is a failure of memory. These words "FBI information ... indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York" appeared in an August 6, 2001, briefing of President George W. Bush titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."
The movie does a decent job on Rumsfeld's pre-war lies. Rumsfeld tells the camera that nobody in the Bush administration ever tied Saddam Hussein to 9-11. Then the film shows old footage of Rumsfeld himself doing just that. Similar footage could have been shown of numerous officials on numerous occasions. Rumsfeld has clearly been allowed such levels of impunity that delusions have taken over. He rewrites the past in his head and expects everyone else to obediently follow along. As of course Eric Holder's Justice Department has done.
Rumsfeld, in the film, dates the certainty of the decision to invade Iraq to January 11, 2003. This of course predates months of himself and Bush and Cheney pretending no decision had been made, including the January 31, 2003, White House press conference with Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at which they said they were working to avoid war, after Bush had just privately proposed to Blair a string of cockamamie ideas that might get a war started.
Bizarrely, the film's director Errol Morris asks Rumsfeld why they didn't just assassinate Saddam Hussein instead of attacking the nation of Iraq. He does not ask why the U.S. didn't obey the law. He does not ask about Hussein's willingness to just leave if he could keep $1 billion, as Bush told Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar that Hussein had offered. And even the question asked, Rumsfeld refuses to answer until he makes Morris complicit. Morris had used the word "they," as in "why didn't they just assassinate him?" whereas he clearly should have used the word "you," but Rumsfeld makes him repeat the question using the word "we" before providing an answer. We? We were lied to by a criminal government. We don't take the blame as servants to a flag. Are you kidding? But Morris dutifully asks "Why didn't we just assassinate ... ?"
Rumsfeld replies that "We don't assassinate" and tries hard not to grin. Morris says "but you tried" referring to an attempt to bomb Hussein's location. Rumsfeld excuses that by saying it was "an act of war." This is the same line that human rights groups take on drone murders. (We can't be sure if they're illegal, because President Obama may have written a note and hid it in his shoe that says it's all a part of a war, and war makes murder OK.)
Rumsfeld blames Iraq for not avoiding being attacked. He pretends Iraq pretended to have weapons, even while blaming Iraq for not turning over the weapons that it claimed not to have (and didn't have). The veteran liar lies that he thought he was using the best "intelligence" when he lied about Iraqi weapons, and then passes the buck to Colin Powell.
Rumsfeld and the nation that produced him didn't turn wrong only in the year 2001. Rumsfeld avoided Watergate by being off to Brussels as ambassador to NATO, a worse crime one might argue than Watergate, or at least than Nixon's recording of conversations -- which is all that this movie discusses, and which Rumsfeld describes as "a mistake." Asked if he learned anything from the U.S. war that killed 4 million Vietnamese, Rumsfeld says "Some things work out, some things don't." I think he expected applause for that line. On the topic of meeting with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, Rumsfeld is allowed to describe his mistake as having been filmed shaking hands with the man he calls a dictator. But he's never asked about having supported Hussein and armed and assisted him, including with weapons that would later (despite having been destroyed) form the basis of the pretended cause of war.
After giving the fun-loving sociopaths of fictional dramas a bad name for two hours, this real person, Donald Rumsfeld, blames war on "human nature" and expresses pretended sadness at future U.S. war deaths, as if 95% of the victims of U.S. wars (the people who live where the wars are fought) never cross his mind at all. And why should they?
Sorry for the headline if it got you hoping for a quick 1-step guide on how to bomb a country without breaking a sweat. I didn't actually mean that I could teach a dummy to wage a war. I meant that only dummies want to wage wars.
Check out a recent Washington Post report.
Now there I go misleading you again. While it's true that the editors of the Washington Post are often dummies and often want wars to be waged, that's not what I mean right now. I think members of the U.S. government and its obedient media constitute an important but tiny exception to the rule this report points to.
The facts as reported on April 7th are these:
- 13% of us in the United States want our government to use force in Ukraine;
- 16% of us can accurately identify Ukraine's location on a map;
- the median error by Americans placing Ukraine on a map is 1,800 miles;
- some Americans, based on where they identified Ukraine on a map, believe that Ukraine is in the United States, some say it's in Canada, some Africa, some Australia, some Greenland, some Argentina, Brazil, China, or India;
- only a small number believe Ukraine is in an ocean.
And here's the interesting bit:
"[T]he further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily. Even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants' general foreign policy attitudes, we found that the less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests."
I take this to mean that some people believe that attacking Alaska or the continental United States (where they believe Ukraine to be located) will advance "U.S. national security interests." This suggests one of two things: either they believe the United States would be better off bombed (and perhaps suicidal tendencies account for some of the staggering stupidity reported by the Washington Post) or they believe the United States is located in Asia or Africa or somewhere other than where they've indicated that Ukraine is on the map.
I also take this report to mean the following: ignorant jackasses are the only statistically significant group that wants more wars. Virtually nobody in the United States wants a U.S. war in Iran or Syria or Ukraine. Nobody. Except for serious hardcore idiots. We're talking about people who can't place Ukraine in the correct landmass, but who believe the United States should go to war there.
People informed enough to find Ukraine on a map are also informed enough to oppose wars. People who can't find Ukraine on a map but possess an ounce of humility or a drop of decency also oppose war. You don't have to be smart to oppose wars. But you have to be an unfathomably ignorant jackass to favor them. Or -- back to that exception -- you could work for the government.
Why, I wonder, don't pollsters always poll and report sufficiently to tell us whether an opinion correlates with being informed on an issue? I recall a poll (by Rasmussen), tragic or humorous depending on your mood, that found 25% of Americans wanting their government to always spend at least three times as much on its military as any other nation spends, while 64% said their government spends the right amount on the military now or should spend more. This only gets tragic or humorous if you are aware that the United States already spends much more than three times what any other nation spends on its military. In other words, large numbers of people want military spending increased only because they don't know how high it is already.
But what I want to know is: Do the individuals who have the facts most wrong want the biggest spending increases?
And I wonder: do pollsters want us to know how much opinions follow facts? If opinions follow factual beliefs, after all, it might make sense to replace some of the bickering of pundits on our televisions with educational information, and to stop thinking of ourselves as divided by ideology or temperament when what we're divided by is largely the possession of facts and the lack thereof.
It's important to distinguish terrorism from war. Because otherwise war would look bad.
It's important to distinguish genocide from war. Because otherwise war would be indefensible.
It's important to distinguish civil war from war. Because civil war seems so gruesome and irrational.
It's important to distinguish the horrors of war from war's higher purposes. Because otherwise who would let war continue?
It's important to distinguish wars people have seen from possible future wars. Because otherwise someone might ask what the higher purposes had been and whether they were achieved.
It's important to distinguish war from inaction as if those were the only options. Because otherwise people might wake up before they die.
Betsy Leondar-Wright is the Project Director and Senior Trainer at Class Action, a non-profit that raises consciousness about class and money. Her new book is called Missing Class: How Seeing Class Cultures Can Strengthen Social Movement Groups. She describes how people's speech patterns and approaches to activism tend to vary with class background, how unawareness of this can result in misunderstandings, and how awareness of it can build stronger movements that draw on the strengths of all.
Total run time: 29:00
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"Secretary Kerry? It's Ukraine on the phone asking about liberation again. Have you been able to get them a reference letter yet from Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan? How about Vietnam? Panama? Grenada? Kosovo maybe? Ukraine says Syria says you have a reference letter in the works from Kosovo. No? Huh. They said they'd accept one from Korea or the Dominican Republic or Iran. No? Guatemala? The Philippines? Cuba? Congo? How about Haiti? They say you promised them a glowing reference from Haiti. Oh. They did? No, I am not laughing, Sir. What about East Timor? Oh? Oh! Sir, you're going to liberate the what out of them? Yes sir, I think you'd better tell them yourself."
Some nations the United States should probably not liberate -- except perhaps the 175 nations which could be liberated from the presence of U.S. soldiers. But one nation I would make an exception for, and that is the nation of Hawai'i.
Jon Olsen's new book, Liberate Hawai'i: Renouncing and Defying the Continuing Fraudulent U.S. Claim to the sovereignty of Hawai'i, makes a compelling case -- a legal case as well as a moral one.
