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 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:
Jackson owned hundreds of slaves, not uncommon for white, male landowners of his time; but enforced a brutal system of loyalty through violent punishment. He also favoured war and militarism over diplomacy and cooperation, invading Spanish Florida in an effort to re-capture runaway slaves and expel the Seminoles from their ancestral land. And he committed what would today be considered war crimes, encouraging militias to kill not only Native American warriors, but to exterminate women and children as well. He was the founder of the modern day Democratic Party (1828) demonstrating that war mongering and white supremacy are bipartisan values. Outside of the supremacist myths of “American Exceptionalism” and “Manifest Destiny” Jackson deserves to be remembered only as a despot who championed ethnic cleansing and passionately defended and benefited from the institution of slavery.
After these first 100 days one can see why Trump revels in his legacy. Like Jackson, Trump sees himself as a populist defending beleaguered white working men against hordes of those whom they falsely believe are the source of all their misery and demoralization. Trump purged many government agencies of staffers just like Jackson did, only to replace them with loyal supporters. He promotes a worldview that celebrates hypermasculine militarism, even going so far as to advocate killing the families of suspected terrorists. His reckless penchant for war in place of diplomacy is in alignment with Jackson’s legendary blood lust. He has showed no hesitation in robbing Native Americans of even more of their land to create “jobs,” a code word for the empowerment of white men exclusively.
“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.
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
Russia has had a bloody hand in this imperialistic game of chess from the start too. It sees the crumbling edifice of the American Empire. It knows that it is an arrogant beast drunk on its own hubris, yet despite its alarming madness it is armed to the teeth with nukes and has circled its borders and China with dozens of military bases. As any empire, even an ancient and faded one, Russia is asserting itself on the world stage and reinserting its influence on its own long held client states in the region. For the American Empire it is Israel and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia. For Russia it is Syria and, to a much lesser extent, Iran. To be sure, both Empires could not care one bit about the people in their client states. This is a chess game of psychopaths, authoritarians and tyrants, and they are in it to win even if everyone loses in the end. In essence, it is the powerful, big players and small, who have been responsible for the misery and carnage and I shall give not one of them a pass. It is the people I care about, not any one of their leaders.
How can we, as non-Syrians, make sense of all of this? I cannot speak for anyone but myself. And my principles remain unchanged. My solidarity is not with the powerful. It will never be. It will always be with those who suffer, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the persecuted. It is antiwar, ALL war. It is anti-imperialism, ALL imperialism. These are the principles I will continue to champion regardless of how murky things may become in the dire days ahead.
But I will confess that, personally, I am tired of the grandstanding, ad hominem slurs, demonizing, straw man fallacies, bullying and petty fight picking I see going between activists on all political fronts. When it comes to this issue I am choosing to listen only to ordinary Syrians on which ever side they may fall. Their voices, while they matter the most, have been the most muted in all of this and I cannot help to think that this is by design.
Castro was not a saint. No leader is. In fact he was, by many accounts, an authoritarian leader. And his failings are not above condemnation or critique, from the early persecution of the queer community and political dissidents to his marginalization of devout Catholics. But all of this cannot be understood in the vacuum created by the quislings of the corporate media. And Castro did offer apologies and amends for many of his early mistakes and outright cruelties. All of it however, like anything, is meaningless without context.
Before Castro the island nation was governed by Fulgencio Batista, a US backed, mafia associated dictator who came into power via a coup and whose regime tortured and murdered up to 20,000 people. In the years since the revolution to oust Batista, and his class of robber barons and fascists, the United States spent every waking hour imagining ways to subvert the Cuban government including an attempted invasion (the Bay of Pigs) and terrorist plots aimed at innocent civilians. One plot was successfully carried out against a Cuban airliner. All 73 passengers aboard Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 were killed when timebombs were detonated by CIA backed militants. Incidentally one of the CIA affiliated terrorists, Luis Posada Carriles, is living comfortably in Miami, Florida. Under Castro it is estimated that there were upwards of 5000 killed in the revolution (far fewer than the American revolution) and a little more than a two hundred via execution in the years that followed.
Castro’s successful defiance of ruthless US imperialism is unmatched and praiseworthy, surviving over 600 assassination attempts several of which were orchestrated or supported by the US. And the triumph of the Cuban people to build a society with an internationally renowned universal healthcare system (they send medical teams all over the world) and free education (literacy rates are at 99.7% compared to 86% in the United States) even under a brutal and inhumane US embargo is a testament to their resilience, spirit and will. Unlike the monstrous monarch from the medieval house of Saud whose regime is slaughtering thousands in neighboring Yemen, Castro’s Cuba did lend support to the struggles against racist apartheid in South Africa and Palestine, but never invaded or launched a war against any other nation.
The onslaught of negative coverage, outright lies and propaganda soundbites about Cuba since the death of Fidel Castro is not surprising to daily observers of the machinations of the US corporate press. They have served as a mouthpiece for American imperialism since their inception and cannot change who they are intrinsically. This is, of course, why they are so keen on exposing so-called “fake news.” Of course that “fake news” does not include the lies they told on behalf of the Pentagon and a murderous military establishment that spurred the criminal invasions and destruction of countries like Iraq or Libya and beyond.
Now that Castro has died the US corporate media has been feverishly painting the late President with every villainous color they can find. Interestingly enough they never did this when the murderous fiend of Saudi Arabia died even though his legacy was drenched in gallons of beheaded blood. But the “good King” was a dear friend to US business interests, so the press spent their time praising the medieval despot for “advancing women’s rights” even though his kingdom had scores of women and others executed for the so called crimes of witchcraft or apostasy. But grasping irony or seeing blatant hypocrisy is not a gift of the ruling elite.
The same corporate news imploring the public to shun “fake news” had no problem peddling propaganda that led to the war on Vietnam and Iraq and Libya. It downplayed the cruelty of the medieval kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and the decades long system of apartheid in Israel. It has spent its lifetime being the mouthpiece for Empire, Inc. and made a career of manufacturing outrage, vapid celebrity obsession and paranoia, spinning the planet killing lies of the fossil fuel and war industries, and spreading Pentagon lies which have cost millions of lives and contributed to one of the biggest mass migrations in human history. It has suppressed existential news related to Fukushima and climate change, virtually ignored systemic racism and the prison/surveillance machine, and is turning a blind eye to the unfolding atrocities at Standing Rock Sioux. And yet somehow with all of this it has the gall to expect people of conscience to feel sorry for it, forget about these lies and omissions, and believe them now when they cry foul after that cloak of deception has been lifted.
The hubris of the powerful dances with willful ignorance in the most stunning of ways indeed.
Kenn Orphan 2016
I have always been fascinated by the capacity of people to block out facts that either trouble them or do not align with their preconceived beliefs about the world. This is most evident when it comes to religion and politics. And we can see it clearly in the dog and pony show that is the 2016 American Presidential campaign. Trump supporters lovingly embrace a disconnect from reality partly due to entrenched racism and xenophobia, but mostly because of a deep sense of disenfranchisement and humiliation. However Clinton supporters on the other side are just as much, if not more, deluded in their blind devotion to the bloody queen of chaos.
Even though Ms. Clinton, and her philandering husband, have expressed their undying love for Wall Street time and time again, and are firmly embedded in the 1% elite, they believe she is for working people. Even though she was against marriage equality until as late as 2013, they think she supports the LGBTQ community. Even though she championed and still defends a right wing coup in Honduras which has led to the murders of scores of indigenous, environmental and LGBTQ activists, they think she supports universal human rights. Even though she pushed the US and NATO into decimating Libya, voted to decimate Iraq in a war based solely on lies and has consistently pushed for attacking Syria and Iran, they believe she will be the most level headed when it comes to foreign policy. Even though she has accepted boat loads of money from the fossil fuel industry, they believe she will defend environmental regulations and address climate change with urgency. Even though she and her husband carved up Haiti for neoliberal capitalistic profit through their notorious foundation, they believe she is for the underdog. Even though she has accepted truck loads of money from the private prison industry, they believe she will work to end the racist policies that imprison millions of Americans for non-violent offenses. Even though she attacked whistleblower Edward Snowden for allegedly helping terrorists when he revealed nefarious government malfeasance, they believe she will enforce transparency. Even though she defended her husband’s economic policies which adversely effected women of color, they think she is a feminist who will champion the rights of all women.
It is cognitive dissonance on a grand scale.
As of today, Hillary Clinton is the projected winner of New York and, by proxy, the Democratic nomination. Not very remarkable given that the plutocracy selected her to be the executive director of Plunder the Planet, Inc. a long time ago. And it shouldn’t be surprising that it matters little what the masses think to the corporate aristocracy. They hate Trump because he is too erratic and, frankly, too stupid. They despise Cruz because he is a religious nut case. They fear Sanders because he may be radicalized even further toward the left. But they adore Hillary because they know she will have their back. Her allegiances are clear to anyone who really wants to see them.
One thing is for sure, Hillary’s win will be a hollow victory, and she knows this full well. She has only gotten this far by pandering to Wall Street, Hollywood A-listers, the fossil fuel industry, and a pro-Israel, right wing billionaire for years, not from common people interested in real social justice and change. But this is of little consolation, especially to the people who will undoubtedly suffer greatly under her policies of militarism and support for right wing, apartheid and repressive regimes around the world.
