Category Archives: Culture

Systemic Cruelty

When bailiffs broke down his door on the 20th June 2018 they found Errol Graham emaciated and dead. He weighed just four and a half stone (28.5kg). There was no food in the flat except for two tins of fish that were four years out of date, no gas or electricity supply. He was 57, lived alone in Nottingham, England and due to severe anxiety had little or no contact with family or friends. Unable to work he relied on state benefits to pay his rent, cover the bills and feed himself, benefits that were stopped when Graham did not attend a capability for work assessment. It was an isolated, painful life that ended tragically.

The conclusions of an inquest into the death of Errol Graham published last week, suggested “the removal of benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), despite his long history of mental health problems, may have contributed to his death,” The Guardian reported. His daughter-in-law, Alison Turner, went further, blaming the DWP for his death; saying, “he would still be alive. He’d be ill but he’d still be alive.”

This dreadful story took place in Britain, but it, or something like it, could happen anywhere in the world. It is but one of countless examples of institutionalized cruelty and systemic brutality, the greatest example of which is perhaps starvation and food insecurity in a world of plenty.

We have created a world in which the structures, systems and institutions are, by design, devoid of compassion, promoting suspicion and division; unkind policies flow from governments concerned solely with financial development and international dominance. False values are relentlessly promoted and crude methods of motivating people (i.e. competition and desire) to do what the architects of the machine want them to do are employed.

Growing selfishness

This hostile approach to living has infiltrated all areas, including schools and the home; parents, fearful for their child’s future in a brittle world, are more concerned than ever with academic achievement – believing success in this area will somehow enable their offspring to build secure lives for themselves – than with the cultivation of social responsibility. This conditioning into selfishness is borne out by various empirical studies; The Observer reports that, “psychologists find that kids born after 1995 are just as likely as their predecessors to believe that other people experiencing difficulty should be helped—but they feel less personal responsibility to take action themselves. For example, they are less likely to donate to charity, or even to express an interest in doing so.”

In addition to growing levels of selfishness and social isolation a widespread result of systemic cruelty coupled with intense competition – in the workplace, in schools and colleges and in the social arena – is psychological fear on a massive scale; ‘the world’ as currently constituted is seen to be a frightening place, indeed without the resources (physical, mental, family friends and financial) required to live – to ‘face the day’, pay the rent and feed oneself etc.—it is a frightening place.

Institutions and government agencies are regarded as threatening bodies of control; employees are constrained by procedure, drilled in rules and regulations denying flexibility crushing the humane, forming division. Once division is present the distance between procedural enforcement to impatience, and verbal insults to violence, is a good deal less than might be imagined; once an image of ‘the other’ is built and the threshold of self control, decency and mutual respect has been crossed all manner of abuse becomes possible.

For those on the margins of society – those with mental health illnesses; minorities; people who are uneducated or don’t speak the language well; men and women like Errol Graham, and there are many such, dealing with unforgiving inflexible forms of bureaucracy, corporations and bodies of control, is impossible, it literally makes them ill. As a result they retreat, hide away, are unable to follow the suffocating dictates and relentless demands, are overwhelmed by official letters, marketing emails and text messages. Frightened they simply stop responding, refuse to open letters, turn to drugs/alcohol, or some other addicted form of escape. To some the urge to ‘give up’ becomes irresistible and suicide holds out the promise, true or false, of release.

On a larger scale it is systemic cruelty that allows one billion or so people to live in absolute poverty, most of who are in South-East Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. Merely surviving another day in a world that is threatening to crush them totally, is the aim of life; ‘God’ then is a loaf of bread, a bowl of rice, a cup of drinking water. That such injustice and needless suffering exists in a world that is more connected than ever, is aware, more or less, of the problems and has the resources to end them is shameful and inhumane.

When we build systems rooted in injustice and division, devoid of all kindness and compassion, we encourage selfishness, suspicion and fear; and where there is fear there will be anger, and with anger comes conflict – within and without. Mankind is not this dispassionate machine, certainly not just this, and arguably not this at all. But intolerant ways of living beget discrimination and hate, violence triggers violence, hate fuels hate; this much at least we must have learned. And yet the systemic methodology that is feeding division persists, becomes louder, uglier, more extreme. It must end.

Institutionalized cruelty stifles humanity’s natural tendency towards expressions of kindness, concern for others, tolerance of difference and cooperation. All of which are extolled as moral virtues throughout the world, all of which allow a person to feel at ease with themselves and happy. And when a person is relaxed they can think more clearly, more creatively; kindness then becomes a facilitator of intelligence.

Social harmony, whether within a family unit, a school, workplace or a city rests on a series of interrelated pillars; trust is key, sharing helps cultivate trust and in a healthy social setting would be the natural way of things; forgiveness is another essential ingredient, as is tolerance. All of these principles of goodness flow from love – not sentimental emotional pink love, but that vibrant creative force beyond thought that animates all that is good. As the existing systems crystallize and become more extreme, it is upon a foundation of love and compassion that the new modes of living must be built.

A Nation of Lonely People in Dysfunctional Situations

Denied entry to the US (who knows why, and welcome to the club),1 I must take solace as a writer, traveller, travel writer, in others’ experiences in the creaking monster to the south (of Canada, but, hey, of most of the exploited world). In the writings of those ‘lucky’ enough in live there or at least visit at will.

Gene Weingarten, One Day: The extraordinary story of an ordinary 24 hours in America, Blue Rider, 2019.

Denied entry to the US (who knows why, and welcome to the club),* I must take solace as a writer, traveller, travel writer, in others’ experiences in the creaking monster to the south (of Canada, but, hey, of most of the exploited world). In the writings of those ‘lucky’ enough in live there or at least visit at will.

Weingarten starts from literally scratch, pulling a year, month and date out of a hat with scribbled numbers on bits of paper. The only limit was in the year; between 1969 and 1989, ‘far enough in the past to feel like ‘history’ and have a future to explore, but not so far so witnesses would be hard to find.’

He landed on December 28, 1986, at first, in disappointment, as it was a Sunday (bad ‘news’ day) and worse yet, the news doldrums of post-Christmas. But he forged ahead, assuming fate had something to tell him. He started out interviewing a few HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) types he saw in 60 Minutes, but even they drew a blank (!)

But after 6 years of research and writing, it turns out Weingarten hit a winner, though his journalist talent alone could turn a pig skin into a gold mine.

He cleverly sketches out a full range of Americana: lots of murders, of course, but also a historic moment in medicine (longest surviving heart transplant), crazy politics of race (Koch blowing his chances at a fourth term as mayor of New York), miraculous escapes from death, a vicious lawyer turned nice transwoman, lots of ex-soldiers, corrupt police … A page-turner from start to finish.

You can’t help but love all his characters (okay, a couple murderers excepted). And be overwhelmed by the feeling of a huge (too huge) nation wildly careering into a dystopic future, full of half-digested bits of flotsam washed up on the shores of what was once the world’s last pristine continent, and is now … Read it and laugh and cry.

One Day starts with a Romeo and Juliet American-style drama (insanely jealous Mark shoots Karen then himself, but only his brain, so his body is kept alive to allow harvesting the still-beating heart). You witness the delicate, urgent dance with donor’s family, recipient, the logistics of the getting-the-live-heart-to-hospital, then the breathtaking operation itself, all the ifs and buts.

To top it off, a ‘white’ male heart going into a black female body, to the tune of a twangy country ballad, thanks to Lefrak, ‘a liberal northeastern Jewish urban Yankees fan who happened to have a taste for country music.’ 28 years later, Lefrak now retire, a country gentleman volunteering at a local clinic with his wife, and the new heart owner, Eva, once again a nurse, accepting and thankful for ‘Romeo’:

Someone loved someone so hard they couldn’t bear to live without them. [Such a crime] comes out of something good. And something good came out of that.

The creepy, lecherous episode was courtesy of patrolman Craig Peyer, who ambushed young blondes driving alone along a bit of highway near a disused exit, terrorizing them but not going the whole hog until the fateful encounter with Cara Knott, whose training in resisting a rapist ended up getting her strangled and dumped in a nearby canyon.

This was before the days of DNA testing, but there was tons of circumstantial evidence and he was convicted. Peyer insisted on his innocence, but when DNA testing was developed, he refused. A nice irony,

just as Nazis’ meticulous record-keeping created evidentiary problems for them when they faced tribunals of justice, Peyer’s hot pencil had given prosecutor Pfingst a gift. By stopping so many cars that night [for minor infractions, to issue tickets and suss out possible victims], Peyer allowed Pfingst to create a convincing timeline.

Instead of ‘finding a complement in each other,’Cynthia and Don-Paul’s midlife-crisis marriage became ‘an unnerving echo of the darker part of themselves.’ Cynthia was keeping a diary, providing a pre-internet trail of her brief attempt to find love again. 28 years later, she and Don-Paul are still single, her daughter happily married. A dismal but sort-of happy ending. ‘Life is essentially a fatal disease of indeterminate duration. You can either cry at the unfairness of this or laugh at its absurdity.

Ed and Ellie Krug

Ellie Krug is better looking than Ed. Ed’s weak chin is now Ellie’s dainty one. His ferrety beak became a perky nose.

At his center he was not, as he had initially assumed, a man who wanted sex with men. He was a woman who wanted sex with men. And maybe with women, too. It was a complicated landscape.

‘Killer Krug’ was notorious for defending the bad guy in injury cases, but depicted in a Cedar Rapids Gazette special feature on model families with his daughters and loving wife, despite his conflicted identity,

a stratagem, … the suicide bomber technique: You make a heroic video to forced your own hand, using the specter of shame as a threat to preempt cold feet.

9/11/01 was his Damascus moment. A Bostonian, it could have been him on one of those planes. As s/he transitioned (he eventually took the final step), s/he tried to continue his/her prosecution of a ‘victim in a wheelchair, the date of his accident tattooed large on a forearm.’ She no longer had the killer instinct, and Krug Law Firm was kaput. One daughter disowned him/her, but 18 years later was living with Ellie. Ellie has had three short romances, one with a man and two with women; now she is lonely.

Michael Green should have died in the home fire, but the blackened lump was scooped up and taken out, nursed back to ‘life’, though with stumps for hands, a horror-movie face, and a body covered in scars. Yet, 28 years later,

He’s adroit with a smart phone. Somehow he types 35 words a minute. The only thing he cannot do for himself, he informs you solemnly, is tie shoes with laces.

He plays soccer and teaches it at a a summer camp for burned kids. He came to Weingarten’s attention when he sued Six Flags Over Texas amusement park near Dallas, demanding the right to ride on the rollercoaster, a story which went viral in 2012. (He lost. He ‘is not big on vengeance, but he does figure that he managed to take Six Flags on a scary ride of its own, at least for a little while.’

Battle of Jenkins Ferry, Pine Bluff Arkansas

The enduring anti-black/native racism in America was starkly seen in a battle over a Confederate-era flag of the Jefferson Guard, seized during the Civil War by Illinois, which was returned to Clinton-era Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in a Confederate reenactment,

in full regalia with Civil War-era rifles,’ including a drummer boy. There was nothing official about this: Arkansas had not yet seceded, though the rebel sentiments of the citizenry were clear. This flag could have been absolutely anything, and basically it was a little bit of everything. It all meant what it meant, whatever that was.

‘Amidst all the hundreds of people crowding the courthouse Sunday afternoon, there was not a single black face,’ thought 40% of Pine Bluff was African American. Historian David Perdue told the nostalgia buffs ‘We are one nation now, and we are whole and healthy.’

A very sordid Romeo and Juliet was Teana and Dave, who together murdered Teana’s parents and then dumped the bodies over a retaining wall, leaving lots of evidence. The police used a nifty new chemical Luminol which glowed an electric blue under a black light where there were traces of blood, lighting up much of the tiny house.

The 2,800 page court transcript showed Teana trying to play crazy, but student friends related how she was trying to get help for the murder just a few months before, and was totally in control of Dave. Teana claimed she was molested by her father and leant out to orgies, but her devout parents belied this.

The town of Winslow was traumatized and rumors immediately circulated that the pentacostal pastor Kern Qualkenbush was having an affair with Teana’s mother, and he and his wife Velda were involved in Satanic rituals. Their little white house with picket fence was burned and they fled.

Teana was sentenced to only 8 years (she was 16) and Dave got two concurrent 60-year prison terms. Now lesbian, she is happily married to Annette with a step-grandson Malachi, and works at Veterans Affairs, a friend of dog shelters.

A wild, upside-down Romeo and Juliet is Bob Stevenson and a very pregnant Melody Marshall of Cherry Hill, NJ, married in Jamaica 12/28/86. Ten years later, Bob pulverized Melody in a drunken rage, after he eavesdropped to hear she was still an addict, ordering percocet, and at the same, contacting a divorce lawyer. He feared that an increasingly pro-feminist legal system would give her custody of their son Bobby.