Olsen's case, in very condensed summary, looks like this: Hawai'i was an independent nation, recognized as such by the United States and numerous other nations, with treaties in effect between Hawai'i and other nations, including the United States, that have never been terminated. In 1893 U.S. profiteers and U.S. Marines, in a criminal act, overthrew Hawai'i's government and queen, setting up a new government that lacked any legal standing. President Grover Cleveland investigated what had been done, admitted to the facts, and declared the new government illegitimate, insisting that the Queen retain the rule she had never abdicated. But the fraudulent foreign government remained, and in 1898 once William McKinley was U.S. president, handed over Hawaii (thought it had no legal power to do so) to the United States, as the United States also picked up the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba in a bit of a global shopping spree. By 1959, these events were growing lost in the mists of time, and the demographics of Hawai'i were radically altered, as Hawai'i was offered a vote between two bad choices: statehood or continued status as a colony or "territory" (liberation wasn't on the ballot). Thus did Hawai'i seem to become a state without legally becoming any such thing. In 1993, the U.S. Congress passed and President Clinton signed U.S. Public Law 103-150, admitted to and apologizing for this history, without of course doing the one thing legally and morally required -- liberating Hawai'i.
The primary purpose of the U.S. grab for Hawai'i, even more than economic exploitation, was military expansion, as Olsen shows. The U.S. military wanted, and took, Pearl Harbor. Then it took a lot more land, occupied it, bombed it, poisoned it. Now the U.S. military holds 22% of O'ahu, 68% of Kaula, and chunks of all the major islands, with more planned, archaeological sites threatened, species threatened, air quality for telescopes threatened, and heightened tensions around the Pacific not just threatened but those heightened tensions being the actual purpose of this massive and disastrous investment by the foreign occupying nation claiming Hawai'i by force and fraud.
What can be done? And of, by, and for whom exactly? Who is a Hawaiian and who is not? Olsen does not advocate a Hawaii for the ethnically native Hawaiians alone. He recognizes that the term "Hawaiian" is used to refer to an ethnic group, and proposes the invention of the term "Hawaiian national" to refer to anyone who considers Hawaii home and supports its liberation. I think Olsen is on the right path but slipping slightly off it. Nationalism has not proved a wholly beneficial concept. Hawaii needs to be liberated from U.S. nationalism, but Hawaiians and the rest of us need to begin thinking of ourselves as citizens of the world, not of one nation over others. Nor do two wrongs, of whatever disparity, make a right (just ask Palestine). I'd like to see "Hawaiian" evolve to encompass all who consider Hawaii their home, without the addition of "national." Of course this unsolicited advice from me to Hawaiians may be unappreciated. But then, they are free to ignore it; I'm not using the Marine Corps as a delivery service, and my advice to the Marine Corps (unsolicited as well) is to disband and liberate the world from its existence.
There's an important point that I think Olsen's argument supports, although he does not develop it in his book, and it is this: If in 1941 Hawaii was not yet even purporting to be a U.S. state, but was rather an illegally and illegitimately seized territory, Pearl Harbor having been stolen from the Hawaiian people, then whatever else you might think of the second major crime committed at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese did not attack the United States. The Japanese attacked an imperial outpost in the middle of the Pacific that they viewed as a threat -- and what else was it if not that?
Were Hawaii to liberate itself from the United States (for the United States is not actually going to liberate it voluntarily), would the point be moot as the practices of the United States and China and other nations drive the world's islands underwater? Actually, projections show Hawaii surviving the flood. The question for Hawaiians may be this: Who do you want managing the influx of millions of Floridians looking for a new paradise to pave, your own manageable self-governed society or the tender mercies of the United States Congress?
Two professional sports teams in Washington, D.C., have intolerable names: the Redskins and the Nationals.
The Redskins name is disgusting racism that recalls the nation's original genocidal sin, a crime that carries over to today's naming of weapons and operations after various Native Americans and treating other groups of people as valueless.
But I for one find it easier to imagine a crowd of Redskins fans as ignorant and oblivious -- which is really the best you can hope to imagine a crowd to be. They aren't consciously advocating genocide. Most of them have never stopped to think how they would respond as a white minority to a team called The Fighting Whities, but they also aren't thinking about racial superiority. They're thinking "I want OUR team to beat the other team," and having identified themselves with the team, they just accept its name like they accept their own names regardless of how evil King David or whomever they're named for was.
The Nationals, on the other hand, are part of the promotion of the worst crimes our society is currently engaged in. A National's game is packed, inning after inning, with songs and cheers and announcements promoting war. Fans are told that the U.S. Navy is "keeping the world's oceans safe and free" -- and they stand and cheer for that, even as the U.S. Navy and Army and Air Force and Marines and assorted special forces and mercenaries and CIA kill, and kill, and kill, building hostility around the world.
"I'm proud to be an American because at least I know I'm free," they hear and sing. How do they know they're free? How does an ocean know it's free? What in the world are they talking about? This nation lacks civil liberties and human rights found elsewhere, and we lose more rights with every war. Where's our Fourth Amendment? Our First Amendment? Where are Roosevelt's freedoms from fear and want? Polluting the world's oceans with death machines that launch missiles into people's houses doesn't make us or the fish or the people murdered "free."
Can we imagine Nationals' fans as oblivious? Do they not know that the world doesn't appreciate being kept "free"? Do they suppose that wars really benefit people? Do they not know what was done to Iraq? Maybe, but I for one find it a greater strain to imagine. The uniformed killers are right there, being honored, singing songs. And the team is named for the concept that 5% of humanity should be identified with over the other 95%. There's not an enlightened way to do that, and as long as we imagine there to be we'll remain as ignorant and destructive as jackasses who paint their faces red and stick feathers on their heads to go to football games. In fact, we might be worse.
"The notion of a 'humanitarian war' would have rang in the ears of the drafters of the UN Charter as nothing short of Hitlerian, because it was precisely the justification used by Hitler himself for the invasion of Poland just six years earlier." —Michael Mandel
Fifteen years ago, NATO was bombing Yugoslavia. This may be difficult for people to grasp who believe the Noah movie is historical fiction, but: What your government told you about the bombing of Kosovo was false. And it matters.
While Rwanda is the war that many misinformed people wish they could have had (or rather, wish others could have had for them), Yugoslavia is the war they're glad happened -- at least whenever World War II really fails as a model for the new war they're after -- in Syria for instance, or in Ukraine -- the latter being, like Yugoslavia, another borderland between east and west that is being taken to pieces.
The peace movement is gathering in Sarajevo this summer. The moment seems fitting to recall how NATO's breakout war of aggression, its first post-Cold-War war to assert its power, threaten Russia, impose a corporate economy, and demonstrate that a major war can keep all the casualties on one side (apart from self-inflicted helicopter crashes) -- how this was put over on us as an act of philanthropy.
The killing hasn't stopped. NATO keeps expanding its membership and its mission, notably into places like Afghanistan and Libya. It matters how this got started, because it's going to be up to us to stop it.
Some of us had not yet been born or were too young or too busy or too Democratic partisan or too caught up still in the notion that mainstream opinion isn't radically insane. We didn't pay attention or we fell for the lies. Or we didn't fall for the lies, but we haven't yet figured out a way to get most people to look at them.
Here's my recommendation. There are two books that everyone should read. They are about the lies we were told about Yugoslavia in the 1990s but are also two of the best books about war, period, regardless of the subtopic. They are: How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage, and Crimes Against Humanity by Michael Mandel, and Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions by Diana Johnstone.
Johnstone's book provides the historical background, the context, and analysis of the role of the United States, of Germany, of the mass media, and of various players in Yugoslavia. Mandel's book provides the immediate events and a lawyer's analysis of the crimes committed. While many ordinary people in the United States and Europe supported or tolerated the war out of good intentions -- that is, because they believed the propaganda -- the motivations and actions of the U.S. government and NATO turn out to have been as cynical and immoral as usual.
The United States worked for the breakup of Yugoslavia, intentionally prevented negotiated agreements among the parties, and engaged in a massive bombing campaign that killed large numbers of people, injured many more, destroyed civilian infrastructure and hospitals and media outlets, and created a refugee crisis that did not exist until after the bombing had begun. This was accomplished through lies, fabrications, and exaggerations about atrocities, and then justified anachronistically as a response to violence that it generated.
After the bombing, the U.S. allowed the Bosnian Muslims to agree to a peace plan very similar to the plan that the U.S. had been blocking prior to the bombing spree. Here's U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali:
"In its first weeks in office, the Clinton administration has administered a death blow to the Vance-Owen plan that would have given the Serbs 43 percent of the territory of a unified state. In 1995 at Dayton, the administration took pride in an agreement that, after nearly three more years of horror and slaughter, gave the Serbs 49 percent in a state partitioned into two entities."
These many years later it should matter to us that we were told about fake atrocities that researchers were unable to ever find, any more than anyone could ever find the weapons in Iraq, or the evidence of plans to slaughter civilians in Benghazi, or the evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use. We're being told that Russian troops are massing on the border of Ukraine with genocidal intentions. But when people look for those troops they can't find them. We should be prepared to consider what that might mean.
NATO had to bomb Kosovo 15 years ago to prevent a genocide? Really? Why sabotage negotiations? Why pull out all observers? Why give five days' warning? Why then bomb away from the area of the supposed genocide? Wouldn't a real rescue operation have sent in ground forces without any warning, while continuing diplomatic efforts? Wouldn't a humanitarian effort have avoided killing so many men, women, and children with bombs, while threatening to starve whole populations through sanctions?
Mandel looks very carefully at the legality of this war, considering every defense ever offered for it, and concludes that it violated the U.N. Charter and consisted of murder on a large scale. Mandel, or perhaps his publisher, chose to begin his book with an analysis of the illegality of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and to leave Yugoslavia out of the book's title. But it is Yugoslavia, not Iraq or Afghanistan, that war proponents will continue pointing to for years to come as a model for future wars -- unless we stop them. This was a war that broke new ground, but did it with far more effective PR than the Bush administration ever bothered with. This war violated the UN Charter, but also -- though Mandel doesn't mention it -- Article I of the U.S. Constitution requiring Congressional approval.
Every war also violates the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Mandel, all too typically, erases the Pact from consideration even while noting its existence and significance. "The first count against the Nazis at Nuremberg," he writes, "was the 'crime against peace . . . violation of international treaties' -- international treaties just like the Charter of the United Nations." That can't be right. The U.N. Charter did not yet exist. Other treaties were not just like it. Much later in the book, Mandel cites the Kellogg-Briand Pact as the basis for the prosecutions, but he treats the Pact as if it existed then and exists no longer. He also treats it as if it banned aggressive war, rather than all war. I hate to quibble, as Mandel's book is so excellent, including his criticism of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for refusing to recognize the U.N. Charter. But what they're doing to make the U.N. Charter a treaty of the past, Mandel himself (and virtually everyone else) does to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, awareness of which would devastate all arguments for "humanitarian wars."
Of course, proving that every war thus far marketed as humanitarian has actually harmed humanity doesn't eliminate the theoretical possibility of a humanitarian war. What erases that is the damage that keeping the institution of war around does to human society and the natural environment. Even if, in theory, 1 war in 1,000 could be a good one (which I don't believe for a minute), preparing for wars is going to bring those other 999 along with it. That is why the time has come to abolish the institution.
Rick Rozoff is the manager of Stop NATO at http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com He discusses the Ukrainian crisis and the state of NATO at age 65.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
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The Associated Press is denying claims by two of its writers that cost-savings was a motivation. Rather, says editor Richard Giardino, an error resulted in the accidental re-publication last week of an article on a Senate committee report on torture, an article that had originally been published in 2011.
In defense of the wire service, Giardino noted in a 2,000-word explanation, that "while the article may have been dated, it ran in dozens of newspapers without anyone noticing." In fact, wrote Giardino, were it not for a couple of bloggers, the incident "might have passed unnoticed."
I think he has a point. Over the past eight years, there have been 73 separate moments in which major news stories have reported widely across the U.S. media that it has for the first time become clear that former President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, or their subordinates ordered the commission of torture. That count does not include several interviews, and memoirs, in which Bush and Cheney have openly admitted to the crime, bragged about it, or professed the sentiment that they "would do it again."
While torture has been a violation of international law and U.S. treaty obligations, and a felony under U.S. law, since before George W. Bush moved into the White House, indictments have not been forthcoming. Instead, a series of investigations and reports, and censorship thereof, have generated stories around the possibility that individuals might have done what we've already seen them confess to on camera.
Questioned on CBS Evening News on Monday, Giardino became agitated. "Look," he said, "if we just put out the sort of fact-based news that bloggers say they want, we'd be describing top authorities in this country as routine violators of the law. We have to find a balance between straight-forward reporting and the understanding that we aren't locking up presidents and CIA directors because the investigations are ongoing. And when the investigations are ongoing for years and years and years, then breaking the same news more than once is actually more accurate than inventing new details that haven't taken place."
During the past eight years, thousands of U.S. news reports have discussed the possibility of criminalizing torture, without noting that it already is criminal. Frank Cretino, associate editor of the Washington Post, defends this record, saying, "The fact that torture is already banned does not negate the act of banning it, particularly as most people do not know it is already banned. Of course, we could so inform our readers, but that would be like noting that politicians take bribes, or indicating wherever relevant that our owner makes more money from the CIA than from our paper, or recognizing that torture is just one aspect of a collection of actions made criminal by the illegality of the wars they are part of, or pointing out to people that the date is April 1 at the beginning of a story."
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Alan Grayson, got more progressive amendments passed last year than any other Congressperson. His reelection is heavily targeted by the Koch Bros. as his actions to protect everything from Soc Sec to an end to drone warfare continues.
Robert Weissman President of Public Citizen, leader in the fight to stop the 1% & the Supreme Ct. from highjacking our elections by repealing Citizens United in which the Supreme Ct. gave corporations the right to buy our elections with unlimited funds. And now in the McCutchen Decision the Supreme Ct is considering giving mega wealthy individuals the same right.
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Urge the ending of war these days and you'll very quickly hear two words: "Hitler" and "Rwanda." While World War II killed some 70 million people, it's the killing of some 6 to 10 million (depending on who's included) that carries the name Holocaust. Never mind that the United States and its allies refused to help those people before the war or to halt the war to save them or to prioritize helping them when the war ended -- or even to refrain from letting the Pentagon hire some of their killers. Never mind that saving the Jews didn't become a purpose for WWII until long after the war was over. Propose eliminating war from the world and your ears will ring with the name that Hillary Clinton calls Vladimir Putin and that John Kerry calls Bashar al Assad.
Get past Hitler, and shouts of "We must prevent another Rwanda!" will stop you in your tracks, unless your education has overcome a nearly universal myth that runs as follows. In 1994, a bunch of irrational Africans in Rwanda developed a plan to eliminate a tribal minority and carried out their plan to the extent of slaughtering over a million people from that tribe -- for purely irrational motivations of tribal hatred. The U.S. government had been busy doing good deeds elsewhere and not paying enough attention until it was too late. The United Nations knew what was happening but refused to act, due to its being a large bureaucracy inhabited by weak-willed non-Americans. But, thanks to U.S. efforts, the criminals were prosecuted, refugees were allowed to return, and democracy and European enlightenment were brought belatedly to the dark valleys of Rwanda.
Something like this myth is in the minds of those who shout for attacks on Libya or Syria or the Ukraine under the banner of "Not another Rwanda!" The thinking would be hopelessly sloppy even if based on facts. The idea that SOMETHING was needed in Rwanda morphs into the idea that heavy bombing was needed in Rwanda which slides effortlessly into the idea that heavy bombing is needed in Libya. The result is the destruction of Libya. But the argument is not for those who pay attention to what was happening in and around Rwanda before or since 1994. It's a momentary argument meant to apply only to a moment. Never mind why Gadaffi was transformed from a Western ally into a Western enemy, and never mind what the war left behind. Pay no attention to how World War I was ended and how many wise observers predicted World War II at that time. The point is that a Rwanda was going to happen in Libya (unless you look at the facts too closely) and it did not happen. Case closed. Next victim.
