Posts Tagged ‘War’

Protecting a Republic, or an Empire? And, Who’s Empire?

Here’s an interesting essay:

And here are some other thoughts on it:

Other than insisting war and killing are bad things, the most interesting point in the article is about attitudes of empire versus attitudes of a republic or any democracy.  And in that, according to the author (and I do not disagree), the behavior of the current president is the same as the one before him.  But does it go back further?

In spite of a constitution, the argument appears to rage on about who has the power to do what.  With this president and all seven of his predecessors all the way back to Nixon, the argument against an “imperial presidency” has often been raised.  But who pulls the strings?  In 1971, we went off a gold standard and immediately onto an oil standard, and in spite of the deep dislike many feel about Richard Nixon, he didn’t do all that by himself.  By 1973, the concentration of power over the new standard had moved from government comptrollers of currencies to corporate offices in The World Trade Center, New York, NY.

But one thing is certain; from that moment on, the oil reserves of the entire planet went from being mineral rights of various property owners, to being controlled by some hand not easily recognized by the common man.  And the hand didn’t rest on desktops in government offices, but in board rooms.  Over the next three decades, international investment banking changed radically from anything it had ever been before.  If an international financial system managing a global petroleum (soon to be chemical?) based economy has a perception of its domain, that domain would be an empirical one.

Such as that reduces nationalism to what?  A way to control the emotional way of deciding who gets to be the soldiers?   And how proud their god is of them, according to which one they’ve been taught to believe in, and how much he appreciates people willing to die for their respective flags–each group convinced that the Deity is on their side, when it is apparently on the side of “Andrew Undershaft and his partner Lazarus (see “Major Barbara” by George Bernard Shaw)”. *

But if we do intervene in Syria, will it bring about a world-wide commitment to end the manufacture and use of all biological and chemical weapons?  What about all weapons of mass destruction?  What about nuclear weapons?  Did we learn nothing from what happened to the thousands of human beings, the very young and the very old alike, that lived around Nagasaki and Hiroshima?

“The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base.” ~ Harry Truman, 1945

Well, that wasn’t exactly true, was it?  But that bomb, and the one dropped three just days later on Nagasaki, not exactly what you’d call “conventional” weapons, did kill more than a quarter million human beings.

Consider this:
You and I are horrified by the way humans exterminate each other, by chemical or other means, to accomplish their political goals.  When we look into the faces of our own children and grandchildren, we don’t even want to think about them dead with skin burned beyond recognition, or to think that they drew their last breath painfully into badly blistered lungs.  But wouldn’t we be just as horrified to think of them killed with machine guns, bombs, grenades or run over by tanks?

The use of chemicals to intentionally kill civilian men, women and children is wrong, and there should be a means to not allow it done.  But is the killing not wrong no matter what kind of tools are used to do it?  The use of chemical weapons is prohibited by international agreement, and it should be.  What a terrible thing to do, and such a monstrous disrespect of human life.  But that, regardless of  method, is the cruel reality of war no matter how patriotic and honorable we try to make it sound.

There are also other horrible violations against humanity that result in often painful and undignified deaths at the end of rather miserable and shortened lives.  But there seems to be no major moral outcry against them.  Vast corporations make billions of dollars in profits due to the economic benefit of human bondage, and the “civilized” world celebrates those profits rather than being repulsed by them.

We don’t bomb sugar cane plantations that use the equivalent of slaves that are not likely to ever reach what we call “middle age”.  We don’t bomb the places where cacao beans are harvested by children with chains on their ankles so you and I can have cheap chocolate to go with our cheap sugar.  And we don’t bomb sweat shops that operate with forced child labor, because we get to buy our knickers from their slave lords at prices we can afford.

We are confused by the righteous indignation that, in spite of all so called “moral” ideologies, keeps the populace committed to always spending more on hurting each other than helping each other.  City, county, and state as well as the federal government have been insisting money is so short that we’re radically slowing down programs to feed hungry children, and cutting back on not just the pay, but on numbers of firefighters and teachers, and as a nation, continue knowingly to not repair our own failing infrastructure.  Yet we can afford to commit to another war?

And not any war taken on in an act of self defense, but a civil war halfway around the world.  While it is horrible, neither side has attacked us, or are they threatening to do so.  We have the moral resolve to do this?  We think we can go in there quickly and surgically remove the evil, and maybe with the spare time left over, stop by a nice coffee shop on the way home to congratulate ourselves?

We didn’t have that resolve in Somalia.  That war has raged for more than two decades now.  A boy past the age of nine is likely to be kidnapped and forced to become a soldier.  But since so many of them are orphans anyway, the whole world doesn’t seem to care.  Oh we went in briefly with a United Nations “peacekeeping” force, but quit because of the outcries that it just wasn’t our war.  The truth was, we were either going to have to make it our war, or quit trying to resolve so much bitter hatred that would come at a price we did not want to pay.  And we did not intervene militarily in Sudan when peacemakers from India were killed, but be did say we did not approve of the killings.  How rather brave of us to do that.

