Forever Wars and Forever Pollutants:

An open letter to Mark Miller and other legislators


Dear Senator Mark Miller,

I’m addressing this letter to you, as well as all the other Democrats in the State Senate and Assembly. The subject is the F-35 fighter jets and the PFAS that has been contaminating our water here in Madison.

I am not addressing it to Republicans in the legislature because they can plead ignorance and it would be difficult to contest that point. Ignorance is bliss, but it also makes for a pretty good excuse.

Democrats, on the other hand, have no excuse. They are reasonably bright and there is at least an assumption, whether valid or not, that they care about things other than padding the pockets of the rich and powerful.

Which is why I and many others are so disappointed by the way our public officials, particularly in the State Legislature, have so eagerly supported the proposed basing of the F-35 jets in Madison, while also conveniently ignoring all the harm the Air National Guard base has already caused our community.

One thing I will not address in this letter is all the community health and social equity issues pertaining to the potential basing of the F-35s in a very high-density neighborhood where many of the residents are low-income, people of color, and children. I will not address issues of noise, lack of affordable housing, or potential impacts on neighborhood stability and quality of life.

Many other people have already raised these issues very adequately, and this should be a “no-brainer” for Democrats, given that you are presumably blessed with more brains and more compassion than your colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

So first, about those jets. The F-35 is the War Department’s most expensive weapons program ever, and will cost taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion over its projected 60-year lifespan. (Do you ever wonder why the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t talk about this when it touts the plane’s “economic benefits”?) Pentagon leaders have been claiming lately that they are driving down the cost of the planes but the Center for Defense Information at POGO argues that this is just phony math on the part of the Pentagon.

In an article on November 1, the defense watchdog group explained that the current $89.2 million price tag for each jet only includes the aircraft and engine. What it doesn’t include is procurement funds for initial spare parts, flight training simulators, an expensive and poorly performing ALIS support system, future modifications to correct known and future design flaws, the cost of fuel, and the aircraft’s $44,000 per hour flight cost. When these costs are factored in, the FY 2020 procurement cost for the basic F-35A is more than $101 million; the price of the Navy’s F-35C is over $123 million.

The F-35 is designed and intended to be a nuclear fighting machine, despite the protestations of the Chamber of Commerce to the contrary. The War Department’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review designated the plane as part of its strategic nuclear bomber force, the first time a fighter jet has been so designated, according to retired Air Force Colonel Rosanne Greco.

The F-35 will carry what’s called the most dangerous nuclear weapon in the US arsenal, the B61-12 “smart” gravity H-bomb. The Pentagon has been developing this nuclear bomb specifically for the F-35 bomb bay since 2010, according to Greco. It’s an “upgrade” from five other B-61 bombs, and supposedly will have 60 percent better accuracy. Critics point out that accurate H-bombs are not necessary for deterrence.

The newer bomb is considered the most dangerous because it can be “dialed down” to deliver “only” a third of a kiloton nuclear blast, making it a “usable” nuclear weapon in the minds of some war planners. It’s an “improvement” because the Air Force can use it before the US is attacked, in a sneak attack known as a nuclear first-strike.

Of course, this “something for everybody” fighter jet can carry an impressive panoply of other bombs, such as the GBU-54/B Stormbreaker, a Small Diameter Bomb that weighs 208 pounds but is only six or seven inches in diameter. Eight of these little gems can be tucked in the F-35s internal bay and, if stealth is not a factor, 16 more can be stowed on the plane’s wings. What will no doubt warm the hearts of Chamber leaders is that each Stormbreaker bomb can be had for the bargain-basement price of $115,000.

Can someone do the math for me on how many tax dollars it will cost for 16 of these? (Don’t bother; I’m sure it will be a good investment. And I’m sure all those school children on Madison’s north side, trying to learn in schools without air conditioning, who won’t be able to open the windows during warm weather, will appreciate the fact that you are thinking of their future.)

Since the military’s policy is to “neither confirm nor deny” the presence of nuclear weapons, the question of whether or not nukes will be stored in Madison is largely irrelevant. The important point is that everyone in the world who means us harm will know that the F-35 is the delivery vehicle for a nuclear weapon. Madison will be a nuclear target in the event of hostilities that escalate to nuclear war.

Setting aside the possibility of nuclear-equipped jets for a moment, safety issues should still be a major concern to all public officials. It’s not as if Truax aircraft have a clean flying record. Maria and Jim Powell of the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO) have compiled a list of crashes and other incidents since the early 1950s. The list is long and frightening. A few excerpts:


  • An F-51 fighter plane crashes in flames at Truax, spraying the area with 600 rounds of .50 caliber slugs. Nine houses are hit and two people injured.
  • An F-80 Shooting Star crashes in a farm field near Cottage Grove, killing the pilot.


  • Four jet interceptors take off from Truax in a snowstorm. None of the four are able to find the field on the return trip. They run out of fuel and crash. Two pilots bail out, two others are killed.
  • An airport transport plane strikes a car on Hwy. 51, ripping off the top and killing all four passengers.
  • An Air Force jet crashes in the Arboretum, killing two pilots.
  • An F-86 Sabre and F-89 collide in mid-air. One plane crashes in a field near Deerfield, injuring the pilot. The other crashes near Watertown, injuring the pilot and killing the radar operator.


  • An F-86D Sabre crashes in the front yard of a house on Hwy. CV. No fatalities.
  • An Air Force F89C crashes and explodes about 200 yards east of Hwy. 51, killing the pilot. An article about the crash says it was “the eleventh person to die in air disasters at Truax Field in the past four years.”