Edward Herman highly recommends a book by Robin Philpot called Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction, and so do I. Philpot opens with U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's comment that "the genocide in Rwanda was one hundred percent the responsibility of the Americans!" How could that be? Americans are not to blame for how things are in backward parts of the world prior to their "interventions." Surely Mr. double Boutros has got his chronology wrong. Too much time spent in those U.N. offices with foreign bureaucrats no doubt. And yet, the facts -- not disputed claims but universally agreed upon facts that are simply deemphasized by many -- say otherwise.
The United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. The Rwandan government, in response, did not follow the model of the U.S. internment of Japanese during World War II, or of U.S. treatment of Muslims for the past 12 years. Nor did it fabricate the idea of traitors in its midst, as the invading army in fact had 36 active cells of collaborators in Rwanda. But the Rwandan government did arrest 8,000 people and hold them for a few days to six-months. Africa Watch (later Human Rights Watch/Africa) declared this a serious violation of human rights, but had nothing to say about the invasion and war. Alison Des Forges of Africa Watch explained that good human rights groups "do not examine the issue of who makes war. We see war as an evil and we try to prevent the existence of war from being an excuse for massive human rights violations."
The war killed many people, whether or not those killings qualified as human rights violations. People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society. The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. And among the results of the war was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the government would topple. First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide. And before that would come the murder of two presidents. At that point, in April 1994, Rwanda was in chaos almost on the level of post-liberation Iraq or Libya.
One way to have prevented the slaughter would have been to not support the war. Another way to have prevented the slaughter would have been to not support the assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi on April 6, 1994. The evidence points strongly to the U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame -- now president of Rwanda -- as the guilty party. While there is no dispute that the presidents' plane was shot down, human rights groups and international bodies have simply referred in passing to a "plane crash" and refused to investigate.
A third way to have prevented the slaughter, which began immediately upon news of the presidents' assassinations, might have been to send in U.N. peacekeepers (not the same thing as Hellfire missiles, be it noted), but that was not what Washington wanted, and the U.S. government worked against it. What the Clinton administration was after was putting Kagame in power. Thus the resistance to calling the slaughter a "genocide" (and sending in the U.N.) until blaming that crime on the Hutu-dominated government became seen as useful. The evidence assembled by Philpot suggests that the "genocide" was not so much planned as erupted following the shooting down of the plane, was politically motivated rather than simply ethnic, and was not nearly as one-sided as generally assumed.
Moreover, the killing of civilians in Rwanda has continued ever since, although the killing has been much more heavy in neighboring Congo, where Kagame's government took the war -- with U.S. aid and weapons and troops -- and bombed refugee camps killing some million people. The excuse for going into the Congo has been the hunt for Rwandan war criminals. The real motivation has been Western control and profits. War in the Congo has continued to this day, leaving some 6 million dead -- the worst killing since the 70 million of WWII. And yet nobody ever says "We must prevent another Congo!"
So the United States wants to buy hemp from the Ukraine. I suppose we should be happy. Anytime the U.S. government gives a country money that is not earmarked for weapons, we probably shouldn't too closely examine the unelected neo-liberals and neo-Nazis handling the cash. Nobody pays attention to the Saudi government or the oil, wars, and terrorism it provides in exchange for U.S. largesse.
Of course if the hemp buy is part of a larger package deal that impoverishes the Ukraine for the benefit of Western plutocrats, gets NATO's nose under the door, threatens Russia, and encourages the NED to hire the companies that name paint colors in hopes of finding unique names for all the revolutions it's going to plan next, we may want to oppose the whole package.
But isn't the precedent of connecting U.S. foreign policy in any way to a substance that benefits, rather than destroys, the environment of potentially great value? While buying hemp abroad might be a move against permitting the production of hemp at home, won't it just further fuel the argument that it's insane to make U.S. companies import a raw material that they could much more cheaply grow (while creating jobs, restoring soil, slowing climate change, and garnering some 478 other benefits of hemp)?
Or is insanity just not that big a concern? Jon Walker has a book out called After Legalization. And there's a book called Hemp Bound by Doug Fine. These guys are convinced that marijuana and hemp are both about to be legalized in the United States. One of their arguments is that doing so has majority support -- and support, they stress, from across the political spectrum (Fine can't quote anybody without emphasizing that the person is NOT A HIPPIE). "Since when do 80% of Americans agree on anything, as they do that the drug war is a failure?" asks Fine.
Well, let me count the ways. I've been referring for years to this fine collection of polls: http://YesMagazine.org/purpleagenda In fact, 80% in the U.S. believe their government is broken, and I suspect they do so in part because so often their government ignores the will of 80% of the country, be it on ceasing to threaten Iran, investing more in green energy or education, or holding bankers to the rule of law. Eighty percent and more usually support restoring money to the minimum wage, as it continues to plummet. Ninety percent want higher fuel efficiency standards. Eighty percent would ban weapons in space, enforce laws against torture, strengthen the United Nations, reduce the power and influence of big corporations, restore voting rights for ex-felons, create a justice system that does rehabilitation, allow immigrants to apply for citizenship, etc., etc. Never mind the countless sane and important policies supported by 75% or 68% or 52% -- which damn well ought to be enough once in a while but almost never is.
Walker says the difference is that pot doesn't have any enemies. Fine writes as if he expects no enemies either. And yet, Fine refers repeatedly to the great damage hemp will do to oil companies and even to the war machine. Now, I don't know to what extent there's truth behind the supposition that major corporate interests favored the banning of marijuana and hemp, as they had favored the banning of alcohol (they certainly benefitted from its being banned and remaining banned), but we know the oil companies killed public transit and the electric car and the Gulf of Mexico. These are not lightweights when it comes to amoral short-term struggles. And you can add to them the petrochemical, plastics, timber, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical drug companies, as well as the herbicide companies (hemp doesn't require any), the agribusinesses currently subsidized, and -- last but not least -- the urine testing, property seizure, police and prison industries -- including the prison guard unions. Oh and let's not neglect the State Department that wants to buy hemp from abroad as carrots for austerity schemes, and the foreign nations from whom the hemp is bought. Who in their right mind would put sanity up against that whole crowd? I'm not even counting people too ignorant to distinguish hemp from marijuana, or who think marijuana kills you, or whom Jesus told pot comes from the devil.
Of course, I hope we will legalize hemp immediately (I mean nationally, I'm aware of the steps many states are taking). It's just going to require a great deal of effort, I'm afraid.
Then there's another worry. Will marijuana and hemp be legalized but monopolized, corporatized, and Wal-Martized? Walker says pot won't be because nobody would buy it. Fine says the same of hemp, and that the U.S. should ban GMO hemp from the start, as Canada has done -- as if banning GMO anything in the U.S. were as easy as passing a billion-dollar subsidy for a space weapon that threatens Iran, weakens the U.N., makes us dumber, and damages the atmosphere. For hemp to sell, Fine writes, it has to keep a positive image that includes "a quest for world peace" -- which I take to mean more quoting Nobel laureates on packaging than funding the peace movement. But who's going to know it's GMO if labeling on such points is banned?
Legalization is entirely doable, and the pressures in its favor are indeed likely to grow, but it's going to require huge public pressure. Where books like Walker's and Fine's are most helpful is informing that little snippet of the public that reads books of the incredible benefits to be gained. Hemp is apparently the healthiest food on earth, both for feeding people and for feeding farm animals whom people eat or from which people eat the eggs or drink the milk. The same crop of hemp can, if all goes well, produce material stronger than steel or softer than cotton. And the same crop can, in theory, produce a third thing at the same time, from yet another part of the plant: fuel. You can build your tractor out of hemp, fuel it with hemp, and use it to harvest hemp -- hemp that is busy restoring your soil, preventing erosion, and surviving the drought and climate change. You can do this while eating and drinking hemp and wearing clothes made of hemp and washed with hemp in your house also made of hemp and lime -- a house that sucks carbon out of the atmosphere. (The list of products and benefits is endless. One that Fine cites is body armor, although how that fits into the quest for world peace is not clear.)
