C Is for Chickenhawk

 

B is for Bolton, John, jonesing for war with Iran.

U is for You who will do the fighting and bear the cost of Mr. Bolton’s war.

T is for Telling lies to get a war for the chickenhawks.

T is for Taking no responsibility for lives and property destroyed and lost in war.

H is for Hastening the destruction that feeds the war machine.

O is for Oil, which other countries have for the taking.

L is for Lining the pockets of arms dealers and military contractors.

E is for Excuses chickenhawks give for not personally fighting when it was their turn.


John R. Bolton official photo
John Bolton, National Security Advisor and warmonger. Official White House photo.

Topolino rocon verona08
Italian agricultural horse trained to pull a sled. Photo by Annalisa Parisi. This picture has something in common with the first picture in this post.


— Vita

“The Call Up”, from The Clash’s 1980 album Sandinista!

 

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A Pillar of Salt

 

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.”
Job 38:4, from the King James Version of the Bible.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Many Americans are probably familiar with it because it has been assigned reading in high schools when it hasn’t been banned or burned by the outraged and the self-righteous. Being assigned reading tends to sap some of the enjoyment of reading, and in that case it might be a good idea to read the book again voluntarily, as an adult.


Mr. Vonnegut was most of all a Humanist, as he himself proclaimed, and the last thing any Humanist would claim is to also be a Saint. On looking back at Vonnegut’s work, the one feature that stands out as discordant from our modern perspective is his treatment of female characters, whom he usually portrayed without much depth, and sometimes unsympathetically for no good reason. That again is viewed from our perch 50 years in the future. Mr. Vonnegut was not out of step with his times in regard to men’s views about women, sad and embarrassing as that may seem to us now. 50 years from now, who can say how people will view us for opinions and attitudes we hold in keeping with our own time?

Brand im Dresdner Zwinger D 18Jh
An anonymous painting, possibly by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712-1774), of a fire at Dresden Castle.

We must remember that until Slaughterhouse-Five came out in 1969, nearly every book and movie in Western culture depicted the Allies in World War II as the good guys, and the Axis as the bad guys, with little shading of gray to add any moral nuance. The Humanist in Mr. Vonnegut could not abide that state of affairs, particularly since he had been present as a prisoner of war at the Allied fire bombing of the German city of Dresden, a target which had virtually no military or political value. The primary reason Allied command ordered the fire bombing was to terrorize the civilian population. In doing so, the Allies sought to deal out righteous retribution for German bombing of English cities earlier in the war. Atrocities, in other words, were perpetrated to one degree or another by both sides, and that is the nature of war and part of human nature and cannot be avoided, no matter how much books and movies gloss it over and glamorize one side over the other. And so it goes – to borrow a phrase from Mr. Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse-Five was not revisionist history, but a necessary corrective to over two decades of mostly superficial accounts of World War II, at least in the popular media. It joined John Hersey’s 1946 non-fiction book Hiroshima in telling of war’s cost in suffering and the capacity for cruelty, alongside acts of kindness. In 1970, a non-fiction book written by Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, was published and changed the national discourse about relations with Native Americans, a discourse which had been dominated for over a century by white people of European descent demonizing them.

American prisoners caught in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 march to their quarters in Dresden, Germany. In February 1945, Allied air forces fire bombed the city, killing as many as 25,000 Germans, mostly women and children. The 1972 film, directed by George Roy Hill, starred Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, the character based on Kurt Vonnegut, and Eugene Roche as his friend Edgar Derby, the ranking soldier among the prisoners.

Important works by great writers and historians come along infrequently and, while nothing and no one is ever perfect, their overall worth to humanity becomes even more apparent over time than at initial publication. Mark Twain’s 1885 novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another great work that has stood the test of time, has also been subjected to periodic bouts of righteous indignation and banishment by different groups for divergent reasons over the years. Certainly we cringe today at some of its language and at the attitudes Mr. Twain portrayed, but many readers, perhaps most, understand that at the heart of the novel is the growing respect and friendship between a white boy and a black man, which in its day was a radical idea that undermined social conventions. We are all prisoners of our time and cannot, like Billy Pilgrim, the central character of Slaughterhouse-Five, become unstuck in time. But we can be charitable and preserve and cherish the greater Humanist vision given us by Kurt Vonnegut and other writers whose works have stood outside of time, imperfect as the writers and their works, like we and our works, will always be.
— Vita

 

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Boondoggles ad Infinitum

 

The current presidential administration trotted out their front man for ostensibly serious projects on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence, to make the case for entangling the country in a boondoggle called “Space Force”. At first glance, this seems like a waste of national resources in an attempt to appease one special interest, defense contractors. Deeper scrutiny, however, uncovers Space Force as a waste of national resources on behalf of boosting the reelection campaign coffers of the current administration as well titillating the chickenhawks amongst their donors. The presidential administration is monetizing the creation of this unnecessary new branch of the military as if it were a television show.

Ed Kemmer Lyn Osborn Space Patrol 1954
A September 1954 promotional photo from the television series Space Patrol. Ed Kemmer as Commander Buzz Corry works the controls of the space ship while Lyn Osborn as Cadet Happy Osborn looks on.

This latest development in the kleptocracy that is the current administration should not be surprising to those who have kept their cynicism up to date. The Space Force hubbub will also serve usefully as a distraction for the next week or two from real problems closing in on the administration, such as the investigation of Independent Counsel Robert Mueller into criminal mischief by the administration’s personnel and, before it, it’s campaign staff. More indictments are coming, and probably a subpoena for Orange Julius himself, who will no doubt waste millions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money fighting to avoid being dragged into court by asserting he is above the law. Meanwhile, in the fantasy land of Space Force, the gravy will be flowing for all the billionaire and millionaire defense contractor executives who profess libertarian ideals while feeding greedily at the government trough filled by their benefactors, Commander Buzz Corry and Cadet Happy Osborn, aka Orange Julius and the Duncy White Knight.
— Techly

Grabbing fistfuls of candy bars will be mere kids’ stuff in the new Space Force marketing.

 

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Forget Me Not

 

Saturday, November 11, is Veterans Day, a day that an older generation remembered as Armistice Day from its origins in World War I. Not really a celebratory holiday like Thanksgiving Day later in the month, and a little more than a historical marker like Columbus Day several weeks before, in October, Veterans Day has become a day for honoring the service of veterans, living and dead, in war and peace, in the front lines and in the rear echelon. For all that, the day means different things to different people.

 

Public Reactions, The March on the Pentagon - NARA - 192602
Veterans for Peace contingent in anti-war March on the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., 21 October 1967. Photo by White House photographer Frank Wolfe.

In the last twenty-five years or so, and especially after 9/11 and the endless wars it spawned, Veterans Day seems to have become a way for civilians who never served to either express gratitude honestly to veterans or to salve their own guilt by obsequiously expressing gratitude. None of that is necessary. More and more stores and restaurants offer discounts on merchandise or free meals to veterans or active duty military on Veterans Day, as well as other times of the year. Those are nice, well-meaning gestures, and are no doubt helpful to down on their luck veterans, but overall they are yet another sign of the American citizenry kowtowing to military culture, an inclination dangerous to liberty.

Fifty years ago at about this time of year, in Washington, D.C., tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. It was the beginning of the flower power non-violent movement against the war and the glorification of military power and its culture. Among the marchers were Veterans for Peace and members of the Lincoln Brigade who volunteered to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Forty years later, in Seattle in October 2007, there was another march against another war, again including a contingent from Veterans for Peace. The scale of that march was far smaller than the one in Washington, D.C., in 1967. Ten years further on, in November 2017, there is hardly anything to be heard in the land but “Thank you for your service.”

 

27 Oct 2007 Seattle Demo - Vets for Peace 02
Veterans for Peace contingent in anti-war march, Seattle, Washington, 27 October 2007. Photo by Joe Mabel.

