Vimy Ridge, First Nations and Martial Patriotism

Amidst an orgy of martial patriotism that is finally over, there was a sad irony.

In recent days the Canadian Forces, banks, politicians, sports TV networks, private foundations, the news media, etc. have all promoted the idea that the centennial of Canadian troops capturing some high ground in France during a minor Word War 1 battle somehow represented the “birth” of Canada. The notion that the battle of Vimy Ridge “created our country” is bizarre enough but the celebration of First Nations’ participation in this episode of Canadian imperialism pushed the exercise into the realm of the absurd.

One hundred years ago in northern France 10,000 Canadians and 20,000 Germans were hurt or killed during four days of fighting to capture Vimy Ridge. Despite the claim it represented the “birth” of Canada, the soldiers were under British command and the battle had little impact on the war. The young men fell in a war spurred by intra-imperialist competition in Africa and elsewhere.

Strangely, the recent Vimy commemorations included an indigenous component. The prime minister’s office put out a number of press releases that mentioned the “Indigenous organizations” part of his official delegation to France. APTN did a story titled “Métis man with special connection to Vimy Ridge battle will see history up close” while a CKOM headline noted, “Indigenous veteran reflects on personal ties to Vimy Ridge”. A Two Row Times article was titled “’Indian’ warriors of Vimy Ridge” and on CBC’s Unreserved former Native Women’s Association of Canada president Marilyn Buffalo discussed her grandfather, Henry Norwest, who died at Vimy.

Historically the racist, colonialist narrative erased the contribution of First Nations to Canadian warfare. But, the recent “truth and reconciliation” process has included significant attention devoted to indigenous members of the Canadian armed forces. The Canadian Forces, government commissions and indigenous veterans associations, often backed by Veteran Affairs, have produced much of the laudatory literature on aboriginal war veterans.

A dozen books and theses, as well as hundreds of articles, detailing first nations’ contribution to Canadian/British wars mostly echo the military’s perspective of those conflicts. In The Awakening Has Come: Canadian First Nations in the Great War Era, 1914-1932, Eric Story depicts WWI as a noble affair. “The Great War had put First Nations shoulder to shoulder with Euro-Canadians in a fight for human rights and dignity”, writes Story in Canadian Military History Journal. The editor of We Were There said the aim of the Saskatchewan Indian Veterans Association book is to convince kids they fought for “freedom”. “I wanted to publish… to let Indian children know that their fathers and grandfathers fought for the freedom we now cherish.” (In truth Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II.)

The Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association (alongside other indigenous veterans’ groups) have been pressing the federal government to proclaim November 8 National Aboriginal Veterans Day. In 2016 Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr attended an Ottawa celebration while Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett participated in a Fredericton ceremony. In a statement Hehr noted, “we thank the thousands of indigenous Canadians in uniform who answered the call of duty and made the ultimate sacrifice. Their contributions and efforts have helped our country in its efforts to make this world a safer place.”

There is even a current of ‘progressive’ thinking that draws on indigenous military contributions to legitimate criticism of Canadian colonialism while simultaneously promoting Canadian imperialism. In a 2013 Huffington Post blog titled “Whitewashing Remembrance: I Wear A Poppy For Native Veterans” Elizabeth Hawksworth made an anti-racist argument for wearing the red poppy. “I choose to wear it because as a woman with Native ancestry, I want to remember those whose faces we never see in the Heritage moments or on the Remembrance Day TV spots.… I wear the poppy not just as a way to remember, but as a statement: freedom doesn’t just belong to white folks.”

Of course, the red poppy is the property of, and raises funds for, the jingoist Royal Canadian Legion. Additionally, red poppies were inspired by the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian army officer John McCrae. The pro-war poem calls on Canadians to “take up our quarrel with the foe” and was used to promote war bonds and recruit soldiers during WWI.

In a TVO interview marking the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I author Joseph Boyden said indigenous men enlisted to “do what’s right”. As he denounced the mistreatment of indigenous peoples after WWI, the author of Three Day Road, a novel dedicated to “the native soldiers who fought in the Great War”, called their fighting a “beautiful corner” of Canadian history.

But, there was nothing “beautiful” about World War I. It was an inter-imperialist conflict that left 15 million dead. All the ordinary soldiers who participated in it were victims of the ruling classes’ imperial ambitions.

And glorifying First Nations’ participation in imperialist wars as part of overcoming Canada’s colonial treatment of First Nations is, at a minimum, ironic.

This is where blind foreign policy nationalism and so-called patriotism has taken us.

Palestine Retold: Palestine’s Tragic Anniversaries Are Not Only About Remembrance

For Palestinians, 2017 is a year of significant anniversaries.

While historians mark May 15th as the anniversary of the date on which Palestinians were expelled from their historic homeland in 1948, the fact is the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians began in earnest in 1947.

In strict historical terms 1947 and ‘48 were the years in which Palestine was conquered and depopulated.

The tragedy, which remains a bleeding wound until this day, started 70 years ago.

June of this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli military occupation of the 22 percent of historic Palestine that was not seized by Zionist militias in 1947-48. Among other notable dates, November 02 is starkly remembered as the 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

While the roots of the Zionist campaign to claim Palestine as a Jewish state go back much earlier, the document signed by British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, was the first official commitment made by a major world power to facilitate “a national home for the Jewish people.”

The British made their infamous ‘promise’ even before the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Palestine and most of the modern Middle East officially capitulated in World War I.

A few years after the declaration was made, Britain was entrusted by the League of Nations in 1922 to be the caretaker of post-Ottoman Palestine, mandated to lead the country, like other Arab regions, towards independence.

Instead, the Brits worked to achieve the opposite. Between 1922 and 1947-48, with direct British assistance, Zionists grew more powerful, forming a parallel government and a sophisticated and well-equipped militia. Britain remained decidedly pro-Israel after all these years.

When the British mandate over Palestine officially ended in November 1947, that parallel regime simply moved in to fill the vacant space, in nearly perfect tandem, claiming territories, ethnically cleansing most of Palestine’s Arab population and, as of May 14, 1948, declaring as a reality the State of Israel.

The following day, May 15, has since been recognized by Palestinians as the day of the Nakba, or the catastrophe of war and exile. Nearly 500 Palestinian villages and many cities and towns were depopulated, seized or destroyed. An estimated 800,000 Palestinians were made refugees.

These anniversaries are important not because they form convenient numbers, but because the political context surrounding them is unprecedented.

The United States government has abdicated its long-term commitment to the so-called ‘peace process’, leaving Israel alone to decide the course of its own action, while the rest of the international community stand hapless.

The ‘peace process’ was certainly not designed to create favorable outcomes for Palestinians, but was part of a larger design to formulate a ‘solution’ in which Palestinians were to be granted semi-autonomous, disconnected, mini regions to be called a state.

Now that pipe dream is over – Israel is expanding its illegal settlements at will, constructing new ones and has little interest in adhering to even the US-envisaged ‘negotiated agreement’ paradigm.

