Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Think, Don't Look
We must reinvent a future free of blinders so that we can choose from real options.
- David Suzuki
by Howard Zinn
If we don’t know ... a history which is honest about the past ... then any President can stand up to the battery of microphones, declare that we must go to war, and we will have no basis for challenging him. He will say that the nation is in danger, that democracy and liberty are at stake, and that we must therefore send ships and planes to destroy our new enemy, and we will have no reason to disbelieve him. But if we know some history, if we know how many times presidents have made similar declarations to the country and ... they turned out to be lies, we will not be fooled...
A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard against being deceived. It would make clear that there has always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest between the government and the people of the United States. This thought startles most people, because it goes against everything we have been taught. We have been led to believe that, from the beginning, as our Founding Fathers put it in the Preamble to the Constitution, it was "we the people" who established the new government after the Revolution. When the eminent historian Charles Beard suggested, a hundred years ago, that the Constitution represented not the working people, not the slaves, but the slaveholders, the merchants, the bondholders, he became the object of an indignant editorial in The New York Times.
Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn’t talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," said 30 years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.
[T]here are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that - not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor - is to render us helpless ...
The deeply ingrained belief - no, not from birth but from the educational system and from our culture in general - that the United States is an especially virtuous nation makes us especially vulnerable to government deception. It starts early, in the 1st grade, when we are compelled to "pledge allegiance" (before we even know what that means), forced to proclaim that we are a nation with "liberty and justice for all." And then come the countless ceremonies, whether at the ballpark or elsewhere, where we are expected to stand ... during the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner, announcing that we are "the land of the free and the home of the brave." There is also the unofficial national anthem God Bless America, and you are looked on with suspicion if you ask why we would expect god to single out this one nation - just 5% of the world’s population - for ... blessing.
If your starting point for evaluating the world around you is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on earth, then you are not likely to question the president when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values - democracy, liberty, and let’s not forget free enterprise - to some god-forsaken (literally) place in the world. It becomes necessary then, if we are going to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens against policies that will be disastrous not only for other people but for Americans too, that we face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.
These facts are embarrassing, but must be faced if we are to be honest. We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which millions of Indians were driven off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations. And our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation, and racism. We must face our record of imperial conquest, in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, our shameful wars against small countries a 10th our size: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq. And the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not a history of which we can be proud.
Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted that belief in the minds of many people, that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. At the end of World War II, Henry Luce, with an arrogance appropriate to the owner of Time, Life, and Fortune, pronounced this "the American century," saying that victory in the war gave the United States the right "to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit."
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have embraced this notion. George Bush, in his Inaugural Address on 20 January 2005, said that spreading liberty around the world was "the calling of our time." Years before that in 1993 President Bill Clinton, speaking at a West Point commencement, declared: "The values you learned here ... will be able to spread throughout this country and throughout the world and give other people the opportunity to live as you have lived, to fulfill your God-given capacities."
What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behaviour toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was 37th on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than 40 countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison - more than two million.
A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would ... inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by ... rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.
Howard Zinn is the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of Voices of a People’s History of the United States.
Source: progressive.org The Progressive April 2006
The Dissenter Who Dared to Ask Why
New target - examining Israel's direction has alienated Antony Loewenstein from family and friends.
by Ben Cubby
To his critics, he is a "pro-Hezbollah cheerleader", a "token Jew" and "smouldering teen idol" who is "working for the destruction of Israel" through his "rabidly anti-Zionist agenda". He has received death threats, been abused and shunned by members of his family and mocked across sections of the media and the internet. For a young writer whose first book has barely hit the shelves, Antony Loewenstein, 31, is quickly honing a reputation for getting under people's skin. His book, My Israel Question, is a probing analysis of Israel's direction and an attempt to uncover Australia's Zionist lobby. Loewenstein's timing is also, unfortunately, exquisite. The book, delayed for several months, is being launched this week as war flares along Israel's borders.
Raised in Australia in a family of Jewish emigrants who escaped Europe in 1939, his work is shaped by his life experience as much as recent events in the Middle East. Now after two years of research and soul-searching, Loewenstein awaits reaction to the book's publication, relaxed and comfortable in his Sydney home, with his partner and his pet dog, Chomsky. "It's still extremely frustrating," Loewenstein says. "I don't want to be defined as the guy who criticises Israel; I didn't ask for this. In a lot of ways I support Israel, but I do think some things about it are becoming sick, like the addiction to military power."
