Canonizing Criminals and the Lobotomization of Public Memory

What becomes of a man who started a war based upon lies that killed thousands, displaced millions, and destabilized an entire region, decimated civil liberties with sweeping powers granted to government surveillance agencies, instituted torture programs and rounded up scores of innocent people in secret raids sending them to wither away in a gulag in the Caribbean, left thousands of his citizens to languish in disease infested flood waters in the Gulf Coast following a major hurricane, gutted environmental regulations in favour of industry, and created the predatory and neoliberal economic conditions that led to the “Great Recession?” Apparently, if you are a former US President you get transfigured into saint.
          Like a bad penny, this past year has seen the curious resurfacing of George W. Bush in public life. And in this absurd era of Trumpism he is being canonized by many top Democrats with several prominent Liberals following suit. It seems that over night a war criminal has been miraculously transformed into a lovable “senior statesman;” a granddad who paints delightful pictures and gives “inspiring” speeches against bigotry. Bush, like practically all of the ruling political class in Washington, should have been brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for his crimes against humanity and the living planet. But as a response to the mendacioussexistracist behaviour and policies of Donald Trump, and with the assistance of a corporate media which delights in collective, cultural amnesia, many establishment Liberals have been pining of late for the GWB presidency.

          When one understands the machinations of American political power it isn’t all that strange. Most Democratic partisans did the same for the Obama administration which got a pass (and still does) for deporting more immigrants than the previous administration and prosecuting more whistleblowers than all US presidents combined. It is what they did when they overlooked, cheered on or forgave him and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for the decimation of Libya or dropping over 26,000 bombs in seven Muslim majority countries, or assassinating a 16 year old US citizen without due process, bombing wedding parties, ambulances and a grandmother picking okra in their field. It is not surprising, but it is no less repulsive and disheartening for anyone with any respect for civic or political memory.
          Time has proven the only tactic of the wealthy Liberal establishment is minimal protest and major capitulation to reactionary power in order to preserve their position in the current order. It is why most serious socialists, anarchists, radicals and leftists refuse to be allies with them. They have all too often felt the sting of betrayal. Nancy Pelosi infamously said “we’re capitalists” when she smugly admonished a young progressive disillusioned with capitalism at a “town hall meeting.” And she was not kidding. The Democratic Party establishment has benefited from and supported Wall Street over and over again and it has always voted in favour of a bloated and aggressive military industrial complex.  They have done their part to sponge away the crimes of the capitalist class so long as their place, privilege and status in this sick societal paradigm had a remote chance of being secured.

One can almost understand and predict this behaviour. Trump is a living dumpster fire of grotesque vulgarity who has ignited a bolder white nationalism and bamboozled many poor whites into thinking he cares about their problems. Despite being the ultimate plutocrat, he was able to get this lie across to many of them while the Democrats in all of their smugness ignored them. He is a master at manipulating their fears and bigotries and at muddying the waters of discourse. He employs scapegoating of minorities or oppressed groups with ease. And his foreign policy is so erratic and volatile that it causes even a seasoned intelligence officer to lose sleep at night thinking of him having access to the nuclear codes.

          It is a dangerous delusion, however, to believe George W. Bush or any of the powerful elite, are any different from one another in the end. GWB’s persona might have had a makeover, but his class hasn’t. And Trump is the most accurate emblem of that class. Bush and Trump alike sit atop an extraordinarily cruel and oppressive power structure in American society. The moneyed class only hates Trump because he reveals the true face of predatory capitalism to the public without the cloak of their “blue blooded” pomp, flourishes and sentimentality. Of course he must be opposed, but this alone is meaningless unless the entire oppressive, self-destructive, planet decimating system, of which he and Bush both belong, is brought down with him.
          America may be the last, most powerfully lethal, empire on earth. Its wealthy elite have mastered the insidious art of inverted totalitarianism and ensconced corporate capitalism into every institution. What’s worse is that it has forcefully transported this malignancy around the world through the subversion of democracyeconomic imperialism,and military aggression. On a planet with dwindling resources, a climate getting angrier by the day, and mass extinction of species its powerful operate within a global capitalist class who enjoy near total impunity for their crimes against humanity and the planet as they push us closer to the precipice of collapse.
         Given all of this, going back in time may seem desirable for some. This is especially true for those who were not adversely affected by the egregious or even murderous policies, plunder and wars of the past. But it is only the privileged who can entertain such flights of fancy. To cozy up to power or erase their crimes is to become allies with the very forces that threaten our collective doom. The current order is one which is poised to destroy not just civilization but the entire biosphere.  Rapid, monumental action is required to halt a system which is leading us to certain ruin, and address and mitigate the chaos of an unfolding dystopic present and future. In politics, this is not the time to protect a murderous status quo or preserve one’s own privilege within it. This is an existential crisis which requires a global revolution in thought and practice. Nothing less will do.
I can only hope most liberals will learn this painful lesson soon, while there is still time left to do so.
Kenn Orphan  2017

