April 24, 2013
By Brian Wright O’Connor
The tall priest in combat boots and a camouflage chasuble leans forward and places both hands in blessing on the bowed head of a GI in a trench. Other soldiers, their weapons set aside, await his benediction. They stand in the curved trench-line, framed by the blasted trees and scarred earth of the battlefield.
The photographer, holding a battered black Leica, peers through the viewfinder, ready to shoot. The rim of his helmet is pushed up on his forehead.
The soldier grins through the dirt of combat into the face of a fellow infantryman. A black scarf hangs loosely around his neck, streaked and grimed. The morning light shines off the side of his face. His eyes, alive and intent, welcome survival.
Three men, three images of war from the Central Highlands of Vietnam, 80 miles north of Saigon near the Cambodian border. Their lives converged briefly in December 1967 at a defensive base about three kilometers southeast of the remote village of Bu Dop, where, unbeknownst to them, North Vietnamese troops were staging incursions into the Republic of South Vietnam in preparation for the Tet Offensive the following month.
What happened there did not change the course of the war but it unalterably changed their lives. The ripples of that conflict, 44 years later, move slower now than when automatic gunfire cracked through the trees and mortar rounds fell in chilling arcs. But move they do.
The soldier, 37-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Mortimer Lenane O’Connor, air assaulted into the landing zone on December 6, jumping off the Huey helicopter on a cleared-out patch near the Bu Dop airstrip used by a Special Forces outpost.
O’Connor had taken command of “the Black Scarves” of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment of the storied U.S. Army First Division just six weeks before. He arrived with about 500 men under his charge – three rifle companies, artillery, reconnaissance and heavy weapons platoons, and support staff. Back in the U.S., his wife Betsy and six children awaited his return. My mother knew Mort didn’t fly halfway across the world just to keep his head down, do his duty, and get his ticket punched for promotion up the ranks. He was a gung-ho infantry officer, a West Pointer with a sense of gallows humor who believed that large-force engagements were the quickest way to conclude the war. In other words, kill as many of them in direct action as possible. “It’s a lousy war,” he said to a friend over the telephone before he left, “but it’s the only one I’ve got.” Among the men of the Black Scarves, also known as the Dracula Battalion, his call sign was “Drac 6.”
Horst Faas, 34, had already won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in Vietnam when, alerted at the AP bureau office in Saigon about action near the border, he landed at Bu Dop. Faas grew up in grim post-war Germany and had covered war in the Congo and Algeria before arriving in Vietnam, his third assignment in the crumbling French empire of overseas colonies. He was compact and tough and unafraid – an inspiration to the stable of photographers he mentored during his 10 years as the AP’s photo bureau chief in Vietnam.
Father Arthur Calter, the son of a church sexton and laborer, was 36 when he followed his two priest brothers into service as a military chaplain. Less than a year after leaving behind his family in Boston and the comfortable parish of St. Francis Assisi in Braintree, he was wearing a Black Scarf along with his vestments, saying Mass and hearing confessions in hostile territory. Over the PRC-25 radio, the battalion knew the priest was on the move when they heard the call-sign “Drac 19.”
Mort O’Connor’s version of events at Hill 172 in Bu Dop exists in dry after-action reports, filled with numbers denoting enemy dead and wounded, weapons captured, and his own battalion’s casualties during the search-and-destroy mission known as Operation Quicksilver. It also survives in media accounts and letters, written nearly every day, to Betsy, living in Tucson, Arizona, close to Mort’s father, a retired West Point general, and his mother Muriel. On December 9, after an unusual three-day break in communications home, Mort wrote, “On the afternoon of 7th, we made contact with a small NVA unit; that night we received a heavy attack from two battalions, the 1st and 3rd, 173rd Regiment, NVA.”
Those two clauses, separated by a semicolon in Mort’s urgent but grammatical scrawl, tersely summarize three days of action, including an all-night assault on the battalion’s perimeter which nearly resulted in the enemy breaking through to overrun the outmanned U.S. position. Later intelligence reports showed that the attacking regiment was the 273rd – a seasoned Viet Cong force that fought the Americans from the outskirts of Saigon to the Cambodian border throughout the war.
The action for Faas began as soon as he stepped off the helicopter from Saigon. He had been to Bu Dop before to dodge the snapping of bullets through the thick bamboo stands – one of the many positions that went back and forth between enemy and U.S. hands during the long conflict. Haas spent the day of December 5 with the Black Lions of the 28th Regiment, another battalion of the Big Red One deployed to Bu Dop to conduct search-and-destroy patrols around the Special Forces camp and airstrip. He hunkered down at night within the crowded command post, putting a bit of cover over a hastily dug bunker. “In the middle of the night, the command post came under rocket attack – there were four or five fatalities and much damage from two or three well-executed attacks from several sides. It was obvious that the enemy were determined and numerous,” he told me in an interview several years ago from his home in London.
The next morning, Faas caught a ride two kilometers south to the position being dug by the Black Scarves on the only high ground in the area. He walked inside the perimeter, snapping photos within the 50-meter zone where soldiers spent as much as six hours digging foxholes from the red basalt clay. “I met the colonel that morning. He wasn’t happy to see me,” said Faas. There was no touch of the romantic around Mort that day, no hint of the Ph.D. candidate from the University of Pennsylvania or a passion for Beowulf and Old English tales of berserkers and monsters lurking in the dark. “I asked if I could stay in the command post, but he said it would be too crowded and that I had to dig my own hole. I’d already been in Vietnam five years and usually got a better reception.”
Haas left the Night Defensive Perimeter under construction and walked out toward the wire, where he spotted Father Calter saying Mass to the boys in the trench. He took photos of the tender exchange between the Boston priest and the wary soldiers and later wrote about it in an AP story that ran on the wire: “The chaplain stood in the open and recited Mass. Huddled in trenches, men of the U.S. First Infantry Division looked toward him and listened. They wore their combat gear. They were filthy, covered with the red dirt that covers everything here. ‘This will be a different Christmas than you have had before,’ said Chaplain Arthur M. Calter of Boston. ‘There will be no jingle bells, no Christmas trees. But don’t forget, Christ is with you in these trenches.”
Calter, a gregarious cleric and a gifted Irish baritone, now lives in a high-rise for retired priests in the old West End of Boston. His days of hitting overhead smashes on the tennis court and snatching melodies out of the air on battered parish pianos are long gone. His eyes narrowed as he looked back over nearly half a century to that battlefield where cordite hung in the air like fear and incoming rounds sent men ducking in their trenches. “I told them to stay there while I said Mass in case anything happened,” said Calter. “The place was so uncertain and hot. I was exposed but tried to be as careful as possible because, let’s face it, I was a perfect target.”
Calter looked around the small sitting room, bordered by a sliding glass door with a view of the ether dome of the nearby Massachusetts General Hospital. “I used to have a picture around here,” he said, his voice trailing off. “During one Mass, a mortar round came in and exploded nearby. I went flying through the air and someone got a picture of me looking like superman with my chasuble stretched out behind me like a cape.”
Back at the command post, O’Connor received radio reports of enemy contact. His reconnaissance platoon spotted several scouts within a kilometer of the Night Defensive Perimeter. It was impossible to tell whether they were Vietcong, local communist militia, or soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army. All he knew is that they were coming in for a look. He urged his men to dig in faster, set up the battery of four 105 mm Howitzer cannons, and to string barbed wire at the perimeter, just inside the listening posts set up to monitor enemy movements.
Intelligence reports came in identifying the presence of troops from the NVA’s 271st Regiment, which were launching mortar and rocket attacks against the Special Forces camp. Returning from their security sweep, the Delta Company commander informed O’Connor that the lead element of the Recon Platoon had made contact with an enemy patrol that was observing the battalion setting up the NDP. The firefight resulted in a recon soldier being wounded in the leg, but the VC patrol was chased off.
Hours after taking the picture of Calter saying Mass, Faas was following a patrol among the rubber trees of the old Michelin plantation when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby, spraying his legs with shrapnel. A medic was called immediately. When he reached the photographer, both of Faas’s legs were spurting blood. The right leg was badly hit above the knee. The medic applied a tourniquet and struggled to find a vein for an injection of albumin, which helps stanch blood loss. “Will you hurry up with that?” asked Faas, whose face had turned an ashen grey. Within 20 minutes, an evacuation helicopter landed in a nearby clearing.
Father Calter, alerted to the evacuation, rushed to the landing site. “They couldn’t wait to pick up the wounded and the dead after the fighting. They had to evacuate immediately to save the wounded,” said Calter. “I was never far from the medics.” Arriving at the helicopter, Calter grabbed one of the stretcher poles and helped load Faas onto the aircraft. “He was hurt pretty bad but conscious. I remember him saying he’d send the pictures to me when he landed.” Faas was dusted off to the hospital at Long Binh, the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Vietnam command located 30 kilometers outside Saigon. “Sure he was hurt, but he didn’t ask for last rites. I didn’t do that a lot anyway. I would pray with the soldiers but even if it they were badly wounded I wanted to give them some hope of surviving.”
Calter continued to follow the medics, moving around the battlefield. But the enemy had withdrawn. By late afternoon, the priest was back at the NDP, finishing his foxhole. The battalion settled in for the long night.
The battalion commander called in the patrols. Shortly after nightfall, troops out on the LP heard enemy movement but it was difficult to establish their positions without compromising their location. They reported the VC digging in approximately 100 meters from the perimeter. The prospect of a large-force engagement was unusual in other parts of the war zone, but not at Bu Dop, where three major ground attacks at defensive positions had already taken place. Throughout the fall of 1967, the NVA persistently pressed attacks in the face of significant defensive advantages and overwhelming U.S. firepower, including artillery at Fire Support Bases, helicopter gunships and strafing F-4 fighters armed with rockets and bomb. As the clock ticked toward midnight, the battle at Hill 172 would provide another example of the enemy’s deadly intent.
The clash began in the first hour of December 8 with a barrage of 122 mm rockets launched into the NDP from all sides, quickly followed up with mortar and RPG rounds. Anticipating a ground assault, O’Connor ordered the listening post and ambush patrols to come into the NDP. The first U.S. casualty was taken when one of the LP soldiers was killed trying to return to the perimeter.
The first attack occurred at Charlie Company’s position on the northeast, with a smaller force leveled at Delta Company to the south. Bunkers armed with .50 caliber machine guns opened with full automatic fire on the onrushing enemy, which came in wave after wave of hundreds of troops. For three hours, the North Vietnamese charged the NDP, keeping up a withering barrage of 60 and 80 mm mortars, 75 mm recoilless rifles, and RPGs along with AK-47 assault rifles. O’Connor called in support from helicopter gunships and artillery from the Fire Support Base, directed by an artillery forward observer.
At one point, the battalion commander left the command post to check the men positioned on the berm of earth built along the rim of the NDP. In his absence, a mortar round hit the dirt piled around the bunker. The battalion’s operations officer took a piece of shrapnel to the helmet but it didn’t penetrate. O’Connor quickly returned, surveyed the damage, and continued to direct operations.
The attacks persisted. Finally, O’Connor ordered the muzzles of the 105 mm Howitzers lowered and filled with explosive charges. As the next waves of enemy charged the wire, the cannons, their barrels parallel to the ground, fired like giant shotguns into the wire, stopping the attack in its tracks.
The enemy assault ceased. Battalion soldiers heard movement along the wire and beyond but held their own fire. As dawn broke over the charred and smoking battlefield, the Black Scarves saw enemy dead hung in the wire and strewn over the landscape.
Faas had already been airlifted but another photographer, the UPI’s Kyoichi Sawada, remained with the battalion throughout the night. His iconic black-and-white images of the clash at Hill 172 depict broken bamboo stumps, blackened terrain, and men tensely holding weapons through the roar of gunfire and muzzle flashes. His photo of a maniacally happy Mort O’Connor never made the wire – what did was a photo of the battalion commander, a cigar between his teeth, frisking a young prisoner. Sawada’s radio report to the UPI spurred news agencies throughout Saigon to load up for a trip to Bu Dop.
“The morning of the 8th – in fact all day – we patrolled and policed up bodies and prisoners,” wrote Mort. “So far we’ve found 48 dead and captured 6 POWs. The battalion lost 4 killed in action and 14 wounded. We figure, based on intelligence reports and PW interrogations in the past, that we probably killed another 50 and wounded 100. In other words, we’ve effectively decimated one-half of two battalions.”
Interrogations also revealed that the enemy, blocked by the Delta Company’s security sweep, was unaware that six lines of concertina wire had been strung around the battalion position – a formidable barrier to a night-time charge.
Chief on their minds of war correspondents rushing to Bu Dop was not the narrative of the engagement, but rather getting visual confirmation of enemy dead. Reports of inflated body counts in order to mollify the anxious public and Pentagon brass about the positive prosecution of the war were already circulating in the press. Initial reports of a large count of enemy dead needed to be confirmed.
Well before noon, “we had a lot of reporters,” wrote Mort. “They came up to interview us, look at the war booty – 16 AK-47′s, four light machine guns, three rocket launchers, and huge quantities of rockets, small arms and mortar rounds. Most of all, they wanted to see the bodies – there is a great suspicion about body count, but we had 48 to be seen.”
CBS footage of interviews and images remained locked in the network archive until former General William Westmoreland sued “60 Minutes” over its claim of his complicity in enemy body counts. A call to CBS in 1988 yielded videotapes of the footage, which had been catalogued in preparation for the trial. More than 20 years had elapsed since the aftermath of the Battle of Bu Dop.
The footage shows a visibly nervous CBS reporter Bob Schackne interviewing Mort O’Connor and Regimental Commander Col. George “Buck” Newman within yards of the carnage. B roll shows captured weapons, prisoners, stacked bodies and an airlift of the enemy dead by a Chinook helicopter carrying them away on a web sling attached by cables to the aircraft. “These were living, breathing men yesterday,” says Schackne in the voice-over. “Today, there are just a sanitation problem.”
“Very often after a major battle, it’s hard to tell who won and who lost,” continues Schackne, standing to the side of O’Connor and Newman.
“But in this battle, the evidence of victory is very clear. Why was this battle so one-sided?” he asks O’Connor.
Mort, standing with his right arm over an M-16, his face shielded from the sun by his angled helmet, clears his throat. “A number of reasons. First of all, Charlie was above ground and we were below ground. That is, we had the advantage of defensive fortifications. The second reason is that we had magnificent fire-support. He can’t touch us when it comes to fire-support. Aircraft from the Air Force, gunships from the Army, all sorts of artillery – four-deuce, 105, 155, direct-lay 105 – plus the assets of my own battalion. A1 mortars, rifles, machine guns. He just can’t match us in firepower.”
Still nervous, Shackne rephrases the question, asking whether it was because of the firepower that the losses were so one-sided.
“Last night, the fact was that Charlie tried to do something stupid. He tried to overrun a tough position and when he does something stupid, he pays the price for it.”
The newsman then drills in on his real target – body counts. “Well, there’s often a lot of skepticism about the casualty figures, particularly about the claims we make about the damage we do to them because it’s so one-sided. In this case, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt about it,” he says.
O’Connor steps to his right in what appears to be a pre-arranged transition to the regimental commander’s boilerplate response about battlefield protocol to count enemy dead.
Parts of the footage ended up on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Newman, who had ordered the bodies airlifted because of the difficulty of digging a burial hole in the hard clay, had to answer for the gruesome images of VC being carted away like freight.
“The TV pictures are pretty gruesome and we were stacking them in a huge helicopter sling to carry them out,” wrote Mort. “They were carried over to district chief’s headquarters to be buried – I definitely didn’t want my people to fool around with the job; the ground’s too hard.”
“When – and if – you see the pictures on TV, don’t be concerned with the way I sound. I was quite hoarse. Also, and I hope it shows up, the kids in the battalion did a magnificent job. They are proud as hell of themselves and their confidence is way up, The assistant division commander said that this is the way Dracula used to perform all the time; the battalion is on its way up. Hell, it’s here!”
Less than 48 hours later, the Black Scarves had pulled out – on their way to the next battle farther south.
Horst Faas, recuperating in Long Binh, would spend six months in the hospital. On crutches and confined to the bureau for months, he eventually returned to the field and stayed in country another three years – not long enough to see the war’s end, but he knew it would come. “It was demoralizing to see the troops return so many times to the same ground,” he said. “Bu Dop, Hamburger Hill – occupied, taken, and abandoned over and over again.”
Faas went on to win a second Pulitzer Prize, this time during the conflict in Bangladesh, where he photographed gripping scenes of tortures and executions. In 1976, he relocated to London as AP’s senior photo editor for Europe, until his retirement from the news agency in 2004, still hobbled by his war wounds. In 1997, he co-authored “Requiem,” a book about photographers killed on both sides of the Vietnam War and was co-author of “Lost over Laos,” a 2003 book about four photographers shot down over Laos in 1971 and the search for the crash site 27 years later. He also organized reunions of his brave band of lensmen, who met in Ho Chi Minh City, Vienna, and other capitals over the years.
But he never forgot the men of the Black Scarves. He visited the medic who saved his life at his home near Geneva, N.Y., and wrote about his experience.
He died in May 2012, age 79, leaving his wife, Ursula, and one daughter.
Calter remembered the blood on the ground and the charred, lacerated bodies of the VC the night after the assault. “It’s seared into my memory,” he said. “We were in a daze, happy to be alive but not really feeling it. Looking over the battlefield, I asked myself, ‘Was it all worth it?” He left the battalion at the end of 1967. Before returning home, he visited Faas in the hospital. “He was in good spirits,” said Calter, “eager to return to the bureau and the field.”
The priest’s return to the U.S. was short-lived: he re-uped for another tour. Assigned to the 101st Airborne, Calter found himself visiting familiar terrain throughout the next two years.
“When I went back the second time and we were fighting for the same spots, I began questioning the wisdom of what we were doing there,” said Calter. “We just had to put the white flag up and give it all up at some point.”
His faith in the war already rattled by his first tour, Calter found little solace in the second. “I remember a battle where the Viet Cong couldn’t claim their bodies. There was such an odor it took a two-ton truck to move them all and I wasn’t even touched by it. I remember in the evening thinking, ‘What is happening to me?’”
An intelligence officer shared with him letters and photos found in the pockets of one of the VC dead. “It was pure poetry – writing about the flashes of gunfire in the night, the touch of his children. He wrote to his wife about the aromas of her cooking, the sounds of his children’s laughter. It made me realize those were men just like ours who were victims of circumstances.”
Calter left Vietnam for good in 1970. He spent two years in Germany, then several more at posts in the U.S. His last stop was close to home – Ft. Devens, Massachusetts. He became pastor of several Archdiocesan parishes in the Boston area before retiring in 2000.
“War sometimes comes to us and we have to respond,” said Calter. “But I’m all for reconciliation. It takes courage to do that.”
The Black Scarves continued on search-and-destroy missions in the Iron Triangle north of Saigon in the aftermath of the January Tet Offensive, coming in contact several times with elements of the forces that had attempted to overrun their camp in Bu Dop.
On April 1, 1968, while O’Connor was personally leading a patrol, the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. “Mort, who was near the center of his battalion column, spontaneously moved up to the fight,” wrote his West Point classmate Bob Rogers. “Along with him moved his radio man with the distinctive tall antenna of the command radio set. As if waiting for that one unique target, a Viet Cong rose out of a spidertrap and fired at Mort. The burst of gunfire put an end to the special cadence of Mort O’Connor’s heart. He died instantly, imparting to his life in that moment a unity of purpose few men enjoy, doing what he had been born to do – leading men forward in battle.”
By the time the knock on the door came in Tucson, Betsy already knew. She’d been working in the house the day before. “I suddenly heard a shot and stood up. I went cold,” she said years later. “I just knew.”
Days later, he was laid to rest at West Point in a cold April rain. Nearby was the grave of his uncle, a First Infantry colonel killed in the World War II invasion of Sicily, who was one of four brothers to attend the academy.
His wife and children stood beneath a white canopy. Over the grave were bouquets of tropical flowers flown in from Hawaii, where he had been born at reveille at Schofield Barracks.
Seven soldiers in dress uniform snapped to attention and delivered three volleys from their M1 rifles. Brass cartridges bounced off gravestones.
Those volleys, reverberating through the rain and the huddled trees of the old burial ground, echo still.
April 9, 2013
By Michael Uhl
“…the most unjust war ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” Ulysses S. Grant (speaking of the Mexican War)
Comes now Nick Turse, forty years after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, with Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, a compendious retelling of the horrors once inflicted by the United States of America against a tiny South East Asian adversary and its entire population. As a foundation for this grisly retrospective the author has assembled hundreds of sources, virtually all of which date from the time of the original telling, and to which he has joined the testimony of veterans and veteran observers along with the voices of Vietnamese victims unavailable for interview until long after the war had ended.
The impulse to resurrect en masse the record of this dirty war, what Turse characterizes as its “hidden history,” resulted from an epiphany the author experienced in 2001 at the National Archives. As a graduate student “researching post-traumatic stress disorder among Vietnam veterans,” Turse confides that he “stumbled upon… the yellowing records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group… more than 300 allegations of… atrocities that were substantiated by army investigators.” The files, Turse says, were “long hidden away and almost forgotten.”
Well, yes and no. A decade earlier, these same files had been scanned and duly cited by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim, whose Four Hours in My Lai was motivated by a similar premise, that the notorious massacre of March 16, 1968 had suffered from “twenty years of cover-up and willed forgetfulness.” Nick Turse, quite rightly, goes much farther in applying his indictment of “forgetfulness” to the entire Vietnam conflict, where, in the once familiar mantra of antiwar veterans who had witnessed these horrors first hand, and then publically condemned them, My Lai was just the tip of the iceberg. But by now, Turse laments, “the other atrocities perpetrated by U.S. soldiers have essentially vanished from popular memory.”
