Tag Archives: war

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

 

Canonizing Criminals and the Lobotomization of Public Memory

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

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

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

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

The 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 Storytellers of Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

 

 

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

 

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

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, and US warships being sent to the Sea of Japan, there are many who are jittery about the potential of a confrontation involving chemical weapons or worse, a nuclear incident between North Korea and the US.  There is reason to be.  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 instant misery.  And North Korea is a paranoid authoritarian regime which has elevated the worship of the State to an art form.  It has recently unveiled what appear to be new weapons,  and it is widely known to possess nuclear weapons.  

Nuclear weapons are arguably the most totally destructive weapon ever conceived of by our species.   Even now, years after the Cold War ended, they continue to menace our world with irreversible and utter devastation.  But there has been only one nation on the planet which has actually detonated not one but two nuclear bombs on two cities, incinerating thousands of civilians in a micro-second and killing nearly 130,000 women, children and men.  The United States did this in spite of evidence that Japan was already in ruins and was perhaps ready to 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.
At its heart the nature of empire is to see itself as 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 regions.  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.  It did all of this 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 atrocities.  Imperial Japan was brutal and ruthless, and 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 or Russia.  With all of this in mind one must ask what moral leg any government has to stand upon when it comes to making the world safe or bringing peace?  How can any one of them be trusted with sweeping military power?  Are we really expected to believe that in this day and age any of them have the best of intentions when they use such powers?

Arguably, in terms of global violence it is the American Empire which is leading the way today.   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 and nuclear bombs are its supreme expression.
It has been seventy two years since those bombings in Japan.  Seventy two years of forgetting the horror.  Seventy two years of normalizing the inhumanity.  Seventy two years of nation states, big and small, creating newer, more fearsome, more cruel and more totally annihilating weapons, with the most powerful one of all leading the pack in this mad journey toward oblivion.  But in those seventy two 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 preciousness and fragility of all life.
As the Empire flirts with the fires of hell once again, may those ghosts have mercy on the rest of us.  And may they forgive us for ignoring their silent warning.
Kenn Orphan  2017

 Addendum:  I wanted to add something personal to this article.  My father was in the US Navy during the second world war, and was scheduled to be deployed to Japan just before the bombing of Hiroshima. So I did not write this with flippancy. If he had been deployed I may not have been born.  But I rarely entertain hypothetical arguments, especially when real flesh and blood human beings have been killed.  And I cannot rationalize incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilians for a theory that it might have saved millions.  To me it is a ghoulish game that is only relished by the powerful.

I loved my father, but he was told and believed one version of the story: the victor’s version.  There is now strong evidence that indicates the contrary or at least other possibilities.  Empires lie, and they lie well.  Especially when they are the victors of war.  It is up to us to parse through those lies and reject the insidious nationalism they use to justify their crimes against humanity.

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

Resistance in an Age of Absurdity

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

 

From an incessant flow of paranoid tweets to bizarre statements about massacres that never happened or secret cameras fitted in microwaves, Donald Trump’s regime has ushered the unhinged spectacle of reality show television right into the Oval Office with stunning success.  Were this absurdity to be contained within the confines of a political thriller it might be mildly entertaining.  But in the real world, a world in which real civilians are being blown to bits by smart bombs, real children are starving to death, real refugees are being turned back to face certain death, and where the real biosphere is perilously close to the edge of catastrophe, this derangement is utterly terrifying.

 

Trump is a master at manipulating the corporate media via the manufacture of controversy and melodrama.  Of course the irony is that the very same broadcasting behemoths he routinely demonizes provide his unhinged theatrics with non stop coverage which, in turn, has given them unprecedented ratings and profits.  But behind the spectacle lurks a far more insidious method to this madness.  In a mere three months the Trump regime has managed to replace the heads of institutions like the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with individuals who wish to dismantle them.  He has codified racist xenophobia through executive orders which ban Muslims and persecute undocumented immigrants. And through his elevation of white supremacist Steven Bannon to astonishing power, he has animated the latent white nationalist movement.

The Trump regime has also demonstrated its eager willingness to expand the war machine of American Empire, pouring billions of dollars into an already bloated military industrial sector while gutting social and medical services.   In this short time Trump’s militarism has empowered the Pentagon and has claimed the lives of scores of men, women and children from Syria, to Yemen, to Iraq, and it is only just ramping up.   There is also little to cast doubt on the prospect of wars and military conflicts involving China, North Korea and Iran in the not too distant future given the administration’s unhinged saber rattling and provocation.

