Category Archives: Book Review

Answering the Mysterious Call of An Artist’s Spiritual Vocation

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.

— Kabir, “To Be a Slave of Intensity”

Strange how a man
Can enter your life
Just like that: a knock
Out of nowhere
And you’ve slipped away
To a rendezvous with destiny
That always awaited you.

— EJC, “The Birth and Death of Trauma”

Myths and popular tales, like life, are replete with accounts of those not answering the call, of locking the door to their hearts and shutting themselves up in sterile and safe lives where the rest of the world is not even an afterthought, where others suffer and die because of one’s indifference.  Answering can be very dangerous, for it can take you on a journey from which you may never return, surely, at least, as the same person.  Only the courageous heed the call.

When Carolyn Forché, a twenty-seven year old naïve academic poet living in the San Diego area, miraculously answered the call of a Salvadorian stranger named Leonel Gómez Vides, who showed up at her door out of the blue, to go to El Salvador, a country she knew very little about but to which he said war was coming and her poet’s eye was needed, she acted intuitively and bravely from her deep soul’s murmurings and said yes, not knowing why or where she was heading except into the unknown.

This memoir, a souvenir of hope and terror and a call to resistance, a poet’s lucid dreaming between childhood and an adult awakening, invites the reader to examine one’s life and conscience through language that emulates our living experience as it strains toward meaning through a wandering dialectical consciousness that weaves the past present with the present past and lucid dreaming with the waking state. One experiences this book as one does life, not, as the French existentialist Gabriel Marcel, has said, “as a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”  It is impossible to adequately “review” a book that breathes.  One can only conspire with it to uncover the conspiracy of silence that is American government propaganda.

For at the heart of this mystery are facts, which Forché describes in graphic detail, the truth of how the United States government has long been doing the devil’s murderous work in El Salvador, throughout Latin America and the world, as current events confirm.  Forché asks us to enter into her memories not to wax nostalgic, but to wake to the truth of today.  The truth that little has changed and the past was prologue.  The U.S. is still “Murder Incorporated,” and Americans must see this clearly, and resist.

Carolyn’s “Yes” to the enigmatic stranger Leonel, so I sense from her reveries, was the fruit of a seed of faith planted when she was a child of ten or so in Michigan.

The girl I once was, who had been a Catholic, woke for the bells of the Angelus at six in the morning, Angelus Domini.  I sang to myself as I walked to morning Mass under a canopy of maples, through a wetland of swamp cabbage and red-winged blackbirds, the quiet, low Mass where it was possible to pray in peace, with the Latin liturgy a murmur in the air….I felt at peace in the church, on the padded kneeler near the stained-glass windows depicting the seven sorrows along the west wall, the seven joys along the east….When I knelt beside them, the floor, the pews, and my own body were quilted in colored light.

But she tells Leonel that she has “fallen” because she no longer attends Mass.

Leonel, a “non-believer” who says “I believe with my life, how I live,” tells her about Padre Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who was murdered with an old man and a boy by the U.S. trained and supported Salvadorian death-squads.  “God that Padre Grande taught was not up in the sky lying in some damn cloud hammock.  This was a God who expected us to be brothers and sisters and to make of earth a just place.”

This was her introduction to a new theology, a way of connecting her spiritual core from a conservative Catholic childhood piety to the liberation theology that created Christian base communities of the poor and persecuted in El Salvador and other Latin American countries.  Dissident Christianity. True Christianity. When she went to El Salvador soon thereafter, not only did the poet leave the quiet of her study where her work might have revolved around herself, but the little girl left the church building to discover, as a changed woman, Christ among the poor and persecuted in the living world.

One night she meets a man in the shadows of such a Christian base community where a few of its members had been killed and dismembered by the government death squads.  His pseudonym is Inocencio.  “You can say Chencho,” he tells her.  At first he thinks she is a nun, (“although,“ as a girl, “I considered that vocation.”) because she smokes, and some of the foreign nuns smoke and don’t dress in traditional habits.  He asks her why she is there and she says, “You know, I’m not sure.”  She then explains how an unnamed person invited her to come to see the truth for herself because war was coming, and when she returned to the United States to “explain the reasons for the war to the North Americans, because my friend tells me that this will be important, that the real reasons be known, so that the people of the United States understand.”

Chencho is a catechist who secretly moves under darkness of night from one small Christian base community to another, encouraging the campesinos to keep the faith because God is with them, la gente, los pobres, the people, the poor.  He says to Carolyn:

Listen to me, hermana.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and Christ is moving through the world now, through us.  He is acting through us in the struggle against injustice, poverty, and oppression.  To be with God now is to choose the fate of the poor, to be with them, to see through their eyes and feel through their hearts, and if this means torture and death, we accept.  We are already in the grave.

Later, Leonel takes her to visit a friend who is in a prison from hell where men are tortured in padlocked wooden boxes the size of washing machines.  Afterwards she vomits. Then they go to visit a dirt poor young mother give birth in a casita in which there was nothing, “really nothing: a candle, a plastic basin, a ladle hanging against the wall, and, in the candlelight, the shadow of a wooden chair dancing on the wall.”

I followed him [Leonel] through the darkness into a passage, then through a door lit by a candle and, by the light of it, saw people gathered and one of them, someone, took me by the hand and drew me into the circle surrounding a young woman who was lying on her side on a blanket on the floor, her head propped in her hand.  There was a cardboard box beside her, and in the box, a newborn girl with her hair still wet, lying in a towel.  Leonel was looking at me from across the room.  ‘She was born about a half hour ago,’ a young man beside me whispered.  ‘She’s early.  We’re going to name her Alma. Bellisima!’

Then it is on through night to meet with four young impoverished men who read their “political” poems for her, written under pseudonyms for fear for their lives, poems they hope might stir the hearts of people in the United States.

That night I knew something had changed for me, and that I wasn’t going to get tired or need a shower or want to call something off so I could rest, and I hoped that if I forgot this I would somehow remember Alma in the cardboard box in the barrio, and the mimeographed poems….The woman who went into the prison in Ahuachapán left herself behind in a barrio called La Fosa, the grave.

The naïve young poet is buried and the political poet of witness is born.  It is impossible not to be deeply moved and nourished by such a birth.  Who, I wonder, are the “fallen” ones?  What is writing for?  What good are poets?  Why say yes to a stranger’s request when it is so much easier to not answer the knock on the door?  So much easier to barricade ourselves behind walls of denial and say “me first.”  So much easier to ignore the truth that this book reveals: that the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and our society rests on keeping the poor poor and under the vicious thumbs of the rich.

The world is filled with writers who witness only to their imprisonment in their own egos.  When Carolyn Forché said yes to Leonel and then returned from El Salvador to write “political” poems such as “The Colonel,” she was attacked by writers wishing a poet would stay in her box and not disturb their universe.  That she was not like them angered them, J. Alfred Prufrocks who were not going to come back from the dead to tell us all as she has, poets who had time on their hands to neurotically contemplate their navels with their fellow Americans:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Having heard Leonel’s descriptions of “the silence of misery endured” and the American supported death-squads massacring impoverished Salvadorians, she tells us:

I knew that if I didn’t accept his invitation, I could never live as if I would have been willing to do something, should an opportunity have presented itself.  I could never say to myself: If only I’d had the chance.  This was, I knew, my chance.

Wasn’t such a daring decision by this “fallen” poet the quintessence of the creative act, exactly what inspired artists do when they see the act of writing as an adventure into the unknown where startling truths wait to reveal themselves to the unsuspecting author?  A journey fraught with danger and delight, perhaps delightful danger or dangerous delight, but always ready to surprise with hidden truths that might unlock the prison gates that enclose the world in suffering and pain? Does not the artist proceed into this alien territory armed only with a fierce faith in the power of truth to reveal its face and so strengthen us through disarmament?  Doesn’t a poet trust in a power greater than herself and know what she wishes to say only in the act of saying it?  Isn’t real writing a transmission between the creative spirit and the world of flesh and blood, the living and the dead, a visionary opening into the future where freedom beckons?

Carolyn somehow knew this then and now, and her memoir is the result, a haunting trip into the past to liberate the present.  “The strange, mysterious, perhaps dangerous, perhaps redeeming comfort that there is in writing,” wrote Kafka in his diary.  Perhaps there are certain writings that cannot be adequately reviewed but must be experienced. As I said, I think What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance is such a book.  How do you review a prayer and a mystery?  You must enter them if you are willing.

Carolyn, drawing on the uncanny spirit of her mystical, Gypsy-spirited Czechoslavian grandmother Anna (“I will get Anna out of you if it’s the last thing I do” her mother told her, to no avail), chose to develop her “legitimate strangeness,” as the French poet René Char urged, heeding his words that “what comes into the world to disturb nothing merits neither attention or patience.”  Disturbed and perplexed by the stranger’s tales and her former husband’s experiences in Vietnam and the United Sates’ savage war there, as well as by her mystical Catholic childhood’s faith and its tug of conscience, she joins the mysterious Leonel in El Salvador.

To those ensconced in instrumental rationality, her decision seems insane. However, instrumental rationality is insane, and it has taken us to the brink of nuclear extinction.  It is to the poet’s truth we should turn.  The data-driven instrumental rationalists have given us WW I, II, Auschwitz, Vietnam, the CIA, death squads, Iraq, Syria, etc. – should I give you numbers, list it all, do the logic?  When has such logic convinced the disbelievers?  Logicians don’t trust the soul’s promptings and, like Carolyn, take a chance, take a leap of faith.  They do calculations, follow computer models, and dare not enter the world outside if they are told there is a 60% chance of rain.  And if they are told the sun will shine and all will be well with the world, but a hard rain does fall and the poet shouts there is blood on our hands, they act shocked.  Always shocked at the truth that was there from the start.  If only we had known.

Is it any wonder so many Americans are depressed?

For Carolyn, the child of Czechoslovakian ancestry, the German holocaust atrocities haunted her, and she grew up suffering from periodic depressions that would lift once she felt the urge to do something about the injustices she saw. The urge to act for others freed her from wallowing in depression.  Rather than becoming a nun, she became a poet, and when Leonel told her that an American poet was needed to witness the truth of the American supported atrocities in El Salvador, she trusted the spirit to lead her on, not knowing why this might be so.  What use are poets, she wondered, in the U.S. poetry “doesn’t matter.”  She would soon help change that.

There is an old Catholic prayer that goes like this: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

Might such words have bubbled up from her unconscious?  I have long felt it was a prayer for poets as well as the religiously faithful – are not all inspired together?  Is there a difference?  “I believe in the magic and authority of words,” said Char, the French resistance fighter.  Witness and resistance.  Words.  Poetry.  Prayers.

It is best that I not tell you too much about Leonel.  You will wonder about him, and you will wonder with Carolyn what her relationship with him is all about.  You will discover his essence in the reading. You will learn that he once said to Carolyn that “it isn’t the risk of death and fear of danger that prevent people from rising up, it is numbness, acquiescence, and the defeat of the mind.  Resistance to oppression begins when people realize deeply within themselves that something better is possible.”  You might, like me, question whether this is true only for the most oppressed, or whether it applies to Americans whose lives depend on the subjugation of others in foreign lands.

You will be terrified to learn of the death squads, the brutality and cold-bloodedness of their murders, and Forché’s close escapes as they hunted her.  You will feel her fear.

You will learn of the courageous women who befriend her, her meeting with Archbishop Oscar Romero the week before he is assassinated while saying Mass and Carolyn has left the country at his urging, and you too will be lost in reveries as you travel between worlds of night and day, wealth and poverty, life and death, now and then.

If you are like me, you will be inspired by what the poet Char called “wisdom with tear-filled eyes.”  This book is just that.  It is a call to Americans to face the truth and resist.

Born of Frustration

A few weeks ago, days before the release of his first nonfiction book, White, Bret Easton Ellis was ambushed—or “punked,” as he later put it—by the New Yorker. In an interview that reads like a cross-examination, “Q and A” specialist Isaac Chotiner bombards the Glamorama author (that, not American Psycho, is his best novel) with questions about his views on Donald Trump, making his derision known with surly demands and sarcastic responses to Ellis’ rather feeble efforts to explain himself. “Tell me what you meant.” “That’s not true, but OK.” “Oh, OK.” “Do you think [Trump] is a racist or not?” “Well, you said it—of course you agree.” “Yeah, I could tell.” When Ellis says he thinks politics are “ridiculous,” Chotiner counsels, “Maybe don’t write a book about it,” and closes the exchange with a gallant “Thanks so much for talking.”

New Yorker subscribers—I’m told they exist—could be forgiven for coming away with the impression that White is a sort of Coulterian apologia for Donald Trump and his vile brand of politics. If it were that, Chotiner’s prosecutor act might be warranted, albeit not on journalistic grounds. But since Ellis’ book is nothing of the sort, we can assume that Chotiner either didn’t read it or read it, disliked it, and decided to mislead his readers as to its content. Either way he seems satisfied with himself; good for him. In fact, White is a sprawling and at times rambling social critique, the tone and subject matter of which will be familiar to anyone who has listened to Ellis’ podcast or read his handful of essays. Donny Boy makes his first appearance on page 141, more than halfway through the book. He’s discussed for 25 pages, dropped for another 100, and then summoned again, with Kayne West for context, in the last 20 pages. Forty-five of 260 pages have anything to do with Trump. Yet the book is about Trump—a marvelous feat.

The Trump sections are not White’s finest. Ellis is at sea when commenting on politics, which is why he bases most of his arguments on the irrationality he observes in other people—mostly his friends and acquaintances—who are equally at sea but don’t appear to realize it. He writes at length, oftentimes amusingly, of his much younger boyfriend’s Trump-induced crack-up. For example, “During the months after the election I could count the number of times my inconsolable boyfriend had left the condo—and didn’t need more than two hands to tally them up. His hair became long and tousled, he hadn’t shaved for months, and he also developed three nonopiate addictions: Russian conspiracies as discussed on Reddit, Rachel Maddow detailing Russian conspiracy theories on MSNBC, and playing Final Fantasy XV.” Also, “At times he resembled a bedraggled and enraged Russian peasant, ranting and stomping around the condo, MSNBC blaring, yelling ‘Piece of shit!’ whenever Trump’s visage appeared on the TV screen in the living room.”

“He was part of the supposed resistance,” Ellis writes, “though too tired and stoned to actually go out and resist.” This is both funny and insightful, as it reflects the sheer uselessness of a political “resistance” whose definition of activism is to rant and rave about the latest anti-Russian conspiracy theory, dreamed up by Democratic hacks and disseminated by out-of-control propagandists like Rachel Maddow, on Facebook and Twitter. There’s a reason The Resistance is the object of ridicule among leftists who tune into MSNBC only when they feel like torturing themselves. (I don’t have a TV and so am unable to indulge my own masochistic impulses.)

Ellis is, as he would probably tell you, a political idiot. Evidence: “in the summer of 2015 something began to distract me, something odd was happening, something didn’t seem right: the mainstream news that I had read and mostly trusted my entire adult life, legacy institutions like The New York Times and CNN, wasn’t tracking what seemed to me a shifting reality.” “At some point I found it distracting to be living in a country whose press had become so biased and highly corporate.” A flash of the old satire? No, he means it. Presumably Ellis has never read Manufacturing Consent or any of the other numerous studies detailing the corporate media’s … difficult relationship with reality. The “legacy media,” as Ellis terms them, certainly have a legacy—so too does Charles Manson.

With that written, Ellis makes valid points here and there. “Surely there were people—DACA recipients, or the targets of ICE raids—who had a right to freak out, but the white, upper middle class in colleges, in Hollywood, in the media, and in Silicon Valley? … The rich and entitled liberals I knew always had the hardest time and were always the most hysterical.” There is something rich about filthy rich Hollywood types (Ellis, employing a right-wing tactic, erroneously brands them “the Left”) throwing temper tantrums over Trump. They’re the same people who sang Obama’s praises while he smashed Libya, bailed out Wall Street, set a new record for deportations and expanded our nuclear weapons systems. They’re also the same people who were glad to hobnob with Don the business celebrity, who was no less vulgar and objectionable than Don the president.

“The young men, Wall Street guys, I hung out with as part of my initial research [for American Psycho] were enthralled by him,” Ellis recalls. “Trump was an inspirational figure, which troubled me in 1987 and 1988 and 1989, and also why he’s mentioned more than forty times in the novel. He’s who Bateman is obsessed with, the daddy he never had, the man he wants to be.”

The writing was on the wall in the ‘80s. Trump was always a scourge. Ellis saw it; many other people did not. Now he’s accused of being blind to Trump’s malignancy. This hypocrisy evidently winds him up and goes some way in accounting for his anti-anti-Trump stance. Mostly, though, Ellis is simply irritated that Trump’s election has made it difficult for him to talk with other people about the things about which he’s passionate:

My moral ambivalence about politics in general has always left me the neutral guest at many tables. As a writer I found myself more interested in understanding my friends’ thoughts and feelings than in debating the accuracy of their political forecasts or who should have won the Electoral College, or if it should even exist. I preferred, as always, to talk with them about movies and books and music and TV shows.

He relates at least half a dozen anecdotes about dinner dates spoiled by crazed political tirades. On one such date, Ellis was read the riot act by two old friends who were appalled to learn of his insouciance re Trump. “One of them said the Electoral College was ‘bullshit’ [it is] and that Los Angeles and New York should determine who ‘the fucking president’ is. ‘I don’t want any goddamn know-nothing rural hicks deciding who the president should be,’ he growled. ‘I am a proud liberal coastal elite and I think we should pick the president because we know better.’” Foul, but standard upper class rhetoric. Another meal was wrecked by a spat over Moonlight and Black Lives Matter. “Sometimes,” Ellis admits, “when listening to friends of mine, I’d stare at them while a tiny voice in the back of my head started sighing, You are the biggest fucking baby I’ve ever fucking heard in my entire fucking life and please you’ve got to fucking calm the fuck down—I get it, I get it, you don’t like fucking Trump but for fuck’s sake enough already for fuck’s sake.

White is born of this frustration. If Ellis can no longer discuss his interests with friends, he’s going to discuss them with himself—and anyone who cares to read him. Thus, we get long (sometimes painfully so) meditations on all his abiding hobby-horses, as well as a few from his past. Large columns of text are dedicated to the pernicious impact Ellis says social media is having on society, tying this into his triad of “cults”—likability, inclusivity and victimhood—as well as his “reputation economy.” He laments the reluctance of his podcast guests, especially actors, to air their opinions publicly, arguing that in today’s outrage-prone culture one is perpetually walking on eggshells, worried about hurting other people’s feelings and provoking a digital lynch mob. Earlier he asserts that “we’ve all become actors. We’ve had to rethink the means with which to express our feelings and thoughts and ideas and opinions in the void created by a corporate culture that is forever trying to silence us by sucking up everything human and contradictory and real with its assigned rule book on how to behave. We seem to have entered precariously into a kind of totalitarianism that actually abhors free speech and punishes people for revealing their true selves.”

In support of this theory Ellis cites his GLAAD dust-up, Milo Yiannopoulos, the Charlie Hebdo attacks, his Twitter troubles and, of course, the row surrounding the publication of American Psycho. Ellis still maintains that said row blindsided him, writing that the prospect had never occurred to him until his then-boyfriend, perusing a gory bit of the manuscript, warned him: “You’re going to get into trouble.” I think we can take him at his word at this point. If nothing else, and regardless of what you think of him or his writing, Ellis can and should be commended for his unswerving defense of free speech, without which we have nothing. That individuals and organizations posturing as liberal attempted to impose prior restraint on a work of fiction at the tail end of the 20th century is still unnerving to contemplate. Ellis was right to feel persecuted—an attack on one person’s right to free speech is an attack on everyone’s. In case anyone forgot:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Needless to say, there’s plenty in White about contemporary film (Ellis’ main obsession), including a prolix segment comparing Moonlight with the lesser known King Kobra. Ellis prefers the latter since it depicts a group of knotty characters who happen to be, among other things, gay (i.e. their sexuality is incidental to their story; it’s a, not the, theme), whereas Moonlight deploys homosexuality as a narrative propeller and instrument of extreme pathos, rendering the protagonist a righteous, victimized, character—a tragic hero for the postmodernist age. I haven’t watched King Kobra, but I more or less agree with Ellis’ assessment of Moonlight, namely, that its success owes more to its political (Ellis would say “ideological”) utility than its aesthetic value. This signals a peculiar shift in the way we, as a culture, consume and rate works of art. “The only way you can judge Wagner or Beethoven or any other composer,” novelist Anthony Burgess argued, “is aesthetically. We don’t regard Wagner or Beethoven or Shakespeare or Milton as great teachers.” By “don’t” he means shouldn’t. History is replete with evidence that great art does not presuppose a moral superiority on the part of the artist—the two things have nothing to do with one another. A very bad person can make very good art and vice versa, a truism fewer and fewer people seem willing to accept.

For Ellis, Moonlight also highlights an issue he has with popular media representations of the gay celebrity: “as some kind of saintly, adorable ET whose sole purpose is to remind us only about tolerance and our prejudices, to encourage us to feel good about ourselves and to serve as a symbol.” He points to Morrissey as an exception, “calling out contradictions and hypocrisies in society yet he always seems to be chastised by the press and on social media because he’s speaking honestly and doesn’t buy into the accepted narrative of the Applebee’s Gay.” But Morrissey, similar to Gore Vidal (described favorably by Ellis as an “I-don’t-give-a-fuck Empire celebrity”), has always rejected the gay-straight dichotomy and has never identified as homosexual, stating on more than one occasion that the concept is beneath him. “Unfortunately, I am not homosexual,” he wrote in 2013. “In technical fact, I am humasexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course, not many.” Morrissey’s views on sex are more in time with remarks made by a TV producer whom Ellis obliquely criticizes in White:

A few years ago when a viewer complained to Shonda Rhimes, a top TV producer and showrunner, that there was too much  gay sex on certain series she had created, Rhimes shot back, wagging her finger, that what people were seeing was not “gay sex” but simply “sex.” Some of us scratched our heads—it was? … I understood what Rhimes was going for, but this notion that all sex is the same and we shouldn’t label any of it as being “different” for fear that we aren’t being “inclusive” enough is a nice “progressive” idea that in reality serves no purpose whatsoever.

That notwithstanding, Ellis shares with Morrissey a certain disdain for modern culture, in particular the restraints not-so-subtly being placed on speech and expression by an overzealous liberal media. As natural contrarians, both artists delight in goading their critics, to the point where they probably caricature their own positions. Ellis, for his part, confirms as much, confessing that he likes using “snowflake” as an epithet “because it seemed, amazingly, to press so many buttons.” Also, with regard to his behavior on Twitter:

Now I was trolling. And my desire was to have a good time, to be a provocative, somewhat outrageous and opinionated critic, to be a bad boy, a douche, to lead my own dance in this writers’ funhouse—all in 140 characters or less—and it became a problem for my Twitter self.

Nonfiction Ellis is most readable in autobiographical form (one tires of his polemical style). Memoir punctuates White. We’re given small intimate glimpses into various periods of his life. Growing up, he had a penchant for bloody horror films—shocking—and an infatuation with Richard Gere—shocking again. He writes nostalgically and with unabashed pride of his “pessimistic and ironic” Gen-X upbringing, which he contends is the polar opposite of the millennial experience:

As a 1970s kid there were no helicopter parents: you navigated the world more or less on your own, an exploration unaided by parental authority. In retrospect my parents, like the parents of the friends I grew up with, seemed incredibly nonchalant about us, not at all like parents today who document their children’s every move on Facebook and pose them on Instagram and urge them into safe spaces and demand only positivity while apparently trying to shelter them from everything. If you came of age in the 1970s this was most definitely not your childhood. The world wasn’t about kids yet.

He goes on to declare, as he has many times before, that overweening parents have created a generation of people—“Generation Wuss”—ill-equipped to stand the failure, disappointment and cruelty that define human existence. While I feel no inclination, let alone responsibility, to defend “my generation,” Ellis makes sweeping generalities about millennials that bear little, if any, resemblance to my own experiences and observations. Most of the millennials I know and have known are cynical and sardonic, avidly apolitical, and never harbored any illusions about what life was preparing to throw at them. When Ellis describes his teenage acquaintances, I’m reminded of my own. Of course, I’ve also known the sort of melodramatic and frail “snowflakes” he derides, but they were of a minority, at least in my world (which was garden-variety suburban middle-class), and something tells me the same type of cosseted, thin-skinned kids could be located in previous generations. Moreover, the corporate liberal order he rails against for its preening self-righteousness was engineered by his, not my, generation, though mine is happy to take up the reins.

Early in the book Ellis tells of the nightmare that was the production of the film adaptation of his debut novel Less Than Zero. Nightmare productions would become a recurring theme in his professional life. It seems he toiled over countless TV and film projects that came to naught. Few were produced, none of which did anything financially—nor were they well-received. Even American Psycho: The Musical, slowly developed over a period of ten years, closed “after eighty-one performances including a month of previews, at a cost of fourteen million dollars that was never recouped.” And it was supposed to be “lucrative.” That such a successful writer meets with such regular failure is less consoling than it is depressing. But I digress.

In recounting the production of The Informers, a 2008 film based on Ellis’ short story collection of the same name, Ellis reveals that he’d “fallen for” an actor who was after a role in the movie. This actor thought it might be worthwhile to string Ellis along, and so he did. Reflecting on his realization that “maybe that actor you’ve become intimate with is only that: an actor,” Ellis writes that “The mutual degradation that revealed itself to me was a kind of absurd Hollywood joke without a punch line, one that, years later, I’m thankful for.” The bruising encounter is poignant to read because of the honest and neutral (and implicit) fashion in which it’s related. It’s also interesting in that it shows us the other side of the showbiz exploitation coin: instead of predatory producers, directors, writers manipulating and abusing vulnerable actors, we see the process working in reverse: a sly actor exploits a writer who pays an emotional price. Ellis’ recollection of his troubled life in the summer preceding 9/11 is equally poignant, again because it’s told simply and objectively, with minimal exhibitionism and no self-pity attached.

Nor was I able to pick up on any of the self-aggrandizement charged by some of the book’s detractors. White is predictably being savaged in certain corners of the internet. It is, according to one reviewer, “disingenuous,” “bait,” “childish” and “shapeless,” its author “a racist and a misogynist” with a “laughably derivative vocabulary”—to be contrasted with said reviewer’s majestically original one, using formidable words like “mélange” and “perseverate.” Meanwhile another reviewer, challenging Ellis’ “aesthetics versus ideology” fixation, educates us that “there is no such thing as non-political art.” I’m still waiting for someone, anyone, to explain to me how Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, the height of art, is political. I’ll keep waiting.

