Michael D. Yates is Associate Editor of Monthly Review and Editorial Director of Monthly Review Press. He thanks John Bellamy Foster, John Marciano, Henry Giroux, and Elly Leary for helpful comments.
Honor the Vietnamese, Not Those Who Killed Them
by Michael D. Yates, May 2015
In a letter to Vietnam War veteran Charles McDuff, Major General Franklin Davis, Jr. said, “The United States Army has never condoned wanton killing or disregard for human life.” McDuff had written a letter to President Richard Nixon in January 1971, telling him that he had witnessed U.S. soldiers abusing and killing Vietnamese civilians and informing him that many My Lais had taken place during the war. He pleaded with Nixon to bring the killing to an end. The White House sent the letter to the general, and this was his reply.
McDuff’s letter and Davis’s response are quoted in Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, the most recent book to demonstrate beyond doubt that the general’s words were a lie. Not only did the United States ravage Vietnam with unprecedented and murderous ferocity, committing war crimes in nearly every village, but this criminal conduct was official government policy. The United States prosecuted the war with a Frederick Taylor-like efficiency and an engineer’s impersonal input-output calculation, with maximum Vietnamese deaths as standard operating procedure.
In what follows, I use Turse’s work, along with several other books, articles, and films, as scaffolds from which to construct an analysis of how the war was conducted, what its consequences have been for the Vietnamese, how the nature of the war generated ferocious opposition to it (not least by a brave core of U.S. soldiers), how the war’s history has been whitewashed, and why it is important to both know what happened in Vietnam and why we should not forget it.
McNamara’s Business Model of War
Robert McNamara, President Lyndon Johnson’s secretary of defense, was the chief architect of the U.S. war strategy. A logistics expert who streamlined Allied bombing runs during the Second World War, and later president of Ford Motor Company, McNamara believed that winning a war was simply a matter of setting a goal that would result in victory and then using the managerial techniques he had mastered to get the job done. The goal was to get the “kill ratio,” the proportion between enemy and U.S. dead, as high as possible, so that a “crossover point” was reached—that is, more enemy soldiers killed than could be replaced. Then, inevitably, the Vietnamese would no longer be able to resist the U.S. war machine, surrender, and sue for peace.
A way to envision what McNamara did is to imagine the war in Vietnam in terms of a capitalist production process. Instead of the accumulation of money capital as the motor force of the system, substitute the accumulation of dead enemy bodies. The U.S. government, through its military, sought to maximize these. However, as McNamara and his superiors and generals knew, their enemy employed guerilla warfare, refusing to fight set battles, attacking and then disappearing into the rural landscape. U.S. troops could not easily distinguish soldiers from civilians. Every Vietnamese might be a soldier, even women and children. While no one would admit it, continuously increasing the kill ratio necessarily meant killing as many civilians as possible. And even if it were assumed that any given group of Vietnamese were civilians, the more of them murdered, the more enemy troops would be exposed, and the fewer replacements for those killed would be available.
As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it in the context of the current “War on Terror,” the best way that the United States could combat the terrorists was “to drain the swamp they live in.” Kill the noncombatants, and only the enemy soldiers will be left. They would no longer have a swamp in which to hide. From the beginning of the war, therefore, killing civilians was a U.S. policy that flowed directly from the goal of maximizing the kill ratio. Killing civilians violates the rules of engagement and is a war crime, so great pains were taken to disguise these as lives taken in battle, and Turse offers numerous examples of this. One common practice was to stage a dead civilian as a soldier by placing an enemy weapon nearby. However, this often was not necessary as commanding officers were almost always willing to simply take the word of a lieutenant or captain at the scene.
Enemy dead minus U.S. dead (the kill ratio defined as a difference) is not the same as revenue minus cost (profits); it has to be monetized to keep the accumulation juggernaut rolling along. Monetization occurred through the auspices of the U.S. government, which we can think of as a gigantic firm with huge cash reserves and an unlimited line of credit, not just at home but around the world. Taxes could be increased, bonds could be sold, money could be printed, and—given the world’s use of the dollar as the primary reserve currency—payments deficits could be run indefinitely with just about any nation. Money would be provided until the war ended in victory.
As any employer knows, the essence of management is control. Given the aim of a maximum kill ratio, every aspect of the production process had to be coordinated as finely as possible. Several kinds of control were important. First, there had to be enough workers (soldiers and support personnel). A virtually unlimited supply of soldiers was guaranteed through the draft. Young men whose families were well-situated and politically influential could avoid the draft through various means, so they would not likely be vocal opponents of the war, an assumption that later proved incorrect. Poor whites, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians were considered economically expendable and sending them off to war was a way to contain any discontent and agitation they might have exhibited at home.
Once drafted, soldiers had to be taught to kill. It is not normal for one person to murder another, and there are powerful social taboos against doing so. Researchers had discovered that in nineteenth and twentieth-century wars, soldiers regularly failed to fire their rifles, or intentionally aimed to miss their targets. Military leaders responded to this by dramatically altering the methods used to train troops. They sought to forge extreme group solidarity in two ways. First, drill instructors subjected new recruits to constant torment bordering on torture. If you deprive trainees of food and sleep, force them to make long marches under adverse conditions, punish them severely for any failure to obey orders no matter how ridiculous and demeaning, you break down their defenses and make them willing to do whatever you say, in other words forging them into a homogeneous mass, a unit that will act as one. Not adhering to what any rational person would consider an insane regimen becomes unthinkable. Failure to do so marks you as a “sissy,” “fag,” “cunt,” or “girl,” and subjects you to physical and emotional torment from both superiors and comrades. Second, instructors then tied their charges’ misery to the evil intentions of subhuman foreigners, in the case of Vietnam, to the “gooks,” “slopes,” “slant eyes,” “yellow bastards,” and “the Cong.” Exhausted, angry, afraid, they gradually embrace the chants of “kill the gooks, kill the gooks.” By the time they got to the war zones, they were ready to kill, not for a noble cause but for their buddies and because those they were going to murder were no different than the animals they might have hunted back home. Is it any wonder that more than a few U.S. troops were willing to kill civilians? In a hostile country, hot, dirty, diseased from constant marches and firefights in jungle terrain, seeing their buddies blown to pieces, beginning to wonder why they were there, constantly pressured to keep their kills high and rewarded for doing so, they were not always averse to shooting people, torturing them, raping women, and generating as much violent mayhem as possible.
And lest we think that the rank-and-file soldiers were primarily to blame for the slaughter, their officers were too often bloodthirsty racist killers, seeing the war as the ticket to career advancement—Colin Powell, who helped cover up My Lai, is a case in point—and no doubt frequently believing that what they taught the grunts about the Vietnamese was true. As chief commanding officer William Westmoreland infamously said, “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner…. We value life and human dignity. They don’t care about life and human dignity.” It was the officers who directed the soldiers; it was they who covered up the war crimes; it was they who devised the methods of torture employed in the field; and it was they who devised the evermore sadistic tactics that resulted in the orders to “kill anything that moves.”
In addition to its own soldiers, the United States also employed troops (mercenaries, in effect) from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, as well as civilian and quasi-military support personnel. It also paid for much of the military of South Vietnam, which while ostensibly independent, was in reality subject to U.S. control. All of these were onboard with the McNamara program, and some of them added their own unique talents to the killing. Psyops (psychological operations), the establishment of “strategic hamlets” to house those forced from their homes and farms, assassination campaigns, and torture techniques were employed by these personnel throughout the war.
A production process requires nonhuman inputs, what Marx calls constant capital. In Vietnam this mainly comprised weapons of mass destruction, from Claymore mines, tanks, helicopter gunships, battleships, and B-52 bombers to napalm, Agent Orange, white phosphorus, and other ingredients from the enormous U.S chemical arsenal. The United States had a virtually unlimited supply of these means of death, and it had a limitless willingness to employ them. Soldiers of all ranks were trained to utilize mass destruction machinery in every situation, even those where “collateral damage” to civilians was inevitable.
So now, we have money capital (from the enormous funds of the U.S. government) transformed into capital in the form of labor power and constant capital. These were then combined on the battlefields as efficiently as possible, with a labor process controlled through the rigorous training of the soldiers and support personnel, who would do what they were told or would act automatically to make certain that the kill ratio was high and rising.
Finally, the kill ratio had to be “sold” so that the accumulation of dead bodies could be expanded. This was not done, of course, in the traditional way of selling. Rather, it was sold through diligent and relentless propaganda, fed to the press, the general public, and the politicians who ultimately had to agree on continual funding. There was always “light at the end of the tunnel.” The United States was slowly but surely winning the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese. The puppet governments the United States put in power in South Vietnam were committed to democracy and the people were flocking to their banners.
To make these absurd claims plausible, all manner of lies had to be repeated to keep ugly truths from the light of day. The military and the state were adept at this. Few enlisted soldiers and almost no officers were prosecuted for the thousands of war crimes they committed. Those that were received minimal sentences. And no matter how dramatic the horrors that did get investigated and published, such as the mass murder at My Lai, the government was able to contain the damage by waiting for the certain waning of public interest and outrage, while trotting out the argument that such horrendous events were rare and the work of “a few bad apples.”
Thus, the capital expended in the production of corpses was repeatedly monetized and the accumulation of capital proceeded apace.
Judged by the carnage, McNamara’s war by “scientific management” was a great success. Turse sums up what U.S. forces did: “Murder, torture, rape, abuse, forced displacement, home burnings, specious arrests, imprisonment without due process—such occurrences were virtually a daily fact of life throughout the years of the American presence in Vietnam.” He gives hundreds of examples, enough to convince us that these barbarous acts were official policy. Turse also made tours of the Vietnamese countryside and found that in every village, no matter how small and isolated, peasants had constructed memorials with the names of dead villagers, many victims of unreported, routine atrocities.
Turse also gives several accounts of colonels and generals who monomaniacally pursued high kill ratios by whatever means possible. In February 1968, General Julian Ewell gained command of the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam, a densely populated area of more than 5 million people. Ewell and his subordinate, Colonel Ira Hunt, proceeded to go “berserk,” directing the killing of so many civilians that he won the nickname “Butcher of the Delta.” The 9th Infantry Division he commanded had been averaging a kill ratio of about nine, that is, nine dead enemy for every U.S. soldier killed. Spurred on by the government’s Operation Speedy Express—set in motion because President Johnson and his war planners wanted the Delta under the control of the South Vietnamese government pending upcoming peace talks with North Vietnam—as well as his own psychosis, Ewell initiated a reign of terror. Fourteen months later, the kill ratio was an astonishing 134. Given the way the Vietnamese liberation forces fought, refusing to engage in large-scale battles, nearly all of the dead had to be civilians.
The Toll of the War on the Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians
While it is important to provide verifiable evidence of the war crimes the United States committed in Vietnam, it is also useful to supply data on the overall tolls of death, injury, and social and ecological ruin heaped upon the Vietnamese and their country. The following summary data, which include damage done to Cambodia and Laos, countries to which the war spread as a result of secret U.S. bombing campaigns, still have the power to shock:
- As many as 1.7 million revolutionary forces were killed.
- About a quarter-million South Vietnamese soldiers were killed.
- More than 65,000 North Vietnamese civilians died, mainly victims of U.S. bombing raids, which targeted factories, hospitals, schools, and dikes, more or less indiscriminately killing people.
- At least 4 million Vietnamese died as a direct result of the war, which means that at least 2 million civilians perished at the hands of U.S. forces and their mercenary brethren. When the war commenced in earnest in the 1960s, Vietnam’s population was 19 million. An incredible 21 percent of this population therefore perished. In 1960 the U.S. population was about 180 million. Imagine a war that killed nearly 38 million Americans.