I'm not a fan of devoting acres needed for food production to fuel production, but a crop that produces both fuel and food (and building materials) -- if it really can do all that at once -- might alter the calculation. Biofuel aside, hemp has more than enough benefits to start investing in it right now, if sanity were on the table. Take the U.S. troops stationed in 175 countries and reduce that total by 5 countries per year. Instead, buy those countries' hemp AND invest billions in our own (hire the former troops to grow it). It's win-win-win, except for whichever profiteers have their interests in the wrong place. Watch out for them.
Many of you know the dedicated peace and justice activist John Judge. He has had a stroke and is in the hospital in need of help.
Anyone who cares about our natural environment should be marking with great sadness the centenary of World War I. Beyond the incredible destruction in European battlefields, the intense harvesting of forests, and the new focus on the fossil fuels of the Middle East, the Great War was the Chemists' War. Poison gas became a weapon -- one that would be used against many forms of life.
Insecticides were developed alongside nerve gases and from byproducts of explosives. World War II -- the sequel made almost inevitable by the manner of ending the first one -- produced, among other things, nuclear bombs, DDT, and a common language for discussing both -- not to mention airplanes for delivering both.
War propagandists made killing easier by depicting foreign people as bugs. Insecticide marketers made buying their poisons patriotic by using war language to describe the "annihilation" of "invading" insects (never mind who was actually here first). DDT was made available for public purchase five days before the U.S. dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. On the first anniversary of the bomb, a full-page photograph of a mushroom cloud appeared in an advertisement for DDT.
War and environmental destruction don't just overlap in how they're thought and talked about. They don't just promote each other through mutually reinforcing notions of machismo and domination. The connection is much deeper and more direct. War and preparations for war, including weapons testing, are themselves among the greatest destroyers of our environment. The U.S. military is a leading consumer of fossil fuels. From March 2003 to December 2007 the war on Iraq alone released more CO2 than 60% of all nations.
Rarely do we appreciate the extent to which wars are fought for control over resources the consumption of which will destroy us. Even more rarely do we appreciate the extent to which that consumption is driven by wars. The Confederate Army marched up toward Gettysburg in search of food to fuel itself. (Sherman burned the South, as he killed the Buffalo, to cause starvation -- while the North exploited its land to fuel the war.) The British Navy sought control of oil first as a fuel for the ships of the British Navy, not for some other purpose. The Nazis went east, among several other reasons, for forests with which to fuel their war. The deforestation of the tropics that took off during World War II only accelerated during the permanent state of war that followed.
Wars in recent years have rendered large areas uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. Perhaps the most deadly weapons left behind by wars are land mines and cluster bombs. Tens of millions of them are estimated to be lying around on the earth. The Soviet and U.S. occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. U.S. bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan's forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants.
The United States fights its wars and even tests its weapons far from its shores, but remains pockmarked by environmental disaster areas and superfund sites created by its military. The environmental crisis has taken on enormous proportions, dramatically overshadowing the manufactured dangers that lie in Hillary Clinton's contention that Vladimir Putin is a new Hitler or the common pretense in Washington, D.C., that Iran is building nukes or that killing people with drones is making us safer rather than more hated. And yet, each year, the EPA spends $622 million trying to figure out how to produce power without oil, while the military spends hundreds of billions of dollars burning oil in wars fought to control the oil supplies. The million dollars spent to keep each soldier in a foreign occupation for a year could create 20 green energy jobs at $50,000 each. The $1 trillion spent by the United States on militarism each year, and the $1 trillion spent by the rest of the world combined, could fund a conversion to sustainable living beyond most of our wildest dreams. Even 10% of it could.
When World War I ended, not only did a huge peace movement develop, but it was allied with a wildlife conservation movement. These days, those two movements appear divided and conquered. Once in a blue moon their paths cross, as environmental groups are persuaded to oppose a particular seizure of land or military base construction, as has happened in recent months with the movements to prevent the U.S. and South Korea from building a huge naval base on Jeju Island, and to prevent the U.S. Marine Corps from turning Pagan Island in the Northern Marianas into a bombing range. But try asking a well-funded environmental group to push for a transfer of public resources from militarism to clean energy or conservation and you might as well be trying to tackle a cloud of poison gas.
I'm pleased to be part of a movement just begun at WorldBeyondWar.org, already with people taking part in 57 nations, that seeks to replace our massive investment in war with a massive investment in actual defense of the earth. I have a suspicion that big environmental organizations would find great support for this plan were they to survey their members.
A wave of action is coming on April 4th, the date they killed MLK, the date Cindy Sheehan lost her son, the date cherry blossoms and resisters to fascism begin to show after an endless winter of many, many years. Take a look at https://waveofaction.org
Electing a different president six years ago was not a partial step, a failed attempt, a warm-up round. It was a halftime show of circus clowns and cheerleaders. The partial step, the failed attempt, the warm up, the ground work, the base of experience and training and testing was Occupy.
And what's happened since? We've learned more about how close Occupy came to shifting the balance. We've learned more about how scared the bankers and the warmongers and their servants in the unconstitutional police-state acronym crowd were (the FBI-DHS-CIA-NSA-SOBs). We've learned about the plans in Houston to murder Occupiers. We've learned about the infiltration, the instigation, the expropriation. We've looked back at the counterproductive results of tolerating a bit of violence on the side of justice and peace. We've marveled at the mistake of calling violence inclusiveness and tolerance. We've wondered at the humor, heroism, and effectiveness of nonviolent creative action.
The movement has grown, indoors, online, and off the radar. It's developed strategies for taking on debt and homelessness and war. Awareness has grown, education has spread, and ideas have sunk in. People now know that we can't lift up the poor without pulling down the plutocrats. It's understood that we can have democracy or billionaires, not both. The notion of shifting priorities is even making headway; behind the screaming of "no cuts!" and "less spending!" there's a steady, rising voice -- ebbing and flowing like the ocean -- insisting that we can move the money from the military and the oil corporations and the bankers to green energy and schools and trains and parks and actual aid to everyone on earth, with plenty of tax cuts to spare.
"The country is broke" is understood as a lie on the scale of "the Defense Department makes us safer" or "the marketplace benefits us all" or "this weather is part of normal cycles" or "the corporate media is independent of the government" or "the government is independent of the corporations."
When public pressure stopped missiles into Syria in September the educational work of years and years was paying off. When public pressure helped stop new sanctions and war momentum against Iran in February, a new pattern was developing. When Obama began this week at least pretending to turn against the NSA he'd been defending for months, a crack opened up in a wall of unaccountable abuses. Opportunities are opening up all around us. Students are taking on Israeli crimes. Towns are taking on fossil fuel fanaticism. Parents on taking on corporate-educationism.
A new Occupy should have crowds of DiFi masks (the one person Senator Dianne Feinstein objects to spying on). A new Occupy should hold joint events in the United States and Russia demanding peace from both governments, nuclear disarmament, and investment of those nuclear dollars in defense against real threats, like climate change, disease, and guns.
Things are not getting better. The earth is dying. Weapons sales are skyrocketing. Russia and China are being groomed as new enemies. Real healthcare reform remains almost incomprehensible to millions who need it. Pay Day loans are growing at the rate that prison terms for profiteers ought to be. But resistance to the downward slide is growing as well. Whistleblowers are appearing. Courage is catching and spreading. States are setting up conversion and transition plans. Obamahopium is wearing off without Hillareoin taking hold.
If there was ever a moment to put survival and well-being ahead of politeness and obedience, this is that moment. The weather is right. The climate is right. The experience is fresh, but the participants rested. April 4th is opening day. Will you throw out the first pitch in your town? Will you do it now? Will you re-occupy everything and never give it back? Find an event, create an event, or enliven an event near you or far from you: https://waveofaction.org
This is not for show this time. This is not to send a message. This is not to make a few friends. This is to make millions of friends. This is to change the course of our culture. This is the big leagues. Rest up. Get ready. Know your power.
