Is American a Democracy or something else? The popular ‘media approved’ answer is almost always Democracy, but I say no, today’s greed driven, corporate backed and controlled, elective despotism is not the government the founders foresaw, and certainly nothing we should be fighting to defend today. Firstly, American was never intended to be anything but a Republic right from the start. So, what is the difference between a Democracy versus a Republic you might ask? These two forms of government, Democracy and Republic, are not only dissimilar but antithetical, reflecting the sharp contrast between them,
(a) The Majority Unlimited, in a Democracy, lacking any legal safeguard of the rights of The Individual and The Minority, and
(b) The Majority Limited, in a Republic under a written Constitution safeguarding the rights of The Individual and The Minority.
The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of a Democracy is:
Rule by Omnipotent Majority. In a Democracy, The Individual, and any group of Individuals composing any Minority, have no protection against the unlimited power of The Majority. It is a case of Majority-over-Man.
This is true whether it be a Direct Democracy, or a Representative Democracy. In the direct type, applicable only to a small number of people as in the little city-states of ancient Greece, or in a New England town-meeting, all of the electorate assemble to debate and decide all government questions, and all decisions are reached by a majority vote (of at least half-plus-one). Decisions of The Majority in a New England town-meeting are, of course, subject to the Constitutions of the State and of the United States which protect The Individual’s rights, so, in this case, The Majority is not omnipotent and such a town-meeting is, therefore, not an example of a true Direct Democracy. Under a Representative Democracy like Britain’s parliamentary form of government, the people elect representatives to the national legislature–the elective body there being the House of Commons, and it functions by a similar vote of at least half-plus-one in making all legislative decisions.
In both the Direct type and the Representative type of Democracy, The Majority’s power is absolute and unlimited; its decisions are unappealable under the legal system established to give effect to this form of government. This opens the door to unlimited Tyranny-by-Majority. This was what The Framers of the United States Constitution meant in 1787, in debates in the Federal (framing) Convention, when they condemned the “excesses of democracy” and abuses under any Democracy of the unalienable rights of The Individual by The Majority. Examples were provided in the immediate post-1776 years by the legislatures of some of the States. In reaction against earlier royal tyranny, which had been exercised through oppressions by royal governors and judges of the new State governments, while the legislatures acted as if they were virtually omnipotent. There were no effective State Constitutions to limit the legislatures because most State governments were operating under mere Acts of their respective legislatures which were mislabeled “Constitutions.” Neither the governors not the courts of the offending States were able to exercise any substantial and effective restraining influence upon the legislatures in defense of The Individual’s unalienable rights, when violated by legislative infringements. (Connecticut and Rhode Island continued under their old Charters for many years.) It was not until 1780 that the first genuine Republic through constitutionally limited government, was adopted by Massachusetts, and then next New Hampshire in 1784, other States later.
It was in this connection that Jefferson, in his “Notes On The State of Virginia” written in 1781-1782, protected against such excesses by the Virginia Legislature in the years following the Declaration of Independence, saying: “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for . . .” (Emphasis Jefferson’s.) He also denounced the despotic concentration of power in the Virginia Legislature, under the so-called “Constitution”–in reality a mere Act of that body:
“All the powers of government, legislative, executive, judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. 173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one. Let those who doubt it turn their eyes on the republic of Venice.”
This topic–the danger to the people’s liberties due to the turbulence of democracies and omnipotent, legislative majority. The Framing Convention’s records prove that by decrying the “excesses of democracy” The Framers were, of course, not opposing a popular type of government for the United States; their whole aim and effort was to create a sound system of this type. To contend to the contrary is to falsify history. Such a falsification not only maligns the high purpose and good character of The Framers but belittles the spirit of the truly Free Man in America–the people at large of that period–who happily accepted and lived with gratification under the Constitution as their own fundamental law and under the Republic which it created, especially because they felt confident for the first time of the security of their liberties thereby protected against abuse by all possible violators, including The Majority momentarily in control of government. The truth is that The Framers, by their protests against the “excesses of democracy,” were merely making clear their sound reasons for preferring a Republic as the proper form of government. They well knew, in light of history, that nothing but a Republic can provide the best safeguards–in truth in the long run the only effective safeguards (if enforced in practice)–for the people’s liberties which are inescapably victimized by Democracy’s form and system of unlimited Government-over-Man featuring The Majority Omnipotent. They also knew that the American people would not consent to any form of government but that of a Republic. It is of special interest to note that Jefferson, who had been in Paris as the American Minister for several years, wrote Madison from there in March 1789 that:
“The tyranny of the legislatures is the most formidable dread at present, and will be for long years. That of the executive will come it’s turn, but it will be at a remote period.” (Text per original.)