The central thesis of My Israel Question - that Israel's treatment of Palestinians has created a moral blindness that ordinary Jews have become afraid or unwilling to question - has cost him many friends, he says. In the book he relates a story of a relative who cornered him in a public toilet and attacked him for his views. "Put it this way, my work's not a subject that gets talked about very much at family events any more," he says.
Loewenstein was raised as part of a liberal Jewish family in Melbourne, attending a private Anglican school but also a Jewish Sunday school. Petty anti-Semitism was part of the landscape, he says. A message he absorbed from his family was that Jews stick together, preserving memories about past injustice. His parents, he says, told him "there's something different about Jews - and only we understand that". Later, in his teens and early 20s, he began to see this perspective as racist. "Looking back on my Sunday school lessons, I felt I had been hoodwinked. Indeed, it was a remarkably similar history to the one I learnt at school about Australia's colonial past and its treatment of Aborigines. In both cases, inconvenient facts were whitewashed."
Attending university, Loewenstein began to read more widely, and became influenced by writers such as Edward Said, the Palestinian American theorist and literary critic. "I began to understand that you could really question history," he says. In his mid-20s, Loewenstein visited the Auschwitz death camp. "Seeing the results of blind hatred and unchallenged devotion slowly led me to be more questioning on a range of matters, including my heritage and the state of Israel," Loewenstein writes.
In 2003 he landed a traineeship at Fairfax Digital, but left after two years to become a freelance writer. He places opinion pieces with newspapers and magazines, and wrote a chapter for Margo Kingston's book Not Happy, John! Until now, Loewenstein has largely been defined by his critics. In private, he is intense, passionate, friendly and engaging. His public persona, articulate and defensive, seems to have evolved partly in response to a battery of scornful critics. Many of them come from Australia's Jewish communities.
Jeremy Jones, a spokesman for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, whom Loewenstein makes passing reference to in My Israel Question, says factual errors about the role and function of Jewish organisations in Australia detract from the book's value. "It's a vanity publication, sloppy and very poorly researched. I've read the book and I found it very disappointing. It's not the sort of thing somebody who doesn't know the history should read; they might make the mistake of taking it seriously."
Loewenstein says claiming his scholarship is sloppy is stock-in-trade for people who wish to denigrate his work. "They always say that. The sad thing is, in Israel there is robust debate about the sort of things I'm talking about. In Australia, they just attack you straight away. The book is accurate, carefully researched." Aspects of the criticism may be deserved. Much of Loewenstein's writing to date has comprised polemics and commentary. It is not difficult to discern a certain sameness, a slightly harping tone, in a lot of his published pieces about how the "mainstream media" is a rotten and corrupt structure.
Loewenstein passionately believes television and newspapers have become terrified of criticising Israel, after hounding by Zionist lobbyists. When asked if he knew of any examples of reporters being guided by editorial directives from his time at the Herald, he said he did not know of one. When pressed, he said he would "rather not go into it". But it also seems true that most of the criticisms levelled at his work focus on minor errors of time, date or place, leaving his broad themes unchallenged. Critics will no doubt hunt for errors to undermine Loewenstein's case. Undoubtedly there will be some errors, as in any book with hundreds of endnotes and references.
Happily for Loewenstein, My Israel Question is a serious and interesting work that will stand up to the coming barbs. He has clearly put his soul into the book, knows most of his turf well, and is smart enough to separate Palestinian aspirations for greater rights and freedom from the acts of violence that often seem to be an intrinsic part of their struggle. His picture of Jewish public opinion inside Israel is similarly nuanced. Far from being the work of a "young rebel" - a term he says was used to describe him when he was growing up inside the Jewish community - most neutrals will view it as relatively moderate.
Loewenstein has been called "far left", most recently by Ted Lapkin, the policy director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, in a debate on the ABC's Lateline program. A genuine far-left analysis of modern Israel would have been more scathing than Loewenstein's modest calls for a two-state solution and a re-examination of US financial and military support. It asks tough and legitimate questions, such as why an Israeli death is an event of gravity and a Palestinian death barely worth a mention. To many, this would hardly rank as a contentious question. It is the sort of thing that must crop up in hundreds of thousands of Australian households, while reading the papers or watching the news.