White is not a great book. The prose is patchy—clean and taut in some areas, shabby and cumbersome in others. The arguments are repetitive. It’s too long for what it contains. It devotes many a word to Charlie Sheen and Kanye West. But it’s not a bad book, either. It’s Bret Easton Ellis, this time without a fictional sheath for protection, unplugged, spilling his brain on the page. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it.

Climate Destruction: Bearing witness with Dahr Jamail

The question is not are we going to fail.  The question is how?

— Stephen Jenkinson, author and storyteller.

Water, glaciers, oceans, food, forests and fires – all of these things are part of global warming under the magnifying glass of Dahr Jamail in his book The End of Ice.

Jamail is a first class hunter-gatherer of information.  It is not just finding and reading scientific papers.  It is climbing the mountains; it is meeting with and listening to the indigenous people living on the edge of disaster; it is walking in the forests, swimming in the coral reefs, and doing this in the company of those experts and scientists who have watched, recorded and wept over the changes for many years, choosing their place and staying there, knowing it will all be destroyed.

Each place he visited, each conversation he had with the experts on that place produced startling facts that should be, but aren’t, trumpeted by the media, taught in schools, thrust down the throats of the climate change sceptics.  And here is the message that the many scientists he spoke to stress: everything is happening much faster than predicted, and certainly much, much faster than you would know if you depend on your television, daily paper or politicians for information.

The book explores some of the hits the earth is already suffering through climate disruption and what that is leading to.  And it is not just a few changes here and there.

It starts in the Alaskan mountains but then, for Jamail, it will always start, and end there.  From an early age he has been mesmerised by mountains.  Whether climbing them or just sitting and watching them, mountains have been central to his life.  It goes without saying that glaciers are a part of that love.

And the glaciers are melting.  No news there.  What must be faced is how rapidly they are disappearing, all over the world.  As glaciers die, so do the forests lower down the mountains.  Without glaciers the mountain slopes dry out.  With a warming climate and dry forests, massive wildfires are set to increase.

It is expected that in just a few decades the United States will have no glaciers left; Alaska is suffering more than most, only much of that is unseen, out in the wilderness.  But what is happening there is happening globally.

Startling fact 1: globally glaciers hold 69 percent of all the freshwater on the planet.  Many major rivers are fed by glaciers.  Millions of people depend on them.  What, one wonders, will happen when the Ganges runs dry?

While the brutal seal hunt on Canada’s east coast carries on, on the western side of the continent small communities struggle to find seals at all.  They have moved further north in search of cooler waters.  There have been massive die-offs of sea birds as the warming sea has killed their food.  Small coastal and island communities with subsistence cultures are breaking up.

Startling fact 2: in the summer of 2016 the water in the Gulf of Alaska “was 15ºC warmer than normal in some areas.  And it is now, over all, 5ºC above normal in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, and has been all winter long.”  So said scientist Bruce Wright.

Coral reefs are extraordinarily beautiful, but they are not just there for divers and their cameras.  Just as coastal communities in the north are seeing their food supply dwindle, so island communities that depend on the fish living among the coral reefs for their food are watching the corals die and the fish disappear.

It is common knowledge that warming seas are bleaching the coral reefs.  What is not appreciated is that though corals can recover from a warming event, those events are now happening too often, too quickly for any recovery.  A marine scientist, Dr Dean Miller, considering the prediction that coral reefs will disappear by 2050, told Jamail, “I think it’s too conservative, I really do… what we are seeing now is death.

Seas are not just getting warmer, there is acidification.  This is threatening plankton, the base of the sea’s food chain.  Some plankton species are dying out while others flourish, leading to imbalance and ‘a big problem’.

Startling Fact 3: phytoplankton photosynthesis produces half, yes half, the total oxygen supply for the planet.

Jamail went to the Everglades, a unique site of global importance and not without problems.  Through human activity it has been robbed of its water and suffers from invasive species, but the real threat to come is rising sea levels.  The rest of Florida may not be far behind.  There is not a lot of high ground and most of the coast is vulnerable to ever-fiercer hurricanes and storm surges.  With a projected 6 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, much of Florida would be under water and its fresh water aquifer would be contaminated.

But Florida is also an example of why the world is not preparing for such climate disruption.  Rick Scott, Florida’s governor until 2019, is a climate disruption denier.  He prohibited any state employee from even using the words ‘climate change’.

Jamail went to the University of Miami to meet Dr Harold Wanless who was more than blunt: “We’ve screwed ourselves.  We have kicked the bucket.  We have gone off the cliff.”  As Wanless outlined the certain threats we are facing, Jamail wrote, “Hearing the truth in a society steeped in various degrees of denial, I greet the bad news with relief.”

Wanless talks about the amount of heat human activity has put into the oceans, something we can’t undo.  He gives Jamail one last piece of data: in the past, atmospheric COvaried from roughly 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm).  This 100 ppm fluctuation was linked with about a 100-foot change in the sea level.

Startling Fact 4: Reacting to this information, Jamail recalled that since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric CO2 has increased by 130 ppm.  “That is 130 feet of sea level rise that is already baked into Earth’s climate system!” he exclaimed.  Wanless nodded grimly.

And it is grim.  How do we prepare for seas taking over so much land?  How do we face it?  Can we even imagine what that will mean?

In 2015 Jamail experienced a seriously emotional and personal event (you’ll have to read the book to find out what that was), and it was this event that helped him make sense of all that he was learning and how to use that knowledge.  It is, after all, difficult to accept that all you know and love is due for demolition.

And this is his conclusion:

I find my deepest conviction and connection to the Earth by communing with the mountains. I moved to Colorado and lived among them when I was in my early 20s, and it was there I began to deepen my relationship with them, and to really listen to them. I would hike out and just sit among the peaks, watching them for hours, and write about them in my journal. Today I know in my bones that my job is to learn to listen to them ever more deeply, and to share what they are telling us with those who are also listening.

While western colonialist culture believes in “rights”, many indigenous cultures teach of “obligations” that we are born into: obligations to those who came before, to those who will come after, and to the Earth itself. When I orient myself around the question of what my obligations are, a deeper question immediately arises: from this moment on, knowing what is happening to the planet, to what do I devote my life?

So he ends where he began – among the mountains.

It could be a seriously depressing read, if it wasn’t for Jamail’s determination to understand and share with us what the earth is undergoing, and his loving commitment to be with it every step of the way.  His skill in writing keeps you focused on what he has to say, and his ability to override the dire news he is recording with a compassion that sees beauty among the ruins is somehow both comforting and inspiring.  Instead of despair it gives each one of us, as individuals, direction.

We might delay disastrous climate change by ending all carbon emissions but we cannot stop it, and it will be upon us much sooner than we like to think.  But we can each choose our place on the earth, sit with it, listen to what it is trying to teach us and share the knowledge we gain.  We can support it, love it and be with it for as long as we live.  The earth needs all the devotion we can give it.

The Expense of the American Dream

Political analysis, alas, is no less immune to what has been called the “fashion system” than any other segment of human consumption habits since the end of the Great War bequeathed the industrial form of indoctrination that prevails—now in digital form—today. The polemics offered as contemporary insights can be found in older documents, the sources we call history. Like fashion and pageantry, the writing for daily consumption is always presented as “new” and/or “improved”. Sometimes it is presented as “classical” with the veneer of ancient authority. Yet the misery to which the vast majority of humanity is subjected has been altered only minimally since 1492 gave the Roman Catholic and later Protestant elites in Europe the impetus to seize the rest of the planet, dominating the world’s population and the rest of nature.

Despite this power the Eurocentric cultures have never transcended their propensity or vulnerability to the millenarianism that is pejoratively attributed to the medieval period, the previous era of Roman Catholic domination over the peoples of Christendom. Perhaps this is a condition of the unique solar-based calendar system that prevails in the Dark Peninsula of Europe. Ironically, it is the darkest part of the planet Earth (at least in terms of days of sunlight) that has acquired the habit of calling the rest of the world—where, in fact, there is more sunlight—“dark”; e.g., Africa. It is also this relatively small region of the world whose population claims to have ennobled humanity with the supposed escape from its pathological violence with the Enlightenment.

The countries in which this Enlightenment was to have occurred—as an end to its shameful “darkness”—have nevertheless been the source of the greatest violence and destruction ever caused by humans. In the course of a mere 500 years, the peoples from the European peninsula managed to systematically decimate three continents and develop weapons and business practices capable of killing the rest. At the same time, this homicidal culture is managed and perpetuated by people who now believe the world is doomed because of climate change. Hence they have begun preaching that all those who happened to survive the vicious onslaught of half a millennium are at fault now for the immanent destruction of life on Earth—as they have come to know it.

The “dark” world—meaning, in fact, the non-white part—is alleged to be the cause of this impending apocalypse through overpopulation, overconsumption, overdevelopment, or mere striving for equality of life with those Enlightened who have plundered the planet.

Gerald Horne asks us to reconsider this perverse reversal of the facts. He is not talking about the impending apocalypse, but about the one that already occurred and thus the processes that apocalypse already set in motion. Although his 2018 book is clearly a response to the 2016 US Presidential elections, Professor Horne is simply asking a question that should be obvious. Why does the world have to suffer at regular intervals the messianic anointment of rich white people whose mission is to impose their will on whole nations and continents? Why have two revolutions in the dark centres of power been unable to stop the homicidal juggernaut of European culture, controlled by a tiny elite in the North Atlantic basin? Professor Horne focuses on the events in England, North America, and the Caribbean in the Seventeenth Century. In his view, the so-called Glorious Revolution in England constituted a crucial turning point launching the ascendancy of the English-speaking peoples; making them the premier “white” race upon whose domination the sun should never set and the blood should never dry.

Establishment history defines the Seventeenth Century as the beginning of progress. In North America that “progress” led to the founding of the new Eden later to be constituted as the United States. On the older side of the Atlantic basin, the great hope was to be the United Kingdom. By the end of the Great Slaughter of 1914-1918, these two pretenders to civilisation joined for all intents and purposes to embody the new Jerusalem, even recreating the Crusader fortress to restore imperial control over the inhabitants of the old Jerusalem by mid-century. The United Kingdom fought nearly forty years to defeat the French Revolution in Europe, while the United States helped to defeat it in the western hemisphere. It took some seventy years for their combined forces in the “special relationship” to defeat the Russian Revolution.

The question that must be asked is, if there was, in fact, Enlightenment in the dark peninsula of Europe, among the most backward societies on the planet, why did the inhabitants of those societies find themselves compelled by the supposedly most enlightened among them to destroy any and every attempt to follow the principles of that Enlightenment—liberty, fraternity, equality—in the most ferocious manner, developing for that purpose the capacity to annihilate millions and poison the environment for man and beast alike?

Of course, this question has been asked, especially by European scholars writing in the wake of the Second World War.1 Much has been said about the internal contradictions between equality and social order or the defects of secularised Christianity. There has been a good deal of criticism directed at the imperatives of modern science and the ideology of progress. In the end there seems to be a consensus that it is man’s weakness (dare we say “sin”) in the face of forces he has unleashed—the indeterminacy of even the best planned actions—which has led us all to the realisation that the Enlightenment was not that bright after all, that liberty, fraternity and equality are quaint illusions, the pursuit of which has most recently burdened us with “climate change” due to “global warming”.

Professor Horne’s reply to this question, I suppose—were he to breach academic decorum—would not be “man’s weakness” or that the trinity of Enlightenment virtue was illusory. Rather he would—and, in fact, does—argue that the Enlightenment was not the cause of European improvement (which did not occur) but a polemic that emerged mainly in the countries that became the greatest colonisers and traders in non-white human flesh. In other words, Enlightenment discourse was a product of the ideology of white supremacy, which preceded it in development. The Enlightenment emerged as a style for rationalising the creation of “white” identity or “European” identity. That meant suppressing the urges to murder and steal from each other based on differences of language, religion, family or ethnicity or general brigandry. Why after the slaughter of the Thirty Years War was that necessary? The European population itself had been seriously depleted. And the hope of further enrichment from abroad required every available hand for its achievement.

Andre Gunder Frank gave a plausible economic explanation for how the backwater of the Eurasian continent began to undermine the largest and most developed economy of the time after 1492.2 He argued that the Spanish conquest of South America introduced masses of new precious metals, primarily silver, which opened the Chinese economy to Europeans for the first time on a large scale. China’s silver-based economy was increasingly destabilised by the inflow of new money into the Asia-Pacific region China had traditionally dominated. Of course, Spanish gold and silver also destabilised the economies of Europe, leading to competition and more wars. However, this would not have been possible without the annihilation of the indigenous population in the Americas, whose land and labour had to be stolen for this purpose. Spanish loot became the target of England’s pirate fleets, ultimately exhausting His Most Catholic Majesty’s treasury. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was to leave Britain to become the ruler of the waves.

When the supply of precious metals became insufficient to award unearned wealth, Europeans shifted to drugs. The principal drugs of that era were sugar and tobacco. Unlike mining, which ends when the lode has been exhausted and the metal has found its way into foreign treasuries, drugs are a renewable source of wealth. However, prior to the emergence of the chemical industry, most drug production was labour-intensive and plantation-based. The only way to keep the industry profitable was low input costs and monopoly control of supply and price. With little labour in Europe to spare, what remained of the indigenous populations was enslaved along with a new source found in Africa. For Europeans, Africans were a population surplus that could be used to drive the sugar plantations of the Americas. Sugar was foremost a product of Caribbean islands and hence every striving European ruler sought islands for his own domestic drug market. At the same time competition for slave labour intensified to permit the maximum volumes for the least possible cost. The competition was finally reduced France (with Saint Dominique), Spain (with Jamaica and Cuba) and Britain (with Barbados and the neighbouring islands). France’s colony was by far the richest and most profitable until it was lost by the Haitian Revolution. Britain finally drove Spain out of Jamaica and with its superior naval forces emerged as the leading drug producer of the Caribbean and ultimately Europe’s leading drug pusher.

The island economies had two serious disadvantages in the Seventeenth Century. At some point, especially the smaller islands like Barbados, would be fully exploited. New territory was needed for new profits. Far more serious, however, was the population problem. European colonisers had been unsuccessful at inducing or forcing enough of their subjects to leave their homes and work as serfs in the Caribbean. The importation of African slave labour soon led to overwhelming African majorities on the sugar islands. These majorities were not passively resigned to their lot. On the contrary it became increasingly dangerous for Europeans to live among these large slave populations without the use of extreme violence and military force. The cost of maintaining military domination of the slave populations and fighting drug wars against rivals was decreasing the profitability of these colonies steadily. Thus in by 1688 and the Glorious Revolution new means had to be sought to maintain the profitability of both African slavery and the drug economy it was used to support.

Professor Horne shows that the new monarchical dispensation created by the election of William and Mary to the British throne opened the market for the trade in Africans by abolishing the previous royal monopoly on the slave trade. Moreover the reconciliation of mercantile interests with those of the landed aristocracy created an ideological consensus, which would reduce the historical tensions within Christendom. The ideology of free trade, expressed in Adam Smith’s canonical text, was an outgrowth of the reorganisation of the European drug trade and slavery as its principal labour policy.3 While the State, in Britain’s case the Royal Navy, would continue to protect the essential trading infrastructure and fend off competition, the rest of the business would be opened to private enterprise. As in the economy today, the expenses were socialised and the profits privatised.

A solution had to be found to the labour crisis in the Caribbean. The problem was complex. On one hand the island drug economies relied on African slave labour. However, since the Africans soon outnumbered the Europeans, increasing degrees of violence were needed to subjugate this workforce. The competition between rival national gangs, especially between Britain and Spain, meant that enslaved labour (including the residue of indigenous people among the slave population) was not only tempted but were often successful at alleviating their condition by changing sides in the various drug wars that plagued the islands. In Jamaica, the entrenched free African enclaves, fought alternatively with the Spanish against the English or the English against the Spanish in order to obtain relative advantages.

On the other hand indentured European labourers were just as likely to join Africans to rebel against their oppressors, especially Irish Catholic labourers against their English Protestant lords. The necessity of reducing the cost of violent control over Africans led the owners of the plantations to look for another strategy.

As Theodore Allen also argued in an earlier study, the solution was found in a new legal regime.4 African labourers were to be subjected to very strict and harsh controls from which Europeans were exempted. Europeans were to be punished for cooperation with Africans. Europeans were to be released from their bondage after a term of years while Africans would not only be bonded for life but also as a class. White’s study focussed on the British colonisation of Ireland and the creation of the race regime in North America. Gerald Horne shows that this process began even earlier in the Caribbean. Moreover in Horne’s work the process is fundamental for the inception of the United States. It was, in his view, the threat by the United Kingdom to revise its labour regime by abolishing bonded labour that led the English colonists on the mainland (many of whom had moved their wealth from the Caribbean to North America) that led to the war creating the United States.

Professor Horne’s argument, published in several books over the past decade, explains the roots of Anglo-American empire and the so-called free market/ free enterprise or capitalist system in a manner consistent with Marx but with more reliance upon the insights of Walter Rodney5 and Eric Williams.6 While Karl Marx may have provided the most useful theoretical description of the system called capitalism, it is apparent that the program derived from Marxism by various European and North American political parties has been insufficient to remedy the fundamental crimes of African slavery. He says this failure is not an oversight but due to a fundamental error. By treating industrialisation and modernisation as the results of the Enlightenment and the product of European humanism, a reversal is made.

Slavery made industrial capitalism possible. It was the obscene profitability of the Caribbean drug trade, later expanded to other primary commodities, based on African slavery that gave Britain and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands the enormous capital resources to develop its industry. Moreover it was the culture, the ideology of white supremacy that the Enlightenment first theorised. For that reason there should be no surprise that the leading Enlightenment leaders of the day; e.g., Thomas Jefferson in the United States, should have felt no compulsion to include Africans among the beneficiaries. Quite the contrary, the Haitian Revolution forced the “enlightened” French in Bordeaux to accept that liberté, egalité et fraternité was not meant just for Europeans—but for all the French.7 Admittedly this class has never fully accepted the Haitian argument. But according to Professor Horne that should be no surprise since the slogans were intended by the emergent bourgeoisie to unite Europeans against Africans, not with them.

Without abandoning the Marxian analysis of capitalism, despite its historical limitations, the questions have to be asked. Why does the United States claim to “exceptionalism” retain its high level of acceptance even among the anti-establishment? Why is slavery, despite the historical and economic data, still treated as incidental to the foundation of the exceptional US? Professor Horne poignantly recalls that three hundred years of slavery and genocide are ignored when the origin of the United States is described, but the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union are reduced to the ten years of Joseph Stalin’s wartime rule. African slavery is treated as mere collateral damage in the pageant of Manifest Destiny.

Much of the historical data has been compressed but can be found elsewhere in Gerald Horne’s earlier works. The core is argued in depth in The Counter-Revolution of 1776. In The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism he summarises his previous work as an explicit criticism of the political inflammation exposed by the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the slave-built mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He says that the present US government is extreme in its expression but of a deeply held faith shared across the US political spectrum.

Donald Trump has been the target of attack on both sides of the Atlantic basin. It is hardly possible to find anyone who can say anything about United States policy without blaming the real estate mogul from New York. The revulsion is obvious in this short essay. However, a careful reading will reveal that the present POTUS is merely a more obvious and inane expression of the consensus forged by the ideology of white supremacy, the driving force of cross-class capitalism. That ideology was necessary for Europeans to suppress their other homicidal differences; e.g., religion, language, nationality and greed.

Professor Horne shows that the Dark Continent was Europe, not Africa. The Enlightenment was made possible by a bonfire of African slaves. And as James Baldwin once told the Cambridge Union, the American Dream was at the expense of the American Negro—who built the country: picked the cotton, dug the canals, laid the railroads, for nothing, for nothing.8

Today the world is still dominated by states and corporations warring for control of the drug traffic and other primary commodities. Africa is still being plundered and apparently its inhabitants can be enslaved, displaced, starved or killed at will. There is virtual silence among those Enlightened.

The first rule of any successful crime is to make the victim feel he or she deserved it. The darkness that has hung over the non-white world for the past half a millennia could only be maintained by the fiction that the light is “white”.

  1. Probably the most well known of these is The Dialectic of the Enlightenment by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944).
  2. Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, 1998.
  3. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776.
  4. Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 1994.
  5. Walter Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545 to 1800, 1970 and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1982.
  6. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, 1944.
  7. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, 1938.
  8. James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley, debate before the Cambridge Union, 26 October 1965.

Reluctant Soldier, Confused Peacenik

Bowe Bergdahl captured the American imagination in 2009 when he disappeared from what had become his living hell. His battalion commander, Lt Baker, was not only an obnoxious tyrant (handing out Field-Grade Article 15s, just short of a court martial, supposedly for being out of uniform, but in fact for complaining about the mission to a Guardian photo-journalist in a video broadcast), but he had ordered them to build the OB (observation post) Mest on a cemetery, defiling, even defecating on gravestones near the FOB (forward operating base) Sharana.

He was as much a victim of the latest American COIN (counterintelligence) strategy as a deserter. Taken captive by the enemy (Taliban) under the protection of an ally (Pakistan), embodying the self-enforcing illogic of the entire war.

The FOB’s OP (army talk is littered with acronyms and abbreviations, quickly reducing any text or conversation to gobbledygook) would transfer authority to Afghan troops operate under US troops, the idea being to eventually leave the Afghans in sole charge. They would establish security, identify the Taliban, separate them from the local population, show the villagers they were better off with Karzai and the Americans in charge. Abracadabra. The Taliban would just disappear, as they very well ought to.

But it’s not the Taliban who have disappeared. Between 2006 and 2014, 20,000 soldiers have deserted from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2001 the army pressed charges against less than 2,000, half pleaded guilty, 78 were tried and convicted. That pales in comparison to more than half a million Vietnam draft resisters/ deserters from 1966 to 1973. Desertion is as American as apple pie.

Bergdahl’s 4 weeks of hell sent him over the edge. He forgot the most important rule about the army. Don’t think. Just obey orders. Your superior is always right. It’s not clear what exactly B decided he was going to do, but he snuck away in the night, careful not to be noticed and headed for … hmmm. I guess he hadn’t really decided anything other than giving himself over to the Taliban, which was pretty easy. Hours after dawn, the word got out and Taliban equivalent of UPS picked up their load and whisked him across the border into FATA (federal administrative tribal areas) in Pakistan, just out of reach of the US army.1

Domino or butterfly effect?

His desertion (he eventually ignored his defence lawyer and pleaded guilty) set in motion a domino effect on a massive scale, but not the one the prosecution tried to pin on him: that B’s desertion led to soldiers’ deaths. The early angry accusations soon melted under examination, leaving B’s actions as a butterfly effect in a chaotic world.

Even his hated superior Baker later admitted that DUSTWUN (missing soldier alert), while difficult, had also produced some of the greatest disruptions of Taliban networks that he had seen at any point during the war. Commanders in the field used the search for Bergdahl as a justification for more aggressive tactics to achieve stability in the area.

It was a great way to motivate troops — rescuing a soldier was more ‘fun’ that just terrorizing hostile Afghans. It was a real mission, not the phony one they would be doing otherwise. “Everyone knew it was going on.”

Baker sounds like a real SOB (making all the troops shave 6 times in a row because one missed a stray hair, screaming two inches from their faces). Insisting the OB be built on a cemetery and desecrating graves set off an alarm in B’s mind. Afghan soldiers were known to turn their guns on their American comrades for less. But, what the hell, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,2 Afghanistan is FUBAR.3

In American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan, Farwell and Ames don’t need any purple prose. Hard facts do the trick. For instance, in 2007 a soldier in B’s 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, 1/501, Evan Vela, killed an unarmed captive Iraqi on orders from his superior, staff sergeant Hensley. He was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years. Rather than murder, Henley was acquitted, charged only with a minor infraction.

It would be hard to beat Sergeant Robert Bales who slipped off base in Kandahar twice in one night in 2012 and shot 16 civilians in their homes in front of their families. At least he got life. It’s a miracle that B’s handlers didn’t string him up in response when they heard of this.

B enlists in 2008  and he is deployed in May 2009. At the end of training (Fort Richardson, Alaska), Command Sergeant Major Wolfe told them: I know you all joined because you want to rape, pillage and kill. That’s why I joined. But you need to think about COIN, winning over local farmers, merchants, drivers.

The training screams of cognitive dissonance. During training, they would chant ‘trained to kill, kill we will.’ Sex assaults and rapes were rampant at Fort Richardson.

FOB Sharana was built on a Soviet base. A/C barracks, dvd players, internet, lots of video games, hot showers, porcelain toilets, a basketball court, coffee shops, as much food as they wanted any time. But a strict dress code and shaving regime. Logistics brought in steak and lobster dinners for officers.

B’s one mission was in an MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle, sent to retrieve an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team’s truck but the mountain road was too narrow, they hit an IED (improvised explosive device), another vehicle was disabled, they came under Taliban fire, and were saved by air support.

What should have been a few hours to retrieve a damaged truck had become a week-long ordeal. And to top it off, Baker glared at them when they returned. “What, you couldn’t shave?”

B’s instincts were right.  He and his only real friend, Joseph Coe ate dinner with the Afghan soldiers up the hill most evenings. Coe grew up in a missionary family in the highlands of Venezuela, and refused to be party to Bergdahl’s later vilification by his fellow soldiers. B and Coe realized befriending the Afghans was the right thing to do, and a commonsense precaution against ‘green on blue’ (Afghan soldier/ police killing Americans). The Afghan soldiers were friendly and welcomed them. The soldiers never learned their names, nicknaming them ‘ice cream’, ‘crazy eyes’. They called their translators John or Jack.

Bergdahl respected the Afghans, realized the occupiers had to respect their culture, i.e., the cemetery. Eating with the Afghans was like having a meal with his neighbours on the prairies in Idaho, Peruvian Quechua shepherds. He didn’t want to die fighting them, when he knew they were in the right. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”

What he was supposed to do for the next two years had nothing to do with helping them. So he put his fate in their hands. He knew he would survive. His rash, quixotic decision became an important symbolic gesture pointing to the way out of this latest imperial deadend.

Behind the scenes, there are human terrain teams (anthropologists), provincial reconstruction teams (a hydra of military, state department and USAID NGOs), tactical human intelligence teams (liquor and porn as bribes). The disconnect with the ‘kill we will’ foot soldiers, the face of the occupiers to most Afghan, makes their existence meaningless.

B lasted a month before he wrote a scathing email to his folks:

We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them […] I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.

Then left his weapon and night vision goggles on his neatly made cot, and fled to the arms of the Taliban.

Peace on Earth

B’s captors immediately offered a deal: 25 Taliban prisoners and $9m. The offer was rejected without any attempt to negotiate. The Taliban continued to offer a deal but the mantra from Bush and Obama was ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists.’

There were over 100 kidnappings from 2001–11, mostly journalists and missionaries. All were released with a quiet negotiations and a ransom. B was a test case for both sides, as a prisoner exchange would give the Taliban de facto recognition. It wasn’t the puppet Karzai/ Ghani but the US president negotiating with the Taliban.

