Thursday Thoughts

W.J. Astore

The U.S. government continues to denounce Putin for “genocidal” war crimes yet continues to persecute journalist Julian Assange for revealing war crimes. Contradiction?

Julian Assange’s persecution really isn’t about Assange anymore. It’s about intimidating other journalists and whistleblowers who’d dare to reveal the crimes of empire committed by the United States.

If I suggest that NATO expansion to the borders of Russia was a provocative move that was almost guaranteed to provoke hostility with Russia, as prominent experts like George Kennan and Henry Kissinger warned us about in the 1990s, does that make me a Putin puppet? Are Kennan and Kissinger retroactive puppets?

If I suggest that sending billions of dollars in weaponry to Ukraine is not in the cause of peace, that more people will die as a result, Ukrainian and Russian, does that make me a Putin puppet?

They say that bipartisanship is dead in Washington, yet why are both parties boosting Pentagon spending and competing with one another on how much weaponry can be sent to Ukraine without provoking nuclear Armageddon? That last part — do we trust the geniuses in Washington to walk that nuclear tightrope?

The Saudis recently made a major $2 billion investment in Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Looks like they’re betting on a Trump victory in 2024. Speaking of Kushner, he gained admittance to Harvard only after his father made a mega-donation to the school. Or maybe it was a MAGA-donation?

I was asked what I thought of Russia’s new offensive in eastern Ukraine. Here was my response:

The short answer is war is war and it’s going to be ugly, especially in cities and other built-up areas.

Of course, there’s new technology like drones and guided missiles, e.g. Javelin and Stinger.  Those missiles will make it more difficult for Russia to prevail.  I’m guessing the Russians will use more artillery as a way of neutralizing Stinger and Javelin operators.  What that means is more destruction, more “collateral damage.”  More blood and guts.

I expect the Russians will lean on “combined arms” operations, meaning closer coordination among infantry, tanks, artillery, and airpower.  If you just send in tanks without cover, they’re going to get knocked out, which we’ve seen in videos.

What we could see is guerrilla warfare by Ukrainian forces in smashed cities, which is truly terrible for the people of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the U.S. keeps sending weapons in the name of peace …

I also got asked whether Putin would resort to nuclear weapons if the war in Ukraine went poorly for him. Here was my response to that:

Putin won’t use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.  He’d have nothing to gain here.

The danger of nuclear weapons arises if the war were to widen outside of Ukraine.  For example, if NATO enforced a no-fly zone and started shooting down Russian planes, I could see Putin responding with a tactical nuclear strike against a NATO airbase.  That would risk a wider nuclear war, truly a horrifying scenario, which is why those who are calling for NATO escalation and direct involvement in the war are being irresponsible.

Of course, “irresponsible” is putting it mildly. “Batshit crazy” is more like it.

If more of America’s politicians were historians, or indeed almost any profession other than “lawyer,” would we see a bit more care and humility in their words and deeds? Sophistry, cleverness with words, fancy rhetoric, and blatant hypocrisy may play well in court when it’s all backed up by money, and lots of it, but it doesn’t necessarily play well on the battlefield. If lawyer-speak and lies won wars, America would be undefeated. (With apologies to principled lawyers everywhere who know the value of personal integrity and who fight for justice.)

“Dream it true” is a slogan I see in ads today in America. MLK had a dream, but he sure worked hard to put it in motion, and for all his work he paid for it with his life. Meanwhile, the dream still isn’t true, which isn’t the fault of MLK, who gave his life for his dream of a better America.

People may think Greta Thunberg is being overly dramatic here in her speech about climate change and the empty words of elite powerbrokers, but I think these are the sanest words I’ve ever heard.

Did you know the USA plans to “invest” $2 trillion in new nuclear weapons over the next 30-50 years? Imagine what $2 trillion could do if focused on green energy and a greener, cleaner environment. More nukes, or cleaner water and air: which should we be investing in? Hmm … I wonder.

