Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya

What are your political beliefs, and why do you hold them? Is it because by objective analysis you see them as most beneficial to the public good, and you are motivated by solidarity and patriotism to promote them? Is it because they help preserve a traditional way of life or culture, perhaps of a minority population, which you were born into or to which you have become devoted? Or, is it because your stated political views are part of a facade, which shields your actual motives and agenda from public view?


What we say we believe emanates from who we think we are. Dialog on political issues can often degenerate into ritual displays in defense of egos, and detached from the realities of the nominal issues. The more conscious we are about the roots of stated political beliefs, the easier we will find political debate arriving at a clear understanding of reality, and functional consensus for action on matters of mutual concern.
 
Raymond Aron and the Paris Intellectuals of the 1950s
 
The Opium of the Intellectuals, by Raymond Aron, was published in France in 1955. This book is a sociological study of the mid 20th century intelligentsia, and a polemic against ideological fanaticism. Aron opposed the pro-Soviet views of the French intelligentsia, as exhibited by prominent personalities like Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The crux of Aron’s argument was that Soviet-style communism was not in the interests of the French public because as a 19th century conception of the organization of an industrial society it was outmoded for 20th century France, and as a political system it was devoid of the personal liberties, especially of political free speech, prized by the fractious French.


Aron advocated “politics” in place of “revolution” as the means of changing French society, arguing that a modern industrialized state would progress toward a more just political economy, more swiftly and with far fewer personal tragedies, through reformism rather than violent revolution. Aron illustrated this by comparing the lag in socioeconomic development and the achievement of political stability in France in comparison to that of England during the century from 1789 (the French Revolution to the Third Republic).


Aron’s criticism of the legitimacy of the pro-communist belief of his contemporaries was not aimed at members of the Communist Parties in Europe (the true believers), but at the “communisants,” the French fellow-travelers who did not join the Communist Party in France, nor relocate to Communist countries, but condemned post-war American influence in Europe (“Atlanticism”), praised Marxist ideology, and never criticized the Soviet Union nor its actions in Eastern Europe.


“Seeking to explain the attitude of the intellectuals, merciless toward the failings of the democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they were committed in the name of the proper doctrines, I soon came across the sacred words Left, Revolution, Proletariat.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)


It is possible to interpret the communisant attitude, which Aron criticized, as a defense of wounded pride. The Fall of France (1940) was not just a national catastrophe along the material dimensions of military and economic power, political independence, and social cohesion, but a psychological catastrophe as well. The humiliation imposed on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was avenged twenty-one years later when France was placed under the control of a German Occupation and a collaborationist Vichy Government for over four years, a period we can bracket from the occupation of Paris to its liberation: June 14, 1940, to August 25, 1944.


The liberation of France began with the invasion of Europe by Allied forces, landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and was completed by the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945. Resistance organizations had formed themselves in every occupied country, and many of these irregular anti-Nazi fighters and agents were Communists. Immediately after WWII, the Communist parties of Western Europe had a well-deserved prestige because of the many risks taken and sacrifices made by Communist members of the Resistance.


Anyone from a country that had been occupied by the Germans, seeking some source of national pride to counter the humiliation of the occupation years, could at least look back and point to his country’s partisans.


The physical and economic ruin of Europe after WWII left the United States as the leading world power, and it applied its wealth to the rebuilding of Western Europe out of a mixture of motives: sympathy and goodwill, commercial self-interest, and a competition with the Soviet Union for political power: anti-communism. A major effort combining all these motivations was the Marshall Plan, which cycled $13B though Europe during the four years beginning in April 1948 (the U.S. had already contributed $12B in aid to Europe between the end of WWII and 1948).


Anyone who has suffered a calamity and then receives charity (which often has strings attached) can feel grateful up to the point where relief becomes overshadowed by resentment because of a growing sense of humiliation over one’s dependency. So it was with some Europeans in the early 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union locked horns in their Cold War and used Europe, Germany in particular, as their field of contention.


The Greek Civil War between the US-backed government and the Greek Communist Party lasted from March 1946 to October 1949. This was the beginning of US military assistance applied against the anti-Nazi partisans of the Occupation years. The Berlin Blockade, which was relieved by a NATO airlift, occurred between June 24, 1948, and May 12, 1949. Stalin died on March 5, 1953, and thwarted proletarian expectations erupted as the Uprising in East Germany on June 17, 1953. The Western European Union was founded on October 23, 1954, with the first inclusion of an independent West German state (the Federal Republic of Germany) into an economic and defense association of Atlantic Alliance (NATO) European nations, and which allowed the FRG to industrialize without restriction, and rearm. The Hungarian Uprising occurred during October 23 to November 10, 1956. Both the East German and Hungarian uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed by the Red Army and local paramilitary police troops.


In societies where there is wide public appreciation of their men and women of letters, the intellectuals belong to the elite class that interprets the nation to itself. The French intellectuals of the immediate postwar period were sensitive to the popular desire for a recovery of national pride, and also very sensitive to their own loss of importance in shaping the political narrative of their time. The centers of power affecting daily life throughout Europe were no longer Paris, London, and Berlin, but Moscow and Washington, D.C.


That the relatively unsophisticated Americans should have such wealth that they could act like a Salvation Army for derelict Western European nations; that they should have such military power that they could align their propped-up European charity cases like pawns in a geostrategic chess game with the Soviet Union; that America would gleefully spin the gears and pull the levers of politics in Western Europe and around the globe without the least thought to the wounded self-regard of France, or to the interpretations of history-in-the-making from one of the most brilliant sources of such narration in Western Civilization since the Enlightenment — the French intelligentsia — was galling to distraction, and shaped the pro-Soviet anti-Atlanticist orientation of a French intelligentsia seeking redemption and relevance.
 
Occupy Wall Street: The Face of American Deindustrialization
 
In the first decade or two after WWII, the Europeans could still easily recall many instances of the pre-war exploitation of working people, along with the more recent memories of the many hardships of the war years and the early postwar years (the latter with many high-casualty refugee movements). In his book about his flight from France in June 1940, Strictly Personal, W. Somerset Maugham describes the changed attitude of non-collaborationist French industrialists and military leaders regarding the French working class. Since the eventual liberation of France would be a painful labor largely carried out by working people, that future free France would necessarily be a nation whose industrially-generated wealth would be extensively socialized, as a simple matter of gratitude and justice. There would be no going back to the class relationships of the Third Republic. With this background in mind, the political builders of postwar Western Europe fashioned states that generally aimed at meeting Aron’s ideal: “An economy, liberal in its functioning, social in its goals, holds the most promise.” (Politics and History)


With the growing prosperity of Western Europe, working life was transformed from a proletarian to a bourgeois experience: “Wherever democratic socialism has been successful, the factory workers, having become petty bourgeois, no longer interest the intellectuals and are themselves no longer interested in ideologies. The improvement of their lot has both deprived them of the prestige of misfortune and withdrawn them from the temptation of violence.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)


So, the heated existentialist-political debate between Atlanticism and Marxism in early 1950s France faded with the rising prosperity of the nation, driven by technological development. “The major fact of our age is neither socialism, nor capitalism, nor the intervention of the state, nor free enterprise: it is the monstrous development of technology and industry, of which the massive concentrations of workers in Detroit, Billancourt, Moscow, and Coventry are the consequence and symbol. Industrial society is the genus of which Soviet and Western societies are the species.” (Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith)


Half a century later, we are witnessing a deindustrialization of the United States, slight deindustrialization in parts of Europe, and an accompanying industrialization of China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico. Once again, technology (electronics, robotics, telecommunications) facilitates the geographic shift of production to lower cost and more easily exploited labor pools, and the resulting changes to national prosperity produce public reactions that are controlled or distorted by local political factors.


The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest that has been in progress since September 17 in New York City, along with the many allied Occupy protests throughout the United States, have arisen in large part because of deindustrialization. Increasing redundancies in the American petty bourgeois workforce, at all levels of occupational skill, have forced many people to abandon previous career assumptions, and to question their own self images, because they are confronted by economic conditions that will not support making their original expectations real. Casting off an outmoded self image and then fashioning a new one can be a difficult and depressing task, to lose a dream is to lose a child of your mind. After that grief is finished, it can be liberating to successfully re-imagine yourself.


We can be sure that today millions of Americans are in a volatile psychological state, somewhere between realizing their original self image has become outmoded, and completing a robust reintegration of their psyche. They are awakening to new or reinforced political beliefs that will focus their subsequent social interactions in response to the changed economic realities in which they find themselves. The diversity and number of human beings that have been so callously shunted aside by the expatriation of the financialization-bewitched US economy is so great that no single mode of thought nor technically specific political demand can be expected to characterize the conclusions arrived at by Occupy Wall Street protesters and pilgrims and their sympathizers.


The appearance of the OWS movement in 2011 is obviously a direct result of the economic collapse of 2007-2008, but both the collapse and OWS are the fruits of Reaganomics: the divergence of the US economy from Aron’s economic ideal, since the Reagan Administration (1981-1988). We can anticipate that the many minds drawn into OWS will gravitate toward a thematic center-of-interest that we can label “economic fairness,” and which probably subdivides into five categories:


(1) personal debt relief,

(2) banking reform and financial market taxes,

(3) wide availability of diverse skilled employment,

(4) universal health and social security, a 35-hour work week,

(5) clean government: end corporate “personhood,” close tax loopholes, schedule equitable income and corporate taxes.


Marxism is an ideology originally developed to raise the expectations of a proletarian workforce in 19th century industrializing states. The growth of productivity during the 20th century, driven by “the monstrous development of technology and industry,” has elevated proletarian expectations by transforming the proletarians into petty bourgeois: they now have wealth beyond just their potential for manual labor, and their children. Ardor for revolution and enthusiasm for ideology have largely been lost during this transformation of the conditions of wage-earning life.


After thirty years of Reaganomics and “outsourcing,” or deindustrialization, and four years after the collapse of the financial bubble, the American workforce is suddenly confronted by economic conditions that undermine their now naturally petty bourgeois expectations. The prospect of having to downsize their dreams back to proletarian minimalism is clearly understood to be the foisting on them of the costs of the mismanagement of the US economy. Certainly, a wealthy class of politically well-connected speculators profited from the financial spectacle of the last decade, but their gains will cost the wider society far more than it could ever recover as a benefit because these speculators are richer.


The OWS movement is the face of petty bourgeois protest at the prospect of being pushed back into proletarian austerity. I do not anticipate a resurgence of Marxism in the near future because I cannot imagine American petty bourgeois people, however economically restricted, allowing themselves to assume a proletarian self image. It will be interesting to see how the OWS awakening expresses itself politically.
 
The Libyan Revolution and Progressivist Self Image
 
I began my investigation into the relationship between political belief and self image because of the forceful and emotional rejection of my views in support of the Libyan Revolution by progressive-minded correspondents in the left-wing Internet forums I frequented.
 
A Sketch of the Libyan Revolution


The Libyan Revolution broke out on February 15, 2011, and deposed Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s dictator during the previous 42 years, who fled his compound in Tripoli and went into hiding on August 22, 2011, as National Transition Council (NTC, rebel) forces gained control of most of the capitol, and the country. Aside from scattered remnants of Gaddafi’s forces in Tripoli, the remaining loyalists still fighting were penned into five cities: Tarhuna, Sirte, Sabha, Bani Walid, and Hun. By late September, only Sirte and Bani Walid remained occupied by loyalists. Bani Walid fell to the NTC on October 17; and the loyalists in Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, were concentrated into a narrow two-block area, with their arsenal reduced to machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.


NTC fighters overran the last loyalist stronghold in Sirte on October 20, capturing a wounded Muammar Gaddafi who was apparently hiding in a storm drain, hustling him through the streets of a ruined Sirte amid a throng of ecstatic NTC fighters, and later delivering his body to a local hospital. It had two bullet wounds, in the head and chest. As I write on the 20th, fighting has ceased and the NTC is expected to declare Libya liberated, which then sets the date for democratic elections eight months later, to constitute the permanent successor government.


From its outbreak in the eastern city of Benghazi, the Libyan Revolution spread quickly through the country so that by the 25th of February most of Libya was under rebel control. Gaddafi controlled the cities of Tripoli, on the Mediterranean coast near the western border, as well as Sirte and Sabha. The revolution was a popular uprising; its fighters were civilians who had taken up arms and were joined by government troops who deserted. Gaddafi commanded the majority of the nation’s military forces, and thousands of mercenaries, primarily from African nations.


Because Libyan troops were reluctant to kill their own people, Gaddafi continually recruited mercenaries. Hundreds of Europeans were hired for specialized technical roles, such as pilots and military tacticians. Most of these fled by August. Thousands of black Africans were hired, like Tuaregs from Mali. The inducement of high pay to often impoverished men, and their lack of identification with the Arab and Berber culture of Libya, made the African mercenaries from the nations of the Sahel (the bio-geographic and climatic zone between the Sahara to the north and the savannas to the south) the most reliable killers at Gaddafi’s command.


In a televised address on the 23rd of February, Gaddafi stated that “Those who do not love me do not deserve to live.” During the 20 days between February 23 and March 15, Gaddafi’s forces recaptured most of the rebellious territory in the west and south, a particular exception being the coastal city of Misrata, east of Tripoli and west of Sirte.


On March 15, Gaddafi’s forces captured Brega and advanced east, beginning their assault on Ajdabiya, the last city along the road before Benghazi. In another public address, Gaddafi vowed to “bury” the rebels. Ajdabiya had been subjected to bombardment by Gaddafi’s air force since March 12, and on the 15th land and naval artillery barrages were added as well.


On March 17, Gaddafi’s forces captured Ajdabiya, about 120 km from Benghazi, and the United Nations Security Council adopted UN Resolution 1973 (2011), which authorized member states “to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force.” NATO military forces were set to intervene.


On March 18, Gaddafi’s forces captured Zuwetina, about 100 km from Benghazi, and continued their drive until within 50 km of Benghazi.


On March 19, Gaddafi’s troops and tanks entered the suburbs of Benghazi, while Gaddafi’s artillery and mortars shelled the city from about 20 km away. The first shots of the NATO military intervention were fired by French aircraft, and destroyed a convoy of 14 of Gaddafi’s tanks accompanied by several ammunition trucks.