- Turse’s sources estimate the extent of civilian wounded as follows: “A brief accounting shows 8,000 to 16,000 South Vietnamese paraplegics; 30,000 to 60,000 South Vietnamese left blind; and some 83,000 to 166,000 South Vietnamese amputees.” Total civilian wounded were at least 5.3 million.
- More bombs were dropped on Vietnam than by all sides in all previous wars throughout history, and three times more than by all sides in the Second World War.
- 19 million gallons of herbicide poisoned the land.
- 9,000 of 15,000 hamlets were destroyed in South Vietnam.
- In the North, all six industrial cities were devastated; twenty-eight of thirty provincial towns, and 96 of 116 district towns, were leveled by bombing.
- The United States threatened to use nuclear weapons thirteen times. Nixon chided his national security advisor and soon-to-be secretary of state Henry Kissinger for being too squeamish about this and the massive bombing of the North Nixon ordered in 1972. Nixon said he, himself, just did not give a damn.
- After the war, unexploded bombs and mines permeated the landscape and took an additional 42,000 lives. Millions of acres have still not been cleared of live ordnance.
- Agent Orange and other defoliants have caused severe health problems for millions of Vietnamese.
- Nearly all of Vietnam’s triple canopy forests were destroyed.
- 3 million tons of ordnance struck 100,000 sites during the “secret” war in Cambodia, causing widespread social dislocation, destruction of crops, and starvation. The U.S. bombing campaign in Cambodia was directly responsible for the rise of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot and the genocide that took place afterward (The United States actually sided with Pol Pot when Vietnamese troops finally ended his reign of terror).
- 2,756,941 tons of ordnance were dropped in Laos on 113,716 sites. Much of the Laotian landscape was blown to bits.
- The Fatal Flaws in McNamara’s Business of War Model
Yet, despite the carnage, the revolutionaries continued their fight for freedom, year after year, ultimately defeating the United States as they had done the French in the years following the Second World War. What went wrong with McNamara’s invincible plan? The most important flaw in it was the failure to conceptualize his grand production scheme in terms of social relationships, not just in the “workplace” but in the larger societies of Vietnam and the United States. The Vietnamese had a thousand-year history of resisting oppression by other nations and empires; they took a long view of life and were willing to sacrifice themselves in larger numbers than the United States imagined possible to secure their independence. As Francis Fitzgerald noted in Fire in the Lake, those who prosecuted the war knew precious little about Vietnamese history, culture, and language.
No folly could have been greater than believing that kill ratios were all that mattered. The war occurred during a period of a worldwide anti-imperialist struggle, providing the revolutionaries with needed moral support, even from millions of protesters in most of the rich capitalist countries. In the United States, a majority supported the war until the late 1960s, but a vibrant antiwar movement developed, often spearheaded by the middle-class youth who had avoided the draft. The Soviet Union and some other countries gave material aid to the Vietnamese revolutionaries. The United States could not risk the possible consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, given that its Cold War foe was well-armed with them.
Inside the war “workplace,” contradictions abounded. Just as workers bear grievances against their bosses, grievances that sometimes led to collective action, rank-and-file soldiers came into conflict with their commanding officers. Black conscripts, influenced by the civil rights movement at home, including the rise of the anti-imperialist Black Panther Party—which specifically tied the imperialism underlying the war to the racism perpetrated by white America—began to question why they were fighting against non-white men and women waging a war of national liberation when they needed to free themselves from racist repression. Some soldiers recoiled at the wanton violence they saw perpetrated by a military claiming to be fighting so that the Vietnamese were free to establish democracy. GIs were not unaware of the protests at home or the hypocrisy of U.S. politicians and the corruption of the South Vietnamese military and government. The culture of the 1960s found fertile ground as well, and drug use became commonplace, if for no other reason than to escape the boredom and horror that was daily life in the field.
As the war dragged on, morale plunged, and few wanted to risk their lives for nothing, especially as they got close to the end of their one-year tour of duty. Soldiers began to refuse orders to fight, and it was not altogether uncommon for soldiers to murder (“frag”) their officers. The astounding 1971 report of Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr. is instructive. He said:
The morale, discipline and battle worthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.
By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.
And he goes on to provide a remarkably large number of examples: fragging (in one division such incidents were occurring at a rate of one per week in 1971), bounties for the killing of officers, mass refusals to obey orders or even report for combat, refusal to wear uniforms, open agitation on military bases against the war, lawsuits against officers, widespread addiction to heroin, and desertion (sometimes involving joining the enemy forces). The absolute control necessary for McNamara’s strategy had become a shambles. Wars can only be won by troops on the ground fighting; if the troops will not fight, a war is lost.
The Soldiers’ Revolt
Unlike workers fired in a strike and barred from the employer’s property, dissident soldiers eventually were discharged and came back to the United States as citizens with the same formal rights as everyone else. While most veterans simply wanted to forget the war and return to normal lives, a sizeable number had become so disenchanted with it and traumatized by what they had seen and done that they felt the need to make amends. They began to seek each other out, and from there, sometimes in alliance with the burgeoning antiwar movement but mostly on their own, formed organizations aimed at making the public aware of the horrors of the war. These dealt with specific issues like the treatment of veterans in Veterans Affairs hospitals, something later made famous by the movie Born on the Fourth of July, as well as the larger matter of ending the war. The organizations established by veterans also served cathartic purposes; by talking with one another, former combatants could begin to come to grips with their often ghastly experiences. The most well-known and enduring group was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Founded in 1967, it was over the next decade, “a vanguard group for Maoists; a campaign headquarters for Democrats; a vehicle for activists to plan large-scale demonstrations; a meeting place for rap groups; an information center for war crimes hearings; a gathering spot for poets; a rehabilitation home for drug addicts.”
VVAW consistently agitated to increase opposition to the war, and it employed a wide array of tactics to do so: participation in antiwar demonstrations; publicly throwing away Purple Hearts and other medals of valor; circulating petitions; conducting long marches, complete with guerilla theater that mimicked war atrocities; protests at national political conventions; occupations of public buildings and monuments, including the Statue of Liberty; publishing newsletters; and the famous Winter Soldier Investigation held in Detroit in 1971 in which veterans bore witness to the war crimes and atrocities committed by U.S. troops and the U.S. government in Vietnam. Membership peaked at about 25,000, but the VVAW’s influence was much greater. It reinvigorated the antiwar movement; won adherents to the antiwar banner simply because veterans had instant credibility with much of the public, and could not be accused of elitism as most of them were solidly working class; and brought home to normally complacent Americans, including some of the veterans’ parents, exactly what their sons had done in the war. It was the first time in U.S. history that large numbers of soldiers spoke openly, honestly, and publicly about the folly of war and the costs to human beings and societies of allowing young men (and today young women) to engage in senseless murder.
Andrew E. Hunt ends The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War by stating that the VVAW “contributed significantly to ending the war in Vietnam.” Much the same can be said about all of the activities of the antiwar veterans. They participated in teach-ins, taught classes, produced vibrant art and literature, organized antiwar coffee houses near military bases, published an abundance of newspapers, pamphlets, and posters, helped on-duty soldiers form unions and fight legal battles, aided those seeking asylum in Canada and other countries, and much more. They were in the forefront of those who visited Vietnam after the war to make common cause with the Vietnamese and do what they could to aid in the rebuilding of the nation. They have been tireless reminders of what was done in the name of the United States.
Michael Uhl, a longtime veteran activist and author of Vietnam Awakening, rightly criticizes Nick Turse for both ignoring and downplaying the significance of what thousands of antiwar veterans did. First, Turse’s discoveries were not new. Much of what he tells us was made public by veterans more than forty years ago. In a recent essay, Uhl wrote:
In his [Turse’s] account antiwar veterans appear, not as a movement making history, but as a handful of individual “whistle-blowers within the ranks or recently out of the army…” whose denunciations were “marginalized and ignored.” For the rest, Turse buries our unprecedented story in a thicket of footnotes, devoid of their original contexts, and where only a disciplined scholar might be able to reassemble them into anything approximating what actually occurred. A reader may judge for herself, if the public testimonies on U.S. war crimes policies in Vietnam delivered by antiwar veterans during the final years of the conflict were, as Turse suggests, “marginalized and ignored.” She might discover that the veterans were being heard at the time, if not listened to, much more than Turse is today…. He characterizes as pitiful Movement efforts to reveal the true nature of the war through “pamphlets, small press books and underground newspapers,” that, if even glancingly noticed by empowered insiders, were dismissed as “leftist kookery.”
Uhl also chastises Turse for focusing more attention on atrocities committed by individual soldiers and not enough on the more deadly consequences of decisions made by those with power. Again, there is truth in this. While most soldiers must have observed or known about atrocities, only a small minority committed them. The major war criminals were presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, their advisors like McNamara and Kissinger, and the top military commanders, almost none of whom showed remorse—much less fought to end the war, as many veterans did. These men should all have been marched off to prison. People were executed for less during the Nuremburg trials after the Second World War. In any event, the principled response of the antiwar veterans did as much as anything to end the war, surely as much as what the rest of the movement accomplished. It is no accident that, as Hunt points out, Nixon and his warmongering staff were obsessed with the VVAW. One of the reasons why the Watergate burglary took place was to connect Nixon’s presidential election opponent George McGovern to the antiwar veterans. Those “empowered insiders” Turse references might have seen the veterans and the complete breakdown of military command as proof positive that the war was a lost cause.
Whitewashing the War from Jimmy Carter to Obama’s Vietnam War Commemoration
In his article, Uhl asks whether we will ever come to grips with Vietnam. He informs us that today a majority of young Americans, age eighteen to twenty-nine, think that sending troops to Vietnam was not a mistake. This is sad, though my long experience as a teacher, who lectured often about the war, tells me that it is not a surprise. Our political rulers, much of the mainstream media, along with some scholars, filmmakers, right-wing think tanks, and the military establishment, have continued ever since 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army and the National Liberation Front achieved final victory and liberated their country, to both extinguish the truth of the war from public memory and construct a false history in its place. First, President Jimmy Carter declared, without an ounce of shame, that the United States had nothing for which to apologize because the destruction had been “mutual.” Then, President Ronald Reagan called the war “a noble cause.”
Now President Barack Obama has proclaimed a “Vietnam War Commemoration.” The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act empowered the Secretary of Defense to organize events to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the War in Vietnam. The act envisions a thirteen-year commemoration, from Memorial Day 2012 until November 11, 2025. Obama issued a proclamation on the first day of this celebration, containing these remarkable words:
As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we reflect with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation that served with honor. We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away from everything they knew and everyone they loved. From Ia Drang to Khe Sanh, from Hue to Saigon and countless villages in between, they pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans. Through more than a decade of combat, over air, land, and sea, these proud Americans upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces.
This is a lie from beginning to end. We would never know from this that, in addition to the carnage enumerated above,
- The CIA in its Phoenix Program assassinated tens of thousands of Vietnamese suspected of being insurgents or sympathizers. U.S. social scientists, engineers, and scientists participated in this.
- More than 5 million Vietnamese were forcibly removed from their villages and compelled to live in squalid “Strategic Hamlets.”
- Thousands of Vietnamese political prisoners were jailed and tortured in “tiger cages,” left either to die or to suffer debilitating physical and mental illnesses.
What kind of valorous efforts were these? What kind of grand ideals did these embody?
The Commemoration website tells us that the secretary of defense is to organize all of the Commemoration’s programs to satisfy these objectives:
- To thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war (POW), or listed as missing in action (MIA), for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.
- To highlight the service of the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of Federal agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations that served with, or in support of, the Armed Forces.