Somewhat earlier, Madison had written Jefferson about violation of the Bill of Rights by State legislatures, stating:
“Repeated violations of those parchment barriers have been committed by overbearing majorities in every State. In Virginia I have seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current.”
It is correct to say that in any Democracy–either a Direct or a Representative type–as a form of government, there can be no legal system which protects The Individual or The Minority (any or all minorities) against unlimited tyranny by The Majority. The undependable sense of self-restraint of the persons making up The Majority at any particular time offers, of course, no protection whatever. Such a form of government is characterized by The Majority Omnipotent and Unlimited. This is true, for example, of the Representative Democracy of Great Britain; because unlimited government power is possessed by the House of Lords, under an Act of Parliament of 1949–indeed, it has power to abolish anything and everything governmental in Great Britain.
For a period of some centuries ago, some English judges did argue that their decisions could restrain Parliament; but this theory had to be abandoned because it was found to be untenable in the light of sound political theory and governmental realities in a Representative Democracy. Under this form of government, neither the courts not any other part of the government can effectively challenge, much less block, any action by The Majority in the legislative body, no matter how arbitrary, tyrannous, or totalitarian they might become in practice. The parliamentary system of Great Britain is a perfect example of Representative Democracy and of the potential tyranny inherent in its system of Unlimited Rule by Omnipotent Majority. This pertains only to the potential, to the theory, involved; governmental practices there are irrelevant to this discussion.
Madison’s observations in The Federalist number 10 are noteworthy at this point because they highlight a grave error made through the centuries regarding Democracy as a form of government. He commented as follows:
“Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed, that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
“Democracy, as a form of government, is utterly repugnant to, is the very antithesis of, the traditional American system: that of a Republic, and its underlying philosophy, as expressed in essence in the Declaration of Independence with primary emphasis upon the people’s forming their government so as to permit them to possess only “just powers” (limited powers) in order to make and keep secure the God-given, unalienable rights of each and every Individual and therefore of all groups of Individuals.
A Republic, on the other hand, has a very different purpose and an entirely different form, or system, of government. Its purpose is to control The Majority strictly, as well as all others among the people, primarily to protect The Individual’s God-given, unalienable rights and therefore for the protection of the rights of The Minority, of all minorities, and the liberties of people in general. The definition of a Republic is: a constitutionally limited government of the representative type, created by a written Constitution–adopted by the people and changeable (from its original meaning) by them only by its amendment–with its powers divided between three separate Branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Here the term “the people” means, of course, the electorate. A lot of this was to forestall the kind of corporate control that the founding fathers feared could happen even back then. They spent months and months trying to get the wording right to avoid the very thing that is controlling our country today.
The people adopt the Constitution as their fundamental law by utilizing a Constitutional Convention–especially chosen by them for this express and sole purpose–to frame it for consideration and approval by them either directly or by their representatives in a Ratifying Convention, similarly chosen. Such a Constitutional Convention, for either framing or ratification, is one of America’s greatest contributions, if not her greatest contribution, to the mechanics of government–of self-government through constitutionally limited government, comparable in importance to America’s greatest contribution to the science of government: the formation and adoption by the sovereign people of a written Constitution as the basis for self-government. One of the earliest, if not the first, specific discussions of this new American development (a Constitutional Convention) in the historical records is an entry in June 1775 in John Adams’ “Autobiography” commenting on the framing by a convention and ratification by the people as follows:
“By conventions of representatives, freely, fairly, and proportionately chosen . . . the convention may send out their project of a constitution, to the people in their several towns, counties, or districts, and the people may make the acceptance of it their own act.”