Obama Humiliates Biden

W.J. Astore

In a sad spectacle, former President Barack Obama visited the White House and humiliated his former VP, Joe Biden, as this video shows:

Who cares, right? But I do want to say a few things about this:

  1. Obama stands revealed here as a total narcissist as he basks in the applause and approval of White House political operatives while Joe Biden stands outside the circle of joy, looking lost and insignificant.
  2. Obama’s “joke” of addressing a sitting president as “Vice President” was unintentionally revealing of Biden’s lack of power within the White House and his own party.
  3. I’m not surprised Obama treated Biden in this humiliating manner. Obama intervened in 2020 and made Biden the nominee for the Democratic Party. Recall how he got both Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg to drop out before Super Tuesday, thereby boosting Biden’s vote in his race against Bernie Sanders. Without Obama’s intervention, Sanders would have been the likely winner of the nomination process. But Obama and the DNC could not stomach the idea of a progressive like Sanders winning the nomination, so Biden was propped up as the candidate who could win, i.e., the candidate who could be controlled by corporate forces.

Here’s my biggest concern. Biden isn’t a complete dummy, and no man truly wants to be a puppet of others. So I wonder if we’ll see Biden increasingly go off-script, in increasingly angry ways, that contribute to an increasingly dangerous world.

Biden has already gone dangerously off-script in calling for Vladimir Putin’s overthrow in Russia. To Biden, Putin is a “war criminal” who must not remain in power. It’s possible this heated, somewhat unhinged, rhetoric is that of an emasculated man who knows he’s little more than a figurehead.

Biden turns 80 later this year and says he wants to run again in 2024. Yet, at this Obama celebration at the White House, he looked like a man lost, a bit player in his own house, diminished to the point of irrelevance.

And that’s not a good thing when the U.S. needs effective, sound, and determined leadership.

War Itself Is the Crime

W.J. Astore

Yesterday, I was asked to comment on alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and why Russia should be “rightly charged” for them. This is what I wrote in response:

War itself is the crime, unless it’s a defensive war of necessity. Even then, all wars generate atrocity.

I really don’t know if Russia should be “rightly charged” with war crimes.  They are “alleged” and not proven.  And the U.S. doesn’t recognize the ICC (International Criminal Court at The Hague); we are an “observer” but not a member.  So the U.S. can’t formally charge Russia with war crimes since our government doesn’t recognize the court that tries such crimes, as I understand it.

I’ve read about alleged war crimes in Ukraine. They should be investigated. But that investigation will take time, especially if you’re looking for an informed, impartial, one, based on sound evidence. In the meantime, I’d caution against a rush to judgment.

President Biden, of course, has already called Vladimir Putin a war criminal. But if Putin is a war criminal who warrants a trial before the ICC, we must admit that American leaders like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden also warrant trials before the ICC for their roles in facilitating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as regime change actions in Libya and Syria, among other exercises in imperialism. Consider all the drone strikes executed while Obama/Biden were in power, and all the innocent civilians who were killed, as Daniel Hale (among others) told us, for which he was sent to prison for four years.

In America, war criminals walk free; courageous whistle blowers like Hale are imprisoned.

And we’re going to lecture the world on who’s a war criminal?

Daniel Hale blew the whistle on murderous U.S. drone strikes. For his act of conscience, the U.S. imprisoned him for four years

Joe Biden’s Careless Rhetoric

W.J. Astore

They do not inspire confidence

Joe Biden has done it again, calling for Vladimir Putin’s removal from office as president of Russia, and refusing to apologize for it. Being charitable, I’m calling this rhetoric “careless,” but really it’s inflammatory and even unhinged when you consider the U.S. and Russia could easily destroy the world in a nuclear war.