In the meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership remains visionless.

Although politically defunct and practically impossible, the Palestinian Authority (PA) still insists on the two-state solution formula, wasting precious time that should be geared towards arranging a future that is predicated upon co-existence in a shared land and a joint future.

It is important that the Palestinians are freed from the stifling discourse which rendered the Nakba of 1947-48 extraneous and molded an alternative narrative in which only the Israeli occupation of 1967 seems to matter.

Indeed, the official Palestinian discourse has been quite confusing and consistent for some time.

Historically, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was forced to concede under American, and sometimes Arab pressures, and alter its demands throughout the years.

The greatest of these concessions was made in 1993 when the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which redefined Palestinian rights around specific UN resolutions 242 and 338. It relegated or discarded everything else.

Not only was this a great folly, but also a strategic mistake for which Palestinians continue to bear the consequences to this day.

Existing now are several Palestinian depictions of the history of their struggle against Israel, while the truth is that there can only be one way of understanding the so-called conflict – one that starts with Zionist settlements in Palestine and British colonialism 100 years ago.

The strange thing is that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is himself sending mixed messages. While on one hand he seemed disinterested in contextualizing the struggle of his people back to the Nakba 70 years ago, his authority announced that it will be suing Britain for the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Britain, on the other hand, had brazenly announced that it will be ‘celebrating’ the 100-year anniversary of the declaration, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being the guest of honor.

The country that facilitated the ongoing tragedy in Palestine still refuses to acknowledge the enduring harm it committed one hundred years later.

Israel is experiencing no moral awakening either.

Aside from the small school of Israel’s ‘new historians’, Israel continues to hold into its own version of history, much of which was constructed in the early 1950s under the guidance of then Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion.

Compelled by pressures, fears and lack of vision, the Palestinian leadership failed to grasp the need to hold onto and explain these anniversaries combined as a roadmap towards a solid, unified and sensible discourse.

Politics aside, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 cannot be appreciated without understanding its dreadful consequences which played out in 1947-48; and the Israeli occupation of the remaining 22 percent of Palestine is entirely out of context if read separately from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.

Moreover, the Palestinian refugee crisis, which continues to manifest itself in Syria and Iraq until this day, cannot be fathomed or explained without examining the origins of the crisis, which date back to the Nakba.

True, 2017 is burdened with significant and tragic anniversaries, but these dates should not be used as opportunities to protest, registering only a fleeting movement of solidarity. They should offer the chance to re-articulate a unified Palestinian discourse that crosses ideological and political lines.

Without honest understanding of history, one cannot redeem its many sins.

Trump, Empire and Our Long Retreat to Tyranny

Photo by Daniel Huizinga | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Daniel Huizinga | CC BY 2.0

There has been a lot of worry about the Constitution and basic democratic rights since Trump’s election. And worry we should. But, Trump did not fall from the sky, he is a product of our history.

Over the long course of human history, there has been nothing more hostile to democracies and constitutional republics than empire. Empires destroys republics from the inside out.[1]

And, empires demand and create enemies. In the opening act of our empire we fought our race enemy: the natives we tried to assimilate or eliminate. In the climactic scene of empire building after WWII we fought another “red menace:” the Soviet Union and communism.

But the American people were deeply tired of war. President Truman was convinced that  he would have to “scare hell” out of the people to commit the US to Cold War and global empire.   So evil was the Soviet Union, so alien was their way of life, that the red scare summoned up its opposite: American identity as innocent, good, chosen and exceptional.

Our new enemy was made out to be an existential threat even though Russia had just lost 20 million people fighting — as our ally — against Nazi Germany. Our global superiority was based largely on the fact that World War II had wrecked every major competitor. The US stood astride the world without equal.

But under the cover of Cold War the US empire all but disappeared from public view. We were not, according to the official story, an empire at all but the world’s greatest democracy defending the free world. We were not to blame for the costs of empire building: it was the Russian’s fault or the Chinese or the Vietnamese or the international communist conspiracy. The tyranny to come for America was sold with carrot and stick. Fear was the opener while pride in our might and exceptional character closed the deal. Today we still cloak empire with wars fought for “humanitarian” reasons.

But no justification could hide the fact that empire changed America forever. A new form of government called the “national security state” now referred to as the “deep state,” emerged to manage our far-flung domain. The changes were stunning and decisively tipped constitutional “checks and balances.” Soon the executive branch exercised sweeping powers far beyond what the US Constitution allowed for.

The Imperial Presidency

The US president has war powers that would make a king jealous. The Constitution is crystal clear: only Congress has the right to declare war. The emergence of an executive that could unilaterally declare war and make continuous war preparations overcame the “separation of powers,” and undermined the rule of law.[2]

Tyranny was sure to follow.  It was after all an old story.

In 1793, James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, reflected on just how important it was to “disarm” the presidency of its “propensity to war.”

In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department….

The trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man….War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement…. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honourable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace….

The executive is the department of power most distinguished by its propensity to war: hence it is the practice of all states, in proportion as they are free, to disarm this propensity of its influence. [emphasis added]

“In proportion as they are free.” For Madison, the executive’s capacity to declare war has a direct and inverse relationship to freedom.

Not only does this mean that every war since WWII has been illegal — by our own highest law of the land — but that the system of check and balances, so carefully crafted by the framers has been tilted toward tyranny.

Executive power has grown persistently since WWII and every President, Congress and Supreme Court has added and abetting its growth. Only the anti-war movement of the Vietnam Era marshaled popular resistance to slow, for a time, the empire.

After the US lost the Vietnam War the liberal project of “nation-building” could never be fully revived. Nation-building was our illusion and our conceit: we were not aggressors but engaged in the godly task of helping oppressed people build stable democracies and resist communism.

But by the first phase of US war in Afghanistan (1978-1992) the current pattern of disorder and decline emerged. US elites opted for the chaos of weak or failed states. US sponsorship of the Mujahideen gave birth to modern armed “islamic fundamentalism.” The US would come to rely more and more on shifting coalitions of unstable militias prone to terrorism and internecine warfare.

To hide the war and dampen military and civilian dissent the elites grew dependent on corporate mercenaries.  And for cover, Bill Clinton sold us  “humanitarian war:” noble war, not driven by interest or advantage but for human rights or to end suffering.  It is a paternalistic version of nation-building that harkens back to White Man’s Burden.

If this is our history then Trump is very much our President. Trump is an imperial president well suited to a system that values power and authority over democracy and thrives on crisis, chaos and war. And the corporate media agrees that  Trump’s wars are full of “heart” and humanitarianism.

Militarism

Before the Korean War the US regularly maintained only a small army and officer corp.  In time of war armies were raised by mass conscription and the citizen-solders were sent home when the fighting stopped. There was no military-industrial complex. Auto and airplane factories were converted to wartime use and converted back. There were war profiteers, yes, but never a powerful and permanent war industry directly linked to government. American has a violent past, true, but we were not militarists.