The Colonial Project that Never Ended

The recent shake up in the media over President Trump’s condolence call to the bereaved widow of Sgt La David Johnson, whose body was found after an ambush in Niger near the border with Mali, has shined a light on an all too murky subject. Putting Trump’s appalling dearth of empathy aside, we should look closer and honestly at why this soldier and the others who were killed were in Niger in the first place. One of 800 US military personnel, we are told that Johnson was there to “support and train the local forces to improve counterterrorism efforts.” But in this age of deliberate obfuscation with the so-called “war on terror” used as a blanket excuse for American militarism such a statement belies the real reasons for their presence on the continent.
          Many Americans couldn’t locate Niger on a map to save their lives but the global capitalist class can. They have had their talons there and across Africa for decades. In Niger, for example, the US military has been working with the French who once held the impoverished country as a colony and now exploit it for its rich resources. Meanwhile at least 63% of Nigeriens live under the global poverty line. And like most African nations they are forced to pay “debt” to the nations that once enslaved them for the “benefits” they received from centuries of European subjugation.

 

 

Today the ruse continues thanks to the cover of “counterterrorism” which justifies the presence of US and European troops and special forces in order to protect the interests of multi-national corporations who pillage resource rich regions across Africa. Niger alone has one of the world’s largest uranium deposits along with coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, and gold to name just a few.

          While it is true that violent extremism is a major problem from groups like Boko Haram or Al-Shabab, it is equally true that the global elite have exacerbated tensions and even fomented some by creating situations which pit one group against another. The brutal attack in Mogadishu earlier this month which killed hundreds and maimed thousands more, for instance, might have been the result of Trump’s pledge to “ramp up” attacks against the violent extremists of Al-Shabab. Incidentally, Somalia like Niger is rich in uranium.

 

The best response to the threats of Boko Haram and Al-Shabab come in the absence of militaristic aggression. It is African women, for instance, who have mounted the most effective campaigns to fight the brutality of Boko Haram. And as history has shown militarism generally destabilizes societal infrastructure and increases the suffering of the vulnerable and the oppressed. A perfect example of this is the US war against Afghanistan. The Pentagon along with many feckless feminists promoted it in part to “liberate women” from the Taliban. Sixteen years later we can see how that lie turned out. We can also take a look at Afghanistan’s vast mineral resources and opium to understand why the American Empire keeps the longest war in its history going.

 

It’s time to be brutally honest. The US soldiers killed in Niger may not have fully understood their role but they were not there “protecting the homeland” or “fighting for freedom.” They were not “liberating locals” either. They were employed to protect the capital investments of the global .01%. And when the mask is ripped off it becomes apparent that colonialism in Africa and around the globe never really ended. Quite the contrary. It has only morphed into a more insidious and noxious form of plunder in this desperate era of late stage, predatory capitalism. And the military, whether wittingly or not, is ultimately protecting the elite, their interests and their vast, ill-gotten wealth.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

The Normalization of Perpetual Disaster

In case you missed it…

A hole the size of the Netherlands has opened in the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet. 40,000 penguins just perished of starvation on the same continent. And earlier this summer an iceberg weighing one trillion tons broke away adding more momentum to inevitable global sea level rise.
Floods have killed thousands and displaced many more over the summer and into autumn from China to India and Nepal to Southeast Asia to West Africa. Scores of people were killed and many still missing from fires that have scorched Northern California, Spain and Portugal. Three and a half million people in Puerto Rico are still in survival mode without drinking water or electricity weeks after Hurricane Irma made landfall. Parts of the Gulf Coast are a toxic soup of chemicals. The Amazon rain forest, the lungs of the planet, are belching out smoke as it reels from 208,278 fires this year alone. And Ophelia, the bizarre tenth hurricane turned mega storm of this record breaking season is battering Ireland.