The authors dismiss the possibility that Bergdahl might have converted to Islam, that his anti-imperialist lecture, delivered on Christmas day 2009  courtesy of his captors and social media, was surely just a forced confession, though it was quite articulate, not “absurd”, as Farwell and Ames state.  He mentions the indignities suffered by Muslim prisoners in Bagram, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons around the world, “but the Taliban treated me as human being with dignity. Aren’t our leaders simply the puppets of the lobbies that pay for their election campaigns?”

He (or rather his Taliban minders) refer to Veterans for Peace activist and ex-Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from his  foreign service posting in Kabul interview, and in an interview with CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer in November 2009 read from his resignation letter: American combat troops are not defeating al-qaeda by their presence in Afghanistan. All they are doing is just fighting people who are fighting us because we’re occupying them.

B’s testimony “grows more dogmatic–and more absurd.” Come on! Give the Taliban at least an A for crafting a coherent agitprop video showing MRAPs, dead ISAF soldiers, a video of an improvised IED. Ok, “We have forced them to strap large amounts of explosives to their precious bodies, to leave their homes and children to kill us.” — is a bit over the top. But it’s a lot closer to the truth than the US version of events.

A few days after B’s bombshell, CIA agent Hamam al-Balawi blew himself and his US minders up at the CIA base in nearby Khost, leaving behind his martyr video. Both Bs were under the direction of the Haqqani network,4 with the knowledge (and help) of Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-services Intelligence). For newly arrived Major General Michael Flynn, director of intelligence for NATO’s ISAF coalition, not a Christmas to remember.

B became a lightning rod for the increasing frustration over this unending war. Fox news interviewed spy novelist and  retired lt col Ralph Peters:

This private is a liar. We’re not sure if he’s a deserter. Collaborating with the enemy. The Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.

Whew! Carte blanche to slice B’s head off. The interview was censored, but only for fear it served the Taliban. Flynn called him a jihadi. 23 veteran Congressmen published an open letter reminding McCain and others that they made statements contrary to their beliefs to stay alive.

B’s mother: the Taliban was now a part of our family

After years of stonewalling, B’s father Bob realized the government was incapable of diplomacy and he decided to go to Pakistan to give himself in exchange for his son. He used twitter, quoting from the Koran, with a message of radical peace. He travelled to visit a mosque in Washington, where the imam taught him to pray. He wore a kufi and grew his beard, knowing that the Taliban would see him on social media, trying to appeal to the Pashtun values and customs. B’s mother Jani told him, “the Taliban was now a part of our family.”

He talked with his pastor about overlaps between Calvinism and Islam. He realized peace would only come by understanding the men who held his son. Without peace, his son would never come home. The Bergdahls respected, embraced the enemy. The Christological overtones are everywhere. B’s 40 days in the wilderness, suffering for our sins, resurrection from the dead, love thine enemy …

For Bob and Jani, their prayers were answered. Obama had to wrap this up, and though he should have got Congressional approval, he just quietly released ‘the Taliban 5’ to Qatar and sent a SEAL rescue team to scoop up B, filmed by his captors for the world to see. Obama “broke the law by not informing Congress,” fumed Republican House Armed Services Committee Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon.

Obama was getting his own back. He had vowed in 2009 that he would close Guantanamo and had been shafted. Convincing him was Holbrooke’s adviser Barney Rubin who reminded Obama that of the 5 Taliban, 3 had surrendered, 2 were detained after they showed up for appointments saying they wanted to help us.

Vietnam

No doubt others who were traumatized by the war in Afghanistan will find healing as have the Bergdahls, by acknowledging the guilt of being part of this invasion and destruction of a country and its people. This happened — is still happening — after the liberation of Vietnam.

One of many Vietnam vets who have returned to Vietnam looking for closure, Chuck Searcy moved to Vietnam in 1995 as representative of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and helped launch Project RENEW in Quang Tri Province, to clean up UXO (unexploded ordnance) and provide medical assistance, rehabilitation, and income generation for UXO victims. Like Hoh, Searcy is active in Veterans For Peace, based in Vietnam. In 2003 Searcy was awarded Vietnam’s National Friendship Medal.

Bergdahl hoped to cause an emergency, a Goliath moment which would give him the chance to bring his commanding officer Baker’s leadership failures to light, to steer the US intervention towards the truth. A DUSTWUN was the most powerful weapon B had.

The day after he shipped his things home, he sent an email from Sharana to a group of friends in Idaho quoting Atlas Shrugged‘s John Galt:

It is not the being of value who fails the system. It is the system that has failed the man. The system should be remade to fit the man who holds value as worth.

B aimed to bring the gears of system to a halt, his own personal (nonviolent) 9/11, and remake it.

It worked, sort of. When the dust finally settled, Bowe was handed a dishonorable discharge (instead of life), and a few pay deductions, but awarded two good conduct medals for service in captivity. Even Trump had stopped calling for his execution, and started negotiating with the Taliban, which is exactly what Bergdahl’s very brave, but also very risky, act was all about.

In a March 1, 2019 interview on C-Span, ex-Marine and foreign service official Matthew Hoh makes the point that the war actually began in 1973 with the overthrow of the king. He doesn’t make the point that the logical secular trajectory led to socialism, nor does he point to the US arming and supporting the Islamists as the real crime.

But Bergdahl’s trajectory is the logical one today — looking to the enemy for an answer. Whether or not Bowe took the shuhada and became a Muslim, his reaching out to the Taliban and his father and mother’s realization that “the Taliban are part of our family,” says it all.

An earlier version of B’s monkey-wrench-into-the-killer-machine, during the Vietnam war, is Christopher Boyce,  who worked for the National Reconnaissance Office in the 1970s, and discovered the CIA were deposing Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Australia for wanting to close US military bases and withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam. Boyce saw that the CIA was undermining not just Australia but other democratic, industrialized allies. Boyce figured the press was useless. The media’s earlier disclosure of CIA involvement in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état had not changed anything for the better.

If he was going to make a splash, he’d have to turn to the ‘enemy’. Then, it was the Soviet Union. Despite his solidly conservative upbringing, he, like B, came to realize that the ‘enemy’ was almost by definition the ‘good guy’. His crossing the line and spying for the Soviet Union was much like B’s — very risky, harrowing, to say the least, life-changing.

He spent 25 years in prison as penance, and now lives quietly in Oregon, not so far from the Bergdahls. Another gripping story of defying the empire and living to tell the tale.

Now if only Boyce’s wildly idealistic expose had saved Whitlam and brought down US imperialism back in the 1970s. Or at least if we could rewind our tape to 1979, and see the Soviet Union and its attempt to shore up the faltering secular socialist government in Afghanistan, as “part of our family”, to be embraced, not vilified and destroyed. If only our present was the counterfactual history, not the peaceful, secular Afghanistan of yore.

Boyce and Bergdahl sensed who the real enemy is. They aimed for Goliath’s eye with their stone and hit it, but to no avail. Boyce’s logic pointed to socialism. Bergdahl’s saga points to Islam. The best thing in the 1970s was to make peace with the Soviet Union, not to destroy it. Now, it is for the US to embrace Islam’s message of peace. There Is No Alternative.

  1. There are at least four spying agencies all at cross-purposes. The oldest the army’s, which was supposed to close when the CIA was created but secretly kept working. Under the army was also a special unofficial service which carried out very secret things like Iran-contra. Then there’s the FBI, responsible for any American in a non-combat country. Also the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). All had their claim to Bergdahl. The search for Bergdahl was as much a war between the CIA (secretly allowed to do things in Pakistan) against the army’s spymasters, the FBI and the DEA. The army ‘won’. Sort of.
  2. Army jargon for WTF (what the f&#k)
  3. ‘Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.’
  4. Jalaluddin Haqqani, who visited the Reagan White House and was once described by Texas politician Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified.”

Surpassing US Military Supremacy

When I first heard of Andrei Martyanov, I was skeptical about his intentions. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, USSR, 1963, he became a naval officer and expert on Russian military and naval issues. He took part in conflicts in the Caucasus. In mid-1990s, he moved to the US for reasons unstated in print. He currently works as laboratory director of a commercial aerospace group, and blogs on the US Naval Institute Blog and one on the other side of the fence, unz.com.

This is not a typical leftist or peace activist, but after reading his book and a piece on the website of the world’s most aggressive naval institution, I surmise that this Russian-American seeks to influence the avaricious eagle into realizing that warring against the cautious bear would not achieve success for anyone. Here is his conclusion of that blog piece:

Today, the Russian Navy is on its way to becoming a leaner and more potent… version of its former Soviet self, capable of carrying out any task in defense of its country. By doing so, the Russian Navy has finally found its mission. Considering Russia’s immense and tragic experience with warfare, such an accomplishment is no small feat. Especially in the absence of a coherent navy specific doctrine.

This statement is in keeping with what Martyanov sees as his book’s key mission, to assist his native country in defending its national sovereignty, which entails acting to prevent a nuclear world war. As he states in the conclusion of his book, Losing Military Supremacy: the Myopia of American Strategic Planning, he is most worried that it is the United States that will pull the triggers to set off world war III.

“The main task today is to prevent by all means any possibility of this delusional, self-proclaimed exceptional nation unleashing Armageddon because of frustration with its own weakness…” so well exposed by now.

Martyanov refers to the fact that despite all the hubris, the US has failed to win most of the wars it has started since WWII. Korea was a stalemate. It lost to Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos. Afghanistan will never be conquered. The victory over a much inferior Iraqi military largely destroyed the cradle of civilization and left nearly all its people hating the US. The current government wants the US out of its country. The US got rid of Libya’s leader Gaddafi only to be replaced by three internally fighting self-declared governments, whose extremist Muslims wantonly murder, smuggle and enslave people. The once richest people in Africa are now among the poorest. The US has divided people in Syria, and Ukraine where they placed a neo-fascist coup government in power.

The US’s military thinks in offensive weaponry much more so than in defensive ones. It couldn’t even defend its most hallowed buildings, including the Pentagon, from 19 terrorists in 2001. Seventy percent of military funding is aimed at fighting wars abroad to take other lands’ resources.

That reality is based on what I call “America Über Alles” mentally engrained in nearly every person born in the country from babyhood. Former Ronald Reagan treasury assistant secretary Paul Craig Roberts puts it this way:  “The arrogant hubris of American exceptionalism and the myths that sustain it are subjected to devastating analysis in this long overdue book.”

Martyanov shows us with facts, documentation, and policies that the US has always been at odds with the very existence of Russia, the world’s largest country with self-sustaining resources. It has lied that it was the victor in WWII, alongside with Britain. All evidence points to the contrary. The victorious Russian military defeated the Nazis on the Eastern Front and moved into Europe as the main force. Russia also aided the US defeat the Japanese by sending nearly a million troops to Hokkaido, keeping its promise to President Roosevelt.

Martyanov cites Hans Morgenthau to explain this peculiar American geopolitical “realism”. As one of its fathers, Morgenthau, told his audience at the US Naval War College, in 1957:

…if the czars still reigned in Russia, that if Lenin had died of the measles at an early age, that if Stalin had never been heard of, but the power of the Soviet Union were exactly what it is today, the problem of Russia would be for us by and large what it is today. If the Russian armies stood exactly where they stand today, and if Russian technological development were what it is today, we would be by and large confronted with the same problems which confront us today.

Regardless of the crimes of Stalin against many of his people, he stood for “socialism in one country”, and the “containment” policy of US governments during the Cold War, which was started by Churchill and Truman not Stalin, did not bother the Soviet leadership. Throughout the world where there were uprisings against tyrants and struggles for socialism, the Soviets always cautioned them. In contrast, it was the US that extended its territory in a neo-colonial manner, what we call imperialism, not necessarily by occupying land but by controlling the resources and foreign policies of much of the world, including the former European colonialists.

Martyanov writes,

The Soviet Navy, like the modern Russian Navy today, was built largely for a single purpose: to prevent a NATO attack on the USSR from the sea. Power projection in its classic, US Navy interpretation, was the last thing in mind for Soviet strategists. There simply was no intent to start a war; the intent was to prevent it.

Russia does have the capability to deal major damage to NATO’s European members but, apart from Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which would bring the United States into the conflict, even if there hadn’t been such an article, the immediate question is: Why would Russia attack or damage European countries which are worth way more for Russia free and prosperous than they would be if damaged and theoretically, subjugated?

To achieve the needed capacity and public support for such an intent [war], the United States needs to run a very tight routine. It has to simultaneously present, sometimes by gross inflation, a set of threats to itself…while nonetheless insisting on American overwhelming military superiority over any power. It is a very schizophrenic policy requiring a constant reconciliation of opposites: If one claims itself to be almost omnipotent militarily, as the US does non-stop, it is really difficult to prove that one is also and simultaneously very vulnerable. In some psychiatric sense it is very close to the more specific Russophrenia phenomenon, where Russia is simultaneously about to collapse and about to overtake the US, and the combined West. It is a classic Orwellian scenario from Nineteen Eighty-Four, which also involves such ideological imperatives as hate sessions and public affirmation of one’s loyalty to the powers that be.

The list of America’s military interventions in the last 70 years is unrivaled. It is no surprise then that the US consistently tops a wide range of global public opinion polls as the main threat to the world peace. No other nation can undertake such a massive range of wars all over the globe as does the US.