- To pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War.
- To highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to military research conducted during the Vietnam War.
To recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the United States during the Vietnam War.
- These are all awful, but the fourth one would make the Nazis proud. Someday, no doubt, there will be a commemoration of the War on Terror (if it ever ends), and we will learn how this war gave us the marvel of drones.
Protests against this celebration of the war have been mounted, especially as we approach the beginning of events on Memorial Day this year (2015) when, according to Lieutenant General Claude M. Kicklighter, “we will begin to recruit the nation to get behind this effort in a very big way.” Famed antiwar protester Tom Hayden has spearheaded a petition drive to compel the government to give an accurate account of what happened during the war and to provide room in the remembrance for those who opposed it and to correct the egregious errors and omissions on the website’s timeline of the war. The My Lai massacre was initially called an “incident”; as a result of protest, this has been changed but the word “massacre” was not added. Historians have been critical as well, especially of the turmoil the war caused in the United States. Some antiwar veterans have called for an “alternative commemoration.”
Other than the plans for separate oppositional events, these protests seem tepid, especially in light of the efforts to end the war noted in this essay. Hayden, for example, is not opposed to honoring the valor of U.S. soldiers, and he worries mainly that the military that got the country into the war is now in charge of memorializing it. But why should the valor of veterans be honored? Only the courage of those who opposed it, including the soldiers who did so at great risk, should be respected. And it is not true that the military got the United States into the war. Our political, economic, and intellectual elites did that. The qualms of the academics mirror those of Hayden; they seem nitpicky. The timeline, indeed the entire celebration, are exercises in imperial propaganda. What did anyone expect? Do not forget that President Carter quipped that “the destruction was mutual.” Why worry overmuch that these materials are, as the web site suggests, suitable for schools? Our kids are fed daily doses of falsehoods by their teachers, including those who teach in colleges. I will be heartened when as school districts accept materials prepared by those in charge of the commemoration, teachers and their unions refuse, en masse, to use them. I may have a long wait.
It would be wonderful if the war were critically studied and its glorification subjected to massive public opposition combined with teach-ins, multimedia presentations, marches, and demonstrations. These could be directly tied to the interminable and deadly war on terror and the ongoing conversion of the United States into a police state. They would serve as an estimable example of critical education, a counter to the hegemony, the pervasive influence of our political economy on all aspects of our lives. As Henry Giroux reminds us, one of the major functions of critical education is to keep historical memory alive, to give witness to the truth of the past so that the politics of today is vibrantly democratic. We must always be suspicious of what the powerful tell us and supportive of all that is egalitarian and liberating. Historical memory in this instance functions as a form of public pedagogy that challenges not only the dominant narratives of “America’s disimagination machine” and its glorification of war but also attempts to change the way in which the American public thinks about the horrors committed in Vietnam and the scourge of state violence and militarism. However, as we take Giroux’s arguments to heart, we should stress foremost what the United States did to the Vietnamese and how these valiant people resisted and defeated the most powerful military on earth. Great damage was done to U.S. soldiers, and those who survived still suffer the agony of that long ago war. However, these pale by comparison to the brutality suffered by the Vietnamese, a violence still very much alive in the daily lives of the people in that much tried nation. It is they we should honor, commemorate, remember. They fought more valiantly and suffered more for their liberation from foreign rule than we ever did for our own. What they suffered and what they did should inspire us to redouble our efforts to combat U.S. war-making and imperialism and to educate, agitate, and build new organizations aimed at the construction of an egalitarian society worthy of human beings.
↩On March 16, 1968, U.S. Army soldiers slaughtered perhaps as many as 500 unarmed civilians in two Vietnamese hamlets, one of which the Army had on its maps as My Lai. Hence the name “My Lai massacre.”
↩Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2013).
↩Turse’s book took shape by accident. While researching post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Vietnam veterans, Turse was asked by an archivist at the National Archives if PTSD could be triggered by witnessing war crimes. He led Turse to a trove of old files describing investigations into such transgressions by a secret Pentagon task force, charged with investigating them so that the military would be prepared for the next My Lai massacre. With this as the foundation for what would become his book, the author began a search for war crimes in Vietnam. This led him to other public archives, private archives and letters, scores of interviews with public officials, more than one hundred interviews with U.S. war veterans, trips to Vietnam where he interviewed Vietnamese who suffered grave personal mistreatment and family losses and where he visited many village war memorials, and all of the relevant secondary literature. The result is a searing indictment of the U.S. government and its top military officers, and descriptions of torture, murder, and the ruination of the Vietnamese landscape that are difficult to read.
↩McNamara was also President Kennedy’s secretary of defense. While there are those who believe that Kennedy would never have sent in the troops that Johnson did, Kennedy was a committed Cold Warrior. The fact that McNamara did what he did under Johnson suggests that Kennedy, by choosing him, was hardly a dove on Vietnam.
↩Kathleen T. Rhem, “Rumsfeld on Terrorists: Drain the Swamp They Live In,” September 18, 2001, http://defense.gov.
↩See Vicki Haddock, “The Science of Creating Killers,” August 13, 2006, http://sfgate.com.
↩The training of soldiers has much in common with the training of torturers, that is, the conversion of ordinary human beings into people willing to commit horrendous acts of violence. See Janice T. Gibson and Mika Haritos-Fatouros, “The Education of a Torturer,” Psychology Today 20, no. 6 (November 1986): 246–51.
↩According to Turse, incentives for producing dead bodies “ranged from ‘R& R’ (rest and recreation) passes, which might allow a soldier several days of fun in the sun at a beach resort, to medals, badges, extra food, extra beer, permission to wear nonregulation gear, and light duty at base camp.” Turse, Kill Anything That Moves, Kindle Edition, 44.
↩Westmoreland made this statement in the film Hearts and Minds (1974).
↩As Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, makes clear, “support personnel” had been in Vietnam for many years before the major troop buildup in the mid-1960s. Graham Greene, The Quiet American (London: Penguin Classics, 2004), originally published in 1955.
↩Turse, Kill Anything That Moves, Kindle Edition, 6.
↩Ibid, 11–13; Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (New York: Gallery Books, 2012), chapter 10.
↩Turse, Kill Anything That Moves, Kindle Edition, 13.
↩Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, Kindle Edition, Location 8714-8729.
↩Frances Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake: The Americans and Vietnamese in Vietnam (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1972).
↩Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin, Black Against Empire: the History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013). As Muhammad Ali said in explaining his refusal to be inducted into the army in 1967: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” “Muhammad Ali Explains His Refusal to Fight in Vietnam (1967),” http://alphahistory.com.
↩A few brave soldiers reported atrocities to superiors. This was dangerous to do; the person who did it risked retribution from superiors and fellow soldiers, including violence, even death. The film Casualties of War (1989), based on actual events, gives a frightening depiction of this.
↩Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr., “The Collapse of the Armed Forces,” Armed Forces Journal, June 7, 1971, https://msuweb.montclair.edu.
↩Andrew E. Hunt, The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (New York: NYU Press, 1999), Kindle Locations 4005-4007.
↩Ibid, Kindle Locations 4160-4161.
↩Good accounts of the work of the antiwar veterans can be found in the films, Sir! No Sir! (2005) and Winter Soldier Investigation (1972), as well as the Hunt book cited above, and James Simon Kunen, Standard Operating Procedure: Notes of a Draft-age American (New York: Avon, 1971). The two films were generously sent to me by David Sladky. The documentary film Same, Same but Different tells the moving story of veterans who have returned to Vietnam to aid in the rebuilding of the country.
↩Uhl provides a link here to Michael Uhl, “A Clipping File of Veteran War Crimes Testimony Circa 1969–1971,” April 5, 2013, http://inthemindfield.com.
↩Michael Uhl, “An Enfant Terrible Stumbles Upon the Vietnam War,” April 9, 2013, http://counterpunch.org. See also Michael Uhl, Vietnam Awakening: My Journey from Combat to the Citizens’ Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam (Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 2007).
↩Hunt, The Turning, Kindle Location 4136-4144.
↩Jimmy Carter, “The President’s News Conference,” March 24, 1977, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu.
↩The information in the next three paragraphs, unless otherwise noted, is taken from the Commemoration’s web site: http://vietnamwar50th.com/. I first reported on this in 2013; see Michael D. Yates, “Oliver Stone, Obama, and the War in Vietnam,” January 11, 2013, http://cheapmotelsandahotplate.org.
↩President of the United States of America, “Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War,” May 25, 2012,
↩http://vietnamwar50th.com. This is the opening paragraph. It gets worse: “As a grateful Nation, we honor more than 58,000 patriots–their names etched in black granite–who sacrificed all they had and all they would ever know. We draw inspiration from the heroes who suffered unspeakably as prisoners of war, yet who returned home with their heads held high. We pledge to keep faith with those who were wounded and still carry the scars of war, seen and unseen. With more than 1,600 of our service members still among the missing, we pledge as a Nation to do everything in our power to bring these patriots home. In the reflection of The Wall, we see the military family members and veterans who carry a pain that may never fade. May they find peace in knowing their loved ones endure, not only in medals and memories, but in the hearts of all Americans, who are forever grateful for their service, valor, and sacrifice.”
↩Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (Bloomington, IN: iUnivererse: 2000).
↩Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Paying Respects, Pentagon Revives Vietnam, and War Over Truth,” New York Times, October 9, 2014, http://nytimes.com.
↩The film The Kill Team shows that the same kind of training and the same killing of civilians as in Vietnam is still standard operating procedure in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more on the war on terror and the incipient U.S. police state, see Henry A. Giroux, Zombie Politics in the Age of Casino Capitalism, 2nd edition (New York: Peter Lang, 2014).
↩Current government expenditures, excluding interest on government debt, are less than tax revenues. There can be a primary surplus but an overall deficit if total government spending, including interest payments, is more than tax revenues.
In preparing this essay, I was aided by the following works:
Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin, Black Against Empire: the History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).
Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War (New York: Macmillan, 1977).
Frances Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake: The Americans and Vietnamese in Vietnam (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1972).
Võ Nguyên Giáp, The Military Art of People’s War (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970).
Graham Greene, The Quiet American (London: Penguin Classics, 2004 Reprint Edition; originally published in 1955).
David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (New York: Random House, 1972).
Michael Herr, Dispatches (New York: Knopf, 1977).
Andrew E. Hunt, The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (New York: NYU Press, 1999).
James Simon Kunen, Standard Operating Procedure: Notes of a Draft-age American (New York: Avon, 1971).
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990).
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (New York: Gallery Books, 2012)
Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2013).
Michael Uhl, Vietnam Awakening: My Journey from Combat to the Citizens’ Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam (Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 2007).
Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (Bloomington, IN: iUnivererse: 2000).
Leo Cawley, “An Ex-Marine Sees Platoon,” Monthly Review 39, no. 2 (June 1987): 6–18.
Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr., “The Collapse of the Armed Forces,” Armed Forces Journal, June 7, 1971, https://msuweb.montclair.edu.
Neil Sheehan, “Should We Have War Crimes Trials?,” New York Times Book Review, March 28, 1971, https://msuweb.montclair.edu.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Paying Respects, Pentagon Revives Vietnam, and War Over Truth,” New York Times, October 9, 2014, http://nytimes.com.
Anderson Platoon, The (1967)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Casualties of War (1989)
Deer Hunter, The (1978)
Fog of War, The (2003)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Hearts and Minds (1974)
Kill Team, The (2013)
Most Dangerous Man in America, The (2009)
Quiet American, The (1958 and 2002)
Same, Same But Different (2012)
Sir! No Sir! (2005)
Untold History of the United States, The, Showtime Television series (2012)
Vietnam: American Holocaust (2008)
Winter Soldier Investigation (1972)
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 5, 2014
Maidan snipers: who did or did not know? Everybody knew!
