Author Archives: Kenn Orphan

About Kenn Orphan

Kenn Orphan is a social worker, artist, and human and environmental rights advocate.

As calls for unions grow, it is worth revisiting the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“You are doing many things here in this struggle. You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive, for the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant. All labor has dignity.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Excerpt from the “All Labor Has Dignity” speech delivered on March 18, 1968 at Bishop Charles Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tennessee. The church was overflowing with sanitation workers on strike and their supporters.

On February 12, 1968, 1,300 Black sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis, Tennessee. It began a few days after the gruesome deaths of two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed to death by a garbage truck. These men were in thankless jobs that were extraordinarily dangerous and they were paid a pittance for it. They were not allowed to form unions and were paid far less than their white co-workers.

The strikers faced enormous police state violence too. They were beaten and teargassed. One 16 year old boy, Larry Payne, was shot and killed by police during one of the demonstrations. Martin Luther King, Jr, along with other civil rights activists, traveled to Memphis in solidarity with the strikers. It was there that he delivered the speech where he said: “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” Dr. King was assassinated one day later.

Toward the end of his life, King’s rhetoric was considered too radical by many white “moderates” or liberals. This, and his stand against the imperialistic war against Vietnam and militarism, made him a pariah to polite, white, bourgeois society. In fact, at the time of his death 75% of Americans disapproved of his antiwar and pro-labour stances. King terrified the ruling class because he called for revolutionary socio-economic changes that defied the capitalist hegemony.

King was right. War and militarism never benefit the poor or working class no matter the country in which they happen to reside. In fact, it is the exact opposite. And ALL labour does have dignity. But dignity is not merely a pat on the back. It means fair wages and benefits, sick pay, holiday pay, worker safety, paid maternity leave and equal representation. It also means guaranteed healthcare and housing that is not tied to labour at all.

Just as the sanitation workers in Memphis were treated with disdain and exposed to dangerous working conditions, the pandemic revealed that little has changed when it comes to protecting and compensating workers. Whether it be store clerks, delivery people, janitors, baristas, truck drivers, hospital staff or others in so-called “frontline” positions, we witnessed firsthand how neoliberal, corporate culture devalues human beings and their worth when it matters most.

Recently, Starbucks founder and interim CEO Howard Schultz lamented that companies are being ‘assaulted’ by the ‘threat’ of unionization. Shultz net worth is estimated at 4.3 billion dollars USD. How any person who has more wealth than some small countries could feel threatened by workers who only want what is fair is staggering, but it is a safe bet that his sentiments are shared by most of his class.

After what Schultz admitted, it is worth repeating some other things King said to these Memphis sanitation workers that day in 1968:

Now let me say a word to those of you who are on strike. You have been out now for a number of days, but don’t despair. Nothing worthwhile is gained without sacrifice. The thing for you to do is stay together, and say to everybody in this community that you are going to stick it out to the end until every demand is met, and that you are gonna say, “We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.” Let it be known everywhere that along with wages and all of the other securities that you are struggling for, you are also struggling for the right to organize and be recognized.

Now the other thing is that nothing is gained without pressure. Don’t let anybody tell you to go back on the job and paternalistically say, “Now, you are my men and I’m going to do the right thing for you. Just come on back on the job.” Don’t go back on the job until the demands are met. Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. Freedom is not some lavish dish that the power structure and the white forces in policy-making positions will voluntarily hand out on a silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the appetite. If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it.

Today, as we see people around the world organizing labour unions and fighting back against an oppressive, exclusionary and deeply unequal culture of corporate despotism, we should keep King’s words on our minds and in our hearts. Because as the backlash grows, we will need to remember them now more than ever before.

Kenn Orphan, April 2022

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Earth Day is Not a Celebration

The first Earth Day was in 1970. It came about as a response to a major oil spill off of Santa Barbara, California, in 1969. This, along with Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring which documented the devastation caused by the pesticide industry on birds and other wildlife, the end of the Vietnam War, and the famous 1968 Earthrise NASA photograph of the earth from the moon, galvanized millions of people to protest the destruction of our biosphere caused by war and powerful industries. More than 20 million people took to the streets that day, making it still the largest single-day protest in US history.