The chronic lying that politicians and the mass media spew forth, such as engaging in and winning wars in the name of human rights, continue undiluted. Today, it is the Trump government that claims victory over IS in Syria when, in reality, the US did little to effectively fight IS or al Qaeda. Rather it was the determination of the Russian government and military not to allow Syria to fall into the hands of those terrorists that did the job. When the US military did engage in fighting these extremist terrorists they worked at cross purposes. The scenario of competition between the US army and navy, and the military vs. the deep state CIA often resulted in one group of US-supported terrorists fighting another US-supported group of terrorists.

The whole foundation of russiagate is also based on lies. When Vladimir Putin became president he, like his drunken predecessor Boris Yeltsin, sought to be friends and even an ally with the US. Putin even discussed with George Bush the possibility of Russia coming into NATO and EU, which US deep state leaders rejected. Nevertheless, Putin offered Bush his support in his war against Afghanistan. The one key difference between Yeltsin and Putin was (is) that the latter acts to reverse the disastrous economic policies of the Yeltsin-Clinton team, which raped Russia of its gold and resources (increased poverty from 1.5% to 50% of the population), as Putin acts to regain national sovereignty with a robust capitalist economy in which the rich actually pay taxes .

Bush rewarded Putin by abolishing the all-important Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty made by another Republican conservative, Richard Nixon, and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, in 1972. Bush also allowed the CIA to stir up terrorist conflicts in Russia’s area.

Bush senior advisor Karl Rove summarized the essence of US foreign policy: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”1

It took the cautious, disciplined Russian leader seven years before he finally saw that building a friendship/alliance with the US was not possible. In 2007, Putin gave his landmark speech in Munich in which he merely stated the obvious, ”the fundamental principles on which US foreign policy was built were unilateralism based on both real and perceived national power, and that he rejected that”, writes Martyanov. But his realistic view got interpreted by the “war hero” Senator John McCain as “the most aggressive remarks by a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War.”

Putin saw that US foreign policy is built on military supremacy, so he set forth a policy of rearming the Russian military to defend the country against any aggressions launched by the US. Already the next year, 2008, he let the US know that Russia would not allow it to bring Georgia or the Ukraine into NATO, thus surrounding Russia all the more.

Russia didn’t attack Georgia first, another US lie. Even the former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later admitted that it was Georgia, which started that war.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia were independent states that Georgia President Mikjail Saakashvili attacked, killing many of them and some Russian troops before Russia fired backed. The Russo-Georgian War showed that Russia’s conventional military power mattered. Russia sent an army to Georgia of equal size to Georgia’s, which had been poorly trained by the US/NATO, and defeated it in four days, in August 2008.

Besides the issue of NATO alliance, the US wanted to use Georgia as a pipeline for oil as it demanded with Afghanistan, and tried with Syria, in 2009. Taleban said no, and the US invaded. Assad said no, and the US organized a rebellion against Assad in 2011. It got its pipeline through Georgia in 2005—piping crude oil from Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. But the US is never satisfied, that’s what “globalization” is all about.

The most unique aspect of Martyanov’s book in relationship to many other informative, truthful books coming from alternative publishers about Russia/Soviet and US relations, is that this military expert analyzes the military forces of both countries and shows who has what capabilities militarily.

Russia’s Modern Weaponry

“During all these years since the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty,” Putin explained in his 2018 State of the Nation address, “we have been working intensively on advanced equipment and arms, which allowed us to make a breakthrough in developing new models of strategic weapons.” “Those technological breakthroughs are now here. Sadly, we never got the diplomatic ones we needed.”

Putin’s message was clear: “You didn’t listen to us then, you will listen to us now”.

Martyanov maintains that today there is parity in military capacity:

“1) The United States military in future conflicts will have to deal, in the case of conventional conflict against a near-peer, let alone peer, with an adversary who will have C4ISR [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] capability either approaching that or on par with that of the US.”

“2) US real and perceived advantage in electronic means of warfare (EW) will be greatly reduced or completely suppressed by present and future EW means of the adversary thus forcing US forces to fight under the conditions of partial or complete electronic blindness and with partially or completely
suppressed communications and computer networks.

“3) The US will encounter combat technologies not only on par but often better designed and used, from armor to artillery, to hyper-sonic anti-shipping missiles, than anything the US military has ever encountered.

“4) Modern air-forces and complex advanced air defense systems will make the main pillar of US
military power—its Air Force—much less effective.

“5) Today the US military will have to deal with the grim reality of its staging areas, rear supply facilities and lines of communications being the target of massive salvos of long-range high subsonic, supersonic and hyper-sonic missiles. The US military has never encountered such a paradigm in its history.”

I do not have the knowledge nor the space to detail and judge the many weapons that Martyanov includes in his book to show that the US is not capable of winning a conventional war, or that many weapons Russia has are aimed at preventing US weapons from reaching their goals.

Here is but a taste of what the author tells us Russia is capable of doing with its modern weapons.

“Russian generation 4++fighters, such as the SU-35C, with their Irbis radar capable of ‘seeing’ even an F-22 figther as far as 90 kilometers away, to say nothing of modern Air Defense complexes such as the S-400 which can track and engage any aero-ballistic targets. The coming of the revolutionary S-500 air-defense system may completely close Russia and her allies’ airspace from any aerial or even ballistic threats…In 2007, the 3M22 Zircon hyper-sonic missile is already dramatically redefining naval warfare and makes even remote sea zones a ‘no-sail’ zone for any US major surface combatant, especially aircraft carriers…the TU-160M2 strategic bombers with new, 10,000-kilometer range cruise missiles getting ready to be deployed. The combined air and submarine launch of hundreds of such weapons could effectively incapacitate, with minimal damage to civilians, the American state.”

It is not just Putin or his government and the military that is fed up with trying to be friends or at least allies with the United States. The people, too, are tired of trying. That means that once again the US is seeking “regime change” (and “meddling in elections”) against the democratic will of the people. Gallup and national polls of 2017 and 2018 show that less than one-third of Russians think good relations is even important anymore. The 2018 national poll (Vzglyad) showed that 80% wanted to have either neutral or even hostile relations with the US.”

“Only 14.7% wanted allied relations with the US. The US is simply no longer attractive as a model, whether economic, cultural or social, in Russia and the majority of Russians view the United States as a very real threat,” Martyanov concludes.

  1. NYT Magazine, October 17, 2004.

The CIA Takeover of America in the 1960s is the Story of Our Times

‘We’re all puppets,’ the suspect [Sirhan Sirhan] replied, with more truth than he could have understood at that moment.

— Lisa Pease, quoting from the LAPD questioning of Sirhan

When Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968, the American public fell into a hypnotic trance in which they have remained ever since. The overwhelming majority accepted what was presented by government authorities as an open and shut case that a young Palestinian American, Sirhan Sirhan, had murdered RFK because of his support for Israel, a false accusation whose ramifications echo down the years. That this was patently untrue and was contradicted by overwhelming evidence made no difference.

Sirhan did not kill Robert Kennedy, yet he remains in jail to this very day.  Robert Kennedy, Jr., who was 14 years old at the time of his father’s death, has visited Sirhan in prison, claims he is innocent, and believes there was another gunman.  Paul Schrade, an aide to the senator and the first person shot that night, also says Sirhan didn’t do it. Both have plenty of evidence.  And they are not alone.

There is a vast body of documented evidence to prove this, an indisputably logical case marshalled by serious writers and researchers.  Lisa Pease is the latest.  It is a reason why a group of 60 prominent Americans has recently called for a reopening of, not just this case, but those of JFK, MLK, and Malcom X.  The blood of these men cries out for the revelation of the truth that the United States national security state and its media accomplices have fought so mightily to keep hidden for so many years.

That they have worked so hard at this reveals how dangerous the truth about these assassinations still is to this secret government that wages propaganda war against the American people and real wars around the world.  It is a government of Democrats, Republicans, and their intelligence allies working together today to confuse the American people and provoke Russia in a most dangerous game that could lead to nuclear war, a possibility that so frightened JFK and RFK after the Cuban Missile Crisis that they devoted themselves to ending the Cold War, reconciling with the Soviet Union, abolishing nuclear weapons, reining in of the power of the CIA, and withdrawing from Vietnam. That is why they were killed.

The web of deceit surrounding the now officially debunked Democratic led Russia-gate propaganda operation that has strengthened Trump to double-down on his anti-Russia operations (a Democratic goal) is an example of the perfidious and sophisticated mutuality of this game of mass mind-control.

The killing of the Kennedys and today’s new Cold War and war against terror are two ends of a linked intelligence operation.

Moreover, more than any other assassination of the 1960s, it is the killing of Bobby Kennedy that has remained shrouded in the most ignorance.

It is one of the greatest propaganda success stories of American history.

In her exhaustive new examination of the case, A Lie Too Big To Fail, Lisa Pease puts it succinctly at the conclusion of her unravelling of the official lies that have mesmerized the public:

The assassination of the top four leaders of the political left in the five year period – President John Kennedy in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968 – represented nothing less than a slow-motion coup on the political scene.

If anyone wishes to understand what has happened to the United States since this coup, and thus to its countless victims at home and throughout the world, one must understand these assassinations and how the alleged assassins were manipulated by the coup organizers and how the public was hoodwinked in a mind-control operation on a vast scale.  It is not ancient history, for the forces that killed these leaders rule the U.S. today, and their ruthlessness has subsequently informed the actions of almost all political leaders in the years since.  A bullet to the head when you seriously talk about peace and justice is a not so gentle reminder to toe the line or else.

“But the way the CIA took over America in the 1960s is the story of our time,” writes Pease, “and too few recognize this.  We can’t fix a problem we can’t even acknowledge exists.”  Nothing could be truer.

Lisa Pease has long recognized the problem, and for the past twenty-five years, she has devoted herself to shedding light on the CIA’s culpability, particularly in the Robert Kennedy case. Few people possess the grit and grace to spend so much of their lives walking this path of truth. The extent of her research is dazzling, so dazzling in its voluminous detail that a reviewer can only touch on it here and there. She has written a book that is daunting in its comprehensiveness.  It demands focused attention and perseverance, for it runs to over 500 pages with more than 800 footnotes. This book will remain a touchstone for future research on the RFK assassination, whether one agrees or disagrees with all of her detailed findings and speculations.  For this book is so vast and meticulous in its examination of all aspects of the case that one can surely find areas that one might question or disagree with.

Nevertheless, Pease fundamentally proves that Sirhan did not shoot RFK and that there was a conspiracy organized and carried out by shadowy intelligence forces that did so. These same forces worked with the Los Angeles Police Department, federal, state, and judicial elements to make sure Sirhan was quickly accused of being the lone assassin and dispatched to prison after a show trial.  And the mass media carried out its assigned role of affirming the government’s case to shield the real killers and to make sure the cover-up was successful.

No doubt others will investigate this case further. Yet I think no more research is really needed, for as with these other assassinations, additional analyses will only result in pseudo-debates about minutiae.  Such debates will only serve to prolong the hallucinatory grip the perpetrators of these crimes have on a day of reckoning, suggesting as they would that we do not really know what happened. This is an old tactic meant to delay forevermore such a day of reckoning.

The facts are clear for all to see if they have the will to truth. All that is now needed is a public tribunal, which is planned for later this year, in which the fundamental, clear-cut facts of these cases are presented to the American public.  In the case of Robert Kennedy’s assassination as with the others, a little knowledge goes a long way, and only those who are closed to basic logic and evidence will refuse to see that government forces conspired to kill these men and did so because all were seeking peace and justice that was then, and is now, a threat to the war-making forces of wealth and power that control the American government.

Pease writes:

Anyone who has looked closely and honestly at the evidence has realized that more than one person was involved in Robert Kennedy’s death.  So why can’t reporters see this?  Why can’t the media explain this?  Because the media and the government are two sides of the same coin, and those who challenge the government’s version of history, as numerous reporters have found out, all too often lose status and sometimes whole careers.  Kristina Borjesson published an anthology of such stories in her book Into the Buzzsaw, in which journalists describe how they lost their careers when of them expressed a truth that the government did not want exposed.

Lisa Pease discloses such truths.  I am reporting on her work.  Therefore, the mainstream media, except for an extraordinary reporter or two, such as Tom Jackman of The Washington Post, will likely ignore both of us, but the publication where you are reading this is on the side of truth, and in the disclosure of truth lies our hope.

Since more than one person was involved in the killing of RFK, there was – ipso facto – a conspiracy.  This is not theory but fact.  The fact of a conspiracy.  For more than fifty years, mainstream reporters have been cowed by this word “conspiracy,” thanks to the CIA.  Many others have been intelligence assets posing as journalists, regurgitating the lies. This is a fact.

The official story is that after giving his victory speech for winning the 1968 Democratic California Primary, Kennedy, as he was walking through a crowded hotel pantry, was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, who was standing to his left between 3-6 feet away.  Sirhan’s revolver held eight bullets, and as he was shooting, he was tackled by a group of large men who subdued him.  All witnesses place Sirhan in front of Kennedy and all claim he was firing a gun.

Fact: As the autopsy definitively showed, RFK was shot from the rear at point blank range, three bullets entering his body, with the fatal head shot coming upward at a 45-degree angle from 1-3 inches behind his right ear. Not one bullet from Sirhan’s gun hit the Senator.  In addition, an audio recording shows that many more bullets than the eight in Sirhan’s gun were fired in the hotel pantry that night. It was impossible for Sirhan to have killed RFK.

Let me repeat: More than one gunman, contrary to the government’s claims, equals a conspiracy.  So why lie about that?