President Eisenhower was so disturbed by what he saw that he chose his farewell address to give the country serious warnings about the military-industrial complex.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implication. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted, only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

“The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.…We should take nothing for granted.” Today war is big business  and we cannot take democracy for granted.

Secret Police Forces

Alcohol prohibition gave us the FBI, the first national secret police force in the US. But, it was after WWII that the secret police grew and became independent actors in both domestic and international affairs.

Starting with the 1948 Italian elections, the CIA quickly developed a global network based on intervention in elections, the overthrow of governments, and assassination. Secrecy, deception and covert activities beyond the rule of law was standard operating procedure from the beginning.

Truman, one of the chief architects of US empire and the Cold war created the CIA . These new institutions were such a troubling departure from US politics that even he feared that the CIA had gone rouge.

Truman shared his concerns in a public letter:

For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government….I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue….

Now we have 17 secret police forces and they have become a “policy making arm of government.” They are real players in the domestic politics of the US, intervening in our own elections,  and suppressing free speech and dissent by spying routinely on millions of Americans.

The imperial presidency, militarism and secret police forces have hollowed out the US Constitution and left our democracy in tatters. Tyranny is the price of empire. The struggle against war and empire is essential to the struggle for democracy. We cannot have one without the other. Real resistance to Trump will be made by those willing to confront the history which made Trump possible.

Notes.

1) For more on US empire see the work of Chalmers Johnson, especially, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. Andrew Bacevich also presents many well-documented and argued accounts. For example see The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.

2) Ryan Alford, Permanent State of Emergency: Unchecked Executive Power and the Demise of the Rule of Law.

What is Wrong With Trump’s Attack on Syria?

Trump may have acted with insufficient evidence as to whether the chemical weapons attack was actually the responsibility of Assad and the Syrian government.  Would Syrian president Assad be foolish enough to launch a chemical attack against civilians, when a military response from the US would be possible, even likely?  Peter Ford, a former UK ambassador to Syria, speaking on BBC Radio, said, “It doesn’t make sense that Assad would do it.  Let’s not leave our brains outside the door when we examine evidence. It would be totally self-defeating as shown by the results…Assad is not mad.”

Critics of the US military response have suggested as a possible scenario for the chemical release in Idlib province that the Syrian government attack may have been a conventional bombing that exploded stored weapons in the possession of the Syrian rebels, which may have included chemical weapons.

Trump did not seek and obtain Congressional authorization for his act of war in attacking a Syrian Air Force base.  Thus, the attack was illegal under US law.  It is not the president’s prerogative to initiate attacks against sovereign nations without Congressional authorization.  By acting without such Congressional authorization, Trump has placed himself and the presidency above the rule of law.

Trump did not seek and obtain authorization for his attack against Syria from the United Nations Security Council, as is required under international law.  By failing to do so the US has put itself outside the boundaries of the UN Charter, which is also a part of US law, as well as other international law to which the US is bound.

Trump has further undermined US relations with Russia, and has harmed the chances of the US and Russia working cooperatively in resolving the Syrian conflict.  Increased tensions between the US and Russia in Syria make conflict between these two nuclear powers more likely.

Trump has demonstrated to the world that in matters of war, as with tweeting, he is impulsive, shoots from the hip and is not constrained by US or international law.  These characteristics are not generally accepted by other world leaders as being preferred qualities in a US president.

Trump’s impulsivity in ordering the attack sets a dangerous standard for someone in charge of the US nuclear arsenal.  It demonstrates the extreme dangers of allowing a single individual to exercise control over a country’s nuclear arsenal.

Despite the illegality and inherent dangers of his military response, Trump seems to be getting a favorable response from the US media.  Nearly all US mainstream media seems to have accepted the assumption that Assad was foolish enough to have launched a chemical attack, and have not questioned Assad’s responsibility for the chemical attack.  It appears that neither the US government nor media have conducted a thorough investigation of responsibility for the chemical attack, which should have been done prior to a military response.

Referring to Trump’s ordering the missile strikes against Syria the evening before, a fawning Fareed Zakaria stated, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night.  I think this was actually a big moment.”  Given Trump’s narcissism, this is the kind of positive response that is likely to keep him returning to impulsive and illegal uses of military force.

For his violations of US and international law in attacking Syria with 59 cruise missiles, it is highly likely that Trump will also be rewarded by the American people with an upward bump in his current ground-level job-approval rating.  Too many Americans tend to like their presidents to be fast on the draw and follow the pattern of Ready, Fire, Aim.

China’s Red Line on North Korea

Photo by Stefan Krasowski | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Stefan Krasowski | CC BY 2.0

As we head into the long Easter weekend, the US Carl Vinson navy strike group is moving toward the Korean peninsula. All eyes are focused on the calendar: May 15 when North Korea is widely expected to conduct the sixth nuclear test on the 102nd anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of the current head Kim Jong-un. Tension in the Korean peninsula has reached a feverish pitch, not seen in years if not since the end of the Korean War in 1952. Questions on the minds of most are:

1) Will Kim Jong-un defy the intense international pressure and go ahead with the sixth nuclear test?

2) Will America strike at North Korea if it conducts the test?

3) What kind of strike will it be: surgical strike at DPRK’s nuclear facilities, decapitation strike to take out Kim Jong-un, betting that a new leader that emerges will abandon nuclear tests, or a large-scale attack?

4) Will China intervene and under what circumstances?

Tension continues to escalate after the Trump-Xi summit, during which Trump ordered a missile strike at a Syrian airbase at Homs. Such show of force no doubt was partly done to send Xi a strong message that America will take action against North Korea if it insists on proceeding with its sixth nuclear test.

Both corporate and alternative media, such as Zerohedge, have, in recent days, been abuzz with speculation that China may take out North Korea’s nuclear facilities to avert another Korean War. There’re also reports that China has massed 150,000 troops at its border with DPRK either to prevent a huge influx of N Korean refugees in the event of war, or ready to come to North Korea’s defence should it be attacked, as in the first Korean War. There were also reports of China acquiescing to an American strike at North Korea.

Against such torrents of wild speculation, China’s position remains unchanged: That the problem in the Korean peninsula should be solved by diplomatic means, not use of force. An editorial in semiofficial daily Global Times on 5 April put it this way:

“The US must bear the major responsibilities for the mess in Northeast Asia, as it has buried too much strategic distrust in the region. For North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambition voluntarily, it must be convinced the major powers can collectively guarantee its security. But Pyongyang now trusts nothing but nuclear weapons. Despite rounds of sanctions, as long as the regime can hang on, it is unlikely to surrender.

“Before Trump, each US administration generally followed the path of escalating sanctions and military threats over Pyongyang while strengthening security commitments to Seoul. Washington has never tried to seriously communicate with Pyongyang and urge it to abandon its nuclear programme by relieving Pyongyang’s security anxiety.

“When the old strategy doesn’t work, Washington blames China for not cooperating with it. China in fact has imposed very stringent sanctions against North Korea. The accusations are used to defend Washington’s failed policy.

North Korea has every reason to distrust America for a long string of its broken international promises or commitments, from NATO expansion eastward and Iran nuclear deal to Bush Jr. tearing up Bill Clinton’s deal with North Korea to supply light-water nuclear power plants in return for destruction of North Korea’s nuclear facilities. America has deepened the suspicion by staging ever larger and more belligerent annual exercises with South Korea near North Korea.

Facts are abundantly clear: War and peace in the Korean peninsula hinges on America, rather than North Korea, much less China. China has done all it could to dissuade North Korea from continuing its nuclear programme. So much so that It has backed and observed UN sanctions against its once close ally with which it has a defence treaty. Which country in the world has ever done that to its ally?

Even as China-led Six-Party Talks goes on in fits and starts, North Korea and America engaged in direct backchannel talks for some years without success. America rejected North Korea’s demand that they sign a peace treaty first before North Korea would abandon its nuclear programme. The thing is America should have signed such a peace treaty within three years of the armistice of the Korean War. That America had refused to meet the terms of the armistice gave North Korea cause to doubt America’s good faith.

The Global Times editorial drew a Red Line on the North Korea issue: “China has a bottom line. It will safeguard the security and stability of its Northeast area at all costs.” China analysts have elaborated on the Red Line:

1) No nuclear contamination spilling from North Korea into Northeast China.

2) No massive influx of North Korean refugees into China.

3) No regime hostile to China emerging in North Korea.

4) No foreign military presence in the opposite bank of the Yalu River.

No. 1 and 4 are as much directed at America as North Korea. Trump and Pentagon warmongers ignore the Red Line at their peril, as McArthur did crossing the 38th parallel that brought the People’s Liberation Army into the Korean War. And like McArthur, they wouldn’t be able to go home for Christmas!

Trump: Self-Proclaimned “Cop of the World”

Photo by DVIDSHUB | CC BY 2.0

Photo by DVIDSHUB | CC BY 2.0

History has repeatedly demonstrated the need to view with the greatest skepticism U.S. imperialism’s justifications for its endless wars and interventions.

Need we mention the 1964 U.S.-manufactured Tonkin Bay incident, wherein a virtually non-existent Vietnamese navy was accused of attacking a U.S. destroyer? That false flag pretext was employed to launch the Vietnam War, during which four million Vietnamese were slaughtered in a 10-year U.S. conflagration verging on genocide. Or the more recent Iraq “weapons of mass destruction” lie that resulted in the U.S. murder of 1.5 million Iraqis?

Even if the latest sarin gas accusations against Syrian President Bashar Assad should prove to be true, we must vehemently reject the warmongers’ proposition that the U.S. military behemoth, with 1100 bases around the world and currently conducting seven simultaneous wars of death and destruction, has any moral, legal, or other right to be the “cop of the world!”

The April 6, the Donald Trump administration launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s al-Shayrat military airfield decimated a number of buildings and airplanes. At least nine civilians and six Syrian soldiers were killed.

Neither Trump nor any other U.S. government agency presented a shred of proof that the Syrian government used sarin nerve gas in its bombing of al-Qaida/Nusra Front or any other “rebel”-held buildings in Idlib province.

Trump and his now bipartisan “Bomb first! Ask questions later” cohorts ignited what could become a catastrophic escalation in the region, posing the threat of a nuclear confrontation.

Immediately before the U.S. missile attack, the Trump administration convened a bipartisan group of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans for a congressional briefing session. While there was no indication of opposition to the Trump attack, a few, citing the U.S. Constitution, later expressed the need for congressional debate and approval before waging war. But they supported this war,  the Constitution be damned!

Trump’s action came a day after Democrat Hillary Clinton had urged the U.S. bombing of Syria. Today, Trump has adopted a version of Clinton’s election-time “no fly zone” politics, suggesting that “safe zones” might be established in Syria—that is, land-based regions policed by U.S. imperialism and its allies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added a few days later that missiles might again be launched  against Syria should it use barrel bombs. He neglected to mention that the U.S. is the world’s largest manufacturer of barrel bomb-type weapons. Banned in scores of countries, but not the U.S., these U.S. “cluster bombs,” are deployed by U.S.-allied Saudi Arabia in Yemen today. They rain down exploding spheres the size of baseballs. But the Saudis and U.S. imperialism are led by civilized people!

Imperialism’s Record in Syria

Not one day of the years-long U.S. imperialist-abetted intervention has improved the humanitarian situation of the Syrian people. On the contrary, the U.S. government’s aim—as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya—is to secure political hegemony in the region so as to better serve its profit-driven corporate clients. To accomplish its goals, as it demonstrated during the uprisings known as the Arab Spring, the U.S. must foreclose the possibility of self-determination for the peoples of the Middle East.

Referring to the Obama administration’s “red line” threat of war in 2012-13, Trump stated, “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.” No doubt Trump is fully aware that Obama’s “nothing” included five years of intervention that included CIA and Pentagon training and arming of “rebels” seeking Assad’s ouster, a bombing campaign supposedly aimed at ISIS targets but deadly for civilians, and an increasing number of U.S. boots on the ground.

With Syria’s U.S.-backed “coalition” allies compelled to retreat from much of the Syrian territory that they previously occupied and terrorized, a bipartisan consensus has now emerged in Washington that Obama’s “regime change” orientation cannot be dismissed.

We are witness to a major shift in U.S. policy, in which Democrats and Republicans alike cannot brook a defeat in a war that they early on fueled and promoted. Today’s crisis-ridden world economy ruled by the wealthy one percent is compelled to pursue and intensify its wars against working people at home and abroad.

More Military Strikes Threatened

White House representatives state that the administration has not ruled out further direct military action against the Assad government. President Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, stated on April 9 that the U.S. goals of fighting ISIS and ousting Assad from power were “simultaneous.”

The Trump administration’s bipartisan-supported missile attack is aimed at advancing U.S. leverage at a future bargaining table in a contemplated reconstructed Syria. It is the first taste of the new administration’s promise to use the grotesque $54 billion rise in the trillion-dollar war budget “more aggressively” in the interests of U.S. corporate capitalism.

The need for a united and massive U.S. antiwar movement in the streets of cities across the country has never been greater. Without equivocation, the central responsibility of all antiwar and social justice organizations is to mobilize against all U.S. and allied interventions in Syria and to fully support the right to self-determination of the Syria people.

The defeat of imperialist intervention is the prerequisite for the Syrian masses to organize their own independent forces aimed at fully meeting the needs and aspirations of Syria’s workers and farmers as they strive in the future to build a socialist society. Today’s U.S.-backed Syrian “rebels,” if they exist at all, are ever demanding that the U.S. bomb Syria to smithereens. Indeed, these “rebels” are increasing integrated into and indistinguishable from the terrorist/jihadist al Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front. They offer nothing in the way of liberating ideas and action for the Syrian people.