They both knew his attack was terrible, and both wanted to stay together, but the court issued a lifetime restraining order. Bob jumped bail, fled and assumed a new identity. Melody followed with Bobby. But their son Bobby was turning into a hockey star, and team members in Redondo Beach CA (Bob moved to the second best center for kids’ hockey) soon identified him as Bobby Stevenson. ‘No,’ Bobby said. ‘I’m Bobby Ryan.’ No one squealed, but the jig was up in 2000 when Bob foolishly used an old credit card. American-style justice followed:

4:45am a SWAT raid when a 20-member team of federal marshals broke in the door. They had automatic weapons and riot shields.

Bob ‘Ryan’ got 5 years (‘Light or harsh? Maybe common sense.’) and was out on parole in 2005, when he took Bobby to Ottawa for the National Hockey League Entry Draft, where he was picked up. A news photo showed Bob and Bobby grinning together, a no-no, and Bob was put under house arrest for 18 months. In 2014 Bobby Ryan hit the hockey jackpot with a $50 million, 7-year contract with the Ottawa Senators. The restraining order was never formally rescinded but ‘love conquers all.’ Or maybe a child. ‘The one thing they shared with equal passion was love for their son and concern for his well-being.’

Gas Attack (Klever, 1968)

A cold shower on 12/28/86 was the much-hyped Aeroflot full of Russian Americans returning to the Soviet Union, in ‘the final momentous, pitiful last days of the Cold War.’ Weingaren highlights Valery Klever, his wife Lidiya and daughter Karina. Klever, a famous dissident artist, and family were expelled in 1977 and he/ they hated life in America. They returned to Moscow and he died shortly after. Weingarten captures the poignancy and nasty subtext of Valery’s art: like Bulgakov’s 1930s novel

Master and Margarita, where people aren’t ‘disappeared’, they literally disappear—poof!—in the middle of the street and no one seems to think there is anything unusual about it. Unsubtle but also plausibly deniable.

His wife and daughter returned to the US, where both Lidiya and Karina became high power IT businesswomen, loving and hating America.

Karina Klever: The Soviet Union infantilized people. You became entitled, compliant, complacent. On perpetual welfare, given the basics, but not well off. You learned to accept that.

Most of these vignettes show a fatally flawed country, with too much freedom, no responsibility, lives laced with tragedy — a son dying in a freak Jet Ski accident, Jerry Garcia destroying himself on crack etc, gruesome murders, guns and more guns. Lots of prison, but also with healing and the up side of prison — removal from the scene of ongoing crime, the chance to complete high school, even university, eventually building a new life — all starting from some seemingly chance event on 12/28/86.

A nation of lonely people in dysfunctional situations. Where there are often worse things than being alone, occasionally better ones.

  1. My fateful attempt to experience the underbelly of the beast firsthand was a bike trip along the south shore of Lake Erie to the legendary Chautauqua (of Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance fame) and on to the eastern Grand Canyon, Letchworth State Park. I recommend this bike trip to any Canadian (anyone) who doesn’t fear Homeland Security’s Guantanamo-style greeting at any Port of Entry (all passports are on DHS computers). I had ‘booked’ several couchsurfing nights; the locals are generous, if mostly poor, this backwater being one of the many post-industrial failures, where only skiers and wanderers thrive. I hope none of my ‘contacts’ suffered for knowing me.

    Other documentarists of America’s slow, fitful and often outrageously violent decline are Linh Dinh’s Postcards from the End of America , Belen Fernandez, Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World, on native experience, works by Estes, Treuer.

Why Revolutionaries Should be Atheists

Orientation

As one of the co-founders of Planning Beyond Capitalism, you might ask why we would publish an article about atheism? Shouldn’t we just stick to political economy and leave people’s beliefs about the origin of the universe and our place in it for future generations to figure out?  We have many reasons for thinking that an atheist stance is crucial for revolutionaries to take. Politically, I trust atheists more than anyone else, because I trust that their political commitment is to this world since we do not have a back-door escape of some God looking after us in the next life in case the revolution doesn’t work out.

Most people believe in the existence of invisible spiritual beings. But most of them have not thought out clearly why they believe in them and how their lives would be different if they didn’t believe in them. On the surface, it seems to me a major reason why people believe in spiritual beings is because their parents believed in them, along with other authority figures in their lives.  Belief in spiritual beings might be practiced out of love and respect for those who have cared for them. Belief in God helps us to overcome a fear of death by the promise of not only a life in the hereafter, but an eternal life in the hereafter. These beliefs, combined with the propaganda of the churches, not just in books but in the liturgy, rituals, architecture, and statues that have been created, are bought and paid for by gullible parishioners.

For atheists it’s a different story. My guess is that most people who are atheists have thought long and hard about the existence of spiritual beings. Like most people who are in a minority, we know far more about the beliefs of the majority than the majority knows about our beliefs. If theists understood us, we would not be accused of being hedonists, or evil people with no morality.

The purpose of this article is to flesh out some of my own reasons for rejecting the existence of spiritual beings in the hopes of strengthening the commitments of other atheists who came to it more intuitively.

Qualifications

My references to monotheism will be limited to Christianity, which I know best. I’m confident there will be overlap with Judaism and Islam, at least in part. Secondly, I am only focused on the existence of God, not the subset of issues that come with it. So, there will be no discussion of where we came from or the existence of life after death.

Anthropological and historical reasons

In my opinion, atheists begin their contention with those who believe in God by mistakenly accepting that the monotheists move to dismiss animism and polytheism from the debate. Instead, I think atheists should make the monotheistic religion face that:

  1. For most of human history from 100,000 years ago until 5,000 years ago tribal societies did not believe in gods or a single god. They believed in earth spirits, ancestors’ spirits or totems.
  2. Once people began to believe in high gods (with the rise of agricultural states) they were polytheistic gods and goddesses for another 2,500 years before monotheism became a contender.

We should dispute this monotheistic assumption by making them face that people have not always believed in God and that their belief in monotheism is:

  1. historically recent, and;
  2. only appeared in certain parts of the world.

We must also challenge their assumption that monothetic belief is somehow naturally arrived at through the use of reason. We must make them face their blood-stained history of the subjugation of pagan earth-spirits, ancestor spirits, gods and goddesses on their way to a maniacal rule. We should not let monotheists smuggle in their claim to solely represent the forces of spirituality. A real discussion about atheism should be between atheists, believers in earth spirits, ancestor spirits, goddesses, gods and God. Monotheists should have to debate, not just atheists, but animists and polytheists. This will weaken the force of monotheism because in this light they are outnumbered, both historically and cross-culturally by animists and polytheists.

Geological reasons

Belief in gods or a single God was due in part to the results of large-scale natural disasters—earthquakes, volcanoes and floods or comet debris. These events filled people with terror and triggered their imagination with the belief that the god(s) must be angry. When people lack an explanation for natural events that threaten them, they imagine the disaster comes from a God who controls nature.

Notice how God is in control. There is no monotheistic deity who is out of control. In other words, nothing happens by chance. Monotheists prefer accepting even the devil to chance. At least the devil has a focus, a will and is predictably evil. The most important thing for monotheists to believe is that someone had better be driving. This hoped-for control makes it possible to influence God through propitiation, casting spells or praying.

Sociological reasons

As Marx pointed out, religion is the opium of the people. For the lower classes, it is opium because it teaches people to wait patiently through a miserable life in the hopes of a future “pie-in the sky”. Religion is also an expression of humanity’s alienated creativity. God is the doer of all things humanity wishes it could do but it cannot. Humanity then disowns its own creativity and projects it onto a god who then tells humanity what to do. Therefore, the utilitarian achievements in irrigation, agriculture and the calendar are attributed to the workings of God, not of humanity’s own creation. Others say that gods were once great human beings on earth who were reified by future generations that did not experience the new inventions directly.

If people wanted to be objective about the characteristics of God, those characteristics would have little or nothing to do with our own comfort level. But what do we find with the monotheistic deity? We have either a tempestuous father figure of the Old Testament or a loving father of the New Testament who, one way or another, is looking out for us just like the parents we wish for.

Furthermore, when life gets confusing or difficult, we are consoled by the prospect that God has a “plan” for each of us. But how does the plan work? How can it possibly be coordinated with God’s plan for everyone else? In answer to this we might be told “God works in mysterious ways”. In other words, secondary rationalizations.

A good objection to Marx’s theory that religion is the opium of the people is that if God is just a consolation prize for the lower classes, then that should mean that people in the middle and upper classes who have good material lives would be able to see through the subterfuge of theism and become atheists. But, as we know, there are plenty of people in the higher classes who have a good life, yet still believe in God. How can that be explained?

It is true that most middle and upper middle-class people continue to believe in God in spite of their comfortable conditions. However, it also is true that a higher percentage of atheists will be found in these classes. Yet this doesn’t explain the rationale of the rest of them. Another factor to consider is whether the economy or ecology of a society is stable or unstable. My prediction is that the more stable the political economy of a society, the percentage of people who are atheists will rise. But when the ecology or political economy becomes unstable, it’s a different story for the upper classes. For example, in contemporary capitalist society, the upper classes live very well, yet capitalism is very unstable and might give capitalists reason to consider believing in God because they don’t know how long they can count on their wealth.

Political reasons

The favorite explanation for the Radical Enlightenment is that religion is the tool of elites to keep people ignorant and distracted by the promise of a world to come after death.  This enables these elites to hold onto their power and property in this world. It is important for elites to ensure that people believe they are tainted with original sin because that weakens people’s self-confidence and resilience to navigate in the world with neither God nor the elites. It is also important that God be seen as a father, for that is a model for the habit of submission in the family.

Psychological reasons

I think Freud hit the nail on the head with this one. He said belief in religion was infantile. It was a wish to climb back into the womb where there is no conflict, pain or uncertainty. Everything is taken care of by the father.  People believe in God as a substitute parent who loves them unconditionally.

Wilhelm Reich thought that religion requires that sexuality must be repressed. Sexuality is a way for humans to give each other pleasure without the need of elites or deities. If people can be taught that sex is a bad thing, they will be more dependent on religious authorities to give life meaning. Or in the case of sour grapes, you can repress the desire for sex while pretending to be above it all, as Nietzsche might point out. Belief in God helps us to overcome a fear of death by the promise of not only a life in the hereafter, but an eternal life in the hereafter.

Where does this repressed sexuality lead? There is nothing sicker than the fantasy life and deeds of religious authorities whose sexual life is repressed. One only has to look at the torture techniques of the religious authorities against midwives in Early Modern Europe and the Catholic priests’ contemporary continuing molestation of little boys.

Ontological reasons

How can God be all loving and all powerful while there is great suffering in the world? How to account for the hundreds of thousands of innocent children and adults who are bombed, starved and inhumanely treated in the name of nationalism? Either God is not all-powerful because there is great suffering which he is powerless to do anything about, or he is all-powerful and not all-loving because he permits suffering to continue.

“Divine Intervention” by God into human history is a big thing. But what does it say about God’s engineering prowess if he constantly has to butt into his creation process? Human beings design things that can last a very long time without any intervention. What kind of engineer is a god who has to intervene in his creation from time to time because he botched things the first time? If God were all powerful it seems the world would not be in the mess that it is in. “Thoughts and prayers?” Why is prayer necessary if God has a plan? Why are we begging for mercy from a lousy engineer? Divine intervention reveals God to be a bad engineer.

Atheism and politics

The relationship between atheism and politics is tricky. Broadly speaking, those who are atheists are divided into liberals and socialists. Many liberal atheists are still supportive of capitalism. So too, many socialists are monotheists when they believe in some kind of liberation theology like those of the Catholics who consider Christ to be a revolutionary. Yet for all the reasons addressed above, those who are the most trustworthy for carrying through revolutionary socialism are atheists. As socialist atheists, we gain immortality through building heaven on earth, either in our own generation or in generations to come.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

The Mother of Us All: Ancient India’s Vedic Civilization

The previous article,”The Homeland“, described the origins of Vedic civilization in India. This one tells how it spread around the world.

Vedic civilization was in full flourish 7,000 years ago, the most advanced on the planet. “The country was a leader in world trade relations amongst such people as the Phoenicians, Jews, Assyrians, Greeks, … Romans, … Egyptians, Turks, Portuguese, Dutch, and English.”1  “The culture of India has been one of the world’s most civilizing forces. Countries of the Far East, including China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Mongolia owe much of what is best in their own cultures to the inspiration of ideas imported from India. The West, too, has its own debts.”2

Early Indian society was prosperous and developed surplus population. Groups of people moved east and west into the neighboring regions. These areas were usually already inhabited, but the newcomers brought a more advanced civilization and technology. And they were peaceful. Instead of conquering, they shared their knowledge and became influential in the society.