Come to think of it, what hasn’t? “Popular memory,” assuming the concept isn’t completely spurious, is at best a labile thing. Moreover, what can one expect the popular memory to retain? We might with some charity assign a collective D- to the powers of retention of historical detail – informed or otherwise – by our fellow Americans. The comic genius Groucho Marx devilishly exhibited this national deficiency on his television quiz show in the Fifties. When a pair of contestants failed to answer a single question correctly on some current or historical topic, Groucho offered them a consolation prize if they could tell him who was buried in Grant’s Tomb, or what was the color of Washington’s white horse; sometimes they couldn’t.
The example may seem trivial, but the point still holds. Can Vietnam hope to fare any better if we are to depend on popular memory to remind us of its truths? What if anything beyond the most abbreviated commonplaces does popular memory recall of our prior “Vietnams” – the Indian Wars, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War in Cuba and the Philippines, Central America for over a century – our dark tradition of turning superior fire power against weaker nations we target for the sake of our destiny to dominate and pillage? As for Iraq and Afghanistan, the public didn’t even catch them the first time around.
A fellow Vietnam veteran and memoirist John Ketwig relays an anecdote that illustrates the problem sharply. Ketwig wrote me recently of “a long ago conference at Gettysburg College [where] … the audience and presenters consisted of professional soldiers from the nearby Army War College at Carlisle, PA.” During the morning session Ketwig “along with W.D. Ehrhart and other prominent Vietnam [War] authors” served up the by-then familiar inconvenient truths about the criminal nature of the war they’d recently been fighting. After which, Ketwig recalls, “an old lifer Sergeant Major spoke, pointed to us and very specifically stated, ‘These whining, complaining Vietnam veterans will die off. I want to assure you, we have written the history of the Vietnam war your grandchildren will read.’”
If the Old Lifer imagined he was addressing History-with-a-capital- H, clearly his prediction was overwrought by wishful thinking. The bibliographic catalog is well stacked against the diehard apologists, not least the self-justifying screeds by those who cheered and managed the debacle and their revisionist disciples who have followed. The real whining would come, of course, from the likes of Robert J. McNamara. No amount of breast beating about dangers born of Cold War tensions has made what lies beneath the My Lai iceberg suddenly vanish from the historical record, to which Kill Anything That Moves now provides a striking addendum.
Obviously Nick Turse’s ambition for this book ranges far beyond serving scholarly mills, or reaching whatever limited market this subject still commands among its core readers. Turse intends Kill Anything That Moves as mass-shock treatment to override the public’s amnesia, aggressively demanding that we re-examine Vietnam’s horrors with even greater intensity today than we did forty to fifty years ago. But how does this agenda square with the public mood? That query returns us to the chilling side of that Old Lifer’s prophesy, because the views on the Vietnam War our millennials are forming today suggest strongly that the indoctrination he boasted of is well underway.
Citing a recent Gallop poll, journalist Robert Sheer reports that “a majority of Americans ages 18-29 believe sending U.S. troops to Vietnam was not a mistake… the young now approve of an irrational war in which 3.4 million Indochinese and 58,000 Americans died…” Holding steady across the age divide, “70% of those 50 or older… with contemporary knowledge…” retain their beliefs in the war’s essential wrongness. This leaves Nick Turse addressing an aging choir that already knows the hymnal by rote, while among his own peers, not to mention Sheer’s “18-29 year olds,” his thunder confronts a formidable headwind.
When Kill Anything That Moves was launched in such a promising whirl of enthusiasm from the more respectable corridors of the Left media ghetto, it fleetingly appeared as if Turse might indeed have re-set the historical clock. But the dust stirred by that initial thrust settled quickly. And the sound of silence greeting Turse’s book from the elite opinion-making heavyweights, whose reviews and news stories are essential for gaining the kind of national recognition the author and his sponsors had clearly hoped for, has been deafening.
Perhaps because so much of what Turse has reassembled already appeared – if not in every specific, certainly in kind – within its pages while the war was in progress, The New York Times, for example, may judge Kill Anything That Moves as twice-warmed news. Such thinking would provide the paper’s managers all the sanctimonious cover they’d need to help stymie any genuinely healthy re-examination of American crimes against humanity in Vietnam, oft reported, but never officially acknowledged, much less repented. But why would the Times and the other great organs and outlets of bounded propaganda, whatever else divides them, want to re-air the real history of Vietnam today? The last thing the elite political class wants is to reconnect Vietnam to the present, certainly not in the direction that Nick Turse has failed to provoke them. They know Vietnam was not a mistake; it’s a template.
To jump start a renewed public conversation about Vietnam that aims at eliminating that template as a future military option – presumably Turse’s more elusive and essentially unpainted target – apparently demands a bigger boost than one explosive charge dredged from the archives can deliver. This assumes that the Vietnam template isn’t already losing favor among national security managers. In which case, asks W.D. Ehrhart, still in the conversation long after that conference at Gettysburg, what particular end is Turse’s so-called “hidden history” meant to serve beyond exhibiting “a randomly presented litany of mayhem?”
Bill Ehrhart has spent decades since being wounded during the Battle of Hue bringing to literature, classroom and public forums – in consort with a large community of like-minded veterans – compelling eyewitness accounts of the systematic nature of atrocities committed by the U.S. military throughout Indochina. In a recent email, having read my essay criticizing Jonathan Shell’s breathless review of Kill Anything That Moves, Ehrhart expressed the opinion that “Schell’s reaction to Turse’s book is ridiculous.” What Schell gushes over as novelty, Ehrhart calls “old news.” And, after examining the book, he dismisses it with a terseness both unsparing and poetic: “disjointed, disorganized, without direction.”
But that’s hardly the worst of it, and these next sentiments of Ehrhart’s deeply echo my own. “If Turse were a true journalist and scholar, he would be shouting, ‘Why didn’t anyone listen to veterans who told these stories forty years ago?’ He ripped off our history shouting – Look what I discovered! – and presented the case as if it’s being told for the first time.”
Turse’s claims to originality are slippery enough, but the “rip off” exceedingly worse. Regarding the former we are told that, as the author’s research deepened over the years, he “began to get a sense of the ubiquity of atrocity during the American War,” a hip way of showing he knows how the Vietnamese refer to the same conflict. And elsewhere, “…I came to see the indiscriminate killing of South Vietnamese non-combatants… was neither accidental not unforeseeable.”
We might overlook this silly pretense were it not at the expense of a consciously organized veterans’ resistance which arose following the belated revelation of My Lai, and operated within the larger antiwar movement where the narrative of Vietnam genocide had been long evolving. In the very language and political formulations that Turse now appropriates, often literally, a veritable legion of veterans loudly proclaimed those very revelations that the author wishes to showcases as novel insights. Moreover, we based our evidence for the ubiquity of American war crimes on our actual wartime experiences, as we helped sway the public to finally reject the war we ourselves had been fighting in. These are the unique historical episodes that Turse completely ignores.
In his account antiwar veterans appear, not as a movement making history, but as a handful of individual “whistle-blowers within the ranks or recently out of the army…” whose denunciations were “marginalized and ignored.” For the rest, Turse buries our unprecedented story in a thicket of footnotes, devoid of their original contexts, and where only a disciplined scholar might be able to reassemble them into anything approximating what actually occurred. A reader may judge for herself, if the public testimonies on U.S. war crimes policies in Vietnam delivered by antiwar veterans during the final years of the conflict were, as Turse suggests, “marginalized and ignored.” She might discover that the veterans were being heard at the time, if not listened to, much more than Turse is today.
Nick Turse’s decision to airbrush from the record the provenance of the Vietnam war crimes narrative, and the roles of veterans within it, defies explanation. As already noted, the scope of research under display in his copious list of sources makes evident that he knew this story well. My own emails with the author, who had seen my pre-published version of this history while still in dissertation form – thick and unwieldy as he rightly chided me – date from 2007. And while it touches me less personally, though only slightly, Turse’s use of similar methods for downgrading the stature and significance of the American antiwar movement is equally perplexing.
No old Movement hand intimately familiar with those times could fail to notice how Turse prunes the most powerful unarmed force of domestic resistance to governing authority in U.S. history to the status of a sideshow. Here’s one particularly ham fisted sample of his distorting style. He characterizes as pitiful Movement efforts to reveal the true nature of the war through “pamphlets, small press books and underground newspapers,” that, if even glancingly noticed by empowered insiders, were dismissed as “leftist kookery.”
When one turns to the footnote for this passage to scan the names of these presumably obscure “pamphlets, small press books and underground newspapers,” one finds instead that the printed matter antiwar forces produced to advance their war crimes accusations was packaged by the very titans of American trade and newspaper publishing: Random House, Simon and Schuster, Holt Rinehart, Vintage - the quality paperback imprint, Avon – the mass paperback imprint of the Hearst Corporation, a couple of smaller but respected houses like Beacon and Pilgrim Press, two or three international publishers, their reputations unknown to me, and The New York Times.
I understand that many of the interested parties who may see this essay will simply react to the issues I have raised here with a resounding, “So what?” Maybe Turse got some of the story wrong, they might admit, even in ways that make him appear amateurish, if not perverse. But he nails the big picture bearing on the carnage and destruction, to a large degree intentionally orchestrated by the U.S. during its aggressive war against Vietnam. But I would take issue even with that. On the thin narrative thru-line where Turse strings the graphically descriptive details of one atrocity after another, he seems to weigh the vile handywork of individual GIs operating in the field on a par with the far more deadly toll that sprang from cold hearted policies of mass murder designed by high level commanders, political bureaucrats and academics: the indiscriminate use of artillery and air power to remove and disrupt populations, and which caused the overwhelming number of deaths and casualties among the South Vietnamese.
Turse certainly reports on, and strongly denounces, pacification’s deadly harvest of non-combatants. But by placing so much emphasis on the 300 Pentagon investigations that originally ignited his zeal for this subject, the statistical significance of his soldier-initiated atrocities pales before the ranks of two and a half million draft aged men who’d served in Vietnam during the war. Let’s assume those 300 cases of substantiated atrocities are actually representative of thousands of unreported heinous incidents committed by thousands of individual soldiers – which I firmly believe was the case. That still would leave a substantial body of other veterans with clean hands, to the degree any soldier at war can make such a claim. Let’s just say they weren’t involved in rape, torture, mutilation, pre-meditated murder or manslaughter, or willful destruction of livestock or property.
A very large number of veterans therefore might feel unfairly tarred by Turse’s sweeping brush, assuming they ever became aware of his book in the first place. I sense this would matter very little to Nick Turse. As he makes no effort to conceal in a recent essay, “Who Did You Rape in the War, Daddy”, Turse seems to harbor a truly bizarre resentment toward war veterans, notably the many he has interviewed over the years and now accuses of not coming clean to him about the things they’d seen or done. Reading that, it occurred to me that Turse had learned very little about veterans when his research was initially focused on PTSD. He seemed to have missed the fact that deep issues of trust determine who veterans will talk to about war, and as is commonly understood, that they generally talk only with each other.
But now Turse is pissed, and he engages in a bit of shadow boxing with veterans as ghostly adversaries. “I know a lot about war without fighting in one,” he defiantly lectures some unidentified veteran other. And, it has cost him. But he expresses pride because this “just isn’t the sort of knowledge that’s easy to come by,” and who said it was? Anyway, this could be one digression too many, so read his essay cited above and judge for yourself. My own take is that Turse is suffering from the equivalent of penis envy in having been denied firsthand experience with warfare. He has had to find compensation, but his vicarious knowledge of war is made harder to come by because veterans are deceitful, and won’t “come clean.” Turse judgment here is clouded by his temper tantrum.
Turse’s other signal observation is that accounts of Vietnamese viewpoints and victimhood are largely absent from the 30,000 volumes covering the American representations of the war. This is hardly surprising since the opportunities for serious research and interviewing in Vietnam are relatively recent. By the time mass tourism had blossomed there, returning veterans have typically expressed astonishment that the recovered Vietnam they find today is totally unrecognizable from the country they had once fought in. This is the Vietnam in which the kind of research Turse brags about is finally possible. Long before that, veterans established humanitarian projects in Vietnam and have for decades been in the forefront of campaigns to raise public awareness of the human suffering still afflicting so many Vietnamese who survived the war, not least the toll in human lives from herbicide poisoning and unexploded ordinance, all reaching now into the third and fourth post-war generations.
Neither Bill Ehrhart nor I, among thousands of others – veterans and non-veterans alike – have ever abandoned through our writing and political action, and in classrooms where we have taught or been invited to speak, our commitments to keep the flame of truth about the real American war in Vietnam from being extinguished. To that protracted struggle, Nick Turse has added his flawed and impassioned contribution. But the impulse that will lead, if ever, to the cleansing of our butchery in Vietnam from the national conscience, is unlikely to come from collective, much less individual, efforts of the progressive camp.
It is an odd fact of our culture that, when controversial topics are avoided or suppressed, they can sneak back in as entertainment. Who knows if Vietnam won’t suddenly slip into the popular media slot that’s been vacated by the Greatest Generation? It’s a fair bet. But when, and in what form, it’s impossible to predict. Will the space be dynamic enough to air the most damning facts, and here Turse’s indictment could be included when the papers are served. How much energy remains in the aging antiwar crowd to re-fight these old battles? Is the Old Lifer bound to win, or will the young break the propaganda spell? And, if our side won, what would that look like? It’s something to think about. We’re not waiting for the Rapture. Some of us are already preparing for the opening, if and when it comes. Here’s a previous essay by me and one by John Grant from In The Mind Field responding to the Pentagon’s Vietnam War Commemoration Project.
February 5, 2013
By Peter P. Mahoney
Ok, let me get my reservations out up front. I am someone whose self-identification is based on a period in my life of two years ten months and twenty-two days duration that ended some forty-two years ago. So, yes, I have used the fact of being a Vietnam veteran to give myself some small amount of status in the world. Perhaps what I like most is that what I have to say often presents a contrast to what most people expect to hear from veterans. Veterans in American society, after all, have traditionally played the role of cheerleaders for the next war. I, for one, have always refused to pick up the pompoms.
Make no mistake. It’s a fuckin hard balancing act, trying to maintain some sort of pride in your military service, even as you are criticizing the institution in which your service was rendered. And the fact is, on some level, I have NO real pride in having been a soldier – and all that it entailed. Being a soldier SUCKS. You give up your freedom, your individuality. You check your rights as an American citizen at the recruiter’s door. There is no place for softness, for sensitivity, for empathy. You are taught – some would say brainwashed – to be hard, cold, unfeeling — an unthinking, uncritical automaton who will do things without question that you would never think of doing as a civilian. You are taught to kill other human beings. You are given a whole science of murder and mayhem and violence, and you are rewarded – indeed HONORED – for being a skillful practitioner.
“What is the spirit of the Bayonet? To KILL.”
Yes, there is another side of being in the military, of being in war. Let’s be honest, it’s a fuckin rush, Jack. There is no feeling that I have ever experienced that comes close to being in combat. You are utterly terrified, each second that passes can perhaps be your last, you watch in horror as some around you experience that last second, and you feel so utterly, incredibly ALIVE as each of those potential last seconds passes. And you look down at your best friend, his brains splattered all over the ground (Scaramouche, Scaramouche, can you do the fandango?), and in that brief moment as his life terminates, you are glad – fuckin THRILLED – that it was him instead of you. Yeah, war is a rush, man, a great, guilty pleasure, the triumph of the id over the super-ego. It is the ultimate test of manhood. I stood (or laid) across from another man who tried to kill me, and I am here and he is not. I am a man. I killed, therefore I AM. The second thoughts come later, sometimes, or sometimes they do not come at all.
The pride I may feel now does not come from what I did, or had to do. It is bestowed on me by others, who somehow look up to me, think maybe I’m something special, because I was a soldier in war once upon a time. It comes from the fact that, as terrible and difficult and traumatic as that experience in war was, the person I am today – the person I am proud of being today – was formed by that experience. It comes from the fact that I have tried to use that experience as a tool to teach others, particularly youngsters, the things I learned the hard way. Not an easy lesson, always. I used to speak in high school classes as what we called a “counter-recruiter”. I thought I would just go in there, and tell them of the horrors of being in war, and that would convince them. Then I saw those eager young faces, lapping up everything I could dredge up from the depths of my soul, images of glory and honor and manhood dancing in their eyes, and I knew that “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” would probably win the day.
So where am I going with all this, beyond the jaded rantings of a faded warrior? It is this.
I have a bumper sticker on the back of my car “Honor the Warrior, not the War”. It’s produced by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and I pasted it on my car because it identifies me as an anti-war veteran. But now I have a question:
Why do we honor warriors?
What is it about warriors or ex-warriors that deserves such unquestioning adulation? Why do we not honor teachers, or doctors, or EMTs, or research scientists, or musicians, or poets in the same way? Why warriors?
Certainly, having served in the military gives no one a monopoly on “The Truth”. On the contrary. Where do the right-wing politicians go for a friendly audience for their latest militaristic adventure stories? Why, military and veteran audiences, of course. Actually, my stance as an anti-war veteran is made more special precisely because there are so few military or ex-military who would stand for the same things. I admit, a few times when arguing a point on a blog, I have tried to silence an adversary with the line, essentially “I am right because I was in the military, and you were not!” It is, of course, a bullshit argument. My point should always stand or fall on its own, and not be given any additional credibility based on how I spent three years of my youth. So, there it is. Even as I question the status my service has given me, I use it when it suits my purposes.
Yes, there are some outstanding individuals in the military. Sure, the ranks are filled with misguided patriotic youth, “ardent for some desperate glory” (hey, I was one, once), and economic draftees looking to learn a trade and escape the `hood. Sure, the Guard is packed with ordinary Joes and Janes, trying to make a few bucks to support that mortgage, or make that car payment, or save for that kid’s college. But there is also a plethora of careerists, boot-lickers, sadists, thugs, crooks, and mediocrities who populate this most reactionary of our national institutions. When I was in the Army, the highest praise – praise which was rather uncommon – heard for a “lifer” was “He could have made it on the outside.”
So why do we honor warriors? Is it not a reflection of the militaristic sub-text that has pervaded American life since WWII? Economic fortunes and political careers have been built on the myth of the great external threat. First communism, now terrorism. These “threats” keep us living in fear, unable to question, unable to offer an alternative point of view. If we are so “threatened”, of course, then we need protectors. The glorification of the military and the adulation of the warrior are part and parcel of the myth used to keep us in our place.
But wait; it gets better. Here it is: the Royal Scam. Create the climate of fear, foster adulation for the warriors who “protect” us, then use them to rape the rest of the world, while we sit by and applaud their efforts.
Rape? Yes, does anyone question the connection between the macho, militaristic glorification of “The Warrior”, and the treatment of women in our society? Do the two not flow from the same source? Rape is a crime of violence, of power, of subjugation. Is it any wonder that a society that so celebrates the cult of the warrior would not also be so tolerant of the rapists who walk among us?
And what of so-called progressives? How many of us feel compelled to preface any anti-war remarks with “Of course, I support the troops, but …”? Why? Because we have bought into the myth – the right-wing meme – that supporting the troops, honoring the warriors, is a fundamental component of patriotism, and one cannot “patriotically” oppose the war unless one also supports the troops. But how do you support the troops without supporting the mission they are undertaking? How do you honor the warriors, but not the war? And if, indeed, these cannot be separated – the troops from the mission, the warrior from the war – then why are we supporting and honoring those who are the instruments of the policies we oppose?
Well, I don’t really know the answer to that question, not, at least, in the frame in which it is asked. I frame it differently.
Is not the education of our children a matter of national security? Is not the health of our citizens a matter of national security? Is not the financial well-being of our nation a matter of national security? Which is the better expenditure of funds for national security, funds for education, health, and economic well-being, or funds for military hardware? Which is the better way to deal with national security issues, military force to bend other nations to our will, or diplomacy to solve issues cooperatively? Is national security only about guns and bombs and soldiers, or is it something more?
So what of “the troops”? Do we call them baby-killers and spit on them when they come home? Do we blame them for the failed policies of the government that sent them, as many did to the returning troops from Vietnam (I remember well the insinuation of the WWII vet at the VFW bar, “Well, we won OUR war.”)? Do we forget about them, and leave them to suffer in private with the physical and spiritual wounds they will come back with?
Of course we don’t. We show respect for the individuals who have earned it. We give assistance to those who need it. We work our butts off to get them out of harm’s way quickly, and we resolve that we will never sit by and allow them to be put in such a situation again.
A soldier’s job is tough, it’s brutal, it’s sometimes necessary.
Honorable? Frankly, I’m not so sure.
February 5, 2013
To introduce myself, once upon a time I became a mercenary while on a humanitarian mission. For years I suppressed my experience and its validity because I was never a member of any military and the conflict itself has never really been recognized. My exposure to conflict, however, is no less real for all of that.
Recently I began creating a series of performance poetry and paintings which I am transforming into a multimedia project to enhance consciousness about contemporary conflicts – child soldiers, refugees, created famine, effects on women, commercially driven polarization, destabilization for economic gain, etc.
Review of Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People, London, Verso, 2009 (Translated by Yael Lotan)
October 9, 2012
Paul L. Atwood
University of Massachusetts-Boston
Note: The following is not an academic review but rather a summary of the very interesting views of this author which I had never heard before and some questions and issues of my own raised by his perspective.
Who has never heard the question as to whether Jews are a distinct ethnicity or adherents of a religion? Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’s curious title intrigued me and I must say I found this book stunning since I had never thought along his line of reasoning, which is compellingly presented and persuasive. Some readers, though, will find at least two of his central assertions shocking. Though many Israeli Jews dub the Muslims and Christians” of Israel/Palestine, “Arabs,” according to Sand both groups are closer genetic descendents of the original Jews than are the European Jews, the Ashkenazim, many of whom are probably descended from non “Semitic” peoples who converted to Judaism at various times in the remote past. Sand emphasizes, importantly, that many mainstream Zionist founders, including David Ben Gurion, and Zionist historians alike, have asserted much the same. Needless to say such contentions are condemned by those who believe Jews are a people unique and entirely apart from others (and this includes many who profess Christianity) who can trace their unbroken genealogy back to the biblical patriarchs, and who would never abandon their sacred ancestral religion for another, or deny a seamless heritage as Jews. But just as the fact of evolution threatens the power and control of all established religions, so such facts as Sands elucidates imperil the Zionist mythology he is at pains to delineate, as well as to question beliefs held strongly by Jews who are not necessarily Zionists that all of “historical” Israel should forever be the exclusive property of Jews. One cannot fail to be more than sympathetic to a people viciously persecuted for centuries for desiring a refuge and state of their own but what happens to the people they dispossess in the process of fostering that state? How does that wrong right the original harm? As currently configured the state of Israel seems doomed to an ever imploding cycle of violence and bloodshed that appears to be heading to an unpredictable chain reaction.