In the decades since then, corporations, NGOs and the military industrial sector have managed to co-opt the very essence of this movement, turning it into a complete farce. After the Vietnam War exposed the murderous lies of imperialistic militarism, weapons manufacturers decided to rebrand their profit making scheme as “peace keeping” efforts. Today, the military is the biggest polluter on the planet.

And corporate greenwashing kicked into high gear too. It had to. After all, decades of plunder and pollution was bad for business since it tarnished their public image. Thus, the sham of recycling was created to cover up the ongoing extraction of fossil fuels in order to make single use, plastic items.

Today, 91 percent of plastic never gets recycled. Much of it winds up in landfills, as litter along roadsides or in parks, or in the ocean. In fact, it is estimated that 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic are churning in the world’s oceans, torturing and killing marine wildlife, with millions of plastic items joining them every single day. And the use of fossil fuels is rapidly altering the earth’s climate systems, leading to devastating storms, drought, fires, desertification, coral bleaching and rising sea levels.

The official theme for Earth Day this year is “Invest In Our Planet.” If we read between the lines, it is clear that this theme is a call for the wholescale financialization and privatization of nature. It is apparent that Wall Street has taken the helm and the course they have set will only lead us all to the precipice of ecological catastrophe.

It doesn’t have to remain this way. Just as the ownership of Earth is a scam, so too is the ownership of Earth Day. It begins by us refusing to swallow the corporate, government and military greenwashing lies about a day that was never meant to be a celebration, but a call to radical and revolutionary action to save the biosphere on which we all depend.

Kenn Orphan, April 2022

Putin and the Church: an Unholy Alliance

Following what appear to be horrendous war crimes, Putin continues his rampage through Ukraine. It is becoming an exercise in absurdity for anyone to defend this war, yet it still has its supporters. Some may still believe that he wants to “de-Nazify” the country. While Ukraine undoubtedly has a serious problem with fascism and far right extremists, one need only to listen to Putin himself to understand that his “justifications” are pure nonsense.

Lest anyone has doubts as to Putin’s racist and imperialistic vision, he was quoted as saying:

“The United States continues to receive more and more immigrants, and, as far as I understand, the white, Christian population is already outnumbered … White Christians have become a minority, less than 50 percent now. … Russia is a vast territory, from its western to eastern borders, it is a Eurasian space. But as regards culture, even language group and history, this all is undoubtedly a European space, as it is inhabited by people of this culture. … we have to preserve all this to remain a significant centre in the world.”

In addition to this, Putin has a great ally in the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill, patriarch of the church, has been one of the most vocal cheerleaders for Putin’s aggressive nationalism and this murderous war. In a recent sermon he declared that this was a “struggle to defend human civilization” against the “sin” of “gay-pride parades.” To odious men like Kirill, the scenes of cities reduced to rubble or bodies strewn on city streets, many with their hands bound, is somehow “holy” while human sexuality in all of its marvelous diversity is depraved. It is a testament to how extremist religious beliefs are fundamentally anti-human.

Without a doubt, Kirill cares little for the young conscripted Russian soldiers condemned to be cannon fodder in this imperialistic venture. As the death toll mounts, he has been able to spew bile from the lavish Main Cathedral of the Armed Forces, a monstrosity built two years ago as a celebration of Russian militarism. One can hardly fathom the depths of depravity required to design and construct this temple to war and then consecrate it to the Prince of Peace.

But before we wag our fingers too much, we should understand the danger in our own backyards. Most religious people hope and strive for peace and hold compassion as a supreme value. But religion has been frequently used by the powerful as a means of social control. It can be an effective bludgeon for silencing opposition and dissent. A loudspeaker for despots. An arm of state repression and militarism.

And this is most often a reciprocal arrangement. Whether it be the use of Islam to crush women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, or the use of Hinduism to subjugate Muslims and Dalits in India, or the use of Judaism to deny Palestinians their human rights, or the use of Buddhism to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya, or the use of Christianity to oppress women and persecute LGBTQ+ people in the United States, religious leaders and zealots will seize on any opportunity they are given to impose their worldview upon others, and they will utilize the state to this end.