In geopolitical developments, the most powerful empire on the planet is being led by a narcissistic megalomaniac surrounded by war mongers, religious fanatics and disaster capitalists. He has been madly jostling the fragile chords that stabilize nations by threatening to annihilate 25 million people in a bath of fire and countless other souls in the region and around the world, while demanding a 10-fold increase to one of the most powerfully lethal nuclear arsenals on the planet.
There is no reason to think Trump would not carry out his threats. After all, he dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan and launched military strikes on Syria over dessert garnishing high praise from many in the corporate media and politicians from both sides of the aisle. And he will get little objection from establishment Democrats who are enthusiastic cheerleaders for US militarism and voted for the 700 billion dollar increase to the already bloated US military industrial complex.
Despite all of this an eerily bizarre normalization of this descent into global chaos continues apace. The media seems to move on seamlessly from one disaster or scandal to the next. Politicians shift focus and manufacture new outrage. Meanwhile, the real existential crises drifting us ever closer to the collapse of human civilization within this century go largely unreported and vastly underestimated. We are living in an age of convergence where the consequences of decades of excess, greed, willful ignorance and dithering are finally reaching a climax. Where the chips fall in the coming years is anyone’s guess, but if we are honest we can get a pretty good picture of our current trajectory.
Looking honestly at our situation within a profoundly sick culture can often feel alienating. If we look around we may think we are seeing thousands of people simply going about their days as if nothing is wrong. This may be due in part to the normalcy bias which is defined as “a belief people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster and its possible effects, because it causes people to have a bias to believe that things will always function the way things normally function.”  But this is also reinforced by a corporate culture in which distraction and denial are encouraged and celebrated as virtues.
Conspicuous consumption is peddled as a remedy to all that ails our society. Some self medicate, some absorb themselves in the shallow, or the spectacle, or the salacious, or the vainglorious.  But still many more are simply too busy for long reflection, caring for children or sick or elderly loved ones at a time when social safety nets are being mercilessly slashed, or working 100 hours a week for a pittance just to make ends meet and struggle to pay off debts for simply living.
But on some deep level I believe we all understand our dire predicament and that it will not simply get better or go away.
Each day the unraveling of the biosphere becomes more and more apparent. The illusion that we are separate from the natural world is beginning to shatter as the human generated Sixth Mass Extinction unfurls before our eyes in real time. But in this era of late stage capitalism and the prevalence of inverted totalitarianism the last thing we should expect is for the powers that be to make the bold changes necessary to stop the descent of civilization or even provide meaningful solutions or mitigation of the current and looming catastrophes.

Given the graveness of the situation it is easy to feel a deep sense of powerlessness or even paralyzed. And it may not be exactly comforting, but we should not look at our unease as an unhealthy response to the existential crises of our times. Contrary to the prevailing mantra depression and anxiety should be expected as normal responses to what we face collectively, because our very DNA is threaded with this world’s rhythm. And without a doubt, that collective pulse appears to be quickening.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017
 

On a Harvest Moon

Met a fellow traveler on the road up to the house last evening. I suspect he was as delighted as me with the harvest moonrise and its generous splashes of red and orange hues in the sky and on the forest below.
October can give the weary traveler the hope of solace in reaping what’s been sown throughout the year. Its bloated moon floats effortlessly above the landscape like a luminescent balloon casting light and shadows that dance on the moribund earth. But it’s not as foreboding a sight as some might aver.
For the moon itself is not alight, its frozen surface reflects the hot light of a burning star. Its contours of desolate rock do something the sun could never. It becomes a luminary alighting a path through dark passages. The glow from a celestial lantern that assures us that even in our most desperate moments or alienation from the world and this distracted culture of disconnection that we really aren’t as alone as we may think.
It’s clear this universe cannot help but assert itself. To pulse with its existence. And its only longing is for every sentient to do the same.
Kenn Orphan  2017

Militarism and the Precipice of Spiritual Doom

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

          Like so many of Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes, this one has often been left on the cutting room floor by politicians and the mainstream media. But despite the concerted effort to sanitize his legacy to conform with corporate tastes, the truth is that the great Civil Rights leader did not only struggle for a “dream” of racial equality. He was deeply committed to the fight against aggressive US militarism and economic and social injustice. And as a minister, he framed much of his work and worldview in spiritual terms. Sadly, were King alive today he might feel that one of his most dire predictions has indeed come true.