Unsurprisingly, despite being the son of Holocaust survivors, and notwithstanding his distinguished professorship in History at Tel Aviv University, Sand has been roundly denounced in some quarters for this meticulous and comprehensive study. Yet, Sand has followed many strands of research – historical, archeological, demographic, etymological, linguistic, and philological- to coherent and plausible conclusions.
At this point a reader might well ask why I, an American gentile, would concern myself with these issues, seemingly of interest or disquiet mainly to Jews and Israelis and Palestinians? The cold fact is that my own government is deeply involved, and utterly in a one-sided manner, in the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, from my perspective, is shaping a disastrous future for the region and for the United States. Put basically, while the United States’ government voted in favor of the 1947 United Nations partition of Palestine that mandated the creation of two separate states – one Jewish and one Palestinian- every administration since has paid mere lip service to this guiding principle, and after 1967, while financing Israel’s military and its illegal occupation and settlement of land that is supposed to be the Palestinian state. Promised 44% of British Palestine in 1947, Palestinians now are reduced to living considerably less than half of that territory. Meanwhile, approximately 500,000 Israelis have settled on what remains, with more arriving almost daily. Though Washington professes that these settlements are illegal the U.S government continues to veto even feeble U.N. attempts to condemn these actions. While Israeli and American officials assert that threats to Israel’s security from those who would deny Israel’s right to exist are impeding the conditions of peace necessary for Palestinian statehood, that does not explain the ongoing movement by Israel to take and settle ever more of Palestinian land.
Sands begins by noting that Zionism emerged as a reaction to, and parallel with European nationalism in the 19th Century, though he is clear that despite more than 100 years of dispute no unambiguous definition or universally accepted categorization of nationalism has emerged. As nationalist ideology swept Europe “national cultures often tied the soft “people” to the rigid and problematic “race,” and many regarded the two words as intersecting, supporting or complementary.” Nationalist ideology played a major role in the outbreak of both world wars, reaching its most malevolent efflorescence in Nazism. So “The murderous first half of the twentieth century caused the concept of race to be categorically rejected” in favor of a new category – “ethnos.” But this term implies a sense of origin and closeness much as the concept of race. In reality, though championed by innumerable groups, ethnic purity is essentially unverifiable. Sand agrees with the French philosopher Etienne Balibar that “ethnicity… is entirely fictitious…it is in fact nationalization that creates a sense of ethnic identity in societies.” Zionism is the Jewish counterpart to European nationalism with the important difference that long-standing prejudice and persecution of Jews led the early Zionists to believe that Jews could never be safe in Europe. Thus, if Germans could trumpet their ethnic purity to the catastrophic loss of Europe’s Jews, then the Jewish “nationality” needed a nation of its own.
While the Zionist form of nationalism gained some traction in the early 20th Century as the British, after the Balfour Declaration, sought to exploit it in order to foster their own rule in Palestine, it was the horrific Nazi genocide that catapulted the Zionist goal of a Jewish homeland into the consciousness of the two major victors in World War II, primarily to serve their own interests. Since many Eastern European Jews were communists or socialists, the Soviet Union favored resettling them in Palestine in hopes of fostering allies in the region. In the United States though much of the political elite wished to curry favor with the Arab oil potentates, among the American population, and even in other high official circles, anti-Semitism resulted in widespread unwillingness to allow many displaced Jewish refugees into this country. Polls taken after World War II, and even after the death camps had been exposed to the American public (the U.S. government had known about them all along), revealed that anti-Semitic opposition to Jewish immigration to the U.S. was still as high as it had been in the late 1930s. Needing the Jewish vote in major cities, President Harry Truman recognized the new state of Israel in 1948 because as he said, he had “many thousands more constituents to answer to than Arabs.”
Anti-Semitism originated in Medieval Christian Europe and its extreme consequences were worst there. Throughout the mostly Islamic Middle East Jewish communities had been largely accepted and flourished alongside Muslims and Christians for nearly 1500 years. That began to change drastically during the early years of Zionism when Jewish Ashkenazim migrants from Europe began to settle in ever growing numbers in what was then Turkish, and subsequently British Palestine, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Zionist ideology parallels the belief of many Jews, Zionist or not, that Jews, no matter their place of residence, constitute a unique and separate people, united by a common religious and/or genetic relationship that can be traced back more than 3,000 years. While many Jews in Israel and the U.S. are irreligious, many accept the historical claims of Zionism, if not the religious dogma. Most observant Jews, as do fundamentalist Christians, take the following, based on biblical scripture, as substantial fact. The one and only “God” chose Jews to be the carriers of the divine message to all peoples, doing so via the patriarch “Abraham” to whom the divinity endowed the land of Canaan forever. After a centuries-long banishment from the sacred soil of ancient Israel as slaves in Egypt, “Yahweh” enabled Jews to retake Canaan from interlopers, and Jewish civilization reached its zenith under Kings David and Solomon in a widespread empire with its capital at Jerusalem. Jewish society floundered thereafter, succumbing to conquest by a succession of pagan empires. In the second century C.E., when Jews mounted a revolt against Roman rule, they were forcibly, and all but entirely, evicted from the land of Israel and dispersed throughout the Roman world, becoming the archetypal “wandering Jew,” eventually migrating into eastern and northern Europe, where, in various Christian communities they became victims of hatred and persecution as outsiders who had rejected Christ. Thus, according to this narrative, just as all other “nations” warranted a homeland, so in order to be free finally of anti-Semitism, and fulfill their destiny, Jews deserved once again to “return” to their ancient homeland. That some peoples in the modern world condemn Israel today, or wage war upon the new nation, is perceived as yet more evidence of the profound hatred that non-Jews have always expressed toward Jews, requiring modern Israel to become a garrison state, ever ready to defend the Jewish people from those who would destroy them once and for all.
The quintessential claim of Zionism, as well as general Jewish culture, is that Jews were the original inhabitants of what is now Israel/Palestine; that Jerusalem was always the capital of the Jewish people; that Jews were forcibly dispersed against their will to the four corners of the earth; that the world’s Jews are genetic descendants of the original inhabitants of ancient Israel and therefore the long-deprived heirs to their ancestral homeland.
Buttressed by massive evidence from multifarious sources, Sands contends that very little of these claims is true. The ideology is “mythhistory,” based largely on biblical texts, or what Sands calls further “the nationalization of the Bible.”
The Zionist assertion is as follows: According to the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”
Or as one of the most important shapers of Zionist historiography wrote in 1947:
“God gave to every nation its place and to the Jews he gave Palestine. The Galut (exile) means that Jews have left their natural place…the dispersion of Israel among the nations is unnatural. Since the Jews manifest a national unity, even in a higher sense than other nations, it is necessary that they return to a state of actual unity…The Jewish revival…harks back to the ancient national consciousness of the Jews which existed before the history of Europe and is the original sacred model for all the national ideas of Europe…if we can today read each coming day’s events in ancient and dusty chronological tables, as though history were the ceaseless unrolling of a process proclaimed once and for all in the Bible, then every Jew in every part of the Diaspora may recognize that there is a power that lifts the Jewish people out of the realm of all causal history… (emphasis added).“
For some of those who take the claim of divine origin seriously it follows that the holy people have been robbed of their sacred birthright and many Jews do celebrate with one of Israel’s “founding fathers,” David Ben Gurion, that “We can once more sing with Moses and the Children of Ancient Israel…with the mighty impetus of all the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) divisions you have extended a hand to King Solomon.”
Sands emphasizes that for many who identify as Jews, exile is the central element of Jewish identity as well as the core of the Zionist claim to the whole of Israel, encompassing Abraham’s departure from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan, to the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt, to the Babylonian Captivity, the presumed Roman Diaspora and the Muslim conquest, all buttressed by scriptural authority. Ben Gurion again:
“When we went into exile our nation was uprooted from the soil in which the Bible had grown and torn from the spiritual and political reality in which it had formed…in exile our nation was disfigured and the image of the Bible likewise deformed. Christian Bible researchers, with their Christian and anti-Semitic aims, turned the Bible into a plinth for Christianity…”
Christians have, at least since the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century C.E., claimed that Jewish exile was divine punishment for Israel’s failure to recognize and accept Jesus as the long-prophesied Messiah. Sands writes that: “The myth of the Wandering Jew, punished for his/her transgression [against Christ], was rooted in the dialectic of Christian-Jewish hatred that would mark the boundaries of both religions through the following centuries.” Thus, Sands argues, Jews who accept the exile story have fallen into the same anti-Semitic myth that Christians claim. Interestingly, though a minority, many “orthodox” Jews also reject the Zionist return to Israel. They believe that exile has been divine punishment, deserved, not for failure to recognize the Messiah, but because Jews have continually broken the Covenant with Yahweh as they await the Messiah, who has yet to come. In this conception, Jews must remain in exile until that Messiah does arrive. Then, and only then, they say, will Yahweh bless the return from exile. So-called “Christian Zionists” trace their doctrines to Protestant evangelical sects that arose in the 19th century. They believe that the re-establishment of Israel fulfils divine prophecy that Christ will return only when the Jews are once again “in-gathered” in Jerusalem. Then Christ will reveal himself as the true long-awaited messiah to the Jews. It should be emphasized that these declarations do not constitute humanitarian concerns about the fate of the Jews since the subsequent chapter of the “Second Coming” is claimed to involve a choice granted by Christ to the Jews: Either convert to Christianity or die! In other words Christian Zionism prophesizes another genocide!
The Israeli victory in the 1967 “Six-Day War,” which brought the West Bank of the Jordan River under Israel’s control, also provided much new ground for archaeological research, initially intended to buttress the ancient scriptures. Ironically, as Sands puts it, the earth itself rebelled against mythhistory. Many Israeli archaeologists thought their finest hour had come as new digs would finally “fuse the ancient nation with its historical homeland, thereby proving the truth of the text.” But excavations instead brought growing anxiety as discoveries forced cracks in the dominant scholarly culture. First to go was the orthodox chronology of the Old Testament. Peoples with practices associated with Judaism did not appear in the region until much later than the time-frame of the scriptures. Moreover, “Israelites” were clearly a small band with close ties to many other Canaanites, and evidence that Sand discusses showed that Jews supposedly living in the region continued to worship pagan gods, as did many other “Semites” outside of whatever boundaries the Israelites claimed. Thus monotheism was hardly universal among Israelites. Research also proved that Canaan was under Egyptian rule during the supposed time of the Exodus. This would mean that Moses would have led the enslaved Hebrews “out of Egypt…to Egypt?” As is well known the Egyptians kept extensive records. If Hebrews had been enslaved in Egypt for four centuries there should be wide-ranging written evidence of that and there is none. The one Egyptian stela that mentions “Israel” refers to the Egyptian pharaoh’s crushing of a rebellion in Canaan in which “Israel” is listed as only one tribe among many others. Babylonian and Assyrian records are quite numerous as well, and depict other great rivals in the region in detail. If the ancient Jewish homeland was as broad and powerful as those who envision a reborn “Eretz Israel” such a mighty kingdom would figure prominently in these accounts and it does not. 
The stories of the patriarchs in the Torah, or Pentateuch as Christians call the first five books of the Old Testament, were written at different times by different authors centuries after the events claimed, who used the tales to shape a national or religious unity when Jews were separating and distinguishing themselves from other Canaanite tribes. Thus, just as “Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar tells us little about ancient Rome but much about England in the late sixteenth century,” so the Bible “is not a narrative that can tell us about the time it describes but is instead an impressive didactic theological discourse as well as possible testimony about the time it was composed.”
Many excavations remain ongoing in Israel today in the attempt to prove the existence of the rich, powerful and extensive kingdom under Kings David and Solomon comprising what many call Eretz Israel. One might suppose that the Book of Solomon describes his empire in detail but it does not. The glory that was Solomon’s Israel is a later embellishment. Sands asserts that a majority of archaeologists and scholars agree that “King Solomon never had grand palaces in which he housed his 700 wives and 300 concubines. The fact that the Bible does not name this large empire strengthens this conclusion. It was late writers who invented and glorified a mighty united kingdom, established by the grace of a single deity.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, currently prime minister of Israel, recently made a speech in which he declared that “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today…Jerusalem is not a settlement.” According to the archaeological record, though, Jerusalem was initiated by pagans who worshipped a god called “Shalem.” The name actually means “place of Shalem.” At the time Jerusalem was first established a people practicing Judaism did not yet exist, and only rarely did later Jews actually rule in the city. Changing hands many times the city was governed by Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Byzantines, European Catholics, Turks, and British to name only the best known. 
Illustrating the tragedy of modern Israel/Palestine Sands makes a profoundly convincing case that the people who are now perceived by many Israelis, American Jews, and many so-called “Christian Zionists,” as illegitimate occupiers of land to which Jews alone are entitled, are really the genetic descendants of the original Jewish inhabitants at the time of the rebellion against Rome that resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple and the foreclosure of Jewish rule in Israel, something that was always tenuous and short-lived given the numerous successive conquerors who occupied and ruled the land far more often than Israelites or Judeans did. There is more to say on the issue of genetics but for now let us note that even Ben Gurion affirmed that the Palestinians were in all likelihood descendants of the original Jewish tribes.
Many will be troubled by this assertion but the historical record is clear that Romans never dissolved entire nations or tribes, nor deported entire populations, not in ancient Israel or elsewhere. Apart from the record the logic is simple. Romans colonized in order to exploit local resources. They needed native inhabitants to grow food and manufacture items for trade primarily to profit Romans, though of course the Romans, like American neo-colonists, also insisted their rule brought prosperity to the exploited too. A prime element of the Zionist and general Jewish narrative holds that at the time of the Bar Kokba Revolt (132 C.E.) the Romans effectively razed Israel to the ground, carrying off the bulk of the population as slaves, or otherwise banishing the rest. It is true that the relatively small number of “zealots” and their families who rebelled against Rome met a grim end, as the legend of Masada asserts, but the fact is that the peasants and artisans constituting the bulk of the population remained engaged in their traditional work. Once the land had been pacified Romans allowed locals throughout the empire to practice their native religions and customs so long as no disloyalty to the emperor surfaced and taxes were paid. And so a majority of the population of Jews continued to live in what the Romans had renamed “Palestine.” They no longer had the temple as their religious center, their high priests were banished, and they were not in control politically, but they remained. They were still there when armies from the Arabian peninsula arrived in the seventh century bringing Islam.
It is also well known that Jews were already dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, by choice, and before that in the Greek world. Thus large Jewish communities existed in every major city like Antioch and Damascus, Alexandria, Athens, and especially Rome itself, well before the anti-Roman revolts. Many Jews throughout the empire possessed Roman citizenship. For example, Saul of Tarsus, known to Christians as St. Paul, suffered beheading in Nero’s persecution of the first Christians, escaping the far more excruciating and ignominious execution by crucifixion, because he possessed Roman citizenship. There is no evidence that Jews outside of Israel objected to what Roman soldiers did in Israel, if they even knew. Many Roman Jews had never seen Jerusalem, and many thought of themselves as Romans, as did the millions of other Romans who practiced every conceivable religion. Importantly, many who practiced Judaism, or identified as Jews, were really converts, not descendants of those original Canaanite tribes, who, for unknown reasons, rejected traditional Canaanite gods and developed a monotheistic religion.
Many Jews today do not believe that Judaism ever proselytized, basically because that is the case today. Yet, many canonical books of the Old Testament such as the Book of Ruth, Second Isaiah, Jonah, and the apocryphal Book of Judith call for Judaism to accept gentiles. While the Book of Deuteronomy is quite severe in its proscription of intermarriage between Jews and gentiles a cursory reading of the Old Testament shows that the most prominent of the Hebrew heroes – Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon- all ignored the ban; thus technically their offspring were not Jewish. The Book of Esther is well known. According to that scripture courtiers of the King of Persia plan a pogrom against the Jews but the Jewish queen, Esther, and her cousin Mordecai, reveal a plot against the king and thus Jews become favored in the realm, leading many Persians to convert to Judaism. Sands quotes the Romanized Jewish historian Josephus to the effect that the Hellenized Jewish kingdom of the Hasmoneans (140-37 BCE) forcibly converted nearby Edomites. Josephus also states that many in the Greek speaking city states like Alexandria and Damascus “have come over to our laws.” He adds “Nay further, the multitude of mankind itself have had a great inclination of a long time to follow our religious observances.” Romans practiced virtually every religion of the empire. Roman historians like Tacitus and Cassius Dio, writers like Juvenal, and theologians like Origen, all noted mass conversions to Judaism. There was controversy among Rabbinical schools during the Talmudic period (beginning about 200 CE). For example one commentator declared that “Proselytes are as injurious to Israel as a scab,” thereby proving their existence. Sand quotes another: “All the proselytes enter Israel, yet Israel is not diminished.” Another statement from the period declares “Whoever brings one living soul into the fold is to be lauded as though he formed and bore him.” Sand does not speculate as to why such widespread conversions occurred but perhaps many Romans turned to Judaism for much the same reason they turned to Christianity. Remember, Christianity began as a reformist Jewish sect. Many denizens of the empire were disaffected by the muddle of gods and pagan immorality and opted for the two religions preaching monotheism and a righteous life. The conversion of Constantine to Christianity, however, marked the decline of Judaism in the Roman world. “When Christianity became the state religion in the early fourth century, it halted the momentum of Judaism’s expansion.” After this point an irreparable split occurred between Christianity and Judaism much to the injury of Jews.
Any religion claiming to worship the “one true God” would seek to convert others. The sheer numbers of Jews already living throughout the ancient Mediterranean basin cannot be accounted for by the slim numbers known to have lived in ancient Israel. Sand shows that in the ancient world Jews did convert many others to their monotheism, and throughout antiquity this often led to different practices distinguishing different groups. The well-known biblical division and conflict between the people of Judea and the Samaritans turned on relatively minor differences in ritual and interpretation of scripture. Even today the Rabbinate in Israel refuses to legitimize many practices of the Jews from North Africa, called “Sephardim,” and Jews from Yemen because their rituals and prayers differ from Ashkenazi orthodoxy. The Rabbinate also refuses to recognize the “Jewishness” of numerous immigrants from Russia today because their mothers cannot prove themselves to be Jewish, the religious and legal criterion. Drawing on accepted historical sources Sand shows that North African Jews are largely the descendants of the indigenous Berbers, and Yemenite Jews were largely converts too, though one can imagine that their original priests and leaders may have been the Canaanite Jews who converted them, especially the Cohanim, or priestly caste, some of whom may well have intermarried with converted women.
Sand also argues persuasively that many Jews, though certainly not all, who remained in Roman Palestine after the destruction of the temple eventually converted to Christianity for practical reasons when the empire itself adopted Christianity as the religion of the realm in the fourth century. Unlike Romans of the early empire, later Christian Romans were extremely intolerant of those who rejected the Christian “savior.”
When Arab armies moved north from the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century CE and conquered Palestine they were tolerant toward the “peoples of the book” i.e. Jews and Christians, but because Muslims alone did not have to pay taxes, many of those who had converted to Christianity, and others who had remained Jews, then converted to Islam. As Sand puts it “Exemption from taxation must have been seen as worth a change of deity, especially as he seemed so much like the former one.” In fact, he adds, the Caliphate was forced to alter this policy when mass conversion threatened to empty the treasury. Nevertheless, many, if not most, Jews, Christians, and Muslims were descended from the original proto-Jews, and remained living with each other in relative tolerance.
Sand draws upon many Israeli historians, including ones known to be committed Zionists and shows that in the early days of pioneer Zionism, before the rise of Palestinian nationalism, “the idea that the bulk of the local population descended from the Judeans was accepted by a good many.” Among these was Ben Gurion himself, who with many other early Zionists once hoped for an “integrationist” Israel in which Jews and fellahin might live together, That dream ended when Palestinians revolted against what they perceived as European colonialism during the period of the British mandate, a division that accelerated and intensified after Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Consider the following from Israel’s founding prime minister.
“The fellahin are not descendants of the Arab conquerors, who captured Eretz Israel and Syria in the seventh century CE. The Arab victors did not destroy the agricultural population they found in the country. They expelled only the alien Byzantine rulers, and did not touch the local population. Nor did the Arabs go in for settlement. Even in their former habitations the Arabs did not engage in farming…their whole interest in the new countries was political, religious and material: to rule, to propagate Islam, and to collect taxes…the Jewish farmer, like any other farmer, was not easily torn from his soil…Despite the repression and suffering the rural population remained unchanged.” 
Such statements from so exalted a source as David Ben Gurion very much call into question the widely held faith that Jews had been long gone from Israel since the time of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, or that Jews would never convert to another religion..
Ben Gurion’s co-author in the statement above, Yitzak Ben Zvi, a rock-ribbed Zionist, later wrote that “The great majority of the fellahin do not descend from the Arab conquerors, but before that, from the Jewish fellahin, who were the foundation of this country before its conquest by Islam.” 
What else then are the fellahin but the descendants of ancient Jews who chose to convert to Islam? Does that choice negate their ancient claim to the land on which they have resided for millennia?