With the NATO intervention now underway, and with increasing diplomatic recognition of, financial assistance for, and military equipment supplied to the three-week-old political organization of the revolution, the NTC, the rebel forces advanced from Benghazi toward Ajdabiya on the 20th of March, and this new rebel offensive began the five month push west to Tripoli.
 
The Human Right to Political Freedom


My support for the Libyan Revolution was a reflex based on the belief that freedom from dictatorship is a human right. I explained how I came to this belief in an article called “Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom,” which grew out of the despairing notes I wrote during Gaddafi’s offensive toward Benghazi. I anticipated a bloody purge of revolutionary sentiment in Libya after Gaddafi’s forces captured Benghazi. I recalled how Franco cemented his dictatorship and suppressed Republicans in Spain after the Civil War, between 1939 and 1942. I distributed a first draft of this article as an e-mail broadcast on March 30, and its final form was eventually posted on the Internet by Dissident Voice on May 3, 2011, accompanied by an editorial criticizing it.


In 1978, Raymond Aron explained his guiding political compass this way: “Of the two values invoked by our times, equality and freedom, I give first place to the second — not for intellectual comfort but as a result of historical experience.” (Politics and History)


I feel the same alignment, and in my article put the question to the left-wing world this way:


“So let me ask you, is it possible to have a bias for freedom, an opposition to dictatorship anywhere, and also oppose the capitalistimperialist consensus that dominates US and European foreign policymaking? Is it possible to support popular revolutions against tyrants and dictators — no matter how doctrinally appealing certain of them might be for some of us — even to the point of arming popular revolts so they can credibly match the firepower of their oppressors? In short, can anti-imperialists elevate freedom to a guiding principle?”


“Rules of Rebellion” is my second article about the Libyan Revolution, and was provoked by the largely negative reception to my first one (i.e., e-mailed criticisms, and publication rejections). “Rules of Rebellion” was written in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” and, because irony is unknown today, it was taken at face value and published on the Internet on April 6, 2011. “Rules of Rebellion” is presented as advice from the progressive “contented spectators” of the West, to would-be revolutionaries contemplating overthrowing their dictators:


“A revolution that fails to recognize the primacy of the anti-imperialist outcome, by either undermining an authoritarian anti-imperialist stalwart or failing to replace him with an untainted government of equal or greater anti-imperialist vigor, within a matter of days, does not deserve the support and respect of the enlightened and progressive world community.”


Revolutionaries around the world are urged, in the article, to realize that having their governments oppose US imperialism is an ideological mandate that outweighs the political freedom of their nation’s people, and even the lives of the revolutionaries. After the article appeared, I received letters asserting its overt argument as sincere belief.


On the day Gaddafi’s regime fell, I reflected on the doctrinairism that could be blind to the purges necessary to maintain its view of the world. Louis Proyect published my letter of August 22, 2011, “The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals,” at his Web site, The Unrepentant Marxist. I recollected my clash with doctrine this way:


As I mentioned in my articles on Libya, the first priority was gaining the political freedom of the Libyan people, and preventing them from being massacred by their vengeful dictator. The blunt and inelegant instrument of a NATO intervention was the only means at hand capable of preventing a detestable outcome; capable of saving the lives of people who did not deserve to die. Whether or not the European and American governments, and corporations, were gaining economic and political advantages (the “humanitarian intervention” complex of modern left orthodoxy…) were unimportant considerations in comparison. Now that Libya is entering its liberated postwar period of political reconstruction, these considerations can be addressed, and by those who would be most affected by them, the Libyans themselves. It is so sad that so many leftists are so wrapped up in their politicized heads that they could obsess about “saving Libya from its Western saviors” to the complete disregard of the life-and-death struggle for political freedom by the Libyan people, the defeat of dictatorship. These political theorists must be relieved that the Syrian government has been untrammeled by Western interference in its rejection of its people’s rejection.
 
Anti-Imperialist Doctrinairism: Libya as Bosnia


“By doctrinairism I mean the attribution of universal value to a particular doctrine.” (Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith)


A popular leftist doctrine today is opposition to “humanitarian interventions,” the use of Western military forces to control political outcomes in Third World (undeveloped and developing) and Second World (moderately developed) nations that are in distress, often with a civil conflict compounded by a humanitarian crisis. The doctrine congealed out of the many arguments over Western involvement (“interference,” interventions) in the wars that erupted during the breakup of Yugoslavia (1991-1995, 1998-1999), and in particular from the outcry against the NATO bombardment of Serbia (1999) during the UN military intervention in the Kosovo War (1998-1999).


From the leftist perspective, “humanitarian intervention” is a disingenuous label for imperialism carried out militarily for Washington-consensus capitalism by the United States leading its mainly Western European NATO allies.


This analysis justifies skepticism about the officially expressed motives for the use of US and NATO military power in any foreign conflict, as a third party. Proponents of an intervention can always find some iota of humanitarian need in the host nation to justify their case, and opponents can always find some suspicion of interventionist self-interest to justify non-intervention. The morally correct course of action for third parties should be indicated by which of these two poles lies closer to the public interest in the host nation, given its current specific conditions.


Interventionist self-interest actually has two classes: the leading economic and political class that directs foreign policy (or imperialism), and the general public whose labor, consumerism, taxes, and soldiering support the domestic basis of their nation’s foreign policy (or empire). Non-intervention is usually in the interest of the general public in the interventionist nation, from considerations of cost.


A third-party intervention is morally justified when conditions in the host nation indicate that it would be in their public interest, and when the public in the intervening nations willingly support the costs of the action. It is recognized that making such a determination is a matter of degree, there can never be a guarantee that a morally justified intervention will be completely free of any self-interest on the part of those intervening, nor be carried out without some errors and casualties. The need must be sufficiently dire, and the hazards sufficiently clear, that the responsible actors in both the host and third-party nations can see the potential benefits — to the host public — of the proposed intervention as far outweighing the unavoidable negative side effects.


From the above, it is evident that clear cases for morally justified interventions are rare. I believe Libya was one of those cases. Every case must be judged on its merits, on the specifics of the situation. We can be constant in our application of the principles outlined above to help us judge, but we should not close our minds to the plight of others because we have blinkered our thinking and walled off our empathy behind an absolutist doctrine that always equates third-party interventions to imperialism, and by a moralistic associative rule rejects all third-party interventions because of a self image as an anti-imperialist.


Libya is not Bosnia, Libya is not Kosovo; Libya is Libya.
 
Identify: Friend of Foe?


Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
I must know if you are friend or foe.

Are you a Marxist or bourgeois?
I must find if you’re my kind.

Are you populist or an elitist?
I must feel if you are real.

Are you a worker or are you an owner?
I must determine if you are vermin.

Are you a capitalist or anti-imperialist?
I must decide what you should abide.

Are you a militarist or are you a pacifist?
I must tell if you are well.

Are you a patriot or are you a dissident?
I must judge if you should trudge.

Are you progressive or are you conservative?
I must infer if you can concur.

Are you a believer or are you a skeptic?
I must learn if you should burn.

Are you right or are you left?
I must know if you are friend or foe.

I am right and I am left,
I am friend and you are foe.


One of the sadder realizations I gained from the negative responses to my articles in support of the Libyan Revolution was that some people with progressive political attitudes, being against war, racism, and violence, and believing in the entire complex of humanistic “peace and justice” values, examples of which easily come to mind with the use of that phrase, could express angry disapproval of me approaching hate in some instances, for essentially blaspheming against their doctrinal code. It was this that made me understand how deeply rooted in self image our political beliefs are.


We are emotionally invested in what we think of ourselves. For example, an anti-imperialist political belief can be rooted in a self image as a “good” person who is morally opposed to war, exploitative capitalism and the many forms of intolerance (e.g., racism). Perhaps these beliefs are applied in a rigid or fanatical manner because this person is uneducated, or irredeemably indoctrinated, or intellectually lazy, and so interprets and labels reality on the basis of a doctrinal code.


The doctrinal set is sacrosanct because it is rooted deep in the ego or self image of the person. The doctrinal set is expressed as a list of commandments; rules to be applied in the external world and that are actually extensions of the inner core of a person’s being. These doctrines are expressed as simplified ideas and phrases, code words that are, if you will, linguistic objects of depersonalized aspect for safe use in the world exterior to our persons (the exosomatic realm), but which actually encase tender parts of our spirit, emotionally charged aspects of our self definition.


For such a person, the defense of a doctrinally-held political belief is in reality a defense of their ego. To dispute another’s doctrinally-held belief is to attack the religion of a true believer.


The defense of the ego knows no barriers of courtesy, or logic, or truth. So, when I asked doctrinaire anti-interventionists how they could stand by and let Gaddafi’s forces take Benghazi, and then “bury” those who didn’t love him and so “deserved to die,” taking Gaddafi at his word as seemed reasonable given his history, I was told:


The rebels were Islamicists and Al Qaida (ergo, they deserved to die);

The rebels were against Pan-Africanism, and massacred blacks whenever possible (deserved to die);

The rebels were Libyan agents of Western-directed destabilization groups exploiting the mood of Arab Spring (deserved to die),

There really weren’t many rebels (too few to worry about dying),

Most of the Libyan people supported Gaddafi (then why was there a rebellion?).
The ego defense against sympathy for the rebels was quite simple: they don’t deserve to live, and there aren’t many of them. Even the most skeptical viewing of televised reporting from Libya put the lie to these assertions.


Other ego defenses were aimed at interventionist motives: the intervention was an oil grab, it was to depose a defender of Africa from US and European imperialism. Clearly, NATO countries that participated in the intervention will hope the successor government in Libya will remember them favorably when considering future business partners.


But the Europeans and Americans were already doing great business with Gaddafi’s Libya, that being the quid pro quo for his cooperation on nuclear disarmament, suppressing al Qaeda and withdrawing support from terrorist and/or insurgent organizations, restricting black African migration to Europe, and producing oil for the world market. The NATO countries did not need to incur the expense of their Libyan intervention in order to create commercial opportunities for themselves in Libya.


The final defense of doctrinally-held belief was an attack on the character of the blasphemer. How could I possibly agree to the NATO intervention when it was responsible for the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children? This made me equally guilty of the killing of babies in Tripoli. Did I want to personally plunge a knife into Aisha Gaddafi to stop her from rallying the people of Tripoli to her father’s cause?, because that was equivalent to my accepting a NATO intervention that rained bombs down on Tripoli.


It is pointless to respond to character attacks like this — they really have nothing to do with the person being attacked but instead show the desperation of an ego defending its doctrinally-held beliefs against the sense that they are unsupported by reality.


Muammar Gaddafi’s opposition to the Arab Spring-inspired popular protest movement in Libya degenerated into a war between a ruthless dictator with command of most of the nation’s military, and the lightly armed civilian population of the country. Given this balance of power and the history of Libya’s dictator, the world at large was faced with the choice of: acquiescing to a bloody suppression of the revolt, and probable purge of thousands of Libyans, by not intervening; or making a purge impossible by helping the revolt succeed, by intervening with decisive military force.


I think the second choice was by far the right one, as a matter of human decency for the greatest number of people, and because of that I accept that its implementation could never be “perfect” from every ethical and political perspective. It was the best course of action that circumstances allowed.


“In politics the choice is never between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable.” — Raymond Aron
 
Bibliography

Raymond Aron: The Opium of the Intellectuals, Transaction Publishers, 2001, (reprint of 1957 English language edition),

Raymond Aron: Politics and History, Transaction Publishers, 1984, (reprint of 1978 edition),

Raymond Aron: Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith, (1956 essay revised, now an appendix in the reprinted The Opium of the Intellectuals).

W. Somerset Maugham: Strictly Personal, 1941.

Tony Judt: Postwar, A History of Europe Since 1945, Penguin Books, 2005.

Articles:

“Rules of Rebellion”
6 April 2011
http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/04/rules-of-rebellion/

“Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom”
3 May 2011
http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/05/libya-2011-the-human-right-to-political-freedom/

“The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals”
22 August 2011
http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/the-libyan-revolution-and-the-opium-of-the-intellectuals/

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Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci31.html

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Chemical Warfare In Syria, and Its Corrosiveness Beyond

Syria is at the center of a geo-political vortex of conflict that has suctioned the petroleum-fueled ambitions of the three international powers of our day — the United States, Russia and China — into an interlaced complex of bitter regional wars within the oil-rich highly fragmented and excessively inequitable Islamic and Israeli Middle East.

The Syrian Civil War broke out on 15 March 2011 as one of the numerous Arab Spring revolts and revolutions of that year. The initially peaceful and nonviolent demonstrations by the Syrian people against oppression by the state and in favor of democracy were brutally suppressed by the Al-Assad regime and thus engendered a violent defensive reaction. The ensuing Syrian Civil War quickly devolved into a power vacuum within which swirled a chaotic and inhuman multi-party scramble for political control through armed conflict.

The Shia-based affinity between the Alawite-centered Al-Assad family dictatorship in Syria with the Hezbollah Political Party in Lebanon and with the Iranian theocracy bonded these last two into arrangements and intrigues of military assistance to the Al-Assad regime.

The Sunni-based oil-rich Gulf States, which are aligned with the Washington Consensus, pursued their ideological and regional ambitions by supplying military aid to sub-state factions and terrorist groups combatting the Shia-allied forces in Syria. Israel and Turkey each also continued to pursue their own regional ambitions with a similar perspective relative to Syria.

In September 2015 the Russian government, under the direction of Vladimir Putin, intervened massively in the Syrian Civil War, conducting airstrikes and other military operations for the defense of its long time client, the Al-Assad regime, thus boosting it to a military victory in its civil war, which has been and continues to be a humanitarian catastrophe for the Syrian people. Syria hosts one of the three Russian foreign military bases outside the confines of the former Soviet Union and the former East Bloc (out of a total of 21 military bases outside of Russia proper).

That Syrian-hosted Russian military presence is actually sited at two bases: a naval facility in Tartus, and the Khmeimim Air Base. From its Syrian military base complex, Russia can project military power westward from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, northward to Turkey and beyond that to the Black Sea and Crimea, eastward into the Levant, and southward into Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.

