Tag Archives: War in Afghanistan

America: land of the warmongers

By Michael True

In public addresses, President Obama assures us that the U.S. military command is greater than any other in the world. One wonders if he is aware that the U.S. has not won a war since 1945, as historian Andrew Bacivich suggests.

Since the Vietnam War, U.S. policy makers and military commands responsible for U.S. interventions have not quite lived up to the president’s billing.

The cost has been enormous, in dead and injured Americans and wasted resources. The results, including the ignominious defeat in Vietnam, have left the U.S. and the world in worse shape than before.

Following the War in Iraq, arguably the worst military disaster in American history, U.S. interventions continued up to and including the one in Afghanistan. Wounded veterans from each conflict returned home, many ending up homeless or suicidal.

In spite of these disasters, as James Atlas points out in a recent issue of The Atlantic, the American public still regards the U.S. armed forces more favorably than other essential government services such as Medicare and Social Security. A central question posed by Atlas is one that has not been fully addressed either during or since the Vietnam War: “Who is held responsible for these interventions – some of them further destabilizing regions where the U.S. was involved?”

And yet, Congress and the Pentagon lobby keep insisting on more and more military expenditures, even though the U.S. military budget is larger than either China’s or Russia’s, and almost equals military expenditures of all nations in the world combined.

As a line in a Denise Levertov poem says, “The same war continues.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. infrastructure deteriorates, and Congress cuts Food Stamps allotments, while a fourth of our nation’s children under five years old live below the poverty line.

Many factors have contributed to this sad state of affairs, in domestic as well as foreign policy, in a culture of violence since Vietnam.

And do we ever learn from our mistakes?

Although it has been 50 years since the Vietnam War began in the early 1960s and 40 years since it ended, full knowledge of its consequences escapes us, in spite of numerous novels and poems, debates and histories, memoirs and films and debates and films and debates about the films.

Initially, several of the so-called “best and brightest who lied and plunged us into that disaster,” including the late U.S. Secretary of State Robert McNamara, acknowledged that it should never have happened. As with other accounts, his admission was helpful. Nonetheless, a fuller accounting and deeper understanding of the war awaits us, if we are to understand how it resulted in the massacre of more than 2 million Vietnamese, 58,000 Americans, and numerous allies on either side.

Among recent accounts that I am familiar with, Nick Turse’s Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, 2013, occupies a special place, particularly on the basis of new information focusing on the war’s impact on the native population and the suffering they endured.

For the Vietnamese, the war was “an endless gauntlet of potential calamities,” according to Turse, with innocents ”killed for the sake of a bounty or shot in a garbage dump, forced into prostitution or gang-raped…run down for sport on a roadway or locked away in jail to be tortured without the benefit of trial.” These crimes, the various essence of war, Terse adds, “went on all the time all over South Vietnam for years.”

Following its failed war in the jungles of Vietnam, the U.S. briefly soft-pedaled its imperial pretensions. After 9/11, however, the Bush administration seemed to feel that the U.S. had to bomb somebody.

Pressured by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and other militarists in the Bush cabinet and cheered on by the shameless media, the U.S. invaded Iraq, even though there were no nuclear weapons and no Iraqis were 9/11 terrorists. That intervention, costing taxpayers more than $3 trillion, turned out to be perhaps the worst foreign policy disaster in American history.

Forty years from now, perhaps, we may get a more complete acccount of a war that was fundamentally wrong and immoral, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, thousands of Americans, and further destabilizing the Middle East.

After that, President Obama repeated policies initiated by President Bush, including torture and strikes by MQ-l Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones,  terrorizing innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. One report stated that the ratio of deaths from the strikes over a three-year period was 50 civilians for every militant – a hit rate of 2 percent.”

U.S. military expenditures in Afghanistan exceed $100 billion, in the fifth poorest and second most corrupt nation in the world. Sixty-eight percent of people there live on less than $1 a day, and only 23% of the population has access to sanitary drinking water.

Although Americans are aware of major wars that the U.S. has been involved in, we often fail to realize that violence and militarism characterize our foreign policy throughout history.

General knowledge about various incidents are missing in standard history of the U.S. since about 1890. Recent accounts, such as The Untold History of the United States, 2012, occasionally provide further details on policies and events on the basis of new revelations.

Even when one disagrees with documentation and commentary, such as Stone’s and Kuznick’s, they foster lively debate that enhances public discussion in the long run and add detailed information seldom available through conventional histories and popular media. Acknowledging America’s affirmation of freedom and liberty, they also reflect on how those values have been buried “in the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the jungles of Southeast Asia, and the sands of the Middle East.”

In the recent past, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have continued to fail us, particularly on issues of foreign policy. So we learn – after the fact – about their approving our country’s global surveillance, something which alienates our friends abroad and undermines civil liberties at home.

Is there any hope of altering the priorities of the U.S. in our foreign policy?

Probably not, as long as the American public remains ignorant of their consequences and the elected officials who supported them remain in office. As a nation, we appear not to have learned what General Smedley Butler taught 70 years ago: ”War is a racket.”

At the moment, neither political party effectively challenges or addresses these serious issues. Democrats remain divided on many of them, while Republicans oppose almost any foreign policy proposal from the White House, primarily to make President Obama look bad.

The same is true, unfortunately, regarding domestic, as well as foreign policy. During the recession, for example, Republicans opposed the president’s efforts to revive the American economy. Ignoring them, Obama succeeded in improving the situation while lowering the national debt at the same time. Since then, Republicans have pressed for austerity measures similar to those responsible for serious economic consequences in Europe and Japan. It does so in spite of the fact that Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman indicated repeatedly in his New York Times column, that such austerity measures would only weaken our economy.