The wars haven’t stopped; peace hasn’t broken out. Meanwhile, citizens choose to get upset over some football players and others kneeling during the National Anthem in protest against police brutality toward minorities, though what a lot of those citizens are really upset about is their misconstruing of the protests as being against the Anthem, the Flag, and members of the Armed Services, something that was strongly suggested to them by Supreme Leader. NFL owners and administrators are upset that customers are turning against their product on account of the protests, the top administrator of the league saying that fans don’t pay to see protests.

True, but can the NFL have it both ways? The NFL has for years wrapped itself in the Flag, put the Anthem front and center as part of each game’s introductory ceremony, and had a nearly symbiotic relationship with the Armed Services, including military color guards and fighter jet fly overs as part of its pageantry. All the patriotic trappings were good for marketing to its clientele, some of whom enjoy a good jolt of jingoism with their spectator sports. The NFL owners and administrators neglected to clamp down on players’ personal, political displays in contract negotiations with the players’ union, however, and now they are caught in a bind between some of their more principled players and the sunshine patriot fans angry that plantation politics is intruding on their football fun.

 

It’s a certainty the military/NFL partnership will be on full display at the games this Veterans Day weekend. Some of those same fans who howl with hatred at the players kneeling to express concern about the abuse of human rights in this country will quite likely take time to say “Thank you for your service” to someone in uniform or to a veteran. It probably won’t occur to the fans to examine any of that. It’s why the football stadiums are often filled to capacity, now more than ever, but not many folks are interested in marching in the streets against war, injustice, and the brutality of establishment enforcers. Hardly anyone understands placing flowers in rifle barrels anymore, but most everyone can say “Thank you for your service”, and without needing to understand it very well at all.
― Vita

Coccinella on Myosotis
Ladybird beetle perched on Forget-Me-Nots. Photo by Yvette Thiesen.

 

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Busybodies

 

Almost lost amid the furor over the current president’s mishandling of a condolence call to the widow of a serviceman killed in action in Niger was the news that the United States has a military presence in that country. Even some Congress members charged with oversight of the military were surprised at the news that there are as many as 1,000 soldiers in Niger. American soldiers have been in Niger for over a decade, and that really shouldn’t be surprising considering how in the chaotic rush after 9/11 Congress gave the president and the military carte blanche to conduct operations around the world.

Congress ceded its authority to declare war to the executive branch, but who gave Congress the authority to do that? The Constitution clearly vests Congress with the power to declare war, and there is no exception to the rule, such as states of emergency. But Congress has given up its authority, and it is the citizenry that has let them get away with it. The only reason the executive branch still defers to Congress in some degree over military matters is because Congress retains the power of the purse. That power amounts to a formality, however, since Congress would never seriously consider withholding funding from the Pentagon.
Ongoing conflicts around the world
Ongoing conflicts around the world as of 2012. In one way or another, the United States has involved itself in most of these places. Map by Futuretrillionaire.

Burgundy: Major wars, 10,000+ deaths in current or past calendar year.
Red: Wars, 1,000–9,999 deaths in current or past calendar year.
Orange: Minor conflicts, 100-999 deaths in current or past calendar year.
Yellow: Skirmishes, fewer than 100 deaths in current or past calendar year.

What Congress is left with is oversight of military operations by way of the budget. After the recent operation in Niger left four American soldiers dead, it appears Congress, or at least some of its members, have lost sight of even that last shred of responsibility for the worldwide entanglements of the American empire. Since Congress, the branch of government most directly accountable to the people, can’t or won’t control the executive branch’s will to meddle in numerous countries, it is up to the people to take a greater interest in national affairs.
World Income Gini Map (2013)
World map of the Gini coefficient of income inequality in 2013. Dark green countries have the least inequality, and dark red countries have the greatest inequality. Map by Araz16.