“Vedic wisdom flowed out from India in almost all directions, influencing language, literature, philosophy, law, and religion throughout Asia and, according to some scholars, throughout the world. Greek tradition holds that Pythagoras, Thales, Empedocles, Democritus, and others journeyed to India to study philosophy and that Indian sages visited Athens to share their knowledge.”3 Many members of the Druhyus tribe emigrated northwest into Europe, where they became known as Druids, the priests of Celtic society. Druid legends say they came originally from Asia, and the names of their deities are very similar to those in the Veda. [45] “The ancient Vedas … were also transported to Scandinavia. Later they became the Eddas, which still remain the ancient-most scripture of the region.”4

The Pahlavas and Parsus moved towards the Caspian Sea, where they became leaders of what became Persian society. The Alinas moved to the Mediterranean and evolved into the Hellenes of Greece.5 “Many people feel that Greece was the center of the development that established Western civilization. But the fact of the matter is that much of the advancement that was experienced in Greece was because of the influence, especially in mathematics, literature, and other fields, from India.”6

“In Story of Civilization by Will Durant, he writes, ‘Foreign trade of India is as old as her history. Objects found in Egypt and Sumeria indicate a traffic between these countries and India as far back as 3,000 BC,'” the time of pyramid building in Egypt.7

Judaism and Islam were also influenced by Vedic philosophy, as can be seen in the similarities of names and functions of Brahma and Saraswati in the Vedas and Abraham and Sarah in the Bible. Brahma and Saraswati are the creators of the universe, and Abraham and Sarah are the creators of the Semitic peoples, both Jews and Arabs.

Vedic Indians also traded and emigrated eastwards, bringing science, technology, and religion with them. Ancient Vedic temples abound throughout Southeast Asia. Angor Wat in Cambodia was originally built as a temple to Vishnu.8  The cultures of Java and Bali are to this day deeply influenced by Hinduism.

National Geographic magazine reported on archeological evidence showing that Australia received a wave of immigration from India 4,000 years ago. The newcomers influenced aboriginal culture and were eventually absorbed into it.9

“A thousand years before the birth of Columbus, Indian ships were far superior to any made in Europe up to the 18th century.”10  Explorers “traveled through the South Pacific over to Central America. This could be done by simply following the currents that flow to America.”11 “There they mingled with whatever people may have been there, but introduced such things as their language, art, agricultural practices, and religion, which, in various degrees, have remained amongst the practices of the populace.”12  “Through this sort of exchange came the adoption by the Americas of the culture and religion of the Vedic traders. Archeologists have found many Vedic deities like Shiva, Ganesh, Surya the Sun, Buddha-like images, all of which had been worshiped in ancient central South America. Images of Ganesh have been found and excavated in Mexico. He is also depicted in temple ruins in Central America. … Dr. Robert Heine Geldern, anthropologist, has written … ‘The influences of the Hindu-Buddhist culture of Southeast Asia in Mexico, particularly among the Maya, are incredibly strong.'”13

The Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza is built in accordance with Vastu Shastra, the principles of Vedic design. Temples in Central America and Peru have stone-carved images of Vedic deities and inscriptions in the languages of South India. Their builders moved huge rocks weighing up to 160 tons using the same system of levers used in India.14 “The Aztec and Inca gods, philosophy, architecture, and art are all remnants of that found in the ancient Vedic culture of India.”15  In North America the Hopis still maintain a mystical tradition similar to that of the Vedas, and their origin myth states they sailed to America from the East beyond the Pacific and stopped at islands along the way.16

Ancient records also tell of trade between India and America. For instance, “Indian cotton was exported to South and Central America back in 2,500 BCE.”17 On their return trips, Indian traders brought back corn and sunflowers, which became important foods in India.18

Considering all these influences, Columbus wasn’t totally wrong when he named the people he found in America Indians.

This global Vedic culture was the highest the world has ever seen. The next article, “Decline and Fall”, describes how it was lost.

Read Part One here;

  1. Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture, Knapp, Stephen (Detroit: World Relief Network, 2012) p. 147.
  2. The Art of Southeast Asia, Rawson, Philip (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990) p. 7.
  3. The Supreme Awakening, Pearson, Craig (Fairfield: MUM Press, 2016) p. 26.
  4. Proof of Vedic Culture’s Global Existence, Knapp, Stephen (Charleston: Booksurge, 2000) p. 185.
  5. Advancements, p. 240, Ancient History of Vedic Culture, Knapp, Stephen (Detroit: World Relief Network, 2016) p. 90.
  6. Mysteries of the Ancient Vedic Empire, Knapp, Stephen (Detroit: World Relief Network, 2015) p. 301.
  7. Ibid. p. 272.
  8. Ibid. p. 84.
  9. Lulu Morris, “Four Thousand Years Ago Indians Landed in Australia“, National Geographic, 19 May 2017.
  10. Geldern, Dr. Robert qtd. in Mysteries p. 194.
  11. Ibid. p. 131.
  12. Ibid. p. 162.
  13. Ibid. p. 194.
  14. Proof, p. 302.
  15. Ibid. p. 310.
  16. Mysteries, p. 182.
  17. Advancements, 154.
  18. Mysteries, pp. 202-3.

The Mother of Us All: Ancient India’s Vedic Civilization

Researchers have determined that the Vedic culture of India was the first global civilization. They have uncovered archeological and historical evidence indicating that the society which began millennia ago in the Indus Valley grew to encompass all of South Asia, then spread peacefully to many parts of the world.

Science and technology in ancient India were highly developed. “Some 1,000 years before Aristotle, the Vedic Aryans asserted that the earth is round and circles the sun. … 2,000 years before Pythagoras, philosophers in northern India understood that gravitation holds the solar system together, and therefore the sun, the most massive object, has to be at its center. … Our modern numerals 0 through 9 were developed in India. Mathematics existed [in India] long before the Greeks constructed their first right angle.”1 “To Hindus is due the invention of algebra and geometry and their application to astronomy.”2 Quadratic equations were first developed in India.3 “For years much of the world has thought that the advancements in mathematics came from the Arab countries, but nothing can be farther from the truth. They only inherited the advanced formulas from the Hindus, wrote about them, and then helped transfer them to Europe through Spain.”4

1,500 years ago the Indian mathematician Aryabhata wrote treatises on spherical trigonometry and astronomy, asserting that the planets are round and spin on their axes through elliptical orbits. He accurately calculated the size of the earth and the length of the year, the lunar month, and the heliocentric revolutions of Mars and Jupiter. 500 years before Newton and Leibnitz, Indians were using calculus to determine the daily motion of the planets.5

Medical practices in ancient India were also far in advance of those in other countries and in many respects rival our current procedures. 2,600 years ago Vedic medical texts “recorded complicated surgeries like cesareans, cataract, artificial limbs, fractures, hernia, intestinal surgery, bladder stone removal, rhinoplasty or plastic surgery of the nose, and brain surgery, plus suturing, the knowledge of the instruments needed for particular operations, types of forceps, surgical probes, needles, and cutting instruments. Over 125 surgical instruments were described and used, including lancets, forceps, catheters, etc., many of which are the same or similar as those we have today. Deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, etiology, embryology, digestion, metabolism, genetics, and immunity is also found in these texts.”6 They describe, 1,700 years before William Harvey, blood circulation and its role in delivering nutrition. They discuss “385 plant-generated, 57 animal-generated, and 64 mineral-generated medicines and how to use them.”7

5,000 years ago Indians were smelting iron to make tools, more than a thousand years before Europeans. They exported tempered steel to China and Arabia.8 3,000 years ago they were producing glass and coloring it with metal salts and exporting optical lenses to China. They excelled in ceramics, fabric dyeing, and cement making.9

Will Durant wrote, “The growing of cotton appears earlier in India than elsewhere, apparently it was used for cloth in Mohenjodaro.”10 Both the spinning wheel and loom are Indian inventions.11

Much of the evidence for these achievements was discovered during excavations of the sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Sir John Marshall, the archeologist who excavated Mohenjodaro, wrote, “These discoveries establish the existence … during the 4th and 3rd millennia BC of a highly developed city life: and the presence in many of these homes of wells and bathrooms as well as elaborate drainage systems, betokens a social condition of the citizens at least equal to that found in Sumer and superior to that prevailing in contemporary Babylonia and Egypt.”12 “It took another 2,000 years for the Roman Empire to reach the level of town planning and sanitation that had already been existing in the Harrapan culture.”13  “This Indus civilization was the most populous and largest of any culture of the 3rd millennium, a huge center of many ideas and forms of knowledge that spread in all directions.”14

“5,000 years ago, when the peoples of Europe were hauling stones across the face of the continent and grubbing out a meager existence, Indians … were living in elaborately designed cities with sturdy houses, broad, straight roads, public baths, and drainage systems that were hardly equaled until the Roman era three thousand years later. … But 5,000 years ago … the Indus Valley civilization was already age-old … with many millennia of human endeavor behind it. Usually we think of Mesopotamia as the cradle of civilization, but evidence suggests that the society of northwestern India, which has preserved its essential spirit over countless generations, deserves equal billing.”15  “This, therefore, was the real cradle of civilization as we know it.”16

According to Will Durant, “India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages … she was the mother of our philosophy, mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics, mother, through Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”17

Mark Twain called India, “Cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition. … She had the first civilization; she had the first accumulation of wealth; she was populous with deep thinkers and subtle intellects. India is the prime source of human development.”16

Vedic civilization was truly a golden age, fully developed both spiritually and materially. The next article, “The Global Culture”, describes how this civilization spread around the world.

  1. Ancient Roots of Modern Science, Teresi, Dick, qtd. in Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture, Knapp, Stephen (Detroit: World Relief Network, 2012) pp. 7-8.
  2. Ancient and Medieval India, Williams, Monier, qtd. in Advancements p. 69.
  3. Mysteries of the Ancient Vedic Empire, Knapp, Stephen (Detroit: World Relief Network, 2015) p. 4.
  4. Advancements, p. 70.
  5. Ibid. p. 61, 65.
  6. Ibid. p. 91.
  7. Ibid. p. 93.
  8. Ibid. pp. 116-7.
  9. Ibid. p. 122
  10. Our Oriental Heritage, Durant, Will, qtd. in Advancements, p. 106.
  11. Advancements, p. 107.
  12. Prehistoric Civilization of the Indus, Marshall, John, qtd. in Advancements, p. 158.
  13. Advancements, p. 160.
  14. Ibid. p. 162.
  15. India: The Challenge of Change, Traub, James qtd. In Mysteries of the Ancient Vedic Empire, Knapp, Stephen (Detroit: World Relief Network, 2015) p. 7.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Mysteries, p. 5.

Hollow Promises of a Better Life: Modern Day Slavery

Despite the fact that slavery has long been abolished it continues to blight our world, destroying the lives of tens of millions of people. The Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2018 estimates there to be 40.3 million slaves in the world; however, given the difficulty of collecting data, the areas that are not included – organ trafficking, child soldiers, or child marriage – and the fact that, as GSI says, there are ‘substantial gaps’ from the Arabs States, where 17.5 million migrants workers live, the actual number will no doubt be a great deal higher.

Of the 40.3 million total, 24.9 million people “were in forced labor and 15.4 people were living in a forced marriage.” Men, women and little children living inhuman lives, imprisoned, abused, crushed. Women and girls make up 71% of the total; a staggering one in four (10 million plus) are children.

Treated and regarded by those that exploit them not as human beings, but as chattel property victims of slavery are traded for money and services throughout the world. The Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of enslaved people – 30.4 million, and, according to Anti-Slavery International 9.1 million people are in slavery in Africa. Repressive regimes, such as North Korea, Burundi, Eritrea, have the highest prevalence of slaves. In North Korea it is said to be as high as one in 10. But no country, no matter how wealthy, liberal and well policed, is immune to this abhorrent practice, it is happening everywhere.

As part of the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSGD) member states committed to eradicating modern slavery by 2030. But, unsurprisingly perhaps, progress towards this has been slow and, as GSI puts it, “disgracefully marginal”. Human trafficking is now the second most lucrative criminal activity after drugs and it’s increasing; a large percentage is sex trafficking (of women and girls) and over half of people are trafficked within their own country.

The most common forms of slavery are: domestic servitude – widespread in the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries but also prevalent in western nations; sexual exploitation/forced marriage, and bonded labor (or debt bondage/debt slavery) – when a person works in exchange for a loan or to pay off debt inherited from a family member – particularly common in South-east Asia and the Gulf States.

In India bonded slave labor is widespread, with people, specifically women, from the Dalit (previously labeled the ‘Untouchables’) caste and tribal groups being most affected. Although the caste system is illegal, social classification based on the family of birth dominates, particularly in rural areas. In a detailed report on slavery the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) state that affected Indian “families [can] remain enslaved for generations, working in dangerous conditions without the means to pay for their freedom…the cycle often begins with a loan request made to a landlord or business owner for expenses incurred burying a family member, treating an illness, procuring employment, or staging a wedding.” Once the loan is given threats are made, exploitation begins, often the work done far exceeds the value of the debt. Rice mills, textile factories, farms, brick kilns are some of the prisons of bonded labor.

Lost lives

A large percentage of victims work in the supply chains of multinational corporations in the form of forced or bonded labor, including child labor. They are paid little or nothing, work extended hours often in unsafe conditions and live in appalling accommodation. The more complex the supply chain the greater the risk of slavery, the more difficult to trace. Food and tobacco companies, clothing/textile businesses, mining, construction (migrant workers are particularly at risk of exploitation in this area), seafood and electronics, all are vulnerable to modern day slavery.