Sand marshals linguistic and philological evidence such as the fact that “many Hebrew place names remain, unlike the Greek and Roman names meant to replace them.” Again he quotes Ben Gurion: “The entire biblical terminology of Eretz Israel remains alive.” Moreover, the local dialect is “strewn with Hebrew and Aramaic words” distinguished from other Arab vernaculars. Jews and Muslims are buried in many older cemeteries. Importantly, the Palestinian populace does not see itself as Arabic. To them the Bedouin are the Arabs. They refer to themselves as the “fellahin.” Ben Gurion and Ben Zvi also argued that “the entire biblical terminology of Eretz Israel remains alive… as it had been, in the speech of the fellah population, adding that some 210 Palestinian villages still retained old Hebrew names and many fellahin practiced, in addition to Muslim law, a code of “fellahin laws” known as the “laws of the patriarch Abraham.”
One of the Zionist founders of Israel, Israel Belkind, wrote that “The historians are accustomed to say that after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the Jews were scattered all over the world and no longer inhabited their country. But, this too, is a historical error, which must be removed and the true facts discovered.” According to Sands, Belkind believed that he and his fellow pioneers were meeting “ a good many of our own people, our own flesh and blood.” In 1967 the founder of the Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, Abraham Polak, wrote an essay entitled “The origins of the Arabs of the Country,” in which he argued that there was “considerable likelihood that Judeans did convert to Islam,” and urged that scientific study be devoted to this issue. His article was met with hostility and no university took up his challenge.
Sand devotes an entire chapter to the investigation of scholarship concerning the conversion of Yemenis to Judaism and of many Berbers of the Mahgreb (North Africa). When Arab armies conquered these areas they found numerous Jews, who, like Jews elsewhere in the Caliphate, were allowed to continue to practice their religion. Berbers may be the descendants of the ancient Phoenicians who settled Carthage and whose language was related to that of the Old Testament and who also practiced ritual circumcision. Thus conversion to Judaism would not have been a radical departure from existing beliefs and customs. Consequently many of these Judaized Berbers were among the Muslim armies that entered Spain in 711 CE, and who subsequently planted a large Jewish presence there. These Sephardim were hated by the Spanish Christian population precisely because they collaborated with the Arab Muslims in the conquest of the Iberian peninsula, and, of course, that was one major reason they were expelled or forced to convert to Christianity in the 15th century when Spain and Portugal achieved independence. Many of these Sephardim later settled in the Netherlands, and became the source of the so-called “German Jews”
And then there is the matter of the Khazars. Interestingly, the Khazar king was known as the Kagan (today a well known Eastern European Jewish surname) and surviving documents prove that Khazars spoke a “Hunnic-Bulgar” language but wrote it in Hebrew script. Khazar elites also had Hebrew names. It is not altogether clear why the Khazars converted but analyzing a considerable body of evidence Sand concludes, “The desire to remain independent in the face of mighty grasping empires- the Orthodox Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Muslim Caliphate- impelled the rulers of Khazaria to adopt Judaism as a defensive ideological weapon.”
In the early thirteenth century the Mongol invasion “swept up everything in its path and wrecked the political, cultural, and even economic morphologies of all of Western Asia and Eastern Europe” causing a mass exodus of numerous different peoples. The Khazars “advanced into the western Ukraine and hence to Polish and Lithuanian territories.”
In 1976 Arthur Koestler published a highly controversial book entitled The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and its Heritage, and argued that most Central and Eastern European Jews descend, not from Judeans, but from a Turkic people who occupied an extensive kingdom in what is now southern Russia and the Crimea. Jewish himself, Koestler was immediately attacked despite the fact that many Jewish scholars had long studied and known about this Jewish kingdom, because such knowledge flatly contradicted the essential Zionist message that all Jews today are descendants of the primordial Jews of ancient Israel and Judea. Koestler uttered what had become taboo:
“The large majority of surviving Jews in the world is of Eastern European-and thus perhaps mainly of Khazar origin. If so this would mean that their ancestors came not from the Jordan but from the Volga, not from Canaan but from the Caucasus, once believed to be the cradle of the Aryan race; and that genetically they are more closely related to the Hun, Uigur, and Magyar tribes than to the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Should this turn out to be the case then the term “anti-Semitism” would become void of meaning, based on a misapprehension shared by both the killers and their victims.” 
Koestler was well aware that he was treading dangerous ground and insisted that his argument by no means constituted a denial of Israel’s right to exist. Rather than being grounded in hypothetical origins or a mythological covenant between God and Abraham, he maintained that the Israeli state “exists de jure and de facto and cannot be undone except by genocide.” 
To which Sand responds:
“But it was no use. In the 1970s Israel was caught up in the momentum of territorial expansion, and without the Old Testament in its hand and the “exile” of the Jewish people in its memory, it would have had no justification for annexing Arab Jerusalem, and establishing settlements in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and even the Sinai Peninsula. The writer who was able in his classic novel Darkness at Noon to crack the Communist enigma did not understand that the Zionist enigma was caught up in the mythology of an eternal “ethnic” time. Nor did he foresee that the post-1967 Zionists would resemble the Stalinists in their response- both saw him as an irredeemable traitor.”
Koestler was, of course, scorned and pilloried viciously by Israeli and American scholars and journalists but to do so they had to expunge from memory a vast corpus of Jewish scholarship that effectively buttressed Koestler’s case. One such scholar is Salo Baron, whom Sand describes as “Israel’s high priest of memory in the 1950s.”
But before and after the Mongol upheaval the Khazars sent many offshoots into the unsubdued Slavonic lands, helping ultimately to build up the great Jewish centers of Eastern Europe…together with these arrivals from Germany and the Balkans they began laying the foundations for a Jewish community, which especially in sixteenth century Poland, outstripped all the other contemporary areas of Jewish settlement in population density as well as in economic and cultural power.
Sand adds that readers today might be astonished to hear a Jewish scholar of Baron’s repute describe Khazaria as the “diaspora mother, the mother of one of the greatest of the diasporas- of Israel in Russia, Lithuania, and Poland.” 
Though numerous and respected Jewish scholars from Eastern Europe and Israel devoted much study to the subject of the Khazars, Sand says that since 1951 the subject has been all but verboten. “Any mention of the Khazars in the public arena in Israel came to be tagged as eccentric, freakish, and even menacing…There was anxiety about the legitimacy of the Zionist project, should it become widely known that the settling Jewish masses were not the direct descendents of the “Children of Israel”- such de-legitimization might lead to a broad challenge against the State of Israel’s right to exist.”
Sand then moves to an extended discussion of Zionism’s relationship to the nationalisms that arose in 19th century Europe as one response to modernity. As he puts it: For the Jewish nationalists, “Judaism ceased to be a rich and varied religious culture and turned into something hermetic, like the German Volk or the Polish and Russian Narod, though with the unique characteristic that it comprised an alien, wandering people, unrelated to the territories it inhabited.”
This was partly a response to the assimilationism throughout Western Europe where many Jews were rapidly becoming secularized and identifying themselves as citizens of Germany or France. Yet this phenomenon was compromised by growing anti-Semitism. Just as European nationalists resorted to “race theory” so did the emerging Zionists. Sand quotes Nathan Birnbaum, whom he identifies as “perhaps the first Zionist intellectual” [He coined the term “Zionism” in 1890]:
“You cannot explain a people’s particular mental and emotional distinction except by means of natural studies. ‘Race is all’ said our great fellow national Lord Beaconsfield [Benjamin Disraeli]. The distinction of the people stems from the distinction of the race. The variety of the races accounts for the great diversity of nations…it is this difference which explained why the German created the Song of the Nibelungun and the Jew the Bible.” 
As late as the 1930s the leader of radical Zionist revisionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky, could say “And I persist in this view. The sense of national identity is inherent in every man’s ‘blood,’” or later”…in the final analysis when all its shells arising from history, the climate, natural surroundings, and outside influences, have been removed the ‘nation’ is reduced to its racial kernel.” 
After World War II, as racialism was revealed as racism and as biology disproved the very existence of “race,” the emerging science of genetics was marshaled in pursuit of the exclusive “Jewish gene,” in Israeli universities and research institutes though this soon came up against difficulties such as why Ashkenazis suffered from specific diseases such as Tay-Sachs that were unknown to Yemenite or North African Jews. Scientific battles raged. One of the very first forays into genetics (actually eugenics) came in 1911 in an article published by a British biologist and Zionist in which he claimed that the reason that Ashkenazis were “fair” and Sephardim “swarthy” is that the latter have mixed far more with their neighbors. As for the Yemenite Jews, “they are not Jews. They are black, with an elongated skull, Arab half-castes…the true Jew is the European Ashkenazi, and I support him against all the others.” 
One study claimed to show that two-thirds of Palestinians and the same proportion of Jews shared the same three male ancestors 8,000 years ago. This was anathema to Zionist orthodoxy so a year later another study maintained that such a genetic affinity did not really exist. Yet another focusing on mitochondrial DNA claimed that Ashkenazi males descended from the Middle East but that the origin of their wives could not be accounted this way. Since mitochondrial DNA derives only from the female side, and “Jewishness” must be endowed by the mother, this proved problematic to efforts to confirm Jewish genetic solidity. Genetics may someday unlock secrets of human origins but, as Sand shows, it is not yet free from ulterior designs. More than a few Israeli scientists argue that ideology has trumped scientific methodology when it comes to “proving” the genetic exclusivity of Jews. 
Perhaps comparative genetic studies would resolve the matter. Numerous ossuaries from ancient Israel-Palestine exist and genetic material is undoubtedly available from that past. Such a study could compare the DNA of ancient inhabitants of the region with current “Arab Palestinians” and then with Ashkenazim. Genetic studies of African Americans are showing the exact regions from whence their ancestors came. One might think that similar studies among other groups would show similar evidence.
At this stage of inquiry most scientists agree that there is no such thing as “race” or even ethnic exclusivity. Any group claiming such would have had to be isolated from others for a very long duration and that state of affairs has simply not existed throughout the evolution of humans. Sand agrees with the many Jewish geneticists and biologists he quotes that there is no more basis for ethnic unity among Jews than among Muslims, or Christians. “The bottom line is that for all the ‘scientific endeavors,’ a Jewish individual cannot be defined by any biological criteria whatsoever.” At this juncture of history, needless to say, the hatreds generated by the division of Israel/Palestine militate against either side envisioning the “other” as congenital relatives even though their own scriptures note the descent of Jews and Arabs from one patriarch, Isaac. Serious genetic studies perhaps would settle the matter once and for all though one doubts proof of any degree of consanguinity would matter to either side at this date.
So based on disproven racist rationales of the early twentieth century and dubious science today, the Israeli founders, and all governments since, nevertheless fostered the “ethnos state.” Even though Israel’s Declaration of Establishment asserts that the new state will foster its development “for all its inhabitants” this simply isn’t true for “Arabs” within Israel’s official boundaries, who possess second-class citizenship at best, whereas those in the occupied territories posses no guarantees whatever. So Israel’s claim to be “democratic” is undeniably vitiated. As noted, the First Arab-Israeli War served as the perfect opportunity to expel most of the Palestinian inhabitants, and calls for the further expulsion of the rest remain constant from Israel’s right-wing parties. Certainly if we compare Israeli “democracy” to the same claim of the United States we see a key difference. American “democracy” claims to protect the equal rights of minorities (something from which American Jews have certainly benefited, though far less so for others, like African-Americans and Hispanics) while Israel asserts that it is a Jewish state for Jews alone. In response to the “population bomb” of a rapidly increasing Palestinian population, Israel went so far as to amend its “Law of Return” to allow about a million immigrant Russians into the country, even though officials knew that at least 300,000 of them could not be considered Jewish under secular and rabbinical law.
Finally, Sand declares that “the ideal project for solving the century-long conflict and sustaining the closely woven existence of Jews and Arabs would be creation of a democratic bi-national state. Further, he states that Israel must develop a policy of “democratic multiculturalism-similar to that of the United Kingdom or the Netherlands.”
The United Kingdom as a paradigm might seem not so far-fetched. For centuries the “English” (i.e. those who pretended to Anglo-Saxon purity) waged incessant war with the “Scots” and the “Welsh.” These peoples spoke different languages, and observed different religious dogma and customs, but they were almost certainly related genetically, in some cases closely, in others not so closely, as a result of the incessant invasions of the island over millennia, and intermarriage between numerous and diverse tribes who nevertheless had a keen interest in staving off as much violence as possible via intermarriage. Except for each’s regional accent can anyone glance at a Scot or Briton and claim to tell the difference? The UK functions with plenty of autonomy exercised by the “non-English.” The alternative was endless bloodshed. Nevertheless, the process took centuries. It would seem that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now too explosive for such a lengthy duration, especially given the upcoming vote in the United Nations General Assembly for Palestinian statehood and the almost certain likelihood of its veto by the United States in the Security Council. The lethality of modern weapons can produce a bloodbath.
However, and ironically, the UK, and Netherlands, and Scandinavia as the recent horrors in Norway attest, are seeing a dangerous resurgence of the same sort of nationalism that produced the Holocaust, only this time it is directed at a different religion or “ethic” peoples, some of them “Semitic.”
In Israel’s case many Sephardim or Yemenite Jews are indistinguishable in physical terms from Palestinians and often suffer discrimination for this reason. I once had a student of Yemeni Jewish background who said he identifies now as an “Arab” because of the discrimination his family faced in Israel. Some Ashkenazis have relationships with “Arabs” and mixed marriages, while extremely opposed by authorities, do take place -as has always been the case since the dawn of the human species.
Because he sees a bi-national state in which Jews and Palestinians learn to live, if not together, then as equals co-governing the same space as the only hope for his homeland, Sand advocates that the Hok Hashevut, the Law of Return, be abolished and argues that this may be the only means by which the Jewish character of the state may be maintained. No Diaspora Jew would have an automatic right of return, nor could any Palestinians living in their own diaspora. Sand argues that to rectify the plight of the Palestinian refugees the Jewish National Fund should return the 130,000 hectares of land either seized or bought for symbolic amounts from Palestinians as the “primary capital from which to compensate” them but nevertheless allow those who wish to return to the ancient homeland to do so if not upon the exact lots they were forced to abandon.
Sand knows that his proposal appears today as “fantastic and utopian.” Yet there is still room for hope. On January 21 of this year thousands of Israelis marched in the streets chanting “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” One thinks of the “good Germans’ who decried Nazi race laws! Can the hatreds and distrust that have taken root and seemingly become endemic be overcome in such a fashion as Sand proposes? If not what does the future hold? “If the nation’s history was mainly a dream, why not begin to dream its future afresh, before it becomes a nightmare?”
Sand’s remarkable and courageous study has not received nearly as much attention in this country as it has in Israel where it remained on the best seller list for nineteen weeks. This is curious since domestically the issue of U.S. policies toward Israel has long been highly contentious. One suspects the hand of a subtle and insidious censorship at work.
I have never seen any indication that Israel intends to allow an independent Palestinian state to come into existence. Nor does the historical record show such an intention. Consider the Israeli Historian Benny Morris’s expose of the motives of the Ben Gurion government at the time of Israel’s establishment and the first Arab-Israeli war that followed. Morris shows indisputably that the new Israeli state used the war to cleanse as many Palestinians as possible from the territory mandated by the UN, and committed acts that by any definition would be categorized as terroristic, exactly the opposite of the myth that Palestinians fled because of the “natural” conditions of war and at the urging of Palestinian leaders. He documents atrocities of every kind including mass murder and rape of helpless women and the result was the expulsion of about 700,000 Palestinians into permanent refugee status. The motive for such crimes against humanity? No Jewish state could exist in the middle of so many “Arabs.” The crimes and ethnic cleansing were plentifully justified by Ben Gurion but according to Morris they didn’t go far enough. Israel missed the most golden opportunity of all; the opening existed to rid every Palestinian from the land authorized for Israel as well as to annex the land sanctioned for Palestine itself. Morris’s revelations shocked the Israeli public but he was reviled mainly because he revealed these dark and previously concealed secrets not because they were considered atrocious. In an interview with Ha’aretz Morris further justified this ethnic cleansing by noting the fact that the United States had come into existence in exactly the same way.
If we take many of Israel’s architects’ words at face value we find that the recapture of “Eretz Israel,” was always at the forefront of their vision. As early as 1921, Aaron David Gordon, one of the principal founders of the Israeli Labor Party, stated categorically:
For Eretz Israel we have a charter that has been valid until now and will always be valid, and that is the Bible…including the Gospels and the New Testament…it all came from us: it was created among us…And what did the Arabs produce in all the years they lived in the country. Such creations, or even the creation of the Bible alone, give us a perpetual right over the land in which we were so creative… 
Reacting to the Twentieth Zionist Congress in 1937 Ben Gurion wrote:
“The Jewish people have always regarded, and will continue to regard Palestine as a whole, as a single country which is theirs in a national sense and will become theirs once again. No Jew will accept partition as a just and rightful solution.” 
Speaking at the Congress Ben Gurion stated:
“If I had been faced with the question: a Jewish state in the west of the land of the land of Israel in return for giving up our historical right to the entire land of Israel I would have postponed the establishment of the state. No Jew is entitled to give up the right of the Jewish people to the land…Even if at any point, the Jews choose to decline it, they have no right to deprive future generations of it. Our right to the entire land exists and stands for ever.” 
But Ben Gurion became faced with just such a decision in 1947. At that time, speaking as Israel’s first prime minister he said:
“I am satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state…we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole land of Israel.” 
The historical record since these words were spoken is absolutely clear. That is exactly what every Israeli government has attempted to accomplish.
The slogan “Congress is Israeli occupied territory” has become a not-so-amusing cliché by now but underscores what many Americans see as a disturbing mystery. Why does American policy support Israel virtually unconditionally while paying mere lip service to Palestinian nationhood? Even General David Petraeus, formerly the supreme commander in occupied Afghanistan, now head of the Central Intelligence Agency, declared recently that such knee-jerk support for Israel feeds anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab and Muslim world that endangers Americans. By implication, American policymakers and legislators seem to agree with many Israelis that Palestinian Muslims and Christians are illegitimate interlopers in the “promised land.”
Washington decided on its alliance with Israel as a Cold War strategy against Soviet influence among Arab and Muslim states but also as another measure to thwart Arab nationalism. In this latter effort both the U.S. and Israel cultivated Islamists in the hope that this would weaken Arab nationalist regimes. Obviously this has backfired tremendously to cite only the case of many mujahideen recruited by the CIA against the Soviets in the 1980s morphing into Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Israel too sought to undermine the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) by aiding the Islamist organization Hamas and now claims that Hamas is the greatest obstacle to peace. Recently, however, Hamas declared that if a majority of Palestinians by consensus decided for an independent state on pre-1967 borders it would abide by that decision, even though that territory would be considerably smaller than the original U.N. mandate. All Israeli governments have opposed the very demand for an independent Palestine as the greatest obstacle to peace.
The mounting number of Israeli settlements on territory that is supposed to comprise the Palestinian state, and the continuing eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem are rendering the original intent of the United Nations mandate of 1947 all but null and void, never mind the issue of the return of those expelled in many wars since 1948. Despite verbiage to the effect that the U.S. honestly seeks to broker peace and bring about a Palestinian state, in reality its actions amount to cynical theater and makes the U.S. complicit in this charade.
Last year President Barack Obama demanded a halt to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to which Netanyahu answered by increasing permits for Jewish settlement on land that is supposed to be the independent state of Palestine. As is well known the United States provides Israel with the most foreign aid of any nation, though it is among the smallest, as well as separate military aid. Israel’s nuclear weapons are an open secret about which the U.S. winks and nods. Many Israelis and Jews abroad note the threats of extremists to drive Israel “into the sea” but Israel’s conventional weapons alone make it the most militarily powerful state in the region, perfectly capable of providing for its own defense, even if all other Arab nations decided to attack at once, though that is more than unlikely. As is also well known, most Arab nations (despite the so-called “Arab Spring.”) are still governed by dictators and autocrats who are also propped up by U.S. aid, economic, military or both, and which have long since ceased to call for Israel’s destruction. Indeed, Saudi Arabia would bless an Israeli attack on Iran! While it was the UN itself that made Israel’s very existence possible, Israel, with American blessing, is the all time champion violator of UN resolutions demanding that it withdraw from illegally occupied Palestinian land and adhere to international law; something to which the US merely and egregiously pays lip service as it continually vetoes any international attempts to rein in Israel’s expansion. When the UN divided British Palestine in 1947 it accorded about 44 percent of the territory to what was supposed to become the new nation of Palestine. As a result of Israeli settlements in the West Bank only about half (22 percent) of the original land allotted remains, and this is shrinking daily and with indisputable American collusion.
As this piece is being written many nations which had previously abstained from officially recognizing Palestine as a state are now doing so. The Palestinian Authority, defying the U.S., has requested the U.N. Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements as a precursor to a UN vote in the near future officially endorsing such a state. However, documents recently published by Al Jazeera show that the PLO has been willing to give up claims against major Israeli settlements in the West Bank, moves that will undoubtedly be viewed as a sellout by the Palestinian people, and undermine what little credibility the PLO has left. Yet at the same time these documents show that Israel has had a far more compromising “partner” in the so-called peace process than it has ever admitted. But compromise is not what Israeli governments have wanted; the surrender of the Palestinian territories is. Meanwhile, though the U.S. position publicly has always been that the settlements are illegal, the Obama administration has indicated it will veto the U.N. measures just as all American governments have at least since the end of the 1967 Six-Day War and thereby block UN efforts to recognize Palestinian statehood.
The state of Palestine seems increasingly impossible to come into existence unless something changes radically, perhaps on the order of the prescription with which Sand concludes. After all the original Zionists, despite their oft condemned slogan, “For a people without land, a land without people,” knew that Palestinians numbered about 450,000 at the dawn of the 20th century, and envisioned a bi-national state in which Jews and Arabs would be equals. Reality has undermined utopian logic. Yet if conditions do not change the entire region faces a far bloodier and destructive future, all the more ominous with Israel’s introduction of nuclear weapons. The emergence of suicide bombers is obviously of great concern yet this extreme phenomenon underscores the depths of growing despair among Palestinians. To what length will such assaults reach? The intensifying tension between Israel and Iran, deeply connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of Iran’s military support for both Hezbollah and Hamas, is among the three major “flash points” on earth today where a nuclear attack exists (India/Pakistan and the Korean peninsula are the others). Let us soberly take note of Seymour Hersh’s almost forgotten expose of Israel’s “Samson option” whereby, if Israeli officials believe the state is faced with destruction, Israel stands ready to vaporize each and every perceived enemy it can reach. These are grave matters and no one can predict the outcomes but at every juncture the potential for disaster is looming…and not only for the Middle East.
