Tag Archives: militarism

Humanity vs. The Rule of Law

It was back in my early undergrad years when I first came to understand the broad reach of US foreign policy. I completed a social work internship in Los Angeles at a safe house in east LA in a largely immigrant community whose goal was economic justice and solidarity with working families. One morning I came down to the kitchen to find two sisters from the Missionaries of Charity sitting at the table with our house administrators. They had a similar home just down the street from us and they were well known for opening it up as a sanctuary for refugees. That day they greeted us with a choice.

A family of refugees from Central America were en route to LA and needed housing since the sisters home was already filled to capacity. Our house admins had already agreed to do this but we would be permitted to go to another program, without judgement, if we were not comfortable with this decision. This was the late 80s and providing sanctuary for people from certain nations in Central America was both controversial and illegal. We were nervous, but young and very eager to do something that seemed radical. Over the following month we learned that the risk we had taken paled in comparison to theirs. Nothing could remotely compare with the horrors they had endured or narrowly escaped; threats of rape, violence and being abandoned to die in agony in the desert, or the uncertain future they faced in a country hostile to their very existence.

I remember the backlash I and others received from several in my class. In their eyes we were subverting the rule of law. But what rule of law were they speaking of? Was it the one that informs virtually all of American foreign policy? The one that trains mercenaries at infamous places like the School of the Americas? The same one that fueled the genocide of 250,000 Mayans in Guatemala in 1954 at the behest of the United Fruit Company? Or the rule of law that created a brothel for US corporate interests in Havana? Or backed the genocide in Indonesia done by rabid fascists? Or supported coups that upended a democratically elected government in Chile? Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or Iran? Was it the one that carpet bombed Cambodia, napalmed North Korea or tested nukes on US soldiers and the unsuspecting inhabitants of the Marshall Islands? Would that rule of law include Indian Removal? Or Jim Crow? Or state sponsored lynchings? Or internment camps for Japanese Americans during WW2? When it comes to the American Empire what rule of law is there outside of that which pertains to the rights of corporations, or the ruling Capitalist class, or the military industrial elite? How many crimes has the global north committed against the global south; and how many of them have been explained away using the sanctimonious parlance of the rule of law?

I fast forward to today and wonder what has changed? US foreign policy certainly hasn’t. It continues to punish Cuba and has not stopped its war mongering against Venezuela. It still promotes the racist “drug war” that makes life a misery for countless people. It still defends industries that pollute the waters and the soil that indigenous peoples depend on, like in the Amazon in Ecuador by Chevron. It still backs rightwing coups like the one recently championed by Hillary Clinton in Honduras which installed a government that terrorizes its population and is ultimately responsible for the murder of scores of Indigenous and environmental activists, like Berta Cáceres who understood well the reach, ramifications and scope of American foreign policy, especially its impact on the lives of those who live on the margins of empire.

And what has changed at the border? The same people terrorized by American foreign policy are still dehumanized, traumatized, deported and even murdered in cold blood when they manage to arrive there hoping for a better life. Even Hillary Clinton advocated for sending undocumented people back as a solution, and Obama is on record for deporting more immigrants than other presidents. But if there is anything that has changed in recent days it is the deepening depravity of such policies. Thanks to Trump’s inhuman policy of separation of children from their parents, the breathless cruelty of the US Border Patrol and ICE produce a virtual Sophie’s Choice every day. Even showing human kindness toward these children is grounds for termination from employment.

So the outrage I have today is not dissimilar to the outrage I felt years ago.  I still see the faces of those refugees I stood in solidarity with several years ago from Guatemala. And when I read about the migrants being detained and sent to cages with foil blankets or hear the recordings of inconsolable cries of children torn from their mother or father, I see their eyes peering through me. And I think of that “rule of law” argument waged by my classmates years ago. The same argument made by Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders who then buttressed it with Biblical references. Such a rationale only exists in the minds of those whose humanity has long been gutted. It’s one that has been used generously by scoundrels throughout time to ignore their complicity in creating the turmoil in the first place, and then defending the cruelest of policies against the human beings affected by that misery. And my response to such barbarity remains the same as it was back then: to hell with their rule of law.