So now we face another war where the outcome of who wins or who loses will have a questionable effect on who remains (or becomes?) our friends, if any of them would.  Who really wins?  The companies who sell war stuff to the Pentagon?  The companies who sell logistics services to our military?  Some international oil companies pressured by oil producing neighbors in the region that our resources rather than theirs be used to “police” this un-policeable mess?

While many of us would pray for peace and stability in the Middle East, is that really what we want?  When we go to the store to get our provisions, what we really pray for is a system that makes those provisions affordable to us even if most of the people on earth can’t have ’em–or even starve to death for the lack of them.  What are we really are praying for?  Whether we want to admit it or not, is it for some peace and stability on the New York Stock Exchange so our retirement funds will be okay?  We don’t want to think about inhumane treatment of people here in our own country, and even less so when they are far away.  What we’d rather think about, even to the point of preoccupation, is who will win various talent shows on the television, activities on the playing fields of our favorite sports, and that there is a spin-off of Honey Boo Boo that sells “Christian” clothing for the glorification of God.


* UNDERSHAFT [with a touch of brutality] “The government of your country! I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman. Government of your country! Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.”

~ from the Play “Major Barbara” by George Bernard Shaw, that premiered in 1905 more than a decade before the outbreak of World War One.

Now on the brink of World War Three, I cannot help but be suspect of the kinds of things General Smedley Butler, twice given the Medal of Honor, warned us about after the end of World War One, and what General Dwight Eisenhower, Commanding General of Allied Forces in Europe during World War Two warned us about in a speech towards the end of his last term as president.  And the common warning was to be cautious of the power of corporations that profit from war.

Pray for the brotherhood of mankind; non-violence and peace if you will.  Others have done so, but not always allowed to leave this life peacefully:

Jesus of Nazareth

Mohandas  (Mahatma) Gandhi

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy

John Lennon

…and so many others.

In 1970, I came home from Vietnam alive.  58,253 other American military did not, and also more than ten times that many Vietnamese were killed.  Later after the war turned out to be a failure, about two million or more Vietnamese people died directly because of that war that we barely mention anymore in schools that are to instruct our children.  And so my enduring question remains:

To who’s advantage is it that we do this?

A Storm Passes

“It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms…” – Mark Twain

As I write this on March fourth, I am reminded that long before this day, many have marched forth before.  A lot has happened since the first of the year to keep me preoccupied, so there has not been a dawg letter now for three months.  But let’s not blame it on the dawgs, or at least on the ones in my backyard.

The other day, I noticed clouds moving in quickly, but that’s to be expected since we live at the bottom of a hill.  I’m sure the wind would travel slower if it were to turn around and go back uphill, but it didn’t.  The dawgs were being fairly still moving only slightly to grab small pieces of the passing breeze with their noses.  A nose is quite a remarkable tool for a dawg.  It’s how they read their newspaper.  It lets them know what has happened around here recently, and what is presently happening that might be of any interest to a dawg.

It also is used to predict the future.  A storm was brewing, and they both knew it.  I could see signs of clouds gathering to block the sunlight; the movement of branches in the trees, a noticeable drop in temperature, and feel the wind against my face.  But they could smell it.  My coming out onto the patio seemed not to disturb them, as they were able to ignore me as if I were just a speed limit.  Usually, they’d rush right over presuming my appearance might be connected with a treat or permission to engage in some kind of fun, but not today, or at least not at that moment.

The March wind was stripping pink blossoms from dancing plum trees ruining the chances of them becoming fruit.  It was just as well, as my small family wouldn’t be able to eat that many plums, anyway.

I lit my pipe, putting on quite a show considering how the wind was kicking up.  But the dawgs paid no mind of it even though I went through half a box of matches and a vocabulary list that would normally cause a sensible dawg to want to hide under a bed.  The matches were having trouble staying lit long enough to ignite the tobacco, but several of them flipped out of my hand quickly enough to  burn my face.  One landed with pin-point accuracy in the corner of my eye, causing a sermon to erupt.

Ashley Cooper and Cosmo Topper continued their vigilance with not so much as a nod or a tail-wag in my direction.  So with little else to entertain me, I just stood there looking out across the yard.  The clutter included bits and pieces of a fallen tree, some of last year’s leaves, sticks, the skeleton of a lawnmower that had been savagely stripped of dignity and any hope of revival by a couple of curious boys, what may have once been part of a magazine, and an old sock that would never again comfort a foot.