Russia’s purpose in maintaining such wide-ranging possibilities of power projection from its Syrian bases are diplomatic, they are not preparations for invasive war. They are what in the animal world is known as a threat display, a broadcast signal — mainly directed at the Washington Consensus — saying: do not think to attack our nation because we can reach far out to claw your eyes out, and rip open your petrol-carrying veins. Russian history easily justifies such a defensive posture.

What all three world powers understand is that their degree of control of world affairs rests on the extent of their control over the world’s fossil fuel commerce. The national ambitions of lesser states are easily throttled by the squeezing of the control hands wrapped around the petroleum arteries of world economics. Japan launched its Pacific War of 1941-1945 because of just this fear, sparked by the U.S. embargo of petroleum to Japan on 26 July 1941 in response to Japan’s 1937 invasion of China and its ensuing Sino-Japanese War, which then merged into World War II as one of its theaters of conflict.

Radiating out of this collective understanding of world power are: Washington’s lavish patronage and protection of the Gulf States in its orbit, Russia’s zeal at piping its abundant geological hydrocarbon bounty to Europe, and China’s unquenchable thirst for Iranian, Central Asian, and any other petroleum to help fuel the continuing expansion of the world’s largest national-regional economy.

And Syria is the stinging nettle at the center of this turbulent geo-political swirl.

With malicious desperation during its multi-faceted war against the aspirations of the Syrian people, and against the infiltrating sub-state and ideologically fanatical militias seeking control of the Syrian state, as well as against militias acting as proxy forces of foreign intervention (sometimes the same for these last two), the Al-Assad regime deployed chemical weapons on many occasions: chlorine and sarin gas aerial bombs and artillery shells. “The deadliest attacks were the August 2013 sarin attack in Ghouta (killing between 281 and 1,729 people) and the April 2017 sarin attack in Khan Shaykhun (killing at least 89 people)… The most common agent used was chlorine, with sarin and sulphur mustard also reported.” [1]

In prior decades from the 1970s, Syria had built up an arsenal of chemical weapons, with the technological help of Russia and Egypt, as its weapons-of-mass-destruction shield against external threats to the continuation of the Al-Assad regime as the Syrian state. This Syrian chemical “doomsday machine” was intended as its ultimate defense against Israeli aggression, in the same way that the nuclear powers present their arsenals of nuclear-tipped rockets as shields against existential threats to their national sovereignty. [2]

The worldwide abhorrence against the use of chemical weapons acted as a diplomatic pressure against this tactic by the Al-Assad regime domestically, and was also used as an excuse by the Washington Consensus to justify its various forms of demi-covert intervention in the Syrian Civil War. There has been much propaganda, anti-propaganda, dissimulation, lying and cover-up associated with the reality of chemical warfare in Syria, the slants and biases in the reporting and commentary of which depend on the ideological allegiances of their sources, every faction trying to muddy the waters of public perception in its favor.

In 2013, under intense international pressure against its chemical warfare and fearing a Libya-style NATO intervention, the Al-Assad regime with Russian encouragement acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It agreed to eliminate its arsenal of chemical weapons under the supervision (and protection) of Russia. But the complete elimination of that arsenal did not occur, as witnessed by subsequent chemical attacks by the forces of the Syrian regime.

In 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission in Syria concluded that the use of chlorine was systematic and widespread. The following year, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (OPCW-UN JIM) was established to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria. The OPCW-UN JIM blamed the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for the sarin attack in Khan Shaykhun, as well as three chlorine attacks. They also concluded ISIL militants used sulphur mustard. According to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the Syrian government carried out 33 chemical attacks between 2013 and September 2018. A further six attacks were documented by the Commission, but the perpetrators were not sufficiently identified. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 85 confirmed chemical attacks occurred between 21 August 2013 and 25 February 2018, and the Syrian government was responsible for the majority of the attacks. HRW said the actual number of attacks was likely higher than 85. According to a Global Public Policy Institute study, at least 336 attacks have occurred. The report said 98% of these attacks were carried out by Assad’s forces and 2% by ISIL. [3]

In October 2019, former OPCW employee Brendan Whelan acted as a whistleblower codenamed ‘Alex’, teaming “up with Wikileaks, to expose what appeared to be a major scandal with global implications – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), had ‘doctored’ a report in order to fabricate a chlorine attack in Syria when no such event had actually occurred… [Brendan Whelan] had been part of the team that investigated the chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7, 2018 in which at least 41 civilians were killed. This was done, insinuated ‘Alex’, in order to frame the Syrian government and justify the missile strikes launched by the US, UK and France against forces loyal to the government of Bashar al-Assad in the days following the attack on the town of Douma in April 2018.” [4]

Russian state media and the Assad regime seized upon these leaks to claim that the chemical attack was staged and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been hijacked by Western nations and was no longer fit for its intended purpose.

“A draft version of a letter seen by Bellingcat and not publicly released by either ‘Alex’, Wikileaks or any of the journalists who have covered the so-called scandal, proves that a chemical attack did occur. It shows that any notion of a cover-up at the OPCW is false and confirms that the organisation acted exactly as it was mandated to. Further, it also reveals that at a diplomatic level behind closed doors, the Russian and Syrian governments have both agreed with the conclusions of the OPCW report. Yet in public – and with the help of a number of Western journalists and academics – Russia has launched a widespread and concerted effort to undermine both the OPCW and the conclusions of its report on Douma.” [5]

The unreleased letter referred to above (the relevant portions of which can be seen in [5]) was drafted by several members of the OPCW in June 2019 and then sent by the director general of the organisation, Fernando Arias, in reply to a letter from Whelan where he claimed there was no evidence of chlorine being used as a weapon in Douma, and traces of chlorine that were found were not consistent with the release of chlorine gas. In his reply Arias explains why Whelan’s assumptions are wrong – he simply wasn’t aware of the latest scientific techniques used by the OPCW because they were developed after Whelan had left the organisation. It was these techniques that allowed the OPCW to conclude chlorine gas had been released in the building in which the Syrian civilians died.

Arias wrote: “Your letter further refers to 2,4,6-trichlorophenol as being used erroneously as an indicator of chlorine exposure, and you rightly point out that this chemical can be present for a variety of reasons that do not require chlorine gas exposure. However, there were additional chlorine-containing chemicals found in samples taken from Douma, and in particular, chlorinated pinene compounds that have been shown to form in certain types of wood that have been exposed to chlorine gas. One of the Designated Laboratories that analysed samples after you completed your tenure has developed methods of analysing wood exposed to chlorine gas that can distinguish between different types of wood in the signatures of chlorinated compounds produced. This laboratory’s analysis of wood samples taken from Douma indicated that the wood indeed had been exposed to chlorine gas.” [6]

In short, the OPCW did exactly as mandated and established that a chemical weapon had been used at Douma; the OPCW had not falsified evidence nor fabricated a fictitious (false flag) chemical attack.

Arias also wrote that: “I would further like to point out that the conclusion of the final Douma report is not in question. No State Party has questioned the conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a toxic chemical was used as a weapon in Douma. This includes the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation, which in recent weeks have each sent us comments and questions on the final Douma report in notes verbale in which they themselves have indicated their agreement with the conclusion of the final report. These notes verbale, as well as our replies to them, have been made available to State Parties.” [7]

A July/August 2021 news brief by the Arms Control Association states:

“An investigation into 77 allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria has concluded that chemical weapons were likely or definitely used in 17 cases, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported to the UN Security Council on June 3 [2021]…

“OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias announced that the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will be addressing new issues during future consultations with Syria, including ‘the presence of a new chemical weapons agent found in samples collected in large storage containers in September 2020.’ He said that the organization had notified Syria of its intention to conduct on-site inspections and requested visas for its expert team, but never received a response…

“That is not the first time that Syria has declined to cooperate. In April 2020, the OPCW Executive Council demanded further information regarding three alleged chemical weapons attacks that took place in 2017. Syria declined, and in response, the organization in April suspended Syria’s ‘rights and privileges,’ marking the first time that the OPCW had taken such action since its formation in 1997…

“Russia has consistently defended Syria and criticized the OPCW and its investigators. In response to Arias’ report, Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused the OPCW of exclusively using information ‘from biased sources opposed to the Syrian government’ and of relying on ‘pseudo witnesses,’ according to media reports. He also claimed the OPCW ‘was established illegitimately’ and that therefore it is unfair to expect Syria to comply with its regulations. Russia joined 14 other states, including China, in voting against the measure to restrict Syria’s rights within the multilateral organization…

“Despite Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 under heavy international pressure, questions remain about the validity of the country’s chemical weapons declarations. Arias reported that one of the deadliest attacks took place in 2017, three years after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared that the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons program was complete.” [8]

So as of mid 2021: the Al-Assad regime remains in control of the Syrian state; there is no convincing evidence that its entire stockpile of chemical weapons has been destroyed and that it no longer has a chemical weapons production capability; there is no guarantee that Syrian military forces will never again deploy chemical weapons against Syrians opposed to the Al-Assad regime; Russian military forces in Syria, along with Russia’s diplomatic clout internationally, continue to protect the Al-Assad regime, as well as maintain Russian foreign-based military power in Syria.

Over the ten years and four months of the Syrian Civil War (so far) over 606,000 people have been killed, 6.7 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 6.6 million Syrians are refugees. The pre-war population of the Syrian Arab Republic was estimated to be 22 million. [9]

The elimination worldwide of both chemical and nuclear weapons from military arsenals — and threat display diplomacy — remain as yet unfulfilled dreams for a more peaceful and secure world.

Notes

[1], [3] Use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_chemical_weapons_in_the_Syrian_civil_war

[2] Syria chemical weapons program
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syria_chemical_weapons_program

[4], [5], [6], [7] Unpublished OPCW Douma Correspondence Casts Further Doubt on Claims of ‘Doctored’ Report,
(Bellingcat, 26 October 2020) 
https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2020/10/26/unpublished-opcw-douma-correspondence-raises-doubts-about-transparency-of-opcw-leaks-promoters/

[8] OPCW Confirms Chemical Weapons Use in Syria,
Arms Control Today, (Arms Control Association, July/August 2021)
https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2021-07/news-briefs/opcw-confirms-chemical-weapons-use-syria

[9] Syrian Civil War
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_civil_war

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On Just Societies

In his book, “Republic,” Plato lays out his political philosophy for the establishment and maintenance of a stable, well-ordered and just society. In his time societies were city-states, like Athens in the time of Socrates, Plato and Diogenes. The essential element of Plato’s scheme is the “guidance” of the city — “governing” is too strongly “micro-management” of a word — by a class of “guardians” who were carefully selected and trained from youth for the task, and who were wholly devoted to it for their lifetimes: basically philosopher-guru-priests.

However, I note that the viability of Plato’s political formulation for the construction and operation of just societies rests primarily on the incorruptible moral character of its central and guiding personnel, the guardians, and secondarily on the reasonably stable decency of behavior of the citizens: that is to say, their morality.

Please note that by “moral” I do not at all mean “religious”; there is no functional correlation between the two (and in my view more likely an anti-correlation).

At least since the end of the Neolithic, the idea developed that a stable, well-ordered society (whether just or unjust, but always to the liking of its rulers) could be established solely by political means, such as in: monarchies, parliamentary democracies, socialist and communists states (most pointedly those sharply Marxist materialist), and dictatorships (whether purely materialistic or theocratic).

By political I mean social arrangements for societal management that are constructions external to the individual person. Note that such political structures can include elements of physical compulsion on individual behavior, and elements of thought-control by indoctrination and propaganda to capture, shape and distort individual thought, and that such political structures will still be external to the individual as a moral being.

So, I do not believe it is possible to ensure the stable continuation of any momentarily just society, whatever its political structure, solely on the basis of the forced maintenance of that political structure, nor solely on the basis of a change of political structure whether that change is reformist or revolutionary. Justice as societal stability requires a taproot into incorruptible moral character by a majority of the citizens. Justice is good politics and good political structure, and is a natural outgrowth of good and intelligent morality, which in turn is individually personified as character.

Given the above, I believe that any social movement aiming to “permanently” evolve, reform or revolutionize a society in need of anything from improvement to drastic change in order to make it universally just, has to base its efforts on developing the moral character of its movement adherents and the mass of citizens it wishes to convince, for lifetime incorruptibility. Here, we have faith that a society with a majority of its citizens being of incorruptible moral character will ensure the continuation of such in succeeding generations, by the operation of its educational systems.

Of course any serious movement for social change will act politically whenever it can to counter existing injustices and respond to humanitarian emergencies. But it must never lose sight of its chronic fundamental task regardless of the frequency and variety of crisis flare-ups it reacts to during the daily spectacle.

Yes, this prescription for engineering permanent social change for the better is an idealization that may seem impossible to implement, as witnessed by the history of human civilization, but I think it is nevertheless true and has been the most powerful force that has helped bring about whatever degree of decency any of our human societies possesses today.

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For Americans, the 1950s began in 1947, as Gore Vidal bemoaningly told us, and collapsed in 1964 after June 21. The 1960s began on 1 January 1959, in Havana, and disappeared steadily from October 1973, vanishing completely by 1978. The 1970s erupted on 11 September 1973 and died on 4 November 1980, when the Collapse of American Civilization lurched downward into freefall, which it continues plunging to this day as our Neoliberal Dark Age. While it is still deeply submerged, scattered faint glimpses of the Next Age have broken through the pall of our Neoliberal Dark Age with increasing frequency since 17 September 2011. Whether that Post Fossil Capitalism Next Age is strangled in zeitgeist utero by neofascism, or withered in its infancy by global warming, or lives to emerge into the open and break free to flourish, is for the future to tell.

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Climate Change is like an enormous steamroller that is inching slowly but implacably along the open road of our projected expectations, to roll over and flatten our comfortable situations.

Since we are all “cemented in place” in those personal comfort situations, that steamroller is bit by bit squashing us: first ‘here’ then ‘there’; some by sea level rise; some by hurricanes razing all; some by wildfire; some by deepening and eternal heat and drought; some by waves of disease pathogens sprung from out of formerly deep recesses in the wild; some by the increasing withdrawal of food availability; and some by the infighting all this sparks among us and that causes casualties from our war with ourselves.

