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.
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
In case you missed it…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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:
“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: