Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Insatiable Lust for Plunder

“Rocky Mountain Landscape” by Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902), oil on canvas.

Like many of his colleagues Albert Bierstadt was captivated and awed by the beauty of the North American continent. He painted grand and sweeping scenes of the American west at a time when little was known about it to European Americans except in rumour.  His use of light and space thrusts us into the sphere of the transcendent splendor of nature and its power.

Of course Native Americans knew of this beauty for many centuries prior to colonialism. They revered it as sacred, and understood that human beings and nature were not separate entities but were one in the same whose identity and destiny were inextricably linked.  Today much of that land has be despoiled or is imperiled by industry and development.  Protected areas are increasingly hemmed in by the interests of corporations, petroleum companies and mining, creating islands of besieged wildlife.

The battle for these last remaining lands has never ceased.  The capitalist robber barons of the 21st century have never sated their lust for plunder, and Donald Trump’s executive order attempting to rescind national monuments is a living example of that sad fact.  One might wonder what someone like Bierstadt, or his contemporaries in the Hudson River School, would have thought about the reckless and insane drive to rid the continent of its last remaining sanctuaries for wildlife.  But looking at this painting it isn’t too difficult to imagine the sorrow he would have felt.

 

Kenn Orphan  2917

Flirting with the Fires of Hell

“It is such a supreme folly to believe that nuclear weapons are deadly only if they’re used. The fact that they exist at all, their presence in our lives, will wreak more havoc than we can begin to fathom. Nuclear weapons pervade our thinking. Control our behavior. Administer our societies. Inform our dreams. They bury themselves like meat hooks deep in the base of our brains. They are purveyors of madness. They are the ultimate colonizer. Whiter than any white man that ever lived. The very heart of whiteness.” – Arundhati Roy

 

With tensions rising around the world thanks to Donald Trump’s escalation of militarism, and US warships being sent to the Sea of Japan, there are many who are jittery about the potential of a confrontation involving chemical weapons or worse, a nuclear incident between North Korea and the US.  There is reason to be.  A narcissistic megalomaniac with the moral intelligence of a tsetse fly is seated on the throne of the American Empire.  With one unhinged tweet the world could be plunged into instant misery.  And North Korea is a paranoid authoritarian regime which has elevated the worship of the State to an art form.  It has recently unveiled what appear to be new weapons,  and it is widely known to possess nuclear weapons.  

Nuclear weapons are arguably the most totally destructive weapon ever conceived of by our species.   Even now, years after the Cold War ended, they continue to menace our world with irreversible and utter devastation.  But there has been only one nation on the planet which has actually detonated not one but two nuclear bombs on two cities, incinerating thousands of civilians in a micro-second and killing nearly 130,000 women, children and men.  The United States did this in spite of evidence that Japan was already in ruins and was perhaps ready to surrender.  Borrowing tactics from other imperial entities in history, it was most likely an effort to send a message  of dominance to another rising power, Soviet Russia.
At its heart the nature of empire is to see itself as noble.   Edward Said observed: “Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.”  Said understood that the role of these myths were to obscure its supremacist character.  Its atrocities can always be justified via empty slogans like “freedom” and “democracy,” or the lie of “humanitarian military intervention.”   The disease of nationalism convinces the public of its virtuous intentions.  And “the nationalist”, as George Orwell noted: not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

In the years following the second world war the United States launched an aggressive assault on the Korean peninsula completely leveling Pyongyang in a war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians.  The growing American super power also tested its nukes out on the once pristine Marshall Islands and its indigenous population in the Pacific, forever poisoning the land and causing untold misery for generations.  It exposed its own soldiers and citizens to the detrimental effects of radiation from nuclear tests in the Nevada desert from 1951 and 1957.  It dropped napalm and Agent Orange on Southeast Asia, and carpet bombed entire regions.  During the Gulf War in the 1990s the US exposed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to nerve gas which continues to cause suffering today.  More recently the Pentagon has admitted that it used depleted uranium in Iraq and Syria, causing horrific birth defects and cancer.  It did all of this with the noblest of intentions, or so we have been told.