None of this will change until an aroused public challenges lockstep Republicans and cautious Democrats to redirect policies that perpetuate chaos at home and abroad. Altering the situation requires persistent legislative and nonviolent action by a significant number of Americans. Similarly, improving the state of the union means responding to and affirming the interests not of the wealthy and powerful few, but of the overwhelming majority.

Michael True was an English professor at Worcester’s Assumption College for many years. He’s one of Worcester’s most eloquent peace activists. 

The Self-Destruction of the 1‏%

Excellent op ed piece from the New York Times. We have made some paragraphs bold. – R. T.

By CHRYSTIA FREELAND

Published in The New York Times: October 14, 2012

IN the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.

Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy.

The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.

The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.

The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken. Elites that have prospered from inclusive systems can be tempted to pull up the ladder they climbed to the top. Eventually, their societies become extractive and their economies languish.

That was the future predicted by Karl Marx, who wrote that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. And it is the danger America faces today, as the 1 percent pulls away from everyone else and pursues an economic, political and social agenda that will increase that gap even further – ultimately destroying the open system that made America rich and allowed its 1 percent to thrive in the first place.

You can see America’s creeping Serrata in the growing social and, especially, educational chasm between those at the top and everyone else. At the bottom and in the middle, American society is fraying, and the children of these struggling families are lagging the rest of the world at school.

Economists point out that the woes of the middle class are in large part a consequence of globalization and technological change. Culture may also play a role. In his recent book on the white working class, the libertarian writer Charles Murray blames the hollowed-out middle for straying from the traditional family values and old-fashioned work ethic that he says prevail among the rich (whom he castigates, but only for allowing cultural relativism to prevail).

There is some truth in both arguments. But the 1 percent cannot evade its share of responsibility for the growing gulf in American society. Economic forces may be behind the rising inequality, but as Peter R. Orszag, President Obama’s former budget chief, told me, public policy has exacerbated rather than mitigated these trends.

Even as the winner-take-all economy has enriched those at the very top, their tax burden has lightened. Tolerance for high executive compensation has increased, even as the legal powers of unions have been weakened and an intellectual case against them has been relentlessly advanced by plutocrat-financed think tanks. In the 1950s, the marginal income tax rate for those at the top of the distribution soared above 90 percent, a figure that today makes even Democrats flinch. Meanwhile, of the 400 richest taxpayers in 2009, 6 paid no federal income tax at all, and 27 paid 10 percent or less. None paid more than 35 percent.

Historically, the United States has enjoyed higher social mobility than Europe, and both left and right have identified this economic openness as an essential source of the nation’s economic vigor. But several recent studies have shown that in America today it is harder to escape the social class of your birth than it is in Europe. The Canadian economist Miles Corak has found that as income inequality increases, social mobility falls – a phenomenon Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has called the Great Gatsby Curve.

Educational attainment, which created the American middle class, is no longer rising. The super-elite lavishes unlimited resources on its children, while public schools are starved of funding. This is the new Serrata. An elite education is increasingly available only to those already at the top. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama enrolled their daughters in an exclusive private school; I’ve done the same with mine.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year, I interviewed Ruth Simmons, then the president of Brown. She was the first African-American to lead an Ivy League university and has served on the board of Goldman Sachs. Dr. Simmons, a Harvard-trained literature scholar, worked hard to make Brown more accessible to poor students, but when I asked whether it was time to abolish legacy admissions, the Ivy League’s own Book of Gold, she shrugged me off with a laugh: “No, I have a granddaughter. It’s not time yet.”

America’s Serrata also takes a more explicit form: the tilting of the economic rules in favor of those at the top. The crony capitalism of today’s oligarchs is far subtler than Venice’s. It works in two main ways.

The first is to channel the state’s scarce resources in their own direction. This is the absurdity of Mitt Romney’s comment about the “47 percent” who are “dependent upon government.” The reality is that it is those at the top, particularly the tippy-top, of the economic pyramid who have been most effective at capturing government support – and at getting others to pay for it.

Exhibit A is the bipartisan, $700 billion rescue of Wall Street in 2008. Exhibit B is the crony recovery. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty found that 93 percent of the income gains from the 2009-10 recovery went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. The top 0.01 percent captured 37 percent of these additional earnings, gaining an average of $4.2 million per household.

The second manifestation of crony capitalism is more direct: the tax perks, trade protections and government subsidies that companies and sectors secure for themselves. Corporate pork is a truly bipartisan dish: green energy companies and the health insurers have been winners in this administration, as oil and steel companies were under George W. Bush’s.

The impulse of the powerful to make themselves even more so should come as no surprise. Competition and a level playing field are good for us collectively, but they are a hardship for individual businesses. Warren E. Buffett knows this. “A truly great business must have an enduring ‘moat’ that protects excellent returns on invested capital,” he explained in his 2007 annual letter to investors. “Though capitalism’s ‘creative destruction’ is highly beneficial for society, it precludes investment certainty.” Microsoft attempted to dig its own moat by simply shutting out its competitors, until it was stopped by the courts. Even Apple, a huge beneficiary of the open-platform economy, couldn’t resist trying to impose its own inferior map app on buyers of the iPhone 5.

Businessmen like to style themselves as the defenders of the free market economy, but as Luigi Zingales, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, argued, “Most lobbying is pro-business, in the sense that it promotes the interests of existing businesses, not pro-market in the sense of fostering truly free and open competition.” …. .

To read the entire piece, click on the link below:

http://mobile.nytimes.com/article?a=983921&f=28&sub=Sunday