Yet the first proposal in 1778 of a Constitution for Massachusetts was rejected for the reason, in part, as stated in the “Essex Result” (the result, or report, of the Convention of towns of Essex County), that it had been framed and proposed not by a specially chosen convention but by members of the legislature who were involved in general legislative duties, including those pertaining to the conduct of the war.
The first genuine and soundly founded Republic in all history was the one created by the first genuine Constitution, which was adopted by the people of Massachusetts in 1780 after being framed for their consideration by a specially chosen Constitutional Convention. (As previously noted, the so-called “Constitutions” adopted by some States in 1776 were mere Acts of Legislatures, not genuine Constitutions.) That Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts was the first successful one ever held in the world; although New Hampshire had earlier held one unsuccessfully – it took several years and several successive conventions to produce the New Hampshire Constitution of 1784. Next, in 1787-1788, the United States Constitution was framed by the Federal Convention for the people’s consideration and then ratified by the people of the several States through a Ratifying Convention in each State specially chosen by them for this sole purpose. Thereafter the other States gradually followed in general the Massachusetts pattern of Constitution-making in adoption of genuine Constitutions; but there was a delay of a number of years in this regard as to some of them, several decades as to a few.
This system of Constitution-making, for the purpose of establishing constitutionally limited government, is designed to put into practice the principle of the Declaration of Independence: that the people form their governments and grant to them only “just powers,” limited powers, in order primarily to secure (to make and keep secure) their God-given, unalienable rights. The American philosophy and system of government thus bar equally the “snob-rule” of a governing Elite and the “mob-rule” of an Omnipotent Majority. This is designed, above all else, to preclude the existence in America of any governmental power capable of being misused so as to violate The Individual’s rights–to endanger the people’s liberties.
With regard to the republican form of government, “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government (that of a Republic) presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.” It is noteworthy here that the above discussion, though brief, is sufficient to indicate the reasons why the label “Republic” has been misapplied in other countries to other and different forms of government throughout history. It has been greatly misunderstood and widely misused–for example as long ago as the time of Plato, when he wrote his celebrated volume, The Republic; in which he did not discuss anything governmental even remotely resembling–having essential characteristics of–a genuine Republic. Frequent reference is to be found, in the writings of the period of the framing of the Constitution for instance, to “the ancient republics,” but in any such connection the term was used loosely–by way of contrast to a monarchy or to a Direct Democracy–often using the term in the sense merely of a system of Rule-by-Law featuring Representative government; as indicated, for example, by John Adams in his “Thoughts on Government” and by Madison in The Federalist numbers 10 and 39. But this is an incomplete definition because it can include a Representative Democracy, lacking a written Constitution limiting The Majority.
To keep myself from getting sidetracked on current middle-eastern concerns and what I consider America’s excesses there, let’s take a look at some of the latest current events in our own country, it’s worth looking at current events that seem to be indicating an end of an age, or the end of a district attorney in a time of corruption. Come to think of it, the two perspectives aren’t all that different.
However you look at it, calling the Wisconsin recent struggle a “labor dispute” is like calling the Battle of Normandy “a fight over a beach.” There’s a war going on, one that’s best understand by using an Latin expression popular among prosecutors: Cui bono? Who benefits? Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting budget contains buried goodies for somebody, including possibly the Koch Brothers who paid to have it drafted. More importantly, it’s another step toward replacing the American dream of prosperity for all with imperial visions of massive wealth for the few.
The heavily-financed army behind Scott Walker has as its prime ambition as the very death of the American Republic. If that sounds like rhetorical overkill, then it’s worth remembering the words of someone who watched a republic fall. “The enemy is within the gates,” said Cicero. “It is with our own opulence, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.”