The days ahead will prove to be a critical measure of the antiwar movement’s capacity to unite and stay the hand of the world’s most dangerous superpower. With Trump and Co. in command and the Democrats in tow, disaster is in the making. Stop the U.S. bombing of Syria! U.S. Out Now! Self-determination for Syria!

 

Trump is Ignorant of History and So is His Chump Sean Spicer

Photo by DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0

Photo by DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0

When I wrote a few weeks ago that the Middle East would at some point reach out and grab America’s crackpot President, I never guessed it would do so at such speed. Nor that the entire fandango would come wrapped up in a Hitler fiasco which dumped the White House madmen back in another hole. Nor, indeed, that an American media which had identified Trump as insane should so quickly fall into line and regard the firing of 59 Cruise missiles at Syria as a change of US foreign “policy”.

What were they talking about? There is no policy – because the President appears deranged, because most of his colleagues are barking, and because Washington no more cares about the Arab world when Syrians are gassed than it does when the Egyptian President “disappears” his own people, or when the Saudis bomb civilians in Yemen, or when US-supported Iraqi forces kill civilians trapped in Isis-held western Mosul.

But let’s start with Hitler. A President who doesn’t read books and reacts instead to night-time television news pictures obviously doesn’t know his history. The same clearly applies to his pet chump Sean Spicer.

It’s not just a question of leaving Hitler’s ghost alone; never, ever, compare anything to the horrors Hitler unleashed on the world in the Second World War. Obviously, if the White House really wanted to dump on Assad – whose name, I notice, they still cannot pronounce correctly – it should have compared the Syrian President with Saddam Hussein, who really did use gas “against his own people”.

 

But there’s a problem there, too. Because the moment you mention Saddam, you recall for your audience all the lies and “fake news” the George W Bush White House spewed out about the Iraqi dictator before its illegal 2003 invasion – “fake news” assisted at the time, let us remember, by The New York Times. And then you also remind your audience that the whole Iraqi adventure ended in a bloodbath for Iraqis and utter catastrophe for the United States. So Saddam is out – and Hitler has to be brought back to life yet again.

And yes, we compared Saddam to Hitler. Indeed another well known chump, the son of our present Queen, reportedly told a woman who had lost relatives in the Holocaust that Putin was doing in Ukraine “just about the same as Hitler”. Moscow called this “outrageous”. That was almost exactly two years ago.

Of course, Spicer simply could not grasp that Hitler used a chemical weapon called Zyklon B with which the Nazis gassed up to a million of the six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. No, they were not fired from the air. Actually, they were dropped through the roof of the gas chambers. But Hitler certainly did use gas “on his own people” since many of the murdered Jews had been German citizens, some of whom had actually fought for their country in the First World War.

 

And there’s a clue for poor old Spicer. He might, I suppose, have referred to the German use of chemical weapons in the First World War. But the Kaiser doesn’t actually have the cachet of Hitler in the hate stakes, and the British then used gas themselves (so we can’t compare Arab dictators to the Brits). Besides, I have my doubts that Spicer could even give the dates of the First World War. Nor Trump, for that matter.

In his sloppy excuses later, Spicer actually apologised not only to survivors of the Holocaust but to “anyone who was offended”. That would include anyone who cares about the truth and about history and about facts.

Then Spicer said his words were a “blunder” and that they were “inappropriate” and “insensitive”. But they were not “insensitive” – they were a disgrace. Arab leaders have also made some pretty “insensitive” and “inappropriate” comments about the Holocaust, so now I suppose we must put Spicer alongside them.

Did Assad use chemical weapons in the recent attack? Or was this an al-Qaeda weapons store which the Syrians blew up (which wouldn’t actually let Syria off the hook, since the aftermath of such an attack would obviously kill civilians)? The problem is that we know Assad’s opponents have chemical weapons – some captured, I suspect, from Syrian government stocks before Assad handed them over to the West for destruction on Putin’s orders. Other chemicals passed across the northern frontier of Syria from Turkey (Nato member and a “friend” of the West, before Erdogan went bonkers). And if the Syrian military did use chemicals “on their own people” why should they do so when they are now winning their war with Isis and when such use would clearly embarrass Putin?

 

Yet oddly, the American media have fallen back into Saddam mode. Not only are they seriously talking about Trump’s “policy” in the Middle East (something he clearly doesn’t have) but are talking, in The New York Times last week, about Assad’s “depravity” – precisely the word the US press used about Saddam when they were supporting Bush’s path to war in Iraq and publishing his lies about the Iraqi dictator.

Oddly, the Americans started suggesting further missile strikes, not just if Assad uses chemicals, but if he uses barrel bombs again. The trouble with this argument is that the regime has been using barrel bombs for three years. Was this also a change in Trump policy? I doubt it. I think the White House are just so ill informed and plain dumb that they don’t know when barrel bombs were first used in the Syrian war.

Trump’s team then appeared to roll back on the barrel bombs threat. Perhaps someone tipped them off about this little bit of history, too?

Gas, cruise missiles, barrel bombs, Hitler and the American media. Mix them all up and I suppose you get Trump’s new policy in the Middle East.

Solidarity and Resistance

Donald Trump’s election will cause tremendous suffering to hundreds of millions of people in the United States and throughout the world. As we have seen since his lightly attended inauguration, his appeals to bigotry were far more than hateful campaign rhetoric. Trump has begun to put in place the apparatus that will attempt to implement his reactionary vision – a racist Attorney General with a history of attacks against African Americans and opposition to equal rights to lead the Department of Justice and its Civil Rights Division; a billionaire opponent of public schools to run the Department of Education; a climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; a foe of raising the minimum wage to head the Department of Labor. Trump appointed a Scalia look alike and promises to appoint anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court. He threatens world peace and raises the nightmare of nuclear war.

The rise of Trumpism creates an opportunity for radical organizing at the scale of the 1930s and 1960s. Trump’s attacks on women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims and others provides a basis for unity in the defense of democratic rights and an opening to build alliances with working people and the poor, including many of those who voted for Trump and will soon learn the falseness of his promises.

Within the past few years we have seen massive upsurges of people demanding change, from the Occupy movement to Black Lives Matter to the powerful support of the Bernie Sanders candidacy. What has been lacking in these efforts is the intentional effort to build a structured opposition with a platform of demands and organizational structure outside the Democratic Party. I say the movement’s demands must be “radical,” meaning that they confront and change status quo power dynamics rather than simply seeking to change policies without addressing the stranglehold of the elite on all aspects of American life. It is time to begin that process.