So this morning we have a “revelation” EU officials are discussing the reports that the Maidan snipers were not sent by Yanukovich but that they were insurgents firing on both sides.
Immense surprise everywhere!
Well, a few “minor fringe proponents of conspiracy theories” did mention something like that, but for the “proper and rational people” (the folks who watch TV and read the corporate media) this is a big surprise.
Might make you wonder who really did know about this.
I can tell you. I have seen it happening many years ago, in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Here is how this works:
How does intelligence work?
One good model of how intelligence works are the “three As”: Acquisition, Analysis and Acceptance. Let’s look at them one by one:
Acquisition: this is the collection or raw data which includes translations of the world and, importantly, local press, and all other types of “open sources” such as blogs, magazines, press conferences and releases, official news bulletins etc. The next level is are the proprietary but not formally classified sources. Think tank reports, banking documents, commercial documents, corporate memoranda, etc. Then comes the level in which sources, methods and means must be protected and concealed from public view: informal conversations with officials, radio intercepts, conversations with bankers, with transportation officials (trucks, trains, airlines, shipping), reports from political and military attaches and exchanges with other intelligence services. Actual “spying” or HUMINT also contributes to this level. All these multi-level sources provide simultaneous provide raw data which is then analyzed on the next level:
Analysis: first, the data is usually classified by some source of system which gives a rating on a) the source itself (reliable? trustworthy?) and then b) on the information received (corroborated? credible?). The information is then passed on to the next level analyst who will process it and make a synthesis of his/her main finding for his/her department head (by regions or specialization). These guys then go over the findings and present typically present them in an inter-departmental meeting which then is submitted to the next level.
Acceptance: this is a crucial level because the folks getting the processed information from the analytical section are already not intelligence specialists, but generals (this is a political rank, really), politicians, government officials, etc. They make the key judgment call as to what to do with the info they get. They also get to express their satisfaction, or lack thereof, with the intelligence they get and that, in turn, has a direct career impact upon the senior department heads in charge of analysis. In pain English this means that the top analysts take a big risk if they pass on “politically incorrect” or, rather, “politically unwanted” information up the chain of command. They, in turn, will whether consciously or unconsciously promote those analysts to do not put them in this difficult situation.
This system works pretty well when dealing with low-visibility or politically neutral or minor issues. But when a government places its full weight behind “theory A” this system often breaks down and begins sending up the chain of command information which will not result in career loss. “Theory B” rapidly disappears.
The example of Bosnia:
I can personally attest to the fact that the vast majority of sources did report that the so-called “UN Safe Areas” in Bosnia, which were supposed to be entirely demilitarized, were chock full of Bosnian-Muslim forces and that most of them actually hosted a full Army Corps. Likewise, everybody knew that the US and Turkey were flying in weapons and dropping them in huge amounts in the Bosnian-Muslim controlled areas. Furthermore, most analysts were also aware the the bombings of the Markale Market were not committed by Serb, but by unknown individuals shooting from Bosnian-Muslim areas. In my experience this information was, however, usually simply ignored at the level of department heads. It was not denied, mind you, and in private conversations all the department heads knew about it, but that is where it stopped. The pretext? Always the same one: “it’s a rumor and a detail, not really relevant for the overall picture”. Nevermind that it came in from all sources, including high rated ones, and nevermind that this info was corroborated many times over. And nevermind that it paints a totally different picture of a false flag operation which resulted in the US and NATO getting militarily involved.
Then, those who organized the false flag operation in the first place will use their contacts in the corporate media to leak the info. At this point of the big and “reputable” media outlets will quote each other and literally bounce that story off each other, sometimes add a few “details” (aka complete fabrications) or pure speculations (really spins) to the story. At which point all the politicians are presented with a mass media which literally screams “the world is flat! the world is flat!” and a few highly classified reports which, at best, report that “some sources claim the world is round”. Guess with whom the politicians will go?
Back to the Maidan snipers intercept
Now listen carefully to Ashton’s reaction to news about the insurgent snipers:
“I think that they do want to investigate, gosh!”
What?! Is she seriously suggesting that the new regime, which came to power courtesy of these snipers, will actually investigate itself? Is she that dumb? Of course not! But she is annoyed by this topic so she just tosses in a simple cop-out which basically means “I am not interested, let the Ukies handle it” (knowing full well that they won’t).
Paet, by the way, immediately get the message and gives a new spin to his previous remark: he mentioned this info not because he is outraged, no, only because if this story takes on its own life this “will discredit the new coalition”. Oh how nice of him, he worries that if the truth comes out the Eurofascists will be embarrassed. Next time, he won’t even bring it up. Those central European politicians sure learn fast from their western masters.
But Ashton is not even happy with that, she wants to change the topic, and begins making general pious statements about how it is important that the Rada work well.
End of topic, turn the page, next!
This is how it’s done. I know. I lost my career over something like that.
As for the media, it is even worse.
There are two types of reporters in a conflict zone:
Type A: never leaves his fortified bunker/hotel and only attends the briefing of whichever side he is with. Then he sends reports back home claiming that these reports come “from the battle zone”. He could get the same reports by videoconference sitting at home, but nevermind.
Type B: that is the true frontline reporter. He does run around under bullets, he interviews local commanders, often on both sides, he spends nights drinking cheap booze with local mafia men or mercenaries and he is often very, very well informed. In fact, his reports are often used by intelligence services (whether by agreement or by other methods).
Type A just parrots whatever he hears. The problem with type B is that while he is typically very well informed, he also is typically highly partisan to one side or the other. If he “turns local” and begins to have sympathies with the ‘bad guys’ he soon as to find new employers, usually smaller magazines and newspapers, or his career ends. But if he is on the side of the “good guys” (Empire puppets) then he often sees his role as a participant in the war. He hates the other side and will use his audience to trash it as much as can be. Bottom line: even if some reporters are very well informed, the system is such that their reports usually get buried in the small or local media.
There is one exception to this rule: specialized magazines. During the war in Bosnia you could get far better information from magazines like the US Army’s Parameters, the USN Proceedings or the Reports of the US Military Studies Office or the Occasional Papers of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, than from the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. This applies to non-English speaking countries too: France, Belgium, Russia, Brazil – they all have their specialized magazines which often are far better informed that the big press.
What does this all mean for you?
What this all means is that the information you are getting from your politicians or the corporate media is at best useless, and typically deliberate fabrications. There is only one thing you can do about it: throw away your TV, throw away your radio, don’t ever read the papers and basically cut off your brain form the sewage flow. The next step is to get your info only on the Internet, preferably from “non-major” sources including: local media websites (by local I mean “local to the conflict area”), blogs, discussion groups, specialized and professional websites.
True, there is a lot of garbage on the Internet, so you need to do the same thing as analysts do: begin by rating your sources and then reply mostly on those you trust. Likewise, you can also begin by rating the information itself. Language can be a problem, but then built for yourself a list of sources which you trust and which know the local language.
And did you know that it is estimated that 80% of all the information used by a government is “open source” – available to the general public. As for the 20% of it, it is mostly boring technical stuff of stuff which will become public after a while and but which is critical now. Not stuff you are ever going to need.
This is not as hard as it seems and most of us doing something similar instinctively. With a little time and effort cutting yourself totally away from the corporate media and switching to an Internet based selection of sources you trust will give you a totally different view of the world. If you are then later exposed to the corporate media you will be amazed by the nonsense you hear and you will wonder what the hell they are talking about on the Idiot Tube. It’s quite fun, really. Or very discouraging. Or both.
There is one exception to this rule: the new big media which has appeared in recent years to present an anti-CNN option for the world. First, al-Jazeera, the Russia Today, Telemundo, Press TV, etc. They have vested interest in debunking the Imperial lies and in presenting the true facts. However, the example of al-Jazeera which almost suddenly became a propaganda tool during the war on Libya should make us cautious and careful and always keep a eye on whether any of these Internet TV are becoming yet another propaganda tool.
This sniper business is going nowhere. Everybody knows about it, and nobody cares. Just like everybody knows that the Right Sector and Svoboda are neo-Nazi parties, just like everybody knows that the new regime is illegal, illegitimate and that it came to power by deceit and by violence. Everybody knows and nobody cares as long as “our SOBs win”. So use this opportunity to “retaliate” against the plutocracy which controls the entire informational space except the Internet and reject their sources. All of them.
Kind regards and many thanks,
Tide? Or Ivory Snow?
August 24, 2004
By Arundhati Roy
Transcript of full speech by Arundhati Roy in San Francisco, California on August 16th, 2004.
I’ve been asked to speak about “Public Power in the Age of Empire.” I’m not used to doing as I’m told, but by happy coincidence, it’s exactly what I’d like to speak about tonight.
When language has been butchered and bled of meaning, how do we understand “public power”? When freedom means occupation, when democracy means neo-liberal capitalism, when reform means repression, when words like “empowerment” and “peacekeeping” make your blood run cold – why, then, “public power” could mean whatever you want it to mean. A biceps building machine, or a Community Power Shower. So, I’ll just have to define “public power” as I go along, in my own self-serving sort of way.
In India, the word public is now a Hindi word. It means people. In Hindi, we have sarkar and public, the government and the people. Inherent in this use is the underlying assumption that the government is quite separate from “the people.” This distinction has to do with the fact that India’s freedom struggle, though magnificent, was by no means revolutionary. The Indian elite stepped easily and elegantly into the shoes of the British imperialists. A deeply impoverished, essentially feudal society became a modern, independent nation state. Even today, fifty seven years on to the day, the truly vanquished still look upon the government as mai-baap, the parent and provider. The somewhat more radical, those who still have fire in their bellies, see it as chor, the thief, the snatcher-away of all things.
Either way, for most Indians, sarkar is very separate from public. However, as you make your way up India’s social ladder, the distinction between sarkar and public gets blurred. The Indian elite, like the elite anywhere in the world, finds it hard to separate itself from the state. It sees like the state, it thinks like the state, it speaks like the state.
In the United States, on the other hand, the blurring of the distinction between sarkar and public has penetrated far deeper into society. This could be a sign of a robust democracy, but unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated and less pretty than that. Among other things, it has to do with the elaborate web of paranoia generated by the U.S. sarkar and spun out by the corporate media and Hollywood. Ordinary Americans have been manipulated into imagining they are a people under siege whose sole refuge and protector is their government. If it isn’t the Communists, it’s al-Qaeda. If it isn’t Cuba. it’s Nicaragua. As a result, this, the most powerful nation in the world – with its unmatchable arsenal of weapons, its history of having waged and sponsored endless wars, and the only nation in history to have actually used nuclear bombs – is peopled by a terrified citizenry, jumping at shadows. A people bonded to the state not by social services, or public health care, or employment guarantees, but by fear.
This synthetically manufactured fear is used to gain public sanction for further acts of aggression. And so it goes, building into a spiral of self-fulfilling hysteria, now formally calibrated by the U.S government’s Amazing Technicolored Terror Alerts: fuchsia, turquoise, salmon pink.
To outside observers, this merging of sarkar and public in the United States sometimes makes it hard to separate the actions of the U.S. government from the American people. It is this confusion that fuels anti-Americanism in the world. Anti-Americanism is then seized upon and amplified by the U.S. government and its faithful media outlets. You know the routine: “Why do they hate us? They hate our freedoms” . . . etc. . . . etc. This enhances the sense of isolation among American people and makes the embrace between sarkar and public even more intimate. Like Red Riding Hood looking for a cuddle in the wolf’s bed.