 

Kenn Orphan   June 2018

 

 

Let’s Stop Pretending

Let’s stop pretending that the war on Syria just began. The US along with Canada, the EU, the UK, the Saudis, Israel, Russia, and Iran, have been arming factions and reducing the region to smithereens for years, carpet bombing cities and killing scores of civilians in the process.

Let’s stop pretending that the US and its allies have any problem with dictators, death squads or authoritarian regimes since they have propped them up, applauded them, and aided them from Egypt to Honduras to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And they have no problem with carnage if it happens to come from one of their client states, like the Saudi kingdom’s genocide in Yemen or Israel’s slaughter in Gaza.

Let’s stop pretending that any of the global players are troubled by or concerned about war crimes. In the West the selective outrage over the horrific gas attack on civilians in Syria is absurdly obvious when it comes to the fact that the US and its allies have used depleted uranium, napalm and white phosphorus and bombed hospitals and mosques, wedding parties and shelters as a matter of course.
Let’s stop pretending that any of them care about Syrians or Syrian society either. While Russia has turned a blind eye to Assad’s crimes and bolstered his regime’s power to crush any meaningful dissent, the US, UK and EU have funded extremists, foreign mercenaries and reactionary militants who have terrorized local populations almost as much as the regime itself. They’ve also made it near impossible for refugees and others trying to flee the misery and chaos they have helped to create.

Let’s stop pretending that any of this is about human rights or the rule of law, or that this will bring about an end to barbarism since the cold hard fact is that stocks are surging for Lockheed Martin, Grumman Northrup and Boeing. This is indeed a global, capitalist arrangement that ultimately benefits the coffers of the wealthy. Endless war, chaos, terrorism and state violence are, to put it bluntly, a boon.

The escalation this time may signify a new level of madness. Thanks to unhinged psychopaths like John Bolton who is back in a position of power, and the generals of the military industrial complex, we are being led down a path that could easily begin a world war with other nuclear armed powers. We’ve been down this road recently with North Korea, so we should not downplay that grim fact because it really could quite literally spell out the final chapter for civilization at any given moment.

So should we be angered? Yes. Surprised? No. While the powerful have never once tried to hide their crimes from us, they would prefer that we forget them. They would like us to pretend that their hypocrisy and selective outrage makes perfect sense. So the choice is really quite simple. We can either continue playing along in this bloody theatre of the absurd or stop being played for fools once and for all.

Kenn Orphan, 14 April, 2018

 

A Stampede Against Time

It’s inspiring to see so many young people in the United States rise to action against gun violence, especially in response to the mass shooting phenomenon which has dominated news cycles and the American psyche itself. But unless the link is made to militarism, police brutality, ecological destruction, economic disenfranchisement and state violence it will be reduced to mere spectacle and cynically used by the Democratic Party, that infamous graveyard of social movements, for political advancement.
The so-called “March for Our Lives” was emblematic of this. Held on a weekend, permits were easily granted. The corporate media portrayed it favorably. There were celebrities, pundits and political hacks galore. There were no major police incidents. And nothing was disrupted politically, economically or socially. Essentially, it was a state sanctioned “day of rage” which did not upend anything nor have any consequential effect on the underlying societal inequities or maladies that create a violent society in the first place.
Compare this weekend’s events to the reaction of the state to Black Lives Matter rallies, the Occupy Movement or Standing Rock Sioux and you get a clear picture of which movements are allowable or even smiled upon and which ones they will brutally crush. The Democrats showed little interest in those latter movements because they represented a real threat to the repressive capitalist, ecologically devastating and thoroughly racist status quo of which they are a part.
And then there is the privilege. The very name “March For Our Lives” reflects a kind of cooptation in relation to Black Lives Matter, and this is especially troubling since most of the participants have been largely from the white petit bourgeois (middle class). Similar comparisons can be made to the #metoo movement because although it was founded by a Black woman (Tarana Burke), it was co-opted by a white celebrity (Alyssa Milano) and gained steam via an exposé on the powerful producer Harvey Weinstein. And thus far it has shown few, demonstrable, real life benefits for working class women of colour because the systems of class exploitation persist undisturbed and unabated.
But highly organized and moneyed events like the one this past weekend are not really meant to effect change. They take place only within the confines of acceptable dissent, rattling few cages and causing no one (especially the wealthy and powerful elite) too much inconvenience. And they often mask more nefarious and insidious motives of the state for increased control and the suppression of actual dissent.  For instance, the main focus of animus at this weekend’s march was the National Rifle Association, arguably a lobby group that actively defends white nationalist terror. But nothing was uttered about Grumman Northrup, or Lockheed Martin, or Halliburton, or the Pentagon, or the Department of Defense, or the police for that matter, all of which cause substantially more deaths globally. And this is by design. These “movements” generally act as a valve to let off steam; and the action they call for all too often come in the form of draconian legalism, surveillance and authoritarian overreach.