If this end-of-the-republic rhetoric sounds extreme, listen to Gov. Walker’s phone call with a prankster pretending to be David Koch. He spoke to Koch the way an employee talks to the boss. That’s a glimpse into the world of corporate political power. Madison’s the epicenter for a battle between the dying American middle class and a plutocracy — no, make that a “Lootocracy” — determined to rob it of everything it’s earned over the last 75 years.
But wait, says Joe Klein, He says they’re protesting against democracy in Wisconsin. “The Republicans won,” Klein says, “and there are consequences to elections.” But did Scott Walker announce that he would magnify a budget problem and use it to break the ability of state employees to negotiate on their own behalf? That approach is opposed by 61% of Wisconsin voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll.
The election in Wisconsin is the latest example of a two-party system where neither party adequately represents the majority’s will. One tramples on it, using lies and fear, and the other offers only the weakest defense. The system’s been corrupted by money , “cash money,” which casts a shadow over its results. Those results include the election of leaders like Gov. Walker, who’s just a foot-soldier in the war on the American Dream. There’s big money at stake , cash money again, and the government swag in Wisconsin’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Klein’s energy would be better spent fighting for a truly representative democracy, rather than dismissing protestors who represent a majority of their own state’s people.
Civil Discourse vs. Civil War
Historians of the future may may well look back on our time with an indulgent chuckle when they consider the pundits and politicians who, in their anxiety to ensure a ‘civil dialogue,’ ignored the cui bono principle. Under current conventions, we’re supposed to assume that every political action must be the result of selfless ideologies. We must “disagree without being disagreeable,” as the president would say.
Meanwhile the plunder goes on unabated. Kevin Drum toted up the score so far from the plutocratic project: a massive upward redistribution of wealth, and the growing dominance of wealthy interests in politics and the media.
How would things have turned out if during the days of Tammany Hall in New York City or Huey Long in Louisiana journalists and reformers had adopted that attitude? Wall Street caused a global crash two years ago. Today it’s richer than ever and throwing its weight around politically as if nothing happened. Next time someone lectures you about ‘civil discourse’ just say, Look around, pal. This ain’t a debating society. Somebody’s wheels are getting greased — and the rest of us are on the skids.
At the risk of sounding disagreeable, it’s hard to find an “honest difference of opinion” on ideology that explains a paragraph like this one in Gov. Walker’s new bill, spotted by my eagle-eyed pal Mike Konczal:
“… the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount … no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant …”
This allows the governor to bypass regulators and legislators and sell the state’s power plants, built with millions in taxpayer money to anybody he likes. This paragraph goes on to say that “any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project.” The governor can give these plants away if he wants, and nobody can stop him.
Cui bono? Who could possibly benefit from giving the governor the ability to sell the state’s “heating, cooling, and power plants” (there are 32 of them), or “contract with a private entity” to operate them, without a bid process or any regulatory oversight?
Let’s see now: Wisconsin has nearly one million natural gas customers, so it would presumably be a company that “provides consulting, engineering, design, procurement, fabrication and construction services for the natural gas and gas processing industries worldwide” and has “been the general contractor on some of the largest natural gas plants built in the U.S.” And since there are a number of coal-fired plants on the state’s list, our corporation would need to be a “leading supplier of coal and related products typically used in industrial applications or to generate electricity.”
Those quotes were taken from the website of Koch Industries, the company whose owners are bankrolling a little-known group that’s behind initiatives like Walker’s budget proposal.
Of course, the winning candidate doesn’t have to be Koch Industries. Kris Broughton at BigThink found another candidate. ThinkEnergy says it “eliminates the waste of energy and money in facilities through a blend of Supply-Side and Demand-Side energy management measures,” and they’ve placed a hiring ad that reads “Energy client is looking for experienced Plant Managers for multiple power plants located in Wisconsin.”
The real issue isn’t whether Koch Industries gets the deal to operate Wisconsin’s power plants. Somebody will — and the assets built by Wisconsin taxpayers (including the public employees now under assault) will undoubtedly be given to the private sector at very favorable rates. It will be one more step in the Great American Giveaway — the seizure of public resources by the private sector.
The Great American Giveaway
One of the ‘Lootocracy’s’ objectives is to confiscate all the assets that the middle class has built with its tax dollars. For decades the “privatization” movement has been a front for this plunder of the public’s resources, allowing private corporations to enrich themselves by providing services that were once provided at lower cost by the government itself.
How did that work out? Xe, the Company Formerly Known as Blackwater, provides mercenaries for our Middle Eastern wars — at great public expense, and sometimes acting outside the law in ways that harm our national security. The privatization of prisons and reform schools gave us the case of the monstrous judges who railroaded innocent kids into incarceration in return for bribes from a private youth detention facility contractor.
On a national scale, money intended for worthy college students got diverted into private jets and fat salaries after the privatization of the student loan enterprise Sallie Mae, and the privatization of mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac led to a series of scandals, multimillion dollar payouts for incompetent executives, and a worsening of our financial crisis.
With a record like that, you’d think the privatization movement would be dead. And you’d be right — if it weren’t for the billions being provided to it by the Koch Brothers and other private financiers. They’re major backers of “ALEC” — the “American Legislative Exchange Council” — an organization that proves how smart and determined the armies of the’ Lootocrats’ really are. There are two very smart strategies behind ALEC:
1) While everybody’s focused on what goes on in Washington, ALEC is able to plunder the massive resources of state and local government.
2) State legislatures are the “farm league” for tomorrow’s governors, Senators, and Presidents. ALEC isn’t just buying state government. It’s buying tomorrow’s national leaders too.
This secret army has a clear agenda: Attain power, give away the “store” once in office, and decimate programs that help the middle class and lower income people. Scott Walker’s actions fit the playbook perfectly. In fact, his bill was reportedly drafted by ALEC, whose primary objectives include the drafting of “model legislation.”
Two enterprising representatives from People for the American Way were able to get into an ALEC meeting in 2005 and, as Joshua Holland reported, they cast a light on ALEC’s role as ” the connective tissue that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money.” They were also able to collect information on the breadth and audacious scope of the ALEC agenda, which is mirrored by other groups offering support for Walker’s efforts — groups such as “Americans For Prosperity,” another Koch-funded front group.
The war on unions is an essential part of the ALEC Assault. Unions are a double threat: First, they interfere with the’ Lootocracy’s’ ability to treat its private-sector employees as badly as the law will allow. And government employees are fighting for pay and benefits that interfere with the broader agenda of strangling all forms of government spending so that taxes can be kept low for the ‘Lootocrats’. That’s why, as Harold Meyerson points out, unions are under attack in a number of GOP-led states, and by Republican members of Congress who are trying to strip funding from the National Labor Relations Board.
All across the nation Republican governors are using the same play book, “Cry “poor” while giving tax cuts to the rich, then use the resulting crises to bust unions and gut services for the poor and middle class.” They’re all reading from the same script, and if their line readings aren’t convincing it doesn’t really matter. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger have already taught us that Republicans don’t need to be good actors to succeed.
As Wisconsin Goes
Gov. Walker insists that the state’s pension plan is a key driver of the state’s fiscal problems. But the state is actually projected to have a small surplus next year, depending on how it handles its debt to Minnesota and a couple of other key issues. In any case, the state’s pension plan is extremely well funded,with 99.67% already in its accounts.
What happened in Wisconsin? The Governor cut taxes for the wealthy, then declared a budget emergency. In classic “Shock Doctrine” fashion, he used that emergency to slash a retirement plan that’s highly stable financially, along with medical services for middle-class and lower-income people.
What’s happening in Washington? In the name of “austerity economics” and deficit-cutting, a deal was cut that extends tax cuts for the wealthy. Now the conventional wisdom is that we must cut Social Security, a benefit program that’s much more solvent than most government programs, and then gut medical assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Let’s see: A tax cut for the wealthy, followed by the declaration of a budget emergency and the gutting of retirement and medical programs. And along the way, a giveaway of public resources to private corporations. That’s not coincidence: It’s the plan.