What is amazing is that the obvious conclusion to such simple syllogistic logic (Sirhan in front, bullets in the back, therefore…) that a child could understand has been dismissed by the authorities for fifty-one years.  The fact that the government authorities – the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney, federal and state government officials, the FBI, the CIA – have from the start so assiduously done all in their power to pin the blame on “a lone assassin,” Sirhan, proves they are part of a coordinated cover-up, which in turn suggests their involvement in the crime.

The fact that Robert Kennedy was shot from the back and not the front where Sirhan was standing immediately brings to mind the Zapruder film that shows that JFK was killed from the front right and not from the 6th floor rear where Oswald was allegedly shooting from.  That unexpected film evidence was hidden from the public for many years, but when it was finally seen, the case for a government conspiracy was solidified.

While no such video evidence has surfaced in the RFK case, the LAPD made sure that no photographic evidence contradicting the official lies would be seen.  As Lisa Pease writes:

Less than two months after the assassination, the LAPD took the extraordinary step of burning some 2,400 photos from the case in Los Angeles County General’s medical waste incinerator.  Why destroy thousands of photos in an incinerator if there was nothing to hide?  The LAPD kept hundreds of innocuous crowd scene photos that showed no girl in a polka dot dress or no suspicious activities or individuals.  Why were those photos preserved?  Perhaps because those photos had nothing in them that warranted their destruction.

While “perhaps” is a mild word, the cover-up of “the girl in the polka dot dress” needs no perhaps.  Dozens of people reported seeing a suspicious, curvaceous girl in a white dress with black polka dots with Sirhan in the pantry and other places. She was seen with various other men as well. The evidence for her involvement in the assassination is overwhelming, and yet the LAPD did all in its power to deny this by browbeating witnesses and by allowing her to escape.

Sandra Serrano, a Kennedy campaign worker and a courageous witness, was bullied by the CIA-connected police interrogator Sergeant Enrique “Hank” Hernandez.  She had been sitting outside on a metal fire escape getting some air when the polka dot dress girl, accompanied by a man, ran out and down the stairs, shouting, “We’ve shot him, we’ve shot him.”  When Serrano asked whom did they shoot, the girl replied, “We’ve shot Senator Kennedy.”  Then she and her companion, both of whom Serrano had earlier seen ascending the stairs with Sirhan, disappeared into the night. A little over an hour after the shooting Serrano was interviewed on live television by NBC’s Sander Vanocur where she recounted this.  And there were others who saw and heard this girl say the same thing as she and her companion fled the crime scene.  Nevertheless, the LAPD, led by Lieutenant Manuel Pena, also CIA affiliated, who was brought out of retirement to run the investigation dubbed “Special Unit Senator,” worked with Hernandez and others to dismiss the girl as of no consequence.

Lisa Pease covers all this and much more.  She shows how Sirhan was obviously hypnotized, how the trial was a farce, how the police destroyed evidence from the door frames in the pantry that proved more than the eight bullets in Sirhan’s gun were fired, how Officer DeWayne Wolfer manipulated the ballistic evidence, etc.  Through years of digging into court records, archives, transcripts, the public library, and doing countless interviews, she proves without a doubt that Sirhan did not kill Kennedy and that the assassination and the cover-up were part of a very sophisticated intelligence operation involving many parts and players.  She shows how no matter what route Kennedy took in the hotel that night, the killers had all exits covered and that he would not be allowed to leave alive.

While some of her more speculative points – e.g. that Robert Maheu (Howard Hughes/CIA) was “the most credible high-level suspect for the planner of Robert Kennedy’s assassination,” that Kennedy was shot twice in the head from behind, etc. are open to debate, they do not detract from her fundamentally powerful case that RFK, like his brother John, was assassinated by a CIA-run operation intended to silence their voices of courageous resistance to an expanding secret government dedicated to war, murder, and human exploitation.  The U.S. government of today.

When Bobby Kennedy was entering the kitchen pantry, he was escorted by a security guard named Thane Eugene Cesar, a man long suspected of being the assassin.  Cesar was carrying a gun that he drew but denied firing, despite witnesses’ claims to the contrary. Conveniently, the police never examined the gun.  He has long been suspected of being CIA affiliated, and now Pease says she has found evidence to confirm that.  She writes, “It’s hard to overstate the significance of finding a current or future CIA contract agent holding Kennedy’s right arm at the moment of the shooting.”

Yes, it is.  As she rightly claims, the CIA takeover of America in the 1960s is the story of our time.  And our time is now.  None of this is ancient history.  That is so crucial to grasp.  For those who think that learning the truth about the 1960s assassinations is an exercise in futility reserved for those who are living in the past, they need to think again.  Our descent into endless war and massive media propaganda to support it is part of a long-term project that began with the elimination of JFK, Malcom X, MLK, and Robert Kennedy.  They were killed for reasons, and those reasons still exist, even if they don’t physically, but only in spirit.  Their killers roam the land because they have become far more deeply part of the institutional structure of government and the media.

Pease says:

It was horrible that Robert Kennedy was taken from us far too soon.  It is horrible that one man has borne the guilt for an operation he neither planned nor willingly participated in.  It’s horrible the conspiracy was so obvious that bullets had to be lost and switched to hide it.  And it’s horrible that the mainstream media has never dared to tell the people of this country that the government lied to us about what they really found when they looked into this case.  Until the media can deal with the truth of the Robert Kennedy assassination, and until the people can be made aware of the CIA’s role in slanting the truth on topics of great importance, America’s very survival is in jeopardy….We’ve come perilously close to losing democracy itself because of fake, CIA-sponsored stories about our history.  Should America ever become a dictatorship, the epitaph of our democracy must include the role the mainstream media, by bowing to the National Security state, played in killing it.

By writing A Lie Too Big To Fail, Lisa Pease has done her valiant part in refuting the lie that is now failing.  Now it is up to all of us to spread the word of truth by focusing on the fundamental facts so we can finally take back our country from the CIA.

Then we can say with RFK and his favorite poet Aeschylus:

And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

The Bible: Recipe for Genocide or Junk Sculpture?

What exactly is the religious rationale for Israel as a Jewish state? Who better to ask than an America Jewish secular journalist. We can assume that makes our investigative journalist a zionist (90% of Jews support Israel — DV Ed note: This is not a definition of a Zionist), but, as a journalist, and secular, our protagonist assures the reader he is interested in giving us as objective a version as can be expected.

David Plotz’s Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible (2009) puts the Old Testament (OT) under his microscope, knowing virtually zip about the religion, not practicing, nor forced to go to Saturday Hebrew school. Locke’s ‘blank slate’, sort of.

Plotz loves the ironies and contradictions of his journey and the Bible itself. He starts out believing vaguely in the existence of God, but not observing the rituals. During his 365 days of plodding through the book, he comes to admire the rituals, and starts observing Shabat Friday dinners, complete with prayers, celebrating Passover, New Year, Sukkoth.

But he’s not at all happy with the God the OT reveals. “I leave the bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I’m brokenhearted about God. God made me rational so I must use the tools to think about him. Submit him to rational and moral inquiry. And he fails that examination. The history of Judaism is an effort to grapple with the bible’s horror.”

Wow. But I’m sure Netanyahu is nonetheless delighted with Plotz. The zionists from the start wanted to dump the religion. Ben Gurion et al were atheists and saw Judaism as harmful, the negative legacy of ‘the Jews’. Think of zionism as extreme liberalism.

Succeeding minority governments give token power to the ornery Orthodox parties, but hold their noses. They need them for legitimacy as a religious state. No country except Israel recognizes being Jewish as an ethnicity in the census, not even the US. And neither the US nor Canada ‘do’ religion in the census anymore. What is a poor atheist to do?

Suddenly, the old archetype of the ‘wandering Jew’ becomes important as a way to establish this slippery ethnic label. But no! Jews no longer need to wander. They can make aliyah and go to Israel, the Jewish state.

Bible as land deed?

So agnostic Plotz is forced to turn to the Bible. What about the ‘proof’ that God gave ‘ the Jews’ Jerusalem etc.? Plotz finds that in Genesis, Jeremiah and Nehemiah, there are promises of land to Abraham at least four times, each time with different boundaries. The only mention of an ‘Arab’ is in Nehemiah, when Geshen is told “you have no share or claim or historic right in  Jerusalem.”

So how to get it? In their conquests, in Deuteronomy, the tactics are laid out: a city about to be invaded is offered the chance to surrender and be enslaved, or annihilated and women/ children taken as booty. That’s what Joshua told the Canaanites when the Jews decided to invade and take their ‘promised land’.

To quote the famous Judophobe Henry Ford: you can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black. A special deal for any non-Jewish city in the promised land: annihilation only. I.e., very black. But not to worry, fruit trees should be spared.

Plotz analyzes the biblical heroes. Abraham, Rebekah, Jacob get what they want because they finagle, cajole, argue, deceive, play mind games, misuse God to advance their lies. Isaac is almost sacrificed, tricked by Jacob and Rebekah twice. He is the accidental patriarch. A bit of a putz, like Moses’s brother Aaron, a very lax (cowardly?) priest, who shrugs off the golden-calf feasting, and was let off the hook.

But Plotz likes these wily trickster heroes. They start poor, bargain with God and get what they want. Great models for the Jews over the millennia.

Jeremiah is a favourite. Though all gloom and doom, he is the template for the Jewish character traits that have made the tribe the longest surviving and wildly successful star of world society today. He was the priest under the Babylonians, and ordered his flock to submit. This is the key to the success of Jews in diaspora (adaptable, cultured, flexible), but in its incarnation as Judenrat,1 a bit of a problem.

As they were getting ready for the gloom and doom exile, Jeremiah promised his flock they would someday return, that old contracts and land arrangements would apply “when Jews return to Zion.” This is the clearest land deal (no lavish boundaries from Iraq to Egypt). The most ‘historical’ one, unlike the legendary Noahide covenant, with Abraham as stand-in for the human race, or the conquest of promised land after the exodus, that whole episode at best a jolly good yarn.

But, of course, this is all ‘angels on the head of a pin’ stuff. The entire OT is a long, complicated pseudo-history, jam-packed with one genocide after another. Junk sculpture, according to Professor Emeritus in the Bible Department at Bar Ilan University and the Harry M. Starr Professor Emeritus of Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature at Harvard James Kugel (the Professor of Disbelief). Bits and pieces cobbled together in a postmodern pastiche. A bit like the state of Israel.

Universal God vs blood and guts

Plotz looks for hints of the universal God and finds them. Isaiah is the first. When not telling Isaiah of massacres, God explicitly values good deeds over professions of faith. There are brief moments of eloquent words of a new saviour, who sounds an awful lot like Jesus”

  1. The lion lies down with the calf (not the lamb). The leopard with the kid.
  2. The saviour resurrects the dead, offers eternal salvation.
  3. It is the will of God to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin … through him the will of the lord shall prosper.
  4. The servant of God is despised and rejected by others.

Plotz doesn’t have much use for Leviticus. It is full of rules for animal sacrifice and lots and lots of ‘Off with her head!’. There is no ‘Brokeback Mount Sinai’. But when bible-thumpers quote it to kill gays, Plotz suggests taking the offensive. There are death sentences for dozens of reasons (cursing parents, violating the Sabbath, sex with a menstruating woman). Unlike the New Testament and the Quran, the OT is littered with this craziness, plus torture and full scale genocide. Wahhab surely used it as a template for his extreme Islam. There is none of this in the Quran.

Plotz quotes the colourful “Let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you.” [Leviticus 18:28] But wait a minute. Who is the nation that came before the Jews when Israel was created? If the zionists have defiled Palestine, then they can expect the same treatment. Watch what you wish for, you might get it.

Time after time, reading Good Book, I was, like Plotz, appalled by the violence, the cruel vengeful, jealous God of the OT, grateful that I was not forced to have the God of Judaism as my standard. But Plotz is a proud Jew, and while rejecting the God (or at least defying him, like Plotz’s plucky patriarchal heroes), he brushes off the rituals and dives right in.

70AD the new ‘covenant’

If Plotz is a good example of today’s Jew, the zionists have won. Who cares what the world thinks? ‘We’ know we’re an ethnicity, the top dog chosen people. Who needs God? (But keep the OT just in case.)

Another Jewish look at Israel with the Torah in mind, Douglas Rushkoff’s Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism (2003), has no truck with using the Bible for a land grab. Rushkoff emphasizes the universalism of Judaism. God is no longer just for ‘the tribe’, not associated with piece of land. God uses the Israelites to teach others, and uses other people (and war) to teach Israelites lessons, but God does not directly intervene after Moses. God is internalized, like the Hindu atman (the eternal sustaining essence within every individual).

Rushkoff downplays the genocides, instead, arguing that the Jewish obsession with conquering Palestine is childish, that Jews have to grow up.  They will “lose the zionist claim over a patch of sacred soil, but get to claim the entire planet as a kind of Jerusalem.” The destruction of the temple in 70AD is really a leap forward in the holy covenant. Forget the temple. God is distant, but that’s ok for grown-ups. Humans must take responsibility to enact the holy teachings.

Rushkoff sees Judaism after 70AD as methodology, epistemology, holography. A Jewish ‘kingdom’, like any kingdom, will inevitably decline. The diaspora meant the spread of Jewish laws and values throughout the Roman empire and beyond. Isn’t that better than a corrupt, violent ‘kingdom’? Rushkoff warns that anti-Jewish prejudice is increasing. The Holocaust is wearing thin, the Jewish people risk losing their noble role in history with the reversion to tribal thinking, flouting, as it does, world opinion.