I’ve never been a fan of Joe Biden. When he ran for president in 1987-88, he lied about being near the top of his class (he was near the bottom, actually), lied about how many majors he took, lied about an award he falsely said he’d earned, and generally came off looking like a lightweight. He was trying way too hard, including “borrowing” without attribution, i.e. plagiarizing, from the speeches of Neil Kinnock and Bobby Kennedy. Most political commentators back then dismissed him as a has-been before he ever was.

But Biden bided his time, improved his bona fides with the big money players, and became the boring white guy sidekick to the upstart Barack Obama in 2008. Biden served loyally as Obama’s VP for eight years, failing to distinguish himself in any meaningful way. Occasionally, he’d blurt out something tough, something manly, like the time he commented about confronting the Islamic State at “the gates of hell,” but it was all bluster.

When Biden ran for president in 2019-20, he was obviously well past his prime, which was never that high to begin with. But he promised the owners and donors that nothing would fundamentally change if he was elected, the one promise he’s kept since he gained office. Throughout his campaign, he lied through his blindingly white teeth about how he supported a $15 federal minimum wage and how he’d work for a single-payer option for health care, among many other whoppers. One of those whoppers has gained considerable press lately: his son Hunter’s laptop and the emails on it, which Biden said was an obvious Kremlin plant. Wrong again, Joe. Hunter’s emails were all-too-real and incriminating, as was his phony yet high-paying job ($50,000 a month) for Burisma in Ukraine.

Politics is almost always a miserable affair, now more than ever, but during the campaign Biden showed he was a gaffe-prone liar who was nearing the end of his mental tether. No matter. The mainstream media got behind him and plenty of Americans were rightly fed up with Donald Trump and his bungling of the response to Covid-19, and that was enough to make him president.

Biden is now pushing 80, slurring words, and calling Putin a war criminal and saying that he needs to go. It’s the kind of behavior you’d expect from a blowhard who’s had a few too many drinks at the bar, not from America’s most senior leader.

I joked to my wife that I really don’t want to die today in a nuclear war due to Biden’s bizarre bombast. If any leader needs to go, it’s probably Joe Biden, but he has an iron-clad insurance policy: if he goes, we get Kamala “giggles” Harris as our new president. So I guess I have to be very careful what I wish for.

There was a time when America produced leaders like FDR, Ike, George C. Marshall, even Ronald Reagan, who had the guts to dream of a world free of nuclear weapons. Reagan may have called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” but he also knew how to negotiate with Mikhail Gorbachev for a better, safer world. America is hamstrung today by narcissistic nincompoops like Biden, Harris, and Trump; somehow, we have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and find it within ourselves to demand better.

Critical Media Literacy

W.J. Astore

He who pays the piper calls the tune is a saying I learned from my dad. He also taught me to never believe anything you read and only half of what you see. Direct experience is best, of course, but even when you’re living through an historical event, your perspective is necessarily limited and filtered through your own biases. All my readers, I’m assuming, don’t currently have direct experience of the war in Ukraine. So how do we know what’s really going on? And who’s paying the piper to call the tune on the media coverage of the same?

I was thinking of all this as I watched Briahna Joy Gray talk to Abby Martin on Gray’s show, “Bad Faith.” Both women remind us that major networks like Fox, MSNBC, CNN, PBS and the like are captured by corporations and rely on advertising revenue from Raytheon, Pfizer, and similar powerhouses of the military-industrial complex, big Pharma (drug pushers and dealers), and of course fossil fuel companies. They pay the piper and therefore call the tunes that we hear daily.

The result, as Abby Martin says here, is that the Russia-Ukraine war becomes a “cartoon binary that infantilizes us all,” in which Putin is Sauron and Zelensky is both Gandalf the White and Frodo, sage wizard and plucky underdog, to use characters from Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

Is that you, Putin?

Anti-Russian hysteria has grown so common that my local liquor store was at pains to tell me that Stoli vodka comes from Latvia, not Russia, therefore I could still in good conscience purchase it without serving Sauron/Putin.