Indeed, the US has always been supremely authoritarian but it is rapidly slipping into outright fascism with each passing day. Military analysts and generals are running the show behind the scenes of the narcissist in the Oval Office and are salivating at the next geopolitical assault (see quagmire) be it against Iran, North Korea, Venezuela or even Russia or China, all while a complex police state has been meticulously constructed domestically.

It is an empire where the ruling class create a narrative to serve the purpose of maintaining their power while they continue to hack through what is left of the rag we call a social safety net and fill their already bloated private coffers with stolen public coin. And it enforces it all through coercion, intimidation, marginalization and violence, both at home and abroad. This is why social movements cannot have real success if they are largely generated and sustained by members of the elite or the establishment.  They serve only as an illusion of agency, not true power; and often end with more terrifying results.

It is my sincere hope that many of the young people rising up today make this crucial connection and the #NeverAgain movement will grow to encompass US militarism, the prison/surveillance/police industrial complex and systemic economic inequality, because the failure to do so will only speed them toward an even more terrifying totalitarianism within a deeply unequal and warrior society neutered of its political agency and chomping at the bit for more war and a militarized world. But they will need to do this quickly. This isn’t simply a march for their lives; it is a stampede against time for us all.

Kenn Orphan, 26 March 2018

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
 

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

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 Willful Blindness of Empire

Last night President Trump vowed to expand the war in Afghanistan.  The longest war in American history, started by George W. Bush (with the help of his father who made preliminary advances in the 20th century) and carefully maintained by Barrack Obama who dropped over 26,000 bombs around the planet in his last year alone.  Afghanistan has been called the “graveyard of all empires” which may be hyperbolic and ignores the enormous suffering Afghans have had to endure after each foreign incursion. But with each passing year that phrase carries more weight.  And as this assailed nation sits atop nearly one trillion US dollars worth of rare earth minerals there is little doubt why the US is there to begin with and why it refuses to leave.
Militarism is essential to empire; but it is also one of its biggest weaknesses.  It exacts a heavy price and takes an enormous toll on the stability and capacity of a government to provide for its citizens.  This is especially true of capitalist societies where profit flows upward to an increasingly smaller group of extremely wealthy people.  The United States which expanded across North America through violent ethnic cleansing, genocide and slave trade economics is no exception to the general course of empire.  And like its forebears it is teetering on a precipice thanks to the convergence of climate change caused chaos, exploitation of finite resources and perpetual war. Join this with rampant corruption, gross social and economic inequities and militarization of the police state and a recipe for collapse is written.
Like so many other empires of history America is walking into calamity and, quite possibly, its quietus with a boastful and willful ignorance.  It ridicules the warnings of its scientists, disregards the just cries of its oppressed, and diminishes the moral imagination of its artists as it elevates its “reality” stars, corporate executives and generals. Most of its citizens are perpetually repressed in a prison of debt and terrified of the costs associated with being sick, injured or incarcerated for a petty crime.
Despite the enormous disdain in which it treats the veterans of its wars, the magicians and high priests of ruthless state capitalism deliver a steady diet of jingoistic nationalism and the lie of “exceptionalism” to the public.  They manufacture new villains and boogeymen, foreign and domestic, for them to project their animus, frustration and alienation.  In this way collective amnesia is induced every time a flag is unfurled.  The empire has little interest in the arts or humanities either.  Those were abandoned a long time ago to be replaced by corporate mass media and pop culture.  And in doing so it has purposefully hollowed out much of the conscience necessary to keep its excesses in check.
In its present form and on its present course America cannot be salvaged.  Nor should it.  Its aim is nothing less than the full scale plunder of the planet via unending war on one side and utter contempt for the consequences on the other.  The same day President Trump announced the expansion of America’s imperial reach he disbanded an advisory council on climate change.  Now even the mitigation of the inevitable, human caused climate catastrophe is off the table.  This should not come as a shock. Belligerent obtuseness to reason is emblematic of late stage capitalism and of empire itself.  It will ultimately be up to ordinary people organizing at the grassroots level to choose how they will respond to its coming fall, but time is running short and there are enormous shocks and challenges coming that will not be addressed by those who govern now.
Irony is most often missed by the powerful.  But on the same day that Trump announced his monstrous plans for Afghanistan it spelled it out across the sky nonetheless.  Stepping out unto the White House balcony he was a visual metaphor for the trajectory of the United States.  Appearing generally uninterested, even doltishly bumptious at the magnitude of this celestial event, he ignored the warning of scientists and stared briefly into the sun’s blinding rays.   And so it goes for the American Empire as it stares arrogantly into a blighted and brutal future, only seeing its own inflated greatness while the searing beams of reality scorch everything else around it to ash.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