Most Americans have crushing debt that would bankrupt them if there were an economic shock like the loss of a job or an market downturn, a personal injury or health crisis, or a natural disaster. The US has the highest prison population rate in the world and already this year over 700 people, mostly unarmed black men, have been gunned down by police. 91 Americans a day numb themselves to death from opioids and the suicide rate has jumped 24% nationally from 1999 to 2014. Right now millions are literally fighting for survival in the US colony of Puerto Rico from a climate change created monster of a storm, while the President plays golf and tweets insults at its beleaguered leaders. And including Sunday’s horrific terrorist rampage in Las Vegas there have been 270 mass shootings in the US in 2017 alone.

Yet still so many Americans hold fast to nationalism like a talisman. Perhaps it is the cognitive dissonance reflected by an age of alienation and betrayal in combination with media distractions and political obfuscation, but outrage can still be generated by any perceived slight of or desecration to the anthem or flag. Sporting events, thanks to enormous funding from the Pentagon, are rife with symbols of nationalistic jingoism and flyovers by jets which bomb impoverished nations to smithereens. And Democrats and Republicans in Congress just voted almost unanimously to give $700 billion to the military industrial complex.  In the meantime most from either side of the aisle balk at even the mention of debt relief for students or universal, single payer healthcare.
There is, in fact, hardly a day in Washington where saber rattling and war mongering aren’t on the agenda. In fact this is the primary agenda given the influence of the Department of Defense, the Pentagon and associated think tanks. In the mainstream media personalities boast about “the beauty” of America’s weapons and laud Trump only after he used the “MOAB” (mother of all bombs) for the first time ever in Afghanistan. There are 800 US military bases in at least 70 countries and it remains the biggest polluter on the planet. And Venezuela, North Korea, Iran and Russia are perpetually in the crosshairs of liberal and conservative pundits and politicians alike. Stocks in Lockheed Martin, Bechtel and Northrup Grumman must be booming.
Thanks to a culture of entrenched militarism and corporate wealth accumulation America is no longer “approaching spiritual doom” as the late Martin Luther King, Jr. lamented. It arrived on that precipice long ago and only teeters on it precariously while it clings to supremacist myths of “exceptionalism” and “indispensability.” The horrific mass shooting on October 1st, 2017 in Las Vegas, the nation’s most garishly emblematic city for late stage predatory capitalism, is an example of this.
Bursting through the gold gilded windows of the tower of Mandalay Bay hotel, the gunman unwittingly became a metaphor for America’s unrestrained militarism. He took aim at the innocent just like every president and general of Washington has before him, decade after decade. With imperious abandon he fired round after round into the crowds below him who must have appeared faceless from that great distance, just like the victims of drone operators in silos or office buildings thousands of miles away.
Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that spiritual doom was a place of utter despair and desolation where one can dehumanize the “other” so easily as to extinguish their lives in an instant with little regard or remorse. He understood that societies with a bloated military and imperialistic appetites invariably gut programs for infrastructure, education, healthcare and the humanities at home. And this is the ultimate curse of militarism. When a society disregards human beings abroad and are apathetic to the militaristic hubris of their leaders it will inevitably suffer that same fate in the homeland. Whether it comes in the form of a mass shooting, or a SWAT raid, or brutalized traffic stop, or tanks and water canons against unarmed water protectors, or the ignored plight of millions of people on an occupied island in the Caribbean is of no consequence. The cause and the end result are always the same.
Kenn Orphan  2017

Puerto Rico: Climate Change on the Margins of Empire

Right now Puerto Rico, an American island of over 3.4 million people, is in ruins thanks to the rampage of two major hurricanes, Irma and Maria respectively. Most are facing months without electricity, many are homeless, more face poor access to fresh drinking water, farms have been razed, and the specter of disease looms over flooded towns and toxic industrial and military superfund sites. Officials on the island have described the situation as “apocalyptic.” Now a dam is dangerously close to bursting. This is our climate changed present and future. But if you pay attention to the corporate media you might never know these facts or what they mean.