First we lose our illusions, then we lose our money, and finally we lose our lives.

Those who refuse to face reality and relinquish their illusions will cause the most damage to their fellow human beings, by being rabidly competitive, as they slide down the cascade of suffering longer and ever obsessed to the death with their unrelieved anxieties of avoiding losses and pain. Those who jettison their illusions and face reality will a least gain the comfort of finding the company of similar people.

Even as the steamroller inches forward toward us, for everyone “the future is uncertain, and the end is always near.” One can pin oneself to an obsession with “the end,” and its avoidance; or one can open oneself to an appreciation for the processes of life, and to the sharing of such appreciation.

Climate Change is now our great teacher, and its lessons range from stark terror to transcendence. We have no choice but to live out those lessons, but we do have some choice in which of those coming experiences we can aim our personal selves to.

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Einsatzgruppen Were Militarized Police

80 years ago today, on 22 June 1941, Operation Barbarossa — the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union — was launched. The warfare between the Nazis and the Russians, which lasted until the end of WWII on 8 May 1945, made up the overwhelming majority of the military action and produced the greatest number of war deaths and casualties of the entire European War of 1939-1945 (in my mind I think of this fraction as 80%).

Here in the United States we are well versed in the folklore and stories of the actions, tragedies and victories that emerged from the War In Western Europe during WWII, but we are much less aware of the magnitude of the Russian (Soviet Union) contribution made, and sacrifices suffered, to secure victory for the Allies (the “United Nations”) in May 1945. Without diminishing the dedicated, painful and heroic contributions of the U.S.A, and its Allies, it is nevertheless a fact that, by and large, Nazi Germany (and its fascist Eastern European allies and proxies) was defeated by Russian guns carried forward by an ocean of Russian blood, and the Russian state and the Red Army were fed large transfusions of American military supplies to supplement their own industrialized war machine.

Hitler had planned Operation Barbarossa not merely as a war of armed political conflict and territorial conquest, but as a war of annihilation: Jews, and Communists with any degree of political or administrative power, were to be killed. The Nazi’s estimated (in written reports) that the number of Jews they wished to eliminate from Europe totaled 11 million. Specialized militarized “death squad” troops were formed to execute Jews (primarily) as Nazi armies raced eastward through Poland (from 1 September 1939) and then during Operation Barbarossa into the Baltic States (which Stalin had recently annexed), Western Russia (nearly up to Moscow), the Ukraine, Crimea and Southern Russia (as far as Stalingrad = Volgograd). Those death squad troops were called the Einsatzgruppen.

From Wikipedia: Einsatzgruppen (“deployment groups”; also “task forces”) were Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, during World War II (1939–45) in German-occupied Europe. The Einsatzgruppen had an integral role in the implementation of the so-called “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in territories conquered by Nazi Germany, and were involved in the murder of much of the intelligentsia and cultural elite of Poland, including members of the priesthood. Almost all of the people they killed were civilians, beginning with the intelligentsia and swiftly progressing to Soviet political commissars, Jews, and Romani people as well as actual or alleged partisans throughout Eastern Europe.

Since Hitler had promised to establish a ‘1000 year Reich,’ the Nazis saw no need to worry about negative consequences to their genocidal campaign because in a few short generations after establishing their regime across Europe (and the world?) there would be few to have such raw memories of the atrocities and losses to mount any opposition. As one person commented: who today remembers the Crusades with enough anger to mount opposition to and make war on the descendants of its perpetrators?

A riveting and harrowing history of the Einsatzgruppen is presented by a 2009 four-part documentary series hosted on Netlfix: Einsatzgruppen: The Nazi Death Squads. [weblink at bottom].

Nearly all the visuals of this series were supplied by the many photographs and movies taken by German Nazi officers, but also by members of the killing units manned by Romanians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Latvians and Lithuanians, which were both encouraged by the German Nazis (where underlying antisemitism and a thirst for pogroms, and hatred of Russians, communists and Stalin’s NKVD existed) or such other killing units were directly supervised by the German Nazis. In a few cases Jews and anti-nazi partisans were surreptitiously able to take photographs of killing actions that were kept hidden until after the war and used as evidence in war crimes trials.

Most of the rank and file of the Einsatzgruppen had been policemen, and were men of limited education; repetitive actions of brute force motivated by simple bigotry, sanctioned by their obedience to superiors, and spiced up for too many of them by committing torturous atrocities as entertainment. The officers, on the other hand, were quite well educated and intellectual, they directed and guided this genocide machine as true believers in the inhuman vision behind it.

As I watched this tragic history unroll, I recalled that Telford Taylor had publicly stated that by the standards set by the Nuremberg Trials that American officials should be liable for war crimes prosecution over their perpetration of the Vietnam War. From Wikipedia: Telford Taylor was an American lawyer best known for his role as Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, his opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and his outspoken criticism of U.S. actions during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.

And I thought of the My Lai massacre of March 1968, which was an infamous American cluster of war crimes that was not at all an isolated event as the US military claimed but actually just a typical action in an entire campaign made up of such actions conducted by US military forces in South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army, which was trained and lavishly supported by the U.S., were routine savage perpetrators of atrocities to Communist Vietnamese prisoners and also regular peasants caught up by the military operations. The parallels here between America’s South Vietnamese Army ally, to the non-German proxies during Operation Barbarossa, are quite close.

I also recalled that the murders of civil rights workers and voting rights activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner (the Freedom Summer murders) in Neshoba County, Mississippi, occurred on 21 June 1964, during the Civil Rights Movement. That was 57 years ago yesterday. Members of the local White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office, and the (local city of) Philadelphia Police Department were involved in the incident. None of the police departments or government agencies and officers of the State of Mississippi took any action to investigate the disappearance of the three civil rights workers after 21 June 1964, and they were certainly not interested in seeking to uncover any crime and prosecute its perpetrators as related to this incident. The remains of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were discovered by federal investigators on 4 August 1964, and federal prosecutions followed. The federal government acted because of intense national public outcry against first the disappearance of the civil rights trio and then their murders, and that outrage had erupted out of the new largely national awakening that had been sparked by the Civil Rights Movement.

There is a parallel between Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner facing the the guns of their killers — pogrom-thirsting bigots and policemen who were backed by the political powers of local and state public officials — on the night of 21 June 1964, and the millions of Jews who faced the guns of their killers in Eastern Europe during 1939-1944 — also pogrom-thirsting bigots and policemen who were also often enough their own countrymen.

And then one thinks of today, of George Floyd, of Black Lives Matter, and of the logic of “defund the police.” That logic becomes very clear to anyone who comes to experience police activity as even remotely similar in any way to Einsatzgruppen activity. For them it is better to disband the police than allow for a continuation of civilian murders (especially and disproportionately of minorities, particularly Black Americans) by armed operatives employed and legally immunized by the governing political authorities, under the justification of “keeping the peace” and guarding “public safety.”

I realize all this sad and painful history is not pleasant to think about, but I think it is helpful for Americans to know about it accurately, and not filtered by fantasies and preferred biases, so that our society in the present day and into our collective future can be significantly bettered, to really ensure everybody’s public safety, and to keep the peace in a just and compassionate manner.

Einsatzgruppen: The Nazi Death Squads
https://www.netflix.com/title/80134093

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Eleven Capsule Disquisitions

SPACE: is filled with emptiness,
everything else is a garnish.

TOTALITY:
The unknown reality is of infinite depth;
but consciousness has limits,
which are unknown.

CONSCIOUSNESS:
The most captivating image to human consciousness
is the female form.

TIME:
No matter how much you think you have,
it is never enough.
No matter how much you actually have,
it will always be too little.

BOOKS:
A good book captivates you,
a great book changes you.

CAPITALISM:
Capitalism is the ideology of parasites.

GLOBAL WARMING:
Global Warming is the Universe’s way of telling us
that making money is contrary to Nature.

WAR:
War is a societally catastrophic theft by a group of criminals who compel two sets of victims to destroy each other. For decades I studied looking for the root causes of nuclear war, and then for war in all its forms: conventional, economic, genocidal, imperialistic, and now climate-destroying; and I have come to this: Lack of moral character expressed individually as selfishness through bigotry and greed, and organized socially as capitalism and exclusionary bureaucratic hierarchies for the defense of mediocrity.

PATRIARCHY:
The religious strictures enforced as sacred traditions by men against sex and women are them fleeing from the recognition of their own simplistic bestial lusts and fearful insecurity in their manhood, before the nurturing face of love seen by all as female: the mother.

GOVERNMENT:
It is always the rulers against the people,
and so in defense it has to be the people against the rulers.
What rulers everywhere fear most is the people united.

The first victory of political rebellion
is to free yourself from the self censorship
imposed by your fear of loss of approval by “authority.”

There will always be a new emergency to distract people
from the institutionalized theft of life they are paying for.

The fact that charities exist shows that governments are failures,
and moral character far too lacking all around.

Never underestimate the power of the Status Quo
to protect itself from reform
by tossing out members who have become liabilities.

I’m all for Socialism,
I’d just hate having to do it with Americans.

Being a Republican in these United States today
is to have an emotional attachment
to sexist White Supremacy ignorance.

THEM:
I only care about the effect of a person’s actions
on other individuals and on society;
I do not care how they choose to imagine
their relationship to eternity.

People can’t be changed,
they either evolve on their own,
or they persist as they are to the death.
The best you can do, for the rare few,
is tell them the truth if they ask.
I cannot change the world,
I can only affect the people I interact with:
rarely.

Going out among the people is the best way
to lose any concern about human extinction.

The effort to lead a moral life in an immoral society
causes much personal suffering,
only partially relieved by gaining
a righteous sense of self-respect.

The most pernicious idea in human history is:
profits.
The most important idea in human history is:
gratitude.

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Movie Reviews by MG,Jr. (14 November 2020 – 8 April 2021)

CODED BIAS

“Coded Bias” is an exceptional film about how Artificial Intelligence (a.k.a. A.I.), or “algorithms,” has become powerful technology used without accountability, and despite its high level of harmful failure, all for extending the Big Brother type authoritarian control of the public by the state (which is being done overtly in China, and covertly in the U.S., England, and who knows?); and also about the unaccountable manipulation of the public for the financial gains of the small group of very rich people (overwhelmingly white males) who own and control that technology. The title “Coded Bias” comes from the fact that the racial biases (against darker-skinned and ethnic minority people, and ‘different’ sexual-identification people, and physically challenged people) and class biases (against poor people, the more poor the more discriminated against) of those controlling self-aggrandizing white men, and the Big Brother authoritarians, are literally coded into the mathematics that constitutes the mechanisms of the algorithms used to surveil you, to alert police if you are a criminal (very, very many false positives with this), to determine what job opportunities you will be allowed, what prices you will pay for online goods, what financial services you will be granted, and in many ways what punitive actions will be taken against you — and for none of that will you be given any warning nor told how such determinations were made. Complete violation of your 14th Amendment rights (to due process, and which can be logically explained and independently verified; i.e., not a Black Box with a red eye called HAL9000). This important film is available on Netflix now (see website), and also has its own website (see comment). An especially uplifting part of this film is seeing the amazingly talented technically trained and technically savvy women — which include incredible Black Women — who are on the forefront of the citizens’s effort to correct, regulate and ban, as needed, this technology. This is a film about POWER and its use of AI technology to remove freedom from the mass of the public, and to implement its biases through the Internet (for example as regards economic disparities based on race, and the swinging of elections to undermine democracy). I urge you to watch this film (I was pointed to it by a woman, Gretchen, who knows how to pick them).
Coded Bias
https://www.netflix.com/title/81328723

Coded Bias
https://www.codedbias.com/

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SATAN & ADAM

“Satan and Adam” is a lovely documentary about “an aging blues guitarist and a grad student form an unlikely duo while busking on the street corners of 1980s Harlem.” Their music is REAL, authentic; and their story: together, apart, together, old age, is both a reflection of the racial attitudes and politics of the U.S. over the last 35 years, and also a reflection of their own distinctive and idiosyncratic personalities. It is also a very touching story of the power of music to heal individual human spirits, and collective human communities. And also, these guys kick ass when they play!
https://www.netflix.com/title/81077539

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satan_and_Adam

https://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/satan_and_adam.html

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LORENA

“Lorena” is a short 2019 documentary film about a 25 year old Tarahumara woman (Lorena Ramírez, Native American, living in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico,) who runs and wins ultra-marathons wearing sandals and her native dress (skirt!). Her whole family lives a pastoral life deep in hilly country, and they are all runners. Lorena Ramírez has won some of the hardest races in Mexico, like the Guachochi Ultramarathon in 2017, where she ran 100 kilometers wearing her sandals and traditional dress. Because of her prowess as a long distance runner she has been invited to other countries to compete. In 2018, Lorena traveled to Spain to run the Tenerife Bluetrail and came in third place after running 102 kilometers, also running with her sandals, with which she has run more than 500 kilometers in total, including Mexico City’s Marathon in the same year. Unlike her brothers, Lorena doesn’t speak Spanish because she didn’t have the opportunity to attend school and learn the language. She speaks Tarahumara in a soft voice, with words that sound so sweet and musical that you just want to listen to her telling her story. [Some of these lines came from the culturacolectiva website.]
https://www.netflix.com/title/80244683

https://culturacolectiva.com/movies/lorena-ramirez-light-footed-woman-runner-netflix-documentary

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BIRDERS

“Birders” is a short 2019 documentary about the crucial natural habitat for migratory birds, spanning both sides of the Rio Grande and along the Gulf Coast on either side of its confluence with the sea. This area has the highest concentration of birds in the U.S. because it lies along the flyways for many species of birds that migrate between North and South America. So, it attracts bird watchers, both professional (who do banding) and amateur, from all over the world. And this natural environment is threatened, and in parts has already been destroyed, by the clearing of land to build Trump’s Wall. There are Americans and Mexicans, each working on their side of the border to monitor, protect and preserve this natural habitat, and to count birds to help quantify the waxing or waning of the health of their many species; and they also teach and enthuse people (children and adults) about the loveliness of avian life and the value of seriously appreciating and effectively preserving Nature.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80244682

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MAGICAL ANDES

“Magical Andes” is a beautiful series; it is about the love of mountains, the pristine expansive wild, and lives closely entwined with that environment far from human congestion. Season 1 has six ~24 minute episodes and spans the entire 8,500km length of that mountain chain from south to north; Season 2 has four ~24 minute episodes and touches on different points of the same regions, from north to south. Brief and elegant narration is in English, interspersed with many reflections, in Spanish, by Andean residents from Patagonia to Venezuela; in Season 2 the English subtitles to the Spanish speakers is dropped. Photography is breathtaking throughout, clearly camera-carrying drones were used to great advantage. The music accompaniment is very tasteful, and guitar music for the most part. Throughout the series one can catch a few glimpses of people whose way of living reflects what I imagine a post de-growth lifestyle might be like for more of “us.” If you love Nature, and have a poetic sensibility, you would enjoy this series.
https://www.netflix.com/title/81154549

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2019) [1:42] is an excellent, very informative, and provocative (TRUTHFUL!) documentary. I recommend it as the single best “economics class” (under 2 hours) you can take today. The presentation is clear and easy to understand, without being “dumbed down.” It explains exactly why your economic situation today is the way it is, whatever your economic class and generation happens to be. The system is rigged (duh) and this documentary show how, why and for whom; and it clearly shows what needs to change if we (all of us) are to avoid a cataclysmic social breakdown, another WWI/WWII type catastrophe on a worldwide scale. I especially recommend it to my kids and their generation: to help them know why we need a revolution, and where and how that revolution should be aimed.
https://www.netflix.com/title/81239470

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DAVID FOSTER, OFF THE RECORD; CLIVE DAVIS, THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES; QUINCY.