At the first clap of thunder, the dawgs shifted gears.  With no small sense of urgency, they both began to move towards the house.  As a finger of lightning switched on some unseen shower head, it began to sprinkle.  Topper and Ashley followed me into the den, and laid down without bothering to thank me for holding the door.  I’m sure they both thought my doing it would’ve been the only reason I’d come out there in the first place.

Once upstairs, I went back to my television.  Some things in the news had taken over a part of me, and I couldn’t let it go, no matter what time of the day or night it happened to be.  Saddam Hussein of Iraq had ordered the invasion of Kuwait late last summer.  It didn’t make sense.  Watching the television didn’t help it make sense.

At the beginning during a news conference, General Colin Powell was asked about his strategy.  He said:

“First we’re going to cut it off, then we’re going to kill it.”

The strategic would position itself for what would become tactical.  The coalition forces moved quickly to do just that.  But as they moved closer to Bagdad, a good bit of the Iraqi army laid down their guns and disappeared.  I watched little else on television for a while, then it was over.  And for some folks, I’m sure it was.  But for others, it might go on a spell.  Some children live and die never knowing much else, but there is nothing new about that to the human race.

A good bit of the news had been about how the coalition against Iraq would fall apart if Israel was brought into the conflict.  The Americans and British had to convince Israel to stay neutral, and that they guaranteed their defense.  The agreement seemed made with the contingency that all bets were off if Israel was attacked.  Such prospects as that appeared to be requisition for a real mess.

On the evening of January seventeenth, I was backstage preparing to address an audience as Mark Twain.  I had intended to close with the prose/poem piece Samuel Langhorne Clemens had written in protest of American military intervention in the Philippines.  It had been turned down for publication, and never made it into print in his own lifetime.  But with some effort, I’d decided to keep it alive during mine.

Right before I walked on, the stage manager, who’d been listening to a radio with headphones, told me Iraq had just launched missiles against Israel.  She knew how my speech was to end, and wanted me to consider how an anti-war piece might be received at this time.  It was hard news.  With great misgivings,  I decided not to delete it, even if they would lynch me afterwards.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, with the precedent of all the brilliant decisions I’ve witnessed by people wrapped in their emotions, it did seem like a possibility.

I stepped in front of the audience with a heavy heart, not so much about how I would be received,  but with thoughts about three young sons in a world rolling out of control towards chaos.  I had a memory of another war not so long ago, and remembered how all that I thought it would be could not match up to the ugly face it wore when I saw it up close.  If I had a prayer left in me, it was for my children to never have to see it.

But that night I had to move my mind quickly back to over a century ago, and wrap myself in the persona of a man of letters.  In his image and person, I had to be witty, to be thought provoking, and be entertaining.  Somehow it wasn’t about me at all, but about the people out front and what they’d paid to come to see.  When it came time for the last story, there was a lump in my throat so big I thought it would choke me to death.  Later on, I was pleased to find out the audience didn’t see it, so some credit was due to the large tie I wore, or perhaps to my former acting teachers.  It was a huge lump, so it had to be something other than my own doing to cause it to go unnoticed.

The audience was kind to me that night.  The next day, the kindest thing was a phone call from a teacher who’d been in the auditorium the night before, and wanted to know if I knew about the missile attack before going on stage.  I said I did, expecting to be chastised for my undiplomatic decision.  Instead, the teacher said:

“Good.  I think that took courage, and I’m glad you went ahead with your program.”

A day or so later, I received a note from another teacher who’d attended the performance.  It read:

“If every student I teach could spend time with your Mark Twain, I believe that they would understand the beauty and depth of Twain’s words.  How lucky you are to be Mark Twain for an hour or so; I envy you.  Thank you for a wonderful evening.”

That note was the best thing that could have happened to me, and the flavor of it took away the bitter taste of self doubt that was dissolving my soul.  Is it normal for folks who say they pray for peace to feel guilty when they speak against war?  Less than a month before that program, people far and wide were singing songs of “Peace on Earth, good will towards men” all over the place.  But right then I feared a desire for such as that in the face of “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” was about to be seen as an awful thing, and it worried me.  So being fearful of condemnation, this is not the confessions of a brave man.

Until getting that nice note, I thought perhaps it would’ve been more courageous to consider the feelings of the people in that town, and conjure up other material to end the program.  Though I had lots of other stories and material in the pigeon holes of my mind, maybe going on as rehearsed was just the easy way out.  Because of the news received just moments before walking on stage, it wasn’t my decision to go ahead and deliver “The War Prayer” that was so hard, but just staying in character.  It became one of the more difficult things I’ve done in a long time.

When arriving home that night, my dawgs were glad to see me.  They of course had no idea where I’d been, or of the concerns I may have had, and they had no idea about war.  They could hold their noses into the air to tell if a rain storm was coming, but other storms far away caused by a different kind of cloud wouldn’t make any sense to a dawg.  And I suppose it is no grand compliment to the human race that it should claim to make sense of it, either.