America is a dying, but well armed, empire. And historically, empires drown themselves in farce, fiction and mythology as they collapse. A Clinton presidency will ensure the illusion of American democracy will continue to sputter forward for at least a few more years. But illusions are like junk food, they will never sate the demands of reality. And I feel nothing but sadness and dread when I think about the continuing massacres, coups, interventions and wars which are now all but assured on a planet spiraling mindlessly into ecocide.
Kenn Orphan 2016
The resurgence of white nationalism in mainstream American politics has left many nonplussed and baffled. White power flags, tattoos and symbols have made a stunning comeback, and they are coupled with threats, violence and Nazi salutes at huge rallies in support of presidential candidate, and front runner, Donald Trump. At a recent event one supporter shouted at a protester “go to fucking Auschwitz,” and in a rally held last month an audience member unabashedly asked the candidate how “we are going to get rid of” Muslims. Mr. Trump did nothing to condemn this overtly racist point of view. This is a phenomenon that should not be downplayed or dismissed as an anomaly. Indeed, it is representative of a much larger and far more dangerous feature of American society itself.
There has always been a persistent strain of fascism in this country, one that has been poised to sweep in to power the kind of charismatic authoritarian of the Hitler/Mussolini stripe. This is no more visually apparent than within Trump’s base. Stripped of agency and laden with humiliation, Trump supporters are the very emblem of an unforgiving vengeance within the disenfranchised mob. Torches and pitchforks aside, these demoralized masses are more than ready to pounce on the last vestiges of an anemic, American civil society already weakened by the barbarity of neoliberal (free market) capitalism and plutocratic despotism. And with environmental catastrophe and economic meltdown ever looming, this so called “fringe” may just succeed in doing the unthinkable.
With the obvious implosion of the Republican Party underway many Americans hold fast to the myth that the Democrats will save them from this unfolding nightmare. The truth, however, is that they will painfully prolong the inevitable. No matter how much they would like to paint it otherwise, they are just as much the party of the aristocratic class as the Republicans. They represent their interests, albeit in a less obnoxious manner than their conservative counterparts. But the effect is the same. Their aim is to preserve the status quo that is steadily demolishing any chance of a viable future for coming generations. Indeed, their plunder may usher this present generation into a dystopia only imagined in science fiction.
Their star candidate, Hillary Clinton, has a long, bloody history of supporting right wing coups and wars that decimated sovereign societies. Unsurprisingly, her mentor is none other than the preeminent war criminal Henry Kissinger. And she has all but vowed to aggressively provoke a nuclear armed Russia and attack Iran on behalf of her Israeli benefactors. But what is perhaps more troubling is her allegiance to the 1% of Wall Street, evidenced by her exorbitant speech fees at well heeled engagements and her condemnation of the Occupy Movement which sought to hold banks and corporate robber barons accountable for their malfeasance. If she seizes power in the coming election we can be assured of an acceleration of plutocracy, not its reverse.
To be sure, the only real change in American policy has come from grassroots mass movements which upended the comfortable privilege of the aristocratic elite. Whether demanding the end of the Vietnam War or equal rights for Black Americans, the power of social change has always stemmed from direct action from below, never from above. But we are in new territory now and the outlook is uncertain. Fascism is undeterred by reason or reform. It is their antithesis. It festers in the dark corners of social hatred ever in search of a new scapegoat, and it thrives in an environment where there are fewer options for advancement or hope. It replaces cooperation and rational debate with violent ridicule and meaningless, nationalistic jingoism.
We should not expect to see a fascism that mimics that of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy or Franco’s Spain. This fascism is uniquely American in its flare. Years of unfettered worship of all things military and an undying celebration of capitalism have furnished the masses with a disdain for the sustaining institutions that define a liberal democracy. And the indifference of the liberal elite to the suffering of working people has stoked an animus that is palpable. They will not endure sanctimonious preaching from the left on the deeply held virtues of tolerance and inclusion for much longer. And this is largely due to being mercilessly thrown to the side for corporate privilege. Their ranks are fed up and they are rising.
One thing is certain. A toxic brew of economic malaise and ecological decimation is simmering ever closer to the boiling point. Alternatives to this horrifying future do exist within movements like Black Lives Matter, indigenous rights and climate justice; but if we do not face the dire outcome of this poisonous concoction with demands for revolutionary change soon, it may spill over faster than anyone can imagine. And in its wake it will drown the civil rights and liberties that had been hard fought for, yet utterly taken for granted, in smoldering ruins.
Kenn Orphan 2016