While the act of enslavement may occur in the depths of the supply chain, products are imported to developed countries, making these countries and businesses if not wholly complicit, certainly partly responsible; GSI estimate that “G20 countries are collectively importing US$354 billion worth of at-risk products annually.” Hidden in large part from unsuspecting or uninterested consumers; slave labor is cheap, reducing costs, maximizing profits.

Consistent with most, if not all of our social and environmental ills the global socio-economic system of the age, and the attitudes, values and ways of being that it encourages play a significant role in feeding the ground for exploration and abuse. Under the poisonous shadow of Neo-Liberalism everything and everyone is regarded as a potential commodity, something, or someone, to be profited from in some way; it is an inherently unjust system that corrupts action and fuels social divisions.

Competition together with notions of reward and punishment form the foundation of its doctrine. Desire, and with it fear, are relentlessly agitated, contentment and harmony brushed aside in the relentless pursuit of profit.

Within the Ideology of Greed and Selfishness, negative tendencies are emphasized; instead of encouraging expressions of unity human beings are set in opposition to one another, forced to compete to survive. The economically weak and socially vulnerable are manipulated, exploited, enslaved, and when, through ill health, physical deformation, old age, or exhaustion, they can no longer work ceaselessly for a pittance or nothing at all, cast aside. Broken in mind, body and spirit, a life for many is lost.

‘I was looking for a job’

Human traffickers and criminal gangs engage in slavery for one reason: it’s the same reason that drives the business world, large and small, and preoccupies people around the world – to make money. As such, it is, as Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, says, “an economic crime”. They prey on the poor, the naive and vulnerable, those without work or those working but living in terrible hardship.

While it is estimated that one billion people in the world live in poverty, a great many more exist in economic hardship and insecurity. People living in destitution, desperate to support themselves and their families, are a soft target for criminal brokers with hollow promises of a better life: A restaurant job in the city for the daughter of tea pickers in Assam, India – and the teenager is swiftly trafficked into prostitution; work as a housekeeper in Dubai for a young Ethiopian girl, who ends up in debt bondage and domestic slavery, often sexually abused. Construction work for a Nepalese man in Qatar, trapped into debt by unscrupulous ‘recruitment agents’ and exploited by greedy employers.

Another major factor allowing slavery to flourish is neglect or the total absence of the rule of law, as in countries that have been torn apart by armed conflict, or where corrupt police and government officials exist. In such places – Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for example, human traffickers operate with impunity.

Over the last 70 years there has been a global population explosion contributing to a range of issues including slavery. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on Earth, now it’s 7.5 billion and there are also an unprecedented number of displaced people in the world – 70.8 million according to UNHCR. Without a home and stability, displaced people, including migrants and refugees, are extremely vulnerable. Uprooted and desperate, they can be easily manipulated by criminals seeking to exploit their dire circumstances. CFR relate that migrants and refugees, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, particularly women and children, are at heightened risk of enslavement.

The existence of modern day slavery is a stain on our collective humanity; this appalling practice must end, and, as GSI make clear, “governments around the world need to redouble efforts to identify victims, arrest perpetrators, and address the drivers.” The causes are complex, interrelated, connected to the current inadequate modes of living. If we lived in a world where social justice was central to economic policymaking, where the underlying causes of conflict were addressed and where values rooted in brotherhood and compassion prevailed, slavery would be banished. In the absence of such common sense and desperately needed radical changes, the steps required and advocated by those working in the field are all we have, and need to be acted upon – with urgency.

Like many of the issues facing humanity, modern day slavery demands a coordinated consistent approach, cooperation and commitment, not just among governments, but between nongovernmental organizations, and multinational corporations. Tougher law enforcement is needed, and greater transparency within global supply chains. Businesses should be forced to investigate their own suppliers, while responsible consumption should also play a part in cleaning up supply chains and helping to drive slavery from our world for good.

Why Making Young School Children Observe Veterans Day Is Problematic

Summary: Encouraging elementary school children to honor and glorify the military without a deeper understanding of militarism and war is simply indoctrination.

As we approach Veterans Day in the United States, many schools across the country will engage in some sort of activities or ceremonies to commemorate this holiday and those to whom it is dedicated. On the face of it, there is nothing inherently wrong with honoring people who have made sacrifices to defend their homeland, but the way we do it in the United States is fundamentally wrong and deeply disturbing, especially when young children are implicated in this.

In recent years it appears as though elementary schools across America have held more special events for Veterans Day. As part of these activities, children are encouraged to thank, honor, and even revere veterans. The basic problem with this is how it is framed and communicated to the children. Are they actually being taught what wars are, and why they are fought? Or are they merely told to thank and admire a veteran for their service? In order to have veterans, there had to have been wars. In order to understand the concept of a veteran, one needs to understand the concept of war. A 7-year-old child in elementary school hardly understands what war is. And if they don’t understand what war is, how can they understand what a veteran is, let alone honoring them in a meaningful way? And even if these children were to understand the basic premise of wars and veterans, how likely are they to actually make sense of this, when it seems as though the vast majority of American adults themselves are unable to do so?

Most Americans believe that the military protects their freedoms and fights for their liberties. But what exactly does that mean in context? How are the liberties of average Americans perpetually at stake? Many Americans would point to threats of terrorism or the prospect of foreign interventions in American affairs. But they seem altogether oblivious to the fact that for well over a hundred years, America itself has been and still is the greatest perpetrator of violence, covert operations, and militaristic interventions in the affairs of other countries. Most of the threats to American liberties from abroad, if they do exist at all, are the results of interventionist foreign policies pursued by American political leaders, corporations, and special interest groups.

Out of the many wars America has been involved in over the last century, only a very few can be characterized as defensive wars to protect the American people. And even those wars (e.g. World War II) brought great economic benefits to American corporations, at the expense of millions of lives and livelihoods of peoples both around the world and here at home. Other examples, such as the Iraq wars, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or World War I, were all wars which the U.S. entered into on its own volition. These wars, and the vast majority of American-led wars and interventions, were waged mainly for corporate profits and under the guise of either anti-communism or anti-terrorism, but not in actual defense of the life and liberty of the average American.

In 1918, legendary American socialist and trade union organizer Eugene V. Debs characterized wars throughout history as having been waged mainly for “conquest and plunder.” Debs argued that America’s capitalist class has always taught and trained the American people “to believe it to be [their] patriotic duty to go to war and to have [themselves] slaughtered at their command,” while the capitalists and industrialists themselves would reap the economic rewards of war. This notion of war as a highly profitable and lucrative endeavor was corroborated most famously by United States Marine Corp Major General Smedley D. Butler in 1935. Butler referred to war as a “racket” of which “only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about,” and which “is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.” Debs and Butler both argued that private profit, not defense of the homeland, is what drives America’s war efforts.

Today, many Americans don’t seem to share this sense of skepticism toward war and militarism. To most Americans it seems perfectly normal, that anytime the flag is raised and the national anthem is played, whether at sports events, concerts, or public festivities, we automatically equate these acts with supporting the troops and the military. To most Americans it seems perfectly normal to have military fighter jets fly over a stadium before a big game. And to most Americans it seems perfectly normal that children at a very early age are made to stand and pledge allegiance to a flag before they can start their school day. What’s lost on the majority of Americans is that these are hypernationalist expressions of jingoism and fascism, which are usually seen under totalitarian and dictatorial regimes like Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, Honecker’s East Germany, or Kim’s North Korea., all of which heavily indoctrinated their society from an early age, and which dictated reverence for and glorification of wars, leaders, and the military. It seems very odd and hypocritical that a supposedly free and democratic country would adopt such principles itself.

Many Americans, both liberal and conservative, are quick to thank a veteran for their service, all while more and more veterans themselves have become critical of such gestures. Some veterans argue that not everyone’s experience in the military was the same, and that thanking them for their service could trigger traumatic experiences and memories. Some veterans even argue that it evokes feelings of “guilt and shame” in them, and that it reminds them of their own “responsibility and culpability for the pain and suffering [they] caused innocent people.” They also argue that the general public doesn’t fully comprehend the “nature and reality” of war. Moreover, veterans may also “doubt the sincerity of these expressions of supposed gratitude” as merely something people say, not because they “care about what [veterans] did or sacrificed, but only to demonstrate [their own] supposed good character, or patriotism.” Other veterans argue that empty phrases of thanks, no matter how well-intentioned, only serve to absolve the public from the cost of war, and that it “lets [them] off the hook for what [they] have—or haven’t—done.“

In any case, these veterans would appreciate actions more than words. So, instead of merely thanking a veteran for their service, more Americans should organize and demand that this country free itself from the stranglehold of corporate control, and provide healthcare, housing, education, and full equality as a right to all people. Yet, while so many Americans pay lip service to supporting military personnel, they seem at best apprehensive toward taking such steps to fundamentally transform their homeland into a country that truly cares for and looks after not just veterans and their families, but everyone in society.

Young children in particular are hardly capable of adequately processing such complex thoughts and emotions about wars and veterans. Therefore, any superficial activity to observe Veterans Day in elementary school hardly goes beyond revering and glorifying militaristic heroism. But teaching young children reverence for war and militarism will not create a better society. Teaching them kindness, equity, and justice, on the other hand, will, because not only would a society based on those values be of much greater service to veterans, but it might even equip future generations with the tools to make militarism and war obsolete.

Opera in Crisis: Can it be made relevant again?

Introduction

Opera productions depend on much state support, which is in decline, as states themselves go further and further into debt. To try and overcome these problems there have been many attempts at changes in form and content and even transmission in recent years. But these changes do not solve cost or accessibility issues especially in an era where it is difficult to get people to go out to the much cheaper cinema house, let alone a phenomenally expensive opera production. Although nowadays one is more likely to experience opera as cinema than theatre. Can such an expensive medium become popular again? What makes an opera popular? Can opera be relevant to people’s struggles today?

Here I will look at the origins and history of opera from the late 1590s until today. Like other forms of culture, opera was initially influenced by Enlightenment ideas in its Baroque (1590-1750) and Classical periods (1750-1820), while the Romantic (1800-1914) reaction predominated in the early nineteenth century up to the early twentieth century. Enlightenment and Romantic influences could still be seen throughout the twentieth century with Verismo (c1890-1920) and Modernism respectively. The twenty-first century has brought interesting changes in form and content and a global appreciation of opera but it remains an essentially elite form of entertainment in terms of cost and audiences.

Early opera – ‘did not normally furnish half the expense’

Jacopo Peri is credited with developing the first operas. His earliest surviving opera Dafne exists mainly as a libretto and fragments of music. The earliest surviving full opera is Peri’s Euridice which was first performed in 1600. Peri worked with Jacopo Corsi, also a composer of the time, both of whom were influenced by classical Greek and Roman works. They worked with the poet Ottavio Rinuccini, a member of the Florentine Camerata, who wrote the texts. The Camerata were a group of humanists, poets and musicians in late Renaissance Florence who sought to produce new works more in keeping with the spirit of humanism in the form and style of the ancient Greeks.

Renaissance humanism was a revival in the study of classical antiquity, at first in Italy and then spreading across Western Europe from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Their aim was to educate people and create a participatory citizenry through the study of the studia humanitatis, today known as the humanities: grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy. The Renaissance contributed heavily to the spread of Enlightenment ideas which was a much broader movement.

In France, the Enlightenment is traditionally dated from 1715 to 1789; i.e., from the beginning of the reign of Louis XV until the French Revolution. Enlightenment ideas focused on reason as the main source of knowledge and propagated ideals of liberty, progress, toleration, constitutional government, and separation of church and state in opposition to absolute monarchy and the dogmas of the Catholic church.

The intellectuals of the Enlightenment believed that “humanity progressed through the rational acquisition and organization of knowledge, and that real knowledge resulted from observation and logic rather than tradition, speculation, or divine inspiration.”

Enlightenment ideas also had a profound affect on different forms of culture, particularly in the creation of opera.

The Florentine Camerata were influenced by the historian and humanist Girolamo Mei who believed that ancient Greek drama was mainly sung rather than spoken as the Greek Aristoxenus had written that speech should set the pattern for song. The Camerata were also critical of contemporary polyphony which was felt to be overused and obscured the words and their meanings. Therefore:

Intrigued by ancient descriptions of the emotional and moral effect of ancient Greek tragedy and comedy, which they presumed to be sung as a single line to a simple instrumental accompaniment, the Camerata proposed creating a new kind of music. Instead of trying to make the clearest polyphony they could, the Camerata voiced an opinion recorded by a contemporary Florentine, ‘means must be found in the attempt to bring music closer to that of classical times.’

These musical experiments were called monody and Peri’s operas had the entire drama sung in monodic style with gambas, lutes, and harpsichord or organ for continuo as the main instruments. Thus we see a radical development in musical form along with content coming from Greek mythology. This new ‘music drama’ was called ‘opera’ (work). Over time other composers took up these new ideas and eventually synthesised monody and polyphony.

Orpheus, the hero of the opera, with a violin, by Cesare Gennar

Peri’s opera Euridice tells the story of Orpheus (Orfeo), a great musician, who journeyed to the underworld to plead with the gods to revive his wife Euridice after she had been fatally injured. Orpheus uses his legendary voice to convince Pluto, the god of the underworld, to return Euridice to life. He is successful and they return from the underworld and rejoice. The use of this particular story from Greek mythology in 1600 showed the growing divide between the humanist intellectuals and the church. This was at a time when “the persecution of witches was the official policy of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches.” According to Helen Ellerbe in The Dark Side of Christian History:

Around 1600 a man wrote: Germany is almost entirely occupied with building fires for the witches… Switzerland has been compelled to wipe out many of her villages on their account. Travelers in Lorraine may see thousands and thousands of the stakes to which witches are bound.1

The fear of the devil and hell had reached terrible proportions and any reasonable call for mercy or reconsideration, like the theme of Euridice, most likely would have been dangerous at that time, except in allegorical forms. Not long after, the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi (with a libretto by Alessandro Striggio) brought out an opera based on the same story in 1607 entitled L’Orfeo, an opera which is still regularly performed.

Monteverdi constructed the opera score out of a daring use of many different existing forms – the aria, the strophic song, recitative, choruses, dances, dramatic musical interludes. While there was an actual written score, instrumentalists were allowed freedom to elaborate musically and singers to embellish their arias. While the work was admired up to the 1650s it was soon forgotten until the 19th century due to changing styles and tastes. When first performed it was in front of a a courtly audience of nobility and intellectual aristocrats. However, with the spread of interest in opera throughout Europe, public opera houses were built to hold larger and larger audiences by the end of the seventeenth century. Yet the expense of producing opera was becoming apparent as a French commentator noted in 1683:

The nobility of Venice patronized the great opera theatres more for their divertissement particular that for any financial profit that might accrue, since income from opera did not normally furnish half of the expense’.2

Thus we can see that opera was born in a time of church hierarchy and power, determined to wipe out dissent resulting in widespread fear and danger while Renaissance humanists were focusing on ancient Greek ideas of democratic society, and values like mercy.

Classical – ‘divesting the music entirely of abuses’

It was the German classical composer, Christoph Willibald Gluck who reformed opera in the 1700s as the freedom allowed to musicians and singers to extrapolate was seen to have gotten out of hand. His first reform opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, was premiered in Venice in 1762 and then in Paris, in a revised French-version, in 1774. In his own words, Gluck sets out his reasons:

When I undertook to set this poem, it was my design to divest the music entirely of all those abuses with which the vanity of singers, or the too great complacency of composers, has so long disfigured the Italian opera, and rendered the most beautiful and magnificent of all public exhibitions, the most tiresome and ridiculous. It was my intention to confine music to its true dramatic province, of assisting poetical expression, and of augmenting the interest of the fable; without interrupting the action, or chilling it with useless and superfluous ornaments; for the office of music, when joined to poetry, seemed to me, to resemble that of colouring in a correct and well disposed design, where the lights and shades only seem to animate the figures, without altering the out-line.

Gluck, like other classical period composers, sought to simplify music emphasizing:

Light elegance in place of the Baroque’s dignified seriousness and impressive grandeur. […] Composers from this period sought dramatic effects, striking melodies, and clearer textures. One of the big textural changes was a shift away from the complex, dense polyphonic style of the Baroque, in which multiple interweaving melodic lines were played simultaneously, and towards homophony, a lighter texture which uses a clear single melody line accompanied by chords.

Gluck, Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were all major composers of the classical style. These composers were on the cusp of a major change in society with burgeoning capitalism changing the balance of power in the feudal aristocratic societies of Europe.

In the past the role of music was to entertain the wealthy and powerful in their mansions and castles while praising the glory of God in the churches. Composers, if they were lucky, had the job of Kapellmeister, or church composer, who worked as artisans producing mainly hymns and oratorios or in-house for a noble patron.

Mozart sought to move away from this life to compose for a more bourgeois audience and become an independent contributor to intellectual life. This was a developing attitude of the intellectuals of Enlightenment Europe who believed in the improvement of humanity and civil society through increased secular knowledge.

Portrait of Francisco D’Andrade in the title role of Don Giovanni by Max Slevogt, 1912

Mozart’s Don Giovanni was written in 1787, two years before the French Revolution, when there was an antipathy to the aristocracy and a growing perception of them as a parasitic class. Don Giovanni, as James Donelan notes, gives audiences an exaggerated version of ‘an aristocrat who does nothing but consume, and does so almost joylessly’. He writes:

As the curtain opens, we see Figaro and Susanna; Figaro is counting off the measurements necessary for fitting a bed in his new room, and Susanna is admiring how she looks in the new hat she made for herself. You can already notice several things that indicate that something different from standard opera buffa is going on: this scene of domestic tranquility emphasizes Figaro’s and Susanna’s capabilities as the makers and doers of this world. You can assume he will build his own bed; Susanna has made her own hat, and this opera, based, as you know, on a subversive play, appeared at precisely the time in history when a new bourgeois class of traders, bankers, craftsmen, and merchants were gaining power and significance in European society, and the necessity of having a noble class was being questioned very seriously for the first time. The workers of the world and the bourgeois created wealth, and got things done; the sovereign provided them with a stable government, but what did the aristocracy do any more except hoard valuable resources and put on airs?

The world of the aristocracy was in decline and a new world led by the bourgeoisie was in the ascent with its emphasis on emotion and individualism. The Romantic reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the scientific rationalization of nature produced a new culture that opposed the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment.

Romanticism – ‘mysticism and turbid emotionalism’

This change in attitude was noted by Arnold Hauser in The Social History of Art. He writes:

Since the advent of romanticism all cheerfulness seems to have a superficial, frivolous character. The combination of carefree light-heartedness with the most profound seriousness, of playful exuberance with the highest, purest ethos transfiguring the whole of life, which was still present in Mozart, breaks up; from now on everything serious and sublime takes on a gloomy and careworn look. It is sufficient to compare the serene, clear and calm humanity of Mozart, its freedom from all mysticism and turbid emotionalism, with the violence of romantic music, to realize what had been lost with the eighteenth century.3

The Romantics’ attitude to modernity was one of outright rejection. They were radical and individualistic enough to lead bourgeois revolutions but soon saw the abyss and the potential for their own loss of power and dissolution as a class. So, the Romantics looked backwards to medievalism instead of forward to proletarian revolution. Rather than questioning the organisation of society and who should own and control the new means of production in the ‘dark, satanic mills’ they chose to revere an ideal that society could return to peasant culture.

In Germany, Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz (1821) started the style which became known as Romantische Oper along with other composers like Albert Lortzing (e.g. Undine, described as a romantische Zauberoper ‘romantic magic opera’), Heinrich Marschner (e.g. Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling) and Louis Spohr (e.g. Faust). These composers based their operas on typical Romantic themes such as nature, the supernatural, the Middle Ages and popular culture, specifically folklore, culminating in Wagner’s ‘romantic operas’, Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman, 1843), followed by Tannhäuser (1845) and Lohengrin (1850).

Wagner’s operas grew in scale with more nationalist overtones but focused on myths, legends and nature, such as Der Ring des Nibelungen (the Ring or “Ring cycle“), a set of four operas based loosely on figures and elements from Germanic mythology. As his fame and influence spread throughout Europe other composers took on board some elements of his style and rejected others.

As nationalists moved away from universalist enlightenment ideas such as equality of all before the law, opera became a powerful tool to promote the idea of ethnic groups as the true basis of the nation state. Folk songs and folk dances as well as nationalist subjects formed the new content of the new operas. In Italy, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco contains the lyrics, “Oh mia Patria sì bella e perduta (Oh my Fatherland so beautiful and lost!)! In Russia Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar (1836) tells the story of the Russian peasant and patriotic hero Ivan Susanin who sacrifices his life for the Tsar by leading astray a group of marauding Poles who were hunting him. In Brazil, Carlos Gomes’ (1836–1896) opera Il Guarany (1870) used references from the country’s folk music and traditional themes while the Czech composer Antonín Leopold Dvorák used the Czech language for his librettos to convey the Czech national spirit.

Verismo – ‘focusing on the hard-knock lives’

In Italy, the growth of Realism in art and literature was making itself felt among opera composers such as Pietro Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana, 1890), Ruggero Leoncavallo (Pagliacci, 1892), Umberto Giordano (Mala vita, 1892), Francesco Cilea (L’arlesiana, 1897) and Giacomo Puccini (La bohème, 1896) and they developed their own style called verismo (Italian for “realism”, from vero, meaning “true”). Realism opposed Romantic idealisation or dramatisation and focused more on working class people instead. The popularity of Wagner’s work with its social and political mythologising had had its effects. As Adam Parker notes:

The Italians took notice and, coping with their own political, economic and social upheavals, began to embrace a more realistic operatic style that strived to show aspects of everyday life and convey basic truths about human struggles. The music, too, changed. Standard arias — pauses in the action that showcased the talents of singers — gave way to a more unified structure and constant musical flow. Italian composers cast aside romantic fairy tales and stopped short of embracing Wagner’s mythical realms, preferring to focus on the hard-knock lives of characters who often were simple village-dwellers, impoverished, lovelorn and prone to make mistakes.

Giacomo Puccini, one of the composers most closely associated with verismo.

The Italian Verismo composers were highly influenced by the realistic literary works of Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac and Henrik Ibsen and sought to bring opera down to earth by examining the lives of ordinary people, the lives of the poor, with themes such as infidelity, revenge, and violence.

The Verismo singing style brought in big changes from the elegant bel canto style of the 19th century. Verismo singers adopted a more declamatory singing style with a vociferous, passionate element to increase the emotional content of the opera.

20th Century – ‘losing much of its narrative power’

The twentieth century led to many changes as Modernism and Postmodernism, descendants of Romanticism, settled into Western culture while Realism and Social Realism, descendants of the universalist ideas of the Enlightenment, became state styles in the East. The Modernist composers rejected traditions such as classical ideas of form in art (harmony, symmetry, and order). As in literature and art, Modernist emphasis on new forms had their effect on opera as atonal, and then twelve-tone techniques were developed by Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, while later in the century Philip Glass and John Adams became known for a pared-down style of composing called Minimalism.

Atonality, which describes music that lacks a key, became became used from the early twentieth-century onwards and began a breakdown of the forms of classical European music which had existed from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.

The knock-on effects were profound, as Andrew Clements writes:

With the collapse of tonality, music had lost much of its narrative power, they reasoned, and so storytelling need no longer be a prerequisite of opera either. The music would still contain, support and reinforce the onstage drama, but that drama didn’t need to be linear: scenes could proceed simultaneously (as in Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten, 1965), present different versions of the same story (Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus), tell no story at all (Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach) or dispense with a text altogether (Wolfgang Rihm’s Séraphin, 1995).

Meanwhile, in Russia there were many successful composers. Mikhail Glinka’s (1804–1857) A Life for the Tsar was followed by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813–1869) and his opera Rusalka (1856) and revolutionary The Stone Guest (1872), Modest Mussorgsky’s (1839–1881) Boris Godunov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s (1840–1893) Eugene Onegin (Yevgeny Onegin), (1877–1878) and The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya dama) (1890) and the prolific Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) who completed fifteen operas.

The Soviet state encouraged opera and many new operas were produced by a new generation of composers. While the early operas were influenced by Modernism, things started to change as the 1934 Soviet Writers Congress instigated a policy of Socialist Realism and by 1946 the Zhdanov Doctrine was proposed which opposed  “cosmopolitanism” (which meant native Russian accomplishments were to be emphasised more than foreign models) and the “anti-formalism campaign” (which saw “formalism” as art for art’s sake and did not serve a larger social purpose).

Most famously Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906–1975) Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (performed in 1934) was criticised by Pravda in an article entitled Chaos Instead of Music in 1936. The story centres around a lonely woman in 19th-century Russia who falls in love with one of her husband’s workers and is driven to murder. While there doesn’t seem to have been any problem with the content, however, one can see the reaction to Western Modernism playing out in the description of the opera:

From the first minute, the listener is shocked by deliberate dissonance, by a confused stream of sound. Snatches of melody, the beginnings of a musical phrase, are drowned, emerge again, and disappear in a grinding and squealing roar. To follow this “music” is most difficult; to remember it, impossible. Thus it goes, practically throughout the entire opera. The singing on the stage is replaced by shrieks. If the composer chances to come upon the path of a clear and simple melody, he throws himself back into a wilderness of musical chaos – in places becoming cacophony. The expression which the listener expects is supplanted by wild rhythm. Passion is here supposed to be expressed by noise. All this is not due to lack of talent, or lack of ability to depict strong and simple emotions in music. Here is music turned deliberately inside out in order that nothing will be reminiscent of classical opera, or have anything in common with symphonic music or with simple and popular musical language accessible to all.