The idea of representative government was to free up the people to go about their business, while their elected representatives more or less did their bidding in the councils of government. It no longer happens that way since corporate money has completely bought off elected officials. Now the people sign off on electing officials and then neglect their oversight duties. Meanwhile, between elections, the officials do the bidding of their corporate sponsors with little regard for the wishes of their constituents. Amazingly, the constituents as often as not re-elect the officials who are no longer responsive to them.

Why doesn’t Congress do more to rein in America’s overseas adventurism? That’s a question better asked of ourselves. By getting involved in local politics and by instituting some form of mandatory national service for all citizens, people can bring back the democracy part of this democratic republic. Until then, elected representatives have no reason to act on behalf of the people who elected them, because those people show up only for elections, and other than that they don’t want to be bothered and they pay little attention to what’s going on in government. It shouldn’t be surprising then that Congress members neglect the activities of the executive branch as it pursues the duties of empire, because they learned abdication of responsibility from the citizens who elected them.
― Ed.

 

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The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost

 

It’s hard not to notice the impact of the national security state in daily life, particularly for people who travel regularly or pay attention to news stories. Pat downs and x-rays at the airport, police road blocks with DNA swabs that are voluntary but are implied by the police to be mandatory, stop and frisk in minority neighborhoods, the shoot first and ask questions later garrison mentality of the police, SWAT team no-knock raids, and the nearly complete disregard by governmental authorities for citizens’ rights under Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable or warrantless search and seizure operations.

It may be hard to believe it is the citizens of the republic who allowed their agents in government to accumulate all that oppressive authority. People like to think government has a natural tendency to creep into citizens’ lives and to aggrandize itself at their expense, and that is true. What people often fail to acknowledge, especially in a nominally democratic republic such as the United States, is their own complicity in allowing the government to get away with it.

Fear can cause people to do some foolish things, and one of  them is relinquishing unchecked authority to government following a catastrophe, such as what happened after the events of 9/11/2001 in the United States. Save us! Kill them! The tendency of people to allow themselves to be stampeded toward war has long been noted by manipulators in government, industry, and the press, who have used it to their advantage. There is a long history in America of cynical manipulations toward war, but perhaps the most blatantly obvious occurred at the start of the Spanish-American War shortly before the turn of the twentieth century.


The citizenry are usually stirred to support these wars by patriotic fervor and by some wildly exaggerated stories in the popular press of atrocities supposedly committed by the new enemy. Most people tend not to take time away from their busy lives to examine things more closely and rationally. Remember the Alamo! Until thirty or forty years ago, except for the large scale conflicts of the Civil War and the two World Wars, Americans could largely go about their daily lives without reference to the far away battlefronts their leaders had stirred them up to support initially.


In the 1941 film Citizen Kane, Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper publisher at the time of the Spanish-American War, throws a party to celebrate his hiring of the staff from a rival newspaper. His colleagues, played by Joseph Cotten as Jedediah Leland and Everett Sloane as Mr. Bernstein, provide commentary on the proceedings.

Superficially, that still seems to be the situation at home, where Americans can go shopping while far away the world burns. Look more closely, however, and it becomes obvious that the so-called “War on Terror” is different than any other past war in that to a hitherto unprecedented degree it has allowed government to infiltrate lives at home as well as abroad in the name of security. The reasoning is that there is no “front”, as in a conventional war; the front is everywhere, and government must therefore defend everywhere, from flying drones over the huts of Afghani opium farmers to using the NSA to monitor the communications of American citizens.

 

Backscatter x-ray image woman
A 2007 image of Susan Hallowell, Director of the Transportation Security Administration’s research lab, taken with the backscatter x-ray system, in use for airport security passenger screening. This is not the image that screeners see at the airports. The machine that took this image does not have the privacy algorithm.