George Vradenburg is the Chairman and Co-Founder of http://USAgainstAlzheimers.org We discuss the new report finding Alzheimer's to be a leading cause of death in the U.S. We also ask Vradenburg whether perhaps a little money could move from the military to Alzheimer's research. Listen for the answer. Vradenburg is a member of the Private Sector Senior Advisory Committee, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Department of Homeland Security, and of the Council on Foreign Relations, and of the Economic Club of Washington.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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War activists, like peace activists, push for an agenda. We don't think of them as activists because they rotate in and out of government positions, receive huge amounts of funding, have access to big media, and get meetings with top officials just by asking -- without having to generate a protest first.
They also display great contempt for the public and openly discuss ways to manipulate people through fear and nationalism -- further shifting their image away from that of popular organizers. But war activists are not journalists, not researchers, not academics. They don't inform or educate. They advocate. They just advocate for something that most of the time, and increasingly, nobody wants.
William Kristol and Robert Kagan and their organization, the Foreign Policy Initiative, stand out as exemplary war activists. They've modified their tone slightly since the days of the Project for the New American Century, an earlier war activist organization. They talk less about oil and more about human rights. But they insist on U.S. domination of the world. They find any success by anyone else in the world a threat to the United States. And they demand an ever larger and more frequently used military, even if world domination can be achieved without it. War, for these war activists, is an end in itself. As was much more common in the 19th century, these agitators believe war brings strength and glory, builds character, and makes a nation a Super Power.
Kristol recently lamented U.S. public opposition to war. He does have cause for concern. The U.S. public is sick of wars, outraged by those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and insistent that new ones not be begun. In September, missile strikes into Syria were successfully opposed by public resistance. In February, a new bill to impose sanctions on Iran and commit the United States to joining in any Israeli-Iranian war was blocked by public pressure. The country and the world are turning against the drone wars.
The next logical step after ending wars and preventing wars would be to begin dismantling the infrastructure that generates pressure for wars. This hasn't happened yet. During every NCAA basketball game the announcers thank U.S. troops for watching from 175 nations. Weapons sales are soaring. New nukes are being developed. NATO has expanded to the edge of Russia. But the possibility of change is in the air. A new peace activist group at WorldBeyondWar.org has begun pushing for war's abolition.
Here's Kristol panicking:
"A war-weary public can be awakened and rallied. Indeed, events are right now doing the awakening. All that's needed is the rallying. And the turnaround can be fast. Only 5 years after the end of the Vietnam war, and 15 years after our involvement there began in a big way, Ronald Reagan ran against both Democratic dovishness and Republican détente. He proposed confronting the Soviet Union and rebuilding our military. It was said that the country was too war-weary, that it was too soon after Vietnam, for Reagan's stern and challenging message. Yet Reagan won the election in 1980. And by 1990 an awakened America had won the Cold War."
Here's Kagan, who has worked for Hillary Clinton and whose wife Victoria Nuland has just been stirring up trouble in the Ukraine as Assistant Secretary of State. This is from an article by Kagan much admired by President Barack Obama:
"As Yan Xuetong recently noted, 'military strength underpins hegemony.' Here the United States remains unmatched. It is far and away the most powerful nation the world has ever known, and there has been no decline in America's relative military capacity -- at least not yet."
This pair is something of a good-cop/bad-cop team. Kristol bashes Obama for being a wimp and not fighting enough wars. Kagan reassures Obama that he can be master of the universe if he'll only build up the military a bit more and maybe fight a couple more wars here and there.
The response from some Obama supporters has been to point out that their hero has been fighting lots of wars and killing lots of people, thank you very much. The response from some peace activists is to play to people's selfishness with cries to bring the war dollars home. But humanitarian warriors are right to care about the world, even if they're only pretending or badly misguided about how to help. It's OK to oppose wars both because they kill huge numbers of poor people far from our shores and because we could have used the money for schools and trains. But it's important to add that for a small fraction of U.S. military spending we could ensure that the whole world had food and clean water and medicine. We could be the most beloved nation. I know that's not the status the war activists are after. In fact, when people begin to grasp that possibility, war activism will be finished for good.
I've been hearing increasingly from multiple quarters that the root of our problems is psychopaths and sociopaths and other loosely defined but definitely different beings from ourselves. Rob Kall has produced a quite interesting series of articles and interviews on the subject.
I want to offer some words of caution if not respectful dissent. I don't think the "because chickenhawks" dissent found, for example, in John Horgan's "The End of War" is sufficient. That is to say, just because a politician doesn't want to do the killing himself or herself doesn't mean the decision to order killing in war, or in prison, or through poverty and lack of healthcare, or through climate change, isn't heartless and calculating. Psychopaths could be running our world from behind desks.
But are they?
When I look at national politicians in the United States -- presidents and Congress members -- I can't identify any meaningful place to draw a line such that sociopaths would be on one side and healthy people on the other. They all bow, to one degree or another, to corrupt influences. They all make bad compromises. There are differences in both policy positions and personal manners, but the differences are slight and spread along a continuum. They all fund the largest killing machine in history. The Progressive Caucus budget proposes slight increases in military spending, already at 57% of the discretionary budget. Some support wars on "humanitarian" and others on genocidal grounds, but the wars look the same from the receiving end either way.
The slightly better Congress members come from slightly better districts, have taken slightly less money, and begin with slightly more enlightened ideologies. Or at least that's true much of the time on many issues. Often, however, what makes the difference is personal experience. Senator Dianne Feinstein supports warrantless spying on everyone else, but objects when it's turned against her. Six years ago, Congressman Mike McNulty said he was voting against war funding because his brother had been killed in Vietnam. Weren't four million people killed there? Didn't many of them have brothers and sisters and other loved ones? Shouldn't we oppose mass murder even if nobody in our immediate family has died from mass murder? In Washington, no one is ashamed to explain their positions by their personal experiences; on the contrary, such rationales are deemed highly admirable -- and not just among a certain group who stand apart as the sociopaths.
The spectrum of morality in our elected officials ranges from those who often indicate their concern and their desire to help if their own careers won't suffer in any way, to those who take tentative stands for peace or justice if their own family is impacted, to those who talk a good line and always act against it, and all the way over to those who don't even put up a pretense. But all of this is within a culture where we routinely discuss the supposed need to "humanize" humans. That is to say, we teach each other that foreigners are made more human when we see their photos and learn their names and stories and the stories of their loved ones in some trivial detail -- as if we are supposed to imagine that people don't have names or quirks or loved ones until we get a specific account of those things.
When it was revealed that a bunch of TV news guest experts on war were actually getting their talking points from the Pentagon, there was no way to watch the videos and distinguish the corrupt pundits from the truly independent ones. They all talked the same. The mercenary fraudsters fit right in. It's the same with any sociopaths in Congress. They may be there, but how could one possibly spot the difference?
Kall raises the question of why people enjoy watching shows about sociopaths such as "House of Cards," and speculates that people admire sociopaths' ability to stay calm in crises, to express confidence, to project charisma, and to dominate and manipulate others. That's probably right. And such shows spread sociopathy by example. But there's also the function such shows serve of explaining (accurately or not) why our government is so bad. There's also the joy of hoping against hope that Vice President Underwood will land in prison where so many of his real-life colleagues belong. But watch the real-life "journalists" playing themselves on fictional TV interviews in these shows. They clearly don't imagine themselves as having any value that can be lost by such charades. Watch the advertisements for which many TV shows are filler, and you'll see politicians routinely describing their opponents as behaving sociopathically.
Some experts believe sociopaths make the best CEOs of large corporations. Everybody else recognizes that the CEOs of large corporations are given incentives to behave immorally, regardless of whether it impacts them emotionally in a typical manner or not. Also encouraged to behave immorally are presidents and Congress members.
Well-designed governments encourage good behavior and bar against the potential for evil. They treat 100% -- not 2% or 10% or 80% -- of elected officials as potential psychopaths. Elections are made open and verifiable. Bribery is forbidden. Powers are checked and balanced. Abuses are exposed and punished. Secrecy is curtailed and openness required. War powers are placed in a legislature or the public, or war abolished. Standing armies are disbanded. Profiteering and other conflicts of interest are avoided. Adversarial journalism is encouraged. Our government, in contrast, treats every elected official as a saint capable of overcoming all kinds of bribery and pressure to misbehave, while our culture encourages them and the rest of us to be anything but.