When an editor of Pravda was asked why Shostakovich was targeted, he replied:

We had to begin with somebody. Shostakovich was the most famous, and a blow against him would create immediate repercussions and would make his imitators in music and elsewhere sit up and take notice. Furthermore, Shostakovich is a real artist, there is a touch of genius in him. A man like that is worth fighting for, is worth saving … We had faith in his essential wholesomeness. We knew that he could stand the shock … Shostakovich knows and everyone else knows that there is no malice in our attack. He knows and everyone else knows that there is no desire to destroy him.4

Indeed, Shostakovich was awarded the USSR State Prize in 1941 (Piano Quintet), 1942 (Symphony No. 7), 1950 (Song of the Forests – The Fall of Berlin for chorus) and 1952 (Ten Poems for Chorus opus 88).

The first time the USSR State Prize was awarded for opera was to Uzeyir Hajibeyov for the opera Keroghlu in 1941. It was the first opera in the Muslim East. Koroghlu was based on a regional legend about a young man who organized a rebellion against the khan (king), who had blinded his father out of spite. Hajibayov uses the rhythms of Azerbaijan’s Yalli dance in the choir’s singing to reflect the strength of the people and their yearning for freedom. The large choir conveys the unity of the people and glorifies their rebellion.


Koroglu is a “classical opera complete with arias, choruses and ballet, but like so much of Hajibayov’s work it also includes traditional rhythms and melodies. […] Hajibayov included folk instruments such as the tar, zurna (pipe) and nagara (drum) in the orchestra to heighten the sense of place. […] The opera quickly gained popular acclaim and was performed widely.”

Thus we can see the huge gap that opened up between modernist opera in the West, its influence in the East, and the kind of opera that was promoted in the Soviet Union.

Twenty-First Century – ‘no use pretending something’s not broken’

A couple of years ago Classical-Music.com asked leading opera singers to list their top operas. Five were composed in this century: Jake Heggie, Dead Man Walking (2000), Mark-Anthony Turnage, The Silver Tassie (2002), George Benjamin, Written on Skin (2012), Thomas Adès, The Exterminating Angel (2016). Despite the variety of themes and historical periods – showing that opera composition and production is alive and well, in the words of Graham Vick (thestage.co.uk): “we need to bend – there’s no use pretending something’s not broken.”

Recent writers on opera are well aware of the issues involved and have come at the problem from differing perspectives. For Vick, issues of form were uppermost in his thoughts. In an article entitled Opera needs radical overhaul to survive, he writes:

We must stop believing that, if we work really hard, we might be almost as good as the legitimate theatre. Our agonising nostalgia for class (Downton Abbey only the most recent example) perpetuates philistine values. Crippled with self-doubt and privilege, the art form can hardly be heard in the wider society. A charge often levelled against it is that it is ‘owned by the few’. It is this sense of possession and superiority that is its greatest enemy.

He suggests different ways that opera companies can overcome these problems such as having touring versions and lowering seat prices by lowering performance costs.

For writers like Richard Morrison (chief music critic of the Times) content is a determining factor for future survival. In a recent article he discusses Anthony Bolton’s The Life and Death of Alexander Litivinenko (spy killed by polonium), John Adams’s Death of Klinghoffer (hijacking of a cruise ship), and Tansy Davies’s Between Worlds (about five people trapped in the World Trade Centre on 9/11). He questions the subject matter of recent operas which seems to be almost a strategy of using shock tactics to get punters back into the opera house:

Can anything and everything be turned into art? Is the entire human condition fair game for a writer, painter or composer? Or are some real-life subjects so horrific or still so fresh that they should be off limits, at least until those caught up in them are no longer around to be offended?

Both of these are valid and important perspectives on the ongoing problems of the opera business. However, like cinema, the more expensive a cultural medium is, the more its ideology is tightly controlled by those who hold the purse strings. The mass media corporations control how everything is seen and understood, saturating the media with ideologies that favour the world outlook of the neoliberal elites. This allows them to promote conflicts that suit their agenda (e.g. the bombing of Libya) and neutralise the ones that are not going their way (e.g. the attacks on Syria).

Conclusion

For culture in general to inspire future interest and support it must move away from the narratives and objectives of the elites. Working class struggles have shaped the world and any improvements in living conditions have been won after years of often violent conflict and sacrifice. These stories, histories and even allegories of these stories have formed the basis of culture in the past. Ordinary people do not own their own mass communications media or opera houses but know art made in solidarity with their plight (whether it be local or abroad) when they see it. Therefore, yes, anything and everything be turned into art, that is, if it is made in such a way that empathy, solidarity and progress is the result of the work and not just a distant spectacle as a vehicle for shock-horror or laughs. For opera to have distinctive, compelling, and meaningful engagements with people in the future it must first invest in its most important component: its audiences.

  1. Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History (Morningstar and Lark, 1995), p. 136/7.
  2. Daniel Snowman, The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera (Atlantic Books, London, 2010), p. 36.
  3. Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Vol. 3 (Vintage Books: New York, 1958), p. 225.
  4. Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Harper Perennial: London, 2009), p. 249.

War: Ruinations and Ruminations

Ruinous and deadly wars throughout history should have given people everywhere down through the ages cause and pause for thinking about what has happened and why it has happened. While many people presumably have and continue to do just that, what they know and understand is usually controlled by their nation’s power elite. That is never more the case than in America from its beginning and continuing. The power elite (aka the ruling class) in the “Devil’s Marriage” between Corporate America and Government America that make up America’s corpocracy essentially control what most Americans know and understand about what the corpocracy has done, is doing, and plans to do next.1 As if that sort of exploitative wrongdoing were not enough, the power elite’s evildoing is ruining America and the world.2 America, as the world knows, is the greatest threat to peace.3

This article wrenches itself free of America’s corpocracy and gives readers an unvarnished review and examination of America’s wars since the time America “was born in the womb of war.” In one of my books I wrote about America’s “oldest professions,” warring and spying.4 If they are allowed to continue, one or more forms of doomsday will visit humanity later this century as some experts forecast.5 To rescue the future, America first needs to rescue itself from its power elite. In my newest book, “911!” I spell out in detail a rescue plan and who need to be the rescuers.6

The purpose of this article is straightforward: to make a convincing argument that war is neither unavoidable nor just nor inevitable. I start by “enlisting” (that word is not really meant to have military connotations) the “reinforcement” (ditto the first parenthetical) of luminaries down through the ages and what they have said against war. Following them, I am on my own with the support of my research and analysis to present my argument full blown. I end by giving my explanation for why war happens, why it seems to be inevitable and why it need not be inevitable.

Luminaries Against War Down Through the Ages

It is more rather than less discouraging to know that many notable people down through the ages have voiced their disapproval of and disgust over the habit called war. If the “voices heard” in this section of the article had instead been a roaring cheer for war, this article might never have been written!

Edward Abbey: Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.

Alfred Adler: To all those who walk the path of human cooperation war must appear loathsome and inhuman.

Aeschylus: In war, truth is the first casualty.

Aesop: Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

Anonymous: A great war leaves a country with three armies: an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.

Issac Asimov: Violence is the first refuge of the incompetent.

Major General Smedley Butler. War is a racket.

Albert Camus: We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realize that we know where it lives…inside ourselves.

Bennett Cerf: The Atomic Age is here to stay–but are we.

Agatha Christie: One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.

Clarence Darrow: True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.

Bob Dylan: Come you masters of war. You that build all the guns. You that build the death planes. You that build the big bombs. You that hide behind walls. You that hide behind desks. I just want you to know I can see through your masks.

Barbara Ehrenreich: No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Albert Einstein: War is an act of murder.

Abraham Flexner: Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.

Benjamin Franklin: There never was a good war or a bad peace.

Chris Hedges: The failure to dissect the cause of war leaves us open for the next installment.

Herodotus: In peace sons bury fathers, but war violates the order of nature, and fathers bury sons.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

John Lennon: All we are saying is give peace a chance.

Basil O’Connor. The world cannot continue to wage war like physical giants and to seek peace like intellectual pygmies.

Anne O’Hare McCormick: Today the real test of power is not capacity to make war but capacity to prevent it.

Charles Eliot Norton: The voice of protest…is never more needed than when the clamor of fife and drum…is bidding all men…obey in silence the tyrannous word of command.

George Orwell: Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. War is peace.

Harry Patch, Last surviving WWI soldier: War is organized murder, and nothing else.

Alexander Pope: O peace! how many wars were waged in thy name.

Ayn Rand: Do not ever say that the desire to “do good” by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity is good motives.

Jeannette Rankin: You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.

Bertrand Russel: War does not determine who is right, only who is left.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery: War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus.

Butler Shaffer: In this war – as in others – I am less interested in honoring the dead than in preventing the dead.

Bruce Springsteen: Blind faith in your leaders or in anything will get you killed.

President Donald J. Trump: From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars.

Charles V of France: Name me an emperor who was ever struck by a cannonball.

Howard Zinn: We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.

Say and think what you will about President Trump, I do not recall any of his predecessors publicly having made similar statements and then tried to back them up with executive orders. Any US president must be very careful in opposing the “deep” state or risk being assassinated. Recall what happened and why to JFK!7

About America’s Wars: Unavoidable and Just?
A Critique of its Wars

I answer here these two questions for each of America’s seven overt wars that I discuss. Was it avoidable? Was it just?  The first criterion is self-explanatory. The second could be ambiguous without an explanation. The criterion of justness is preferable to that of legality because the foundation of all law is a consideration of what is just and moral behavior. Moral behavior is doing what is right. Immoral behavior is doing what is wrong. Simple as that.

Born in the Womb of War: The American Revolution

The “Founding Fathers” founded nothing. They invaded a land already occupied and slowly began slaughtering the occupants. The invaders were America’s original wrongdoing and evildoing power elite. They mostly descended from England, a belligerent and imperialistic country that endlessly pursued war such as its 100-year war with France.8

These original power elite of America were already creatures of habit and heritage and clearly in no mood to kowtow to King George, so they started America’s first war. It was a totally avoidable and unjust war. To be sure, they presented King George a long list of grievances in their Declaration of Independence, but by signing it they had no intention of relying on state craft to seek a nonviolent resolution. Their “olive branch” petition sent later to the King, moreover, was clearly insincere and the King knew it, since he got it after he was sent the Declaration of Independence.9

Seeking a settlement with “Mad King George” would not have been as ludicrous as it may seem. His troops, fighting far away on foreign soil would never have prevailed in the long run even if they had won. Instead, they would have eventually dissolved from exhaustion, lack of resources, and sense of futility in the face of continued resistance and civil disobedience from the colonists. The American Revolution was thus a Pyrrhic victory for the revolutionaries, leaving over 25,000 of them dead and as many wounded, and predisposing the new nation to a future of warring as a habitual means to further its own colonizing and global exploitation.10

Civil War

The late historian Howard Zinn made it clear in his writings that President Lincoln provoked the attack on Fort Sumter that launched the Civil War not with the primary purpose of freeing the slaves but to make sure to maintain the ability to expand the nation’s territory and with it, greater markets and resources.11  Lincoln, in other words, was an early practitioner of imperialism by deadly military means.

The very Lincoln memorialized in the nation’s capital was also a racist as he clearly indicated in a speech he gave in Charleston:

I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.12

Whatever his motives might have been, and whether he spoke with a forked tongue depending on the audience, his decision to start the Civil War was deadly, unnecessary, and morally outrageous. Moreover, he prevented the balkanization of America into two smaller Americas each too small to wreak havoc, ruin and death on the rest of the world at the hands of America’s power elite over the ensuing centuries.

WWI

WWI was a result of multiple causes; namely, idiotic revenge over the assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, rivalries among imperialistic nations along with their lust for more international prestige and more global territory, and mediocre leaders who let the war happen, a war that left 10 million soldiers from the involved countries dead.13

WWII

That Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the U.S. are two tragic and memorable incidents that undoubtedly lead many people to believe that WWII was unavoidable and just. Not according to Zinn, though, who raised and answered several key questions. Was the U.S. involvement for the rights of nations to independence and self-determination? To save the Jews? Against racism? For democracy? No, not at all based on his review of the evidence. The U.S. involvement in WWII had no such high-minded purposes, and Zinn concluded that WWII proved the no war can be just.14  Zinn’s research along with many others’ historical accounts of WWII provide clear-cut evidence that FDR deliberately provoked Japan into attacking and knew the attack would prompt Germany into immediately declaring war on the U.S., which they did do.15

Appalling, too, is the fact that America’s power elite were profiting from financing and helping to rearm Hitler’s war machine after it was depleted by WWI.16  What is even more unforgivable is the U.S.’s atomic bombing of two populous cities in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombings, the first of their kind and the last so far on human beings, were totally unnecessary. Our government knew that Japan was prepared to surrender before the bombings, but our government bombed anyway to scare its newly created enemy, Russia.17

Fourteen countries were neutral during WWII.18 Not the U.S., where war is a racket!

Vietnam War and the Unprecedented Carnage

That the French left Vietnam after 10 futile years of trying to colonize it should have been a clear signal to our government that any attempt to dominate the country would also be doomed to failure.  But our power elite, licking their chops over the prospect of securing a gateway into the markets and riches of Southeast Asia, and motivated to stop the spread of Communism, ignored the signal.