Puerto Rico seldom gets much coverage in the US mainland press because it lies in the grey zone of Empire. In fact, polling has demonstrated that most Americans do not even realize it is part of the US. But it was one of the first victims of American global expansion and hegemony following Spanish colonialism and served as a base of operations for the US military in its forays throughout the Caribbean and Central America. It was never granted statehood thanks in part to many Puerto Ricans who resisted American occupation, but also due to elites in Washington for its geopolitical advantage to the US. As a result of this marginalized status its residents cannot vote in national elections, and it has scant control over internal issues when it comes to neoliberal austerity measures, US military installations and environmental protections.

In recent years it has been put in the vice grip of debt by vultures on Wall Street, much like Greece, Spain and Argentina. And with increasing swaths of the planet engulfed in climate chaos it has been ensnared in a widening circle of sacrifice zones where residents of impoverished neighbourhoods, cities or regions are largely left to fend for themselves when faced with pollution, climate change related disasters and ecological destruction. This has disproportionately effected immigrants, indigenous peoples and people of colour, but the lines are also being drawn based upon class.

Puerto Rico is another early example of the world to come. In truth, most of the world’s population already lives in some form of this dystopia; but it is the future for the rest of us thanks to the current course of unrestrained production and consumption of fossil fuels and the corruption, greed and apathy of the global elite. They aren’t slouches when it comes to protecting their interests and saving their own hides either. In articles from CNN to The New Yorker, tales of the sprawling estates and luxury bunkers being bought or built by them show how seriously they take the coming shocks to civilization.

So how will the powerful respond to a future of disasters and chaos for essentially anyone who isn’t part of the wealthy elite? The answer can perhaps be gleaned from a tweet President Trump sent out Monday, his first response to the devastation in Puerto Rico a full five days after the hurricane made landfall. He began by saying the island had “massive debt” that is “owed to Wall Street and the banks” and which “must be dealt with.” This was the first priority given, not the welfare of the people or the environment but how much the beleaguered people of Puerto Rico owe to vulture capitalists and the extortionists on Wall Street.

 

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

 

The Chronicles of “Nambia”

There are a lot of people laughing at Donald Trump’s praise of a nation that doesn’t exist when he spoke yesterday before African leaders at the United Nations. “Nambia,” he proclaimed twice. Of course he meant Namibia. Trump’s worldview is farcical and his ignorance is legendary, but what is far worse than this bungle is what he actually said in this speech.

Trump told these leaders that they should be “proud” that many of his friends are going to African countries “trying to get rich.” This might seem innocuous, but to anyone who understands the bloody history and enduring legacy of colonial plunder it is far from a benevolent commendation.  It is a signal that the United States, which expanded its covert wars and neo-colonial projects on the continent under President’s Bush and Obama, will only continue and widen its presence and plunder in the years to come.

Trump went on to talk about oil and gas exploration, extraction and production across the continent. This cannot be looked at without considering the global crisis of climate change which he arrogantly dismisses or the enormous ecological cost the fossil fuel industry exacts upon ecosystems and poor communities that depend upon them for sustenance and survival.  An example of this is the once fertile Niger Delta which has been devastated by companies like Shell. This, along with mining that often ruthlessly exploits children and women, is how many wealthy investors actually do “get rich” in Africa.

The US has always had a disruptive and destructive presence across the continent.  The CIA and US State Department hatched multiple plans to assassinate political leader Patrice Lumumba of Congo.  And it lent its support to apartheid South Africa.  But today, thanks to the bogus “war on terror,” it runs scores of special operations, training exercises and other military programs and interventions from Algeria to Zambia.   Trump’s speech merely solidified this commitment in the coded language of capitalistic opportunism and imperialism.

 

At the end of his speech Trump seemed to drift into a non sequitur when he warned participants of the supposed “threat” of North Korea. This wasn’t as strange as it might appear. Trump may very well be playing a calculating game by building a “coalition of the willing” with “client states” as George W. Bush did in the run up to the catastrophic invasion of Iraq.

If this is true, we should all be worried about what he and his military generals have in store for a country and a planet that do, in fact, exist.