Using the threat of an external enemy to rally people behind you is a tired old horse, which politicians have ridden into power for centuries. But could it be that ordinary people are fed up of that poor old horse and are looking for something different? There’s an old Hindi film song that goes yeh public hai, yeh sab jaanti hai (the public, she knows it all). Wouldn’t it be lovely if the song were right and the politicians wrong?
Before Washington’s illegal invasion of Iraq, a Gallup International poll showed that in no European country was the support for a unilateral war higher than 11 percent. On February 15, 2003, weeks before the invasion, more than ten million people marched against the war on different continents, including North America. And yet the governments of many supposedly democratic countries still went to war.
The question is: is “democracy” still democratic?
Are democratic governments accountable to the people who elected them? And, critically, is the public in democratic countries responsible for the actions of its sarkar?
If you think about it, the logic that underlies the war on terrorism and the logic that underlies terrorism is exactly the same. Both make ordinary citizens pay for the actions of their government. Al-Qaeda made the people of the United States pay with their lives for the actions of their government in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The U.S government has made the people of Afghanistan pay in their thousands for the actions of the Taliban and the people of Iraq pay in their hundreds of thousands for the actions of Saddam Hussein.
The crucial difference is that nobody really elected al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. But the president of the United States was elected (well … in a manner of speaking).
The prime ministers of Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom were elected. Could it then be argued that citizens of these countries are more responsible for the actions of their government than Iraqis are for the actions of Saddam Hussein or Afghans for the Taliban?
Whose God decides which is a “just war” and which isn’t? George Bush senior once said: “I will never apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are.” When the president of the most powerful country in the world doesn’t need to care what the facts are, then we can at least be sure we have entered the Age of Empire.
So what does public power mean in the Age of Empire? Does it mean anything at all? Does it actually exist?
In these allegedly democratic times, conventional political thought holds that public power is exercised through the ballot. Scores of countries in the world will go to the polls this year. Most (not all) of them will get the governments they vote for. But will they get the governments they want?
In India this year, we voted the Hindu nationalists out of office. But even as we celebrated, we knew that on nuclear bombs, neo-liberalism, privatization, censorship, big dams – on every major issue other than overt Hindu nationalism – the Congress and the BJP have no major ideological differences. We know that it is the fifty-year legacy of the Congress Party that prepared the ground culturally and politically for the far right. It was also the Congress Party that first opened India’s markets to corporate globalization.
In its election campaign, the Congress Party indicated that it was prepared to rethink some of its earlier economic policies. Millions of India’s poorest people came out in strength to vote in the elections. The spectacle of the great Indian democracy was telecast live – the poor farmers, the old and infirm, the veiled women with their beautiful silver jewelry, making quaint journeys to election booths on elephants and camels and bullock carts. Contrary to the predictions of all India’s experts and pollsters, Congress won more votes than any other party. India’s communist parties won the largest share of the vote in their history. India’s poor had clearly voted against neo-liberalism’s economic “reforms” and growing fascism. As soon as the votes were counted, the corporate media dispatched them like badly paid extras on a film set. Television channels featured split screens. Half the screen showed the chaos outside the home of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Party, as the coalition government was cobbled together.
The other half showed frenzied stockbrokers outside the Bombay Stock Exchange, panicking at the thought that the Congress Party might actually honor its promises and implement its electoral mandate. We saw the Sensex stock index move up and down and sideways. The media, whose own publicly listed stocks were plummeting, reported the stock market crash as though Pakistan had launched ICBMs on New Delhi.
Even before the new government was formally sworn in, senior Congress politicians made public statements reassuring investors and the media that privatization of public utilities would continue. Meanwhile the BJP, now in opposition, has cynically, and comically, begun to oppose foreign direct investment and the further opening of Indian markets.
This is the spurious, evolving dialectic of electoral democracy.
As for the Indian poor, once they’ve provided the votes, they are expected to bugger off home. Policy will be decided despite them.
And what of the U.S. elections? Do U.S. voters have a real choice?
It’s true that if John Kerry becomes president, some of the oil tycoons and Christian fundamentalists in the White House will change. Few will be sorry to see the back of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld or John Ashcroft and their blatant thuggery. But the real concern is that in the new administration their policies will continue. That we will have Bushism without Bush.
Those positions of real power – the bankers, the CEOs – are not vulnerable to the vote (. . . and in any case, they fund both sides).
Unfortunately the importance of the U.S elections has deteriorated into a sort of personality contest. A squabble over who would do a better job of overseeing empire. John Kerry believes in the idea of empire as fervently as George Bush does.
The U.S. political system has been carefully crafted to ensure that no one who questions the natural goodness of the military-industrial-corporate power structure will be allowed through the portals of power.
Given this, it’s no surprise that in this election you have two Yale University graduates, both members of Skull and Bones, the same secret society, both millionaires, both playing at soldier-soldier, both talking up war, and arguing almost childishly about who will lead the war on terror more effectively.
Like President Bill Clinton before him, Kerry will continue the expansion of U.S. economic and military penetration into the world. He says he would have voted to authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq even if he had known that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. He promises to commit more troops to Iraq. He said recently that he supports Bush’s policies toward Israel and Ariel Sharon 100 percent. He says he’ll retain 98% of Bush’s tax cuts.
So, underneath the shrill exchange of insults, there is almost absolute consensus. It looks as though even if Americans vote for Kerry, they’ll still get Bush. President John Kerbush or President George Berry.
It’s not a real choice. It’s an apparent choice. Like choosing a brand of detergent. Whether you buy Ivory Snow or Tide, they’re both owned by Proctor & Gamble.
This doesn’t mean that one takes a position that is without nuance, that the Congress and the BJP, New Labor and the Tories, the Democrats and Republicans are the same. Of course, they’re not. Neither are Tide and Ivory Snow. Tide has oxy-boosting and Ivory Snow is a gentle cleanser.
In India, there is a difference between an overtly fascist party (the BJP) and a party that slyly pits one community against another (Congress), and sows the seeds of communalism that are then so ably harvested by the BJP.
There are differences in the I.Q.s and levels of ruthlessness between this year’s U.S. presidential candidates. The anti-war movement in the United States has done a phenomenal job of exposing the lies and venality that led to the invasion of Iraq, despite the propaganda and intimidation it faced.
This was a service not just to people here, but to the whole world. But now, if the anti-war movement openly campaigns for Kerry, the rest of the world will think that it approves of his policies of “sensitive” imperialism. Is U.S. imperialism preferable if it is supported by the United Nations and European countries? Is it preferable if UN asks Indian and Pakistani soldiers to do the killing and dying in Iraq instead of U.S. soldiers? Is the only change that Iraqis can hope for that French, German, and Russian companies will share in the spoils of the occupation of their country?
Is this actually better or worse for those of us who live in subject nations? Is it better for the world to have a smarter emperor in power or a stupider one? Is that our only choice?
I’m sorry, I know that these are uncomfortable, even brutal questions, but they must be asked.
The fact is that electoral democracy has become a process of cynical manipulation. It offers us a very reduced political space today. To believe that this space constitutes real choice would be naÃ¯ve.
The crisis in modern democracy is a profound one.
On the global stage, beyond the jurisdiction of sovereign governments, international instruments of trade and finance oversee a complex system of multilateral laws and agreements that have entrenched a system of appropriation that puts colonialism to shame. This system allows the unrestricted entry and exit of massive amounts of speculative capital – hot money – into and out of third world countries, which then effectively dictates their economic policy. Using the threat of capital flight as a lever, international capital insinuates itself deeper and deeper into these economies. Giant transnational corporations are taking control of their essential infrastructure and natural resources, their minerals, their water, their electricity. The World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank, virtually write economic policy and parliamentary legislation. With a deadly combination of arrogance and ruthlessness, they take their sledgehammers to fragile, interdependent, historically complex societies, and devastate them.
All this goes under the fluttering banner of “reform.”
As a consequence of this reform, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, thousands of small enterprises and industries have closed down, millions of workers and farmers have lost their jobs and land.
The Spectator newspaper in London assures us that “[w]e live in the happiest, healthiest and most peaceful era in human history.” Billions wonder: who’s “we”? Where does he live? What’s his Christian name?
The thing to understand is that modern democracy is safely premised on an almost religious acceptance of the nation state. But corporate globalization is not. Liquid capital is not. So, even though capital needs the coercive powers of the nation state to put down revolts in the servants’ quarters, this set up ensures that no individual nation can oppose corporate globalization on its own.
Radical change cannot and will not be negotiated by governments; it can only be enforced by people. By the public. A public who can link hands across national borders.
So when we speak of “Public Power in the Age of Empire,” I hope it’s not presumptuous to assume that the only thing that is worth discussing seriously is the power of a dissenting public. A public which disagrees with the very concept of empire. A public which has set itself against incumbent power – international, national, regional, or provincial governments and institutions that support and service empire.
What are the avenues of protest available to people who wish to resist empire? By resist I don’t mean only to express dissent, but to effectively force change. Empire has a range of calling cards. It uses different weapons to break open different markets. You know the check book and the cruise missile
For poor people in many countries, Empire does not always appear in the form of cruise missiles and tanks, as it has in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam. It appears in their lives in very local avatars – losing their jobs, being sent unpayable electricity bills, having their water supply cut, being evicted from their homes and uprooted from their land. All this overseen by the repressive machinery of the state, the police, the army, the judiciary. It is a process of relentless impoverishment with which the poor are historically familiar. What Empire does is to further entrench and exacerbate already existing inequalities.
Even until quite recently, it was sometimes difficult for people to see themselves as victims of the conquests of Empire. But now local struggles have begun to see their role with increasing clarity. However grand it might sound, the fact is, they are confronting Empire in their own, very different ways. Differently in Iraq, in South Africa, in India, in Argentina, and differently, for that matter, on the streets of Europe and the United States.
Mass resistance movements, individual activists, journalists, artists, and film makers have come together to strip Empire of its sheen. They have connected the dots, turned cash-flow charts and boardroom speeches into real stories about real people and real despair. They have shown how the neo-liberal project has cost people their homes, their land, their jobs, their liberty, their dignity. They have made the intangible tangible. The once seemingly in-CORP-o-real enemy is now CORP-o-real.
This is a huge victory. It was forged by the coming together of disparate political groups, with a variety of strategies. But they all recognized that the target of their anger, their activism, and their doggedness is the same. This was the beginning of real globalization. The globalization of dissent.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of mass resistance movements in third world countries today. The landless peoples’ movement in Brazil, the anti-dam movement in India, the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Anti-Privatization Forum in South Africa, and hundreds of others, are fighting their own sovereign governments, which have become agents of the neo-liberal project. Most of these are radical struggles, fighting to change the structure and chosen model of “development” of their own societies.
Then there are those fighting formal and brutal neocolonial occupations in contested territories whose boundaries and fault lines were often arbitrarily drawn last century by the imperialist powers. In Palestine, Tibet, Chechnya, Kashmir, and several states in India’s northeast provinces, people are waging struggles for self-determination.
Several of these struggles might have been radical, even revolutionary when they began, but often the brutality of the repression they face pushes them into conservative, even retrogressive spaces in which they use the same violent strategies and the same language of religious and cultural nationalism used by the states they seek to replace.
Many of the foot soldiers in these struggles will find, like those who fought apartheid in South Africa, that once they overcome overt occupation, they will be left with another battle on their hands – a battle against covert economic colonialism.
Meanwhile, as the rift between rich and poor is being driven deeper and the battle to control the world’s resources intensifies. Economic colonialism through formal military aggression is staging a comeback.