Patriarch Kirill offers us a glimpse into state sanctioned, religious barbarism. His alliance with Putin underscores the need for the separation of church and state. And he is being lauded by racists, white supremacists and fascists the world over. But he is also a reminder that religious zealots have little use for this earth we call home. To them, it is stained with human sin. So, a “holy war” of fire and brimstone might actually be appealing to those with such nihilistic and misanthropic leanings. As the world inches ever closer to nuclear war, this should give us all good reason to be worried.

Kenn Orphan, April 2022

*Photo is of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. Getty Images.

The Oscars Have Never Been Civil

Too often, things are swept down the memory hole in popular culture. This is especially true in Hollywood.

The outrage and shock being displayed by many in regard to Will Smith’s slap of comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars is very telling. But what I find the most interesting is this persistent belief about this ceremony being some kind of fortress of civility. It is farcical on so many levels.

Were the Oscars civil to Hattie McDaniel when she was the first Black woman to win the coveted award for best supporting actress in Gone with the Wind? McDaniel was segregated from the rest of the cast at the awards ceremony and not allowed to attend the “whites only” gala that followed. She was lucky, in many ways. Other Black actors in the film were not even credited. Were they civil to Vanessa Redgrave when she courageously defended Palestinian human rights? Redgrave was booed and partially blacklisted by that “oh so civil” Hollywood industry.

And then there was the case of Native-American actress, model, and civil rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who accepted the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando in 1973 for The Godfather. Brando declined in protest due to the continued negative portrayal of Native Americans in Hollywood movies and asked Littlefeather to represent him. She gave a speech decrying, in the most mildest of ways, the rancid stereotyping of her people to both boos and applause.

John Wayne, that emblem of ugly white supremacist America, had to be restrained by no less than six body guards in order to keep him from rushing the stage to manhandle Littlefeather off. The rest of the evening was full of backhanded jeers and jokes at the expense of her and Native Americans.

Will Smith’s outburst was certainly newsworthy, but let’s not pretend that Hollywood is some kind of bastion for civility or ethics. Its history is laced with odious prejudice and bigotry that dwarf the spectacle of an ill-tempered slap in the face.

Kenn Orphan, March 2022

They Just Want the Bombs to Stop Falling

“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.“ —  George Orwell

As the world watches the horror of Putin’s war on Ukraine unfold, there is another that must be remembered. Nineteen years ago, on the 20th of March, 2003, George W. Bush launched his infamous war on the people of Iraq. It was a war based on lies. Yet Bush was never sanctioned. Never had to face charges. Never saw the inside of a courtroom, let alone a jail cell.

On the contrary, Bush’s image was rehabilitated from war criminal to statesman by a sycophantic media that adores the myths of American exceptionalism far more than they honour the truth. A grandfather who paints portraits, goes to football games with Ellen DeGeneres, and gets hugs from Michelle Obama. How quickly the focus shifted from the mountains of corpses and rivers of blood he was responsible for.

His partner in crime across the pond, Tony Blair, would receive a similar makeover. His crimes were rewarded with knighthood. In fact, the only ones punished in this tale of corruption and brutality have been those who revealed it all to the public. Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. And now Assange sits in a gulag awaiting a terrible fate of extradition to the US.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the wars led, supported or funded by the US and its allies, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Yemen. But their ghosts fade into the fog of Western memory with each passing year. Those souls tortured in Abu Ghraib have been rendered invisible by a culture obsessed with rebranding history.

The hypocrisy of the West has been painfully obvious these past few weeks. As in Yemen, the people of Afghanistan have all but been forgotten as they starve thanks to a freeze on their assets by the US. Their plight and its cause are seldom discussed in mainstream media. If it was, then the selective outrage over Ukraine would be revealed. How could they explain their deliberate starvation of children, women and men in some of the poorest places on earth while they lambast Putin?

Without a doubt, Putin’s war on Ukraine is abhorrent. It and his imperialistic ambitions should be condemned. But no more so than the imperialism and scores of military actions taken against the Global South by the US and its allies. This isn’t “whataboutism,” it is fact. And it is only thanks to racism that this ridiculous charge is brought up over and over against anyone who dares jog the short memory of the Western elite.

