History Is Un-American

W.J. Astore

Real Americans Create Their Own Futures

I was bantering online with an old friend and fellow historian and I hit him with my best shot: history is un-American. If you think like an historian, and especially if you think America and its future actions should be informed, or possibly even constrained, by history, you are clearly un-American. History is more or less bunk, Henry Ford famously said, and Americans can safely ignore it. We are like gods, creating our own futures out of nothing, imposing our will on everything around us.

Henry Ford, American god

This attitude, this hubris, explains much about the U.S. military’s woeful record since 1945. The French lost in Indochina? No matter. Americans will prevail in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia because we’re not the French. The Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan? No matter. Americans will prevail there because we’re not the Russians. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his minority Sunni government will unleash chaos that strengthens Shia forces in Iraq, aligning that country more closely with Iran? No matter. America will bring order and the blessings of democracy to Iraq at the point of gun or a Hellfire missile.

Karl Rove, a major player in the Bush/Cheney administration, summed up this hubris in this now-infamous passage:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

That man did not want for confidence.

Related to the idea of history being un-American is the business- and management-oriented nature of the officer corps in the U.S. military. To be promoted to field-grade (major or lieutenant commander), you almost have to have a master’s degree or be close to finishing one. But rarely do officers choose to pursue a master’s in history or any other subject related to the humanities. The master’s of choice is in business administration or some type of management.

By pursuing MBAs and management degrees, officers show their practical nature. They also set themselves up well for future careers once they retire or separate from the military. After all, who needs to know history, even military history? The U.S. military will simply act, creating its own realities, which feckless historians will then passively study as America’s real actors get on with the job of remaking the world in America’s image.

We live in the United States of Amnesia, Gore Vidal quipped, and history is part of that amnesia. Who remembers that America was at war in Afghanistan as late as 2021? It’s on to new “great power” struggles with China and Russia. Look forward, not backward, Barack Obama said when he became president, meaning there was no need to hold the Bush/Cheney administration responsible for anything, including torture and other war crimes. “We tortured some folks” — time to move on!

An expression I learned in the U.S. military is “analysis paralysis,” as in don’t overthink the problem. Act! But if America’s military record since World War II proves one thing, it’s that ignoring history because it’s “bunk” or less practical than another business or management course is a very unwise idea.

Acting should be informed by thinking. Dare I say, historically-informed thinking. Even for America’s wannabe gods.

When Losing Is Winning

W.J. Astore

Corporate Democrats Would Rather Lose to Republicans than Enact Progressive Reforms

Call me cynical, but the establishment Democratic Party would rather lose to Republicans, even those Maniacal Trumpers, than win with strong progressive candidates.

The reason is obvious: money. The Democratic Party is all about raising money. The best way to raise money is to do the bidding of the corporate overlords. That’s why you don’t see firm commitments to a $15 federal minimum wage, or single-payer health care, or reducing the Pentagon budget. The Democrats are a pro-business, pro-rich, pro-establishment party with a large hierarchy that thrives on corporate cash. Whether it wins at the polls or loses, it still wins at the one “poll” that matters, and that’s raising corporate cash.

Consider the “big names” in the Democratic Party. The Obamas, the Clintons, the Bidens, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris, and so on. They are all bought and paid for. They have all been corrupted by money, willingly so. They see it as their right to cash-in on their public “service.” They are the servants of Wall Street, Big Pharma, the military-industrial complex, and other power centers. That’s how they attained thier positions in the first place.

It’s something of a truism that Democrats would rather lose to Republicans than submit to a progressive agenda like the one espoused by Bernie Sanders. (Forget about Ralph Nader; to the Corporate Democrats, he may as well be the antichrist.)

Things are so bad that the Democratic establishment is actually funding Trumpian Republicans, thinking that the latter will be unelectable because they’re too far right, too batshit crazy. But, my fellow Americans, there’s plenty of room on the right, and plenty of support for batshit crazy positions in this land of ours.

America is a strange bird with two right wings. I guess that’s why we don’t soar as a country anymore. We just flap aimlessly in circles on the ground, our withered left wing incapable of providing balance and lift.

Democrats, Republicans, and the Need for Alternatives

W.J. Astore

The last real Democratic President was Jimmy Carter. The last U.S. election offering a real alternative vision was George McGovern versus Richard Nixon in 1972.

Since then, Democratic Presidents like Clinton, Obama, and Biden have been DINOs, or Democrats in name only. In a rare moment of honesty, Obama admitted his administration had echoed the policies of “moderate” Republicans. Friendly to Wall Street, banking interests, corporations, the military-industrial complex, and the usual assortment of oligarchs. Obama’s health care plan was a corporate-friendly sellout that echoed the plan put together by Republicans like Mitt Romney. The DINOs fully support forever war and huge military budgets; Obama was quite happy to admit America had “tortured some folks” and that he’d gotten very good at ordering people to be killed, mainly via assassination by drone. It’s a far cry from Jimmy Carter trying to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy in the late 1970s.

Democrats began to move rightwards after McGovern’s resounding defeat in 1972. They haven’t stopped this rightward drift; indeed, it’s accelerated. The Republicans responded by embracing men like Trump as they found plenty of room even further to the right of the DINOs. America, Gore Vidal once said, basically has one property party with two right wings, and that’s only become truer and more obvious over the last fifty years.

What is to be done? We need viable alternatives, but of course the game is rigged, as Matthew Hoh, principled candidate for the Senate in North Carolina, discovered as Democrats conspired to keep him off the ballot, even though his efforts with the Green Party were more than sufficient to earn him a place on that ballot. Both parties, Democrat and Republican, will do anything to keep their duopoly while also endlessly punching each other. Neither party serves the interests of the people.

Perhaps Caitlin Johnstone can offer some hope, or at least a diagnosis for the right path ahead. Here’s what she had to say in her latest post about how the political system in America is structured and manipulated for the benefits of the powerful:

1. Use narrative manipulation to divide the population into a roughly 50/50 ideological split.

2. Ensure you control both of those factions.

3. Convince everyone that the only reason nothing changes is because their half of the population doesn’t win enough elections.

Everyone’s pulling on a rope that doesn’t lead anywhere and doesn’t do anything, convinced by powerful manipulators that they’re engaged in a life-or-death tug o’ war match of existential importance. Meanwhile the powerful just do as they like, completely indifferent to that spectacle and its back-and-forth exchanges.

A group is artificially split into two sides and told to pull a rope in opposite directions while someone else stands back and shoots them all with a BB gun. When they complain about the welts, they’re told it’s happening because their side isn’t pulling hard enough. But really they’d be getting shot no matter what they did.

This doesn’t mean give up, it just means give up on the fake tug o’ war game. If you’re playing tug o’ war while someone rummages through your handbag looking for cash, the first step to stopping them is putting down the rope and going after them. It’s like if everyone was pushing on a fake fire escape in a burning building: the first step to getting them out of there is showing them that the door is just painted on the wall and doesn’t lead anywhere. That’s not telling them to give up hope, it’s just telling them to give up on an ineffective strategy.

Perhaps Johnstone didn’t go far enough here. Americans go in for assault rifles, not BB guns. But she’s surely right that you’re not going to reform this system from within, i.e. from pulling harder on the Democrat or Republican rope. You need to stop playing an unwinnable game.

Organize. Vote third party when a sane candidate is available. Stop donating to DINOs and their even more dubious Republican cousins. Protest. Tell others. You never know what will be the spark that ignites true and meaningful change.