 

~ Kenn Orphan  2017

Bogeymen and the Enemies We Dare Not Call Out

The celebrated American actor Morgan Freeman’s recent “We Are At War With Russia” stint is one of the most bizarre examples of recent propaganda since Joe McCarthy tore through Hollywood. Funded in part by director Rob Reiner of TVland “meathead” notoriety and Max Boot, the neocon who advised war criminal John McCain and who currently advises the US military, this unintended burlesque exudes an all too familiar toxic strain of American exceptionalism along with a dangerously insular view of the world.

In the short video Freeman encourages the viewer to imagine a scenario where Russian president Vladimir Putin has some kind of decades long grudge against the United States because of the collapse of his “motherland.” I am no fan of Putin. I oppose his militarism, his abysmal treatment of opponents and dissidents, and his KGB-esque authoritarianism. And many Russians continue to challenge their government in protests across their country. But does Freeman really think Putin is carrying out some vendetta like the plot of some cheesy Hollywood movie? He goes on to say that he is “undermining democracies around the world” via social media and the internet. All of this is said without even the slightest hint of irony. Could he be that ignorant of his own nation’s history or the role the CIA and DoD has had (and still does) in subverting the democratic process in virtually every region on earth? Does he really not know about Iran? or Chile? or Indonesia? or Congo?

Freeman then announces that he has requested Congress and the intelligence community to “use every resource available to conduct a thorough investigation determine exactly how this happened.” Does he really think this “intelligence community,” the same one that went after Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and scores of antiwar, LGBT, Civil Rights and feminist activists or that lied to the public about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq is trustworthy and capable of rising above their long legacy of mendacity and corruption? And is he really reducing the phenomenon of the rise of the idiot Trump solely to alleged Russian interference in American elections?   By declaring a figurative war against them, it appears so.

The video ends with risible lies about the American Empire being “a shining example to the world” and predictable platitudes regarding the US military supposedly“defending” democracy and keeping the nation safe against foreign enemies.  It is nationalism at its most foul.

What is perhaps the saddest part of this absurd spectacle is that it courts the most aggressive and reactionary forces within the US political, intelligence and military establishment in an effort to depose Trump, a pea-brained, narcissistic megalomaniac. It dances on the edge of all out global war without a bit of foreboding as to what that war might actually look like for billions of people. It eagerly seeks to depose a fascist goon by getting into bed with fascist goons.

Unsurprisingly, Freeman’s strange call to arms has been lauded by many Americans. But when it comes to their nation’s short history, or the enormous role their government has played in destroying democracy around the world, or the blatant flaws endemic to their own system riddled with corruption, too many of them are willfully obtuse. And this is how Hollywood dutifully plays its role in pumping out propaganda which obscures the truth about American Empire, magnifies a dangerous, parochial myth of supremacy, and manufactures external bogeymen for the public to project all of their fears, animus and failings at.

They dare not call out their true enemies. They dare not speak of the wealthy elite and their organized crime of corporate capitalism. Or millionaire politicians. Or the judiciary and police forces drenched in institutional and violent racism. Or a blind and bloated military industrial complex. Or industry executives profiting from the plunder of the earth’s biosphere and decimation of the climate, or any of the actual, existential threats they face. Heaven forbid. Because doing so might reveal what so many already know deep inside. As the American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry once said “we have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

~ Kenn Orphan  2017

The Storytellers of Empire

The nature of Empire is inherently duplicitous.  It lies as much to the world as it does to itself, laboriously weaving myths of its supposed virtue in order to shroud the mass grave it sits upon. This makes it incapable of any meaningful reflection when it comes to its crimes. After all, such an exercise would ultimately be its undoing. And even though there are many examples of pseudo contrition the insatiable impulse for self-glorification is interwoven through its fabric.  War is what Empire lies about the most; and the American Empire is not “exceptional” in this regard. On the contrary.  It has become an expert at its execution.

Since its founding the United States has manufactured threats to hackneyed and meaningless concepts like “liberty” or “freedom” to justify aggressive expansion, domination and exploitation.  Its founding mythology rooted in the supremacist lie of “Manifest Destiny” has excused its unending militarism as a supposedly noble response to a “barbaric” world that needs to be “civilized.”  And the war against Vietnam is perhaps one of the greatest examples of that imperial overreach.  It claimed millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian lives. Millions more were maimed or displaced and at least 58,000 US troops lost their lives with many more coming home with broken bodies and lifelong psychic wounds. Today millions still suffer from the lasting effects of Agent Orange.