Of course the United States is not the only nation to have committed large scale atrocities.  Imperial Japan was brutal and ruthless, and Nazi Germany was a genocidal monster.  Stalinist Russia had its own brand of cruel repression and mass murder, and the history of European colonialism is drenched in the blood of millions.  Indeed, small nations too have committed barbarous acts of savagery often with the blessing of super powers like the US, Europe or Russia.  With all of this in mind one must ask what moral leg any government has to stand upon when it comes to making the world safe or bringing peace?  How can any one of them be trusted with sweeping military power?  Are we really expected to believe that in this day and age any of them have the best of intentions when they use such powers?

Arguably, in terms of global violence it is the American Empire which is leading the way today.   Indeed, under Obama and Trump  it has excelled when it comes to nuclear proliferation in the first half of the 21st century.   It justifies all of this with the same old canards about the need for an effective deterrence against the threat of “rogue states” or terrorism.  But to accept this line of thinking is deny these documented crimes of Empire, and to deny that war itself is terrorism and nuclear bombs are its supreme expression.
It has been seventy two years since those bombings in Japan.  Seventy two years of forgetting the horror.  Seventy two years of normalizing the inhumanity.  Seventy two years of nation states, big and small, creating newer, more fearsome, more cruel and more totally annihilating weapons, with the most powerful one of all leading the pack in this mad journey toward oblivion.  But in those seventy two years very little has been learned from those hateful skies about building a just and peaceful world, or from the shadows of human ghosts cast from them onto the unforgiving pavement.  Their shadows are a haunting reminder to all of us of the preciousness and fragility of all life.
As the Empire flirts with the fires of hell once again, may those ghosts have mercy on the rest of us.  And may they forgive us for ignoring their silent warning.
Kenn Orphan  2017

 Addendum:  I wanted to add something personal to this article.  My father was in the US Navy during the second world war, and was scheduled to be deployed to Japan just before the bombing of Hiroshima. So I did not write this with flippancy. If he had been deployed I may not have been born.  But I rarely entertain hypothetical arguments, especially when real flesh and blood human beings have been killed.  And I cannot rationalize incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilians for a theory that it might have saved millions.  To me it is a ghoulish game that is only relished by the powerful.

I loved my father, but he was told and believed one version of the story: the victor’s version.  There is now strong evidence that indicates the contrary or at least other possibilities.  Empires lie, and they lie well.  Especially when they are the victors of war.  It is up to us to parse through those lies and reject the insidious nationalism they use to justify their crimes against humanity.

Monsters, Inc.

And yet another dark page is turned in the saga of humanity versus Empire. One monster attacks a smaller monster and other monsters join in, each vying for a place at a table of rot where the pie is being slowly polluted by industry, violence and greed. Big monsters, little monsters, monsters with nukes, monsters with barrel bombs, secular monsters, religious monsters, monsters with money, monsters with none.

And in the end its everyone else, the mothers, the fathers, the children, the elderly, the artists, the scientists, the teachers, the doctors, the nurses, the janitors, the addicts, the pious, the prostitutes, the sick, the poor, the mentally ill, who get bombed, who get gassed, who get tortured, who have their water supplies poisoned, or who get maimed by the state, or who get blown apart to smithereens.

This lament, and perhaps epitaph, is in regard to what a sad species we are if this is the best we can do.

(Photo is of airstrikes by the American Empire against Syria in the last couple hours, source is Reuters).

Kenn Orphan  2017

Resistance in an Age of Absurdity

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

 

From an incessant flow of paranoid tweets to bizarre statements about massacres that never happened or secret cameras fitted in microwaves, Donald Trump’s regime has ushered the unhinged spectacle of reality show television right into the Oval Office with stunning success.  Were this absurdity to be contained within the confines of a political thriller it might be mildly entertaining.  But in the real world, a world in which real civilians are being blown to bits by smart bombs, real children are starving to death, real refugees are being turned back to face certain death, and where the real biosphere is perilously close to the edge of catastrophe, this derangement is utterly terrifying.