Trump really does plan to build a wall at the border with Mexico. His Secretary of State from Exxon will continue his long career of putting oil production before the interests of people everywhere. He is building the Keystone XL and DAPL. Trump’s appointment of an administration overflowing with billionaires and Goldman Sachs bankers should convince anyone who thought otherwise that he cares little about the working people he convinced to vote for him.

The silver lining to this gloomy cloud is that a Trump presidency clarifies where people’s interests lie far better than the election of Hillary Clinton could. Clinton pandered to Goldman Sachs and accepted huge “speaking” fees while proclaiming herself the champion of women and people of color; Trump exposed Clinton’s eagerness to accept the bankers’ bribes and then named them to lead his government. Here is the irony of our supposed two-party system: two representatives of slightly different wings of the 1% competed for the votes needed for election by making arguments to different sectors of the 99%.

Clinton claimed she would fight for the rights of people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. Trump appealed to disaffected whites who resent the modest advances made by groups long shut out of the American dream and correctly viewed the policies of the neoliberal Democratic Party for the losses of their jobs and standards of living.

Two thirds of white working class workers voted for Trump; among whites with college degrees, less than half did. But attempting to explain the vote solely in class terms, or solely in racial terms, misses the mark. White voters with college degrees favored Trump over Clinton, 49 to 45 percent. My takeaway is that a large portion of Trump voters were just who they sounded like – narrow minded, ignorant people ready to blame Blacks, women, Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and LGBTQ people for their problems and disappointments. Many of these people are the same white racists who have voted Republican since Richard Nixon unleashed his Southern strategy against the Democratic Party and its support for civil rights laws in the 1960s.

Another substantial group of Trump supporters are the people who traditionally vote Republican –  middle class business people, retirees, and farmers who do not live in the Northeast or on the West Coast. Many of them claimed to despise Trump’s rhetoric, but not so much that they would vote for a Democrat. The third large group was the one that surprised the Democrats, the pollsters, the pundits, and many of us on the left – traditional Democratic voters, particularly in the Midwestern, declining industrial states who rightly blamed the traditional elites for policies that have harmed them and their families. These voters were taken in by Trump’s populist, outsider, “drain the swamp” rhetoric. They understood that they had been victimized by the economic policies of the elites that dominate both parties.

Bill Clinton, both Bushes and Obama implemented policies that favor the interests of international finance over those of U.S. manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers. The rise of neoliberalism meant tax breaks for the rich, free trade, and free market capitalism, endless wars to protect narrow interests, reduction in support for education, housing, and public transportation, the virtual destruction of unionized working conditions in the private sector, opposition to affirmative action and equal opportunity through promotion of the myth of a colorblind society, and the use of police terror to compel submission to the neoliberal agenda. Efforts to transform the Democratic Party must confront the reality that Democrats and Republicans alike share responsibility for the state of the union.

I believe that many in what I have called the third group of Trump supporters will quickly see that his policies will not propel them back into prosperity and comfort. The erosion of union jobs, rolling back efforts to raise the minimum wage, taking away healthcare coverage extended under Obamacare, and cutting taxes for the rich will just accentuate the economic inequalities that have been growing for decades. The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from 10.7% in 1980 to 20.2% in 2014. The share going to the bottom 50% has decreased from 20% in 1980 to 12.5% in 2014. I emphasize that this period includes 16 years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies. Anyone who thinks these trends will change under Trump should take a hard look at the nice bridge I have for sale.

The relevance of this analysis is that it points the way to building a progressive coalition to bring change to American society. Imagine African Americans, Hispanics and all people of color, indigenous people, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, religious minorities, the poor, and open minded and progressive working people coming together to create and fight for a program of radical change. This coalition could include tens of millions of people and would be unstoppable.

The four million people who participated in the women’s marches represent just the beginning of a culture of resistance. That resistance must develop a program of concrete demands and an organization to rally support.

A strategy for creation of a new, Solidarity Coalition might include the following principles:

(1) Leadership by the disenfranchised, particularly people of color, women, youth, LGBTQ folk, and the poor.

(2) Radical, participatory democracy in every aspect of the organization.

(3) Independence from the Democratic Party. Progressive Democrats should be welcomed and supported, but the new organization must be independent of the Democratic Party.

(4) A multi-faceted strategy that includes direct action, community organizing, and electoral politics. Electoral efforts should prioritize local, winnable elections rather than symbolic statewide and national campaigns.

(5) A radical but simple program, something akin to the 10-Point Program of the Black Panther Party rather than a dense and complex tome. The challenge will be to formulate a set of no more than 10-15 broad demands that capture people’s needs and present radical alternatives to the status quo. The focus should be on political, social, and economic power – taking it from those who control it now.

The time is now. Millions will immediately see the relevance of a movement that proclaims Solidarity and Resistance and points the way to a better future. What are we waiting for?

We Are Barely Even Trying

You may have heard, above the din of the flabbergasted masses on election day last November, that plastic grocery bags were banned in the entire state of California. Given that plastic pollution is basically clogging up massive areas of all the earth’s oceans and waterways, choking wildlife to death, and leaving microscopic particulate to toxify the entire food web of the planet, the bold move by at least one state in the U.S. may have sounded too good to be true. Well it is. Plastic bags are still thriving in California.

True, the supposed plastic grocery bag ban went into immediate effect on November 9, 2016. Most grocery stores had already eliminated their plastic bags by that morning and had paper bags available for 10 cents each if customers neglected to bring their own reusable sack. I thought I witnessed the quickest act of democracy I had ever seen. A store cashier and I applauded the expediency of this policy, yet seeing the ecological devastation that these idiotic plastic creations have caused for decades, I couldn’t help but comment that it was about thirty years too late.

Imagine my dismay when, perhaps a week after California enacted the ban, I saw this:

platicbags

Soon after plastic bags were “banned,” they were right back again, albeit in a transformed iteration – slightly thicker, decorated, shaped differently, now costing 10 cents, and touted as “reusable” (weren’t the others too?) but still plastic. Clearly, the plastic manufacturers’ lobby groups and associations would not concede to a real ban.

We see this maneuver over and over again with environmental protections as well as other pro-social policies: either the policy is a ruse or it does little to truly alleviate the problem it is supposed to tackle. The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) which is used in plastic products and on thermal receipt paper is a known endocrine disruptor and has shown reproductive and developmental toxicity in animals. As an endocrine disrupting chemical it is also potentially carcinogenic. Though the U.S. EPA has decided not to regulate BPA, many manufacturers have responded to public pressure not by eliminating unnecessary products containing BPA, but by substituting a “safer” alternative chemical, BPS, in its place. And guess what? Turns out that BPS is an endocrine disrupting chemical as well, possibly even more potent than BPA.

This bait-and-switch is emblematic of our so-called “win-win” solutions; they are little more than subterfuge. This is what happens when we try to fix the environment but preserve capitalist interests.