"I just want to encourage people to think about these questions a bit," he says. "We need to get beyond the idea that everything we do in the West is noble and right. I never felt comfortable with what I saw as a racially superior mentality. It seemed disturbingly close to racism. How could one still have blind faith in a country that enacts citizenship laws to prevent Palestinians who marry Israelis from living in Israel with full rights? Israel, not unlike Australia, was reared on myths of racial and cultural superiority and long resisted any serious examination of the effects of colonial actions on indigenous peoples. It's said that only Israelis have the right to criticise Israel's policies, not those in the Diaspora, though we never say that about other societies."
Source: smh.com.au 29 July 2006 photo credit Peter Morris
Parallels Between My Living Through Two Years of Middle School
|The radical changes going on around me make me uncomfortable. I am unhappy about the way things are, but feel helpless to do anything about it. Shame is my dominant emotion.|
|I feel very insecure and vulnerable. Others supposedly feel as I do, but whenever I turn on the TV it seems otherwise. At times, I wish I lived in a faraway country.|
|I want to rebel against anyone in a position of authority. Social mobility is a fallacy. I find myself frequently watching sports for comfort.|
|It's totally unfair that when I screw up I get in trouble but when my superiors do, nothing happens. What I represent is repugnant to foreign women.|
|Flying is much more terrifying than it should be.|
|When I talk to friends on the phone, I'm afraid someone is listening in. People tell me things will only improve after this, but I don't believe it. I constantly think the world is going to end. I really dislike the arrogant popular guy elected as my president.|
Source: www.mcsweeneys.net from the impressive blog of Timothy McSweeney: "Pockets are filled with sand and sewn shut with yarn"
Bush's Draft Dodge
The President Doesn't Support a Draft, but Our Army Isn't Built to Fight a War Such as Iraq without One
by Lawrence J Korb and Max A Bergmann
Perhaps the only issue in which there is near-total bipartisan unity in Washington is opposition to the draft. Those who oppose continuing the war in Iraq object to the draft for obvious reasons. But supporters of the president's Iraq policy should not get off so easily.
By vetoing the initial Iraq war supplemental spending bill because it contained a timetable for withdrawal, President Bush clearly believes that a substantial number of US troops will be needed in Iraq for an indefinite period of time. But how are we going to sustain operations in Iraq beyond 12 to 18 months? The president insists that setting a withdrawal timetable will tie the hands of commanders on the ground, but it is not the timetable that will tie their hands. It is the breaking of the US Army.
Currently, our ground forces, specifically the Army, are stretched to their limits. Our soldiers and Marines have been fighting in Iraq for more than 4 years and in Afghanistan for almost 6. To meet the demands of the president's surge, the Army is scrambling to find enough troops. Secretary of Defense Robert M Gates has already been forced to extend tours for soldiers serving in Iraq from 12 to 15 months. Soldiers are being sent back to Iraq for their second and third deployments; some have not even been home a year before being sent back. Many new recruits are being sent into intense combat in Baghdad without proper training. And in some cases, the Army has been so desperate that, as Mark Benjamin of Salon magazine first reported, it is even forcing injured soldiers back into combat before they have adequately recovered. Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey recently remarked that "the ground combat capability of the US armed forces is shot."
Meanwhile, the National Guard is in even worse shape. The head of the National Guard has said that 90% of the Army National Guard is poorly equipped, raising real questions about the Guard's ability to respond to disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the tornado that wiped out Greensburg, Kansas. Yet more than 13,000 Guardsmen have been notified that they likely will be sent back to Iraq in 2008.
The Army was simply not built to fight protracted ground wars like the one in Iraq. After the draft was ended in 1973, the current all-volunteer system was created out of the mind-set of "no more Vietnams." The Army was intended to be a small, highly trained fighting force that would act in an initial-response capacity to repel and counter the Soviets or other aggressors.
In the event of a major conflict, the active-duty Army would be supported in the short and medium term by the National Guard and Reserves. But if a conflict were to grow in length or intensity, the Army would revert to the draft. The all-volunteer force was not put in place to be an alternative to conscription but was intended to be a bridge to it. This is why we require young men to register with the Selective Service System when they turn 18.
Although the president and his administration have insisted that operations in Iraq will be difficult and will take a long time, Bush has done nothing to seriously prepare for such a long-term commitment. Considering the current state of the Army, if the president wants to sustain a substantial number of US troops in Iraq beyond the next 18 months, he should call for reinstating the draft. That would be the responsible path. Yet the president will never call for the draft. He knows the country would never support the level of sacrifice for this war that implementing a draft would demand. But this is one of the very reasons why the all-volunteer Army was designed the way it was - to prevent a commander in chief from fighting a war that lacks the support of the public.