It is so ironic and so sad that Ho Chi Min, who deserved to be the beloved leader of a unified Vietnam, emulated America’s Declaration of Independence in writing one for a unified Vietnam, which we did everything atrociously possible to prevent, yet a unified Vietnam nation eventually prevailed.19

The U.S. warriors and their cheerleading imperialists went berserk in ravaging Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Here is an absolutely horrifying tally of the losses to innocent countries and their peoples:

“–Seventy-five percent of South Viet Nam was considered a free-fire zone (i.e., genocidal zones).

–Over 6 million Southeast Asians killed (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia).

–Over 64,000 U.S. and Allied soldiers killed.

–Over 1,600 U.S. soldiers, and 300,000 Vietnamese soldiers remain missing.

–Thousands of amputees, paraplegics, blind, deaf, and other maiming created.

–13,000 of 21,000 of Vietnamese villages, or 62 percent, severely damaged or destroyed, mostly by bombing.

–Nearly 950 churches and pagodas destroyed by bombing.

–350 hospitals and 1,500 maternity wards destroyed by bombing.

–Nearly 3,000 high schools and universities destroyed by bombing.

–Over 15,000 bridges destroyed by bombing.

–10 million cubic meters of dikes destroyed by bombing.

–Over 3,700 US fixed-wing aircraft lost.

–36,125,000 US helicopter sorties during the war; over 10,000 helicopters were lost or severely damaged.

–26 million bomb craters created, the majority from B-52s (a B-52 bomb crater could be 20 feet deep, and 40 feet across).

–39 million acres of land in Indochina (or 91 percent of the land area of South Viet Nam) were littered with fragments of bombs and shells, equivalent to 244,000 (160 acre) farms, or an area the size of all New England except Connecticut.

–21 million gallons (80 million liters) of extremely poisonous chemicals (herbicides) were applied in 20,000 chemical spraying missions between 1961 and 1970 in the most intensive use of chemical warfare in human history, with as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese living in nearly 3,200 villages directly sprayed by the chemicals.

–24 percent, or 16,100 square miles, of South Viet Nam was sprayed, an area larger than the states of Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined, killing tropical forest, food crops, and inland forests.

–Over 500,000 Vietnamese have died from chronic conditions related to chemical spraying with an estimated 650,000 still suffering from such conditions; 500,000 children have been born with Agent Orange-induced birth defects, now including third generation offspring.

–Nearly 375,000 tons of fire balling napalm was dropped on villages.

–Huge Rome Plows (made in Rome, Georgia), 20-ton earthmoving D7E Caterpillar tractors, fitted with a nearly 2.5-ton curved 11-foot wide attached blade protected by 14 additional tons of armor plate, scraped clean between 700,000 and 750,000 acres (1,200 square miles), an area equivalent to Rhode Island, leaving bare earth, rocks, and smashed trees.

–As many as 36,000,000 total tons of ordinance expended from aerial and naval bombing, artillery, and ground combat firepower. On an average day U.S. artillery expended 10,000 rounds costing $1 million per day; 150,000-300,000 tons of UXO remain scattered around Southeast Asia: 40,000 have been killed in Viet Nam since the end of the war in 1975, nearly 70,000 injured, and 20,000 Laotians have been killed or injured since the end of the war

–7 billion gallons of fuel were consumed by U.S. forces during the war.

–If there was space for all 6,000,000 names of Southeast Asian dead on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC, it would be over 9 sobering miles long, or nearly 100 times its current 493-foot length.”20

This carnage was encouraged by the diabolically evil Henry Kissinger, then Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. “Kill anything that moves” he once told General Alexander Haig.21

Just think for a moment about the unprecedented carnage of Vietnam caused by the U.S. No nuclear bombs were dropped on that helpless, innocent nation and its neighbors, yet over 6 million Southeast Asians were killed by the bloodthirsty U.S.22 “Only” about 199 thousand people were killed by the two U.S. atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.23 If justice were to be served instead of being a travesty, any living perpetrators of the Vietnam War would be permanently locked up in solitary confinement.

Afghanistan and Iraqi Wars

Nothing more need be added to this finding: Early in December of 2016 CODEPINK conducted “The People’s Tribunal on the Iraq War.” Two days of testimony and documentation provided indisputable evidence: Afghanistan and Iraq were invaded not to combat terrorism but to gain control of hydrocarbon resources.”24

More Questions About War

Self Defense?

Would not a war of self-defense unravel the argument that no war is unavoidable or just? No, the best defense against modern warfare initiated against the U.S. is prevention through the U.S. having the right kind of foreign policies in place over time. Unfortunately, the administrator of our foreign policy, the Department of State, is a subsidiary of the Department of Defense War. Foreign policies are militant military policies.

Conscription?

Would the draft have been abolished after Vietnam if the government was convinced that all future military interventions must be just or avoidable? No, the draft was abolished precisely because the government knew future military interventions could not meet these two standards and more protests on the magnitude of those against the Vietnam War would surely follow.

Exemptions?

The more just and avoidable a war would there not be few exemptions granted from battle? No, in any American war to date the elite have avoided it like a plague. And how many politicians have gone into battle? They are spineless creatures that send others to their graves. They ought to be the pall bearers for every person killed from their wars and then held accountable.

Popularity?

If a particular war were just or unavoidable, besides not abolishing the draft, there would be very few conscientious objectors, draft dodgers or deserters. But just the opposite happened during WWII and Vietnam, the last war relying on conscription. During WWII there were roughly 21,000 deserters (one was executed) and 45,000 conscientious objectors.25 During Vietnam, there were nearly 420,000 deserters.26

Amnesty?

If a particular war were just or necessary, its warrior-in-chief would not have granted conditional or unconditional pardons or amnesty to war resistors over the years. Yet in the 20th century over 1,000 draft dodgers during WWII were pardoned by President Truman; Vietnam War draft resisters and deserters were offered clemency by President Ford; and hundreds of thousands of Vietnam War draft dodgers were given unconditional pardon by President Carter. Perhaps even warriors-in-chief can have pangs of doubt or guilt over sending young men unnecessarily to battle.27

Humanitarian?

What about military interventions for humanitarian reasons, to prevent massacres and to liberate people from ruthless despots, for example? Americans learn in their youth from school textbooks that America always has good intentions towards other nations.28  But that is sheer propaganda deliberately foisted by the power elite on the rest of us to protect their own self interests. No war can be legitimized as well-intentioned and humanitarian. To quote Einstein once again, “War cannot be humanized. War can only be abolished.”29 Finding and using a genuinely humane intervention requires creative diplomacy and a moral conscience, not military might.

Wars do not liberate civilians from oppressors. Wars kill the civilians, and tyrants in their lands often follow by ruling puppet regimes that suit the self-interests of America’s power elites. Throughout history wars on the average have killed more civilians than combat soldiers. The civilian casualty rate rose to 85% of all casualties during the Iraq War and probably is approaching 100% from drone killings wherever the drones drop bombs.30

The power elite profit more not by defeating the enemy, but by keeping the war winless and endless.

Morally Just?

I would think that only a psychopath or a diehard war rationalizer would argue that war is moral. How can any war justify such universal values as caring for others, fairness and justice gleaned from a search through time and places by a lawyer turned ethicist (an odd switch)?31

What about the lesser standard for behavior, the law that the corpocracy ignores, such as Articles 1 and 3 of the Constitution; 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments; all laws protecting human nature such as homicidal laws against murder; and international laws such as the 1928 Kellogg–Briand Peace Pact? I would think only people like the U.S. president’s legal counsel would make the legal case for war, torture, and the like.

MAD: The Safety Valve?

The ultimate war is nuclear war. One insane rationale for stockpiling nuclear warheads and threatening to use them in escalating international conflicts is called “MAD,” or mutually assured destruction.32 Would not a sane policy require making peace treaties instead?

Born to Kill?

Ever hear of a newborn baby with a weapon clutched in its tiny hand? We must learn why to kill and how to kill other human beings. If killing were instinctive, our species would either be extinct by now or substantially depleted. Were it natural, there would be neither PTSs nor suicides.

Here is what a former Army ranger had to say about the crucial role of military training in learning to kill: “Military training is fundamentally an exercise in overcoming a fear of killing another human.”33  This enterprising ranger subsequently formed a consulting group, “Killology Research Group,” a bunch of “Warrior Science Group consultants dedicated to protecting our families and our children and to the strong defense of our country.”34  Nothing surprises me anymore.

And that is why I was not surprised to read later how the military came up with the idea to tell its soldiers the Vietnamese were sub-humans so the Vietnamese could be killed without any guilt or remorse.  Soldiers were told the Vietnamese were “gooks, slants, slopes, and anything to make the soldiers think the Vietnamese were not humans.”

Think about it. Our government takes our youth, often under-privileged and poorly educated, and turns them into killers so that politicians can stay in office and the business drivers of the corpocracy can keep on driving and thriving, not dying.

About War as an Act of Murder

Its First Implication

I have no basis for disputing Albert Einstein, one of the world’s most brilliant minds, who claimed that “war is an act of murder.” If you agree, are you prepared to accept the implication that the people who promote war, that the people who provide the means for war and that the people who authorize war are surrogate murderers? And should they not be incarcerated for the rest of their lives as international war criminals instead of being honored?

A Second Implication

Silent Americans are a dependable prop for America’s power elite. Silent Americans thus become the accomplices of America’s international war criminals. If justice were to be served, should not silent Americans share the blame?

Yet Another Implication

We are all warriors.  When America is at war, whether an official or unofficial war, it is being carried out in our name, “America,” not in the names of those members of the power elite who actually are responsible for starting and sustaining the war. America’s wars, in other words, are our wars, whether we like it or not, whether we are silent or not. When little children are bombed to smithereens by our bombs, we are the bombers. Loved ones who survive blame America.

Why War?

What causes war and is war inevitable?

War boils down to behavior, what people do when they tolerate, promote, prepare for, authorize or execute war. Behavior always has two interacting causes, the person and the person’s context, or situations, circumstances and conditions that influence what the person does. By far the most influential part of the context of the corpocracy’s power elite are their countless props that they create for themselves. I call them props because they prop up the power elite’s power. Without their props the power elite would be powerless and there would be no more wars by them. Not being held accountable for their international war crimes is one of the stronger props. I devote a whole chapter in my book, “911!”, to enumerating and explaining all the props, and most of my plan for rescuing America from its power elite focuses on legally and peacefully removing all the props.35

A different explanation of war’s inevitability is given by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, a former high-level official in the Reagan administration who subsequently has studied and explained America’s corpocracy even more than I have done. He attributes the inevitability of war to the power elite’s ideology of manifest destiny of ruling the world.36 While their ideology does indeed influence their resulting war-oriented behavior, singling out and seeking to counter or end any ideology would be futile. Ideologies are strongly held beliefs that have hardened into concrete. Concentrating on eliminating their ideological belief of manifest destiny would be akin to trying to chisel away several thousand people encased in concrete!

In Closing

If we can accept seven U.S. wars as an acceptable sample of all wars, then no war is either unavoidable or just.

There are two ways to end war. One, knock down the numerous props supporting the power elite so that a “power rectangle,” not a “power triangle,” represents the distribution of power.37 Two, let doomsday in one form or another end war and everything else. If the first doesn’t happen, the second one will.