These 3 documentaries are about famous music producers and industry/finding-talent executives. These 3 guys are famous, and have splashy documentaries made about them because they promoted many singers from obscurity to superstardom, and made them rich, while making their music corporations very, very much richer. So, naturally, the biz and Hollywood are very awed by and interested in them.

They each have certain personality and character traits that I do not care for, but of course people are all different, and it is always a bit hazardous to judge (and yet of course I do).

What I think is most valuable in these documentaries is that there is a great deal of discussion of and presentation on the nitty-gritty work in the studio: music and song composing, arranging, recording, working (and/or fighting) with the singers and instrumentalists. I found those parts quite interesting.

These 3 guys are “legendary” because they were behind many of the mega-hits from 1968 to today, and in a wide variety of popular music genres.

The documentary I think stars-in-their-eyes people are most likely to find interesting is about David Foster, an incredibly talented and capable musician who is regarded as the “best” music producer alive (along with Quincy Jones).

David Foster, Off The Record
https://www.netflix.com/title/81214083

The second and third, and closely related documentaries are about Clive Davis and Quincy Jones, respectively, legendary music moguls who discovered and promoted many pop-music superstars.

Clive Davis, The Soundtrack of Our Lives
https://www.netflix.com/title/80190588

Quincy
https://www.netflix.com/title/80102952

Quincy Jones was a formidable jazz musician in the 1950s, then did jazzy film scores for 1960s movies, and went on to become a “legendary” music producer.

While these three producers/executives were focused on making mega-hits for corporate mega-bucks, what these documentaries can show that also applies to independent music production (recorded music) in less-mainstream more artistic and smaller-audience fields of music is the technicalities of working out the final recorded tracks, which combine the talents of a variety of people.

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FIVE CAME BACK

FIVE CAME BACK (2017) is very interesting as American film history, BUT the real value here is the reminder by series’ end that previous generations — some of whose survivors still live among us — included many many people who sacrificed a great deal in order to allow our society to continue, and which despite its many dire failings still provided very good lives to most who are reading this. It is important to keep gratitude for those who preceded us and strived and suffered to do their best to pass on chances for decent lives for the young of their time, and those yet unborn. And the only useful way to express that gratitude is to emulate the best efforts of our parents’ and grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations, for the benefit of our children, which is to say all of today’s children, and those yet unborn. And we cannot expect they will notice, or realize, or acknowledge or honor us. We can’t have such selfish expectations: why should today’s kids be any different from us when it comes to being grateful for the good things they get? They have to learn just as the more thoughtful of us have had to learn: in part by becoming more aware of the realities of the past, and in part by the struggles and frustrations of our own experiences. It all comes out of self-respect. Let me reassure you, I am not preaching here. I am reflecting for myself about my own always-expanding awareness and understanding of “life,” and how I should conduct myself if I can summon enough courage to do so. I think gratitude and self-respect should be the sources of individual human actions, that those actions should be decent and for authentic good, and that any nation improves as more of its people take on that sense of personal responsibility, because it preserves and strengthens the commonwealth: the interconnectedness of us.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80049928

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GREATEST EVENTS OF WWII IN COLOR; THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD

I just finished seeing the Netflix documentary series, “Greatest Events of WWII In Color” (2019), and can recommend it. What the film restoration and colorization does is to bring the frightening intensity and reality of the events much closer to the viewer. This is the kind of startling effect, from old grainy originally black and white war documentary films, pioneered by Peter Jackson with his visual restoration, sound reconstruction, and colorization of World War I films, for the riveting compilation released in 2018 as “They Shall Not Grow Old.”

The 10th and final episode of the WWII series is on the atomic bombings in 1945 and the closing out of the war against Japan. All this excruciating history continues to have many essential lessons too few of which have been heeded even in the present day. The total sweep of that history, really from the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to early August of 1945, is a massively horrible build-up of savagery, and vastly widespread dehumanization of national populations, because of their prosecution of and/or victimization by the industrialized crescendo of the 20th century’s chained sequence of world wars.

That savagery was at its peak, and the ability to see “the enemy” as human beings was at its dehumanized nadir, in 1945 especially in the Pacific War. That poisoned psychology combined with extreme and widespread war weariness, and the press of many antagonistic forces and ambitions embroiled in the overall war effort inexorably led to the atomic bombings despite them being logically unnecessary, a position openly, persistently and yet unsuccessfully championed by Admiral Leahy.

Looking back one can see how the consensus-mind of the American leadership and the public was so hardened by their years of war, and so frightened of that war continuing with even greater ferocity with an invasion of Japan, and so desirous for it all to ‘end now, with victory,’ that it was overwhelmingly in favor of the atomic bombings regardless of any logical considerations contradicting that emotion and in favor of better alternatives. Tragic.

That was then; but now eight decades later the great majority of the American people and other fairly secure people in the industrialized world do not have that soul-sucking war-dread as a constant daily experience, as did the traumatized participants in WWII, and so we all should have the ability to rationally analyze the utility of nuclear weapons today both for our own nation’s use, as well as by others. Logically, they are obsolete and counterproductive.

I see the “great lesson” available to us from Episode 10 of the WWII documentary series mentioned here, as being that we non-traumatized by direct war experience populations CAN and SHOULD apply a psychologically mature and humanized logic to the construction of “national defense” methodology that removes the barbaric and ultimately self-destructive cruelty of nuclear weapons from our military and political thinking, and from our national infrastructure.

By its final episode, the vividness of the colorized documentary of WWII gives one an emotional tug that can act as a visceral push behind such logical efforts to really “ban the bomb.”

We CAN learn from history, IF WE WANT TO.

Greatest Events of WWII In Color (2019, trailer)
https://www.netflix.com/title/80989924

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018, trailer)
https://youtu.be/IrabKK9Bhds

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ASPHALT BURNING

If you are a motorhead, see this movie!! It’s Norwegian, and ends up at Nürburgring. It’s a total motorhead’s dream. We saw it on Netflix (dubbed). It seems there were two earlier ones (movies) in a series in Norway. You’ll love it!! (Global Warming can wait).
https://youtu.be/ViUFEs5cyhY

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HE EVEN HAS YOUR EYES

This is a fabulous movie, both thought provoking and funny. A wonderful take-down of racism in all its colors. This lovely French movie, centered by African-Franco actors, and without any guns, explosions, special effects, CGI or gratuitous violence, manages to say more about racism as habit and fear (two forms of “tradition”) being a great hinderance to having a modern society everyone can enjoy, based on simple human love and honest human connection. This movie is a “comedy” in the sense that it is never a lugubrious heavy drama, neither gratingly hysterical nor deadeningly slow; it is like a fine Burgundy wine: light bodied with a depth of flavor. See it.
https://youtu.be/7mNuKbk01ZA

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ROSE ISLAND

The only foreign military invasion mounted by the post WWII Republic of Italy was against “Rose Island” in 1968. Rose Island was a metal-platform island micro-nation constructed by Giorgio Rosa, an engineer, 500 meters outside Italian territorial waters off the coast of Rimini (6km). The Italian government became incensed by this act of pure independence outside its control, and decided to destroy the island. This prompted Giorgio Rosa to take his case to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, which latter agency was designed to hear disputes between nations, and so decided to hear the case since Rosa was a head of state! During the summer months, Rose Island was essentially a boating party location and discotheque in the Adriatic, but Rosa and his friends created a government, post office, issued passports and received hundreds of application for citizenship. Italian marine forces invaded, forcibly removed the people from Rosa Island and blew it up. Subsequently the European nations changed their laws to extend their territorial waters (and claims of judicial control) out to 12km. The movie is a breezy comedy that relates the whole story. What is clear is that power, especially the imbalance of power, is what actually governs government behavior, not the rule of or the respect for law.
https://www.netflix.com/title/81116948

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ADULT WEDNESDAY

“Adult Wednesday” is a series of short very humorous videos made by Melissa Hunter, based on the idea of Wednesday Addams, of the famous Addams Family cartoons, now on her own. Her various interactions with “normal” society are hilarious. Sadly, the series was ended because the copyright owners of “The Addams Family” objected. The web-link will take you to a starting point for the sequence of the Adult Wednesday videos (if still up). All are good. The one of catcalls to girls is delicious (girl wins).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXmpC0wpuso&list=PL0XAjui-xK6XE4PRT64WAthU6j1NmrOqU&index=14

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THE SPACE BETWEEN US

I saw “The Space Between Us” (2016) on Netflix. It is a bloated techno-gargantuan cross between a faint echo of “Brave New World” and the trim 1980 movie “Starman” (which was good). The premise is that a kid born as a surprise on a Mars colony is too weak to live in Earth’s gravity, and so must remain “classified.” He is brought back to Earth as a 16 year old in hopes he can be strengthened to survive there; he escapes confinement to look for his mystery father; has a roadtrip romance with a quirky wise-ass runaway foster-kid girl, and everyone has a happy ending to this story. It could have been more tightly constructed for a good 90 minute movie, but it rolls out amiably enough over 2 hours with nice visuals and up-to-the-minute spacey sets and effects to distract you from the numerous logical fallacies and improbabilities linking the elements of the story (easily done if you don’t take a critical attitude). I enjoyed it as simple harmless entertainment; it is not art, it is not deep: it’s meant for a mass audience. Asa Butterfield plays the Mars Boy with the same cute naïveté other-worldliness he displayed in the movie “The House Of The Future” (with Ellen Burstyn, peripherally about Buckminster Fuller’s legacy). Gary Oldham plays the big honcho Space Business (for the Mars Colony) “visionary.” The mama surrogate is played by a Ms. Guglio, who also had a big role in a recent movie where Patrick Stewart (“Jean-Luc Picard”) plays an old ballet master and choreographer (which movie is a 3 person play of sex talk). This movie is a way to spend some COVID lockdown time, after you’ve washed the dinner dishes and you’re tired of reading an actual book for the day.
https://youtu.be/x73-573aWfs

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND

“The Other Side Of The Wind” is Orson Welles’s last movie and is a satire on movies, movie-making and celebrity culture. It is also a visually stunning 1970s cinematic parody of 1970s art movie pretensions; a comedy about the vacuity of the whole movie and celebrity business, and literally a confection about nothingness. Wind is the flow of air through a volume, it is not an isolated bounded solid object. It has no side since it is the swirl, rippling and eddying of the ocean of atmosphere we live within, and thus can have no ‘other side.’ To those not scientifically minded wind is the sensation of anything between the blushing to the gales of nothingness. To seek deep insights from Welles’s movie is to look for an answer blowing in the wind. Welles gets some delicious payback on movie critics through this film (and it was all actually photographed on film between 1970 and 1976), as well as skewering Antonioni type films like “Zabriskie Point.” Welles does one better on Antonioni’s finger to the American movie moguls by putting his “Zabriskie Point” parody, “The Other Side Of The Wind,” as a film within a film, being an incomplete movie run out of budget and the last hope for a comeback by a Hemingway type directorial titan of Old Hollywood at the end of his rope and trying to connect with youth and the New Hollywood. The actual cinematic technique used is a kaleidoscope of modernity employing black and white, color, quick cuts, enigmatic scenes, mockumentary structure, and zig-zagging progression. Welles had a lot of help from a lot of friends to shoot this movie and then to finally have it assembled as he would have wanted. Welles died in 1985, and the movie finally appeared in 2018. I was fascinated by it, and then tickled to realize that Welles had done a magic trick on me to make me think seriously about nothingness: the cultural vacuity of the flickering lights so many are so obsessed about.
https://youtu.be/nMWHBUTHmf0

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A LIFE AHEAD

“A Life Ahead,” an excellent brand new (2020) film with the legendary Sophia Loren (86!!); very modern, very heartstring-pulling, amazing performance by the young actor playing Momo (all the performers were good) – this is his story. The setting is the seamier side of 2020 Italy (but there are still beautiful souls living there).
https://youtu.be/a0ejncDxgCc

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IO

“IO” is an imaginative realistic speculative fiction about a post end-of-the-world time of environmental poisoning, and its last two survivors. By “realistic” I mean that it is not one of the bombastic live-action special effects fantasy plus horror cartoons that is the popular standard today for science fiction movies. The story is reminiscent of the seminal 1949 novel “Earth Abides.” So, most movie fan comments about IO are quite negative, indicative of an intelligent screenplay thoughtfully filmed. The movie is a largely French production, filmed near Nice, Bulgaria and California. The visuals, acting and pacing are all good as befitting the somber and very lonely situation being portrayed. The types of scientific, literary and artistic references made in the dialogs make for a too cerebral movie for many simple-minded movie fans, but lend this film much of its merit. This film seeks to make you think, not shock and excite you with gimmicks like frenetic pacing and jump cuts. In a rather elliptical way, the ending reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
https://youtu.be/y3GLhAumiec