The Home Front
So, cui bono? The richest 1% of Americans, along with the corporations — and politicians — they own. We know who the warriors are, we know their strategy. We know they’re winning, too. Can the tide be turned? Not if the people opposed to this ‘Lootocracy’ refuse to acknowledge what’s happening. Republicans are gutting the republic and not enough Democrats will fight for democracy. “Nothing is so strongly fortified that it cannot be taken by money” Ok, I could go on and on, and I promised myself not to go to the rest of the world, but;
War and the American Republic
Shortly before the appalling “Shock and Awe” attack on Iraq, and for years after, public support for the war was high in the U.S. It was evident in the high approval ratings for Bush, who had hoped that the war would turn him into a great president and American hero. As if taking a cue from the Senate, the mainstream media mostly stood united. Few even from the universities came out to protest. A great many Americans silently relished their mounting excitement.
The opening night’s attack, coolly dubbed a ‘campaign’, was broadcast live into American homes and even looked like a massively coordinated fireworks show. It would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, create millions of refugees, and cost the U.S. taxpayer over two trillion dollars. Many American politicians and commentators who had supported Bush that night, later criticized him on the grounds that they didn’t support this kind of war, one so badly executed. Bush should have sent in more troops and supplies, and planned ‘to win the peace’. In other words, they had supported an operationally smarter war.
It is not enough to argue that Americans were lied to about Saddam’s nukes and links to al-Qaeda. With the same “evidence”, why did most Americans support the war, even reelecting Bush in 2004, when much of the world strongly opposed it? Why is it that, as the historian Tony Judt put it, ‘the United States today is the only advanced so called “democracy” where public figures glorify and exalt the military’, where politicians ‘surround themselves with the symbols and trappings of armed prowess’? War is always spoken of as an option; to be averse to it is taken as a sign of weakness. Indeed, why are the Americans so much more fanatically patrioticly racist today than, say, the Europeans?
I offer three reasons that I believe, taken together, provide an answer;
(a) The demographics of the American military
(b) Historical inexperience of war and the world, and
(c) The impetus from corporate capitalism. These are not original lines of investigation by any means.
My modest goal in this short essay is to develop them into my own synthesis, and hopefully provide food for your further thought.
The Demographics of the American Military
The idea of conscription, or mandatory service in the military, is rooted in a sense of civic virtue and community obligation. It is at least as old as the Athenian polis, which required military service from all citizens. But most nations today have a volunteer military. Serving in it is now a specialized profession like any other—only some men and women pursue it, the vast majority have nothing to do with it. The volunteer model works well when citizens enjoy largely equal opportunities. People then follow their interests and temperaments to pursue the jobs they want. If you’re moved enough by patriotism and civic virtue, go enlist. Everyone is satisfied, including the utilitarians, the libertarians, and the liberals. But what if a society has huge disparities in opportunity and wealth? Doesn’t the volunteer military cease to be all that voluntary if many are led to join it out of poverty, lack of choices, and disadvantages of class?
The composition of most militaries today, including the U.S., suggests that this is indeed the case. The economic and political elites tend not to serve in the military, but very much dictate its priorities. They increasingly have no skin in the game, and a diminishing sense of its human cost. 450 of 750 students in Princeton’s graduating class of 1956 joined the military. Only 9 of 1108 graduates did so in 2006. This trend holds across other elite universities too, and has only accelerated since 1973 when Congress abolished the draft and made it an all-voluntary army. Only 2% of the members of congress have an offspring that has served in the military.
According to Michael Massing’s 2008 report, The Volunteer Army: Who Fights and Why?, military recruitment in America increasingly revolves around a roster of basic material benefits: cash bonuses, health insurance, college tuition, etc. Those least able to afford these—and their ranks have swollen in recent decades—are disproportionately drawn to the military. Doesn’t this begin to drift towards a mercenary model (think Blackwater), where the idea of community obligation is undermined? Doesn’t this lower the threshold for the elites to choose war? Thucydides clearly cautioned against such trends: ‘The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.’