While Plotz relishes the ironies and contradictions undermining the OT (Leviticus’s “one standard for stranger and citizen”, and slavery/ tribal chosenness; visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments), Rushkoff points to the main irony: Israel is obsessed with territory, but the religion was founded and refounded on disengagement from the land. Everywhere is ‘holy land’. This take on the Bible is very different than that of Plotz, but Plotz’s vengeful, jealous God is the one at work at the moment.

There are still genuine True Torah Jews who go even farther than Rushkoff, and insist Israel is an abomination, that peace means (probably) Muslim rule, but that’s okay. Muslims have a great track record ruling Jews (unlike Christians). And there is a new wave of antizionist Jews in the diaspora who reject Israel in its present form, and work with Arabs and all, in a universal way. Where is today’s Daniel to translate this writing on the wall.

  • Related Read: “Hating the Bible
    1. A WWII Jewish-German self-enforcing intermediary that served the German administration for controlling Jewish communities in occupied areas.

    The Right Book at the Right Time

    If Vladimir Putin really wanted to hurt the United States he’d send Russian bombers to drop copies of Ron Ridenour’s Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert on schools throughout America. Chronicling US crimes and obstructions against peace for over 100 years, this Tsar Bomba of a book ranges over the 1918 US invasion of Russia, US capitalism’s neverending collaborations with fascists and takfiris, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination, Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and the momentous year 2001 when Vladimir Putin offered to align Russia’s foreign policy with the US only to get repaid by the US serving notice that it would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, setting off a new arms race. (Your humble reviewer believes that the only reason for the US to leave the ABM Treaty is that Dick — the real “decider” — Cheney decided that a nuclear war could be fought and “won.”)

    Aside from an exciting account of the Russian revolution, there’s little in the book about Russia’s domestic affairs over the past century. Instead, Russia and the US are contrasted in their foreign policies and dealings with each other. The chief takeaway is that Soviet and Russian leaders from Stalin to Khrushchev to Brezhnev to Gorbachev to Putin were/are a whole lot more cautious, practical and less ideological than their US counterparts. (Fidel Castro wanted the Soviets to leave tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba but the Russian leadership overruled it for the sake of peace. Russia played an instrumental role in the Iran nuke deal and, of course, convinced Assad to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.) The worldwide “communist conspiracy” was largely a mirage covering up a reality of the US continually poking the Russian bear with fascists on its western border and Islamic fanatics on its southern border.

    Ridenour has been something of a Zelig-like figure on the left: one of 4,000 people that Nixon put on a list to be rounded up and incarcerated in a concentration camp and also a target of dirty tricks instigated by the FBI and the LAPD. He reported from the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation, lived for years in Cuba (writing  for Prensa Latina) and once, during an anti-war protest with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, witnessed the LAPD beat up wheelchair-bound Ron Kovic with blackjacks.

    The timeliness and necessity of Russian Peace Threat was shown on February 12 when the Smithsonian magazine published an Uncle Sam-splainin’ article about the US invading Russia in 1918. The article worried itself with the problems of the US invaders rather than pointing out the criminality and real reason for the invasion. US troops, says the headline, were just “caught up” in this war — pure happenstance that they were thousands of miles from the US, killing innocent Russians defending their homeland. But, as Ridenhour meticulously details, the truth is that the international capitalist class was terrified of the success of the Russian Revolution and doing everything and anything to keep it from spreading, strangling it in its “cradle” as the racist war criminal Winston Churchill said. Capitalism is always and forever the most insecure system — it knows perfectly well how unjust it is. Nowhere in the Smithsonian article is it mentioned that the US destroyed 25 villages in the Russian Amur district alone or that America’s democracy-spreaders burned the peaceful village of Ivanovka to ground, killing 1,300 inhabitants.

    One of my favorite parts of Russian Peace Threat is the blow by blow account of how Cuba defeated the United States of Satan at the Bay of Pigs. It reminded me of Marx’s description of the communards in the Paris Commune. Also gripping is the story of Russian submarine Captain Vasili Arkhipov, sometimes called “the man who saved the world” because of his cool-headed actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As Ridenour details, there’s actually a lot more to this story of nuclear-armed Russian submarines off the Cuban coast during the crisis. Cut off from all communication with the world, the submarines had no clear orders when to fire their nuclear torpedos, besides being pounded by depth charges and unsure if war had started between the US and Russia.

    Interestingly, the Cuban leadership always had a more positive view of JFK than one would think considering that, of the 638 US-sponsored assassination attempts on Castro’s life, 42 came under Kennedy’s presidency. (Reagan led with 194, followed closely by Nixon with 184. Even the pious homebuilder Jimmy Carter tried 64 times to kill Castro.) Bobby Kennedy is quoted as suggesting a “Remember the Maine” false flag in order to launch another invasion of Cuba. And JFK, just 10 days before he died, approved a CIA plan for destroying Cuba’s largest oil refinery, a large electrical plant, sugar refineries, railroad bridges, harbor facilities and the underwater demolition of docks and ships. Yet the Cuban leadership’s overall view was that JFK had to appease crazy US generals and CIA officials.

    Bobby Kennedy suggesting a “Remember the Maine” false flag might come as a surprise to many but is completely in line with the history of the US ruling class. Ridenour ticks off the list of false flags, skullduggery and psy-ops: the “Maine,” the Gulf of Tonkin, Operation Northwoods, Operation Mongoose, COINTELPRO, Operation Mockingbird, the tale of Iraqi soldiers throwing Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and Gaddafi’s Viagra-popping “black African mercenaries” raping their way across north Africa on their way to Europe until mercifully euthanized by NATO bombs. Immense lies have to be told repeatedly to prep the US working class for war. Reading the list makes me wonder why many left-ish pundits are so incurious about 9/11 — about why, for example, World Trade Center Building 7 fell for two seconds in freefall into its own footprint even though no planes touched it. Considering how monolithically deceitful the corporate media is on Syria or Venezuela, is it paranoid or just common sense to believe that Operation Mockingbird (or something like it) is still going on?

    Another stand out chapter concerns the Soviet “invasion” of Afghanistan in the 1980s. With the US arming, funding and training Islamic fanatics in the countryside, the progressive government in Kabul begged Soviet leaders for 20 months to come to their aid. Russian leaders resisted and were bitterly divided — some, like Alexei Kosygin, foresaw the disaster to come for Russia — but they finally assented and, as the architect of the chaos and bloodshed Zbigniew Brzezinski said, “We gave the Russians their own Vietnam.” (Here, too, we see the Soviet leaders’ preference for caution and practicality rather than ideology. This time it was in the person of Leonid Brezhnev who urged Afghan President Taraki to go slower on social reforms to get more public support for them from conservative Afghanis.)

    It appears that Syria, Iran and Russia are driving the US out of Syria but it’s well worth pondering Afghanistan then and Syria now when the US can bring the world’s deadliest weapon — the US dollar’s reserve currency status — and almost unlimited resources to bear on any conflict. (Trump said in December that he’s getting out of Syria but ever since he said it, the US has increased both personnel and war material in Syria.)

    Ridenour notes that the US and Britain have used the Muslim Brotherhood and assorted takfiris for almost 100 years to divide and conquer Southwest Asia. Brainwashed Americans will be surprised to learn that Afghan women could vote, be politicians, were most of the nation’s teachers, allowed full education, worked in most trades and decided whom to marry and what to wear — and all of that (and more) is what the US destroyed because Brzezinski wanted to give Russia its “own Vietnam.” The US modus operandi is to do exactly opposite of what it says, in other words: “help” means “destroy” — something that Venezuelans are currently getting very familiar with.

    There’s so much more in Russian Peace Threat: General Smedley Butler exposing the “banker’s plot” to overthrow FDR, the US/Russian space race, the 2014 US-funded overthrow of the Ukrainian government and the 1990s disintegration of the Soviet Union which is now looking like one of the greatest disasters in working class history, not just because of the suffering and shortened lives of the Russian people but because it turned Uncle Scam loose to wreak unbridled havoc on the world.

    How important, interesting and useful is Ridenour’s Russian Peace Threat? Look at the photo below of all the pages I turned down. (An index would have made it even more useful!) With Russia moving its borders closer and closer to US military bases (ha, ha), the US placing missile launchers with both defensive and offensive capabilities in eastern Europe, the Russians countering with the development of hypersonic weapons, the shortening of the time either side has to decide whether to launch nuclear missiles, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock now at two minutes to midnight, the eagle and bear parrying and squaring off in the Ukraine and Syria and, perhaps, now in Venezuela — well, this is the right book at the right time for explaining much of the current world.

    Who will Displace the Omniciders?

    Citizens challenging the towering threat of climate crisis should never underestimate the consequences of our dependence on fossil fuel corporations. Real engagement with the worsening climate disruption means spending more of our leisure hours on civic action. The fate of future generations and our planet depends on the intensity of these actions.

    This was my impression after interviewing Dahr Jamail, author of the gripping new book, The End of Ice, on my Radio Hour. Jamail, wrote books and prize-winning articles, as the leading freelance journalist covering the Bush/Cheney Iraq war and its devastating aftermath. For his latest book, Jamail went to the visible global warming hot spots to get firsthand accounts from victims of climate disruption. His gripping reporting is bolstered by facts from life-long specialists working in the regions he visited.

    Readers of The End of Ice are taken on a journey to see what is happening in Alaska, the mountain forests of California, the coral reefs of Australia, the heavily populated lowlands of South Florida, the critical Amazon forest, and other areas threatened by our corporate-driven climate crisis.

    Jamail, an accomplished mountaineer, precisely illustrates the late great environmentalist, Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology. Namely, that “everything is connected to everything else.” Jamail makes the connection between the rising sea levels and the untold catastrophes engulfing forests, mountains, and the wildlife on land and in the sea. Jamail is not relying on computer models. What he is seeing, photographing, and experiencing is often worse than what the models show in terms of accelerating sea level rises and the melting ice of the glaciers.

    Jamail’s trenchant conversations with bona fide experts who have spent a lifetime seeing what mankind has done to the natural world, presents a compelling case of the threat the climate crisis poses to human survival.

    Jamail, near the end of his narrative, writes: “Disrespect for nature is leading to our own destruction… This is the direct result of our inability to understand our part in the natural world. We live in a world where we are acidifying the oceans, where there will be few places cold enough to support year-round ice, where all the current coastlines will be underwater, and where droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, and extreme weather are already becoming the new normal.”

    If you don’t know that melting ice and permafrost is a big tragedy, then that is all the more reason to read this book and immerse yourself in its vivid prose.

    His chapter on south Florida and its millions of residents is probably the one scenario that will bring the alarming message home to people in coastal communities worldwide. South Florida could be underwater in fifty years or less. Many of the houses, buildings and infrastructures are located only a few feet or yards above sea level. Engineers and some city officials see Miami Beach as doomed and say Floridians must prepare for evacuations.

    There are other more approaching, intermediate dangers. As Jamail writes: “One major source of concern is the Florida aquifer. Once that water is contaminated by saltwater, it is over.”

    Already, some banks will not provide 30 year home mortgages for vulnerably located houses. Some home values along the ocean are starting to be adversely affected. Insurance companies are reluctant to publicize their projections but their actuarial tables are not, shall we say, consumer friendly.

    Then there are the lethal-storm surges during major hurricanes as sea levels and high tides rise relentlessly.

    Most businesses, people, and municipalities are looking the other way. Two-term Governor Rick Scott (a corporate crook) even prohibited state employees from uttering or writing the words “climate change” in any state documents. It is admittedly hard to face such catastrophe while the sun is shining and most normal life continues. In 2017, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Florida Power and Light, the go-ahead to build two new nuclear power plants (they’re too expensive and won’t be built) to join its aging plants on the beach. Shades of the Fukushima disaster in Japan 8 years ago.

    None of these warnings are recent. Climate scientists warned President Lyndon Johnson about the dangers associated with carbon release in the atmosphere in 1965. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore released a detailed, urgent, report, with pictures and graphs, about climate disruption in 1993 to demonstrate that the clock was ticking. Unfortunately, in the following seven years, they mostly did what the auto industry wanted them to do—nothing.

    Some of the most poignant passages in Jamail’s book are the informed cries and worries of the onsite specialists he interviewed. People you have never heard of, but who should be heard all the time. One of them, Dr. Rita Mesquita, a biologist with the largest research institute in Brazil for the Amazon forest says, “We are not telling the general public what is really going on.” While the general public is spending more time in virtual reality and, with growing urbanization, becoming estranged from nature, this ominous disconnect is widening.

    The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has openly vowed to bolster more commercial development in the Amazon and on indigenous tribal land.

    How will India’s billion plus people get their water if its rivers dry up because the glaciers in the Himalayas have melted? How do you relocate 30 million people from Mumbai from rising sea levels? How do you head off spreading diseases due to habitat destruction? Meanwhile, 100 corporations (e.g. ExxonMobil, Shell, and state entities) continue to be the source of 71% of total global carbon dioxide emissions.

    There are 600 cable channels in the U.S. transmitting largely junk programs. How about one percent of them (six) being dedicated to the global stories and urgencies of climate catastrophes, and to how movements like Drawdown (of greenhouse gases) are succeeding in cutting these menaces (see Drawdown by Paul Hawken) around the world?

    Think about what we should be doing with some of our time for our descendants so as not to have them curse us for being oblivious, narcissistic ancestors!

    We can start with instructing our Congress to deploy its transformative leverage over the economy. The only reason Congress has been an oil, gas, and coal toady, instead of an efficient, renewable energy force, is because we have sat on the sidelines watching ExxonMobil be Congress’ quarterback.