Iraq today is a tragic illustration of this process. An illegal invasion. A brutal occupation in the name of liberation. The rewriting of laws that allow the shameless appropriation of the country’s wealth and resources by corporations allied to the occupation, and now the charade of a local “Iraqi government.”
For these reasons, it is absurd to condemn the resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq, as being masterminded by terrorists or insurgents or supporters of Saddam Hussein. After all if the United States were invaded and occupied, would everybody who fought to liberate it be a terrorist or an insurgent or a Bushite?
The Iraqi resistance is fighting on the frontlines of the battle against Empire. And therefore that battle is our battle.
Like most resistance movements, it combines a motley range of assorted factions. Former Baathists, liberals, Islamists, fed-up collaborationists, communists, etc. Of course, it is riddled with opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery, and criminality. But if we are only going to support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t ever criticize resistance movements. Many of them suffer from a lack of democracy, from the iconization of their “leaders,” a lack of transparency, a lack of vision and direction. But most of all they suffer from vilification, repression, and lack of resources.
Before we prescribe how a pristine Iraqi resistance must conduct their secular, feminist, democratic, nonviolent battle, we should shore up our end of the resistance by forcing the U.S. and its allies government to withdraw from Iraq.
The first militant confrontation in the United States between the global justice movement and the neo-liberal junta took place famously at the WTO conference in Seattle in December 1999. To many mass movements in developing countries that had long been fighting lonely, isolated battles, Seattle was the first delightful sign that their anger and their vision of another kind of world was shared by people in the imperialist countries.
In January 2001, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 20,000 activists, students, film makers – some of the best minds in the world – came together to share their experiences and exchange ideas about confronting Empire. That was the birth of the now historic World Social Forum. It was the first, formal coming together of an exciting, anarchic, unindoctrinated, energetic, new kind of “Public Power.” The rallying cry of the WSF is “Another World is Possible.” It has become a platform where hundreds of conversations, debates, and seminars have helped to hone and refine a vision of what kind of world it should be.
By January 2004, when the fourth WSF was held in Mumbai, India, it attracted 200,000 delegates. I have never been part of a more electrifying gathering. It was a sign of the social forum’s success that the mainstream media in India ignored it completely. But now, the WSF is threatened by its own success. The safe, open, festive atmosphere of the forum has allowed politicians and nongovernmental organizations that are imbricated in the political and economic systems that the forum opposes to participate and make themselves heard.
Another danger is that the WSF, which has played such a vital role in the movement for global justice, runs the risk of becoming an end unto itself. Just organizing it every year consumes the energies of some of the best activists. If conversations about resistance replace real civil disobedience, then the WSF could become an asset to those whom it was created to oppose. The forum must be held and must grow, but we have to find ways to channel our conversations there back into concrete action.
As resistance movements have begun to reach out across national borders and pose a real threat, governments have developed their own strategies of how to deal with them. They range from cooptation to repression.
I’m going to speak about three of the contemporary dangers that confront resistance movements: the difficult meeting point between mass movements and the mass media, the hazards of the NGO-ization of resistance, and the confrontation between resistance movements and increasingly repressive states.
The place in which the mass media meets mass movements is a complicated one.
Governments have learned that a crisis-driven media cannot afford to hang about in the same place for too long. Like business houses need a cash turnover, the media need crises turnover. Whole countries become old news. They cease to exist, and the darkness becomes deeper than before the light was briefly shone on them. We saw it happen in Afghanistan when the Soviets withdrew. And now, after Operation Enduring Freedom put the CIA’s Hamid Karzai in place, Afghanistan has been thrown to its warlords once more.
Another CIA operative, Iyad Allawi, has been installed in Iraq, so perhaps it’s time for the media to move on from there, too.
While governments hone the art of waiting out crisis, resistance movements are increasingly being ensnared in a vortex of crisis production, seeking to find ways of manufacturing them in easily consumable, spectator-friendly formats.
Every self-respecting peoples’ movement, every “issue” is expected to have its own hot air balloon in the sky advertising its brand and purpose.
For this reason, starvation deaths are more effective advertisements for impoverishment than millions of malnourished people, who don’t quite make the cut. Dams are not newsworthy until the devastation they wreak makes good television. (And by then, it’s too late).
Standing in the rising water of a reservoir for days on end, watching your home and belongings float away to protest against a big dam used to be an effective strategy, but isn’t any more. The media is dead bored of that one. So the hundreds of thousands of people being displaced by dams are expected to either conjure new tricks or give up the struggle.
Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are vital but alone are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircrafts, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe.
If we want to reclaim the space for civil disobedience, we will have to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of crisis reportage and its fear of the mundane. We have to use our experience, our imagination, and our art to interrogate the instruments of that state that ensure that “normality” remains what it is: cruel, unjust, unacceptable. We have to expose the policies and processes that make ordinary things – food, water, shelter and dignity – such a distant dream for ordinary people. Real pre-emptive strike is to understand that wars are the end result of flawed and unjust peace.
As far as mass resistance movements are concerned, the fact is that no amount of media coverage can make up for mass strength on the ground. There is no option, really, to old-fashioned, back-breaking political mobilization.
Corporate globalization has increased the distance between those who make decisions and those who have to suffer the effects of those decisions. Forums like the WSF enable local resistance movements to reduce that distance and to link up with their counterparts in rich countries. That alliance is an important and formidable one. For example, when India’s first private dam, the Maheshwar Dam, was being built, alliances between the Narmada Bachao Andolan (the NBA), the German organization Urgewald, the Berne Declaration in Switzerland, and the International Rivers Network in Berkeley worked together to push a series of international banks and corporations out of the project. This would not have been possible had there not been a rock solid resistance movement on the ground. The voice of that local movement was amplified by supporters on the global stage, embarrassing and forcing investors to withdraw.
An infinite number of similar, alliances, targeting specific projects and specific corporations would help to make another world possible. We should begin with the corporations who did business with Saddam Hussein and now profit from the devastation and occupation of Iraq.
A second hazard facing mass movements is the NGO-ization of resistance. It will be easy to twist what I’m about to say into an indictment of all NGOs. That would be a falsehood. In the murky waters of fake NGOs set up or to siphon off grant money or as tax dodges (in states like Bihar, they are given as dowry), of course there are NGOs doing valuable work. But it’s important to consider the NGO phenomenon in a broader political context.
In India, for instance, the funded NGO boom began in the late 1980s and 1990s. It coincided with the opening of India’s markets to neo-liberalism. At the time, the Indian state, in keeping with the requirements of structural adjustment, was withdrawing funding from rural development, agriculture, energy, transport, and public health. As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these very areas. The difference, of course, is that the funds available to them are a minuscule fraction of the actual cut in public spending. Most large funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are in turn funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the UN, and some multinational corporations. Though they may not be the very same agencies, they are certainly part of the same loose, political formation that oversees the neo-liberal project and demands the slash in government spending in the first place.
Why should these agencies fund NGOs? Could it be just old-fashioned missionary zeal? Guilt? It’s a little more than that. NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right.
They alter the public psyche. They turn people into dependent victims and blunt the edges of political resistance. NGOs form a sort of buffer between the sarkar and public. Between Empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.
In the long run, NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among. They’re what botanists would call an indicator species. It’s almost as though the greater the devastation caused by neo-liberalism, the greater the outbreak of NGOs. Nothing illustrates this more poignantly than the phenomenon of the U.S. preparing to invade a country and simultaneously readying NGOs to go in and clean up the devastation.
In order make sure their funding is not jeopardized and that the governments of the countries they work in will allow them to function, NGOs have to present their work in a shallow framework more or less shorn of a political or historical context. At any rate, an inconvenient historical or political context.
Apolitical (and therefore, actually, extremely political) distress reports from poor countries and war zones eventually make the (dark) people of those (dark) countries seem like pathological victims. Another malnourished Indian, another starving Ethiopian, another Afghan refugee camp, another maimed Sudanese . . . in need of the white man’s help. They unwittingly reinforce racist stereotypes and re-affirm the achievements, the comforts, and the compassion (the tough love) of Western civilization. They’re the secular missionaries of the modern world.
Eventually – on a smaller scale but more insidiously – the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda. It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticizes resistance. It interferes with local peoples’ movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. NGOs have funds that can employ local people who might otherwise be activists in resistance movements, but now can feel they are doing some immediate, creative good (and earning a living while they’re at it). Real political resistance offers no such short cuts.
The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary.
This brings us to a third danger I want to speak about tonight: the deadly nature of the actual confrontation between resistance movements and increasingly repressive states. Between public power and the agents of Empire.
Whenever civil resistance has shown the slightest signs of evolving from symbolic action into anything remotely threatening, the crack down is merciless. We’ve seen what happened in the demonstrations in Seattle, in Miami, in GÃ¶thenberg, in Genoa.
In the United States, you have the USA PATRIOT Act, which has become a blueprint for antiterrorism laws passed by governments across the world. Freedoms are being curbed in the name of protecting freedom. And once we surrender our freedoms, to win them back will take a revolution.
Some governments have vast experience in the business of curbing freedoms and still smelling sweet. The government of India, an old hand at the game, lights the path.
Over the years the Indian government has passed a plethora of laws that allow it to call almost anyone a terrorist, an insurgent, a militant. We have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Public Security Act, the Special Areas Security Act, the Gangster Act, the Terrorist and Disruptive Areas Act (which has formally lapsed but under which people are still facing trial), and, most recently, POTA (the Prevention of Terrorism Act), the broad-spectrum antibiotic for the disease of dissent.
There are other steps that are being taken, such as court judgments that in effect curtail free speech, the right of government workers to go on strike, the right to life and livelihood. Courts have begun to micro-manage our lives in India. And criticizing the courts is a criminal offense.
But coming back to the counter-terrorism initiatives, over the last decade, the number of people who have been killed by the police and security forces runs into the tens of thousands. In the state of Andhra Pradesh (the pin-up girl of corporate globalization in India), an average of about 200 “extremists” are killed in what are called “encounters” every year. The Bombay police boast of how many “gangsters” they have killed in “shoot outs.” In Kashmir, in a situation that almost amounts to war, an estimated 80,000 people have been killed since 1989. Thousands have simply “disappeared.” In the northeastern provinces, the situation is similar.
In recent years, the Indian police have opened fire on unarmed people, mostly Dalit and Adivasi. Their preferred method is to kill them and then call them terrorists. India is not alone, though. We have seen similar thing happen in countries such Bolivia, Chile, and South Africa. In the era of neo-liberalism, poverty is a crime and protesting against it is more and more being defined as terrorism.
In India, POTA (the Prevention of Terrorism Act) is often called the Production of Terrorism Act. It’s a versatile, hold-all law that could apply to anyone from an al-Qaeda operative to a disgruntled bus conductor. As with all anti-terrorism laws, the genius of POTA is that it can be whatever the government wants. After the 2002 state-assisted pogrom in Gujarat, in which an estimated 2,000 Muslims were savagely killed by Hindu mobs and 150,000 driven from their homes, 287 people have been accused under POTA. Of these, 286 are Muslim and one is a Sikh.
POTA allows confessions extracted in police custody to be admitted as judicial evidence. In effect, torture tends to replace investigation. The South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center reports that India has the highest number of torture and custodial deaths in the world. Government records show that there were 1,307 deaths in judicial custody in 2002 alone.
A few months ago, I was a member of a peoples’ tribunal on POTA. Over a period of two days, we listened to harrowing testimonies of what is happening in our wonderful democracy. It’s everything – from people being forced to drink urine, to being stripped, humiliated, given electric shocks, burned with cigarette butts, having iron rods put up their anuses, to being beaten and kicked to death.
The new government has promised to repeal POTA. I’d be surprised if that happens before similar legislation under a different name is put in place. If its not POTA it’ll be MOTA or something.