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DOWN TO EARTH

“Down To Earth” is a recent (2020) TV series showing varieties of healthy sustainable ways to live, from selected countries in Central and South America, and Western Europe. It’s has a breezy tone but does show quite a variety of interesting an important aspects of “food” and “living” and the damaging effects of human wastefulness and lack of connection to Nature, and thus “climate change.” The episode on Puerto Rico is especially recommended because it shows how people dealt with the catastrophe of back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria, and continue to deal with the catastrophe-by-Trump-malice-and US-government-neglect, of loss of homes, electricity and environments. Showcased are examples of how individuals came together to respond to problems left unattended by the failures of government. The “star” of the series is its executive producer Zac Efron, no David Attenborough, but still deserves credit for producing a series with much good in it for the cause of advancing public awareness in favor of revamping American (industrialized, consumer-oriented) society for ecologically enlightened sustainability, and healthier eating habits. It is mainly aimed at typical, and by world standards well off, American viewers – it is no rabble rousing radical revolutionary documentary, but it does make many good points despite the many visits to Michelin multi-star restaurants.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80230601

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Six Moody Reflections on America in Spring 2021

ONE

“I can’t remember the exact date, but the most mind blowing moment of my life was when after an exhaustive turning over of every rock imaginable, I realized there is no energy source which will allow us to continue our daily activities at the level Westerners have become accustomed to without the world and life as we know it being destroyed in the process….And once you accept that fact, that my friends is when you have reached the intellectual point of no return in your mindset as far as the inevitability of collapse…” — Forrest Palmer

My answer to Forrest Palmer:

Collapse is only inevitable by choice, and only if civilization is defined as being the present Western-Capitalist paradigm. There are no PHYSICAL limitations to fashioning a comfortable, equitable, intelligent, culturally rich, and ecologically harmonious (which is more than merely sustainable) world civilization. All the barriers are literally mental, and literally failures of personal moral character.

I agree that looking at human history and our world today, it seems “impossible” to ever achieve the global consensus necessary to realize that new hypothetical paradigm. But, from the Universe’s perspective, it is entirely possible if we humans can summon the collective will to do so.

TWO

Most people dislike truth because it is inconvenient, discredits their cherished biases, and illuminates responsibilities they want to avoid. And that is why the 1st Amendment is the least liked and most opposed of all of them. The first thing a corporation or government agency wants you to sign away, when they buy you, is your 1st Amendment rights.

In the U.S. “commerce” and “public service” aim to kill the 1st Amendment, with the exception of by a few principled people. You have the “right” to express yourself, but if somebody else fears what you say or write, because of their insecurity and dishonesty, then they want you silenced and unemployed, or dead. Look at Julian Assange.

THREE

Is This The End Of Forests As We’ve Known Them?
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/10/is-this-the-end-of-forests-as-weve-known-them

“Is this the end of forests as we’ve know them?” It depends on who the “we” is. For the “we” that is intimately connected with the natural world, it may seem like the inevitable outcome from continuing human-species existence.

But most people today, particularly in the high carbon-spewing countries, do not have any real connection to “nature”; they don’t see and don’t notice the subtlety of its cyclic changes, nor the relentlessness of its ‘permanent’ changes; they just notice immediate effects on themselves, as obstacles to their wants (or needs for the poorest).

Most Americans are urbanites or suburbanites (no undisturbed nature there), or rural exploiters of “nature”; far fewer are sensitively connected to the land and its wildlife. The social and mental inertia of the unseeing and uncaring (and worldwide) majority is why the minority nature-loving “we” — which includes materially advantaged people with the luxury to be nature lovers — is seeing Paradise wither and burn away.

Awakening that vast self-focused ‘public mind’ to an actual commitment to fundamentally alter the physical routines of its existence, and swallow the economics necessary to do so, is the fundamental challenge — and probably an impossibility — of “climate change activists” (i.e., climate anti-change activists). It is easy enough to point out this and that current instance of environmental and biodiversity loss and/or collapse, and it is easy enough to say “capitalism must die for the world to live,” but none of that has had any impact on the vast public mind, as should be evident by now, and safe to say never will.

So, what if anything will? What ideas can be injected into the public arena that gain wide public attention — which means they have to suggest immediate improvements in the economic lives of the demos — and are sufficiently motivating to create significant physical+electoral actions by the public to really begin changing public/corporate/government institutions, for the ultimate near-term purpose of de-carbonizing civilization?

I find it easy to generalize, I find it incredibly difficult to think up a detailed “plan.” Exhortation alone will never be effective, organization is the key, but organization is very, very slow and, climatically, time is very short for implementing the massive alterations that are really needed.

What are the practical (a.k.a., ideologically ‘imperfect’) steps that we (the big “we”, in the public) as individuals can take — variously in our many different constituencies, regions and countries — to spur our governments to respond as promptly and effectively as possible to climate change as the emergency it really is? Doomism is not an acceptable response.

FOUR

DAC = Direct Air Capture of CO2 is hypothetical technology — an illusion — promoted by the oil industry so they can keep drilling out oil for us all to burn or turn into plastic waste. DAC is a sham in the same way that plastic recycling is a sham for allowing the continuation of oil/plastic companies’s profiteering at Earth’s expense. Only about 9% of all plastic waste is recycled, the rest is a growing mass of pollution poisoning our rivers, oceans, lands, foods and bodies. The only plastics with any possibility of being reprocessed for reuse are those labeled 1 and 2, and maybe also 5.

The fallacy of DAC is like trying to design a better helmet that allows you continue playing Russian Roulette. The obvious — surest, quickest, cheapest — solution to the problem is to just stop. And so it is with the production of CO2 and plastics. My physics analysis of DAC is given in these two articles.

The Improbability of CO2 Removal from the Atmosphere
9 August 2020
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/08/09/the-improbability-of-co2-removal-from-the-atmosphere/

Stream Tube CO2 Removal Machine
8 August 2020
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/stream-tube-co2-removal-machine.pdf

FIVE

On 27 October 1962, Vasili Arkhipov single handedly prevented the launching a nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., by doggedly refusing to allow for the launching of a nuclear warhead torpedo against an American warship relentlessly depth charging his Russian submarine for five hours, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It took three senior officers on the submarine each with an individual key all needed in unison to enable the launch mechanism. Everyone else on that submarine favored the torpedo counterattack because they feared they were on the brink of being sunk. Vasili Arkhipov alone dissented, and that prevented the launching of nuclear weapons, and inevitably an intercontinental nuclear war.

The Man Who Saved The World, Vasili Arkhipov
https://youtu.be/iQYC6OlwC5k

The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis – Matthew A. Jordan
https://youtu.be/bwWW3sbk4EU

Vasili Arkhipov, 2017 Future of Life Award winner for averting nuclear war
https://youtu.be/iLokpu4ixQE

Preventing nuclear war, ending all war, really facing global heating worldwide and equitably right away and persistently ever after, which all mean ending poverty and hunger and disease and suffering and ecocide worldwide are the challenges and obligations we face today. We all need to become Arkhipovs confronting those challenges.

I think I’ll remember every 27 October as “Arkhipov Day,” or Human Solidarity Day.

SIX

Stan Goff wrote: “In my early childhood, we had duck-and-cover drills. As I reach the sunset of this life, we have active-shooter drills. God bless America.”

That prompted these thoughts of mine:

For me the worst such moment was 22 October 1962, watching JFK on TV during the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis. My parents were glued to the B&W TV in our New York apartment, and I was glued to them watching that TV (I was 12). We didn’t know if Khrushchev would incinerate us in NYC with Russian nuclear-tipped ICMBs before or after JFK incinerated my grandparents in Havana with US nuclear-tipped ICBMs. We didn’t care about Moscow at that point. Fortunately, both Arkhipov and Khrushchev felt a greater connection to humanity than did Kennedy, because of their (all 3) searing memories of WWII losses, and defused the standoff at the Nuclear OK Corral.

So, I was free thereafter to pursue my boyish dreams in the sunny 60s and 70s, only limited by my degree of perseverance (high), relatively modest talents, political naïveté, the Vietnam War draft (dodged a bullet there), the Glass Ceiling protecting White Supremacy (the Prime Directive, as I found out), and the randomness of luck and lucklessness (can’t complain too much here).

When I saw families with naked children begging in the streets of Havana, in June 1959, I became viscerally aware that there were many people undeservingly much worse off that I was, and I have never lost that feeling. And over time my rage against authority (and against people in general when I’m at my glummest) has only grown because they continue to allow that to continue, and even worsen in many places — which I know is entirely unnecessary — and all because of selfishness: bigotry and greed.

As I look toward the sunset of my life, I just hope to love my family and delight them, amuse my few friends on occasion, enjoy health and art as long as I’m able, and forgive myself for my own degree of selfishness (which I know I am not going to relinquish) and for my amateurish ineffectiveness (and, frankly, laziness) at prompting any significant social improvements. In brief: my human imperfection.

My legacy is imprinted on the wind, and as the fleeting memories held by a few I hold dear. My message to the world: have fun, and be kind.

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Is Trump Worse Than Nixon?

My friend, Eric Andrew Gebert asked:

“I’ve only read and studied about the Nixon era, and the Watergate scandal (1972 to 1974) that led to Nixon’s resignation. To those that lived through it: is our current state of political scandal worse? The G.W. Bush era was definitely worse than Nixon. Even John Dean called it: WORSE THAN WATERGATE. That was followed up by Obama continuing the War On Terror; putting drone warfare into hyperdrive and going after whistleblowers. And placating capitalist-banksters who should have been prosecuted and put on trial. I feel like we are setting so many bad precedents that our Republic may never recover. This country needs a full-on Democratic reckoning and that doesn’t mean if we just elect Democrats that our Republic will begin healing. Needs to be more than that. It starts with civics and the rule of law.”

Eric, Here is how I remember it.

I lived through the Nixon Administration:

– being 18 in 1968 (and actively sought by the Draft Board for being mulched in the Vietnam War);

– when the Tet Offensive erupted (and the U.S. actually lost the Vietnam War);

– when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (on 4 April);

– when Bobby Kennedy (who started out working with Roy Cohn for Joe McCarthy, and then for his older brother President John Kennedy, running the covert ‘assassinate Fidel’ CIA program) was assassinated on 5-6 June;

– when horrendous urban riots, outbursts fueled by multi-generational despair, broke out in many cities after King’s assassination;

– when the corrupt Mayor Daley administration in Chicago sent the cops out on the bloody attack on young, peaceful and unarmed demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention (which veered to the Johnson Administration’s man, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and away from the antiwar egghead Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy having been removed a month earlier);

– and when Dick Nixon invented and used the “southern strategy,” which is the standard Republican strategy of today (consolidate the bigot vote), to win the 1968 election as the “law and order” (White Supremacy) candidate.

Nixon, with Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State), had sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiative with the Communist Party of Vietnam (the “North Vietnamese”) in 1968, with about 30,000 American soldiers already dead from the Vietnam War at that point; by having Madam Chennault (a Chinese woman associated with the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Chinese regime-dictatorship in Formosa) make secret contact with the North Vietnamese government leaders and tell them not to accept Johnson’s peace terms, so Nixon could get elected (because Johnson would be seen as a failure), and Nixon would give them better terms.

Five years later, and with over 20,000 more Americans dead (and millions of Asian dead), the North Vietnamese accepted the exact same peace terms from Nixon that Johnson had offered them. The U.S. military pulled out in 1973, prisoners were repatriated, and Nixon poured money into the corrupt South Vietnamese regime for arms, but so much was funneled into pure graft, and that regime collapsed in 1975 from the combination of rampant corruption, lack of popular support, and cowardice in the field (and the Communist forces were very good militarily).

From 1969, Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war into neutral Cambodia. The U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia (along their eastern border areas adjacent to Vietnam: the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail) had been so massive and genocidal to Laotian and Cambodian peasant societies that the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime resulted in Cambodia: an insane nihilistic death cult. The “Secret War in Cambodia” was exposed in 1970, and that ignited ferocious protests in the U.S., one of which led to the killing of unarmed students by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.

Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972, over anti-war Democrat (and decent guy) George McGovern (a WWII B-17 pilot and combat veteran). Part of Tricky Dick’s M.O. was covert “dirty tricks,” like the Watergate Break-in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June 1972, to spy on the Democrats’ plans. I graduated college that year. A similar dirty trick had been the break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to look for blackmail material against one of the men who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Anthony Russo was the other leaker, and it was he who recruited Ellsberg to the effort).

The Watergate caper unravelled in 1973, and led to televised Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974. I was then in graduate school, and we grad students would pass much time every day watching the hearings (on TVs in graduate housing common rooms), and the months-long cascade of damning revelations. Now, and this is a key point: there were vigorous Republican investigators in both the Senate committee (like Senator Howard Baker) and House Committee, and they focussed on crimes against the Constitution of the United States, which in the case of Nixon were direct violations of laws passed by Congress, of which the invasion of Cambodia was the most egregious example (a military invasion of a neutral country, without a congressional declaration of war).

While there were certainly many Republicans anxious to avoid electoral losses because of the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, and who soft-pedaled Nixon’s crimes, there were enough of them faithful to the idea of “defending the Constitution” to make it inevitable Nixon would be impeached if it came to a vote — as Barry Goldwater personally told Nixon it would. That is why Nixon resigned (his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier because he was caught in a corruption scandal; Gerald Ford was the new VP, and ascended to the presidency when Nixon resigned, and soon enough after pardoned Nixon, which is why Ford was soundly defeated in the election of 1976 by Jimmy Carter).

The first half of the Carter Administration, 1977-1979 (or 1976-1978), was the peak of American political decency combined with freedom from foreign wars (what is conventionally called “peace”), at least since the late Eisenhower Administration (after the Korean War and McCarthyism). After that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA Director, took the Carter Administration back into Cold War nastiness, by setting the Afghan trap that sucked in the Soviet Army, and was the major disaster that led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R, from 1989-1991.