Many agree that we should reform our government, but is something else needed to handle the threat of sociopaths, in public and private life alike? Kall wants sociopaths to be identified and prevented from doing damage. He wants them treated as alleged sex offenders are, despite the horrible failings of that approach and the much greater difficulty in identifying who is and who is not a sociopath. Kall goes further, suggesting sterilization. He writes that he would have happily shot and killed Nazis; and in the next breath lists billionaire Americans he considers parasites -- later reassuring us that he doesn't want to kill them.
The identification process is not clear cut. Sociopathy seems to be something of a matter of degree, with some small degree reaching all of us. We allowed our government to destroy Iraq, killing some million people and making millions more refugees, and we talk about that war in terms of how many Americans were killed and how many dollars it cost, as if Iraq doesn't matter at all. Or we talk about the military investment that will generate more wars as if it were a jobs program. That behavior looks like sociopathy to others.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the quintessential non-sociopath on Capitol Hill, the one member who voted against launching the past dozen years of wars. But I was once in a room with her and other progressive members of Congress, relatively early in the Bush-Cheney rampage, proposing that impeachment be begun. Congresswoman Maxine Waters proposed opening an effort to impeach Vice President Cheney. Excitement gripped us. For an instant a few of us could imagine Congress pushing back against the lawlessness that has rolled on unimpeded to this day. And then Congresswoman Lee spoke up and said nobody had better do anything without getting approval from John Conyers. And that was that. Not sociopathy. But not pure principled morality either.
Studying the phenomenon of extreme cases at the other end of the spectrum from Rep. Lee is certainly desirable. What makes John McCain or Hillary Clinton tick? How could Dick Cheney contemplate ordering Americans to attack each other in the Straight of Hormuz in order to blame it on Iran and start a war? How could George W. Bush laugh off his lies about Iraq and claim it didn't matter? How could he proudly declare he would waterboard people again if given the chance? How could Barack Obama go to Copenhagen and intentionally and maliciously block any serious agreement to confront climate change? How could he pretend to know that Gadaffi was going to slaughter Benghazians or that Assad used chemical weapons, when evidence has emerged that he couldn't possibly have known any such things?
But if there have always been sociopaths everywhere, why are some societies doing more evil than others? Has the 95% of humanity that is currently investing dramatically less in war than the United States, identified and controlled its sociopaths? Or have they, rather, created less evil paths to power and influence? If a sociopath wants power and influence, why not give him or her a system in which good behavior is rewarded? In 1928 Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, who cared not a damn for peace, worked night and day for the peace treaty known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact because he saw rewards in that direction and told his wife he might get himself a Nobel Peace Prize. Had power lain in the direction of war-making, that's the direction Kellogg would have headed. If sociopaths make great propagandists, why not train better critical thinkers to see through the lies? Mentally healthy or not, our Congress members are holding off on bombing Syria or Iran because we've rejected the idea that doing so would improve things.
There is a danger, I think, in focusing on sociopaths' existence as the problem, of developing a cure as bad as the disease. Identifying a group of people to be targeted for discrimination, eugenics, imprisonment, or death seems like the habit of a culture that is itself more of a problem than are the genes of a small minority within it likely to be. What kind of a culture would produce such an idea? A sick one, I believe.
I agree with Kall that billionaires can be identified and their billions re-claimed. Excellent proposal! But not every immoral decider is a billionaire. Nor do I find it likely that every politician who promotes some evil practice can be diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath. Wouldn't it be easier to identify evil politicians by their evil deeds? What would be gained by identifying them instead as the sort of people likely to do something evil, and giving that category of people a scientific name? If an elected official fails to protect the environment, fails to advance peace and justice, fails to deal honestly and fairly with the people, he or she should be held accountable. If recognizing that such a person's emotions may not be functioning like ours helps us to reach them with our demands, terrific. But if it prevents us from reaching their emotions in a way that we might have, and from communicating our views more widely in the process, then it's hurting the cause of justice.
It's not as if we can't recognize the sociopaths coming. Molly Ivins warned us about Bush. He lost his election. Twice. Many of us warned about Obama. Twice. But Bush wasn't born destined to engage in extraordinary renditions. Obama wasn't born destined to drone-kill children on Tuesdays. Our entire system moves in that direction. Bush and Obama should be prosecuted and imprisoned, along with many of their colleagues -- as a step toward fixing the system. But their bodies shouldn't be studied for clues about whom to sterilize. Only a political culture already itself sterilized would think that was the solution.
Remarkably, the U.S. Army War College has published a report (PDF) that makes an overwhelming case against enlisting in the U.S. Army. The report, called "Civilian Organizational Inhibitors to U.S. Army Recruiting and the Road Ahead," identifies counter-recruitment organizations that effectively discourage young people from joining the military.
This is the highest honor the Army could give these groups, including Quaker House, the Mennonite Central Committee, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace, and Courage to Resist. Activists often disbelieve in the effectiveness of their own work until the government admits it explicitly. Well, here is that admission. And counter-recruitment activists really do seem to appreciate it.
No doubt someone quickly sent the report along to the NSA and the FBI. The report is, in fact, a few years old, and we have seen the government infiltrating at least some of the organizations named in it during the past few years.
But who really should be reading this excellent report is potential recruits. In laying out the arguments of the counter-recruitment groups and then trying to refute them, the report's author, Lieutenant Colonel Todd M. Jacobus, makes their case persuasively and his own weakly in the extreme. I'm not sure if this is intentional subterfuge, drug-induced self-parody, or just intellectual debility. Regardless, the government will have new appreciation for its standard disclaimer that says the views expressed are the author's alone.
"Hundreds of organizations throughout our Country [sic] have a negative influence on our recruiting efforts, using techniques and strategies that frequently depict professional military recruiters in an ill light, disillusion influencers and dissuade potential applicants from looking into military service as a viable option."
The typical Army reaction to any such challenge is, Jacobus says, to cut and run:
"Too often, the tactic of our recruiting force when engaged by a hostile force, is to break contact, and re-focus efforts and resources where those hostile to military recruitment are less likely to be confronted, and therefore where success is more likely."
Jacobus calls the Army "all-volunteer" before noting the absurdity of that claim:
"The manner in which the Quaker House illustrates their support for their Quaker ideals is by endeavoring to hurt our Army's recruiting and retention efforts by: 1. providing reference material to potential Soldiers and centers of influence that negatively portrays the military recruiter and the enlistment process; 2. counseling enlistees in the delayed entry program on how they can terminate their enlistment; 3. counseling Soldiers on active duty on how to adjudicate their situation when they are in an unexcused absence or absent without leave status; 4. counseling to Soldiers on how they can quickly adjudicate a conscientious objector status with the Army; 5. providing expertise to Soldiers on discharge procedures and regulations."
Surely a volunteer service would not require such elaborate assistance for someone attempting to stop volunteering.
Jacobus presents the arguments of counter-recruiters at some length and never counters most of them in any way at all:
"Quaker House publishes and widely distributes a document entitled, 'Meet Sgt. Abe, the Honest Recruiter'. This pamphlet emphasizes that the applicant needs to thoroughly read and understand the enlistment contract before signing the document. The pamphlet draws attention to the fact that the Army can at will extend an enlistment indefinitely, that 'Recruiters make "sweet promises" that the Army is not required to deliver'. The pamphlet draws attention to the fact that serving in the Army is 'not a normal job', and that 'you can be sent to war'. The final few pages give our impressionable applicant some 'things to think about', included in this list is that 'much military training is NOT useful in civilian jobs'; that 'many Vets suffer LONG-TERM physical and psychological damage: PTSD, "Gulf War Syndrome"', that 'Women in the military face a HIGH RISK of sexual harassment and rape'; that 'military life is hard on families with higher rates of domestic abuse and divorce', that 'there are long delays in getting veterans benefits'; that 'dozens of Soldiers are killed and hundreds are wounded every month'. Finally, Sgt Abe warns the potential Soldier to, 'think HARD before you sign – your life could be at stake.'"
In addition, a Mennonite Central Committee flyer
"highlights the fact that most students enlist in order for education benefits, and suggests that a student will NOT get the amount of money promised by their recruiter. The flier emphasizes that these students will be trained and expected to kill on the field of battle, and that the guidance counselor should ensure that there is an understanding of this expectation. The Mennonite Central Committee highlights on their 'ask a veteran' web site link the very negative opinions of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. All of the individuals highlighted regret having served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and provide a variety of reasons. These reasons include the following: serving in the military is incompatible with following Jesus; basic training is de-humanizing; the military trains soldiers to hate entire groups of people; soldiers do not show sadness in removing evil, but instead rejoice in the opportunity to kill; the military makes every effort to rob what is inside a person; people for whom we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan do not want us there; I came to the determination that love is stronger than fear, hate, suffering, and death. The veteran testimonials ranged from their description of the sincere sorrow that followed the death of a comrade to the frustrations of not being able to do more for a soldier in need. In all cases they describe how they eventually came to see our presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places as illegal, and against their convictions."
A Veterans For Peace video, the report helpfully tells us, (in reality the video is the work of a number of organizations):
"begins with video from the United States Army Recruiting Command, where a recruiter comments that, 'just because you get deployed doesn't mean you will end up in the Middle East or Iraq' – followed quickly by an applicant saying, 'if I were to get mobilized, it wouldn't be a whole big ordeal'. These comments are quickly retorted by a Soldier who had been severely injured in an improvised explosive device in Iraq, his mother providing an overview of her son's injuries. Next, a Marine veteran of Vietnam addresses the invincibility of being a Marine ending as soon as one engages in combat, and that 'all of the myths and lies' that a recruit has been told are 'over'. This is followed by a stepmother talking about her stepson being killed in Fallujah, and the fact that he was only 19 years old when he enlisted, and therefore he could not know what he would face in Iraq. Next, there is an excerpt from a U.S. Army Recruiting Command video of a recruit talking about joining for the educational benefits. Several veterans then discuss the smoking mirrors [sic] associated with educational benefits. There is a claim that 'on average the Montgomery GI Bill will only cover 1⁄2 the cost of a public college and 1/5 the cost of a private college'. Further, they communicate a message that Soldiers in the Reserve Components of the U.S. Army are prevented from using education benefits due to repeated deployments. And, by the time a Soldier completes two and three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are in no shape to go to college. A former Reservist says that because he cannot use GI Bill benefits after being discharged that the government is not fulfilling their obligation to him. The video transitions to a recruit saying that he is joining the U.S. Army because, 'service will help me in civilian life'. This transitions immediately to a young man who served in Iraq who says, 'I'm a great killer; I know how to blow up bridges and buildings, and people, and how to dismantle mines'; this same young man says that the Army prepared him to be a custodian. Another veteran commenting that she was absolutely lost after leaving the service, and worked menial jobs for many years, and still does not have a direction. The video then transitions to a Vietnam veteran talking about his transition from Southeast Asia to his life here in the United States, and his homeless lifestyle of panhandling for three years. The video shows a statistic that 'the VA estimates on any given night 200,000 veterans are homeless'. The video includes an interview of a former Recruiter, who indicates that he was trained to cover up one-time drug offenses, and to do what it takes to enlist applicants into the service. The video shows a statistic that 'the Government Accounting Office reports 6,600 complaints of recruiting wrongdoing during a one year period.' Cindy Sheehan, whose son, SPC Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq, said that her son's recruiter told her that 'even if there was a war, he would not see combat'. She clearly communicates on the video that Recruiters will tell a recruit anything in order to get their signature on a contract. Further, this contract binds the recruit, but not the United States government. There is a comment that 'since the start of the Iraq War the Army has extended the enlistment of more than 50,000 troops through "stop loss"'."
Of course you could just watch the above video, rather than reading the play-by-play produced on your dime, but I want to make clear that Jacobus recounts all of these claims without ever refuting them. "Counter-recruiting organizations," he writes, "present as evidence Youtube videos, web page links, and newspaper articles highlighting sexual misconduct and criminal activity by Army Recruiters. Their messages highlight our Recruiters lying to applicants, encouraging applicants to lie on their medical and criminal history, promises of bonus money that never come, promises of education benefits that are grossly exaggerated, and promises of state-side duty with no likelihood for service overseas." Jacobus follows this summary of well-documented charges, just as he does several others, with vague platitudes and generalized assertions about the mental states of all Army recruiters: "Our Army's Recruiters are interested in people, have had positive experiences in our Army, and want to share these experiences, and present the same opportunities to our next generation of Soldiers." Golly gee, no kidding? All of them? You wouldn't insult our intelligence, would you, Sir?
To counter extensive evidence that the military does not prepare a lot of people for jobs, Jacobus just asserts that the military makes people leaders (with no evidence that this finds them jobs).
In other cases, Jacobus summarizes the charges against recruiters and the military, and then immediately admits that they are true:
"Counter-recruiter groups' messages implore potential Soldiers to consider that they will be trained to kill, they will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they will live and serve in austere conditions, and they will see destruction and death of both friends and innocent people. They challenge potential Soldiers to visit a hospital and see those who suffer the effects of physical and psychological damage as a result of service in America‘s Army. Counter-recruiting organizations highlight the increasing domestic abuse and divorce rate present in Army families. Many of the issues raised by these counter-recruiting organizations are based on truths, although in a quite negative manner."
The truth is notoriously biased against positive depictions of mass-murder.
Similarly, on sexual assault, Jacobus recommends admitting it happens, but then asserting that every member of the U.S. military follows a code of ethics -- which apparently allows killing people and/or sexually assaulting your fellow ethical beings. Jacobus goes on to make a serious claim, namely that a college campus is the most dangerous place for sexual assaults, not the military. But clearly there are studies finding the opposite. And a separate question is the quality of the environment for recovering from (and seeking accountability for) sexual assault in the military versus on a college campus.
After writing as if we had limited intelligence for two-dozen pages, Jacobus present the "myth" that the military requires limited intelligence, in order to debunk it. But, of course, the military does not require limited intelligence; it requires limited independence of thought, which is only one particular type of intelligence.
Jacobus spends remarkably few words putting up an argument in favor of enlistment. He suggests that recruiters should counter nasty talk of dying with reassurances about medical support. Of course, that medical support is the reason so many troops are surviving without arms and legs and other, um, appendages. The author also suggests that recruiters claim (without any provided basis or explanation) that the military is defensive and that it defends "freedom." That's not what top members of the U.S. military say. It's also not what the people of the world say.
Moving on into the realm of self-parody, Jacobus recommends talking about 9-11 a lot, and then a bit more, and then maybe a little extra. And he proposes expanding on that theme by depicting the world as a permanent source of irrational terrorists out to attack the United States for no reason. Why there are no anti-Norwegian terrorist networks or anti-Anybody-Else terrorist networks is never explained. The Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 is presented as evidence of the permanent senseless presence of anti-U.S. terrorism in the world, with no reference to the 1953 U.S. overthrow of Iran's democracy and the imposition of a vicious U.S.-backed dictator from 1953 to 1979. Jacobus offers another dozen similar examples of terrorism and alleged terrorism, all completely context free. Of course, U.S. interference in people's countries cannot justify terrorism, but it goes a great distance toward explaining it. Only by pretending that militarism does not produce terrorism, can anyone continue promoting militarism as a supposed defense against terrorism.
Delving deeply into self-parody, Jacobus holds up Colin Powell (who took a laughable case for attacking Iraq to the U.N. which rejected it) as the absolute authority on honest straight talk about why the U.S. is not aggressive or imperialistic. He quotes Powell baselessly making that claim and then skipping back over 70 years of contrary evidence to claim that after World War II the United States did not "ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe." Well, except Germany. Oh, and the need for military bases in all the other countries. And let's not forget Japan and Korea.
Jacobus claims that members of the military are not disproportionately from poor backgrounds, and indeed some studies seem to back him up. And, indeed, most members of the military, when asked if they joined to "serve their country" answer yes. But three-quarters also say they joined for education benefits, which makes one wonder what the impact on recruitment would be if the United States made education free or affordable the way other nations do. And, if that happened, what would be the further effect on susceptibility to Pentagon propaganda of a populace with a higher education level?
The following, unlike Jacobus' report, is known with certainty to be a parody. I produced it.