On this grim anniversary, it is worth a reminder that most people in war zones, whether it be in the Middle East, Africa or Europe, don’t care very much about which flag is emblazoned on the bombs falling on their houses. They just want the bombs to stop falling.

Kenn Orphan, March 2022

*Photo is of Hiroshima after the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. The US is the only country thus far to have used nuclear weapons against civilians. Getty Images.

Remembering Rachel Corrie

Eighteen years ago today, the American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) armored bulldozer in Gaza. She was only 23 years old. Rachel was in Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led human rights organization that is dedicated to nonviolent methods. Rachel had been standing in front of armored bulldozers with other activists, in a peaceful protest against the demolition of Palestinian homes, a common tactic of collective punishment meted out by the IDF, when she was run over.

Witnesses to the events that day said there was no way that the operator of the bulldozer did not see Rachel, and that she was dragged for 10 to 15 meters while activists shouted to him that she was being crushed. And although an investigation was carried out, it was done by the Israeli military. Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din, along with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, criticized the investigation as severely compromised and biased.  

In the month prior to her death, Rachel provided support to the civilians of Gaza attempting to repair the Canada Well which had provided 50% of Rafah’s water supply prior to damage done by Israeli bulldozers. Israeli tanks and snipers would routinely shoot at the workers there so the presence of international activists was necessary to reduce harm and provide a witness.

Rachel also worked closely with the children of Gaza who had suffered enormously from the ravages of war and from living under the collective punishment of the IDF in what today has become the world’s largest open air prison. 78 children in Rafah alone had been killed from 2001 to 2003. Despite all of this, she described the people of Gaza as being incredibly hospitable and kind.

Rachel’s life and death have been memorialized in a cantata by the Alaskan composer Philip Munger and in a play by the late Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner, based on her journals and emails to her parents. Songs were written in her honour by Billy Bragg, Mike Stout and David Rovics. And there have been several documentaries made.

I had the great privilege of meeting Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, at a fundraiser for Medical Aid for Palestinians in California several years ago. They never gave up on seeking justice for their daughter, but they have done so with enormous grace, determination and humanity.

As the world watches the war against Ukraine in horror and the brave Russians coming out to oppose it, it is worth remembering that Rachel also courageously opposed her own government’s brutal war against Iraq. She understood the principle of internationalism. That borders were far less important than our shared humanity. In truth, there was no equivocation when it came to her commitment to universal human rights. And even though her life was short, she had an impact on how we think and act on issues of injustice that is both profound and enduring.

Kenn Orphan, March 2022

*Title image is “Rachel Corrie” by Palestinian artist: Imad Abu Shtayyah

Demanding a “No Fly Zone” Over Ukraine is Insane

I keep seeing the call for a “no fly zone” over Ukraine repeated online and in the media. At this moment in time, there is nothing that would likely assure the end of civilization and our biosphere than NATO implementing such a thing. If they did, then member countries in this military security pact would be obligated to fire upon not only Russian aircraft, but airfields. It would be an act of war. And Putin has already vowed to make those nations pay a high price, as he placed Russia’s nuclear arsenal on high alert.

I seriously don’t think most people are grasping the terror of this moment. There is no “limited nuclear exchange” as some have inferred. When that Pandora’s box is opened, it cannot be closed. A strike on any city would be a catastrophe that would dwarf the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And it is naïve to think only one would be used.

What Russia is doing in Ukraine is detestable, but the American and British media are whipping up propaganda to prod the public toward war. Putin’s war should be opposed through solidarity with antiwar activists in Russia and through diplomacy. But to demand more war against a nuclear armed super power is the very definition of insanity.

Kenn Orphan, March 2022

We Need a Visionary Imagination, Now More than Ever Before

This painting is by American artist Robert McCall (December 23, 1919 – February 26, 2010). It appeared in the 1982 book “Walt Disney’s Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow” and depicts the interior of a torus-shaped space colony.

The first time I saw it I was a kid, and it lit my imagination on fire. At the time, I thought how exciting the future will be. I drew my own versions and wrote stories to accompany them. Later, I would paint more.

The future we imagine when we are kids seldom matches the real world. But I am glad that my imagination has not yet been completely dashed by the nihilistic or misanthropic defeatism we see so prevalent these days. We need more of that visionary and ethical imagination now, not less. One that can envision a world beyond its end.