 

His appointment of former ExxonMobil executive, Rex Tillerson, to the State Department signifies a blatant display of the influence of the fossil fuel industry in regard to US foreign and domestic policy.  Tillerson presided over the company in the 1970s, a period in which the oil giant launched massive campaigns to deny its own research which confirmed human caused global warming.  Trump’s recent executive order related to climate change delivered a blow to reason.  It was meant to.  His absurdist view that it is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese is a hallmark of his risible ignorance and, remarkably, still has currency in many conspiratorially minded circles.  But in this Age of Absurdity facts and the truth itself have become the first victims.

As a resurgent fascism stands poised to sweep over the West we can expect increasing brutality against dissent; and it would be foolish to think the repercussions of this would remain localized.  We will be increasingly asked to choose between compliance with monstrous state repression or bold resistance. The protests which have sprung up against the onslaught of misogynistic and xenophobic polices have been encouraging to see, but there are already a slew of laws in the works designed to stifle direct action. And the Democratic Party establishment is not interested, nor is it equipped to offer up any kind of meaningful resistance since it has acquiesced to the demands and interests of Wall Street, corporations and the war industry long ago. Their role has been one of normalizing the ruthless exploits of global capitalism.  Indeed, the Clinton and Obama administrations championed the brutality of neoliberal capitalism and weakened civil liberties and gutted social safety nets for the poor while deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and bolstering the imperialistic war machine.  

 

If there is anyone to look to in these dark times for inspiration it would be the ongoing struggles of Black Lives Matter, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), and Standing Rock Sioux which largely began during the previous administration and are international in scope.  These movements have endured and weathered police and state intimidation, brutality, violence and arrest; and it is their fortitude and integrity which offers us all a living example of how bold we will need to be in the face of an ever more oppressive tyranny.  They were born of the historic struggles of indigenous peoples against colonialism, police brutality and environmental racism.  And with the perilous times that lie ahead solidarity with them is needed now more than ever before.

Thanks to the convergence of a climate ravaged world and a fragile biosphere that is teetering on collapse and extinction, the global despotism rising today will be unlike anything we have ever seen before.  The flames of nationalism and xenophobia will be fanned by fascists who will ride a rising and unfortunate tide of climate chaos.   They will use famine, austerity and social unrest and uncertainty to justify brutal authoritarianism, repression and state violence; and they will have no problem employing chicanery, scapegoating and dehumanization to achieve their end.  Indeed, their embrace of absurdity, or its pretense, is their strength.

 

In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt said: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”    The more fascists are permitted to make a mockery of justice, humanity and protection of the living earth, the more easy it will be for them to manipulate the deepest fears and prejudices of the public.  They will continue to launch mendacious smears against climate scientists, assault the poor and the most vulnerable, advance racism, expand war and militarism, disparage the press, and promote the inversion of reality to their favor even as the planet burns.   And if we continue to allow them to bend the arc of truth we will most assuredly see truth itself begin to die.   Our resistance to tyranny begins the day we refuse to allow this to happen on our watch.

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

On International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day.  Truthfully, every day should be International Women’s Day. Roughly half of humanity are women and most live lives of imposed poverty, under brutal repression, or in the killing fields of war.  The threats of sexual or economic exploitation persist and the violence of patriarchy, authoritarianism and empire continue to be the dominant form of governance the world over.

Many stodgy politicians have taken to the stage to express their “admiration” for women. I guess it was nice of them to take a moment away from bombing their villages to smithereens, or polluting their water supplies, or enacting new laws to legislate their bodies; but I digress.  Today is not about them.

From indigenous women fighting the mining companies polluting the land in Peru and Ecuador, or trying to protect the water from fossil fuel industries in North Dakota or Alberta,
to Palestinian and Jewish women struggling arm in arm against apartheid and women of colour standing courageously against police brutality in the US.


From women who work 20 hour days for a pittance in sweatshops in Bangladesh to Indian women protesting sexual violence.
And all the women who must traverse dangerous passages to safety for them and their families in the midst of imperialistic war and its turmoil, from Yemen to Iraq to Syria to Somalia to Afghanistan.
This day is about them.  And it is an opportunity to renew our commitment of solidarity with all women, but especially those who face immediate and unmerciful violence and oppression.
Women have been at the forefront protesting wars, colonialism and racism and demanding fairer economic realities. They have been and continue to be warriors for the biosphere. And they have done this with great risk, often inviting death threats, discrimination and injury.  But without a doubt, there could be no social justice, peace or ecological protection without the perseverance of women against the most brutal of regimes and cruel of systems.  We remember, honour, and reaffirm our shared struggle today and everyday.
Kenn Orphan  2017
Note: The featured image for this essay is a painting by the Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil (30 January 1913– 5 December 1941) and is entitled Tribal Women.