Mainstream media networks in the U.S. are owned by five major corporations, notes Martin, and their goal is to control the narrative while strengthening their positions and maximizing profits. This is why it might be wise to remember not to believe everything, or anything, that you read, and to remember as well that the pipers we listen to on the air are not free to call their own tunes.

Anyway, I highly recommend Gray and Martin’s interview. Enjoy, readers!

Condemning War

W.J. Astore

And so the dogs of war are off and running again, this time unleashed by Putin’s Russia against Ukraine. What is Putin up to? Is it a punitive raid against Ukraine, or a general invasion followed by an occupation, or something in between? Time will tell, but wars are unpredictable. Just look at America’s wars. Vietnam was supposed to be over with quickly after the U.S. committed large numbers of troops there in 1965. Afghanistan started as a punitive raid in 2001, then morphed into a wider invasion and occupation that persisted for two decades. Iraq was supposed to be over and done with in a few weeks in 2003, but that general invasion also morphed into an occupation that persisted for nearly a decade.

At their best, wars are controlled chaos, and that contradiction in terms is intended. My best guess is that Putin sees this as an extended punitive raid to send a message to Ukraine and to NATO that Russia won’t tolerate NATO expansion into Ukraine. Put bluntly, NATO, led by the USA, got into Putin’s grill on Ukraine, and Putin calculated that drawing his saber was a better choice than simply rattling it. Whether he who lives by the sword will die by it remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I took a quick look at how the mainstream media is covering the Russian invasion. I noted that NBC spoke of Russia’s “terrifying might,” while CBS spoke of “dozens reported dead” in Ukraine. CNN simply said that “Russia invades Ukraine” and that “Ukraine vows defiance.” I have nothing against these headlines, but I wonder if the same coverage would apply to the U.S. military. Would NBC speak of the “terrifying might” of U.S. military attacks? Would our mainstream media mouthpieces report on the deaths of foreigners from those attacks? Did we see terse headlines that read, simply, “U.S. invades Iraq” or “U.S. invades Afghanistan” or “U.S. invades Vietnam”? I can’t remember seeing them, since we like to think of the U.S. military as “liberating” or “assisting” other countries, or, even better, bringing democracy to them with our “freedom” bombs and “liberty” missiles.

U.S. leaders like Antony Blinken and Nancy Pelosi have shown their toughness. Blinken said Putin will “pay for a long, long time” for his actions, and Pelosi said the Russian invasion is an “attack on democracy.” Did Ukraine truly have a functional democracy? For that matter, does the United States have one?

I’m with Ike: I hate war with a passion. Most often it’s the innocent and the most vulnerable who end up dead. Whatever Putin is up to, it’s wrong and he should be condemned. But while condemning Putin for his invasion, we shouldn’t forget America’s wars. Indeed, in condemning Putin for his invasion, it offers us a fresh chance to condemn war in general — even, or especially, America’s own versions.

When In Doubt, Send Troops

W.J. Astore

On that proverbial table in Washington D.C. where all options are allegedly kept, the one option that’s always used is military escalation. First, the U.S. sent more weaponry to Ukraine. Now, America’s commander-in-chief is sending more troops, according to this news update today from the Boston Globe:

President Biden is sending about 2,000 troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland and Germany this week and sending part of an infantry Stryker squadron of roughly 1,000 troops based in Germany to Romania, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

The military moves come amid stalled talks with Russia over its military buildup at Ukraine’s borders. And they underscore growing fears across Europe that Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to invade Ukraine — and smaller NATO countries on the eastern flank worry they could be next.

Has Russia given any sign of invading “smaller NATO countries on the eastern flank”? No matter. The solution is obviously to send small contingents of U.S. troops as a sign of resolve. A couple thousand troops split between Poland and Romania will show Vladimir Putin that America means business. (War business, that is.)

Such small troop contingents have negligible military value, so their real significance is in domestic politics. Biden, a typical Democratic president, is forever on guard against accusations of “weakness” vis-a-vis Russia or China or Iran or you-name-it. To minimize such accusations, while keeping the military-industrial complex happy, the go-to option on the table is to send in the weapons and the troops. Who cares about the risk of military escalation and a wider war between major nuclear powers?

One could imagine a different president, a savvier one, winning major international points by offering to defuse tensions between Ukraine and Russia through negotiation. But that option, farfetched as it would be, is never on that table of options kept in Washington. And why Russia would trust the U.S. is beyond me.

Kyiv (Kiev) in Ukraine is roughly 5500 miles from me by airplane. That’s a very long way indeed from what I consider to be my “eastern flank.” Maybe America should practice a new foreign policy in which we learn to mind our own business, or, if you prefer, stay in our own backyard?

A Ukrainian soldier. One imagines he’s hoping for a peaceful solution. But this is not what I think of as America’s (or NATO’s) eastern flank

Fox News and The New York Times Agree: America is Weak!

W.J. Astore

Did you know that the world’s lone surviving military superpower, the one that spends more than a trillion dollars yearly on all things military, is weak?

Fox News would have you think that. And so too would the New York Times (NYT).

Over at Fox News, the headline suggests Biden’s weakness is inviting “the next Pearl Harbor,” even as the article focuses mainly on alleged weakness vis-a-vis Russia-Ukraine and China-Taiwan. Meanwhile, my daily summary from the NYT agrees that “U.S. weakness emboldens Moscow and Beijing.” So what does the NYT suggest America should do to show strength?

With respect to Russia and Ukraine, this is the sage advice of the New York Times:

On its own, Ukraine’s military seems outmatched by Russia’s. And a full-scale U.S. military response seems doubtful, given a weariness of foreign wars that Biden and many American voters share.
But Biden still has options. The U.S. can increase its military support to Ukraine, which could make a potential invasion look bloodier and more costly for Russia. (The U.S. is pursuing a related strategy in Taiwan.)
Biden can also threaten sanctions on Russia, as he did on the call with Putin yesterday, according to Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser. “He told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures,” Sullivan told reporters. If Russia does attack Ukraine, Biden said that the U.S. would react more strongly than it did to the 2014 takeover of the Crimean Peninsula.
But sanctions might not be enough to deter Putin.

In sum, here’s the tough-minded advice of the “liberal” New York Times: Sell more expensive weaponry to Ukraine (as well as Taiwan). Threaten the most violent economic warfare possible. And, since sanctions “might not be enough” to deter Russia or China, there’s more than a hint that America may need to go to war, despite “weariness” of wars allegedly shared by Biden and “many American voters.”

A show of hands here: How many Americans think it’s wise to risk nuclear war if Russia attacks Ukraine or China attacks Taiwan?

Even if the risk of nuclear war is discounted (which it shouldn’t be), how many Americans think it’s wise for the U.S. military to get involved in a land war in Asia or against Russia in Ukraine?

Maybe patient diplomacy is the answer here? After all, what does the “defense” of Ukraine or Taiwan by U.S. forces have to do with defending our country and our constitution?

America doesn’t lack toughness — it lacks smarts. Selling more weapons to Ukraine or Taiwan isn’t the answer. Nor are constant threats.

Sun Tzu taught that the best way to win is when you can achieve your objectives without even having to fight. Guile is not weakness, nor is restraint. But Fox News, joined by the New York Times, would have us think that toughness is mostly about weaponry and a willingness to wage war. Because, you know, it’s worked so well for America in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and so many other places around the globe.

Smearing Bernie Sanders

ticket

W.J. Astore

Just before Tulsi Gabbard announced her candidacy for the presidency as a Democrat, NBC ran a smear piece that suggested Vladimir Putin and the Russians loved her.  This smear was then repeated and amplified by Hillary Clinton, who suggested Gabbard was being groomed by the Kremlin to run as a third-party candidate, thereby ensuring Trump’s reelection in 2020.  There was no evidence for any of these claims — none.  Yet Gabbard was put on the defensive and her campaign (still ongoing) has been essentially redlined by the mainstream media.

Now it’s Bernie Sanders’s turn.  Bernie is much better known than Tulsi with a much larger movement behind him, so the DNC and the mainstream media have a modified tactic: rather than smearing Bernie as a Putin puppet, they’re suggesting the Russians are boosting his candidacy without his knowledge — the end game, naturally, is Trump’s reelection.  This was reported yesterday by the Washington Post and echoed today by the New York Times and other media outlets.  Here’s how NBC News put it today:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., excoriated Russia on Friday after being briefed that the Kremlin is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic primary and the 2020 election.

“The intelligence community has been very clear about it — whether Trump recognizes it not, or acknowledges it or not, they did interfere in 2016,” Sanders told reporters. “The intelligence community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign right now in 2020. What I say to Mr. Putin: If elected president, trust me, you will not be interfering in American elections.”

The Washington Post reported on Friday U.S officials have briefed President Trump, other lawmakers on Capitol Hill and Sanders, who has recently become the frontrunner in the Democratic contest, that Russians are helping his campaign. The Post cited people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

When you look further into these claims, the so-called Intelligence Community (IC) is not telling us specifically how the Russians are allegedly helping Bernie.  They just are.

This puts Bernie on the defensive.  Already known as a “socialist” who, we’re told, visited Moscow on his honeymoon, Bernie is being forced to issue denials as well as statements against Putin.  And this pleases the IC and the DNC to no end.  Get Bernie talking about Russia and Putin!  Force him to disavow Russian “support,” no matter how nebulous or false that support is.  Associate his name with the “bad guys,” the communists, just as Mayor Bloomberg linked Bernie to communism during the last debate.  “Cheap shot,” Bernie replied, but the cheap people are desperate and will do anything to win.

To the DNC, IC, and MSM, it doesn’t matter if these accusations of Russian interference are believed.  What matters is shifting the narrative and thereby weakening the credibility of candidates like Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders.

Anyone who criticizes or threatens the power and privileges of the military-industrial complex, the IC, and the MSM must be attacked and defeated.  There are literally trillions of dollars at stake here.  This is why other candidates issue no criticisms of these powerful entities.  Can you recall Mayor Pete, or Joe Biden, or Amy Klobuchar, or even Elizabeth Warren saying anything truly critical about the MIC, the IC, and MSM?  For the acronym-wary, that’s the military-industrial complex, the intelligence community, and the mainstream media.

Again, judge the candidates by the enemies they make.  The more the powerful smear Tulsi and Bernie, the more you know they are the candidates with principles and integrity.

Monday Musings About America

warrior
It’s an odd thing to see a pagan warrior of ancient Greece used as a symbol of Christianity, but what matters here is the idea Christianity is synonymous with warrior violence

W.J. Astore

It’s amazing how often America’s politicians dismiss proposals that would benefit workers as “too expensive” (such as a higher minimum wage, or more affordable college education, or single-payer health care) versus how much they’re willing to approve for new weapons and wars.  With little debate, this year’s “defense” budget will be roughly $750 billion, although the real number exceeds a trillion dollars, as Bill Hartung notes here for TomDispatch.  Meanwhile, spending on education, infrastructure improvements, and so on withers.

It’s almost as if the impoverishment of America’s workers is deliberate (some would say it is).  Four decades ago, I remember reading Crane Brinton’s “The Anatomy of Revolution” in AP Modern European History.  Brinton noted how rising expectations among the lower orders can lead to revolutionary fervor.  But if you keep people down, keep them busy working two or three jobs, keep them distracted with “circuses” like unending sports coverage and Trump’s every twitch and tweet, you can control them.

Thus the establishment sees a true populist politician like Bernie Sanders as the real enemy.  Bernie raises hopes; he wants to help workers; but that’s not the point of the American system.  So, Bernie must be dismissed as “crazy,” or marginalized as a dangerous socialist, even though he’s just an old-fashioned New Dealer who wants government to work for the people.

Related to keeping people under control (by keeping them divided, distracted, and downtrodden) is to keep them fearful.  A foreign bogeyman is always helpful here, hence the demonization of Vladimir Putin.  An old friend of mine sent me an article this past weekend about Putin’s strategy in reviving Russia.  I confess I don’t follow Russia and Putin that closely.  But it strikes me that Putin has played a weak hand well, whereas U.S. leaders have played a strong hand poorly.

In the article I noted the following quote by Putin:

[we] need to build our home and make it strong and well protected … The wolf knows how to eat … and is not about to listen to anyone … How quickly all the pathos of the need to fight for human rights and democracy is laid aside the moment the need to realize one’s own interests come to the fore.

Putin’s words are from a decade ago, when the U.S. still talked about fighting for “human rights and democracy.”  Under Trump, “one’s own interests” are naked again in U.S. foreign policy under men like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.  Is this progress?

Overall, Russia has learned (or been forced) to limit its foreign burdens, whereas the U.S. is continuing to expand its “global reach.”  Russia learned from the Cold War and is spending far less on its military, whereas the U.S. continues to spend more and more.  It’s ironic indeed if Russia is the country cashing in on its peace dividend, even as the U.S. still seems to believe that peace is impossible and that war pays.

I wonder if Russia (joined by China) spends just enough on its military to present a threat to the U.S. for those who are so eager to see and exaggerate it.  For example, China builds an aircraft carrier, or Russia builds a nuclear cruise missile, not because they’re planning unprovoked attacks against the U.S., but as a stimulus to America’s military-industrial complex.  Because America’s reaction is always eminently predictable.  The national security state seizes on any move by China or Russia as dangerous, destabilizing, and as justification for yet more military spending.  The result is a hollowing out of the U.S. (poorer education, fewer factories, weaker economy, collapsing infrastructure), even as China and Russia grow comparatively stronger by spending more money in non-military sectors.

There are complicated forces at work here.  Of course, Ike’s military-industrial-Congressional complex is always involved.  But there’s also a weird addiction to militarism and violence in the USA.  War, gun violence, and other forms of killing have become the background noise to our lives, so much so that we barely perceive the latest mass killing, or the latest overseas bombing gone wrong.  (I’d also add here the violence we’re doing to our environment, our earth, our true “homeland.”)

I mentioned violence to my old friend, and he sent me this note:

On violence and American cultural DNA one place to start is Richard Slotkin’s trilogy, Regeneration Through Violence, The Fatal Environment, and Gunfighter Nation… The gist of what I have gotten about Slotkin’s thesis is that America’s frontier past trained settlers to think of violence (against natives and against each other) as forms of rebirth both for the individual and for the community.

My friend’s comment about violence and rebirth made me think of the film “Birth of a Nation” (1915) and the infamous scene of the KKK riding to the rescue.  We in America have this notion that, in one form or another, a heavily armed cavalry will ride to the rescue and save us (from savage Indians, violent immigrants, etc.).  In a strange way, Trump’s campaign tapped this notion of rebirth through violence.  Think of his threats against immigrants – and his promises to build a wall to keep them out – and his threats to torture terrorists and even to kill their families.

Trump tapped a rich seam of redemption through violence in the USA, this yearning for some sort of violent apocalypse followed by a “second coming,” notably in conservative evangelical circles.  For when you look at “end times” scenarios in evangelical settings, peaceful bliss is not the focus.  Suffering of the unredeemed is what it’s all about.  Christ is not bringing peace but a sword to smite all the evildoers.

For people who suffer toil and trouble daily, such apocalyptic visions are a powerful distraction and may serve as a potent reactionary tonic.  Why fight for Bernie’s political revolution when Christ’s return is imminent?

That’s enough musing for one Monday morning.  Readers, what say you?