 See David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews (New York, The New Press, 2007)
 Yitzhak Baer, Galut ,New York, Schocken Books, 1947, 11, quoted in Sands, 101.
 Sand draws upon, Israel Finklestein and Neil Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, New York, The Free Press, 2001, 105-113.
 There has been speculation that the ancient Egyptian word “HabirU” refers to the Hebrews. According to one source the term had no common ethnic affiliations, that these people spoke no common language, and that they normally led a marginal and sometimes lawless existence on the fringes of settled society. Another source claims that attempts to relate the Egyptian word to the ancient Hebrew word “ibri” have come to nothing. See, Carol F. Redmount, “Bitter Lives: Israel in and Out of Egypt,” in Michael D. Coogan, ed., The Oxford History of the Biblical World, Oxford University Press, 1999, 98. Also, Anson F. Rainey, “Unruly Elements in Late Bronze Canaanite Society,” in David P. Wright et al, Pomegranates and Golden Bells, Ann Arbor, Eisenbrauns, 1995, 483.
 www.juancole.com/2010/03/top , “ten reasons East Jerusalem does not belong to Jewish Israelis”
 See Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell, 2009, Yale University Press, 35-36.
 David Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Eretz Israel in the Past and the Present ,Jerusalem, Ben Zvi, 1979 (in Hebrew) 198. Quoted in Sand, 185-186.
 Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Our Population in the Country, The Executive Committee of the Youth Alliance and the JNF, 1929 (in Hebrew). Quoted in Sand, 187.
 Arthur Koestler, The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage, London, Hutchinson, 1976, 17,. Quoted in Sand, 239.
 Koestler, 223. Quoted in Sand, 239.
 Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Political History of the Jews, Vol. 3, New York, Columbia University Press, 1952, 206. Quoted in Sand, 242.
 From “Nationalism and Language,” in Joachim Doron, The Zionist Thinking of Nathan Birnbaum, The Zionist library, 1988, 177. Quoted in Sand, 257.
 Ze’ev Jabotinsky, in Selected Writings: Exile and Assimilation, Tel Aviv, Shlomo Zaltzman, 1936, (in Hebrew) 143-144, Quoted in Sand, 261.
 In Gideon Shimoni, The Zionist Ideology, Brandeis University Press, 1995, 240; Quoted in Sand, 261.
 Redcliffe Nathan Salaman, “The Heredity of the Jews,” Journal of Genetics, 1911. Quoted in Sand, 267.
 See Nurit Kirsh, “Population Genetics in Israel in the 1950s: The Internalization of Ideology,” ISIS, Journal of the History of Science 94 (2003) 631-55.
 Alain F. Corcos, The Myth of Human Races ( East Lansing, MI, Michigan State University Press) 1997
 Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2008.
 Zeev Sternhell, The Founding Myths of Israel, Princeton University Press, 1999, 71-72.
 Norman Finklestein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, London, Verso, 2003, 10-11.
 Ibid, 102-103
 Nur Masalha, The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Thought, 1882-1948, Washington, D.C., Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992. 107.
 Seymour Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, New York, Random House, 1991.
October 9, 2012
The author was born in Israel and now resides in western Massachusetts. He was educated at Hebrew University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Yeshiva University. While a graduate student he provided valuable assistance to Professor David Wyman for his major work The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945.
(Meow) A cat has a thousand dreams, all about mice.
(A Palestinian Arab proverb)
First heard in Jerusalem at a conversation with Abram Sorramello, 1970.
Dedicated to Dianne (DD) and her cats, which
had difficulties catching mice.
THE CAT (Meow) AND THE ROOSTER (Cock-a-doode-doo):
THE INVENTION OF SHLOMO SAND (ZAND) AS A RESPONSIBLE Israeli, patented thinker,and gifted israeli Historian
By: ELIYHO (MEOW) MATZ
In New York City many years ago, I used to visit Hillel Kook and Samuel Merlin at their east-side office, sometimes several times a week. It was the end of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I was a student, and my studies on America and the Holocaust were near their end. Our topic of conversation focused on the future of the Israelis, as a modern people who achieved sovereignty in 1948. As a result of these conversations, I became aware of the fundamental issues relating to Israeli political identity that bothered these two elderly individuals, who mainly spoke of this grand missed opportunity for the Israelis to have become a modern people and a new nation with a written constitution, i.e., a constitution for all Israelis within its territorial sovereignty (not a constitution for New York Jews). They spoke about an Israeli Republic, or, as they called it in the 1940’s, a Hebrew Republic. Critical for them was the issue of an Israeli political identity, versus the old issues of “Jewishness.” They were brilliant thinkers. Talking to them, I first grasped the beginning of what was to become my own intellectual approach to a different way of looking into Israeli society, and at Jews wherever they reside. Their main argument was, since Israel never wrote a constitution defining itself, the political identity of the Israelis is totally unclear, and thus for a nation this omission causes a variety of political as well as personal crises of identity.
This array of anomalies, internally or externally, very few Israeli historians till today understand. Not in any way do I suggest that Professor Sand is immersed in these issues of Israeli political identity. However, in his second book, The Invention of the Land of Israel, he most profoundly attempts to explain to the Israelis and to the world Israeli ideas, as well as critical Israeli and Jews’ history. His writing tilts between Tolstoilean narrative to Isaiah Berlin’s literary and historical criticism, and to great effect, Professor Sand is profound in his approach to straightening out the outline of Israeli and Jew’s history.
I met with Professor Shlomo Sand (Zand, in Hebrew) twice, both times on the campus of Tel Aviv University. We had punctuated exchanges, primarily about his thoughts on the subject matter of his research, as well as some exchange of ideas on the history of Jews. He is an original: a leftist Israeli sort of a thinker who has presented a Classical interpretation of history from the point of view of neither left nor right, thus avoiding a history that is totally twisted, inaccurate and misleading. A historian’s task is to present facts, and the interpretation of facts, which might lead to “History” or “Philosophy.” In my view, Professor Sand (Zand) is thus not exactly a Leftist. To me, he can better be defined as a very concerned Israeli. In a nutshell, he is an Israeli patriot, as well as a thoughtful historian who has researched the history of nations. His expertise lies in his attempt to explain to the Israelis as well as the worlds’ readers the misconception of the generic term “nationality,” any nationality. To me, his uncompromising attempt to explore Jews’ history dating back to ancient times is not only absolutely courageous, but also essential for the future of the Israeli nation, as well as for lives of Jews wherever they reside.
In order to explain a bit of Professor Sand’s (Zand’s) book on Jews’ history as a cultural religious phenomenon, I have to take a turn first to relate or explain some other issues I have encountered over the past forty years dealing with Jews’ history. My attempt to understand myself as a Jew and an Israeli, as well as Israeli history and the history of Jews, began at an early age, and it was not until I completed my MA at Yeshiva University in New York City that I gained a bit of a better understanding of Jews’ history. Looking carefully at Jews’ recorded history, we have been around for at least 2½ thousand years, if not more. My first encounters with the difficulty of explaining the history of Jews came when I was writing my Master’s thesis at Yeshiva University. The subject of my research was an analysis of the initial response of the American Jewish leadership to the massacre of European Jewry between November 1942 and April 1943. The idea to work on this project was conceived at the University of Massachusetts. My professor Dr. David S. Wyman, who taught modern American history, was at that time involved in an attempt to unravel the FDR Administration’s response to the Holocaust. My research for him was eventually incorporated into his book The Abandonment of the Jews published in 1984. From the beginning his book was, and will continue to be, a profound contribution to Holocaust studies. To me personally he was helpful, but perhaps not respectful enough academically. In the course of our work together, Dr. Wyman introduced me to Hillel Kook (a.k.a. Peter Bergson) and Samuel Merlin. In America during the Holocaust, Kook and Merlin carried on their shoulders the burden of responsibility to stand for the rescue of the dying Jews of Europe during the Holocaust years in America. Various books and movies have been made about them; their activities during the Holocaust demand a good history. Politically, they belonged to the right wing of Zionism, Jabotinsky’s political camp. In reality, they were members of the proto-Israeli group called the “Irgun” (an explanation of this term will follow). As a young Israeli, born on September 15, 1948, growing up I had absolutely no inkling about them, nor had I heard or learned about their activities, because the history of their activities during WWII was not taught in any public schools or universities in Israel. But to my great benefit, I ended up working at their office in New York City while finishing up my MA, as well as while attempting to write my PhD at the Graduate Center of City University.
Here I am going to step back a bit again to introduce another individual who made and impact in my life. He, too, was connected to research on the Holocaust. While I was working on my MA and PhD, I became acquainted with S. Beit-Zvi. “S” stood for “Shabtai,” and “Zvi” was the name of his son who was killed while fighting in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. We first met at his home in Tzahala, a suburb of Tel Aviv , where he lived with his wife. He was in his 70’s at that time, a former teacher, and the author of a book on the Zionist leadership during the Holocaust. Remarkably, he was not a trained historian, but he had the mind of an historian, and as a matter of fact, his book, which criticizes the Palestinian/Zionist leadership during the Holocaust years, has today become a mainstream Israeli history book. But that was not so in 1976 when the book was published, and it took years to sink into the Israeli historical mind. In recent years his book has emerged as a contender to Yad Vashem’s official Holocaust history. Beit-Zvi and I met many times in Tel Aviv and in New York, and we developed an excellent relationship that lasted until he died. The main argument of his book is: the Zionist movement was not really focused on saving European Jewry. Self-published after years of research by one who was not exactly an historian, Beit-Zvi’s book initially was a total failure. The universities, as well as Yad Vashem, banned him. But he had one strong supporter –me — and we understood each other very well. My MA confirms what he wrote. We shared conversations as well as letters in a relationship that lasted for many years. Politically speaking, Shabtai’s work should have shaken up the Israeli political leadership, but that did not happen. As a matter of fact, it is still not happening. The fact that Ben Gurion and his cronies did not do much to save European Jews during the Holocaust is still an issue that haunts Yad Vashem as well as every Israeli government until today.
While in New York, Hillel Kook introduced me to an Israeli philosopher, Gershon Weiler, who then in the 1970’s was a visiting professor at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. He was a very interesting person, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary who after WWII came to Israel as a Zionist. But as his life developed, he became influenced by the Canaanite movement. Intellectually, the Canaanites advocated the interaction of Israelis into the region, that is the Middle East. He was a learned man in philosophy, as well as in Jewish studies, and had written a book which was published in 1976, the same year that Beit-Zvi published his book. However, Weiler had the backing of a very respectful publisher, Am Oved. In his book, titled Jewish Theocracy, Weiler’s basic and most fundamental argument was that Jewish theology inherently stands against the establishment of a modern Israeli nation. The book is a scholarly attempt to explain that concept. Weiler was brokenhearted: his book, while contradicting Zionist political theories and challenging Israeli political theory vis-à-vis religion and nation, was ostracized and criticized and basically led to the end of his career as a lecturer. I met him a few times in New York, in Tel Aviv, and at his home in Rechovot. He was a broken man. Israelis could not understand what he had written, and besides, Israeli society was moving swiftly into the realm of political fantasy and deep religious swings, so nobody paid any attention to him or his book. His book was later translated into English, but his message was never understood both by intellectuals nor the public.
I was born in Tel Aviv on September 15, 1948, and grew up in Rishon LeZion. As a curious kid, I read a lot. I am not suggesting by any means that I understood better than others what I read, but I read a lot, and as a matter of fact, I aspired to become a writer of some sort, but I was not sure exactly how to achieve that goal; at the ripe age of 64, I am still not sure how to make that work. But more important, Rishon LeZion is the birthplace of modern Hebrew. It is the place where, for the first time in 3000 years of Jews’ history, the “Rishonim” opened up a kindergarten and primary school where Hebrew was taught in Hebrew (rather than as a translation from some other language) as early as the 1890’s. Of course, Hebrew used as a text material existed for thousands of years, but, as a spoken everyday language it was only first practiced in Rishon LeZion. And it was complicated. For fifty years after the beginning of modern Hebrew in Rishon, when a million and a half Jews arrived in Israel, and thousands of them came to Rishon, among them my parents, when Israeli independence started, those immigrants spoke Yiddish or other languages, and the newly developing Hebrew became even more complicated. My teachers, with all best intentions, did not speak proper Hebrew. So I, the Israeli-born Sabra, whose parents’ Hebrew was only mediocre, whose teachers’ Hebrew likewise was difficult to grasp…, no wonder I had difficulties learning and understanding via the broken Hebrew that I was surrounded by. Math and Physics were difficult enough for me, but to try to study them in Hebrew with teachers who did not speak proper Hebrew – I was lost. This school system simply did not fit my needs. Consequently, I left high school. After completing my high school degree on my own, it was only after my three years of military service that I returned to school, enrolling at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. What a thrill it was for me when I took a course in Israeli Hebrew Literature with Professor Gershon Shaked! Many years later I became familiar with the work of Professor Paul Wexler and his student Ghil’ad Zukermann and their analysis of our current status of Israeli Hebrew. According to them, the DNA of modern Hebrew is recycled Yiddish. Thus, the difficulties Israelis have in expressing themselves in recycled Yiddish. I am reminded of the Israeli joke about a man who just got married and immediately afterwards takes his wife to the Western Wall. When his friends ask him why, he replies, “I want her to learn how to talk to the wall” — in Hebrew, ledaber eim hakeer, which is a direct translation utilizing the Yiddish expression, red tzu de vant. In another example, when a clerk at a local store in Queens that sells Israeli products asks his customer how much cheese to give her, the Israeli-American woman answers, “I vont a little bit….” In Hebrew, ani rotza k’tzat…; in Yiddish ich vil abis’l. Nu? Let us imagine Ludwig Wittgenstein visiting Rishon LeZion in the 1930’s, trying to confirm his theories on language and uncertainty. I cannot imagine a more thrilling situation for Wittgenstein – he probably would have written a thousand-page book on the invention of the new Hebrew (Yiddish) language. Next, imagine if you come from Morocco or Iraq and you try to express yourself in Hebrew (i.e., Yiddish Hebrew) — it is almost a farce. How to solve the Israeli problem of self-expression will take a long time.
Another cardinal issue relating to understanding the Hebrew language in modern times is demonstrated in the use of the term “leumi.” For example, the organization “Irgun Tzvai Leumi,” was established during the end of the 1920’s into the early 1930’s in Jerusalem and disbanded in 1948. Irgun means “organization,” Tzvai means “military,” and Leumi means “nationality.” The question is, what “nationality” were they referring to? Most Israelis would say, “Jewish.” But, that cannot be, because nationality as a political concept has never been politically defined, and to me the political definition of Israeli nationality represents the quintessential issue of Israeli survival; otherwise, we cannot hope to endure in the modern world. The Israeli Declaration of Independence carries within it the duality of “Israeli” and “Jewish.” Today’s Prime Minister, B. Netanyahu, with his coalition members, wants Israel to be a “Jewish” state. But, politically, one cannot define Jewishness; religiously, one can. So, does Netanyahu mean that Israel will transform itself into a religious “Jewish” state, thus being one that can be neither democratic nor Jewish, and definitely not Israeli? Or, to make things more interesting, the human race of homosapiens in Israel will become “homozionists” or “homojewish” – of course, this is a farce. The political goal of Zionism that was achieved in 1948 was meant to integrate “Jews” of the world community into a new nation that was called the Israeli nation, but still the essence of the concept of “nation” or “leom” in Hebrew remains fuzzy and undefined.
For many who are not aware of it, the issues of self- and critical-expression have created major obstacles in linguistics as well as in thinking for the Israelis. Perhaps then it is no wonder that Israel has produced great scientists, great doctors, great generals, great felafel-makers and great Israeli-salad makers, but not a single great intellectual. To understand the depth of the meaning of “the Intellectual,” it is important to look at a book by Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994). It is sort of ironical, but not unusual, that an American professor of Palestinian descent who taught at Columbia University wrote a classic piece on the Intellectual; Said was definitely an example of an intellectual.
Moving on from this odyssey that I have taken to explain Eliyho Matz’ trip to Ithaca ( cf “Ithaca,” a poem by C.P. Cavafy), I would now like to describe what I see as the most important event in Israeli history in recent years.
Throughout his life, Professor Shlomo Sand (Zand) has been, it can be said, sort of a radical person. For awhile a leftist and Communist, he later became associated with Palestinian rights and is now standing on the frontline of their fight, presumably appreciated by some of those whose cause he is trying to support. As for his education, he had a difficult path to higher education, but he made it. Professor Sand is a concerned Israeli patriot with his eyes on the future of the Israeli nation. Over the past few years, through teaching and studying the broad aspects of nationality, he has done what no other scholar has done in Israel. His study of Jews’ history, as reflected in his first book, The Invention of the Jewish People, is a testimony to his unique efforts to explain to Jews their history. What he reveals is a different type of history – though the entire academic world was not ready for it. His general theory that he demonstrates unequivocally is that Jewish survival is due to conversion, whether Jews like to hear it or not; that conversion is the pivotal source of success in Judaism throughout the ages, which is the main point of his book. In his second book, The Invention of the Land of Israel, Sand goes on to deal with the overriding attitude of Judaism, which is how Judaism views the Land of Israel. In this book he makes a very interesting point. He demonstrates that historically Jews scattered throughout the world, and the Land of Israel, represented two distinct and separate entities, that although they supposedly seemed connected, they were not really connected. That is because throughout the centuries, the core rabbinical thought was against settling the Land of Israel; praying for the land was the acceptable norm, but to settle there was totally forbidden. It was only the Zionist ideology in modern times that began mixing and connecting the concept of a modern nation with an ancient land, and the consequences are brutal. His book is a scholarly attempt to explain this concept of bringing together the people and the land, and its ramifications.
The final chapter of Professor Sand’s (Zand’s) book is a reflection on Israeli military, political and religious extremism. Tel Aviv University where he teaches stands on the ruins of a Palestinian village. Sand’s historical narrative includes a mild suggestion for a way for Israelis or Tel Aviv University to put a sign to memorialize the Arab village of Sheik Mounes, but only time will tell if anything will be done to rectify what he points to. The title of this chapter is “The Scorpion and the Frog,” which reminds me of another professor, Isaiah Berlin of Oxford University, who wrote an important and elegant essay many years ago titled, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” which was Berlin’s attempt to explain Tolstoy’s great novel War and Peace to the English-speaking world. He was one of the brightest intellectuals of the Twentieth Century. Apropos to the subject of Holocaust and rescue, during WWII Berlin aided the British government in New York and Washington by providing secret reports on America and its Jews. How many Jews in Occupied Europe died as a result of his work, I do not know, but too much concern for the exterminated European Jews he did not have. He is not the only Jewish intellectual residing in New York or the United States who did not pay attention to the events of the Holocaust; many other intellectuals felt no urgency in this regard. As a general theory on intellectuals, Jewish intellectuals were not in the business of saving Jews. Here I would like to introduce some radical ideas of my own on the subject of the Holocaust. Aside from the fact that most Jewish intellectuals did not deal with the Holocaust while it was occurring, one should mention that the entire rabbinical establishment as well as the organized Jewish lay leadership also failed in their response to the Holocaust. Shouldn’t that teach us something? Shouldn’t we modern Jews look back at out our two-millennium rabbinical Jewish authorities and conclude that something with Judaism went wrong? But of course, Jewish life continues without looking back, until the next disaster will arrive.
Most of my university studies centered around American Jews, American Jewish leaders and the Holocaust, but eventually it became obvious to me that I had to turn my focus to the Holocaust and its aftermath. What I mean by “aftermath” is explained in my book Who is an Israeli?, which has been published as an Amazon Kindle e-Book. The Israeli nation, that was born in 1948, has been my concern ever since I became aware of all sorts of issues connected to its establishment. Many years ago, when I visited Abram Sorramello, I heard from him the famous Palestinian-Arabic saying, “The rooster is dead, but his eye is still looking at the garbage pail.” Thus, all the historians and philosophers I mentioned have been like the cat or the rooster: very, very focused. To add to Professor Sand’s (Zand’s) dreams, I would like to suggest a performance by Simon and Garfunkel on the bridge of the Yarkon, which is very close to Tel Aviv University, singing their song “A Bridge Over Troubled Water.” And since I live in the Berkshires of Massachusetts in the vicinity of Arlo Guthrie shrine to his father Woody Guthrie, the great American balladeer, I have suggested to him in a letter that he join with Simon and Garfunkel to perform Woody’s popular American folk song “This Land is Your Land” with a choir of Chassids and Palestinians singing a cappella.
Benedict Baruch (in Yiddish, Borech or Berel) Spinoza, in his famous Theological Political Tract in which he analyzes the fall of the Second Temple, concluded that a nation can not exist unless there is a separation between church and state. This tenet of Spinoza entered into our modern world, though with difficulties, but is normally accepted in the Western tradition of government. Spinoza, hopeful about the Jewish experience in the future, saw no problem in the future creation of a new Jewish political entity that would follow his recommendation. It is very unfortunate that today’s modern Israeli nation has not followed his line of thinking.
Good luck Shlomo Sand (Zand). I hope they follow your advice.
[The famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroiani, the quintessential Don Juan who knew his way around women, once said, “Not a single woman has ever applauded me while having sex.” I think Marlon Brando would probably concur.
Shlomo, don’t wait for the applause….]
May 29, 2012
United States and Cuba
Experiments in Capitalism and Socialism
[A narrative for the ‘Global Warming Timeline’ chart]
The Age of Enlightenment ushered in revolutions in France and the US, but the revolution that really threatened the dominant global order was the revolution mounted by the slaves of French Haiti in 1804. In response to the revolt France and the US, a nation founded on slave labor and appropriated Indian land, joined forces to suppress the Haitian revolution. The US has intervened militarily in Haiti repeatedly since 1804, most recently in 2010 to maintain the lowest sweat-shop wages in the hemisphere.
The Age of Industrialization began with the inventions of the steam engine at the end of the eighteenth century and the internal combustion engine at the end of the nineteenth century. However, both coal and oil produce carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming. With the exponential growth in the world population over the past hundred years there has been corresponding exponential increase in the global temperature which is threatening the ecological survival of the planet.
During the last century the industrialized world was divided between two competing economic systems: Communism led by the Soviet Union and Capitalism led by the United States.
In 1989 the Soviet Union collapsed, and the United States saw it as a victory of Capitalism over Communism. The Democratic Party joined the Republican Party’s full embrace of the corporate agenda, and the corporations felt empowered to seek profits with absolutely no regard for the consequences to Earth and all its life forms. The US became a corporate-military empire using its military to secure oil for its oil based economy.
The world urgently needs an alternative to the radical ecological destructiveness of capitalism and the global warming of oil based economy.
Although Haiti has been under the US boot for two hundred years, another narrative was taking place next door just 100 miles south of the US.
Cuba had also been under the US boot since the Spanish American War in 1898, but in 1959 Cuba staged a socialist revolution, removed the US backed dictator Battista, and aligned with the Soviet Union. The Cuban government went on to provide resources of education and health care for its people that are unsurpassed in the hemisphere, but their economy was based on oil like the rest of the industrialized world.
Cuba was getting its oil from the Soviet Union, so when the Soviet Union collapsed Cuba lost its source of oil. It was a time of extreme hardship, but instead of cutting back on social programs, Cuba developed an economy based on sustainable organic agriculture and in the process managed to create a post peak oil economy and thus help stem global warming. They are creating a society based on environmental socialism.
Capitalism and Globalization
During the Gilded Age, 1865-1901, the corporation became the dominant form of business organization in the US, and the financial elements in the large centers owned the government. The US also became an Imperial Power in 1898 after the Spanish-American War during which they acquired the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba.
Theodore Roosevelt tried to steer the Republican Party in the direction of Progressivism, including trust busting and increased regulation of businesses, but the country reverted back to free market ways after his administration. The 1920′s was a decade of increased consumer spending and economic growth fed by laissez faire economic policy. The resulting overproduction of goods and the speculation on the Stock Market led to the Crash of 1929.
The Depression which followed the Crash of 1929 was severe and prolonged, and to counter the threat being mounted by Bolshevik forces, the business community allowed FDR to propose legislations to put limits on business and measures to help the public. These were the measures that had been championed by progressives since the 1890’s: the Glass-Steagall Banking Act ’33 separated commercial banking from investment banking, the Security and Exchange Commission ’34 regulated the stock market, the Telecom Act ’34 created the FCC to regulate the airwaves, the Social Security Act ’35 and the Farm Security Act ’37 assured some measure of economic security for the workers and the farmers, and the Wagner Act ’35 legalized the Unions that were being organized by the workers. President Roosevelt’s also introduced public works programs, WPA and CCC, to put unemployed workers to build the physical infrastructure of the country.
[Atom Bomb - The imperialistic ambitions of several nations led to World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-45) which saw the development of the atomic bomb. Subsequently other nations developed the atomic bomb as an insurance against being blackmailed. 65 years later mankind is minutes away from total annihilation by the 20,000 nuclear warheads on operational alert.
The nuclear industry has promoted nuclear energy as clean energy that does not contribute to global warming; however, there are other problems with nuclear energy. There are currently 550 million pounds of spent fuel rods from the 500 nuclear reactors that remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, and there is no way to contain the radiation from an accident such as the ones that happened at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. A world renowned cancer specialist, Carmelo Iacono said: “Nuclear radiation is the most carcinogenic thing that exists and it cannot be kept under control, as Fukushima tragedy proved.”]
After WWII, the world was divided between Communism led by the Soviet Union and Capitalism led by the US, competing to gain control over the natural resources of the former colonies of Europe that were struggling to liberate themselves. The United States created the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency to counter Communism.
The IMF and the World Bank provided the development funds to third world countries in return for access to their natural resources. If the country was not willing to participate, the US sent in the CIA or the military to put in place a compliant government: Iran ‘53, Guatemala ’54, Vietnam ’55, Turkey ’60, Congo ‘60, Brazil ’64, Greece ’67, Indonesia’67, Iraq ’68, Chile ‘73, Uruguay ’73, Afghanistan ’73, Argentina ’76, Nicaragua ’81, Grenada ’83, Panama ’88, Haiti ’91, Yugoslavia ’92, Honduras 2009.
The US tried but failed to overthrow the governments of Cuba in 1961 and Venezuela in 2002.
On the home front, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program was used to neutralize any domestic threat to the capitalistic system: the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, the Puerto Rico Independence Movement, Earth First!.
Workers in the US, on the other hand, did very well after the war. With the rest of the world’s industry destroyed by the War, the US became the dominant manufacturing country, so through the 50’s, 60’, and 70’s American workers enjoyed a high level of employment and prosperity.
Children of the middle class, freed of the deprivation of the Depression, joined many progressive movements like the civil rights movement. During the early 60’s the US passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, and in the later years of that decade the anti-war activism against the Vietnam War fueled a larger activist movement that challenged the capitalistic system. Led by the consumer advocacy of Ralph Nader, the Congress passed astounding number of progressive legislation: the Freedom of the Information Act ‘66, the Environmental Protection Agency ‘70, the Clean Air Act ‘70, the Occupational Safety and Health Act ‘70, the Consumer Product Safety Act ‘72, the Endangered Species Act ‘73, the Clean Water Act ‘77. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.
In response, the same forces that opposed FDR’s New Deal began to mount a counteroffensive. In 1971, Lewis Powell, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by Nixon, sounded the alarm in his Memorandum, ‘Attack on the American Free Enterprise System’: “Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader, who — thanks largely to the media — has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans… There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.”
Powell prefigured the neoliberal agenda that would unfold between 1980 and 2010.
The creation of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 1973 was a corporate blowback to the Nader’s reforms. The organization’s membership includes both state lawmakers and corporate executives, which over the following decades helped draft many of the legislations that attack workers’ rights, roll back environmental regulations, deregulate major industries, and privatize education and other government programs.
The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was a watershed which marked both the end of FDR’s New Deal Era and the re-ascendancy of pre-Progressive era corporate rights over peoples’ rights. President Reagan signed into law the Economic Recovery Tax Act which cut taxes on the wealthy and the corporations; he appointed James Watts, who was hostile to environmentalism and supportive of the development and use of federal lands by foresting, ranching, and other commercial interests, as Secretary of the Interior; he appointed corporate attorney Anne Gorsuch as the Director of EPA, who gutted environmental protections by hiring staff from the industries they were supposed to be regulating ; and he broke the power of the unions by breaking the air traffic controllers (PATCO) strike.
The breaking of the PATCO strike marked the beginning of the end of the post-war American middle class. Between 1980 and 2010, the corporations and the rich became wealthier as the tax burden was shifted from corporations to individuals, and among individuals, from the rich to the middle class. In the 1940’s corporations paid 60% of the federal income tax, but in 2010 they paid 20%. In the 1960’s, top income tax rate for individuals was 91%, but in 2010 the top rate was reduced to 35%.
In 1985, with the increasing conservative backlash against the civil rights, women’s, and labor movements and the success of the Reagan Revolution, the Democratic Party founded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to cater to corporate interests.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, the US saw it as a victory of capitalism over communism, and the Democratic Party joined the Republican Party’s full embrace of the corporate agenda.
Although the Democratic Leadership Council hailed the election of President Clinton in 1992 as proof of the viability of third way, what the 1990s and Clinton’s era represented was the consolidation of a new kind of political discourse, and a new involvement by the corporations in shaping it. The two major political parties are completely absorbed in self-perpetuation and only serve the narrow sector of powerful elites and corporate interests that fund and thereby control them. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz observed that the US has a government “Of the 1%, by the 1%, and for the 1%”.
The two party system which was originally created in 1860’s to exclude newly emancipated blacks from political participation was now being used with unlimited corporate money to exclude the 99% from political participation. To maintain the duopoly the Two Parties collude to exclude Third Party candidates from ballot access and debates, thereby limiting voter choice and real debate. The Two Parties still go through an elaborate charade of holding an election; however, they mainly differentiate themselves over social issues which are of no concern to the corporations, such as guns, abortion, the death penalty, and gay and immigrant rights.
The Republicans position themselves as the defenders of white American cultural values. By conflating the freedom of individuals with the freedom of huge corporations to make profit and by appealing to the vulnerabilities and racial resentments of poor and working class whites, they cruelly and cynically dupe the poor and working class white supporters into voting against their own economic interests. The Democrats remain only as nominal defenders of progressive values, trotting out Dennis Kucinich every four years to convince any straying Democrat that there is at least one good progressive among the bunch and duped their constituency in 2008 with an empty and cynical promise of ‘Hope and Change’.
The President who dismantled many of the progressive New Deal legislations of FDR was Democrat Bill Clinton: the Telecom Reform Act ’96 paved the way for corporate control of the media including the Internet, the Welfare Reform Act ’96 removed the safety net for the poor, the Freedom to Farm Act ’96 removed the protections for the family farms and led to the gigantic subsidies for the corporate agribusiness, and most fatefully the Banking Reform Act ’99 took away the government oversight of the banking system.
Clinton also pushed and got the Congress to pass NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) and WTO (World Trade Organization) Agreements which allowed corporations to pursue profit free from constraints of the US environmental and worker protection laws. The current illegal immigration crisis in the US is also a direct result of NAFTA, where importation of cheap subsidized genetically modified corn from the US drove Mexican farmers off their land. Globalization is the face of financial imperialism.
During Clinton’s administration there were two major transformations of the national political economy: financialization (the shift of investor preference from industrial production to finance, insurance, and real estate) and the off-shoring of production. The off-shoring destroyed the real productive economy and the middle class, and the financialization ushered in the era of predatory banks that plundered the American middle-class with the Dot-com Bubble of 2000 and the Subprime Mortgage Housing Bubble of 2008.
[Genetically Modified Organism - Besides extracting gigantic government subsidies, the corporate agribusiness is corroborating with US Department of Agriculture to control the very basis of civilization which began with the cultivation of grains 10,000 year ago; they are trying to hijack the world’s grain supply by forcing the farmers to use patented genetically modified grains. More than 85% of American corn are genetically modified to either repel pests or to be tolerant to herbicide used to kill weeds in cultivated field.
Aside from imposing new feudalism on the world, there are other problems with GMO. The genetically-engineered organisms include genes that are designed to overcome natural reproductive barriers between organisms which make it possible to transfer genes over from another organism. One problem is that genetically engineered organisms are thus more likely to crossbreed and this gene flow results in the loss of unique varieties and eventually leads to a monoculture of GMO. GMO has already contaminated many of the native Mexican corn. Another problem is that the same mechanism which allows the transfer of genes can jump across organisms to create mutant new organisms, e.g. transforming intestinal flora into allergen factories. Corporate agribusiness is playing Russian roulette with the very basis of life.]
On the world front, the coup in Russia in 1989-91 brought an end to the Cold War and presented the US with an opportunity and a problem.
Since the invention of the automobile in 1885, the petro-fueled engine has been the engine of commerce and war, and oil became the one key strategic resource. Control of the oil is tantamount to control of the industrial world and the developing industry throughout the world.
In 1971 gold standard for the dollar was finally replaced with the oil standard because of the strain of federal expenditures for the Vietnam War. With the financialization of oil, the multinational corporations which depend on a stable international currency have advanced the US military presence over the oil fields of in the Middle East and Central Asia in order to stabilize the price of oil. Another consideration was that India and China with their huge populations where both eyeing the oil fields in Central Asia which are right next door.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, the US saw the opportunity to use its military dominance to secure the oil fields of the Middle East and Central Asia.
The problem was that the end of the Cold War also deprived the military of an enemy to justify its bloated budget, and the public, caught up in the euphoria over the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of the Iron Curtain, were clamoring for peace dividend and de-militarization. The US needed a way to engage militarily in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The problem was partially solved in 1990 by the First Gulf War which was the opening gambit in a war to secure the Middle East oil. The US suckered Iraq into Kuwait in order to be able to drive them out militarily and take over Kuwait. On July 25, 1990, then US Ambassador April Glaspie told the Iraqis, “[US] have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”, but when Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the US took immediate military action against Iraq and took over Kuwait. Kuwait was the real target of the 1990 war against Iraq. With oil replacing the gold standard, Kuwait had become the new Fort Knox.
The US kept a financial and trade embargo on Iraq through the 90’s and in the late 90’s intervened in Yugoslavia to bring the former Communist country under free-market globalization. However, the US found it difficult to garner public support for military intervention to secure the oil fields in Central Asia.
In 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his book ‘Grand Chess Board’, wrote that the key strategic plan for the US was to secure the Central Asian gas and oil fields, but he acknowledged the problem of garnering public support: “[US] may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat“.
In September of 2000, the neo-conservative think tank, The Project for the New American Century, published a report entitled ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources for a New Century’ calling for the transformation of the US military to establish American hegemony, but the report also acknowledged the problem: “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”.
The problem was finally resolved in 2001 with the 9/11 Incident which was a “catastrophic and catalyzing event” “of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat”.
President Bush used the 9/11 Incident to establish military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to secure US access to Middle East and Central Asian gas and oil. Islamic fundamentalism was already on the rise in the Muslim countries, so the US military occupation of Muslim countries ensured what Robert Fisk calls ‘The Great War for Civilization’ between Islamic Fundamentalism and the Judeo-Christian West, providing the National Security State with a permanent new enemy. The ’War on Communism’ segued into the ‘War on Terrorism’, and the Military Industrial Complex was able to keep its one trillion dollars annual franchise. The two political parties help keep the war economy on track by not allowing anyone to question the basis for the ‘War on Terror’.
President Bush also used the 9/11 Incident to enact the Patriot Act, drastically scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, and detention of suspects. The 342 page Patriot Act was part of the Continuity of Government (COG) Plan to suspend the Constitution and declare Martial Law in case of nuclear attack that was expanded in the 1980’s to include any national emergency.
The US is putting in place the apparatus of a police state where Orwellian sounding Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subjects air travelers to full body scans and routinely monitors electronic communications of ordinary citizens. FBI agents and militarized police units, which were first used for War on Drugs, are deployed with increasing frequency against anyone involved in environmental, anti-war and pro-solidarity activism, especially Palestinian solidarity. Although the police state has been justified by the need to fight terrorism, its real purpose is to enforce the extreme inequality, the 1% vs. the 99%, that results from the neoliberal political economy, e.g. the nationally coordinated repression against the Occupy Movement. The Occupy Movement so unnerved the establishment that a provision was added to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act allowing the US military to indefinitely detain without charge or trial anyone deemed a threat to the domestic order.
The corporations also saw the coup and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-91 as triumph of capitalism over communism, and they pushed for repeal of government regulations and the privatization of government assets and programs, including education, with the ultimate goal of privatizing Social Security.
Even though the Reagan era deregulation of Savings & Loan industry had resulted in collapse of the S&L industry and the $150 billion government bailout, during the Clinton administration, the banking industry pushed for the deregulation of the banking industry and succeeded in getting the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (Banking Reform Act) passed repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, which was enacted after the 1929 Crash to prevent the banks from gambling with their depositor’s money.
During the Bush administration, Wall Street used the new banking deregulation signed into law by President Clinton in 1999 to perpetrate an egregious fraud that plundered the middle class America by creating the subprime mortgage housing bubble. First the banks lowered the interest rate and loan requirements for mortgages, and then they made enormous profits trading the derivatives on the inflated value of the housing market. When the housing bubble burst in 2008 precipitating the credit crisis, they extorted from Congress massive taxpayer bailouts and guarantees. In addition to the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) the Federal Reserve has transferred trillions of dollars of public funds into private banks. The banks are also foreclosing on homes of people affected by the ensuing recession.
During the Presidency of George Bush, dangers to the Republic that two former Presidents had warned about came to pass:
Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about the military industrial complex (MIC): “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Thomas Jefferson warned us about the banking system: “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their money… the banks and corporations that will grow up around them, will deprive the people of their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
To the American public traumatized by the Bush Presidency, corporate America poured enormous amount of money to market an African American man, Barack Obama, as the candidate of ‘Hope and Change’ in 2008; however, once in office, President Obama kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in charge of the Military Industrial Complex and tapped Lawrence Summers, who as President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary pushed for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, as the Director of the White House National Economic Council. Not only has President Obama kept Guantanamo Bay detention camp open, he has expanded the use of Predator drones for extra-judicial assassinations and the prosecution of government whistleblowers.
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, was asked in 2010, what difference he saw between Bush and Obama. He succinctly answered ‘color of their skins’.
The Republic that was founded to free the colonies from the British monarchy was taken over by a corporate-military state. To underscore the absurdity, the Supreme Court which first established corporate personhood in 1886 in Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific, gave full first Amendment rights to corporations in 2010 in Citizen United vs. Federal Election Commission freeing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. In 2011, the court expanded the rights of corporate free speech by striking down the Arizona’s public financing election law.
The United States whose wealth was originally built on the backs of slave labor and appropriated Indian land had turned on its own citizens and the world.
To secure natural resources, the US has an empire of over 850 military bases around the world, garrisoned proxy states of Israel in the Middle East and Colombia in South America and pending AFRICOM base in Africa; three regions with large oil reserves. At home Americans are now subjected to destructive resource extractions: mountaintop removal coal mining which poisons the watershed, ‘fracking’ of earth for natural gas which poisons the water table, the off shore drilling with consequent disastrous blowout that poisoned the Gulf, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that could compromise the Ogallala Aquifer. The water is also being poisoned by the chemicals used in agribusiness and manufacturing. The average newborn has over 200 different chemicals and heavy metals contaminating its blood when it takes its first breath.
To secure cheap labor, the US created NAFTA and WTO. These policies transferred manufacturing to sweat shop labor in countries like Mexico and China where there are no environmental or worker protection laws. At home American workers saw their manufacturing jobs decline from 53% of the economy in 1965 to 9% in 2006. They saw their education funding cut, private medical insurance cost soar, and face increasing unemployment and increasing foreclosures. The most telling statistic is the US incarceration rate, which increased from 500,000 in 1980 to 2,500,000 in 2010. The US has 5% of the world population but 25% of the world prison population. Much of this increase was due to War on Drugs which is a deliberate policy to reverse the gains of the civil rights movement by criminalizing and incarcerating African-Americans. Not only are the US prisons being privatized, the private prisons are selling inmate labor to Fortune 500 corporations at subminimum wages.
Meanwhile a gaggle of cackling imbecilic corporate media hacks like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck fan the flames of anger and frustrations of the American workers onto immigrants, Muslims, Third World leaders, environmentalists, liberals and the poor; the beleaguered public is turning in increasing numbers to the appeals of patriotic fascism, evangelical fundamentalism, and the culture of illusion.
The ruling power of our country manipulates the habits and opinion of the masses through television. Americans watch on the average five hours of television per day. The invisible government manipulates this media using the public relations and propaganda techniques pioneered by Edward Bernays whether they are trying to sell a soft drink, a political candidate, or war.
Global Warming and World Population
On top of the tragedy and farce of the capitalistic system, the world also faces the looming ecological disaster of global warming.
Over the past 100 years, with the ready availability of fossil fuels, the world population has increased exponentially to 7 billion people. Since fossil fuels release greenhouse gases the average temperature which has stayed relatively stable over the preceding 10,000 years has also risen exponentially over the past 100 years. Global temperature is tracking the world population.
So what is driving the population to increase? The mantra of capitalism is growth and profits. The capitalism needs growing population to increase market size and to reduce labor cost. The capitalist nations have been able to supply the grains to feed the ever growing world population using their massively subsidized agribusiness.
The IMF and the World Bank regimen on third world countries always follow the same pattern. In return for development money, they force the country to sign away their natural resources and accept the importation of cheap subsidized grains which drives the farmers off their land. Corporations make money by producing manufactured goods from extracted natural resources, so the displaced agrarian labor is forced into minimum wage jobs like sweatshop manufacturing and mining. Populations in countries like Mexico and Pakistan have increased over threefold between1960 and 2010.
The year 2010 saw the inkling of the emerging ecological calamity caused by global warming. Russia had series of hundreds of wildfires that broke out across the country due to record temperatures (the hottest summer in Russian history) and crop failures caused by drought. The warming oceans resulted in unprecedented monsoon rain that flooded much of Pakistan and caused massive mudslides in China.
In 2011, the US had major blizzards in the Northeast, a historic flooding of the Mississippi River, nation’s deadliest single tornado in more than sixty years, and massive wildfires in the Southwest, yet the House of Representatives voted 240-184 to defeat a resolution that said “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.”
Peak-Oil and Cuba
So what is the solution to population growth and global warming? What is the alternative to capitalism?
Democratic socialism in Western Europe works to a degree. Their populations are stable, and the governments do an adequate job of meeting the health, education and welfare of the people, but much of their economy is based on oil just as in rest of the world.
More profound change has taken place in Cuba. Cuba kept building on their socialism experiment, so instead of suffering from the stasis of European communism, they have managed to create a dynamic society that meets the health, education and welfare needs of its people.
It was evident from the beginning that Cuban revolution placed importance on empowering the people. First task that the government embarked on was the Maestra Program where literacy workers, including many youngsters, were sent all over the island to teach people how to read and write. In 1962 UNESCO certified that Cuba was free of illiteracy. (Documented in the film, ‘Maestra: Teacher’: 2011.)
Then the government embarked on providing for the health care needs of its citizens. In spite of the constant threats and the embargo by the US and the subsequent empty shelves, it offers resource of education and health care unsurpassed in the hemisphere. In fact Cuba even trains thousands of doctors from other countries for free so that they can go back and help the people in their own countries, including students from America’s inner cities. (Documented in the film, ’Salud: Cuba and the Quest for Health’: 2006.)