When it comes to environmental protection, ecological sustainability, human health and safety, income inequality and poverty reduction, educational opportunity, and global warming there is no doubt that the current presidential administration does not care. They and most of their GOP counterparts have no objective but the accumulation of greater amounts of wealth and power for themselves and their cohort. So, let us leave them out of the discussion right now. I previously wrote about the failure of half measures during the Wisconsin state uprising of 2011. What is perhaps even more pernicious and more unethical than the utter psychopathy of Trump and his cronies is the duplicity of, and the conciliatory deals proposed and enacted by, those who purport to actually care about the pressing issues we face.

These alleged win-win, non-solutions apply to a variety of societal issues in the U.S. Here are a few exemplified:

Health Care

Regardless of the fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) provided more health insurance to more people than before, it is a wholly deficient measure that enhances the coffers of the health insurance companies, just as it was meant to do (“win-win”). The ACA maintained the highly profitable yet completely inefficient and overpriced U.S. health care industry. While more citizens gained health insurance, they did not necessarily gain affordable access to health care. They still faced the burden of high costs, lack of providers, long waits for appointments, scant coverage for eye and dental care, and often the need to travel great distances to obtain any service at all. The threat of bankruptcy over health care costs still looms for the majority of Americans. There is no viable reason that Universal Single Payer Health Coverage, which would save the country billions of dollars in costs, could not be implemented in the richest in the world, But this is what happens when we try to fix health care but preserve capitalist interests.

Income

The Fight for $15 movement deserves tremendous applause for bringing attention to the plight of low-wage workers, who, despite working one or more jobs, face erratic work schedules, unpredictable conditions, and an almost complete lack of benefits, rendering them unable to make ends meet for themselves and their families. We should have nothing but praise for all in the movement, particularly those whose work to raise awareness and change labor laws represents an additional burden to their already difficult conditions. But the fact that this country does not have a minimum wage of at least $22, which is what the minimum wage should be in 2017, adjusted for inflation and productivity, is shameful Better yet, the U.S. should implement a Universal Basic Income and guaranteed full-time employment with benefits like sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, ample vacation, and pensions. These seemingly idealistic goals are entirely possible if the country taxed the wealthy at previous historical rates, if industrialists paid for all of their externalities  – which are currently covered by taxpayers –  and if bulk of the U.S. economic budget and discretionary spending was not allocated to the military industrial complex. But instead, the best we can hope for is to raise hourly wages to $15, which is even more than most politicians (both Democrat and Republican) will allow. This is what happens when you try to fix wages but preserve capitalist interests.

Education

I have written about education before and I have worked in both secondary and higher education. There is no doubt that the U.S. public education system is troubled, but the solutions are clear – smaller class sizes, more resources (mainly books), better classrooms and environments, more autonomy for teachers, better working conditions for teachers, less emphasis on technology and tests, and a decrease in child poverty. However Democrats and Republicans alike, instead of paying attention to the underlying problems in so-called “low-performing” schools, have chosen to privatize education through charter schools. While charters do not perform better than public schools, they do have fewer regulations. That climate allows for the funneling of public funds through the school to the people at the top of the corporate charter, often large, for-profit enterprises. The overall charter endeavor leaves the majority of students in the same predicament as before, but can bring great profits to those enterprising educational entrepreneurs. This is what happens when you try to fix education but preserve or augment capitalist interests.

Climate Change

Need it even be said? The United States has done little to nothing to tackle climate change. President Obama signed on to the non-binding U.N. Paris Agreement in 2016, but the U.S. was already set to exceed its carbon emission targets even before the Trump administration policies ensured that the whole accord would be kaput. President Obama and Candidate Hillary Clinton supported fracking and subscribed to an “all-of-the-above” (meaning fossil fuels, solar, wind, hyrdro, nuclear, etc.) policy on energy, which might have been semi-sufficient if we started this attempt at slowly adopting renewable, cleaner energy sources in 1960 or 1970. But all-of-the-above is completely unacceptable in terms of maintaining our planetary existence now. Nevertheless, this is what happens when you try to fix the problem of global warming but preserve or augment capital interests.

Can the U.S. do better? Let’s see what other countries are doing:

Plastic Bags

Kenya is currently joining a number of African nations including Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi in banning the manufacture and import of ALL plastic bags.

Health Care

According to the New York State Department of Health, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom all have universal health coverage. And this list does not even include all of the African nations that have nearly full, supplemented, and/or sliding-scale health care access.

Education

Finland’s routinely ranks as the top education system in the world. Though a few independent public schools exist, there are no private schools and nearly all schoolchildren are afforded the exact same educational opportunities. Of note, there is not the large economic gap between Finnish children as there is for America children, and though Finnish teachers do not have higher salaries, they have myriad state-supplied benefits and far superior working conditions than their American counterparts.

Climate Change

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a model of sustainability for the world. Their political and social infrastructure is premised on Gross National Happiness rather than a Gross Domestic Product. Their emphasis is on simplicity, sustainability, environmental preservation, and the overall quality of life of its citizens. Not only has Bhutan already  become a carbon-neutral country, wherein it absorbs as much carbon as emits, it has become a carbon-sink, actually absorbing carbon in excess of its emissions. In addition, it is progressing toward becoming a zero-waste nation with 100% organic agriculture – an ambition to which the entire world should aspire.

We’re Not  Really Even Trying

The continued existence of the human species on the planet is questionable at this moment in history. The pollution, waste stream, impoverishment, and sickening of people and the planet plough ahead almost unabated in the United States as in most of the world. While some in the country deny or neglect the problems and plunge forward with their lives, business as usual, there are others who see, feel, and experience the signs of utmost distress and hope to do something about it. Unfortunately, our collective stance on taking action is not one of ambition but one of conciliation, rationalizing that addressing the pressing issues in our society is “complicated” or “complex.” Translated, “it’s complicated” simply means that we can only do what will not impede capitalism and the accumulation of increased profits.

With any viable solution proffered in the U.S., there are always caveats, always concessions to ensure that the suggestion meets the standards of “win-win” – which really just means that we citizens cannot tackle any issue unless the answer involves a win for corporations and industries. Consequently, even as we proclaim otherwise, we aren’t really even trying to provide health care, alleviate poverty, enhance education, minimize the effects of climate change, or rid ourselves of plastic bags; we are merely trying to placate the complainers, alleviate our own guilt, and rationalize our pathetic inaction on the moral atrocities that we have normalized in our culture. As long as our underlying assumption and purpose is the preservation and augmentation of capitalism, just as with the plastic bag “ban” in California, our solutions will always fall short.

Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the Mad Dog General.  Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

God and the Devil in Syria and Rwanda

I had a hard time writing a KPFA-Berkeley Radio News report last Saturday. I was trying to report on the racist, Christian fundamentalism of NPR commentator Scott Simon and Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, both of whom argue that God and the Devil are manifest in Syria, as they were in Rwanda in 1994. Dallaire even adds that “the white man” – his words – has a moral obligation to intervene on God’s behalf.