The year 1979 is when the UK inflicted the world with Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ took off, and he won the presidency in the 1980 election. Carter was undone by the external circumstances of austerities imposed on Americans by the energy crisis (Arab Oil Embargo) and stagflation, and by the embarrassment to national pride of failing to negotiate the extraction of American hostages from Islamic Revolutionary Iran (and also having a military rescue raid fail), since Reagan had made a Nixon-type deal for post-election hostage release with the Iranian theocracy (what a guy). Reagan’s win in November, and then the murder of John Lennon in December, marked the coup de grace of postwar (WWII) American liberalism.

The “conservatives” had been gathering strength through think-tanks (for policy formulation and capital accumulation) since at least 1971 (after the “Nixon Shock” of dropping the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement on currencies); to conservatives during 1968 to 1971, it had looked like a left-wing “revolution” might succeed in the U.S.

Trump is just the latest manifestation of that Reaganite neoliberalism that erupted and gained ascendancy during 1979-1981. Along the way we’ve had a string of neoliberal presidential tools: G.W.H. Bush, W. Clinton, G.W. Bush, B. Obama, and finally the Maddest Hatter of them all: Donald J. Trump.

So, is Trump worse than Nixon? Is 2020-2021 worse and more dangerous than 1968?

What was worse in 1968 was the magnitude of the foreign slaughter inflicted by the U.S. military, and that operation’s huge suction of young American men into psychological and physical destruction (about 58,000 of them got their names chiseled on a Black Wall as a consolation prize), and the massive loss of public trust in government, which was exposed as being manned by too many callous lying careerists. This rupture of public trust has never been repaired and is a direct cause of the ongoing degradation of American public life. The American people as a whole have paid a terrible price for the self-induced bloody catastrophe of the Vietnam War (not to negate the genocidal magnitude of its cost to the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians), and compounded that tragedy by never having internalized the lessons of that war, by a transformation of American society in the same way that Germany (as an example) has transformatively and truthfully faced its Nazi past. Americans chose denial, and let themselves open to repeating similar catastrophes; though for a time there was a strong resistance to mounting subsequent foreign military adventures until Reagan and subsequent neoliberal presidents (all of them) rehabilitated militarized American imperialism with the now (from 1973 on) “volunteer” (or, economic draft) military.

What was better in 1968 (to about 1971 really, and at most to about 1977) were the economic conditions for working people. Up to the recession of 1971, jobs could be gotten, a man could work as a janitor in a school or office building and support a stay-at-home wife with children in a house with a front lawn! Recession and inflation came in 1971 and after, because of government waste-spending on years of war on top of trying to maintain Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the implementation of the Civil Rights Laws (of 1964-1968): “affirmative action,” and the social concerns of the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC).

So the economic situation deteriorated significantly and quickly for many people, and the neoliberal movement (non-liberal Republicans, social and economic conservatives, and hardened corporatists) pushed on those economic conditions with initiatives of austerity: dump the little wage-slave guy to preserve the gain expectations of the bigger capitalists, and demonize the welfare-needing poor to redirect the anger of the increasingly impoverished wage-slavers onto the welfare-needing, and away from the exploiting corporatists and stock speculators. This remains Republican Party orthodoxy. And, as already mentioned, back then there were still liberal Republicans (people like Jacob Javits) and “defend the Constitution” Republicans capable of turning on Nixon. But all that liberalism was decaying along with the economic conditions — lots of good jobs — that were necessary to support it.

What is worse today is the complete putrification of the Republican Party into a completely anti-democratic organized conspiracy for gaining political power for purely factional aims of plunder to the benefit of high-end classists (the rich) and an overtly White Supremacist tribalism. Certainly such people existed back in 1968 and worked for the same ends as such people pursue today, but the broader extent of the relative prosperity offered by the economic system back then meant that there was less atrocious squeezing of the poor by the rich in order for those rich to lard themselves to their satisfaction at the national expense.

The whole idea today of giving workers, in or out of work, $2000 survival checks from the government during the pandemic, and extended unemployment insurance, is a specific indicator of the vastly impoverished national economy and economic management of today as compared with 50 years ago. The resistance to providing that economic relief today is because of a fear by the economic gatekeepers employed by the 1%, of reigniting memories of broader systems of economic equity and prosperity that obviated the need for such piecemeal and episodic economic survival crumbs-to-the-masses, like one-time $2000 checks. This realization is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, a return to FDR’s 1944 proposals of essentially expanding Social Security, with job and healthcare security for all. So far, such “socialism” is rationed to the U.S. military (and not all that generously for the rank-and-file), the political elite, and the corporate insiders.

Another clear degradation since 1968 is in the intellectual quality of much of American society and certainly of the American political classes; all coincident with the withering of educational quality over the decades, but ameliorated by a broadening of educational access to underserved communities (but again, not nearly enough of that, and over time increasing closed off by increasing costs-to-participate). So “leaders” like Trump and George W. Bush are clearly stupider than earlier generation leaders like Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson. Leaders back then were hardly moral, so one can’t say that today’s political actors are vastly more immoral, though Trump does seem hellbent on pushing the envelope negatively in that regard. However, it is important to remember that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were/is truly evil because they were/are so intelligent and thus extremely capable of really well-thought out malevolence. Trump is closer to being a very maladjusted 3-year-old of 74 years of age and with no functional intellectual machinery, nor impulse control nor conscious moral ethics: he is just a destructive incompetent.

So from my perspective, the improved technocratic systems and technological machinery of government and the American industrialized civilization of today would be better able to address the physical and political challenges of today — primarily global warming climate change and the gross inequalities of standard-of-living (wealth, income, education, economic opportunity, job and health security) — IF we had both better government people to manage public affairs AND such politicians and technocrats (which includes the corporate sector) along with the majority of the American public had the desire and intention to implement a wholistic approach to managing the country for the benefit of all, rather than classistly (just for the 1%), tribally (just for White Supremacy) and factionally (competitively between narrowly defined special interests).

I see the failures of the management of American public life today as being primarily due to the poor moral, ethical and intellectual quality of the people doing that management, and the utter pettiness of their motivations and visions, rather than because of an overwhelming intractability of external circumstances, or technical deficiencies in the machinery of political management. Fifty years ago there was probably a greater fraction of better people in those roles (even though still with many, many horrible ones in place) but the magnitude of the military and financial disasters they had gotten themselves into (the Vietnam War, 1970s stagflation) were so great that they undid their more valiant efforts (like the War On Poverty, and Affirmative Action).

The neoliberal program, from 1979 onward, gained more control over of the catastrophe-prone external circumstances — like war, economics and welfare — by using improvements in technological knowledge and economic systems management to relentlessly impoverish an increasing proportion of the American public, from the bottom up economically, in order to preserve and grow the wealth of the wealthy. In a sense, the societal chaos that erupted in 1968 was natural and spontaneous, but today American society is so tightly controlled by being so thoroughly micro-managed to its impoverishment, that societal chaos is now an entirely managed effect, like the flow of a river throttled by the programmed releases of impounded water by hydroelectric dam engineers. The Trumpist Putsch of January 6, 2021, was just such an incompetently (thankfully) managed ejaculation.

So, which was/is worse: Nixon’s 1968 or Trump’s 2021?; or perhaps G.W. Bush’s exploitation of 2001’s 9-11, and his Iraq (and Afghanistan) War?

From the perspective of foreigners, Nixon was worse than Bush who was worse than Trump: 3 to 4 million dead in Indochina (plus all the bombing, land-mining and chemical defoliation); versus many hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and with millions made refugees; versus thousands droned to death under Trump. But Trump gains many extra negative points for his tireless efforts to destroy the climate and ecosystems of Planet Earth, which ecocide directly cause fatalities.

From the purely selfish perspective of the American people, things have gotten steadily worse since Nixon because of the unrelenting vampirism by the 1% on the American economy, with its attendant impoverishment of wage-slaves (who too often contribute to their own enslavement by their myopic bigotry, anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism).

So in the grossest possible characterization:

– back in 1968-1971 the external circumstances of war and economics were worse and better, respectively, than today while the quality of the political class was better intellectually and professionally; in general society was freer because the economy was more expansive and supportive of popular aspirations despite still having many specific inequities (e.g., racist and sexist practices); also Earth’s climate and ecosystems were far healthier than today;

– today the external circumstances of war and economics are better and worse, respectively, than 50 years ago because the political class, despite being so much worse intellectually and professionally and so much more a captive appendage of corporate marketing departments, has a much tighter grip on external circumstances through a greater understanding of the levers of economic control; and society is more controlled and restrictive for “the working class” because their economic confinement and impoverishment is the mechanism by which the political class manages national affairs to further the enrichment of capitalist wealth, their patrons; and that intentionally worsened and worsening economic situation for “the working class” (the 99%) in order to exponentially enrich the wealthy is paid for by the now little-reversible ecocide and global warming destruction of the climate system.

In any case, we can’t go back. The best we could do — if we dropped the totality of capitalist neoliberalism (“fascism”) and its foundation of White Supremacy, and developed the moral character required for fashioning a wholistic “all in” national society — is to learn from the history of our national mistakes, and then apply those painfully gained insights to implement a societal transformation that adequately and equitably meets the existential challenges of today: the sustainability crisis with its global warming climate change, and nuclear disarmament.

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On Marc Levy’s Vietnam War Book “Medic In The Green Time”

What is war? Let me propose the following undoubtedly imperfect definitions.

War is dehumanization by the violent crimes of mass murder and the efforts to destroy civil societies. Offensive war is the crime of making war to dominate another civil society. Defensive war is the tragedy of resisting aggression from offensive war. Making war is the sacrifice of a mass of domestic workers, by their regimentation and military use with likely injury or death, to inflict harm on a designated victim-enemy population whose combatants are responding in kind. The demarcation between offensive and defensive war can be ambiguous, dynamic, fluid and fragmentary. The structure of war is hierarchical: the higher an individual’s rank in the warring society the higher the probability of their being privileged and guilty of being a perpetrator; the lower an individual’s rank the higher the probability of their being victimized by the war.

The ideas embedded in these definitions and statements include:

– war is a crime, war is dehumanizing, war is violent;

– the directing perpetrators of war are the most shielded from its hazards;

– the people at greatest hazard from warfare are those least responsible for initiating and directing it;

– the troops sent into combat are themselves victims, having been robotized by coercive militarized training to perpetrate individual and mass murder as ordered (and to sometimes spontaneously murder, rape, pillage and torture on their own individual initiative), and in turn to absorb the mass murdering counteractions by the enemy.

I was prompted to these thoughts by reading the newly published (2020) book by Marc Levy, The Best of Medic In The Green Time, Writings from the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath.

I believe this is a book everyone in the United States should read and take to heart, because then the American Public might put up more resistance to ‘their’ government’s making of war, and the exorbitant funding of war technology and subsidized corporate profiteering from it. Also, the deep immersion of noncombatant readers’ consciousness into the personal testimonies of Marc Levy and the many veterans Marc presents in this anthology might induce a greater commitment by members of the public to antiwar political activity and voting choices, and a greater commitment to more conscientious ethical behavior and to the wellbeing of all of humanity.

The Best of Medic In The Green Time is divided into four sections. The first is an informative, significant and thoughtful Introduction by Janet McIntosh, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University.

The three sections of Marc Levy’s text are labeled: War, Poetry, and Postwar.

The section War comprises of 24 accounts occupying a total of 151 pages. The section Poetry comprises of 15 poems occupying a total of 36 pages. The section Postwar comprises of 34 accounts occupying a total of 366 pages.

All of the prose is written in a completely direct and unadorned style; and all of the poetry is transparently clear. None of the authors is allowing egotism to encumber their writing with attention-seeking convolutions and ornamentation. This is a group of writers who are just not interested in bullshit. Their words are vehicles for transmitting their truths as clearly as possible, because their purpose is to inspire the public to end America’s proclivity for making war.

While the entire agony, criminality, futility, injustice, sorrow and long-lasting pain of war generally, but in particular of the Vietnam War — since it nearly absorbed me into it during 1968-1969 (I was eventually passed over for induction because I drew a high number in the draft lottery of December 1969) — all make me angry and sad, what especially infuriated me in the accounts in Levy’s book were the descriptions of incompetents whose stupidity caused needless injury and death in the field, as well as the cop-mentality stupidity and rule-bound insensitivity of the bureaucratic assholes far behind the front and in the stateside draft boards, who added to the mental traumas of wounded warriors.

Jeff Motyka, a permanently disabled soldier, recounts how after many months of painful hospitalizations and physical rehabilitation after being blown up and deeply pitted with shrapnel in combat, he was hounded by his draft board witch (who had erroneously classified him as 1A years earlier, just as my draft board witch had done to me in 1968), seeking to have him returned to active duty because she believed that all documentation and physical evidence — like leg braces! — that anyone presented as evidence of an incapacity for military service were “usually phony.”

The section on War is a series of war stories, the types of scenes that inspire war movies, but which are entirely real here and thus authentically gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. This section prepares you to begin understanding why the authors and their compatriots can be so focused on and mentally confined by their experiences in Vietnam, and which they try to process over the remainder of their lives through poetry and postwar memoirs as in this volume, and also with psychotherapy, drugs and their own postwar veteran camaraderie; to try warding off the demons of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivor’s guilt, guilt over crimes and killing, and alienation from the uncomprehending and disinterested civilian society they returned to.

One particularly thorny essay (actually, they are all thorny) is called “Five Simple Words”: Thank you for your service. Veterans who may carry 1000 years of aging and war sorrow imprinted on the minds and shot into their bodies during a one year tour of combat duty are now having to sustain postwar assaults with that platitude gushed out at them by clueless people in their self-satisfied certitude that they have demonstrated their higher moral sensitivity. Some veterans might take weeks to regain their fragile psychological equilibrium after the mental turmoil stirred up by being inflicted with those five words. If you ever feel compelled to comment to a veteran on his or her war experience, just offer them that most basic form of human love and solidarity: “Welcome home,” or “I’m glad you’re safe.”