Historical Inexperience of War and the World
The last real war on the U.S. mainland was the Civil War, 150 years ago. Not since then has the U.S. experienced war at home. It is simply not in living memory. No carpet bombing of Boston, no bunker busters in Chicago, no nighttime air raid sirens in St. Louis, no cruise missiles raining on DC landmarks, no helicopter gunships over LA, no bombed out Nashville, no sniper fire in San Francisco, no land mines in the Virginia countryside, no hospitals choked with mutilated bodies, no hideously burnt out corpses in the streets, no mass burials, no wailing widows and orphans, no blown up highways, bridges, airports, or seaports, no knocked out food, medical, power, or water supplies. As Judt wrote,
“Americans, perhaps alone in the world, experienced the twentieth century in a far more positive light. The US was not invaded. It did not lose vast numbers of citizens, or huge swathes of territory, as a result of occupation or dismemberment. Although humiliated in distant neocolonial wars (in Vietnam and now in Iraq), the US has never suffered the full consequences of defeat. Despite their ambivalence toward its recent undertakings, most Americans still feel that the wars their country has fought were mostly “good wars.” The US was greatly enriched by its role in the two world wars and by their outcome … And compared with other major twentieth-century combatants, the US lost relatively few soldiers in battle and suffered hardly any civilian casualties…”
“Indeed, the complacent neoconservative claim that war and conflict are things Americans understand—in contrast to naive Europeans with their pacifistic fantasies—seems to me exactly wrong: it is Europeans (along with Asians and Africans) who understand war all too well. Most Americans have been fortunate enough to live in blissful ignorance of its true significance.”
Europeans are also shrewder than Americans about non-Western societies—a byproduct of Europe’s geography, colonial empires, and in some ways, their salad-bowl model of immigration (vs. the melting pot, more conducive to assimilation). Their scholars, administrators, and civilians once spent years abroad, returning with knowledge that filtered into public awareness. They continue traveling to and otherwise engaging with former colonies. One might say that the world has already paid the price for educating the Europeans. And whether or not they like others, Europeans have a keener sense of others’ cultural complexities, and of this Kantian insight: ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.’ Keener than the Americans that is, whose relative naivete, insularity, and evangelical instincts (religious, political, and economic) only make them more vulnerable to demagogues who cry wolf about threats from foreign cultures.
The Impetus from Corporate Capitalism
In a society of ‘AWOL’ upper classes, does the free market, the kind led by modern corporations, create its own impetus for war? How does America’s elite class—whose growing share of wealth depends on the relentless growth of corporations—safeguard its economic interests? Not usually through boardroom conspiracies, which surely happen, but by staying true to its dominant class character, like an animal who cannot help being any other way, whose one authentic instinct is to sustain and engorge itself. To that end, it uses every tool at its disposal.
One such tool is the news media, which has changed drastically in recent decades. Most news sources are now owned by a handful of corporations. Unlike in most professions, free market economics has been disastrous for journalism. What it tends to produce is news that sells like any consumable, made palatable for the least demanding among us. The media, in all its freedom, builds and affirms myths about American greatness and benevolence. Dissenting analysis and uncomfortable truths tend not to be rewarded, sensational exposes and feel-good stories do. This eventually spirals into frivolity and conformism, the latter best evidenced in the U.S. right before the Iraq war.
Many like Chomsky have reminded us for decades that the corporate media largely serves the agendas and interests of dominant groups. It tends to employ company men and women who uphold their bosses’ values and viewpoints—not from coercion but consent, in exchange for some of the spoils. It promotes a libertarian gospel of the free market, with minimal regulation and taxation—a system that increases disparity and reduces the economic well-being of most people. It wouldn’t survive if most people didn’t also buy into the libertarian ideal of the autonomous individual, heroically forging his own economic destiny. (No wonder rags-to-riches stories are so admired.) This oddly persistent dogma—reinforced by the corporate control of films, TV, and books—helps lubricate the free market’s ravishing of social democracy and redistributive justice. It has managed to even turn Scandinavian-style ‘socialism’ into a filthy word fit to taint adversaries with. A classic case of the Foucauldian nexus of knowledge and power.