So far so good, so to speak. I clipped some audio from Simon’s op-ed on NPR’s Saturday Weekend Edition and Dallaire’s on KPFK-Los Angeles in 2014, the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan massacres known as the Rwanda Genocide. (Just in case you’re wondering why Canadian warmonger Romeo Dallaire was sympathetically interviewed on a Pacifica Radio station, that’s another story.)

I imagined that I could play the audio clips with brief introductions, and let both men hang themselves with their own racist, fundamentalist rhetoric, but I quickly realized that was not going to work. Even when invoking God and the Devil, Scott Simon and Romeo Dallaire sound like reasonable men, descendants of the Enlightenment, not fiery fundamentalist preachers, so long as you don’t stop to think about what they’re actually saying.

General Dallaire is, after all, the former UN Peacekeeping Force Commander in Rwanda, 1993 – 1994, who went on to become Canadian Senator Dallaire, co-founder of the “Will to Intervene Project,” co-author of Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership to Prevent Mass Atrocities, and recipient of a long list of honorary doctorates and fellowships from eminent universities in Canada and the United States.

Scott Simon has been both host and essayist on NPR Weekend Edition for so many decades that NPR listeners, even very occasional listeners like myself, all recognize his voice; it’s almost like ambient sound. Simon won a George Foster Peabody Award for his radio essays in 1989, and NPR has aired his mundane musings, pretentious platitudes, and insipid homilies ever since. They’re as routine as Saturday morning coffee and chores performed to the NPR drone. So why would anyone question anything  Simon says? He takes on subjects like baseball, football, Grammy nominations, Wisconsin weather, and why he’d like to spend winters in Florida, as well as weightier matters of politics and public affairs.

Religious fundamentalism from NPR’s Scott Simon? ‘Fraid so. This week, after the first direct, acknowledged U.S. attack on Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Simon voiced his observation that the Devil is in Syria, manifest in the Syrian government, and locked in combat with God, manifest in the US and its Western (white, Christian) allies. He even quoted General Romeo Dallaire:

I watched some of the wrenching, sickening images from the chemical weapons attack in the Idlib province of Syria this week that killed scores of people, many of them children, with our daughters . . .

(A YouTube video was good enough for Donald Trump, so why not for Scott Simon?)

I have always avoided using the word “evil” when covering terrible events, even those in Bosnia and Kosovo that would later be labeled war crimes. I was of a generation educated to believe that “evil” was a cartoonish moral concept, a word we used only when we didn’t know what madness or imagined infraction might drive human beings to commit murder, even on a mass scale.

(Knowing that he is about to advance a literal interpretation of the Bible, Simon notes his credentials as a man of reason who will nevertheless make a morally imperative exception. He is, after all, a University of Chicago graduate.)

I still avoid saying “evil” as a reporter. But as a parent, I’ve grown to feel it may be important to tell children about evil, as we struggle to explain cruel and incomprehensible behavior they may see not just in history — in whatever they will learn about the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur — but in our own times.

(Simon cites the liberal interventionist canon — the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur — as unquestionable examples of metaphysical, ahistorical, apolitical evil to teach his children well. Never mind that there are substantial bodies of evidence supporting narratives counter to those that the Washington establishment repeat over and over to justify U.S. wars of aggression. Why teach your children to reason about that? It won’t look good on the resume, especially if you’re hoping they follow your footsteps to NPR.)

I’ve interviewed Romeo Dallaire, the former Canadian general who commanded U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. General Dallaire discovered Hutu soldiers were getting ready to massacre Tutsi civilians. But he was prevented by U.N. leadership from using his troops to try to stop the murders before they could take place. More than 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans were then slaughtered over three months.

(Never mind that there were only 500,000 Tutsis in Rwanda at the time of the massacres, or that the Ibuka survivors’ group claims 300,000 survived. Or that a substantial body of evidence countering the official narrative emerged, for one, at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, despite the fact that the U.S. took tacit control of that tribunal so as to set the official narrative in stone.)

Romeo Dallaire said that what happened made him believe in evil, and even a force he called the devil.

“I’ve negotiated with him,” he told us, “shaken his hand. Yes. There is no doubt in my mind … and the expression of evil to me is through the devil and the devil at work and possessing human beings and turning them into machines of destruction.  And one of the evenings in my office, I was looking out the window and my senses felt that something was there with me that shifted me. I think that evil and good are playing themselves out and God is monitoring and looking at how we respond to it.”

(A fundamentalist preacher’s delivery would no doubt be more fiery than Scott Simon’s or Romeo Dallaire’s, but Simon quotes Dallaire on God and the Devil in his concluding words.)

Dallaire shoulders the white man’s burden

Since Simon had devoted so much of his radio essay to quoting Dallaire on God and the Devil, I planned to play just a few vintage Dallaire clips on the white man’s burden in my own radio news:

I said, “The era of the white man coming back to Africa to reestablish security and so on is over. I said the Sub-Saharan Black African is simply not going to attract the engagement of the developed world, the North, unless there is a self-interest in there and a country like Rwanda doesn’t have that.”

(In keeping with his mission to “mobilize the will to intervene,” Dallaire chides “the white man” for engaging only as a matter of self-interest rather than humanitarian concern (as in the West’s glorious past of conquest, slavery, resource rape, and humanitarian concern). This lays the way for moral triumphalism when white Christian soldiers finally take up “the cross of freedom,” as in Trump’s direct attack on Syria’s dark skinned Devil.

Also, Rwanda is is not without resources of interest to the white man. It shares its western border with the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose resources it has plundered and sold to Western corporations and commodities traders for the past 20 years. Rwanda’s invasions of DRC also destroyed Congo’s national mining company to make way for Western mining interests.)

As I was saying,”The white man is not coming back,” the clouds had started to form, ‘cause it was the rainy season [in Rwanda], so in the rainy season, it’s lovely, sunny and then the next thing you know “boom”: downpour. And as I’m saying this, the sky got black and this incredible thunder clap just happened.”

(God was no doubt so enraged that he was commanding the white, Christian West to re-shoulder “The White Man’s Burden” canonized by Rudyard Kipling.)

Kipling’s poem was  first published in the February 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine — at the outset of  the U.S. war on the Filippino people, after the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty with Spain that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under U.S. control:

The White Man’s Burden

Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
Take up the White Man’s burden
In patience to abide

. . . 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  White supremacy is tenacious as a rabid dog.

As for that KPFA Radio News report, it was never produced. I played the audio clips of Scott Simon and Romeo Dallaire for a few friends, and they all said, “No no no. Don’t play that. You’ll just be giving them more air time. I can imagine family or friends hearing that on the air and thinking that they’re making some good points.”

Indeed. Scott Simon is so effectively packaged and presented by NPR, General Dallaire by the liberal interventionists, that their effusions sound perfectly reasonable to the trusting ear. The words need to be separated from their elaborate packaging and presentation to make their racist, fundamentalist meanings undeniably clear.