Flirting with the Fires of Hell

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

 

With tensions rising around the world thanks to Donald Trump’s escalation of militarism against Iran and Venezuela there are some who have raised the alarm over a coming nuclear confrontation. There is reason to be concerned given that a narcissistic megalomaniac with the moral intelligence of a tsetse fly is seated on the throne of the American Empire.  With one unhinged tweet the world could be plunged into an instant and enduring misery.

Nuclear weapons are the most totally destructive weapon ever conceived.   Even now, years after the Cold War ended, they continue to menace our world with irreversible and utter devastation. But on the anniversary of the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki it is worth remembering that there has been only one nation on the planet which used these weapons on civilian populations, incinerating thousands of civilians in a micro-second and killing nearly 150,000 innocent women, children and men. The heat of those bombs was so intense that it burned the image of some of its victims onto the pavement of the cities. The United States detonated these monstrous behemoths in spite of convincing evidence that Japan, already in ruins, was on the brink of surrender.  Borrowing tactics from other imperial entities in history, it was most likely an effort to send a message of dominance to another rising power, Soviet Russia.

Of course at its heart the nature of empire is to see itself and its actions as nothing but noble.  Edward Said observed: “Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.”  Said understood that the role of these myths were to obscure its supremacist character.  Its atrocities can always be justified via empty slogans like “freedom” and “democracy,” or the lie of “humanitarian military intervention.”   The disease of nationalism convinces the public of its virtuous intentions.  And “the nationalist”, as George Orwell noted: “not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

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

Of course the United States is not the only nation to have committed large scale, horrific atrocities. Imperial Japan was brutal and ruthless. Nazi Germany was a genocidal monster. Stalinist Russia had its own brand of cruel repression and mass murder, and the history of European colonialism is drenched in the blood of millions. Indeed, small nations too have committed barbarous acts of savagery often with the blessing of super powers like the US, Europe, China and Russia.

But in terms of global militarism, it is the American Empire which has been arguably the most aggressive on a global scale with nearly 800 military bases in over 70 countries. And it is today it is at the forefront of leading the world toward nuclear war. Indeed, under Obama and Trump it has excelled when it comes to nuclear proliferation in the first half of the 21st century. It justifies all of this with the same old canards about the need for an effective deterrence against the threat of “rogue states” or terrorism.  But to accept this line of thinking is deny these documented crimes of Empire, and to deny that war itself is terrorism with nuclear bombs as its supreme expression.

It has been over seventy years since those bombings in Japan. Over seventy years of forgetting the horror. Over seventy years of normalizing the inhumanity. Over seventy years of nation states, big and small, creating newer, more fearsome, more cruel and more totally annihilating weapons of mass destruction, with the most powerful one of all leading the pack in this mad journey toward oblivion. But in those seventy plus years very little has been learned from those hateful skies about building a just and peaceful world, or from the shadows of human ghosts cast from them onto the unforgiving pavement. Their shadows are a haunting reminder to all of us of the fragility of all life. And as the Empire flirts with the fires of hell once again, may those ghosts bestow on us an undeserved mercy to spare us a similar fate.

Kenn Orphan  2017

 

Monsters, Inc.

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

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

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

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

Kenn Orphan  2017