Cuba has also done amazing things internationally. Cuba played a decisive role in the liberation struggles in Angola and South Africa, and it sends health care missions around the world, from Pakistan to Haiti. In Haiti they aren’t just treating people. Even before the massive earthquake of 2010 they were literally setting up a health care system in the country and have helped Haiti more than any other country by far.
Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973 because the US feared that success of democratic socialism in Chile might become a model for other Latin American countries. The Nicaraguan revolution, which was modeled on the Cuban revolution, was crushed in 1980’s because it posed ‘the threat of a good example’ to other nation in the area. But, since 1959 Cuba has remained a beacon for socialism as an alternative to rapacious capitalism.
In 1999, populist Hugo Chavez won the Presidency of oil rich Venezuela and started to use the oil revenues to help the poor. The US tried to overthrow Chavez in 2002 in a failed coup attempt. Since then the progressive elements in other countries followed Venezuela in rejecting the neoliberal agenda: Lula in Brazil ’03, Kirshner in Argentina ’03, Vazquez in Uruguay ’04, Molares in Bolivia ’06, Corea in Ecuador ’06, Bachelet in Chile ’06, Zelaya in Honduras ’06, Ortega in Nicaragua ’07, Humala in Peru ’11, and they are all democratic in ways the US never will be. The US finally intervened staging a coup against President Zelaya of Honduras in ’09.
But the most amazing thing Cuba accomplished is what it did domestically after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. Until then Cuban agriculture was based on oil like the rest of the world using herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost its source of oil. This, in addition to the trade embargo, the constant threat of invasion, and numerous assassination attempts on Fidel Castro by the US.
Facing this severe cut back in oil, Cuba did not cut back on education and healthcare, but instead embarked on coming up with post peak-oil agriculture to feed its people. In the process they developed cutting edge bio-tech research and innovative, sustainable, organic agriculture. (Documented in the film, ‘The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil’: 2006.)
Cuba is a still a third world country and has its own problems which include a bloated bureaucracy and scarcity of goods caused by the US embargo, but they have stabilized the population just as the socialist democracies in Europe have done and done so with a largely post peak-oil economy thus reducing their contribution to global warming.
Joel Kovel in his book ‘The Enemy of Nature: The end of capitalism or the end of the world?’ wrote: “Firsthand experience with Cuba and Nicaragua has convinced me, as it has many others, that what was being geminated there remains of inestimable value to future of humanity if value is measured in terms of dignity and generosity instead of money.”
The Cold War is over. Elites of both sides of the Cold War have gotten rich by abandoning their people. In China and Russia, the Communist Party members have appropriated state assets, and are using ‘capitalism’ to enrich themselves. In the US the Capitalist elite are using ‘corporate socialism’, the privatization of profit and the socialization of risks, to enrich themselves by means of massive taxpayer bailouts, subsidies, no-bid cost-plus contracts, and giveaway drilling, mining and logging rights of taxpayer assets on public land.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the US corporations won but the American people lost. Ironically, the Cuban people also won.
The US has become a corporate-military empire engaged in an Oil War to secure the oil for its oil based economy, while its citizens have signed away their civil liberties and are facing cutbacks to their health, education and welfare. The US has embraced the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman’s radical free market Capitalism, in which huge corporations are empowered to seek profits with absolutely no regard for the consequences to Earth and all its life forms.
Cuba has realized the “commons” of Karl Marx’s Communism. Cuba has developed an economy based on post peak-oil sustainable organic agriculture and in the process managed to stabilize their population and help stem global warming. They not only provide for the health, education and welfare of their own people, they send armies of doctors abroad to take care of health needs of other countries’ people.
It is a true David versus Goliath matchup across 100 miles of ocean, and we should all be rooting for the little guy for the sake of our planet.
Cicero said, “Freedom is participation in power”. When the 99% and the Occupy Movement take back the power from the corporations and America truly becomes the Republic “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, it will be the dawn of a new day for America and the world.
… from the novel ‘Resurrection’ by Leo Tolstoy [1828-1910].
“Though men in their hundreds of thousands had tried their hardest to disfigure that little corner of the earth where they had crowded themselves together, paving the ground with stones so that nothing could grow, weeding out every blade of vegetation, filling the air with the fumes of coal and gas, cutting down the trees and driving away every beast and every bird – spring, however, was still spring, even in the town.
The sun shone warm, the grass, wherever it had not been scraped away, revived and showed green not only on the narrow strips of lawn on the boulevards but between the paving-stones as well, and the birches, the poplars, and the wild cherry-trees were unfolding their sticky, fragrant leaves, and the swelling buds were bursting on the lime trees; the jackdaws, the sparrows, and the pigeons were cheerfully getting their nests ready for the spring, and the flies, warmed by the sunshine, buzzed gaily along the walls. All were happy – plants, birds, insects and children.
But grown-up people – adult men and women – never left off cheating and tormenting themselves and one another. It was not this spring morning which they considered sacred and important, not the beauty of God’s world, given to all the creatures to enjoy – a beauty which inclines the heart to peace, to harmony, and to love. No, what they considered sacred and important were their own devices for wielding power over each other.”
The Old Man in ‘The Village of Water Mills’ from the film ‘Dreams’ by Akira Kurosawa [1910-1998].
“We try to live the way man used to.
That’s the natural way of life.
People today have forgotten they are really just part of nature.
Yet, they destroy the nature on which our lives depend.
They always think they can make something better.
Especially the scientists.
They may be smart, but most don’t understand the heart of nature.
They only invent things that in the end make people unhappy.
Yet they are so proud of their inventions.
What’s worse, most people are too.
They view them as if they were miracles.
They worship them.
They do not know it, but they are losing nature.
They don’t see that they are going to perish.
The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water and the trees and grass that produce them.
Everything is being dirtied… polluted forever.
Dirty air, dirty water… dirtying the hearts of men.”
Akio Tanaka is a retired electronic engineer from Oakland, California with a specialty in computer chips who became interested and concerned about global warming and his study’s scope grew to encompass the growth of human population and the development of civilizations.
He is on the board of the nation’s most progressive radio station KPFA-Pacifica, and is an active member of the Alameda County Green Party.
His research on Milankovitch cycles and global population was derived from web searches. His temperature profile came from published material by James Hanson.
Other sources are: Stephen J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess shale and the Nature of Life (W.W. Norton, 1990); James D. Watson, The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1997); and William mcNeill, A World History (Oxford University press, 1998).
February 23, 2012
I waited for the afternoon newspaper to arrive,
The St. Louis Star-Times, flung like a grenade
onto our porch. I opened it to see photos of
starving P.O.W.s liberated from a prison camp
somewhere far away, on an island far away,
far away from our little house in the Heartland.
That newspaper is no longer with us, gone
like childhood, grandma, and even her Bible.
Entranced with newspapers, harbingers
of visual and verbal stimuli, I loved to look
at the photos and studied the Fronts– broken
lines and arrows in maps of the Pacific Theater.
Such a neat phrase: the Pacific Theater,
where ships and sharks jostled for attention,
and pictures of handsome young guys in
khaki uniforms caught my eye. A newspaper,
radio, and LIFE Magazine contained what
I wanted. Yet, photos die, as does a theater.
–Mary Kennan Herbert
The author’s poems have appeared in many literary and professional journals
around the world. She was the invited poet at the 60th Anniversary
World War II Conference at Siena College, in 1998.
November 7, 2011
Submitted to the Boston Globe Op-Ed page
Paul L. Atwood
University of Massachusetts-Boston
Monday, November 7th, 2011.
I wrote a version of this op-ed piece and submitted it to the Boston Globe shortly after the Times article appeared. The Globe op-ed editor replied to me that “we’ll steer clear of this.” Walid Karzai has since been assassinated, reputedly by one of his own henchmen.
On October 28, 2009 the New York Times published a bombshell story depicting the intimate relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency and Ahmed Walid Karzai, arguably the world’s kingpin drug lord, and also the brother of Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai. The fact that the same story could have been published years ago is another troubling matter. Nevertheless the article raised profound issues about what the United States is really attempting to do in central Asia.
Since numerous reports have shown that the Taliban, ostensibly one of America’s greatest enemies, profits greatly from the sale of opium and uses the proceeds to buy weapons to kill American troops, and since other abundant reports declare that Ahmed Karzai is by far the biggest purveyor of opium in the region, there is most obviously a mutual relationship between Karzai and the Taliban and the Central Intelligence Agency. The fact that Hamid Karzai has done nothing to curb the opium trade or the cozy relationship between his brother (and now his replacements) and Islamic insurgents is but one element in the rampant corruption of his regime, and without question the worst.
Why so? According to President Obama defeating the Taliban and thereby preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for al Qaeda again is a vital necessity to protect American lives and maintain national security. Yet far many more American lives have been extinguished by opium and its derivative, heroin, than anything al Qaeda has thus far matched. Aside from the threat posed by HIV, or some other pathogen, nothing menaces national security more than the drug epidemic that has plagued this country since the late 1960s when a tsunami of heroin surged across the nation from its sources in Laos and Vietnam. A mountain of evidence, some of it ferreted out by a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Narcotics chaired by Senator John Kerry, documents the CIA’s long standing association with the world’s leading drug traffickers. During the “secret war” in Laos, pilots for the CIA’s contract airline, Air America, jokingly referred to themselves as “Air Opium.” Proceeds from opium sales were used to fund the top secret war waged in Laos since the U.S. Congress had appropriated only a marginal sum for the venture. So much of the substance was produced that criminal enterprises in neighboring Vietnam transformed the stuff into heroin and fed profits directly to top officials in Saigon’s government, America’s allies. Among other victims, it soon addicted many American soldiers. When the warehouses in Southeast Asia began to burst heroin “mysteriously” found its way into America’s cities and towns. (See the PBS Frontline documentary Guns, Drugs and the CIA, if you can find a copy).
In the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam many in the U.S. government rankled at the humiliation. Blaming the Soviet Union for the rout (after all how else could little “yellow dwarves ,” as LBJ put it, have vanquished the American superpower?) Officials like Zbigniew Brzezinski contrived to draw the Soviets into Afghanistan and thus the “opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.” The CIA then recruited tens of thousands of Islamic jihadists known as the mujahideen from across the Muslim world to fight the Soviets. Since this was the largest covert operation ever conducted by the U.S., and Congress surreptitiously gave only a small portion of its cost, much of this war was also funded by the opium trade, just as in Southeast Asia. The official CIA explanation is that the war against the Soviets trumped any effort to choke off the drug traffic. Meanwhile the trade flourished and many thousands of Americans and others died from overdoses. Michael Levine, a decorated agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency, has written a number of books in which he states categorically that the CIA deliberately stifled his and the agency’s efforts to halt the flow of opium and “got into bed with the biggest drug lords on the planet.” (See the Australian documentary, Dealing With the Demon, Vol. 2; also, Michael Levine, The Big White Lie: The Deep Cover Operation That Exposed the CIA Sabotage of the Drug War: An Undercover Odyssey)
Ironically the Taliban, when it first came to power, suppressed the trade, causing near panic around the world since hundreds of billions of dollars were now not flowing into various arms bazaars, or being laundered by banks and stock exchanges. The current war on the Taliban has resuscitated opium production. Today Afghanistan produces about 92 percent of global opium but much of it is managed by warlords who are associated with the Karzai regime, many of whom were agents of the CIA during the Afghan-Soviet War. Again, there is an intimate relationship between these growers and the Taliban though they are purported to be enemies.
The Times story dropped like a stone to the bottom of the sea, not surprisingly since a conspiracy of silence has for decades surrounded this issue. A few apologists have made noises to the effect that Afghanistan is a tough neighborhood and the U.S. has to deal with unsavory characters. Slogans like “if you like sausage you may not want to visit the slaughterhouse” surfaced. One thing is clear. The 1682 American soldiers and marines who have died in that tragic country have given their lives for an utterly putrescent regime that was handpicked by the U.S. in 2002 in order to foster an unstated and highly secret American agenda. Lest we forget, 14,342 American military personnel have also been wounded.
What is the real agenda? It cannot be “freedom and democracy.” Much outrage was expressed in this country over vote fraud in Iran yet American soldiers and marines are propping up a government for which it is alleged that one million fraudulent votes were cast.
Pepe Escobar, who writes for Asia Times, notes the undisputed fact that the names of the countries Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran never appear in the establishment media in tandem with the word “pipeline,” while also emphasizing that the map of major American combat bases aligns perfectly with the proposed pipelines for major sources of oil and natural gas throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.
The CIA’s symbiotic relationship with the globe’s drug dealers should have alarmed and engaged many citizens, but the issue has now all but vanished, signifying that Afghanistan is not the only place where something is rotten.
(A more comprehensive, if dismal, perspective on this issue can be found in the following studies. Gary Webb, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion; Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade; Alexander Cockburn, Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press)
November 7, 2011
Paul L. Atwood
This is an updated version of a lecture delivered October 21, 2010 at the
Institute For the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI)
University of California-Berkeley
Monday, November 7th, 2011.
The Great Recession is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and, like the aftermath of Katrina, or the BP disaster, or the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, all are man-made disasters. Many signs point to worse tidings. Many of us who live in this the most advanced capitalist country are indoctrinated at an early age to believe our system is by far the most efficient and best ever created, especially if we are affluent and live well. We tend to believe it obeyed the laws of evolution toward ever higher form, more or less as we think of the human species itself. We go to lengths to ignore the fact that our system began as the brainchild of a minority that imposed its will by brute force against others who had good reason to oppose it. It is impossible to separate our republican form of government from our economic system. As former Secretary of State John Hay put matters as far back as the 19th Century: “This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is government of corporations by corporations.” It has been the case since the American Revolution, and remains the case, that the American government has been owned and operated by the financial and corporate elites and government policies, and most definitely foreign policy, are largely their agendas set out for their interests. Bankers and immense industrial corporations largely run the global show, backed by the Executive, Congress and the Supreme Court, America’s gargantuan military power and the connivance of corporate media.
As a culture we deliberately ignore the brutal genesis of American capitalism, feeding ourselves Disney fantasies about religious freedom etc. The origin of the modern American corporation is to be found in the Plymouth and Virginia companies. These were established as profit-making entities and to make their claim upon the so-called New World these new enterprises required systematic plunder of lands and resources from natives, and their virtual annihilation in the original colonies, ethnic cleansing, cheap white labor in the form of indentured servitude, and ultimately the importation of African slaves. The American capitalist system was therefore premised at its outset by murder and de facto aggression, and human bondage, the very sins for which we condemn others today. Many of our early American heroes were slaveholders and war mongers par excellence.
Some of us are old enough to remember when we condemned the communists for their “slave societies,” believing that our own slavery was somehow an aberration instead of the absolute prerequisite to establish today’s American way of life. Our system’s continued success still requires these critical factors. We still have slaves but now we don’t have to see them. They toil on plantations, mines and factories hidden away in far continents, victims of centuries of western plunder, today camouflaged as “globalism.” We employ terms like “neo-colonialism” but pretend this term does not apply to us What else was Cuba before Castro but an American satrapy? What else South Vietnam, South Korea, Dominican Republic, Iran before 1979, Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and many others? Why else has the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan but to try to secure the world’s remaining second largest deposit of oil and to acquire oil and natural gas from Central Asia in the very backyards of our rivals China and Russia? As Edward Said asked, “if the principal product of Iraq were broccoli would the U.S. be in Iraq?”
Victims of our wars are dismissed under the Orwellian rubric of “collateral damage” committed accidently in the “fog of war.” While our government now goes to some lengths to ensure that the worst of such crimes are committed by proxies wherever possible, when all else fails we send in our own armed forces. As reports from Iraq and now Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia and Libya show daily, our pilotless predators wreak a terrible slaughter on civilians. Our Army and Marine Corps do not exist to protect and defend our shores but to enter other nations and force them to our will.
We Americans hide from such uncomfortable facts largely by ignoring them, believing the lies we are told, or by fantasizing that we are a new chosen people, or the redeemers of a benighted world. We have constructed a mass delusion that our way of life represents the most advanced civilization in human existence despite the fact that its perpetuation has required the deaths quite literally of many millions as it took shape, the wholesale violation of the very values we claim, and the destruction of the very resources and environment that made the “American way of life” possible in the first place.
Any trust in this system is really a kind of fundamentalism; many want to believe that all of this was ordered on high, perhaps encoded in our genes at the very dawn of humanity, its inevitability impressed in the Book of Time.
As in all fundamentalist faiths we have created a set of myths about why we go to war and these myths center on the falsehood that we do so to protect and defend noble values, and principles, and our superior way of life; never for the reasons others wage war, such as lebensraum, or to seize resources, or to prevent others from exercising their ‘right’ to self-determination should that impede our “interests.”
In American public culture enemies have always been presented as aggressors against an intrinsically peace loving people who take up the sword only, ONLY, because our antagonists have left us no alternative. Thus, it is always the other who bears the opprobrium for anything the US has done in the name of national “defense.” Think, say, of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the carpet bombing of South Vietnam, or the more recent destruction of Fallujah where white phosphorus, a chemical banned under international law, was used on civilians to awful effect and depleted uranium has caused a plague of cancers. All of these were brought on by the iniquities of our enemies, or so we claim…
Yet not a single war in American history has at bottom NOT been one of choice. And we never go to war against any nation capable of wreaking havoc on us. No, we ravage only those who lie helpless before us. The American way of war has been hailed culturally as “exceptional” and humane and just and necessary for the defense of profound human values and ideals, and thus a model for the rest of humanity…but the truth stands naked in the neo-colonies.
This has been especially true since the US assumed ownership of the Western capitalist system in 1945 and has used armed violence against many nations, either overtly or covertly, to expand it to the entire world, thereby building new roads so to speak, all leading to our New Rome.
In these almost innumerable wars, interventions, covert ops, assassinations etc. since the end of World War II the US has killed millions in places too numerous to list here, all of course in the name of progress and humanity.
The American empire that most Americans are persuaded does NOT exist began as an outpost of British imperialism, and now occupies the dominant position among the nations of our planet. One of the American goals of WWII was to knock Britain from its perch… to play Rome to Britain’s Athens as it were. Today American armed forces are in at least 170 of the 192 nations comprising the United Nations, and American ships, aircraft and satellites are deployed to every corner of the terrasphere, stratosphere, ionosphere, and outer space. The reach of American empire is a quantum leap in power beyond anything ever seen on planet earth.
Empire by definition is one core nation living at the expense of many others. Clearly, in terms of the distribution of wealth and resources, mal-distributed as they are domestically, most roads today lead to the United States. Yet a “perfect storm” of merging crises is gathering force that has every possibility to undo the American imperial project and, indeed, prove catastrophic for human civilization across the globe.
Empire, and the American neo-empire today, has always relied at bottom on armed force and that in turn has always been dependent on advantages in the technology of war. Since at least the turn of the 19th Century, when the emergence of modern capitalism fostered the Industrial Revolution, military and economic advantage has required access to ever greater quantities of energy. To a significant extent both World Wars were global imperial competitions for the control of oil. Until 1945 the US was self-sufficient in energy but used so much petroleum supplying its war machine and those of the United Kingdom and Soviet Union, that in order to maintain our enormously bloated way of life we became dependent on oil in other nations. Since then the American armed juggernaut has been deployed often, if not primarily, to protect access to petroleum in other people’s countries, to fuel our army, navy and air force, to safeguard the trading routes and shipping lanes to transport the black gold, all for the benefit of American living standards.
Our swollen way life is inconceivable without oil, and other hydrocarbons. Yet, the absolute reliance on the substances is slowly but indisputably poisoning and suffocating the very systems they enabled to arise, and the day draws near when the Age of Oil will end because of declining reserves and increasing costs.
Consider Peak Oil. A concerned geologist at Columbia named Hubbert began to worry about how long oil would last and he predicted that American production would peak about 1973. He was correct. Since 1859 the US has used half of its oil and now the other half will be consumed in the next 50 years, though it will undoubtedly be so expensive well before that many will have to choose between heat and food. He also predicted global oil production to peak about now and most analysts agree that his prediction is correct.
Americans have always relied upon ingenuity and technological fixes to solve problems but in this case the likelihood that hydrogen, biofuels, solar or cold fusion will ever replace petroleum and natural gas is slim. The U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal but reverting to that fuel will entail other collateral damage. Some, like James Lovelock, argue that nuclear power could save the advanced nations from total collapse but opposition to that is widespread especially after the events in Japan last Spring.
Thus, intensifying competition for access to fossil energy reserves is inexorably leading to increasing armed conflict, and, ironically, the armies in conflict will not be capable of combat without the very energy they are fighting to protect, thereby hastening the disappearance of this energy source, and therefore exacerbating the very problems that in truth cannot be resolved by war. A case in point is the fact that American and NATO forces in Afghanistan now consume a million gallons of fuel per day!
The release of carbon and other byproducts of burning coal, oil, and gas has altered the world’s ocean and atmospheric systems, while the industrial processes have also ravaged landscapes, rivers, overturned settled ways of life, and polluted cities. The net result is increasingly catastrophic climate change, just as climate scientists have predicted, leading to intensifying social problems like drought, floods, famine, increased disease, and the mass migration of populations. All of these are sure to lead, in turn, to more armed violence globally, and will unless a massive shift in consciousness takes place with an equal commitment to change.
While there are numerous Cassandra voices prophesying these outcomes the real issue before us is whether we have the will to see and take the necessary action before it is too late.
President Obama was elected primarily on the basis of his promise to end the war in Iraq. Is anyone fooled by his withdrawal that is not a withdrawal? His administration has just announced the total withdrawal of all American forces by December 31, 2011. And what of the uncounted but very numerous cohorts of “contractors,” like Blackwater/Xe, many of whom are highly paid former Special Forces operatives with “trigger time” who will employ their martial skills while remaining in Iraq? These amount to a privatized army at a cost far greater than the pay scale for regular troops. For what other purpose will these mercenaries remain than to ensure that this long coveted, yet incipient neo-colony remains in the American orbit and provides its only natural resource?
One of the first measures undertaken by the Bush Administration was to create a National Energy Policy Development Group headed by the chief spokesman of the oil industry, one Richard Cheney. No access to their records or discussions has ever been allowed but their actions surely indicate that the energy chief executives are mightily aware of Peak Oil. Their policy? Not conservation; no crash program of alternative energy sources, no commitment to work with the international community for peaceful solution. NO! The policy is clearly to invade other countries and seize their energy reserves and/or the means to transport them. For all President Obama’s rhetoric there really is no Plan B.
In the last few weeks the U.S.-NATO induced civil war in Libya has been won by rebels opposed to the ousted and now departed Gaddaffi. The rationale provided by the United Nations and President Obama was that a “no fly zone’ was necessary to prevent the slaughter of Libyan civilians and that would be the limit of American intervention. The 7-month long bombardment of Libya’s cities has resulted in a massive humanitarian catastrophy, the very outcome the intervention was supposed to prevent.
It is clear that even before this intervention was announced to the public the U.S already had CIA and Special Forces operatives on the ground in Eastern Libya. The intelligence analysis institute STRATFOR recently published a map of foreign oil concessions in Libya. The vast bulk are in Eastern Libya, now liberated from Gaddaffi’s grasp and soon to be made more profitably available to Western energy conglomerates. As South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham put it nakedly “Let’s get in on the ground. There is a lot of money to be made in the future in Libya. Lot of oil to be produced. Let’s get on the ground and help the Libyan people establish a democracy and a functioning economy based on free market principles. The “humanitarian” pretext stands naked in its hypocrisy. No such intervention has been deemed necessary in Bahrain or Yemen, or conspicuously, Saudi Arabia where repressive governments have killed numerous civilians demonstrating against those governments for the obvious reasons that these countries’ dictatorships cooperate with the American agenda in the region.
President Obama was elected on the strength of his opposition to the War in Iraq and his promise to end it. Yet in his recent speech declaring the Iraq War at an end he asserted that the original purpose was to disarm terrorists, the false claim made by his predecessor. Thus Obama has adopted the very narrative of the Bush deceptions. Bear in mind that Obama has always been in the camp of that section of the elite who saw the invasion as a blow to a very specific international order that would weaken the American position and overall agenda in the world. Read his speeches made as a senator before his candidacy. He feared the real American agenda to keep consuming the lion’s share of vital global resources was endangered by Bush’s cowboy tactics, and could lead to conflict with people who could do real damage, like Russia and China. His actions as president show he is not morally opposed to bombing and killing barefoot civilians who employ donkeys or camels as their mode of transport. That has continued unabated at his command. He claims to lose sleep over the deaths of American troops. Bob Woodward’s recent book declared that Obama is serious about withdrawing from Afghanistan in July of 2011. Now the date has been moved up to 2014. At best Obama seems the captive of the real government behind the scenes.
If you’ve never heard of Col. Fletcher Prouty that would not be an accident. He testified before the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, otherwise known as the Church Committee during the mid-1970s that revealed, among other things, the CIA’s assassination squads and its secret alliance with the Mafia. He blew minds with his description of the Secret Government behind the scenes. Prouty was a distinguished career military officer who in the last third of his career was deeply involved in the so-called intelligence community. He was go-between for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the CIA, and he reminds us that the CIA emerged directly from Wall Street at its birth in 1947. Prouty was a consummate insider who spilled the beans. At the time his remarkable book The Secret Team was deep-sixed by the very secret team he revealed. It has recently been re-published by a small press and is available. Read it and learn how our government’s foreign policy is really shaped and by whom and for what. As Prouty shows, this intelligence, military, and “national security” network is really a combine of those entities known popularly as High Finance, the Military Industrial Complex, and Big Media.
Prouty emphasizes that this secret government behind the scenes is NOT a tiny cabal comprised of the Illuminati or Tri-lateral Commission or Bilderbergers, or Council on Foreign Relations though they do play roles. Rather, each faction of the Financial-Military-Industrial- Intelligence-Congressional-Media Complex has self-interests, large-scale benefits, and its future existence to protect. No one is initiated into these agencies unless vetted very carefully, and that would be especially true of party nominations for president. While disputes arise between factions and can be intense, on rock bottom interests, like access to energy reserves and control of resources and markets, and on maintaining the dollar as the world reserve currency, each collaborates with the others in symbiotic and synergistic relationships. The clearest example is the war (Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Venezuela are essentially the same war!). Virtually all factions of the Secret Government support it, if for somewhat different reasons.
An example is the recent revelation that the Federal Reserve Bank printed 40 billion dollars and sent it to Iraq in 2003 where most of it promptly disappeared. This action clearly indicates that the nation’s chief bankers were part of the broad conspiracy among the behind-the-scene elites to invade Iraq, for conspiracy it was since Iraq had nothing to do with the events of 9-11, as the Bush Administration claimed. Masquerading as a government agency the Fed is really the nerve center of a consortium of the nation’s largest and most important banks. Fed officials acted in secrecy as always Why they acted as they did should be thoroughly analyzed and revealed.
This Secret Team has certainly never served the people, though it claims to do so as our national defense team (against enemies it creates!). For at least the last century its members have come to believe the president is its servant and most definitely not the other way around. As even ultra-conservative spokesman George Will said publically on a Sunday talk show: America has always been ruled by its aristocracy. It has never been about democracy but about which section of the elite will rule at any given time. Or as Noam Chomsky avers: There is only one political party, the Corporate party, with two separate wings.
Of course this Secret Government’s chieftains, no matter their past history, believe themselves to be omniscient and infallible. To take just the current crisis, the CIA itself fostered the rise of Islamic extremism during the Cold War because it believed this force would obstruct communism and prevent Arab and Muslim nationalism from achieving independence of western control, especially over oil. The CIA actually fostered Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran as the strategic answer to Iranian communists; as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to thwart Nasserism, or Arab nationalism; and the mujahideen in Afghanistan who morphed into the Taliban and al Qaeda. As the CIA itself said the eruption of Islamic militancy in opposition to the hand that fed it was “Blowback” of the first magnitude. When the Carter Administration national security chief, and current background adviser to Obama, Zbigniew Brzezinski, armed the Mujahideen in 1988 in order precisely to draw in Soviet troops, Brzezinski infamously declared: “That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?… I wrote to President Carter: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War’…What is more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
Stirred up Moslems indeed!
President Obama said clearly during his campaign that he would focus on Afghanistan in order to prevent the return of the Taliban and al Qaeda, thereby enhance American national security, and ensure that another 9-11 could never be planned and orchestrated from that country. We know now of a serious split between al Qaeda and the Taliban prior to 9-11 because of the latter’s fear of American retaliation. We know, also, that the Taliban have no desire to attack the United States itself, only those Americans on Afghan soil. American actions are clearly destabilizing Pakistan, thereby portending a far greater threat in terms of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. So what is the United States REALLY seeking to accomplish in Afghanistan? Again, the claim of a “humane” intent is preposterous. American actions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially attacks by pilotless drones that kill numerous civilian by-standers, do more for Al Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s recruiting than anything done by themselves.
If Bob Woodward’s recent book, Obama’s War, is to be believed the president desires to withdraw from Afghanistan but is being thwarted at every turn by the military, the CIA and even Hillary Clinton. I’m sure that Obama, having been cultivated and financed by major financial corporations still wishes to gain American access to the energy reserves of central Asia but the issue is whether that goal will be utterly compromised by policies based on raw force. It appears that the devotees of military solution are winning that argument but it is a doomed prospect and one that is fraught with danger.
When the Red Army finally left Afghanistan in the early 90s that tragic place descended into civil war while the US washed its bloody hands and walked away. Even so, as the Taliban came to dominate and as it committed terrible atrocities like public beheadings, and stonings of women, the CIA, Enron, and Unocal continued to negotiate with these extremists for a pipeline to carry oil and natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean. If the Taliban were to regain power over all of Afghanistan and offer a guarantee for the pipeline, I’m quite sure the US would crawl right back into bed with them no matter their brutality with no shame and excuses aplenty for public consumption, just as was the case in the 1990s. But given the damage wrought by US armed intervention today a deal with the Taliban is probably all but impossible, and the US will never be able to impose its own puppet able to guarantee the original US goal.
The real issue facing the so-called “advanced” nations and now China, India and the Asian tigers is that cheap oil is running out. Most oil industry experts and executives realize that we have all entered the age of Peak Oil. Extracting oil will become ever more difficult and expensive and at some future point will be so costly that it will cause essentially a collapse of globalism with real depression here in the US. The fact that oil commerce is denominated in dollars while the value of the dollar steadily declines also presages a future in which the dollar may be toppled as the world currency, thus leading to widespread inflation and certain critical shortages of basics.
Widespread suffering will be endemic, unless an alternative source of energy is found able to sustain our way of life. But that is extremely unlikely. Coal and natural gas can compensate to some degree but since our luxurious and wasteful way of life is based on oil and since we see our many profligate luxuries as necessities, the industries that support them will fail, and that will lead to mass unemployment, cold winters indoors and the absence of air-conditioning in summer, not to mention starvation in what we like to think of as the “backward” nations, and hunger here since our supermarket cornucopia requires hydrocarbon for fertilizers and pesticides. Miracle cures like bio-fuels and hydrogen are wishful thinking. Nuclear power could maintain the electrical grid but the recent meltdown in Japan may make that hope insurmountable despite Obama’s continuing support for a nuclear renaissance. Green technologies are unlikely to fill the void on time to avert the falling economic and political dominoes, if ever.
The US government’s real energy policy up to now has been to support energy corporations to exploit oil as usual and gain control over such reservoirs still existing. Congress is the creature of oil and other hydrocarbon corporations and their financiers…largely to protect their profit margins, and there is no plan for the day when the Age of Oil ends with a crash. Again natural gas and coal can maintain some of the richer nations at a much lower standard of living but this will result in widespread social upheaval leading to more international tension…not to mention an intensification of global warming
American foreign policy is premised today on garnering as much control over shrinking energy resources as possible…and to protect this access strategically. The various military commands are deployed primarily for this reason. Note that a new military command with responsibility for Africa has been created. The opportunity to create new military bases for AFRICOM is one of the prime reasons the U.S. is now in Libya. Note the recent incursion of American “advisors’ into Uganda and Sudan. Nigeria now provides a third of American needs, and Angola and other smaller nations have reservoirs that are targets for U.S. control. Obviously our attempt to gain control of the lion’s share of Middle East oil and especially of oil and natural gas in the Caspian and Central Asian regions will bring us into serious conflict with those nations that see these as their back yard – namely China and Russia and India and Pakistan. Imagine our response if China were to inject 150,000 troops into Mexico, the number two supplier of our domestic needs, or Venezuela, with the clear intention of siphoning these reserves to themselves?
Al Qaeda does not constitute an “existential threat” to the US and most real terrorist threats can be dealt with by police methods as the last decade has shown. It is well known in Washington but not among the public that the Taliban told al Qaeda not to attack the US from Afghanistan before 9-11. The fact that al Qaeda did so created a break between the two groups. The Afghan Taliban itself cannot threaten the US, and has never declared any intention to do so. But when Americans kill Muslims in Muslim lands we do far more to create terrorists than anything al Qaeda could do on its own. Meanwhile, attacks on Pakistan have promoted a separate Pakistani Taliban, and that faction has vowed to wreak vengeance on America, though its capacity to do so remains limited. The Pakistani Taliban, coupled with American air assaults, could destabilize Pakistan, and perhaps foster a takeover by Islamic fundamentalist junior officers. Recall that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the public is frightened and off balance and paying through the nose for endless deployments. None of this 4 trillion dollar war (as Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes now estimate) has been paid. Our children, and grandchildren, if they are lucky to have a future worthy of the name, will spend their working lives paying off these debts at jobs that won’t reflect degrees in higher education. Meanwhile, the various elements of the secret team are currently reaping the benefits of deficit spending and the national debt and they feel sure that eventually the real price will be paid by those who sacrifice their lives and by taxpayers forced ever more into bankruptcy, foreclosure and unemployment.
The current wars will fail to achieve their goals. Premised as they are on lies they are in fact crimes against the peoples of the region, crimes intended to take advantage of their weaknesses and reward American energy and financial corporations and secondarily we citizens of the empire who insist on maintaining a failing way of life. It is the same ancient game of beggar our neighbors to advantage ourselves. In neither Iraq nor Afghanistan will the US achieve control of shrinking energy reserves for essentially the same reason it could not control Vietnam, the very war waged upon their peoples ostensibly to “liberate” them recruits more opponents. Moreover, the attempt to do so will result ever more tensions with the Muslim world and the other nations that need energy too.
In other words, the global climate is heating up in more ways than one. The conditions for another global war are present, and let us not ignore the fact that the last one was waged with toys compared to the present.
President Obama has said that he wants to see a “nuclear free Middle East. That would require the nuclear disarmament of Israel. Yet Obama goes along with the pretense of all his predecessors and refuses to acknowledge that Israel has these Weapons of Mass Destruction. If, indeed Iran is building nuclear weapons why wouldn’t it given the fear of Israel’s, or of America’s in the Persian Gulf, of Russia’s to the north, of Pakistan’s to the east? A world in which some nations declare their entitlement to such horrific weapons is a world in which many others tremble and come to reason that their only protection lies in possessing such themselves. As international tensions rise over shrinking resources, and the ravages of climate change, the more likely a hair trigger mentality will arise. Hiroshima was the handwriting on the wall. As these demonic weapons increase sooner or later they will be used.
That is, unless American policies take a turn toward sanity, and come to focus on what our rhetoric has claimed we stand for all along.
Congressman Barney Frank has stated that the current economic crisis could be resolved by simply reducing the size and mission of the military. To be sure, the U.S. could defend itself against any existential threat with a tenth of our current military budget. Such a redirection of resources could ameliorate economic crisis significantly but only for a time. The issue still remains the energy future, especially depletion and the effects of discharging hydrocarbon effluents into the atmosphere in the first place, and the growing likelihood of spreading violence. By all measures the American government and the public appear intent to hang on to our way of life no matter the consequences. That way of life is inherently profligate and unsustainable. We have altered the climate to the extent that ravaging events like the recent floods in Pakistan, vast forest fires in Russia, Hurricane Katrina, water shortages, and desertification are mere warnings. The worse all such conditions become the more social and political instability with severe danger of armed violence.
Our policies in the future must center on a crash program of conservation of energy, even if this means draconian limits imposed by law such as smaller more fuel efficient vehicles, and heating devices, and restrictions on air-conditioning and banning plastic containers etc. Both the nuclear power and coal industries are ramping up pressure since they know that natural gas, which at present provides most electricity, is also depleting and we need to educate people to be aware of what will happen without secure electricity. Simultaneously we need a Manhattan Project “cubed” and focused on alternative energy. Above all the crying need is for international cooperation in conservation, for cooperation into research into alternative energy sources, and mutual disarmament treaties and agreements to avoid conflict over shrinking resources. The alternative is the worsening probability of a third global war. Yet at present we have only Plan A: Armed intervention.
Alternatives can occur ONLY if the public awakens to the coming storm. We cannot depend on the corporate media to educate us; they are allied with their major clients, not the public, and they are deliberately withholding bad news for fear of stampeding the stock markets into panic. We must get the word out ourselves and make it clear that we will not accept or cooperate with business as usual from Congress or the presidency. That will have to mean more militancy throughout this nation than seen since the 1960s, or really even the 1930s. Unfortunately I fear this will require even deeper crisis before we begin to awaken to the danger ahead.
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq (New Society Publishers, 2003) Following the U.S. declaration of a “war on terror,” Washington hawks were quick to label Iraq part of an “axis of evil.” After a tense build-up, in March 2003 the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, purportedly to protect Western publics from weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But was this the real reason, or simply a convenient pretext to veil a covert agenda? Ahmed shows that economic considerations prompted US-UK to invade Iraq. The US has become vulnerable to energy shocks with domestic production unable to cope with increasing demand. This has led to occasional blackouts in places like California. Prior to Iraq war America’s oil inventories fell to the lowest level since 1975 with the country on the verge of drawing oil from ‘Strategic Petroleum Reserve.’ Iraq under Saddam Hussein was becoming what author says a ‘ swing producer.’ In other words he was turning oil tap on and off whenever Baghdad felt that such a policy was suiting its interests. Hussein even contemplated removing Iraqi oil from the market for extended periods of time which would have sent crude oil prices soaring.
Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (NY, Metropolitan Books, 2006) In an effort to thwart the spread of communism, the U.S. has supported–even organized and funded–Islamic fundamentalist groups, a policy that has come back to haunt post-cold war geopolitics. Drawing on archival sources and interviews with policymakers and foreign-service officials, Dreyfuss traces this ultimately misguided approach from support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the ultra-orthodox Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, and Hamas and Hezbollah to jihads in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. Fearful of the appeal of communism, the U.S. saw the rise of a religious Right as a counterbalance. Despite the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the declared U.S. war on terrorism in Iraq, Dreyfuss notes continued U.S. support for Iraq’s Islamic Right. He cites parallels between the cultural forces that have promoted the religious Right in the U.S and the Middle East and notes that support from wealthy donors, the emergence of powerful figures, and politically convenient alliances have contributed to Middle Eastern hostilities toward the U.S.
William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order (London, Pluto Press, 2004) This book is a gripping account of the murky world of the international oil industry and its role in world politics. Scandals about oil are familiar to most of us. From George W. Bush’s election victory to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US politics and oil enjoy a controversially close relationship. The US economy relies upon the cheap and unlimited supply of this single fuel. William Engdahl takes the reader through a history of the oil industry’s grip on the world economy. His revelations are startling.
Zbigniew Brzezinski The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives (NY, Basic Books, 1998) President Carter’s former National Security Adviser, and now an informal adviser to President Obama, bragged that he had drawn the Soviets into their debacle in Afghanistan: ”What is most important to the history of the world? Some stirred up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” As his title indicates the fate of nations and their peoples are relegated to game theory. If America is to play the game of geo-strategic chess who are the pawns?
Richard Heinberg, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies New Society Publishers, 2005) The world is about to run out of cheap oil and change dramatically. Within the next few years, global production will peak. Thereafter, even if industrial societies begin to switch to alternative energy sources, they will have less net energy each year to do all the work essential to the survival of complex societies. We are entering a new era, as different from the industrial era as the latter was from medieval times… Heinberg places this momentous transition in historical context, showing how industrialism arose from the harnessing of fossil fuels, how competition to control access to oil shaped the geopolitics of the twentieth century and how contention for dwindling energy resources in the twenty-first century will lead to resource wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and South America…he also recommends a “managed collapse” that might make way for a slower-paced, low-energy, sustainable society in the future.
Michael Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet (NY, Holt, 2009) Looking at the “new international energy order,” author and journalist Klare (Resource Wars) finds America’s “sole superpower” status falling to the increasing influence of “petro-superpowers” like Russia and “Chindia.” Klare identifies and analyzes the major players as well as the playing field, positing armed conflict and environmental disaster in the balance. Currently in the lead is emerging energy superpower Russia, which has gained “immense geopolitical influence” selling oil and natural gas to Europe and Asia; the rapidly-developing economies of China and India follow. Klare also warns of the danger of a new cold-war environment.
James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency :Surviving the End of Oil etc. (NY, Grove Press, 2005) It used to be thought that only environmentalists and paranoids warned about the world running out of oil and the future it could bring: crashing economies, resource wars, social breakdown, agony at the pump…Americas dependence on oil is too pervasive to undo quickly…meanwhile we’ll have our hands full dealing with soaring temperatures, rising sea levels and mega-droughts brought on by global climate change. (The Washington Post).
James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (New York, Basic Books, 2010) Presents evidence of a dire future for our planet. The controversial originator of Gaia theory (which views Earth as a self-regulating, evolving system made of organisms, the surface, the ocean and the atmosphere with the goal always to be as favorable for contemporary life as possible) proposes an even more inconvenient truth than Al Gore’s. The eminent 91-year-old British scientist challenges the scientific consensus of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is too late to reverse global warming, he says, and we must accept that Earth is moving inexorably into a long-term “hot state.” Most humans will die off, and we must prepare havens. He points out that sea levels are rising significantly faster than models predicted. Lovelock advocates solar thermal and nuclear power as the best substitutes for burning fossil fuels, and he suggests emergency global geo-engineering projects that might cool the planet. But Lovelock also avows today’s ecological efforts are futile. This is a somber prophecy written with an authority that cannot be dismissed.
L. Fletcher Prouty, The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World (Skyhorse Publishing 2008) A retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force, served as the chief of special operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy years. He was directly in charge of the global system designed to provide military support for the clandestine activities of the CIA. Prouty’s CIA exposé, was first published in the 1970s, but virtually all copies of the book disappeared upon distribution, purchased en masse by shady “private buyers.” Certainly Prouty’s amazing allegations—that the U-2 Crisis of 1960 was fixed to sabotage Eisenhower-Khrushchev talks, and that President Kennedy was assassinated to keep the U.S., and its defense budget, in Vietnam—cannot have pleased the CIA.
Michael Ruppert, Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009) Ruppert confronts the stark realities of a world of declining oil production, poses vital questions of our complex oil-dependent supply chains and challenges us-people and politician alike-to build a sustainable world with what remains of our resources.–Julian Darley, Author, High Noon for Natural Gas, Founder of Post Carbon Institute
Michael J. Sullivan, American Adventurism Abroad: Invasions, Interventions, and Regime Changes Since 1945 (Wiley Blackwell, 2007).
Traces US foreign policy from the late 1940s through the past six years of America’s ‘war on terror,’ and examines the impact of its repeated militaristic meddling into developing nations. Intended as a reference tool for undergraduates the author estimates that at least 7.1 million human beings have died as a direct result of these U.S. operations, most of them civilians.