When every avenue of non-violent dissent is closed down, and everyone who protests against the violation of their human rights is called a terrorist, should we really be surprised if vast parts of the country are overrun by those who believe in armed struggle and are more or less beyond the control of the state: in Kashmir, the north eastern provinces, large parts of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh. Ordinary people in these regions are trapped between the violence of the militants and the state.
In Kashmir, the Indian army estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 militants are operating at any given time. To control them, the Indian government deploys about 500,000 soldiers. Clearly, it isn’t just the militants the army seeks to control, but a whole population of humiliated, unhappy people who see the Indian army as an occupation force.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows not just officers, but even junior commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers of the army, to use force and even kill any person on suspicion of disturbing public order. It was first imposed on a few districts in the state of Manipur in 1958. Today, it applies to virtually all of the north east and Kashmir. The documentation of instances of torture, disappearances, custodial deaths, rape, and summary execution by security forces is enough to turn your stomach.
In Andhra Pradesh, in India’s heartland, the militant Marxist-Leninist Peoples’ War Group – which for years been engaged in a violent armed struggle and has been the principal target of many of the Andhra police’s fake “encounters” – held its first public meeting in years on July 28, 2004, in the town of Warangal.
It was attended by about hundreds of thousands of people. Under POTA, all of them are considered terrorists. Are they all going to be detained in some Indian equivalent of GuantÃ¡namo Bay?
The whole of the north east and the Kashmir valley is in ferment. What will the government do with these millions of people?
There is no discussion taking place in the world today that is more crucial than the debate about strategies of resistance. And the choice of strategy is not entirely in the hands of the public. It is also in the hands of sarkar.
After all, when the U.S. invades and occupies Iraq in the way it has done, with such overwhelming military force, can the resistance be expected to be a conventional military one? (Of course, even if it were conventional, it would still be called terrorist.) In a strange sense, the U.S. government’s arsenal of weapons and unrivalled air and fire power makes terrorism an all-but-inescapable response. What people lack in wealth and power, they will make up with stealth and strategy.
In this restive, despairing time, if governments do not do all they can to honor nonviolent resistance, then by default they privilege those who turn to violence. No government’s condemnation of terrorism is credible if it cannot show itself to be open to change by to nonviolent dissent.
But instead nonviolent resistance movements are being crushed. Any kind of mass political mobilization or organization is being bought off, or broken, or simply ignored.
Meanwhile, governments and the corporate media, and let’s not forget the film industry, lavish their time, attention, technology, research, and admiration on war and terrorism. Violence has been deified.
The message this sends is disturbing and dangerous: If you seek to air a public grievance, violence is more effective than nonviolence.
As the rift between the rich and poor grows, as the need to appropriate and control the world’s resources to feed the great capitalist machine becomes more urgent, the unrest will only escalate.
For those of us who are on the wrong side of Empire, the humiliation is becoming unbearable.
Each of the Iraqi children killed by the United States was our child. Each of the prisoners tortured in Abu Ghraib was our comrade. Each of their screams was ours. When they were humiliated, we were humiliated. The U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq – mostly volunteers in a poverty draft from small towns and poor urban neighborhoods – are victims just as much as the Iraqis of the same horrendous process, which asks them to die for a victory that will never be theirs.
The mandarins of the corporate world, the CEOs, the bankers, the politicians, the judges and generals look down on us from on high and shake their heads sternly. “There’s no Alternative,” they say. And let slip the dogs of war.
Then, from the ruins of Afghanistan, from the rubble of Iraq and Chechnya, from the streets of occupied Palestine and the mountains of Kashmir, from the hills and plains of Colombia and the forests of Andhra Pradesh and Assam comes the chilling reply: “There’s no alternative but terrorism.” Terrorism. Armed struggle. Insurgency. Call it what you want.
Terrorism is vicious, ugly, and dehumanizing for its perpetrators, as well as its victims. But so is war. You could say that terrorism is the privatization of war. Terrorists are the free marketers of war. They are people who don’t believe that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.
Human society is journeying to a terrible place.
Of course, there is an alternative to terrorism. It’s called justice.
It’s time to recognize that no amount of nuclear weapons or full-spectrum dominance or daisy cutters or spurious governing councils and loya jirgas can buy peace at the cost of justice.
The urge for hegemony and preponderance by some will be matched with greater intensity by the longing for dignity and justice by others.
Exactly what form that battle takes, whether its beautiful or bloodthirsty, depends on us.
From: Z Net – The Spirit Of Resistance Lives
Humanitarian Neo-colonialism: Framing Libya and Reframing War
by F. William Engdahl 4 May 2011
The war on Libya is perceived by F. William Engdahl as a major test case for the new “responsibility to protect” doctrine, intended to legitimize a de facto neo-colonial militarization policy. What is emerging is the acceptance by a brainwashed world community of radical new forms of US-orchestrated military intervention, which sets a dangerous precedent and opens a Pandora’s Box of unlimited possibilities for those powers shaping public opinion through their corporate media mouthpieces.
The most remarkable facet of NATO’s war against Libya is the fact that “world opinion,” that ever so nebulous thing, has accepted an act of overt military aggression against a sovereign country guilty of no violation of the UN Charter in an act of de facto neo-colonialism, a ’humanitarian’ war in violation of basic precepts of the laws of nations. The world has accepted it without realizing the implications if the war against Gaddafi’s Libya is allowed to succeed in forced regime change. At issue is not whether or not Gaddafi is good or evil. At issue is the very concept of the civilized law of nations and of just or unjust wars.
The Libya campaign represents the attempt to force application of a dangerous new concept into the norms of accepted international law. That concept is what is termed by its creators, “Responsibility to Protect.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has stated that the justification for the use of force in Libya was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect,
“a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” 
An American President, Barack Obama, has invoked this novel new concept as justification for what is de facto an unlawful US-led military war of aggression and acquisition.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as Presidential candidate in 2008 said about the concept: “In adopting the principle of the responsibilty to protect, the United Nations accepted the principle that mass atrocities that take place in one state are the concern of all states.”  Nice words and highly dangerous.
According to White House insider reports, the key person driving Obama to move to military action in Libya, citing a nebulous “Responsibility to Protect” as the basis was Presidential Adviser, Samantha Power. 
In effect, via the instrument of a controlled NATO propaganda barrage, the US government with no verifiable proof claimed Gaddafi’s air force slaughtered innocent civilians. That in turn has been the basis on which Amr Moussa and members of the Arab League bowed down before heavy Washington pressure to give Washington and London the quasi-legal fig leaf it needed. That unproven slaughter of allegedly innocent civilians was why a “humanitarian” war was necessary. On that basis, we might ask why not put a no-fly NATO bombardment operation as well on Bahrain, or Yemen, or Syria? Who decides the criteria in this new terrain of Responsibility to Protect?
There has been no serious effort on the side of Washington or London or Paris to negotiate a ceasefire inside Libya, no effort to find a compromise as in other countries. This is the marvelous flexibility of the new doctrine of Responsibility to Protect. Washington gets to define who is responsible for what. National sovereignty becomes a relic.
Back in 2004 George Soros authored a little-noted article in Foreign Policy magazine on the notion of national sovereignty. He wrote,
“Sovereignty is an anachronistic concept originating in bygone times when society consisted of rulers and subjects, not citizens. It became the cornerstone of international relations with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648…Today, though not all nation-states are democratically accountable to their citizens, the principle of sovereignty stands in the way of outside intervention in the internal affairs of nation-states. But true sovereignty belongs to the people, who in turn delegate it to their governments. If governments abuse the authority entrusted to them and citizens have no opportunity to correct such abuses, outside interference is justified.” 
Responsibility to Protect
The coup represented by the NATO intervention into events in Libya has been years in assiduous preparation. The first to publicize the concept, “The Responsibility to Protect,” was Gareth Evans, a former Australian Foreign Minister and CEO of the International Crisis Group.
In 2002, one year before the illegal US-UK aggression against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Evans published a seminal paper in Foreign Affairs, the elite foreign policy journal of the New York Council on Foreign Relations. 
In his article Evans called for the debate on whether or not to intervene into a given country on human rights grounds, even if the events are strictly internal to that country, to be “reframed not as an argument about the ’right to intervene’ but about the ’responsibility to protect.’” 
That clever linguistic “reframing” created a necessary blurring of lines of the original UN Charter Principle of sovereign equality of states, of Article 2, Section 1 of the Charter. There was a very sound reason that the founding nations signing the UN Charter in 1946 decided to exclude UN police intervention into internal disputes of a sovereign state.
Who should now decide which side in a given conflict is right? Under “responsibility to protect” essentially the United States and a few select allies could potentially define China as in violation of the human rights of its Tibetan or other ethnic minority citizens and order NATO troops to intervene in a humanitarian action. Or NATO might decide to intervene into the internal unrest in Chechnya, an integral part of the Russian Federation, because Moscow troops are attempting to enforce order over insurgents being secretly armed by NATO via Al Qaeda or Mujahideen networks in Central Asia. Or a similar “humanitarian” excuse might be used to call for a NATO no-fly zone over Belarus or Ukraine or Venezuela or Bolivia or perhaps at some point, Brazil.
The so-called humanitarian “responsibility to protect” doctrine opens a Pandora’s Box of possibilities for those powers controlling world opinion via CNN or BBC or key media such as the New York Times, to justify a de facto neo-colonial policy of military intervention. This is the real significance of what Gareth Evans blithely terms “reframing.”
Framing as deliberate manipulation
In mass media framing is a very well-researched subject. The technique refers to a technique of manipulating an individual’s emotional reaction or more accurately, his or her perception of meanings of words or phrases. When the Republican Party sought to get support for a huge tax cut for the wealthy on inheritances, something people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett found relevant to keeping their billions, the Bush Administration reframed the term inheritance taxes to become “death taxes,” making it subtly seem like something everyone who ultimately dies should support—only the wealthy inherit, but everyone dies became the subtle reframed message.
A rhetorical phrase is packaged thus to encourage a certain interpretation and to discourage others. Two authorities on framing, Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor identify why framing is so remarkably powerful as a tool to manipulate perception. It creates a mental “shortcut.” According to them, human beings are by nature “cognitive misers”, meaning they prefer to do as little thinking as possible. Frames give us a quick and easy way to process information. Hence, people will use the previously mentioned mental filters to make sense of incoming messages. As Fiske and Taylor note, this gives the sender and framer of the information enormous power to use these schemas to influence how the receivers will interpret the message. 
What is emerging, with the aggression against Libya as a major test case in the reframing of military intervention as responsibility to protect, is acceptance of radical new forms of US-orchestrated military intervention, with or without UN Security Council sanction, a radical new form of neo-colonialism, a major new step on the road to a New World Order, the Pentagon’s much-sought Full Spectrum Dominance.
Those ever-present NGOs
The steering organization for embedding the nebulous notion of responsibility to protect is another of the ever-present Non-Governmental Organizations, this one called the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. It in turn, much like the famous wooden Russian dolls, was created by other human rights NGOs including by the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam International, Refugees International, typically financed by a small network of donors. 
Gareth Evans is co-chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect ’s International Advisory Board, as well as being President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group which he led from 2000 to 2009.
Evans’ International Crisis Group which once described itself humbly as “widely regarded as the world’s leading independent, non-government source of information, analysis and advice to governments and international organisations on conflict issues,” is hardly a voice of independence or democracy. It is a creation of the leading Washington policy circles pledged to advance an agenda the Pentagon calls Full Spectrum Dominance, which I referred to in an earlier book as “Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order.” 