 

Trump is a master at manipulating the corporate media via the manufacture of controversy and melodrama.  Of course the irony is that the very same broadcasting behemoths he routinely demonizes provide his unhinged theatrics with non stop coverage which, in turn, has given them unprecedented ratings and profits.  But behind the spectacle lurks a far more insidious method to this madness.  In a mere three months the Trump regime has managed to replace the heads of institutions like the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with individuals who wish to dismantle them.  He has codified racist xenophobia through executive orders which ban Muslims and persecute undocumented immigrants. And through his elevation of white supremacist Steven Bannon to astonishing power, he has animated the latent white nationalist movement.

The Trump regime has also demonstrated its eager willingness to expand the war machine of American Empire, pouring billions of dollars into an already bloated military industrial sector while gutting social and medical services.   In this short time Trump’s militarism has empowered the Pentagon and has claimed the lives of scores of men, women and children from Syria, to Yemen, to Iraq, and it is only just ramping up.   There is also little to cast doubt on the prospect of wars and military conflicts involving China, North Korea and Iran in the not too distant future given the administration’s unhinged saber rattling and provocation.

 

His appointment of former ExxonMobil executive, Rex Tillerson, to the State Department signifies a blatant display of the influence of the fossil fuel industry in regard to US foreign and domestic policy.  Tillerson presided over the company in the 1970s, a period in which the oil giant launched massive campaigns to deny its own research which confirmed human caused global warming.  Trump’s recent executive order related to climate change delivered a blow to reason.  It was meant to.  His absurdist view that it is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese is a hallmark of his risible ignorance and, remarkably, still has currency in many conspiratorially minded circles.  But in this Age of Absurdity facts and the truth itself have become the first victims.

As a resurgent fascism stands poised to sweep over the West we can expect increasing brutality against dissent; and it would be foolish to think the repercussions of this would remain localized.  We will be increasingly asked to choose between compliance with monstrous state repression or bold resistance. The protests which have sprung up against the onslaught of misogynistic and xenophobic polices have been encouraging to see, but there are already a slew of laws in the works designed to stifle direct action. And the Democratic Party establishment is not interested, nor is it equipped to offer up any kind of meaningful resistance since it has acquiesced to the demands and interests of Wall Street, corporations and the war industry long ago. Their role has been one of normalizing the ruthless exploits of global capitalism.  Indeed, the Clinton and Obama administrations championed the brutality of neoliberal capitalism and weakened civil liberties and gutted social safety nets for the poor while deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and bolstering the imperialistic war machine.  

 

If there is anyone to look to in these dark times for inspiration it would be the ongoing struggles of Black Lives Matter, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), and Standing Rock Sioux which largely began during the previous administration and are international in scope.  These movements have endured and weathered police and state intimidation, brutality, violence and arrest; and it is their fortitude and integrity which offers us all a living example of how bold we will need to be in the face of an ever more oppressive tyranny.  They were born of the historic struggles of indigenous peoples against colonialism, police brutality and environmental racism.  And with the perilous times that lie ahead solidarity with them is needed now more than ever before.

Thanks to the convergence of a climate ravaged world and a fragile biosphere that is teetering on collapse and extinction, the global despotism rising today will be unlike anything we have ever seen before.  The flames of nationalism and xenophobia will be fanned by fascists who will ride a rising and unfortunate tide of climate chaos.   They will use famine, austerity and social unrest and uncertainty to justify brutal authoritarianism, repression and state violence; and they will have no problem employing chicanery, scapegoating and dehumanization to achieve their end.  Indeed, their embrace of absurdity, or its pretense, is their strength.

 

In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt said: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”    The more fascists are permitted to make a mockery of justice, humanity and protection of the living earth, the more easy it will be for them to manipulate the deepest fears and prejudices of the public.  They will continue to launch mendacious smears against climate scientists, assault the poor and the most vulnerable, advance racism, expand war and militarism, disparage the press, and promote the inversion of reality to their favor even as the planet burns.   And if we continue to allow them to bend the arc of truth we will most assuredly see truth itself begin to die.   Our resistance to tyranny begins the day we refuse to allow this to happen on our watch.

 

Kenn Orphan 2017