U.S. corporations now make almost half of their money from the rest of the world. They also account for two-thirds of the international arms shipments, mostly to the developing world, many to regimes guilty of major ongoing human rights abuses. As global conflicts over markets and resources intensify, the natural interest of the economic elites is a world safe for corporations. Towards this end, they hire lobbyists, grease political campaigns, or enlist the help of the military. U.S. garrisons now occupy 700+ bases in 120 countries. The trick that the elites—including political elites who also dream of empire or need diversions from domestic failings—instinctively practice is this: sensing a threat to their own economic interests abroad, they whip up fear and hysteria about threats to the ‘American way of life’ from evil others. Of course, to build consent for openly hostile action (as opposed to covertly hostile action that is but a slight rigorous task ) for those in true control, it is necessary to but cultivate an illusion of common interest, grossly magnify the threat to national security, and dehumanize the enemy. Alongside, it is important to glorify patriotism and military service to counter dissent, continue recruitment, and ease collective guilt over the sacrifice of the few. The goal is to boost the ranks of fearful, flag-waving patriots to whom no cost of war is too high for a dubious promise of security. And this is exactly what the corporate media artfully enables. War often boosts the economy (especially via the military-industrial complex) and is usually good for the media. About the only thing that might expose the U.S. public to the realities of war—showing the mutilated bodies of soldiers and civilians, shattered families, disabled vets, or the experiences of people on the ground—is conveniently classified, censored, ignored, or made taboo on the pretext of respecting privacy or excessive violence. Can we imagine corporate media anchors calling the invasion of Iraq a crime against humanity? Or asking why so many Americans became Bush’s willing executioners? Or demanding a formal apology and reparations to Iraq for a war based on lies? The business of news has no room for those who might be led to wonder on which side of the gate roam the barbarians. Disguised by a dust-storm of lies, the monopoly press would have us believe “The Arabs Did It!” as to the March 11, 2004 violence in Madrid. The bloodshed in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, orchestrated by high-level U.S. military with the White House, was a turning point to give the occupant and resident of the Oval Office, George W. Bush, Fascist-like powers, cancelling the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. “9-11” was likewise falsely blamed on the Arabs who were just patsies, the violence New York and at the Pentagon being a home-grown product. The invasion of Iraq seems to be the turning point, sort of like the Viet Nam War. Have we forgotten what happened? There was in Viet Nam growing dissident within the U.S. “grunts”, the ground troops. When ordered to go as point man on night patrol, they told their Lt. He should be point man and go home, as often happened too much, in a body bag. When he refused, they threw a grenade into his tent, “fragging”, and said, if he survived, “Lt., your V.C. laundry woman did it!” Prior to the pre-emptive U.S. attack, and without a Declaration of War by Congress against Iraq, there were huge anti-war parades in London, Paris, Germany, and Spain, and elsewhere as well. Now the Madrid terrible railroad bombing bloodshed, may be the beginning of the turning point, to extricate the American Establishment from their Iraq “adventure”. Wee already know that Libya is being bombed back to the stone age as I write this and we should be worried as well about what ‘they’ have planned for Iran. Is U.S. national and international policy going into the reversal mode or will this mean a throwaway, by the British/American Aristocracy of their scapegoats and stooges, Obama “the peace president”, George W. Bush, and maybe, even Daddy Bush, Jeb, Neil, and Marvin as well?
Do we all understand that the Aristocracy does not cry or lose sleep when they order vast bloodshed to carry out their national and international policies? Or when they order the reversal of failed policies?
Despite everything said about the Madrid violence by the pressfakers, it may turn out to be, like Viet Nam, post-Nixon, a turning point where the U.S. Ruling Class wants to extricate themselves, or maybe not for we all can see how the violence and offenses being committed by the US seem to be spreading. As I see it the corporations are still making far too much money on the US latest aggressions to ‘allow’ any kind of pull out or even step down of our actions. Maybe the time has come for ‘We the people’ to re-take charge of our country and make some real changes for our future.