Beyond that, neither you nor I as non-combatants can ever really know at a visceral level what any combat veteran’s experiences, both in the field and in postwar life, are like. At best we can become much better informed about war’s personal costs by reading books such as Levy’s, and we can become better citizens by conscientiously exerting the prerogatives of our citizenship with a sharp focus to counter the people and political groups that perpetrate and profit from war-making and war industry. In that way we can ‘thank veterans for their service’ by helping to prevent more war, and prevent more workers from being victimized by being pressed into manning wars, and becoming casualties who would sustain the murderous violence of America’s wars of choice (by ‘important’ people who don’t fight in them).

An important part of Levy’s book (actually, all the parts are important) is his descriptions of the humanity of Communist Vietnamese soldiers — like Bao Ninh (a man), and Dang Thuy Tram (a woman) — who fought against the American invaders and for the independence of their country. The recognition after the war by many formerly antagonistic American and Vietnamese veterans, of their shared humanity, has led to many touching reconciliations since 1975.

That same recognition can be applied to resolve international political differences to prevent them from degenerating into dehumanizing wars. And books such as this one by Levy can help spark that realization in more minds, and stiffen the resolve of political actors to actually work for the peace and wellbeing of humanity beyond the narrow confines of factionalism and mere nationalism.

There are touches of humor and jokes in Levy’s book, sort of along the lines of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, but all layered on a horrendous substratum of warped reality and thus painfully ‘funny’ and painfully real. There are also sweet moments in the book, as when some caring giving soul, man or woman, shares a kindness with a soldier in need of relief.

The Vietnam War is not over, and neither are the Korean War, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, and many other unnamed and invisible American mini-wars and micro-wars that all produced war dead and permanently war-wounded, both American and foreign. Some of those voices from other wars are included in Levy’s book.

These veterans and their survivors carry the heavy loads of psychological sorrows and physical pains of their wars every day of their postwar lives, and those wars can never be said to have ended until all such visceral memories have been extinguished by the passing of the people who were personally seared by them.

What Marc Levy has been doing with his writing about the Vietnam War is to seek to manage his own trauma from his wartime experiences, and also to continue caring for his men — as he did as a medic during his time in combat — in their postwar lives by offering them avenues for release; and then by presenting all this literary work to the public to prod it into transforming America away from its self-harming behavior of war-making and militarism.

Marc Levy’s Medic In The Green Time is not some dry academic exercise of top-down analysis of historical trends and national policy decisions, it is a bottom-up first hand account from the heart of individuals sustaining the brunt of war and struggling to maintain or recover their humanity as, unlike many of their fellow soldiers, they managed to survive the fighting and are now locked in postwar struggles against demons that could easily kill them through submerged terror and unrelieved regret.

Finally, for completeness I mention my criticisms of the book, which are all very minor but which I note in the hope that they will be addressed to improve subsequent editions:

While the proofreading of the entire volume was stellar, there still are two typographical errors: on page 466, “forhonorably” should probably be “for honorably”; on page 506, “it’s his not job” should probably be “it’s not his job.”

While footnotes and parenthetical notes are frequently used to define acronyms, jargon and slang, it would be very nice to have a glossary as an appendix to the book for easy reading generally, and the convenient rereading of excerpts. It would also be nice to have an index.

A thoughtful interview of Marc Levy, and discussion of Medic In The Green Time, has just appeared, see

Medic in the Green Time author and Vietnam combat medic Marc Levy is interviewed by Bill Legault
Nov 28, 2020
https://youtu.be/roKVBoThWG4

Marc Levy’s website is https://medicinthegreentime.com/ ,

and his webpage on this particular book is

The Best of Medic in the Green Time

For me, Medic In The Green Time is the channeling of the pain, loss and isolation of combat survivors, into a work seeking to humanize us all into recognizing our fundamental and compassionate connections to people everywhere.

Buy a copy, and read it cover to cover.

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Heller, Vonnegut, Melville, Twain, Maugham, and Guy de Maupassant

On 17 October 2020, Eric Andrew Gebert wrote:

“Born on this day, 1915, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005). Now might be the right time to re-read ‘The Crucible’ (1953). I’ve always preferred ‘Death Of A Salesman’ (1949). Although, anything written by Miller is a gem.

‘“Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.” — Arthur Miller’

Eric’s comments prompted the following exchange:

MG,Jr.:
If you read the first few chapters of “Closing Time” (1994), the not-great sequel to “Catch-22” (1961), by Joseph Heller (1932-1999), you are given a very clear and fulsome view of the neighborhood and cultural environment – Jewish Coney Island – from which Arthur Miller and Joseph Heller came. While “Closing Time” is not great, it is nevertheless a tale imbued with “New Yorkness” particularly of the City, and it beats most of the twaddle published as novels and even “literature” today. It came out in the ’90s; Heller died in 1999. And agreed, Miller was a superb author-playwright.

Eric Andrew Gebert:
I’ve never read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I’ve read so many articles about the book and author, yet never read the book. It’s on my list for sure.

My own thoughts prompted by the above:

I read “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five” in 1968-1969, while I was listed as 1A for the draft (Vietnam War) during my first year in college. I consider both masterpieces of 20th century American literature, and both were written by anti-war WWII veterans who had seen plenty of action – and death – during the mid 1940s (in Italy and Germany, respectively).

It is my opinion that these two books are absolutely essential reading for any American alive then and now, if they really want to gain some insight into fundamental aspects of American culture, and the collective psyche of Americans. If one also wants to get “historical” and can accept immersing themselves in the “literary,” then it is essential they include “Huckleberry Finn” and “Moby-Dick” to that reading list.

There are many comedic elements in both “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five” (1969), but both books are very clearly deadly serious. With Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s (1922-2007) book (Slaughterhouse Five), the more you think about it, the deeper is your realization of the underlying tragedy; with Heller’s book, comedy carries you to a finale that requires a strong stomach and deep commitment to finish reading, and in this way leads you to the tragic realization equivalent to that which Vonnegut so subtly (well, playfully) presents.

Only AFTER you have read C-22 and SH-5 should you allow yourself to see the movies made of them. The only good movie of C-22 (a recent TV series has also been made, at best a C-) is the excellent 1970 Mike Nichols (1931-2014) film (Catch-22), with a screenplay written by Buck Henry (1930-2020). Parts of that screenplay were so good that Heller said he wished he’d thought of them to put in his novel.

This film is very faithful (but not exact) to Heller’s plot (simplification being necessary since Heller had many, many characters, and a great deal of non-chronological density), and is entirely faithful to Heller’s arc of comedy-to-anguishing reality (with a sparkle at the end of the film to give you hope). Milo Minderbinder, a character in C-22 (and Closing Time), is the absolute quintessential personification of American capitalism, an excruciatingly apt portrayal in both the book and movie.

The only film worth seeing (AFTER you read the novel!) of SH-5 is the 1972 George Roy Hill (1921-2002) movie (Slaughterhouse Five). In that movie the character of Valencia Merble is the quintessential portrayal of the White suburban American mom, not quite a Karen, but a simple self-absorbed but not selfish Americana (a chaste but not fundamentalist version of Guy de Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif”); this perfection of depiction being in both the book and movie.

Believe me, those two books of the 1960s, and the two films made of them in the early 1970s cannot be remade today to equal standards of art and psychological insight: “we” are too hung-up on our “modern” (self-delusional) ‘wokeness.’ Here is art that is a mirror of a ‘national soul’ that we generally don’t wish to see in complete clarity. These works are both of their time, and timeless.

Every work of art has its roots in earlier works by earlier artists, and in conceptions from earlier times. One can, with imagination, follow this trail of sequential inspiration all the way back to the 5th Century (BCE) Greeks; and with even more imagination back to the cave paintings at Lascaux (~17,000 years ago) and Altamira (~36,000 years ago). Even though I do not know the history of Heller’s and Vonnegut’s literary inspirations, to my mind these two authors were the 1960s flowering of roots that grew from Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910), and Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893).

Melville had a keen and pessimistic insight into the American soul, and a wicked wit, which can be hard for today’s casual readers to untangle from his convoluted and fascinating antique New England prose. I can see Heller’s Milo Minderbinder as a youthfully handsome comic inversion of Captain Ahab (the terrible protagonist of Moby-Dick): both are monomaniacal obsessive-compulsives. Both were avidly mercantile individuals, to devote themselves so fully to their risky commercial ventures. For Milo it was all about money to gain power to make more money (in a vicious circle), while for Ahab it was all about money (his gold Doubloon, and command of his ship’s resources like the breaking out of rum) to gain the mesmerizing power over his men’s hearts and souls to bind them tightly to his obsession for vengeance against the very forces of Nature incarnated as the white whale, Moby-Dick.

Mark Twain, that other supreme giant of American literature (I vacillate between seeing Melville then Twain as the greatest of all American authors, but that is a worthless exercise really: together, they are the sourcepoint of all essentially American literature), was both a comedic genius and a deeply serious writer with a very great compassion for the human condition; and his enlightened outlook on people was far in advance of American norms — to this day!

Kurt Vonnegut was deeply influenced by Twain, he said as much in his introduction to a television movie (shown on PBS) of Twain’s “Life On The Mississippi,” and it is so easy to see many parallels between Twain’s seemingly naïve witticisms and Vonnegut’s seemingly childlike playfulness in prose. And both had very serious matters about America’s dark soul to present back to its people, under the cover of sweet sunny confections of comic storytelling — up to a point.

Guy de Maupassant was a supreme master of naturalness in the telling of short stories, with an economy of style that made his penetrating insight into the psychology of his characters — the people of his day, and ours — transparent. His words speedily take you to the heart of the matter without obscuring it by any pretentiousness, insights and matters that were: comic, tragic, banal, horrible, lovely, socially withering, and of human avarice, corruption, credulity, deceitfulness, and simple nobility.

Like Heller and Vonnegut, de Maupassant mined his wartime experiences as a French solider during the disastrous for France Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Guy de Maupassant’s story “Two Friends,” about the hazards two Frenchmen buddies find themselves facing when they are captured by the Prussians during a surreptitious fishing excursion along a river behind enemy lines, has all the absurdist qualities Vonnegut put into the narrative thread on his avuncular character Edgar Derby, the mentor of Billy Pilgrim (the protagonist of Slaughterhouse Five) while both were prisoners of the Germans in WWII Dresden.

Even more grim a tale about the utterly absurd waste of human life, human innocence, and the permanent loss of happiness because of war, was de Maupassant’s “Mother Savage,” a story about one old French peasant woman’s iron will to wage her personal war against the Prussians, and by extension against all the social forces and higher classes and their attitudes, which had combined to bring that disastrous 1870 war right into her little cottage far out in the country. Where Edgar Derby was an endearingly blithe overgrown lamb oblivious to the hellscape of firebombed Dresden, Victoire Simon (Mother Savage) was an implacable wolverine propelled by grief capping a long hard meager life of scratching the land.

Two de Maupassant stories of desperate personal actions taken by ordinary French civilians against the Prussians, because they just exploded with rage against being bullied, are “Mademoiselle Fifi,” about the stabbing killing of a Prussian officer by Rachel, a Jewess prostitute who successfully evaded capture by being hidden by the parish priest; and “A Duel,” a similar story about a nebbish little man whose sudden rage fills him with power sufficient to kill a Prussian officer in a duel, his first ever, and for the Prussian his last of many. But I did not see any parallel incidents to these de Maupassant stories in either “Catch-22” or “Slaughterhouse Five,” despite their extensive periods in wartime settings.

Heller’s portrayal of the whorehouse in Rome frequented by Yossarian (the protagonist of Catch-22) and his buddies has many echoes of de Maupassant’s story “Madam Tellier’s Establishment,” of simple souls with simple dreams mixed with desperate longings and simple pleasures. Guy de Maupassant wrote many stories involving carnal affairs, licit and illicit, with a keen eye to human foibles and hypocrisy, and a sophisticated savoir faire combined with a very deep compassion to the human condition, so like Mark Twain’s.

Much of the anguish and histrionics of English and American marital-sexual-relationship dramas is refreshingly absent in de Maupassant’s stories because of his honest clear-sighted presentation of the situational and psychological facts. The hypocritical Victorian prudery of the English and the Americans is absent from de Maupassant and many of his characters, who are after all drawn from real life as de Maupassant saw it. That naturalness, pioneered by Gustave Flaubert (among others), de Maupassant’s mentor and teacher of literary art, is at the heart of Heller’s verve in “Catch-22.”

The direct root from Guy de Maupassant that grew out into English literature was W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), another great short story writer, as well as playwright, novelist and essayist. The keenest insights about women that I have seen in literature are by Guy de Maupassant and W. Somerset Maugham. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) has some as well (particularly in “Tender Is The Night,” 1934), but he was often much more lyrical and because of that honeyed radiance thus more vague.

Guy de Maupassant by contrast offered gems of clarity (not necessarily desired by society at large) cut with such precision as to bring out the sparkle of insights that pierced through the fog of all illusions. This deemed de Maupassant smutty and immoral to many socially correct readers (especially English and American ones) up to the present day.

My favorite novel of Maugham’s is “The Moon and Sixpence” (1919), a novelization of the life of the French Impressionist painter (and pal of Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890) Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), told as the story of Charles Strickland, a fictional English equivalent to Gauguin. Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence” is an epigrammatic novel worthy of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and Maugham’s acknowledged inspiration: Guy de Maupassant.

Guy de Maupassant has written the best and most detailed descriptions of eating, food, cuisine and dining that I have ever read; he has done what Flaubert had taught him: to let you smell the aromas and taste the flavors just from reading the worlds. His touching yet earthy matter-of-fact slice-of-life story, “Idyll,” is echoed by John Steinbeck (1902-1968) as the grand and incandescent metaphor at the end of his “Grapes of Wrath” (1939), for the desperate and self-sacrificing human compassion and solidarity during a time of economic catastrophe that some of its victims could find to bring out of their own destitution and grief, to generously give others the milk of human kindness.

How fortunate I am to be able to read so many wonderful books. The overall lesson they have given me is simply to see with greater appreciation the intrinsic beauty of life despite the many hardships and random tragedies it also entails.

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