People line up for security checks at the airport, the majority of them probably unconcerned with the larger issues of government oppression and infringements on their liberty as long as they can get through with minimal hassle to themselves. But the hassles will only grow. Highway road blocks and intrusive police demands will only increase. The courts will continue upholding these practices and implicitly grant the authorities ever more leeway in pushing people around in the name of security. The way the American military occupiers treated the Filipinos in the early years of the twentieth century continues reverberating in unexpected ways, such as in how it informed our use of torture in the early twenty-first century; our treatment of various Latin American countries throughout the twentieth century haunts our relations there and here to this day; and at last the methods, materiel, and mindset of occupation we are deploying throughout the world today, and particularly in the Middle East, have come home to us, the fearful perpetrators of so much unnecessary violence. That’s Homeland Security.
― Vita

 

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Walk the Walk

 


In Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket, two marines engage in an ironic “John Wayne” face-off. Wayne’s chickenhawkish stances were well-known and widely held in contempt by combat veterans from World War II to Vietnam. Warning: foul language.

 

America’s wars continue with no end in sight, from one presidential administration to the next. One proposal to curtail the corporate oligarchy’s military adventurism is to bring back the military draft or to institute Universal National Service, the idea being that if a greater percentage of the population has a personal stake in foreign policy then they will be more likely to make their preferences known to their leaders, and people with a personal stake are less likely to want more war. The oligarchy knows this, too, as it’s a lesson they learned from an aroused public during the Vietnam War and are unlikely to want repeated if the public reawakens.

 

Since the draft ended in 1973, the per capita percentage of the population serving in the military has steadily declined, while the number of American military interventions overseas has drastically increased. Linking the two trends could be coincidental, but it’s worth considering that in the 40 years from 1933 to 1973, in most of which there was a draft, the US sent the military abroad on 27 occasions, and in the 40 years from 1974 to 2014 the US sent the military on 175 different foreign interventions. Has the world really become 6.5 times more dangerous since 1973? Or is it that the US has taken on in earnest the burden and profits of empire and the role of world policeman, putting out small fires everywhere, many times at the behest of corporate interests?

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

― Marine Major General (Retired) Smedley Butler, writing in the
Socialist newspaper Common Sense in 1935.

 


The 1994 Robert Zemeckis movie Forrest Gump is an excellent portrayal of the diversity of experience awaiting Vietnam era draftees, though of course most of them did not want to be there. Warning: foul language.
The majority of Americans catch the news about these numerous foreign conflicts as they go about their daily business, and because they don’t know anyone in the military and didn’t serve themselves, the news pretty much goes in one ear and out the other. Who can get agitated or even interested about what’s happening in Kosovo or Libya or Yemen or the Horn of Africa, wherever that is? Afghanistan and Iraq, oh yeah, are those still dragging on? Are we going into Syria now, too? And so these busy Americans go on with their lives, paying their taxes and going shopping, surprised to learn that when the US deploys Predator drones to these foreign hot spots, the controllers of the deadly drones sit in air-conditioned trailers halfway around the world in Nevada or Germany. It’s the New Age, alright, a deadly video game.

 

Or so we might choose to believe. As technocratic and bloodless as the military brass and the politicians may try to make modern war seem in order to make it more palatable for the general public, it will always nevertheless be a nasty mess both physically and morally. They don’t want to show that part, though; they learned that lesson from Vietnam as well. Rah-rah Hollywood movies are not the answer to getting Americans to come to terms with their current situation in world politics. Far from it. There are far too many chickenhawks making movies in Hollywood and making policy in Washington to serve anything but the basest emotions of too many Americans, the “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” among them, who are stirred to cheer movies glorifying war and the macho posturing of Supreme Leader. As long as they reflexively say “Thank you for your service” to a service member or veteran when they encounter one, they’re covered. Aren’t they?
― Ed.

An early scene in Full Metal Jacket depicts Marine boot camp in a less lighthearted vein than the boot camp of Forrest Gump. Some of that can be attributed to the differences between the Marines and the Army, and some to the aims of the two films. Nonetheless, some of the drill sergeant’s insults will ring bells in the dark sense of humor shared by many veterans, an emotion Kubrick effectively turns inside out at the end of the scene. Warning: foul language, of course.

 

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