Kenn Orphan, March 2022

A Closer Look at the Prose of RT Op-ed Columnist and Blogger Caitlin Johnstone

The following is a guest op-ed by Dan Hanrahan:

As has been remarked widely since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, propaganda emerges from all sides of a conflict during wartime. All of us are likely to fall prey to some deceptive or fabricated information under such circumstances. The best we can do is try to maintain a critical eye as we learn about the war. It is in this spirit that I undertook an annotation of a recent essay by the Australian writer Caitlin Johnstone, who publishes frequently at the Russian state media outlet RT, as well as at Medium and substack. Manipulation and obfuscation are so egregious in certain texts, that they require a close reading and even annotation in order to reveal their actual meaning. I have found that to be the case with the essays of Caitlin Johnstone, which unfortunately often garner a large following among certain segments of the online left. The primary essay I will be looking at is titled, “Ukraine Is a Sacrificial Pawn on the Imperial Chessboard,” published on March 6, 2022 on Johnstone’s substack.

Let’s examine the first paragraph, starting with the opening sentence.

“The war is not going well for Kyiv, and it would be unreasonable to expect that to change.”

In reality, the war has not gone as well as expected for Russia, while Ukraine is performing better than expected. Johnstone is tendentious and distorting and we’re only nine words in. She includes four hyperlinks in this opening paragraph. It is instructive to click on them to determine their source and their worth. “The war is not going well” hyperlink takes one to a map tweeted out by the journalist Elijah J. Magnier, who is part of the Kuwait-based AlRai Media Group, according to his Twitter profile. Scrolling down the main page of the AlRai news site, one eventually finds an article about the Russian war on Ukraine. The roughly 100-word piece is practically devoid of information, but it does use the Kremlin-approved phrase “Russian military operation,” rather than the terms “war” & “invasion.” (Those latter two terms are now outlawed in Russian media and on social media when referring to the invasion of Ukraine and their use is punishable by up to 15 years in prison).

Thousands of Russian antiwar protestors have been arrested by the police. Anatoly Maltsev/EPA

The map itself is an item of propaganda produced by the Russian state media company Readovka. Using the Google Chrome English translation option, I clicked on the “Empire” tab (really) of the Readovka’s main page. The propaganda style of Readovka is more of a throwback to the Soviet style, in contrast to the 21st century post-modern Shurkov approach. Articles bear headlines like “Shoigu said the operation in Ukraine will last until the goals are achieved” and “Peskov: ‘Russia will complete the demilitarization of Ukraine.’ “

I realize that to track down the origin and scrutinize the veracity of even a couple of paragraphs of Johnstone’s references requires several hours. I’ve looked into other links in the article, but to break down a Johnstone article link by link would require, at minimum, a lengthy article of its own, while this present essay-annotation is focused on looking at broader trends in two of Johnstone’s recent essays. Nonetheless, what I can glean from my brief look into Johnstone’s references is that they are often sourced directly from Russian state media. This is unsurprising, as she publishes regularly for the Russian state news site RT, at least sixteen op-eds in the last year.

Let’s continue with the annotation.

“As a vastly superior military force overwhelms the US client state1 reality is in the process of crashing down hard in the face of western liberals who bought into the war propaganda that the brave, sexy comedian was leading an upset victory to kick Putin’s ass out of Ukraine.”

Catch that? Ukraine is not an independent, sovereign nation, with their own language, a 1000 year-plus cultural history and long periods of sovereign statehood along the way. The Ukraine people and nation have earned no such respect in Johnstone’s mind. They are merely a “client state” of the US. This framing is important, as it is a way of removing independent will and agency from the Ukraine people – which is essential to do when disseminating the policy of an invading state. This framing is also related to Johnstone’s support of crypto-fascist Alexander Dugin’s, (Putin’s closest ideological adviser) vision of a future “multipolar world” – as opposed to an envisioned world of free, sovereign people with no hegemonic powers or a world forged through grassroots internationalism. More on the question of multipolarity later in this piece.

The referencing of idiotic reasons for supporting a policy in US mainstream media in an attempt to paint all people who may support a particular position as idiots is a frequent rhetorical tactic of Johnstone. Yes, many American dummies, in the media and in the public, like to think of wars as professional wrestling matches – but that is irrelevant to thinking people’s belief in the right of Ukraine to remain independent and to defend itself against foreign aggression – with the negotiation of an end to the war as the primary and most urgent objective.

“Zelensky is now raging at NATO powers for refusing to intervene militarily against Russia, apparently having previously been given the impression that the US-centralized empire might risk its very existence defending its dear friends the Ukrainians from an invasion.”

As the Twitterati like to say, that word “apparently” is doing a lot of work in the sentence. Does Johnstone provide any evidence for her speculation of the “US centralized empire” telling Zelensky that they would intervene on Ukraine’s behalf against a nuclear-armed power if invaded? Of course not, because there is none. The entire reason Zelensky wished to join NATO was to, in fact, gain such a guarantee of NATO protection in the event of an invasion. It is safe to assume that Zelensky knew full well the US would not rush in and risk setting off a global nuclear conflict over Ukraine.

It must be hard, the process of learning that you were never actually a valued partner in western civilization’s fight for freedom and democracy. That you were always just one more sacrificial pawn on the imperial chessboard.

Again, what evidence is there that the US or NATO told Zelensky they would enter the conflict in the event Ukraine was invaded? There is no evidence he expected that support or that he based his decisions on some kind of a back room promise of support by NATO. Johnstone is fabricating here. She has nothing substantial to back her claim so she harks back to the Cold War for an example.

“The US has a history of working to draw Moscow into gruelling {sic}, costly military quagmires which monopolize its military firepower while leaching it of blood and treasure. Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, author of US hegemonic manifesto The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, openly bragged about having lured Russia into its own Vietnam fighting the US-backed mujahideen in Afghanistan for a decade.”

And here, we are getting a more detailed look at Johnstone’s peculiar vision of struggles for sovereignty. Rather than a truly anti-imperialist perspective, Johnstone constantly evinces the real politik perspective of Henry Kissinger. Per this logic, there was no popular struggle by the Afghan people against the Soviet invasion of 1979. In fact, what the Afghan people wanted in the 1980s is irrelevant to Johnstone. Of course, the US did wage an insane and disastrous proxy war in Afghanistan using globally recruited muhajadeen fighters during the 1980s. However, there existed an indigenous Afghani opposition to Russian occupation prior and concurrent to any involvement by the United States. In January 1980, 34 Muslim nations from the Organization of Muslim Cooperation signed a joint statement demanding the immediate removal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Such opposition efforts are rarely, if ever, recognized by Johnstone. They simply do not fit her “narrative,” to employ one of her favorite words. Afghanistan – and all countries’ struggles – are relevant only as they relate to what the warring “polarity” powers of the US and the Soviet Union/Russia may want.

The almost Michael Corleone Godfather-esque notion of Russia constantly getting tricked or goaded into military misadventures by the US – even when Russia invades sovereign nations – serves another important rhetorical function for Johnstone. She is seeking to portray the Russian decision to invade Ukraine as one Putin was forced to make, as if the hand of fate directed his thinking and not the rationale he has provided in recent speeches and in recent writings, as when he said on March 3, 2022, “I will never give up my conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are one people.”

People cross an improvised path under a destroyed bridge while fleeing the town of Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Johnstone lays out her views much more explicitly in the quote below, in which describes her perspective on the struggle of the Syrian people against the torture-centric dictator Bashar al-Assad. The following quote is from Johnstone’s February 24, 2022 piece entitled “Civilized Nations Kill With Sanctions And Proxy Armies: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix.”

“Empire apologists always try to distort power dynamics to make it seem like they’re the brave up-punchers sticking up for the little guy. It’s tiny Ukraine against big bad Russia, not Russia against a globe-dominating empire of which Ukraine is just one member state. It’s the brave freedom fighters of Syria versus Assad, not Assad against a planetary unipolar hegemon using proxy forces to effect regime change. It’s Israel against the big strong Muslim nations which surround it, not an entire empire of which Israel is just one member state picking on far weaker powers. Etc.”

Astonishing. The Syrians who took up arms against the mass murdering and mass torturing dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, as part of the wave of Arab Spring uprisings, possess no actual meaning or even humanity to Johnstone. They only have meaning as they exist in the battle against the “polarity” powers of East and West. This, amazingly, permits her to portray the dictator Bashar al-Assad as a patriotic victim. She then mockingly uses the phrase “big bad Russia” to refer to the nation in the context of their pre-pre-emptive* invasion by land, sea and air of Ukraine. Given what is happening in the cities of Ukraine as I read these words, this sarcastic quip is particularly disgusting. I wonder how Johnstone’s dismissive condescension might strike the elderly people and children currently facing annihilation under the punishing Russian bombing campaign.

The inclusion of Israel in her list strikes one as incongruent. Israel is a small, but powerful state who does not relent in their cruel settler colonial project in the occupied territories of Palestine. Unlike Ukraine and unlike large parts of the anti-Asaad Syrian resistance, not to mention Syrian civilians – Israel is the clear aggressor in Palestine. This type of incoherence and confusion within Johnstone’s prose is not atypical. In her work published at RT and elsewhere, her analyses of world events tend to be identical to analyses and positions advanced by the Kremlin. However, she must write in such a way as to obscure that fact and she is extremely skilled at doing this. Including the aggressor nation Israel alongside all Syrian resistance fighters and alongside Ukraine skillfully achieves the confusion sought by Johnstone.

She starts her paragraph with the phrase “empire apologists always try to distort power dynamics.” The rhetorical sleight-of-hand Johnstone regularly performs has really begun to reveal itself. The trick is to disappear the actual victims of bloodthirsty non-US alligned regimes like Putin’s and Bashar al-Assad’s behind the “power dynamics” of leviathan nation states. Johnstone seems to be arguing that people who criticize and protest against such despots must be “empire apologists.” Johnstone’s contempt for the innocent victims of so-called polarity power struggles is bracing.

And perhaps this is where we should conclude this look into a writer who uses the veneer and the jargon of radical politics to whitewash the crimes of non-US aligned dictators. The briefest of glances at the present global landscape or at history reveals the hyper-simple truth that it is possible for two or more nation states to wage imperial wars at the same time. Pausing to think for a microsecond permits one to recognize that it is possible for government leaders in countries that are not the US or its allies to commit human rights abuses, war crimes and atrocities. The prose of Caitlin Johnstone, which so often carries a tone of condescension and belittling snark, seeks to obscure these very simple facts. However, maintaining consistent condemnation of acts of oppression and aggression, from wherever they may originate, is crucial if our ethics are to have any meaning at all.

Dan Hanrahan, March 2022

Dan Hanrahan is a musician, writer, translator and actor. His essays, poetry and translations have appeared in Counterpunch, El Beisman, The Mantle, OpEdNews, Brilliant Corners and the American Academy of Poets archive, among other places. Dan has written music for Chicago’s Colectivo El Pozo theater and recently had a feature role in the first film produced by the collective, Cuaco (2020, official release delayed due to the pandemic). In 2020, Dan released his third full-length album, Radical Songs for Rough Times, a collection of original protest songs in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

*Title Photo: Massacre in Korea, Pablo Picasso, 1951, National Picasso Museum

War is the Ultimate Form of Misogyny

Today is International Women’s Day. And it is a good time to remind ourselves that it is women and children who suffer the most from war.

Whether it be in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been engaged in a US-backed war that has decimated the country and where millions of people are either starving or on the brink of famine, or in Afghanistan, where after 20 years of brutal US occupation and a freeze on assets, people are being forced to sell their kidneys and scrounge the streets for crumbs, it is women who pay the biggest price for militarism.

In war, rape is a common tool of aggression and degradation. Women and children have been subjected to this in Ethiopia as the government carpet bombs the Tigray region to rubble. And it is women who must often carry the burden of protecting their children while trying to flee to safety. If Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, it will be women, children, the elderly and the disabled who will suffer the most.

War is the ultimate form of misogyny. So, on this International Women’s Day we should dismiss the lofty words of political leaders who praise women while they engage in this militaristic aggression and say no to all war.

Kenn Orphan, March 2022

*Photo is of a woman and her children in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Yasoyochi Chiba/AFP