  1. Brumback, GB. The Devil’s Marriage. Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch. Author House, 2011.
  2. Brumback, GB. “Real America, an Endangering and Endangered Ruination”, Dissident Voice, March 28; OpEdNews, March 29; Headline News, March 29; PopularResistance.Org Daily Digest, March 31; Greanville Post, April 2; Transmedia Service, April 6; Uncommon Thought Journal, April 8, 2016.
  3. Post Editorial Board. U.S. Is the Greatest Threat to World Peace: Poll. New York Post, January 5, 2014.
  4. Brumback, GB. America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  5. Spratt, D. & Dunlap, I. “Existential Climate Related Security Risks: A Scenario Approach”, BT Policy Paper, May 2019.
  6. Brumback, GB. “911!”, Independent Self-Publishing, 2019 (readers can go to Amazon Books, enter “Gary Brumback’s “911!” book” and continue until “Look Inside).
  7. See the following references regarding JFK’s assassinations: Fetzer, J. JFK and RFK: The Plots that Killed Them, The Patsies that Didn’t. Voltairenet.org, June 13, 2010; Roberts, PC. JFK Turned to Peace and was Assassinated. Institute for Political Economy, July 20, 2018; and also, Talbot, D. The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. Harper Perennial, 2016.
  8. Wikipedia. List of Wars Involving England.
  9. Wikipedia. The Olive Branch Petition.
  10. Wikipedia. United States Military Casualties of War.
  11. Zinn, H. A People’s History of the United States, Harper Perennial, 2005.
  12. Ibid. p.
  13. Zinn, H. Howard Zinn on War, Seven Stories Press, 2000.
  14. Zinn, H. A People’s History of the United States,  Harper Perennial, 2005.
  15. See, e.g., Dietrich, D. “The Pearl Harbor Deception”, American Patriot Friends Network, December 2008; Petras, J. “Provocations as Pretexts for Imperial War: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11”, Global Research, August 3, 2014; and, Swanson, D. “The Ancient Mythical Rites of Pearl Harbor Day”,. OpEdNews, December 5, 2018.
  16. See, e.g., Dobbs, M. “Ford and GM Scrutinized for Alleged Nazi Collaboration”, The Washington Post, November 30, 1998; and, Paul, J. & Kuznick, P. “D-Day: How the U.S. Supported Hitler’s Rise to Power”, Therealnews.com, June 8, 2019.
  17. Kohls, GG. Dr. “The Hiroshima Myth. Unaccountable War Crimes and the Lies of US Military History”, Global Research, July 31, 2013.
  18. Chepkemoi, J. “Countries Who Remained Neutral in World War II”, World Atlas, July 26, 2018.
  19. Alpha History. “Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence (1945)”, Alpha History, undated.
  20. Wilson, SB.  “Remembering All the Deaths from All of Our Wars”, Counterpunch, May 27, 2016.
  21. Branfman, F. “The 10 Most Ghoulish Quotes of Henry Kissinger’s Gruesome Career”, Salon, February 13, 2016. For more literature about Mr. Kissinger try this sampling: Anderson, JL.”Does Henry Kissinger Have a Conscience?” The New Yorker, August 20, 2016; Branfman, F. “The New Face of Evil: Why Henry Kissinger is Still Relevant Today”, OpEdNews, April 23, 2013; Falk, R. On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger, TRANSCEND Media Service, May 23, 2016; and, Hitchens, C. The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Twelve, 2012.
  22. Wilson, SB. Op. Cit.
  23. atomicarchives.com. “The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, Atomicarchives, undated.
  24. Behan, R. “Yes, It was Blood for Oil: Codepink Nails the Truth About George Bush’s Wars”, OpEdGeneralNews, December 17, 2016.
  25. The estimate of WWII deserters is from Wikipedia The estimate of conscientious objectors during WWII is from the Living Libraries of the University of California at Irvine.
  26. Giraldi, P. “Deserters, Traitors and Resistors: A Long Tradition of Those Who Walked Away From War”, Huff Post, September 22, 2014.
  27. For President Truman’s decision, see Crotty, R. “The Draft Dodgers of 1944”, National Archives, September 16, 2010. For President Ford’s decision see Bates, M. “President Ford’s Clemency Program for Draft Dodgers and Deserters”, Free Republic, December 27, 2006. For President Carter’s decision see Lescaze, L. “President Pardons Viet Draft Dodgers”, The Washington Post, January 22, 1977.
  28. Fitzgerald, F. “America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century”, Little Brown & Company, 1979.
  29. Einstein, A. Original source unknown.
  30. Eckhardt, W. “Civilian Deaths in Wartime,” Security Dialogue, 2008 (1), 89-98.
  31. Josephson, M. “Teaching Ethical Decision-Making and Principled Reasoning. Ethics: Easier Said than Done”, 1988, 1, 27-33.
  32. Noble, S. Anarchy and Near-Term Extinction, Dissident Voice, June 18, 2014.
  33. See Killology Research Group. A Warrior Science Group Partner.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Opcit. “911!” See Chapter 5, Pp. 53-74 for a thorough discussion of the power elite’s props.
  36. Roberts, PC. “Why War Is Inevitable,” OpEdNews, May 26, 2014.
  37. Opcit. “911!” My discussion of the power triangle and power rectangle as symbols for the distribution of power in a nation see Pp. 3-4 and 104-105.

The Deep State Goes Shallow: “Reality-TV Coup d’etat in Prime Time”

This article was first published on February 21, 2017, one month after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, more than two-and-a half years ago. What was true then is even truer now, and so I am reprinting it with this brief introduction since I think it describes what is happening in plain sight today. 

Now that years of Russia-gate accusations have finally fallen apart, those forces intent on driving Trump from office have had to find another pretext.  Now it is Ukraine-gate, an issue similar in many ways to Russia-gate in that both were set into motion by the same forces aligned with the Democratic Party and the CIA-led Obama administration. 

It was the Obama administration who engineered the 2014 right-wing, Neo-Nazi coup in Ukraine as part of its agenda to undermine Russia. A neo-liberal/neo-conservative agenda. This is, or should be, common knowledge. Obama put it in his typically slick way in a 2015 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakiria, saying that the United States “had brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine.” 

This is Orwellian language at its finest, from a warmonger who received the Nobel Prize for Peace while declaring he was in support of war. That the forces that have initiated a new and highly dangerous Cold War, a nuclear confrontation with Russia, demonized Vladimir Putin, and have overthrown the elected leader of a country allied with Russia on its western border, dares from the day he was elected in 2016 to remove its own president in the most obvious ways imaginable seems like bad fiction. 

But it is fact, and the fact that so many Americans approve of it is even more fantastic. Over the past few years the public has heard even more about the so-called “deep state,” only to see its methods of propaganda become even more perversely cynical in their shallowness.  No one needs to support the vile Trump to understand that the United States is undergoing a fundamental shift wherein tens of millions of Americans who say they believe in democracy support the activities of gangsters who operate out in the open with their efforts to oust an elected president.

We have crossed the Rubicon and there will be no going back.

*****

In irony a man annihilates what he posits within one and the same act; he leads us to believe in order not to be believed; he affirms to deny and denies to affirm; he creates a positive object but it has no being other than its nothingness.

— Jean-Paul Sartre, Existential Psychoanalysis, p. 154.

It is well known that the United States is infamous for engineering coups against democratically elected governments worldwide.  Voters’ preferences are considered beside the point. Iran and Mosaddegh in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Indonesia and Sukarno in 1965-7, Allende in Chile in 1973, to name a few from the relatively distant past.  Recently the Obama administration worked their handiwork in Honduras and Ukraine.  It would not be hyperbolic to say that overthrowing democratic governments is as American as apple pie. It’s our “democratic” tradition — like waging war.

What is less well known is that elements within the U.S. ruling power elites have also overthrown democratically elected governments in the United States.  One U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated because he had turned toward peace and opposed the forces of war within his own government. He is the lone example of a president who therefore was opposed by all the forces of imperial conquest within the ruling elites.

Others, despite their backing for the elite deep state’s imperial wars, were taken out for various reasons by competing factions within the shadow government.  Nixon waged the war against Vietnam for so long on behalf of the military-industrial complex, but he was still taken down by the CIA, contrary to popular mythology about Watergate.  Jimmy Carter was front man for the Tri-Lateral Commission’s deep-state faction, but was removed by the group represented by George H. Bush, William Casey, and Reagan through their traitorous actions involving the Iran hostages.  The emcee for the neo-liberal agenda, Bill Clinton, was rendered politically impotent via the Lewinsky affair, a matter never fully investigated by any media.

Obama, CIA groomed, was smoothly moved into power by the faction that felt Bush needed to be succeeded by a slick smiling assassin who symbolized “diversity,” could speak well, and played hoops. Hit them with the right hand; hit them with the left. Same coin: Take your pick — heads or tails.  Hillary Clinton was expected to complete the trinity.

But surprises happen, and now we have Trump, who is suffering the same fate – albeit at an exponentially faster rate – as his predecessors that failed to follow the complete script. The day after his surprise election, the interlocking circles of power that run the show in sun and shadows – what C. Wright Mills long ago termed the Power Elite – met to overthrow him, or at least to render him more controllable.  These efforts, run out of interconnected power centers, including the liberal corporate legal boardrooms that were the backers of Obama and Hillary Clinton, had no compunction in planning the overthrow of a legally elected president.  Soon they were joined by their conservative conspirators in doing the necessary work of “democracy” – making certain that only one of their hand-picked and anointed henchmen was at the helm of state.  Of course, the intelligence agencies coordinated their efforts and their media scribes wrote the cover stories.  The pink Pussyhats took to the streets.  The deep state was working overtime.

Trump, probably never having expected to win and as shocked as most people when he did, made some crucial mistakes before the election and before taking office.  Some of those mistakes have continued since his inauguration.  Not his derogatory remarks about minorities, immigrants, or women.  Not his promise to cut corporate taxes, support energy companies, oppose strict environmental standards.  Not his slogan to “make America great again.”  Not his promise to build a “wall” along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Not his vow to deport immigrants.  Not his anti-Muslim pledges. Not his insistence that NATO countries contribute more to NATO’s “defense” of their own countries.  Not even his crude rantings and Tweets and his hypersensitive defensiveness.  Not his reality-TV celebrity status, his eponymous golden tower and palatial hotels and sundry real estate holdings.  Not his orange hair and often comical and disturbing demeanor, accentuated by his off the cuff speaking style.  Surely not his massive wealth.

While much of this was viewed with dismay, it was generally acceptable to the power elites who transcend party lines and run the country.  Offensive to hysterical liberal Democrats and traditional Republicans, all this about Trump could be tolerated, if only he would cooperate on the key issue.

Trump’s fatal mistake was saying that he wanted to get along with Russia, that Putin was a good leader, and that he wanted to end the war against Syria and pull the U.S. back from foreign wars.  This was verboten.  And when he said nuclear war was absurd and would only result in nuclear conflagration, he had crossed the Rubicon.  That sealed his fate.  Misogyny, racism, support for Republican conservative positions on a host of issues – all fine.  Opposing foreign wars, especially with Russia – not fine.

Now we have a reality-TV president and a reality-TV coup d’etat in prime time.  Hidden in plain sight, the deep-state has gone shallow.  What was once covert is now overt. Once it was necessary to blame a coup on a secretive “crazy lone assassin,” Lee Harvey Oswald.  But in this “post-modern” society of the spectacle, the manifest is latent; the obvious, non-obvious; what you see you don’t see.  Everyone knows those reality-TV shows aren’t real, right?  It may seem like it is a coup against Trump in plain sight, but these shows are tricky, aren’t they?  He’s the TV guy.  He runs the show.  He’s the sorcerer’s apprentice.   He wants you to believe in the illusion of the obvious. He’s the master media manipulator. You see it but don’t believe it because you are so astute, while he is so blatant. He’s brought it upon himself.  He’s bringing himself down. Everyone who knows, knows that.

I am reminded of being in a movie theatre in 1998, watching The Truman Show, about a guy who slowly “discovers” that he has been living in the bubble of a television show his whole life.  At the end of the film he makes his “escape” through a door in the constructed dome that is the studio set.  The liberal audience in a very liberal town stood up and applauded Truman’s dash to freedom.  I was startled since I had never before heard an audience applaud in a movie theatre – and a standing ovation at that.  I wondered what they were applauding.  I quickly realized they were applauding themselves, their knowingness, their insider astuteness that Truman had finally caught on to what they already thought they knew.  Now he would be free like they were. They couldn’t be taken in; now he couldn’t. Except, of course, they were applauding an illusion, a film about being trapped in a reality-TV world, a world in which they stood in that theatre – their world, their frame. Frames within frames. Truman escapes from one fake frame into another – the movie. The joke was on them. The film had done its magic as its obvious content concealed its deeper truth: the spectator and the spectacle were wed. McLuhan was here right: the medium was the message.

This is what George Trow in 1980 called “the context of no context.”  Candor as concealment, truth as lies, knowingness as stupidity.  Making reality unreal in the service of an agenda that is so obvious it isn’t, even as the cognoscenti applaud themselves for being so smart and in the know.

The more we hear about “the deep state” and begin to grasp its definition, the more we will have descended down the rabbit hole.  Soon this “deep state” will be offering courses on what it is, how it operates, and why it must stay hidden while it “exposes” itself.

Right-wing pundit Bill Krystal tweets: “Obviously [I] prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics.  But if it comes to it, [I] prefer the deep state to Trump state.”

Liberal CIA critic and JFK assassination researcher, Jefferson Morley, after defining the deep state, writes, “With a docile Republican majority in Congress and a demoralized Democratic Party in opposition, the leaders of the Deep State are the most – perhaps the only – credible check in Washington on what Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls Trump’s “wrecking ball presidency.”

These are men who ostensibly share different ideologies, yet agree, and state it publicly, that the “deep state” should take out Trump.  Both believe, without evidence, that the Russians intervened to try to get Trump elected. Therefore, both no doubt feel justified in openly espousing a coup d’etat. They match Trump’s blatancy with their own.  Nothing deep about this.

Liberals and conservatives are now publicly allied in demonizing Putin and Russia, and supporting a very dangerous military confrontation initiated by Obama and championed by the defeated Hillary Clinton.  In the past these opposed political factions accepted that they would rotate their titular leaders into and out of the White House, and whenever the need arose to depose one or the other, that business would be left to deep state forces to effect in secret and everyone would play dumb.

Now the game has changed.  It’s all “obvious.”  The deep state has seemingly gone shallow. Its supporters say so.  All the smart people can see what’s happening.  Even when what’s happening isn’t really happening.

“Only the shallow know themselves,” said Oscar Wilde.