In addition to getting government funds from the US and UK governments, Evans’ International Crisis Group also gets generous support from the Rockefeller, Ford and MacArthur foundations.  George Soros, founder of the Open Society Institute sits on the ICG Board of Trustees.  Until he made his dramatic and well-timed return to Egypt in January 2011, Mohamed El Baradei also sat on the board of the Brussels-based ICG. 
The ICG was previously headed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, adviser to US presidents and long-time associate of David Rockefeller. Among other leading figures linked to Evans’ International Crisis Group have been founder, Morton Abramowitz, former board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. 
The present chair of ICG is Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador to Moscow and to El Salvator where he was accused of backing creation of death squads. ICG’s board also includes General Wesley Clark, former NATO-commander who led the destruction of Yugoslavia in 1999 and Samuel Berger, former US National Security Advisor. Former NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen is also a member.  This should cause at least some perceptive readers to rethink what Evans’ agenda of Responsibility to Protect is really about.
Evans’ Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, in addition to being active in North Africa and the Middle East, is also directly active in Asia from their center in Australia.
In short they are making major efforts to propandagize the notion of responsibility to protect under the guize of protecting various populations from what they define as “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity…” . The world community is being subtly brainwashed to accept the radical new proposition with nary a peep of serious opposition.
As Michael Barker, an Australian analyst of the use of humanitarian rhetoric and US-based NGOs to advance a Washington agenda noted,
“Perhaps if ’evil’ Qaddafi had been a bona fide US-backed dictator…the US government could have exerted more influence over Qaddafi’s political choices, and encouraged him to back down and allow himself to be replaced with a suitably US friendly leader. However, it is precisely because Qaddafi is not a Western-backed dictator that external powers cannot force his hand so easily: this helps explain why the world’s leading…elites were so keen to use the humanitarian pretext to support his opponents in the civil war.” 
It sets a dangerous precedent indeed, as many nations are now beginning to realize.
A widely discussed U.S. analyst of current political and economic developments whose articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines and well-known international websites. F. William Engdahl’s numerous books include Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century and Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation. A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order has just been reissued in a new edition. He may be contacted via his website.
 Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Hans Nichols, “Samantha Power Brings Activist Role Inside to Help Persuade Obama on Libya”, Bloomberg News, March 25, 2011.
 George Soros, “The Peoples’ Sovereignty: How a new twist on an old idea can protect the world’s most vulnerable populations”, New York, Foreign Policy, January 1, 2004.
 F. William Engdahl, Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, Wiesbaden, 2009, edition.engdahl.
 Jan Oberg, “The International Crisis Group: Who Pays the Piper?”, The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, Press Info #219, 15 April 2005.
The killing of Osama bin Laden: Obama’s “historic moment”
World Socialist Web Site, May 4, 2011
Of all the images that have emerged from the morally unclean events of Sunday night, the most politically significant and, one has reason to believe, enduring will prove to be the official photograph, released by the White House, of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other high officials of the United States government seated together in the situation room as they witnessed the killing of Osama bin Laden and several other human beings, including one woman.
Normally, the witnesses to an execution are not photographed. But the White House clearly wanted this “historic moment” captured for posterity. The eyes of all the participants in this ghoulish tableau—with the exception of a military officer who is working his computer—are apparently focused on a television screen. Obama, leaning forward, is stone faced as he stares ahead. Gates wears the sour expression of a man who is too well acquainted with such operations. Hillary Clinton’s right hand is raised over her mouth, a gesture that betrays the horror of what is unfolding before her eyes.
After bin Laden had been liquidated, the White House and the media moved quickly to orchestrate the celebration of what was, in fact, an extra-legal state killing. The president chose the East Room to inform the nation, late Sunday night, of bin Laden’s death.
Obama, so desperately anxious to associate himself with the killing, no doubt believes that this is the “defining” event of his presidency. But what does this conception—so enthusiastically endorsed by the media—say about the political and moral condition of the government of the United States?
The scenes that followed the announcement of bin Laden’s liquidation—or, to be more precise, those reported and encouraged by the media—have been ugly and degrading. The grunting of “USA! USA!”—a chant which was unknown in the United States until it was incited by the filthy chauvinism of sportscasters who disgraced the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles—has over the last quarter century assumed the character of a public ritual. Of course, very few people are involved in such displays of political backwardness. But they are featured and promoted by the media to intimidate the public, suppress critical thought, and encourage a sense of political and emotional isolation among all those who are not prepared to surrender their democratic principles and moral integrity.
By now, what words can one find to describe the mass media in the United States? The response to the killing of bin Laden exposes yet again the degree to which the distinction between news and propaganda has been virtually effaced. In an unintentionally revealing comment, as the networks awaited Obama’s speech, CNN’s principal anchor, Wolf Blitzer, informed his audience that the network had received a message from the White House complimenting CNN for its “responsible” coverage of the unfolding events. This compliment, which would be received with shame by a serious journalist, was reported by Blitzer with pride.
The front page of Tuesday’s New York Times carries a banner headline: “Behind the Hunt for Bin Laden.” The article that follows is not a news lead, but rather a work of bootlicking propaganda. We read: “For an intelligence community that had endured searing criticism for a string of intelligence failures over the past decade, Bin Laden’s killing brought a measure of redemption. For a military that has slogged through two, and now three vexing wars in Muslim countries, it provided an unalloyed success. And for a president whose national security leadership has come under question, it proved an affirming moment that will enter the history books.”
So much for a critical examination of the clear illegality of the incursion into Pakistan and the killing itself, let alone an investigation of the mass of unanswered questions and contradictions raised by the Obama administration’s version of events. In fact, by Tuesday night the initial claims that bin Laden had been killed rifle in hand were refuted by later reports that he was unarmed when he was shot to death.
The Times’ lead editorial is no less celebratory. It begins: “The news that Osama bin Laden has been tracked and killed by American forces filled us, and all Americans, with a great sense of relief.”
Aside from the Times’ unwarranted presumption that it speaks for “all Americans,” why should the killing of a man who has been in hiding for a decade and who was, as is almost universally acknowledged, incapable of significantly influencing, let alone directing events, produce “relief?” Why should the “relief” over his killing outweigh the profound concern that should be aroused by the far-reaching and long-lasting consequences and implications of the United States’ extra-legal killing of an individual? Not surprisingly, the Times fails to note that the murder of bin Laden occurred just one day after the United States and NATO killed the son and three grandchildren of Muammar Gaddafi in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Libyan leader.
The media proclaims over and over the “historic” significance of the killing of bin Laden. It has not been able, however, to explain precisely why this event is of such monumental significance. Neither Obama nor the media have sought to suggest that bin Laden’s death will bring an end to the wars and occupations in which the United States is engaged. Quite the opposite: the New York Times declared, in the same above-cited editorial, “Even as we now breathe a bit more easily, we must also remember that the fight against extremists is far from over.” In other words, the wars will continue. Another bogeyman will soon be found, or invented, to take the place of bin Laden.
The misuse of the term “historic” to describe Sunday’s killing is not merely an example of journalistic exaggeration. It expresses a delusional belief within the American ruling class that it can through acts of wanton violence determine the course of history.
But the movement of history is shaped by processes, economic and social, that are far more powerful than the American military.
The inexorable decay of American capitalism continues. During the last 20 years, despite the endless series of military engagements and wars, it has not been possible for the ruling class to restore the global economic position of the United States. During the week that preceded bin Laden’s killing, the US dollar fell to historic lows.
American capitalism remains mired in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. The national government teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. The states are starved of resources. The social infrastructure is breaking down. The greed, corruption and parasitism of the super-rich are provoking ever greater popular indignation. But the political system is incapable of responding to popular demands for social reform and economic relief.
As with so many of the previous events deemed “historic” by American presidents and the media—the capture of Saddam Hussein being among the more recent—this one too will be quickly overtaken by the unforeseen consequences of the reckless decisions from which it emerged. Obama’s “historic moment” will soon prove to be only another sordid episode in the political, economic and moral putrefaction of the American ruling class.
Why they wanted him dead, not alive
The killing of Osama bin Laden
Published May 3, 2011 9:13 PM
Why? Why did the U.S. government do it this way?
Since the beginning of organized deadly warfare, when one side finally wins by capturing the leader of the other side, it has been the custom for the victor to display the captive for everyone to see.
After the huge inter-imperialist wars fought over the past century, in which tens of millions were killed or died of disease and starvation, the winners went further than that. They put the losers on trial so that the public could hear about all their crimes and be convinced that the devastation of war was justified and the more honorable side had won.
The very name of the city where this last took place, Nuremberg, has become synonymous with bringing to justice at least some of those guilty of war crimes.
So why were U.S. Navy Seals, trained assassins, sent to kill Osama bin Laden? Why didn’t the U.S. government want him taken alive, so that his crimes could be laid out in a court of justice before the whole world? He is not reported to have killed himself in his bunker, as Adolf Hitler did. Only a handful of aides were with him, the U.S. president said.
For professional soldiers, capturing bin Laden should have been easy, even if he resisted. They could have used stun grenades or tear gas. But instead they killed him. And no one is saying that the commandos erred and didn’t carry out their orders.
So it’s obvious U.S. authorities didn’t want to put bin Laden on trial. What are some of the embarrassing things that could have come out?
For starters, there are bin Laden’s years of service to the CIA, which employed him and his followers in the 1980s during the U.S. war to bring down the pro-socialist, secular government in Afghanistan. Since 2001, U.S. forces have been back in Afghanistan fighting against “enemies” Washington created. The U.S. establishment wants that part of bin Laden’s résumé forgotten.
Then there is the question of his relations with the Saudi monarchy, which is very tight with the oil-soaked U.S. ruling class, especially the Bush family and its two U.S. presidents, George H.W. Bush and his son. What might bin Laden have revealed about the secret deals they made over Iraq and its oil, for example?
And there is the question of 9/11 itself. One would think that would have been a prosecutor’s dream — to try bin Laden for the deaths at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But no. They quickly finished him off — and with him any attempts to clarify the many lingering questions.
The capitalist media — just about all of them — are dutifully whipping up a triumphal, celebratory mood around this strange denouement. It can’t last. Once the march-in-lockstep hoopla is over, the questions must come creeping out of their temporary hiding places.
Whatever bin Laden may have been guilty of, how much bigger are the crimes that can be traced to those who hunted him? Not just buildings full of people but whole countries in the region have been blown up, knocked down and made unlivable by U.S. bombs. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, now Libya — all have suffered merciless attacks that have left villages and even whole cities destroyed, their people blown apart, rounded up and tortured, or left to slowly die or suffer from their wounds, hunger and thirst.
What have all these wars — in the name of fighting terrorism — done but produce more anger and more willingness of the invaded peoples to sacrifice everything fighting the powers that drop sudden death from the skies?
But the biggest crime is that it all has been done for money. All the patriotic bluster, the “Mission Accomplished” bragging, is hype. The winners are not the 9/11 families and survivors, and certainly not the soldiers. They’re lucky to get health care or a job, if they come back. The winners are the billionaire pack who, at the end of the day, have tripled their investments in oil, armaments and private rent-a-mercenary companies.
Those who cooked up this scenario have a much bigger problem than bin Laden on their hands, however. Their wars have helped arouse a mass movement across North Africa and into the Middle East that can’t just be assassinated and disposed of.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to commit budget-busting trillions of dollars to cover past, present and future wars while it is cutting back every useful social service at the same time millions are jobless and struggling to cover basic necessities.
Something’s gotta give. And that something is the patience of the working class, which has run out already in Wisconsin and in thousands of other battles against the billionaires and their bought-and-paid-for politicians. The genie is out of the bottle, and killing bin Laden isn’t going to coax it back in again.