But in the years since this catastrophic war the American Empire has struggled to rebrand itself as the benevolent giant.  Unending forays into South and Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and beyond have also made this task next to impossible.  Enter the professional obscurantist.  To make this self delusion possible they are essential and there are few as adept at it than Ken Burns. In his new PBS documentary series entitled “The Vietnam War;” the “many sides” narrative is being peddled again.  And in an era where a sitting US president makes the “many sides” argument to defend the violence of white supremacists against anti-fascists, this worldview is more than troubling.

“The Vietnam War” is, unsurprisingly, a project funded by the Bank of America and billionaire reactionary David Koch.  And it relies heavily upon former CIA agents and military generals for “perspective.”  This is what makes a series like this so insidious.  They ultimately serve a way of thinking that make past imperialistic wars not only forgivable, but current and future ones appear almost palatable and even inevitable.

The real Vietnam War should be revisited, but it should not be cast as an intervention with noble intentions to assist one side in a civil war.  South Vietnam was an invention of French colonialism and, later, US election rigging as they understood that communist candidate Hồ Chí Minh was likely to win. None of this is to absolve the Viet Cong of the atrocities they committed; but they should be understood in the context of an indigenous group fighting against a foreign invader who possessed far more military might.  And for the war to make sense to us today it must be looked at in this light, as the deliberate result of blatant and brutal imperialism.

The storytellers of Empire ultimately serve one purpose, to extol the glory of the Empire.  This might at times take on the veneer of humanization or even remorse, but at their core these are stories that absolve its crimes by portraying an even playing field where there was none.  The real story of this war is written in innocent blood that indicts the powerful of their savagery.  Nothing less will suffice.

 

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

 

 

An accurate record by novelist Robert Gore of the American Empire’s war on Vietnam follows:

 

“Between 1965 and 1972, the US and South Vietnam air forces flew 3.4 million combat sorties, the plurality over South Vietnam. Their bombing was the equivalent of 640 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, and South Vietnam got the brunt of it. The provincial capital district of Quang Tri, the northernmost South Vietnamese province, received 3,000 bombs per square kilometer. Between 1965 and 1973, the US Strategic Air Command launched at least 126,615 B-52 bomber sorties, again the majority of them targeted to South Vietnam.
 
In 1969, US units fired 10 million artillery rounds, and over the course of the war they expended almost 15 billions pounds of artillery shells. By the end of the war, formerly scenic South Vietnam featured an estimated 21 million craters, which wreaked havoc on the landscape and largely destroyed its agricultural-based economy. Keep in mind South Vietnam was the US’s ally. North Vietnam, the enemy, also sustained massive casualties and destruction.
 
Bombs and munitions weren’t the US’s only weapons. An estimated 400,000 tons of napalm, a jellied incendiary designed to stick to clothes and skin and burn, were dropped in Southeast Asia. Thirty-five percent of victims die within fifteen to twenty minutes. White phosphorus, another incendiary, burns when exposed to air and keeps burning, often through an entire body, until oxygen is cut off. The US Air Force bought more than 3 million white phosphorus rockets during the war, and the military bought 379 million M-34 white phosphorus grenades in 1969 alone. The US also sprayed more than 70 million tons of herbicide, usually Agent Orange, further decimating indigenous agriculture and destroying the countryside.
 
A “pineapple” cluster bomblet was a small container filled with 250 steel pellets. One B-52 could drop 1,000 pineapples across a 400-yard area, spewing 250,000 pellets. “Guava” cluster bombs were loaded with 640 to 670 bomblets, each with 300 steel pellets, so a single guava sent over 200,000 steel fragments in all directions when it hit the ground. Pineapples and guavas were designed to maim, to tax the enemy’s medical and support systems. Between 1964 and 1971, the US military ordered 37 million pineapples. From 1966 to 1971, it ordered 285 million guavas, or seven each for every man woman and child in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia combined.
 
No other conclusion is possible: the US waged unrestricted (other than not using nuclear weapons) industrial war against the far less well-armed Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.
 
Most Americans think the My Lai massacre was an unfortunate anomaly. That delusion is a lingering tragedy of Vietnam. Plenty of villages were burned and leveled, farm animals and crops destroyed, and unarmed and visibly helpless women, children, and old people—generally counted as VC in the often meretricious statistics—murdered. Some of the villages contained Viet Cong, some did not, and that was often not the first concern or even a cited justification for US troops. The slaughter was frequently wanton, or indiscriminate vengeance for American troops killed or wounded, not to fight the enemy.”
Title artwork is Napalm Girl Vietnam by Brian Howell.

The Real World

                 “You must love nature,” she said as she passed; a stranger noticing me picking up the careless refuse dropped by another who apparently doesn’t.  Her comment strikes me as a somewhat absurd but common sentiment, and it stays with me throughout my hike. Industrial society seems to easily compartmentalize nature as just another interest or a hobby.

I smile at her as I hastily stuff the discarded plastic water bottles and chip bags into a sack I keep in my back pack, while thinking of the engorged body of a dead seabird I saw dissected by a meticulous biologist right in front of me.  Its stomach contents revealing human detritus of all manner, plastic lighters, bottle caps, pens, even a spoon. There are likely hundreds of millions like this one.  It was a surreal sight only later matched in intensity and horror when watching a video of the dissection of a deceased whale whose belly was bursting with tons of plastic bags and other hard synthetic polymers, or the sight of a deformed tortoise whose shell was strangulated throughout its life by a plastic beverage holder.

My enthusiastic, if not misguided, eco-warrior friend chides me. “We’re gonna clean up the oceans,” he says. If only it were up to him. But my mind drifts to the scale of the problem. It lingers on the seemingly unstoppable production of plastics, the enduring legacy of this Age of Petroleum and an enormous fount of wealth for the industries that harvest the earth’s primordial blood. Its not true that plastic lasts forever, but it persists, it morphs into other insidious forms, and as it breaks down it releases its copious stores of toxicity like a trillion, tiny, slow moving oil spills.

                 I wander further catching a glimpse of a dragonfly bouncing on the air between the suns waning rays. Her iridescent wings so thin they appear gossamer. The wind picks up and she is gone, adrift on the cooling late summer breeze. I think of my friend and his tenacity. I utter a silent prayer to the ether for there to be more like him, but as I wander on I come across another heap of styrofoam fast food containers and beer cans, the residue of effortless revelry, stuffed into the crevice of an ancient rock overlooking the ocean. And the truth of our cultural apathy, born of privilege and convenience, caves in my chest.

Perhaps we have evolved to this disconnection. Perhaps the only possible outcome of industrial civilization is estrangement from the natural world from which we emanate. The character of industrialization is, after all, defined by the brutal rape of the natural world. And like all rapists, this one has only contempt and loathing for his victim. She is the constant reminder of his violent crime. But in some deep recess of his mind he knows that she is in no way dependent on him, quite the contrary. The opposite is true.  And the limits of her beneficence are being recklessly pushed.

I stumble through the gathering orange and rose hued light of the evening to the trailhead. I think about rising seas and the land borne plastics and chemicals that will find their way to the ocean after relentless storms and flooding.  I remember a recent study projecting more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.  I think about the Sixth Mass Extinction already well underway. About the human warmed world with acidic oceans, dead zones, algae blooms, blighted forests, collapsing ecosystems and besieged biota of all kind. And I realize even the language we use serves to alienate us from the imperiled world we live in.
                The real world is not the world of constructed oblivion where enormous towers of glass and steel conquer nature.  It isn’t even “responsible growth” or “sustainability.”  Those terms only reinforce a culture of estrangement that obscures the living earth in self serving euphemisms that perpetuate mass delusion and self destruction.  The real world is that of beetles, and bats, and mice, and moths, and mold, and trees, and birds, and grass, and sharks, and coyotes, and frogs, and coral, and worms, and moss, and salmon, and ferns, and snakes, and every other imaginable species now threatened with extinction, including our own. It is of obstructed rivers and polluted streams. Of molested mountaintops, developed coastlines, and felled forests.                 The moon begins to silently hum in its detached, pellucid presence above me. Field mice scurry across my path. Crickets begin their nightly serenades of solicitation unconcerned by my intrusion.  Mosquitoes make clandestine landfalls on my exposed arms and head, foolishly underestimating the racket their wings make in such close proximity to my ear drums.  I think once again about what she said, that passerby on the trail.  “You must love nature.”  

I breathe deeply, sigh, and make my way home through the gathering darkness.

~ Kenn Orphan  2017

Trailhead near Prospect, Nova Scotia, by Kenn Orphan: