Tuesday, June 30, 2009

$2,000 for a Dead Afghan Child

$100,000 for Any American Who Died Killing it.

By Jay Janson

June 30, 2009 "Opednews" -- -After Obama apologized for the strike which the Afghan government claimed killed well over a hundred ordinary country folk, came the report that the families of those killed, and subsequent Afghani dead falling in harms way of the US military, continuing as before, can apply to receive up to $2,000 compensation. This is the price the great United States of American puts on an Afghan or Pakistan human being, while awarding $100,000 to families of Americans who die while fighting and killing wherever.

Shocking? Shame provoking? Embarrassing that no Afghani or Pakistani child or parent has any human right at all, including the right not to be blown to pieces in a US drone air strike? - the final insult being the value of their lives put at a mere $2,000 by the wealthiest nation in history?

Naw, not within the general public, which more or less accepts this assessment of a well-liked Commander-in-Chief President Obama, and accepts the calculations by his generals and higher officers.

In imperialist America, there is not even any interest in such 'war casualties,' considered 'inevitable' by the U.S. government, now led by the Obama administration, as it continues to react worldwide to the Saudi Arabians (and one Algerian and one Yemenite) who suicided themselves into the walls of the Pentagon and World Trade Center in 2001.

Why bother to continue amplifying the point of this article? Why bother to remind people that the Prime Minister of Pakistan has demanded that US stop killing its citizens from the air? The U.S. installed President Karzai of Afghanistan has pleaded for a bombing halt for years to no avail. His legislature has long called for negotiations with the former governing Taliban, amnesty for all, and the removal of U.S. and other foreign armed forces.

Why bother to remind people that the Iraq legislature asked for the same, years ago? Who remembers? All this was reported by the Associate Press but appeared only on the Internet. (In Iraq, a 'Sympathy Payment' - as reported in 2005 - could be as high as $6,000. Maybe it is higher in Iraq because Iraq has a lot of oil.)

But, in any case, who cares? Only the exceptional so called 'bleeding hearts', 'oversensitive' progressives, communists, socialists and overseas anti-imperialists like Presidents Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Daniel Ortega and some others, like Lula of Brazil, who are aware that it is healthier for their country to keep their reaction to themselves.

Words, words, words, as drones continue to fire missiles on orders from the popular highest elected official in America.

Yours truly will never forget being taken aback by Barak Obama's hand shooting up in the air in answer to Wolf Blitzer, monitoring a Democratic Candidates Debate, 'Raise your hand, if you would give the go ahead for a missile strike to take out an important al Qaida leader, if you knew there would be civilian casualties.' (Blitzer emphasized the last phrase.)

Would that Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel were president today. They did not raise their hands.

All the more puzzling is this observation in context of the fact that President Obama is the loving father of two young children. Too bad Blitzer didn't ask, 'Raise your hand if you would give the go ahead for a missile strike to take out an important al Qaida leader, if you knew YOUR OWN CHILDREN would be casualties.'

Still more puzzling because the children of nations under US militarily occupation are Obama's and America's responsibility, as Jesus, Obama's Savior, taught, as even more basic than the Geneva Convention's civilian protection signed agreements.

Jay Janson , musician and writer, who has lived and worked on all the continents and whose articles on media have been published in China, Italy, England and the US, and now resides in New York City.

Iraq's 'National Sovereignty Day' is U.S.-Style Hallmark Hype

by Jeremy Scahill

The puppet government in Iraq has named June 30 as "National Sovereignty Day," and-without mentioning the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis maimed, killed, tortured or made refugees by the US invasion and occupation-thanked the occupiers for placing them in power. "President" Jalal Talabani termed today "a glorious day," saying, "While we celebrate this day, we express our thanks and gratitude to our friends in the coalition forces who faced risks and responsibilities and sustained casualties and damage while helping Iraq to get rid from the ugliest dictatorship and during the joint effort to impose security and stability."

Meanwhile the Iraqi "Prime Minister" Nouri al Maliki-clearly living in his Green Zone bubble-stated: "The national united government succeeded in putting down the sectarian war that was threatening the unity and the sovereignty of Iraq," adding, "Those who think that Iraqis are unable to defend their country are committing a fatal mistake." Perhaps Maliki has been hanging out too much by the swimming pools and cabanas in the Green Zone and missed these events:
There was a significant spike in violence before the June 30 withdrawal. More than 250 people were killed in a series of bombings, including one on June 20 that left 81 dead outside a mosque in northern Iraq and another in a Baghdad market on June 24 that killed 78.

As we listen to these proclamations from Iraqi "government" officials praising their fake holiday, let's remember this fact from veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn, who has covered Iraq more than almost any other Western journalist:
Iraq is the world's premier kleptomaniac state. According to Transparency International the only countries deemed more crooked than Iraq are Somalia and Myanmar, while Haiti and Afghanistan rank just behind. In contrast to Iraq, which enjoys significant oil revenues, none of these countries have much money to steal.

In a grotesquely symbolic move, the Iraqi government marked "National Sovereignty Day" by "open[ing] up some of its massive oil and gas fields to foreign firms," according to the Wall Street Journal: "In a televised ceremony, international oil companies were invited to submit bids for six oil and two gas fields, a process that marked their return to the country over 30 years after Mr. Hussein nationalized the oil sector and expelled the foreign firms. The fields on offer hold about 43 billion of Iraq's 115 billion barrels of crude reserves - among the largest in the world." Among the companies bidding were the Western oil giants ExxonMobil and BP (which reportedly won a contract on Tuesday). As The New York Times reported, "A total of 8 of the world's 10 top non-state oil companies are competing for licenses to help develop six oil fields and two natural gas fields."

While the U.S. has hyped up the "handover" to the Iraqis, it is largely a show. Underscoring that point, the top US military commander in the Iraqi capital, Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger, handed over the keys to the former Iraqi Defense Ministry to an Iraqi military commander and spoke of how now "Iraqis take the lead in Baghdad." To keep up appearances, the US military, according to The New York Times, has begun "ordering soldiers to remain in garrison for the next few days to give the Iraqis a chance to demonstrate that they are in control." Note the phrase "for the next few days." As for the official ceremonies marking Iraqi "Independence Day," the Times reports:
The military parade in the Green Zone on Tuesday - at the official monument to the unknown soldier - was attended primarily by Iraqi reporters and dignitaries. The public could not reach it because of extensive security restricting access to the area. [...] Many of the celebrations on Tuesday seemed contrived. Police cars were festooned with plastic flowers, and signs celebrating "independence day"were tied to blast walls and fences around the city. On Monday, night a festive evening celebration in Zahra Park with singers and entertainers drew primarily young men, many of them off-duty police officers.

** The Washington Post's Ernesto Londoño, whose report reads like Iraqi "government" propoganda (it begins: "This is no longer America's war."), reports:
Anchors on state-run television wore folded Iraqi flags over their shoulders, and the station kept a graphic of a small Iraqi flag waving under the date "6/30" on the top left corner of the screen.

Away from the show, US forces will indeed remain in Iraqi cities to "to train and advise Iraqi forces," while huge numbers position themselves just outside the cities and could redeploy or strike in moments:
The U.S. hasn't said how many troops will be in the cities in advisory roles, but the vast majority of the more than 130,000 U.S. forces remaining in the country will be in large bases scattered outside cities.

While a lot of the media hype today focuses on the US "withdrawal," that is hardly the reality. As previously reported, U.S. military commanders have said they are preparing for an Iraq presence for another 15-20 years, the US embassy is the size of Vatican City, there is no official plan for the withdrawal of contractors and new corporate mercenary contracts are being awarded. The Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) between the US and Iraq gives the U.S. the right to extend the occupation indefinitely and to continue intervening militarily in Iraq ad infinitum. Article 27 of the SoFA allows the U.S. to undertake military action, "or any other measure," inside Iraq's borders "In the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq."

As the airwaves and internet are flooded with reports of this new Iraqi sovereignty and U.S. withdrawal, it is important to remember a bit of history. Five years ago-almost to the day- President Bush put on an almost identical show. His proconsul L. Paul Bremer "handed over sovereignty" to the Iraqi government just before he skulked out of Baghdad on a secret flight (right after he issued an order banning Iraq from prosecuting contractors). Despite the pronouncements and proclamations and media hype, the occupation continued and real sovereignty was non-existent.

It is very doubtful that-decades from now-Iraqis will tell their grandchildren about where they were on June 30, 2009, "National Sovereignty Day." At the end of the day, this is U.S.-style Hallmark hype and will remain so until every last occupation soldier leaves Iraqi soil.

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free

by Chris Hedges

The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed. The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out and people get a taste of Bill Clinton's draconian welfare reform. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

Our economic crisis-despite the corporate media circus around the death of Michael Jackson or Gov. Mark Sanford's marital infidelity or the outfits of Sacha Baron Cohen's latest incarnation, Brüno-barrels forward. And this crisis will lead to a period of profound political turmoil and change. Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy. The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower proto-fascist movements such as the Christian right.

American culture-or cultures, for we once had distinct regional cultures-was systematically destroyed in the 20th century by corporations. These corporations used mass communication, as well as an understanding of the human subconscious, to turn consumption into an inner compulsion. Old values of thrift, regional identity that had its own iconography, aesthetic expression and history, diverse immigrant traditions, self-sufficiency, a press that was decentralized to provide citizens with a voice in their communities were all destroyed to create mass, corporate culture. New desires and habits were implanted by corporate advertisers to replace the old. Individual frustrations and discontents could be solved, corporate culture assured us, through the wonders of consumerism and cultural homogenization. American culture, or cultures, was replaced with junk culture and junk politics. And now, standing on the ash heap, we survey the ruins. The very slogans of advertising and mass culture have become the idiom of common expression, robbing us of the language to make sense of the destruction. We confuse the manufactured commodity culture with American culture.

How do we recover what was lost? How do we reclaim the culture that was destroyed by corporations? How do we fight back now that the consumer culture has fallen into a state of decay? What can we do to reverse the cannibalization of government and the national economy by the corporations?

All periods of profound change occur in a crisis. It was a crisis that brought us the New Deal, now largely dismantled by the corporate state. It was also a crisis that gave the world Adolf Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic. We can go in either direction. Events move at the speed of light when societies and cultural assumptions break down. There are powerful forces, which have no commitment to the open society, ready to seize the moment to snuff out the last vestiges of democratic egalitarianism. Our bankrupt liberalism, which naively believes that Barack Obama is the antidote to our permanent war economy and Wall Street fraud, will either rise from its coma or be rolled over by an organized corporate elite and their right-wing lap dogs. The corporate domination of the airwaves, of most print publications and an increasing number of Internet sites means we will have to search, and search quickly, for alternative forms of communication to thwart the rise of totalitarian capitalism.

Stuart Ewen, whose books "Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture" and "PR: A Social History of Spin" chronicle how corporate propaganda deformed American culture and pushed populism to the margins of American society, argues that we have a fleeting chance to save the country. I fervently hope he is right. He attacks the ideology of "objectivity and balance" that has corrupted news, saying that it falsely evokes the scales of justice. He describes the curriculum at most journalism schools as "poison."

" ‘Balance and objectivity' creates an idea where both sides are balanced," he said when I spoke to him by phone. "In certain ways it mirrors the two-party system, the notion that if you are going to have a Democrat speak you need to have a Republican speak. It offers the phantom of objectivity. It creates the notion that the universe of discourse is limited to two positions. Issues become black or white. They are not seen as complex with a multitude of factors."

Ewen argues that the forces for social change-look at any lengthy and turgid human rights report-have forgotten that rhetoric is as important as fact. Corporate and government propaganda, aimed to sway emotions, rarely uses facts to sell its positions. And because progressives have lost the gift of rhetoric, which was once a staple of a university education, because they naively believe in the Enlightenment ideal that facts alone can move people toward justice, they are largely helpless.

"Effective communication requires not simply an understanding of the facts, but how those facts will take place in the public mind," Ewen said. "When Gustave Le Bon says it is not the facts in and of themselves which make a point but the way in which the facts take place, the way in which they come to attention, he is right."

The emergence of corporate and government public relations, which drew on the studies of mass psychology by Sigmund Freud and others after World War I, found its bible in Walter Lippmann's book "Public Opinion," a manual for the power elite's shaping of popular sentiments. Lippmann argued that the key to leadership in the modern age would depend on the ability to manipulate "symbols which assemble emotions after they have been detached from their ideas." The public mind could be mastered, he wrote, through an "intensification of feeling and a degradation of significance."

These corporate forces, schooled by Woodrow Wilson's vast Committee for Public Information, which sold World War I to the public, learned how to skillfully mobilize and manipulate the emotional responses of the public. The control of the airwaves and domination through corporate advertising of most publications restricted news to reporting facts, to "objectivity and balance," while the real power to persuade and dominate a public remained under corporate and governmental control.

Ewen argues that pamphleteering, which played a major role in the 17th and 18th centuries in shaping the public mind, recognized that "the human mind is not left brain or right brain, that it is not divided by reason which is good and emotion which is bad."

He argues that the forces of social reform, those organs that support a search for truth and self-criticism, have mistakenly shunned emotion and rhetoric because they have been used so powerfully within modern society to disseminate lies and manipulate public opinion. But this refusal to appeal to emotion means "we gave up the ghost and accepted the idea that human beings are these divided selves, binary systems between emotion and reason, and that emotion gets you into trouble and reason is what leads you forward. This is not true."

The public is bombarded with carefully crafted images meant to confuse propaganda with ideology and knowledge with how we feel. Human rights and labor groups, investigative journalists, consumer watchdog organizations and advocacy agencies have, in the face of this manipulation, inundated the public sphere with reports and facts. But facts alone, Ewen says, make little difference. And as we search for alternative ways to communicate in a time of crisis we must also communicate in new forms. We must appeal to emotion as well as to reason. The power of this appeal to emotion is evidenced in the photographs of Jacob Riis, a New York journalist, who with a team of assistants at the end of the 19th century initiated urban-reform photography. His stark portraits of the filth and squalor of urban slums awakened the conscience of a nation. The photographer Lewis Hine, at the turn of the 20th century, and Walker Evans during the Great Depression did the same thing for the working class, along with writers such as Upton Sinclair and James Agee. It is a recovery of this style, one that turns the abstraction of fact into a human flesh and one that is not afraid of emotion and passion, which will permit us to counter the force of corporate propaganda.

We may know that fossil fuels are destroying our ecosystem. We may be able to cite the statistics. But the oil and natural gas industry continues its flagrant rape of the planet. It is able to do this because of the money it uses to control legislation and a massive advertising campaign that paints the oil and natural gas industry as part of the solution. A group called EnergyTomorrow.org, for example, has been running a series of television ads. One ad features an attractive, middle-aged woman in a black pantsuit-an actor named Brooke Alexander who once worked as the host of "WorldBeat" on CNN and for Fox News. Alexander walks around a blue screen studio that becomes digital renditions of American life. She argues, before each image, that oil and natural gas are critical to providing not only energy needs but health care and jobs.

"It is almost like they are taking the most optimistic visions of what the stimulus package could do and saying this is what the development of oil and natural gas will bring about," Ewen said. "If you go to the Web site there is a lot of sophisticated stuff you can play around with. As each ad closes you see in the lower right-hand corner in very small letters API, the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying group for ExxonMobil and all the other big oil companies. For the average viewer there is nothing in the ad to indicate this is being produced by the oil industry."

The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying and control of traditional sources of information. We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased. These lines diminish the power of reform, justice and an understanding of the truth. And it is for this purpose that these lines are there.

"As a writer part of what you are aiming for is to present things in ways that will resonate with people, which will give voice to feelings and concerns, feelings that may not be fully verbalized," Ewen said. "You can't do that simply by providing them with data. One of the major problems of the present is that those structures designed to promote a progressive agenda are antediluvian."

Corporate ideology, embodied in neoconservatism, has seeped into the attitudes of most self-described liberals. It champions unfettered capitalism and globalization as eternal. This is the classic tactic that power elites use to maintain themselves. The loss of historical memory, which "balanced and objective" journalism promotes, has only contributed to this fantasy. But the fantasy, despite the desperate raiding of taxpayer funds to keep the corporate system alive, is now coming undone. The lie is being exposed. And the corporate state is running scared.

"It is very important for people like us to think about ways to present the issues, whether we are talking about the banking crisis, health care or housing and homelessness," Ewen said. "We have to think about presenting these issues in ways that are two steps ahead of the media rather than two steps behind. That is not something we should view as an impossible task. It is a very possible task. There is evidence of how possible that task is, especially if you look at the development of the underground press in the 1960s. The underground press, which started cropping up all over the country, was not a marginal phenomenon. It leeched into the society. It developed an approach to news and communication that was 10 steps ahead of the mainstream media. The proof is that even as it declined, so many structures that were innovated by the underground press, things like The Whole Earth Catalogue, began to affect and inform the stylistic presentation of mainstream media."

"I am not a prophet," Ewen said. "All I can do is look at historical precedence and figure out the extent we can learn from it. This is not about looking backwards. If you can't see the past you can't see the future. If you can't see the relationship between the present and the past you can't understand where the present might go. Who controls the past controls the present, who controls the present controls the future, as George Orwell said. This is a succinct explanation of the ways in which power functions."

"Read ‘The Gettysburg Address,' " Ewen said. "Read Frederick Douglass' autobiography or his newspaper. Read ‘The Communist Manifesto.' Read Darwin's ‘Descent of Man.' All of these things are filled with an understanding that communicating ideas and producing forms of public communication that empower people, rather than disempowering people, relies on an integrated understanding of who the public is and what it might be. We have a lot to learn from the history of rhetoric. We need to think about where we are going. We need to think about what 21st century pamphleteering might be. We need to think about the ways in which the rediscovery of rhetoric-not lying, but rhetoric in its more conventional sense-can affect what we do. We need to look at those historical antecedents where interventions happened that stepped ahead of the news. And to some extent this is happening. We have the freest and most open public sphere since the village square."

The battle ahead will be fought outside the journalistic mainstream, he said. The old forms of journalism are dying or have sold their soul to corporate manipulation and celebrity culture. We must now wed fact to rhetoric. We must appeal to reason and emotion. We must not be afraid to openly take sides, to speak, photograph or write on behalf of the disempowered. And, Ewen believes, we have a chance in the coming crisis to succeed.

"Pessimism is never useful," he said. "Realism is useful, understanding the forces that are at play. To quote Antonio Gramsci, ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.' "

© 2009 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, will be out in July, but is available for pre-order.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

When in War, Why Bomb the Innocent?

Historians argue that bombing civilians is a tragic and virtually ineffective strategy

by Jeff Kingston

BOMBING CIVILIANS: A Twentieth Century History. Edited by Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn Young. New York: The New Press, 2009, 291 pp. $30 (cloth)

How one feels about what one is reading can differ depending on where and when. Reading these essays while boarding a flight from Tokyo, transiting Hanoi and then arriving in Laos - all places that have been subjected to extensive U.S. bombing - is to feel the long arm of history tug at one's conscience.

Some monks I met in Luang Prabang (Laos) recounted a recent journey to the Plain of Jars, a World Heritage sight. They said there are carefully marked paths with signs warning not to wander off because of unexploded ordnance in the area - cluster bombs dropped by the United States on a neutral country in a secret war that never happened. Estimates suggest that this insidious legacy of the bombings, which ended in the 1970s, has resulted in more than 20,000 Laotian casualties including many maimed children.

Rather than accusing, seeking vengeance or accountability, the monks calmly praised the very limited mine clearing efforts of U.S. veterans. They said they don't feel anger; it was all a long time ago and would be of little importance if not for the continuing dangers.

This unsought absolution stirs a sense of incredulity about why the U.S. government has done so little to help a desperately poor country that it dragged into the maelstrom of the Vietnam War. This malign neglect also extends to Vietnam, where people continue to suffer from the dioxin residue left behind by extensive spraying of Agent Orange during the war.

Mark Selden argues that the U.S. has much to answer for in the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Japan. We learn that Japan crossed that bridge itself in 1932 with the bombing of Shanghai, and Tetsuo Maeda details Japan's bombing campaign against Congquing's civilians from 1938.

Selden and colleagues are not out to exonerate the Japanese or privilege their suffering over what they inflicted on others. He is reminding us, though, that the U.S. systematically firebombed and gutted 66 Japanese cities in 1945 under flimsy excuses that these were primarily military targets.

The intention, however, was not solely a matter of zapping Japan's factories and infrastructure. This aerial terror amounted to vengeance, payback for Pearl Harbor and mistreatment of prisoners of war, and was intended to inflict as much suffering on the civilian populace as possible.

However much this campaign of "terror bombing" disrupted life and demoralized the people, Japan's military leaders were undaunted as they persisted in gambling on a decisive battle. For this, there was a price to be paid and, as in most modern conflicts, civilians paid the highest price. The firebombing of Tokyo alone killed an estimated 100,000 people. The total firebombing tally is roughly 300,000 plus 400,000 wounded (these figures exclude Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Selden reminds us that the comforting dominant narrative of the Good War (aka World War II) averts our eyes from the grim realities of these crimes against humanity and the ongoing evasion of accountability.

Selden believes the failure to hold the victors accountable for crimes is crucial to understanding why "Mass murder of civilians has been central to all subsequent U.S. wars." He concludes that "the pre-eminence of strategic bombing as quintessential to the American way of war" persists even though it has not been effective.

Marilyn Young's essay explores the fallacy that bombing of civilians is effective, a mistaken assumption that has led to horrific humanitarian consequences for little strategic gain.

Yuki Tanaka traces the early history of aerial bombing of civilians from World War I. In the aftermath, the battered British found such bombing an economical way to maintain imperial interests. The first campaign was against Afghanistan in 1919 followed by Somaliland and then far more extensively in Iraq during the 1920s and 1930s.

In Iraq, civilian casualties were high and intentional as part of a campaign to demoralize the population. The British, and subsequently the Italians in Ethiopia, were explicitly racist in justifying indiscriminate bombing of those they viewed as "uncivilized," while this is implicit among contemporary avatars. The efficacy of this strategy remained unquestioned even though the results were decidedly mixed.

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa asks whether the atomic bombings were justified and were the key to Japan's surrender; he gives an unequivocal no on both counts. He argues that Truman used the atomic bomb in an effort to secure Japan's surrender before Stalin could enter the war and impose a joint occupation.

In his view, the decision to surrender was not due mainly to the atomic bombings, but rather to the Soviet entry into the war as well as concerns about preservation of the monarchy.

This rich collection of essays makes a cogent case for reassessing the effectiveness of air campaigns and how power influences accountability. How can the international community hold any country accountable if the worst perpetrators get immunity?

The Japan Times Ltd.

Jeff Kingston is Director of Asian Studies at Temple University, Japan campus.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I Hate the TSA

The Transportation Security Administration is the most pointless, useless and wasteful government entity ever created by our government. All one has to do to verify this statement is go to any airport in North Dakota and watch the dumb-ass TSA employees in action. They view young mothers with infants as domestic terror threats. They confiscate lipstick from old ladies. And we just sit back and say better safe than sorry. We are a bunch of sorry-ass pussies for letting our government get out of control. Good luck, America...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Withdrawal in Name Only

by Erik Leaver & Daniel Atzmon

On November 17, 2008, when Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker signed an agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, citizens from both countries applauded. While many were disappointed about the lengthy timeline for the withdrawal of the troops, it appeared that a roadmap was set to end the war and occupation. However, the first step — withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009 — is full of loopholes, and tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers will remain in the cities after the "deadline" passes.

The failure to fully comply with the withdrawal agreement indicates the United States is looking to withdraw from Iraq in name only, as it appears that up to 50,000 military personnel will remain after the deadline.

The United States claims it's adhering to the agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), even with so many troops being left in the cities. But the United States is changing semantics instead of policy. For example, there are no plans to transfer the 3,000 American troops stationed within Baghdad at Forward Operating Base Falcon, because commanders have determined that despite its location, it's not within the city.

The original intent of moving troops out of the cities was to reduce the U.S. military role and send the message to Iraqis that the United States would be leaving the country soon. But troops that are no longer sleeping in the cities will still take part in operations within Iraqi cities; they will serve in "support" and "advisory" roles, rather than combat functions. Such "reclassification" of troops as military trainers is another example of how the United States is circumventing the terms of the SOFA agreement.

The larger loophole in the agreement is the treatment of military contractors. There has been little mention of the 132,610 military contractors in Iraq. Of these, 36,061 are American citizens, according to a recent Department of Defense report.

Since September 2008, only 30,000 troops have left Iraq. The 134,000 soldiers that remain are just slightly below the number of troops that were in Iraq in 2003. These numbers are likely to remain well above 100,000 until 2010.

Instead of sending soldiers stationed in cities home, the military has been expanding and building new bases in rural areas to accommodate soldiers affected by the June 30 deadline. And Congress just passed a war-spending bill that includes more funding for military construction inside Iraq.

The implications of the June 30 pullout are manifest: As Iraqis grapple with increasing responsibility for the security of their country and American military leaders search for avenues to project their influence, withdrawal from urban areas will set important precedents for the proposed full withdrawal of American forces.

The ability of Iraqi and U.S. commanders to subvert the SOFA and extend the stay of U.S. troops in Iraqi cities past the June 30 deadline does not bode well for the other withdrawal deadlines laid out in the agreement. Moreover, the vague language of the agreement lends itself to the possibility that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline.

This all may be for naught, however, as a referendum on the SOFA is scheduled for July 30 in Iraq. Despite attempts by the Iraqi cabinet to postpone the vote, lawmakers think a delay is unlikely. The measure is likely to lose if it goes to popular vote given the widespread opposition to the SOFA in Iraq, which is seen as legitimizing the U.S. occupation until 2011. According to the latest polls, published in the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, 73% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition forces. If the SOFA is struck down by the vote, U.S. forces could be forced out of Iraq immediately as the forces would not be legally protected.

The referendum could create big problems for the Obama administration, which has quietly discouraged the Iraqi government from holding it. The pressure from the administration is inconsistent with their goals of promoting democracy in Iraq. The people, who have been forced to live under occupation for the past six years, deserve a chance to have their voices heard.

Obama campaigned on a promise to leave Iraq. Yet the response to the June 30th deadline, the lack of support for the referendum, and the passage of another $70 billion for the war are stark indicators of what the real Iraq policy may be.

© 2009 Foreign Policy in Focus

Erik Leaver is the Policy Outreach Director for Foreign Policy In Focus and is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Daniel Atzmon is a student at Wesleyan University and an intern at the Institute.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Democrat Approved

These Are Obama's Wars Now


It’s time to toss those Obama t-shirts in the trash.

On Monday the Democrat controlled House voted 226-202 to approve a rushed $106 billion dollar war spending bill, guaranteeing more carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan (and lately Pakistan) until September 30, 2009, which marks the end of the budget year. The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill’s first draft last month, with the final vote on a compromised version to occur in the Senate sometime in the next couple of weeks.

The majority of opposition in the House came from Republicans who opposed an add-on to the bill that would open up a $5 billion International Monetary Fund line of credit for developing countries. This opposition in the House led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday to quip, “It'll be interesting to see what happens here. Are my Republican colleagues [in the Senate] going to join with us to fund the troops? I hope so.”

No longer can the blame for the turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan rest at the feet of George W. Bush alone. This is now Obama’s War on Terror, fully funded and operated by the Democratic Party.

The bill that passed the House on Monday, once approved by the Senate, will not be part of the regular defense budget as it’s off the books entirely. Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress has passed similar emergency spending bills to finance US military ventures in the Middle East. The combined “supplementals” are fast approaching $1 trillion, with 30% going to fund the war in Afghanistan.

In addition to the latest increase in war funds, Obama is also asking for an additional $130 billion to be added on to the defense budget for the new fiscal year starting on October 1. The president is upholding his campaign promise to escalate the war in Afghanistan, which also means increasing the use of remote controlled drone planes in neighboring Pakistan that are to blame for hundreds of civilian deaths since Obama took office last January.

Despite Obama’s historic (albeit rhetoric filled) speech in Cairo, the new Commander in Chief is still not about to radically change, let alone reform, the US’s long-standing role in the Middle East. A master of his craft, Obama is simply candy coating the delivery of US imperialism in the region. Given the lack of opposition to Obama’s policies back home, it is becoming clear that he may well be more dangerous than his predecessor when it comes to the US’s motivations internationally.

Had Bush pushed for more military funds at this stage, the antiwar movement (if you can call it that) would have been organizing opposition weeks in advance, calling out the neocons for wasting our scarce tax dollars during a recession on a never-ending, directionless war. But since Obama’s a Democrat, a beloved one at that, mums the word.

Certainly a few progressive Democrats are dismayed by what the Obama administration is up to, but how many of these Democrats that are upset now will be willing to break rank and oppose their party when it matters most, like during the midterm elections coming up next year? Obama had the majority of antiwar support shored up while he ran for the presidency, with absolutely no demands put on his candidacy. And not surprisingly, antiwar progressives have little to show for their fawning support.

All this begs a few questions: If not now, when exactly will Obama’s policies be scrutinized with the same veracity that Bush’s were? When will the media end its love affair with Obama and hold his feet to the fire like they did Bush once the wheels fell off the war in Iraq? When will progressives see their issues as paramount and oppose Obama and the Democratic Party until they embrace their concerns?

If these questions are not answered soon, we are in many more years of war and bloodshed, funded by US taxpayers and approved by a Democrat controlled White House and Congress.

Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the brand new book Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in July 2008.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A New Perspective on the Confederacy

Southern Greed During the Civil War


This year being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, an abundance of new scholarship about the 19th century is now available. Some have questioned the long-standing myths about Lincoln but also of the Civil War itself and the Confederacy. With an amalgam of earlier scholarship, these studies have included a consideration of the impact of the hedonism of the southern slaveholding planters along with their complicity in the Confederate defeat. This article is, in fact, a brief summary of that complicity and offers a fresh look of the South during the Civil War, which includes narrative on the South’s battle with itself. The focus is mostly about the Civil War and its impact on non-slaveholding southern whites. It is largely taken from the recent work of historian David Williams at Valdosta State University and his excellent book Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War (2008).

The myth of the “Lost Cause” emanating from the defeated South after the Civil War is of an antebellum genteel planter class with its happy contented slaves. God was responsible for slavery, the elite said, not the South, as the South was but civilizing an inferior Black race through its contact with the superior white civilization under the auspices of slavery. The South also maintained, as it re-wrote history, that the white supremacist South was unified in its fight against the marauding North during the Civil War. But there is another story that has been debated for the past century and half!

What angered the Southern plantation elite was that with the 1860 election of Lincoln as president, they knew that their hopes of spreading slavery into the western territories were at an end. Lincoln wanted the movement west to provide opportunities for “free labor” white homesteaders to fulfill the Jeffersonian dream of agrarian independence. He did not want slavery in the west nor did he want black folks moving west as freed men. Plus, first and foremost, Lincoln wanted to save the Union.

The South realized with the election that it was not going to have its way with the Republican Party or with the northern Democrats. Karl Marx, as ever the profound analyst, wrote in the German “Die Presse” in 1861, “When the Democrats of the North declined to go on playing the part of the poor whites of the South” the Southern elite took their sword from the scabbard (Marx,1861).

The southern elite also faced a growing poor white population that was becoming harder to control. Poor white voters were increasing and they were making more demands through their franchise. Some have inferred, including Williams, that one reason the South went to war was because the elite were more concerned about poor whites than anything else. “The poor hate the rich” was the cry from South Carolina planter James Henry Hammond, who went on to say that the poor make war on the rich “especially with universal suffrage” (Williams, 2008). The elite began to explore ways to control the vote through class-based restrictions on white suffrage. Placing this “class” antagonism and passion of poor whites into a war was certainly one way to control them and diffuse the anger.

By expanding further west, the South could also provide more opportunities for poor whites to become slaveholders – at least the hope of it. Slavery, after all, required large acreage and mass labor to be profitable and because land in the South was being “exhausted” by mono-crops, such as cotton, there was less fertile land available. In addition, slaveholders in the South were also in the business of “raising” and “selling” slaves and they wanted to expand that market. Regarding the slave market, Marx wrote, “Indeed, by force of circumstances South Carolina has already been transformed in part into a slave-raising state, since it already sells slaves to the sum of four million dollars yearly to the states of the extreme South and South-west” (Marx 1861). Marx contended that more territory was, in fact, essential for slavery’s survival.

Marx again writes, “Only by acquisition and the prospect of acquisition of new Territories, as well as by filibustering expeditions, is it possible to square the interests of these poor whites with those of the slaveholders, to give their restless thirst for action a harmless direction and to tame them with the prospect of one day becoming slaveholders themselves” (Marx, 1861).

But slaveholders also had political ambitions and were obviously aspiring imperialists – they wanted their own colonies in the western territories from which they could gain even more control over the U.S. government by adding more states to the slaveocracy.

All over the South, however, there were pockets of communities opposed to the South’s secession and angry at the arrogance of the ruling elite for seceding. The planters after all, controlled the secession conventions and the decisions from the state conventions were not sent to the people for a vote. Some communities even declared secession from the Confederacy itself. Many wanted to avoid what they thought would be an invasion by the North. West Virginia, for one, that was composed largely of small non-slaveholding white farmers, broke off from the planter slaveholding “old” Virginia and sided with the Union. Ultimately many in the South recognized that the “Confederacy was in a two-front war: one against the North and one against it’s own people” (Williams, 2008).

It was against this backdrop that the Civil War began and in which Williams writes that the resistance and desertion of poor southern whites during the war was to begin, and of the resistance of southern blacks both slave and free. Most of the Confederate soldiers were non-slaveholding farmers and many acquiesced to the war but conditions intensified and discontent grew everywhere.

It didn’t take long for non-slaveholding white farmers and other poor whites to recognize that this was a rich man’s war being fought by poor men. Even after the firing at Fort Sumter in 1861that launched the beginning of the war, officers began to go home, but enlisted men were forbidden to resign. Williams reports that the class distinction of this policy was not lost on the southern soldiers.

The non-slaveholding farmers in the war were largely subsistence farmers. They grew what the family needed, rather than commodity mono-crops such as cotton or rice. Further, they didn’t have enough land for these crops nor did they have the labor. Many describe the South’s non-slaveholding yeoman farmers as the essence of the independent agrarian America, like their farming brothers in the North.

As Steven Hahn writes in the The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850-1890., the farmers in north Georgia didn’t need the planters telling them what to complain about regarding the Yankees. They simply wanted to be left alone and didn’t want anyone threatening their way of life. But off to war they went. These were not military men, however. They were farmers trying to protect their region from an invading army. Hahn states, however, that the north Georgia yeoman farmers were among the largest community of deserters in the state.

After the first major battle and Confederate victory of the war in the “First Battle of Bull Run” in July 1861, Confederate soldiers left for home in droves to all areas of the South. They had won a major battle and for many the conflict was over.

But the fact remains that wives across the region were writing their husbands to come home. They were needed to plant the crops. Not long into the war, families began to struggle and starve and the requests from the families to come home were too compelling. At one point during the war, according to Williams, two-thirds of the Confederate army had deserted. Deserters also needed to hide from the authorities, resulting in an underground system being created throughout the South to assist and hide them, but many were ultimately killed or jailed. The book Cold Mountain (1997) by Charles Frazier and the subsequent movie graphically portray the brutality of Confederate officials in their quest for deserters and the disdain for their families.

But there were also anti-war and peace associations (mostly underground efforts) across the South that organized to protect deserters, help union prisoners escape as well as attempt to undermine the Confederate authority. Examples are the Atlanta Union Circle, the Closet Fellowship in Montgomery, the Union Association in Charleston and countless others. Another was the “Heroes of America” formed in North Carolina that spread through South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The group encouraged desertion of Confederate soldiers and promised to them protect once home. All across the “mountain South” there were efforts to assist deserters and those who had “run afoul” of the Confederate authorities to hide and/or leave the South. One guide, “Daniel Ellis, was said to have piloted over four thousand people out of the Confederacy….In north Georgia’s Union County, Austin Mason organized a chain of safe houses to shelter prisoners and deserters as they fled north through the mountains” (Williams, 2008).

Because of the high rate of desertion, in Aril 1862 the Confederate government under President Jefferson Davis conscripted southerners into the army. It was the first general Conscription Act in the United States. Williams notes that under the Act, men with money could pay a fee to stay out of the military. As a result, bribing officials became a common practice. Plus, there was the most hated provision that allowed slaveholders with 20 slaves or more to be exempted from the military. Tennessee Private Sam Watkins said, “We wanted twenty negroes. Negro property became very valuable, and there was raised the howl of ‘rich man’s war, poor man’s fight’…from this time until the end of the war a soldier was simply a machine. We cursed the war…we cursed the Southern Confederacy. All our pride and valor was gone” (Williams, 2008).

Partly to appease the anger over exemption, the planters essentially said that they would grow food for the Confederate army and take care of the farmer’s families. They had the most fertile land and labor after all. But the fact is, the planters did not grow food as promised and southerners starved both at home and in the military. As the price of cotton went up considerably during the war, the planters grew cotton as well as tobacco instead.

…common folk quickly learned that planter patriotism was more apparent than real. Food production never came close to meeting demand because planters devoted far too much acreage to cotton and tobacco. In 1863, cotton production reached its second-highest level on record to that time, declining after that year due in large art to rising slave resistance. Even so, labor devoted to cotton in the growing alone, not to mention processing and transport, amounted to 2.3 million man-years between 1861 and 1864, more than went into defending the Confederacy (Williams, 2008).

Further, rather than insisting on the planters growing food, the Confederacy ultimately “impressed” 10% of farm production for the war effort. The problem was that many of those responsible for impressing the food off farms paid little attention to the 10% provision and took everything they could find. This made matters worse, of course!

In the meantime, food riots largely organized by women took place throughout the region from Virginia to Texas.

“It was the same all over the South. A letter to Florida’s Governor Milton reported that starving soldiers families in Hernando County ‘are becoming clamorous for meat, and are killing people’s cows wherever they can get hold of them.’ About a dozen women in Floyd County, Virginia ransacked a Confederate supply depot and stole a large supply of bacon. Fifty miles to the west a dozen mountain women brandishing pistols and knives descended on Abington and looted the town. The raid’s success inspired a second band of women, who shortly afterward swept through Abingdon taking what was left” (Williams, 2008).

Williams also describes how deserters formed guerilla groups throughout the south to steal food off plantations and to hide from conscript officers. Some of the groups were composed of escaped slaves and whites that at times resulted in a “reverse underground railroad” as slaves organized to help them. Slaves in plantations helped the groups secure food, helped them hide and also provided information about safe havens north to the Union lines. One Union soldier, John Kellogg, who was assisted by blacks to escape through the Georgia mountains, was impressed with what he called the slave “telegraph line.”

Black resistance and efforts to undermine the Confederacy were impressive and significant in contributing to the defeat of the Confederacy. They were credited with burning ships and storehouses to spying and destabilizing plantations. Throughout the South, plantation owners began to fear their slaves and were shocked at slave resistance to authority. The tables had turned!

What has been described here is but a summary. Williams outlines in detail the tremendous discontent and suffering during the war. Ultimately, there were 300,000 white southerners who fought for the Union and 200,000 blacks. Nearly a quarter of the Union army was of southerners.

Williams ends his book by stating that:

“Most southerners eventually came to feel that they would be better off with the war over and the Union restored. To many the Confederacy was the real enemy. It conscripted their men, impressed their supplies, and starved them out. It favored the rich and oppressed the poor. It made war on those who dared withhold their support and made life miserable for the rest. One South Carolina farmer, after having his livestock impressed, spoke for many when he insisted that “the sooner this damned Government fell to pieces the better it would be for us” (Williams, 2008).

Scholarship on the South from the poor non-slaveholding white perspective is a significant contribution. Interestingly, Williams offers more of a class analysis of the Confederacy than is usually the case. Small white farmers and poor whites generally are stereotyped as those who are browbeaten, controlled and manipulated by the wealthy southern elite with rarely a voice of their own. In this article I have not addressed the issue of race, however, and the attitudes of poor whites toward slavery, which is also important. Nevertheless, this short article is offering a new and refreshing look at challenges by poor whites to the social and economic arrogance of the southern elite during the Civil War.

This is also yet another narrative on the perils of concentrated wealth of the likes of southern slaveholders and unfettered capitalists of today, and the depths to which they will go for their own benefit at the tragic expense of everyone else. In this instance, however, thanks to their greed the southern slaveholders managed to defeat the very goals they aspired to achieve. While tens of thousands of Southerners and Northerners suffered because of their greed, contrary to their aspirations, the slaveholders managed to help save the union and end slavery.

Williams also contends that one of the reasons we’ve not heard this version of the war is because both the South and the North have had a vested interest in the myths. The South wanted the world to think that the “white” South stood united against the enemy, which makes it easier to victimize itself. Although the North had its resistance as well, the North has had an interest in a version of the war that stresses its victory over a united South, rather than one that was split apart. Williams and others are now offering scholarship to challenge these myths, and/or have brought forward previous writings on the Confederacy. Hopefully this new scholarship trend will prevail even and especially some 150 years after the Civil War.


Hahn, Steven. The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850-1890. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Marx, Karl. The North American Civil War. Die Presse, No. 293, October 25, 1861, in Marx/Engels Collected Works, Volume 19. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964.

Williams, David. Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War. New York: Free Press, 2008.

Heather Gray produces "Just Peace" on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She has been a part of the food security movement for 18 years in Africa, Asia and the United States. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at hmcgray@earthlink.net.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Words and War

by Norman Solomon

It takes at least tacit faith in massive violence to believe that after three decades of horrendous violence in Afghanistan, upping the violence there will improve the situation.

Despite the pronouncements from high Washington places that the problems of Afghanistan can’t be solved by military means, 90 percent of the spending for Afghanistan in the Obama administration’s current supplemental bill is military.

Often it seems that lofty words about war hopes are boilerplate efforts to make us feel better about an endless warfare state. Oratory and punditry laud the Pentagon’s fallen as noble victims of war, while enveloping its other victims in a haze of ambiguity or virtual nonexistence.

When last Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post printed the routine headline “Iraq War Deaths,” the newspaper meant American deaths -- to Washington’s ultra-savvy, the deaths that really count. The only numbers and names under the headline were American.

Ask for whom the bell tolls. That’s the implicit message -- from top journalists and politicians alike.

A few weeks ago, some prominent U.S. news stories did emerge about Pentagon air strikes that killed perhaps a hundred Afghan civilians. But much of the emphasis was that such deaths could undermine the U.S. war effort. The most powerful media lenses do not correct the myopia when Uncle Sam’s vision is impaired by solipsism and narcissism.

Words focus our attention. The official words and the media words -- routinely, more or less the same words -- are ostensibly about war, but they convey little about actual war at the same time that they boost it. Words are one thing, and war is another.

Yet words have potential to impede the wheels of war machinery. “And henceforth,” Albert Camus wrote, “the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.”

A very different type of gamble is routinely underway at the centers of political power, where words are propaganda munitions. In Washington, the default preference is to gamble with the lives of other people, far away.

More than 40 years ago, Country Joe McDonald wrote a song (“An Untitled Protest”) about war fighters: who “pound their feet into the sand of shores they've never seen / Delegates from the western land to join the death machine.” Now, tens of thousands more of such delegates are on the way to Afghanistan.

In pseudo-savvy Washington, “appearance is reality.” Killing and maiming, fueled by appropriations and silence, are rendered as abstractions.

The deaths of people unaligned with the Pentagon are the most abstract of all. No wonder the Washington Post is still printing headlines like “Iraq War Deaths.” Why should Iraqis qualify for inclusion in Iraq war deaths?

There’s plenty more media invisibility and erasure ahead for Afghan people as the Pentagon ramps up its war effort in their country.

War thrives on abstractions that pass for reality.

There are facts about war in news media and in presidential speeches. For that matter, there are plenty of facts in the local phone book. How much do they tell you about the most important human realities?

Millions of words and factual data pour out of the Pentagon every day. Human truth is another matter.

My father, Morris Solomon, recently had his ninetieth birthday. He would be the first to tell you that his brain has lost a lot of capacity. He doesn’t recall nearly as many facts as he used to. But a couple of days ago, he told me: “I know what war is. It’s stupid. It’s ruining humanity.”

That’s not appearance. It’s reality.

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is "Made Love, Got War." He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay; www.GreenNewDeal.info.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

'Fairy tales' commentary harsh but not inaccurate

By: Davis Cope, Fargo

A recent letter (“Sad to see Forum give space to fairy tales, myths, bigotry,” May 21) criticized The Forum for printing letters of religious bigots “trying to explain the workings of the world by citing the fairy tales found in the Bible.” It would be more accurate to say The Forum does a good job of printing bigotry of all kinds, religious and otherwise, and the Opinion Page rightly includes the contribution of the bigots of our community.

The term “fairy tales” is harsh but not inaccurate, at least for fundamentalist contributions. Here’s why:

The literal truth of the Bible is a defining aspect of fundamentalist, or “Bible Christian,” belief.

The Bible, taken literally, says that all humankind, except for the single family of Noah, was destroyed by a flood in 2350 B.C., according to biblical genealogies (Genesis 6-11). Noah’s descendents (all speaking the same language) attempted building a tower “unto heaven.” God was offended and punished them by confusing their language and scattering them, thus explaining the world’s different languages and peoples.

The Encyclopedia Britannica (“Egypt”) says the First Dynasty of Ancient Egypt began about 2925 B.C. with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It was an advanced society that kept astronomical and bureaucratic records and used hieroglyphic writing for inscriptions.

Ancient Egypt had a continuous existence through some 30 dynasties, nominally ending in 332 B.C. after conquest by Alexander the Great. The encyclopedia also explains how we know this.

The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 led, by 1822, to the decipherment of hieroglyphic writing and the ability to read the inscriptions from archeological discoveries.

These historical records were fragmentary, but references to astronomical events fill in a timeline. The First Dynasty date of 2925 B.C. is a convergence of different analyses, which agree to within a century. An independent check of the timeline was provided by radiocarbon dating, introduced in 1948.

Consequently, the Bible’s story of the flood and subsequent creation of languages, taken literally, is wrong. It is a “tale.”

We could continue with other biblical accounts, assuming them to be literally true, then comparing with the encyclopedia. Some accounts would appear correct, but we would find further examples (in the areas of anthropology, archeology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, linguistics, paleontology and physics) where the literal interpretation is wrong.

The many fundamentalist congregations in Fargo-Moorhead preach the literal truth of the Bible and are aided by creation science ministries interpreting science, “Christian nation” ministries interpreting history, “End Times” ministries interpreting international relations, spiritual warfare ministries identifying demonic influences, marriage and parenting ministries, and, of course, financial planning ministries.

These efforts prop up a belief system so thin that an encyclopedia is a minefield of threats.

Belief in the literal truth of the Bible runs through all branches of Christianity. Fundamentalist Christianity is just a notable example.

The lesson for all literalists is this: If literal interpretation of the Bible fails in some instances where it can be checked, why should a literal interpretation be used where it cannot be checked, as in ethics or values?

Opinion letters often write about standing up for the Bible. Count me as standing up for encyclopedias.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Wages of Hubris and Vengeance

The Future of Israel and the Decline of the American Empire


Israel is in the grip of a kind of collective schizophrenia. Not only its governors but the majority of its Jewish population have delusions of both grandeur and persecution, making for a distortion of reality and inconsistent behavior. Israeli Jews see and represent themselves as a chosen people and part of a superior Western civilization. They consider themselves more cerebral, reasonable, moral, and dynamic than Arabs and Muslims generally, and Palestinians in particular. At the same time they feel themselves to be the ultimate incarnation of the Jewish people’s unique suffering through the ages, still subject to constant insecurity and defenselessness in the face of ever-threatening extreme and unmerited punishment.

Such a psyche leads to hubris and vengefulness, the latter a response to the perpetual Jewish torment said to have culminated, as if by a directive purpose, in the Holocaust. Remembering the Shoah is Israel’s Eleventh Commandment and central to the nation’s civil religion and Weltanschauung. Family, school, synagogue, and official culture propagate its prescriptive narrative, decontextualized and surfeited with ethnocentrism. The re-memorizing of victimization is ritualized on Yom Ha Shoah and institutionalized by Yad Vashem.

Israel uses the Holocaust to conjure the specter of a timeless existential peril, in turn used to justify its warfare state and unbending diplomacy. Forever posing as the impossibly vulnerable Biblical David braving the Islamic Goliath, Israel insists all its cross-border wars and punitive operations are strictly defensive, preventive, or preemptive. Yet its leaders, many of them retired senior officers of the armed forces and intelligence services, attribute the exploits of the military to the advanced weapons, exemplary strategists, and uniquely principled citizen soldiers of the country’s formidable “Defense Forces,” one of the world’s mightiest fighting machines.

This self-congratulation passes over the powerlessness of the enemy “other” while it vastly exaggerates Israel’s innate strength to the point of impairing judgment and action. Without the enormous and practically unconditional financial, military, and diplomatic support of the United States and European Union, Israel would be an unexceptional small Middle Eastern nation-state, not an anomalous regional superpower. Even with this truly uncommon foreign backing (not to mention that of the global diaspora), the Jewish state scores only pyrrhic victories, judging by its failure to significantly enhance its strategic and political position in the Greater Middle East—except for the time gained to further consolidate and expand its fiercely contested “facts on the ground” in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan.

Although its leaders avoid saying so in public, Israel does not want peace, or a permanent comprehensive settlement, except on its own terms. They do not dare spell these out publicly, as they presume the enemy’s unconditional surrender, even enduring submission. Instead the Palestinians continue to be blamed for a chronic state of war that entails Israel’s continuing self-endangerment and militarization. This policy’s underlying strategic premise is the need to prevent any significant change in the West Asian balance of power.

But there is possibly another less delusional reason for their spurning accommodation and negotiation: because of their history of exile and want of political self-rule, Jews and their sages may well be insufficiently mindful of the theory and practice of sovereign statecraft. Admittedly, after 1945 the leaders of many of the new states of the post-colonial worlds were equally benighted. Unlike most of them, however, Israel’s political class and thinkers prize their deep connection with the West, including its philosophic and intellectual heritage, to the point of putting admission to the European Union ahead of rapprochement with the Arab/Muslim world. Yet they seem not to be conversant with the fundamental ideas of the likes of Machiavelli and Clausewitz. Respectively theorists of politics and war, both emphatically propound moderation over unrestraint. Machiavelli puts virtù at the center of his formula for the use of power and force. He does not, however, construe it as a moral principle—as virtue—but as a prescript for prudence, flexibility, and a sense of sober limits in power politics.

Clausewitz theorizes limited war for well-defined and negotiable objectives, the disposition for compromise varying in inverse ratio to the victor’s aims and demands. He cautions above all against “absolute” war in which intellect, reason, and judgment are cast aside. Although he and Machiavelli take account of the interpenetration of domestic and international politics, both conceive them as two distinct spheres. In Israel, domestic politics prevails, with little concern for the reason of international politics.

These insights are particularly relevant for small states. But blinded by their successful defiance of limits and laws, the leaders of Israel take their country of seven million people (over 20 percent of them non-Jewish, mostly Arabs) to be a great power by dint of its outsized armed forces and arms industry. They deceive themselves by assuming the Western world’s support for its military hypertrophy is irreversible. Perverting virtù they launch nearly absolute military expeditions against the radical Palestinian resistance. They also envisage striking resurgent Iran with the most modern American-made and -financed aircraft operated by American-certified Israeli pilots. Nor does Tel Aviv hesitate to send military, technical, and covert “intelligence” missions, as well as weapons, to scores of nations in the Middle East, ex-Soviet sphere, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, not infrequently in concert with Washington.

State terror is all but integral to the latest weapons and tactics with which Israel’s forces engage the Palestinian resistance fighters. Of course the latter also resort to terror, the hallmark of asymmetrical warfare. But it is Israel that sows the wind and reaps the whirlwind. A vicious, endless cycle of vengeance, driven by the clashes of Israel’s overconfident, sophisticated, and regular military forces with crude and irregular paramilitary forces, further intensifies the distrust between Israelis and Palestinians, including Israeli Arabs, most of them Muslim. Though intended to break the will of the armed militias by inflicting unbearable pain on the host society, as in Lebanon and Gaza, the collateral damage of Israel’s campaigns of “shock and awe” only serve to fire the avenging fury of the powerless.

Since Israel’s foundation, the failure to pursue Arab-Jewish understanding and cooperation has been Zionism’s “great sin of omission” (Judah Magnes). At every major turn since 1947-48 Israel has had the upper hand in the conflict with the Palestinians, its ascendancy at once military, diplomatic, and economic. This prepotency became especially pronounced after the Six Day War of 1967. Consider the annexations and settlements; occupation and martial law; settler pogroms and expropriations; border crossings and checkpoints; walls and segregated roads. No less mortifying for the Palestinians has been the disproportionately large number of civilians killed and injured, and the roughly 10,000 languishing in Israeli prisons.

Despite the recent ingloriousness of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Israel’s ruling and governing class continues to stand imperious. Yet evidence that the country’s military is increasingly ill-adapted to fight today’s decentralized irregular warfare mounts, while its foreign policy is increasingly incoherent and hostage to the hidebound partisan politics of competing intransigence. Geopolitically unsteady, its relation to Washington is battered by the same heavy winds now buffeting the center and periphery of the American empire.

Even so, emboldened by cutting-edge conventional and unconventional weapons, the governors of Israel, contemptuous of the minuscule and comatose left opposition in the Knesset and the country at large, vow to hold on to most of the archipelago of settlements and all of Jerusalem. They pay lip service to the two-state solution, but all they are prepared to concede to the Palestinians is a cramped pseudo-state with minimal sovereignty, with Gaza severed from the West Bank. If pressed they might agree to a 30-mile tunnel under sovereign Israeli land to establish an artificial contiguity between fragmented West Bank and fenced-in Gaza Strip. Yet they mean to control all land and maritime borders as well as the airspace and electromagnetic frequencies.

Meanwhile Israel continues to play on the internecine divisions of the Palestinian nation and the discords in the Arab-Muslim world. Its leaders dread nothing more than a reconciliation of the two principal Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah; a Palestinian unity government; and an entente cordiale of the Arab states whose peace proposal, initiated by Saudi Arabia in 2002, they consider fraught with doom. The latest spirit of darkness is non-Arab Shi’ite Iran. Should Tehran’s political power and ideological sway strike fear into the so-called moderate Arab states, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, these might all rally around the treacherous Arab peace overture. Such a turn would most likely drive Iran to step up its support of radical political Islam throughout the Greater Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas throughout Palestine, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Israel responds only with the usual truculence, it will continue to navigate dangerously between the ever more insecure and disoriented anciens régimes of the Arab/Muslim world and an intensifying political unrest whose impulses are both secular and religious.

While the country is fixated on national security—Iran being decried as the latest, and imminent, existential threat—elsewhere Israel is widely perceived to be rapidly eroding what remains of its singular moral capital and international prestige. There are more and more calls for boycotts, embargoes, divestments, sanctions, and prosecutions, while the media are finally giving more space and time to analytic and critical voices. To dismiss or denounce this growing censure of Israel’s policies as an expression of resurgent age-old anti-Semitism—allegedly encouraged and legitimated by the ravings of self-hating Jews—is not to see the forest for the trees. The same holds for Israel’s leaders’ disposition to stigmatize major foreign adversary leaders—Nasser, Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad—as Hitler redivivus.

But the old reflexes remain, and the prospect of a nuclear and Islamist Iran said to be bent on regional hegemony keeps them quick. With a population of 70 million and some 15 percent of the world’s proven oil and natural gas reserves, Iran is, indeed, a state to reckon with: it has a long history, a strong national consciousness, and a swelling educated middle class. Its two-stage, solid-fueled missiles are capable of carrying conventional and nonconventional warheads a distance of between 930 and 1,200 miles.

Instead of joining those who seek diplomatic ways to refigure the balance of regional power, Israel advocates an all-out economic embargo of Iran backed by the threat of air strikes. The hardliners’ aim: to trigger a regime change by way of a color revolution covertly fomented by the U.S. and Israel. They warn that Tel Aviv will make good on this threat of aerial assaults on Iran’s nuclear sites to delay or prevent it from developing the ultimate weapon. Even respected politicians and public intellectuals swear that in extremis Israel will strike without approval from Washington, confident the U.S. will have no alternative but to provide military and diplomatic cover, all the more so now that Israel can use America’s five military bases in the Holy Land as blackmail.

In March 2009, Barack Obama and Shimon Peres saluted the Iranian people and government on the occasion of Noruz, the start of the Persian new year. Obama stressed the “common humanity that binds us together” and insisted it was in the interest of both countries that “Iran should take its rightful place in the community of nations.” Peres struck a radically different note. He urged Iranians to reclaim their “worthy place among the nations of the enlightened world” as he laid out the conditions in their country: “There is great unemployment, corruption, a lot of drugs, and general discontent. You cannot feed your children enriched uranium, they need a real breakfast. It cannot be that the money is invested in enriched uranium and the children are told to remain a little hungry, a little ignorant.” Iran’s children suffer only because “a handful of religious fanatics take the worst possible path.” Rather than heed President Ahmadinejad, who in 2006 questioned the Holocaust, the citizenry should “topple these leaders…who do not serve the people.” Besides, while “they are destroying their [own] people, they won’t destroy us.”

The accusations are rich. Even now the independence of the Israeli judiciary is compromised, secularism is losing ground, xenophobia is rampant, and, still and always, the Palestinian minority is reduced to second-class citizenship. In brandishing the Iranian threat, Israel’s faction-ridden but consensual political class merely perpetuates its rule by fear, which, according to Montesquieu, sows the seeds of despotism.

Israelis must ask themselves whether there is a point beyond which the Zionist quest becomes self-defeatingly perilous, corrupting, and degrading. Although the Judeocide marks the nadir of the history of the Jewish people, it is not its defining moment and experience. The mythologized millennial exile of the Jewish people was anything but an unrelenting dark age: there was a vital Jewish life before the Shoah, and it resumed full force after 1945, in both Israel and the diaspora. It is neither to profane the Holocaust nor to desecrate the memory of its 5 to 6 million victims to recall their membership in a vast confederation of over 70 million killed during World War Two, some 45 million of them civilians. It is simply to point up that the Jewish catastrophe was inextricably tied into the most murderous and cruel war in the history of humanity, a war uniquely ferocious because of its crusading furies, and not because of a divine narrative about the Jews.

The Greater Middle East is a seething cauldron of domestic and international conflicts. All the nations of this perennially contested geopolitical space will have to adjust to the emergence of a multipolar world system and the attendant waning of the American empire. This great and accelerating change in international politics coincides with the breakneck globalization of economics, finance, and science, which subverts national economies while simultaneously fostering a new mercantilism whose terms are set by a new concert of Great Powers.

Israel’s leaders are at a crossroads: either they stick to their guns and are forced into a reconfigured geopolitical reality they cannot outwit or overmaster, or they decide of their own accord to temper their hubris and rein in their propensity to vengeance. What should they choose at a moment when Israeli society is facing a decline in Jewish immigration, a rise in Jewish and Israeli emigration, and an upturn in draft dodging (to say nothing of how this disenchantment may be affecting the steep rate of assimilation and intermarriage in the diaspora)?

To begin, Israel’s governors and public intellectuals should rethink the fundamental premises, objectives, and strategies of the policies followed since 1948. They might do well to recall one of Theodor Herzl’s earliest ideas: in exchange for a Jewish commonwealth serving as “an outpost of civilization against barbarism” in Palestine, which was considered a link in Europe’s “rampart against Asia,” the Great Powers would guarantee its existence “as a neutral state.” To be sure, even for most Israeli Jews the crass orientalism of this vision is out of season. But the notion of a neutral state ought not to be dismissed lightly. The present garrison state is not about to become, as Herzl envisioned, “a light unto the nations”—let alone the diaspora.

Next, they might admit to themselves that small nations do not have the prerogative to speak loudly and carry a big stick, and that they keep tempting fate by stubbornly staying Israel’s nuclear course. This defiance cannot help but increase the perils of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and Central Asia from which Israel will not be immune. Betting a tiny country’s security and survival on a momentary regional head start in state-of-the-art warheads, aircraft, missiles, unmanned drones, cluster bombs, and cyber weapons is, again, delusional. Inevitably Iran and other states will challenge its imperiousness, in the process exposing the entire region to the unthinkable doctrine of mutually assured destruction premised on both attacker and defender having a fail-safe deterrent in the form of a second-strike nuclear or chemical-biological capability. Although Tehran may still lack an effective missile air defense system, it has test-fired high-speed missiles whose range puts it within striking distance of Israel. But Iran has two additional trumps: a foothold near the northern entrance to the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the world’s single most vital energy chokepoint; and a critical geopolitical proximity to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Rather than lead the regional nuclear and biological charge, Israel should issue a call for a nuclear-free Middle East along with the announcement of a significant reduction of its own outsized atomic arsenal and armaments industry, which are both counterproductive and provocative. Tangible and symbolic, such a military cutback could be paired with a signal that Israel is prepared to seriously discuss the Palestinian refugee issue. This might take the form of expressing remorse and assuming partial moral responsibility for the exodus of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs in 1947-49 and of mounting an international effort to make amends in the form of reparations in line with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (Article 11).

In the aftermath of the bloody and destructive invasion a donors’ conference raised some $4.5 billion for the relief and reconstruction of Gaza. While the bulk of the aid was pledged by the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, the U. S. committed $900 million for the Palestinian Authority and $300 million for relief in Gaza. What if these monies had been raised earlier? Had they gone to reparations, deployed as a confidence-building measure, the region might have been spared the politically toxic and humanly lethal Lebanon and Gaza incursions.

Overtures of this nature, seconded by other nations, might be preliminary steps to Israel’s at long last specifying base lines for a negotiated agreement on security, borders, settlements, Jerusalem, holy places, and water resources. Such a turnaround and agenda would spell the renunciation of the secular and religious diehards’ inveterate reach for the Jordan River and reliance on the strategy of the Iron Wall. To seek a conciliation and accommodation with the restive Palestinian political class, edgy Arab regimes, and turbulent Islamic world is to forsake the Joshua-like martial and closed Zionism of Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion, Begin, Netanyahu, and Barak. It would call for and make possible a recovery of the repressed Isaiah-like humanist and open Zionism of Ahad Haam, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Ernst Simon, and Yeshayahu Leibowitz for either two demilitarized states or a single bi-national state for two peoples with open borders, the separation of state and religion, universal civil and social rights, and ecumenically informed cultural reciprocity.

The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only at dusk for political actors as well as philosophers. Israel’s leaders, reflecting more critically on Herzl’s belief in the need for an imperial patron, must grasp the implications of the incipient decline of the American empire for Israel’s future. Paradoxically the waning of Washington’s hegemony in the Greater Middle East is likely to chasten Israel’s pride and give enlightened and cosmopolitan Zionism a new if difficult lease on life. But insofar as the U.S. fights its decline tooth and nail, Israel’s power elite is also more likely to remain implacable, at all risks and hazards for their own country and the diaspora.

Arno J Mayer is emeritus professor of history at Princeton University. He is the author of The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions.and Plowshares Into Swords: From Zionism to Israel (Verso).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Rape of Gaza

by Roane Carey

How would you feel if you found out that an American school, paid for with your tax dollars, was bombed and completely destroyed by a US ally? This happened in Gaza just a few months ago, during Israel's now-infamous Operation Cast Lead.

I've been touring Gaza for the past three days as part of a Code Pink delegation, and the concrete rubble and twisted rebar of the American International School in Gaza is just one of the many horrifying images we've seen on this trip. The school, which taught American progressive values to Palestinian kids in grades K-12, was bombed by US-supplied Israeli F-16s in early January. The Israelis claimed, without supplying evidence, that Hamas fighters had fired rockets from the school. Now several hundred kids have not only lost the school they dearly loved; they have been given a very different lesson in American values, one no doubt unintended by the school's founders and teachers.

The people of Gaza suffered immensely from the Israeli assault, which not only killed some 1,400 and injured 5,000 but destroyed or heavily damaged mosques, schools, hospitals, universities, and industrial and other business establishments, in addition to thousands of private homes. Dr. Marwan Sultan, who practices at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahiya, told me his hospital was so damaged they had to send all patients to al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City--which was itself damaged. The bombing of one school in Beit Lahiya killed about forty kids and injured a hundred, Sultan told me. He saw scenes of death and mutilation that still give him nightmares. Thousands are living in tent cities all over the Strip, and the entire population of Gaza is being strangled to this day by a blockade that is choking off any possibility of reconstruction or recovery.

Make no mistake about it: the blockade, directly enforced by Israel and Egypt but conspired in by their superpower patron in Washington, is a continuing act of war against an entire civilian population of 1.5 million, a form of collective punishment and a crime against humanity. John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which officially invited Code Pink to come to Gaza, told our delegation that billions in aid had been promised in the wake of Israel's massacre, but so far nothing had arrived. Our delegation, he said, is the first concrete action of solidarity with an oppressed, long-suffering population. Four months after a devastating conflict, he added, the siege continues. "The first thing we need to see is the opening up of crossing points and an end to collective punishment because of the political failures and security problems created by a few." It's a matter of life and death, he said, "and we're running out of time.... The people of Gaza are asking for help, justice and the rule of law."

Code Pink--whose organizers, I might add, have done a fabulous job in arranging this tour--is urging Obama to break the siege himself by visiting Gaza on his Middle East tour. That's not likely to happen, of course, but the least he could do is demand an end to the blockade. He's more likely to do so if Americans put on the pressure. Readers: it's your turn.

© 2009 The Nation

Roane Carey, managing editor at The Nation, was the editor of The New Intifada (Verso) and, with Jonathan Shainin, The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent (New Press).

Monday, June 1, 2009

War Is Sin

by Chris Hedges

The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight.

Those who return to speak this truth, such as members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, are our contemporary prophets. But like all prophets they are condemned and ignored for their courage. They struggle, in a culture awash in lies, to tell what few have the fortitude to digest. They know that what we are taught in school, in worship, by the press, through the entertainment industry and at home, that the melding of the state's rhetoric with the rhetoric of religion, is empty and false.

The words these prophets speak are painful. We, as a nation, prefer to listen to those who speak from the patriotic script. We prefer to hear ourselves exalted. If veterans speak of terrible wounds visible and invisible, of lies told to make them kill, of evil committed in our name, we fill our ears with wax. Not our boys, we say, not them, bred in our homes, endowed with goodness and decency. For if it is easy for them to murder, what about us? And so it is simpler and more comfortable not to hear. We do not listen to the angry words that cascade forth from their lips, wishing only that they would calm down, be reasonable, get some help, and go away. We, the deformed, brand our prophets as madmen. We cast them into the desert. And this is why so many veterans are estranged and enraged. This is why so many succumb to suicide or addictions.

War comes wrapped in patriotic slogans, calls for sacrifice, honor and heroism and promises of glory. It comes wrapped in the claims of divine providence. It is what a grateful nation asks of its children. It is what is right and just. It is waged to make the nation and the world a better place, to cleanse evil. War is touted as the ultimate test of manhood, where the young can find out what they are made of. War, from a distance, seems noble. It gives us comrades and power and a chance to play a small bit in the great drama of history. It promises to give us an identity as a warrior, a patriot, as long as we go along with the myth, the one the war-makers need to wage wars and the defense contractors need to increase their profits.

But up close war is a soulless void. War is about barbarity, perversion and pain, an unchecked orgy of death. Human decency and tenderness are crushed. Those who make war work overtime to reduce love to smut, and all human beings become objects, pawns to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the scenes of eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the cries of the wounded, all combine to spin those in combat into another universe. In this moral void, naively blessed by secular and religious institutions at home, the hypocrisy of our social conventions, our strict adherence to moral precepts, come unglued. War, for all its horror, has the power to strip away the trivial and the banal, the empty chatter and foolish obsessions that fill our days. It lets us see, although the cost is tremendous.

The Rev. William P. Mahedy, who was a Catholic chaplain in Vietnam, tells of a soldier, a former altar boy, in his book "Out of the Night: The Spiritual Journey of Vietnam Vets," who says to him: "Hey, Chaplain ... how come it's a sin to hop into bed with a mama-san but it's okay to blow away gooks out in the bush?"

"Consider the question that he and I were forced to confront on that day in a jungle clearing," Mahedy writes. "How is it that a Christian can, with a clear conscience, spend a year in a war zone killing people and yet place his soul in jeopardy by spending a few minutes with a prostitute? If the New Testament prohibitions of sexual misconduct are to be stringently interpreted, why, then, are Jesus' injunctions against violence not binding in the same way? In other words, what does the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill' really mean?"

Military chaplains, a majority of whom are evangelical Christians, defend the life of the unborn, tout America as a Christian nation and eagerly bless the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as holy crusades. The hollowness of their morality, the staggering disconnect between the values they claim to promote, is ripped open in war.

There is a difference between killing someone who is trying to kill you and taking the life of someone who does not have the power to harm you. The first is killing. The second is murder. But in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the enemy is elusive and rarely seen, murder occurs far more often than killing. Families are massacred in airstrikes. Children are gunned down in blistering suppressing fire laid down in neighborhoods after an improvised explosive device goes off near a convoy. Artillery shells obliterate homes. And no one stops to look. The dead and maimed are left behind.

The utter failure of nearly all our religious institutions-whose texts are unequivocal about murder-to address the essence of war has rendered them useless. These institutions have little or nothing to say in wartime because the god they worship is a false god, one that promises victory to those who obey the law and believe in the manifest destiny of the nation.

We all have the capacity to commit evil. It takes little to unleash it. For those of us who have been to war this is the awful knowledge that is hardest to digest, the knowledge that the line between the victims and the victimizers is razor-thin, that human beings find a perverse delight in destruction and death, and that few can resist the pull. At best, most of us become silent accomplices.

Wars may have to be fought to ensure survival, but they are always tragic. They always bring to the surface the worst elements of any society, those who have a penchant for violence and a lust for absolute power. They turn the moral order upside down. It was the criminal class that first organized the defense of Sarajevo. When these goons were not manning roadblocks to hold off the besieging Bosnian Serb army they were looting, raping and killing the Serb residents in the city. And those politicians who speak of war as an instrument of power, those who wage war but do not know its reality, those powerful statesmen-the Henry Kissingers, Robert McNamaras, Donald Rumsfelds, the Dick Cheneys-those who treat war as part of the great game of nations, are as amoral as the religious stooges who assist them. And when the wars are over what they have to say to us in their thick memoirs about war is also hollow, vacant and useless.

"In theological terms, war is sin," writes Mahedy. "This has nothing to do with whether a particular war is justified or whether isolated incidents in a soldier's war were right or wrong. The point is that war as a human enterprise is a matter of sin. It is a form of hatred for one's fellow human beings. It produces alienation from others and nihilism, and it ultimately represents a turning away from God."

The young soldiers and Marines do not plan or organize the war. They do not seek to justify it or explain its causes. They are taught to believe. The symbols of the nation and religion are interwoven. The will of God becomes the will of the nation. This trust is forever shattered for many in war. Soldiers in combat see the myth used to send them to war implode. They see that war is not clean or neat or noble, but venal and frightening. They see into war's essence, which is death.

War is always about betrayal. It is about betrayal of the young by the old, of cynics by idealists, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians. Society's institutions, including our religious institutions, which mold us into compliant citizens, are unmasked. This betrayal is so deep that many never find their way back to faith in the nation or in any god. They nurse a self-destructive anger and resentment, understandable and justified, but also crippling. Ask a combat veteran struggling to piece his or her life together about God and watch the raw vitriol and pain pour out. They have seen into the corrupt heart of America, into the emptiness of its most sacred institutions, into our staggering hypocrisy, and those of us who refuse to heed their words become complicit in the evil they denounce.

© 2009 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, will be out in July, but is available for pre-order.