Instead, the president will lean even more heavily on those who have already served. As a result, troops will be sent back for their third, fourth and fifth deployments; through "stop-loss" orders, soldiers will be prevented from leaving the service even though they have fulfilled their term of duty; deployments will be extended even longer; and the National Guard and Reserves will stay on duty in Iraq, further depleting our already thin domestic response capability. In the end, the president will not only be unable to stabilize Iraq, he will have destroyed the finest army the world has known.
If the president is committed to fighting the war in Iraq over the long term, instead of simply running out the clock on his presidency, he should have the courage of his convictions and call for reinstating the draft. If not, the only responsible course is to set a timetable to bring the troops home.
Lawrence J Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration.
Max A Bergmann is a research associate at the center.
Source: latimes.com 26 May 2007
Bush or bin Laden: Who is More Evil?
by Ryan Yeomans
It is the time of the year once again for Americans to mourn the loss of friends, family members and co-workers and to remember all who died on 11 September 2007. But while most of us hold the anniversary as a reminder of those who have passed and of the dangers that still exist every day, Osama bin Laden has been spending his time grooming his beard and reading up on current events so that he can release a new video to the public. This year, bin Laden was nice enough to distribute two videos within a week, which together contain over an hour of new material.
The first video, which was released on the Thursday before September 11, contains 47 minutes of Osama speaking about everything from the holocaust to global warming. He praises the 9/11 hijackers and, as usual, suggests that Islam is the only option for savior. He continues by bashing George Bush and lists many interesting statements regarding the world’s current situation.
While I cannot support bin Laden’s opinion that all Americans should be killed and that Islam is the only way to be saved, it is hard to overlook the statements that he makes about the Bush administration. Bin Laden states, "This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports," and goes on to say that despite the Democrats attempts to end the war, nothing can be done because "those with real power and influence are those with the most capital." I urge you to read the transcript of the video for yourself, as there are countless arguments made against Bush and his supporting Americans.
The Bush administration was quick to respond to bin Laden’s first video appearance in three years by stating that he is useless, "aside from his ability to hide in caves and spread anti-American propaganda." White House aide Frances Fragos Townsend went on to say that "This is a man on the run, from a cave, who’s virtually impotent other than these tapes."
This statement causes me to seriously question the integrity of the White House’s reports. How can it be that a man with more wealth and power than most Americans and the ability to evade our searches for six years is really just hanging out in a cave all day? It seems to me that what bin Laden wants us to believe is exactly what the Bush administration thinks to be true.
Although it is obvious to me that Osama bin Laden released these tapes as propaganda to remind Americans of his presence, it is also clear to me that the Bush Administration is trying to push their own agenda in response to the videos. By claiming bin Laden to be "impotent," they are using this video to mislead Americans into a false sense of security, even though the imminent danger of terrorism exists now more than ever because of Bush’s actions.
As of late, if you were to bring up the president in a discussion you would find that many Americans disapprove of the decisions he has made. At the same time, Osama bin Laden presents many good arguments against the president and many of his reasons for disapproving of Bush are similar to those of anti-Bush Americans. Would it be wrong to assume that there is some kind of connection between feelings of the American people and those of Osama bin Laden? As I would love to make this connection, I ultimately cannot because of the actions of our president. If I were to say I agree with bin Laden, that would mean that I agree with a terrorist; under the Patriot Act, I could be labeled a potential terrorist and my phone could be tapped, and every move I make could be watched and analysed.
In finding myself in this predicament, I questioned myself as to who the lesser evil actually is. I ask, "Who has done more damage to the lives of the American people?" Personally, I worry more about the next bad decision Bush is going to make than I worry about a potential Osama bin Laden organised terrorist attack.
One thing I have realised from these videos is that while Osama bin Laden remains free, Americans are slowly becoming bound by the decisions of the president to remove and restrict the rights given to us by our knowledgeable forefathers, without whom we would not be here. I can only hope that Americans will open their eyes and see what is in front of them, in order to prevent things from getting out of hand any further.
Source: ccsu.edu/recorder/editorial Central Connecticut State University 19 September 2007
I don't really agree with the use of the term "evil". I would say, "self-serving". Who more puts his own short-term benefit over the longer-term benefit of a larger group? I know what I'd say. Anyone who wants to be in the spotlight probably doesn't deserve it. I say: pick leaders at random and make service compulsory.
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