  • A Truax fighter plane crashes into Lake Mendota, killing the pilot.


  • An Air National Guard (ANG) fighter jet crashes into a ship in the Milwaukee harbor, near residences. No injuries.


  • An F-89 Scorpion jet crashes during takeoff, killing a radar observer.


  • A Truax jet crashes 1,000 feet north of the runway, killing the pilot and severely injuring the co-pilot.


  • An ANG training plane crashes near Lodi, killing the pilot.


  • An ANG jet crash lands at Truax and bursts into flames, producing a “mushroom cloud” visible from the Capitol. It comes to rest “just a few hundred feet from a busy commercial street,” according to newspaper accounts. The pilot is injured but survives.


  • An F-16 is in trouble and drops two fuel tanks into Lake Mendota. The pilot lands safely.


  • An ANG jet crashes in Adams County. The pilot is not injured.


There’s more where this comes from, but I hope you get the idea. Our “good neighbors” engage in some fairly risky behavior.

But that was then and this is now, you might argue. Surely we’ll all be a lot safer with those new “state-of-the-art F-35As,” as you described them in your Senate Joint Resolution. Right.

The F-35 may be state-of-the-art to you and your friends at the Chamber, but the fighter jet’s critics have other words for it. An air warfare reporter at Defense News, writing in the New York Time’s Magazine in August, called it “America’s Dysfunctional Trillion Dollar Fighter-Jet Program.”

The late Senator John McCain called it “a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance.” Writing in an online publication and later reprinted in Scientific America, Michael Hughes, a retired Air Force member and university finance professor, said: “I find the F-35 to be one of the greatest boondoggles in recent military purchasing history.”

Pierre Sprey, a co-founding member of the Pentagon’s “fighter mafia” and a co-designer of the F-16, calls the F-35 “inherently a terrible airplane” and the product of “an exceptionally dumb piece of Air Force PR spin.”

Hughes writes that the F-35 is “an airplane that is trying to be everything to everybody,” capable of playing multiple roles in air-to-air combat and against ground targets. “With the F-35, it appears designers created an airplane that doesn’t do either mission exceptionally well. They have made the plane an inelegant jack-of-all-trades, but master of none – at great expense, both in the past and, apparently, well into the future.”

But you may ask: just because this boondoggle is obnoxiously expensive and can’t do what it is supposed to do, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unsafe? Well, that’s where the boondoggle part comes into play.

But first, a definition: Boondoggle: a wasteful or impractical project or activity often involving graft; over budget, behind schedule, an unnecessary. The F-35 has been all of these things since its inception.

Certainly the Air Force and Pentagon deserve condemnation for their role in creating this boondoggle, as do all the public officials who gave their approval. (Some public servants, like Senator Tammy Baldwin, go the extra mile and insist on weapons that even the Pentagon doesn’t want.) But it’s the corporations who are most to blame and who serve to profit from a state-of-the-art boondoggle.

In this case, the corporation is Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms-maker and master of all the merchants of death. (Probably not coincidentally, Lockheed contributes to Baldwin’s campaign war chest).

Although you and your fellow donkeys and elephants in the Wisconsin Legislature are presumably enamored of Lockheed Martin because it is adept at producing “state-of-the-art” killing machines, it seems the corporation likes to make its money “the old-fashioned way.” That’s according to William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He writes that Lockheed earns the bulk of its revenue by relying on old-fashioned strategies such as buying up other companies, profiting from the sale of big-ticket weapon systems, and pushing foreign sales. (Indeed, many of the F-35s will go to countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel. That should make us all feel more secure.)

One would think that buying up other corporation like Martin Marietta and Sikorsky might produce cost savings, but the opposite tends to be true, with the mergers costing us taxpayers even more. “Lockheed Martin has racked up multi-billion dollar cost overruns on major programs like the F-35 combat aircraft and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS),” writes Hartung. (The latter boondoggle is another of Baldwin’s pet projects. See my blog post from December 31, 2018.)

Hartung, author of the book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military Industrial Complex, noted in a 2017 article that, rather than saving money, “the mergers created industrial behemoths with greater leverage over the Pentagon.” If the F-35 program went forward as planned, he predicted, Lockheed would be “the only supplier of fighter aircraft to the U.S. government,” leaving taxpayers in a “take it or leave it” position.

Lockheed has now delivered more than 400 F-35s to U.S. and foreign militaries and the cost per plane has dropped, but “unresolved technical issues” continue to plague the project, according to Defense News. These include at least 13 “severe technical deficiencies” during testing. A controversial aspect of the project since the start is what the Pentagon calls concurrency, whereby the plane is produced for delivery while still under development. This practice has forced the Pentagon to continually retrofit even newly built jets. A prudent person might be inclined to ask: How ready for action will aircraft destined for Madison be? How many crashes and “technical deficiencies” might await us?

F-35 fighter-jet

F-35 Fighter Jet

One factor that has kept pushing the F-35 program off course has been the level of control exercised by Lockheed. The corporation has been a master of what economists call “vertical integration.” It manufactures the plane, the training gear for pilots and maintenance technicians, the aircraft’s logistic system and its support equipment. It also manages the supply chain and is responsible for much of the maintenance.

Christopher Bogdan, an Air Force lieutenant general who was once in charge of the F-35 program, came to realize that Lockheed had too much control over what should have been a government program, including everything from test flights to reporting of financial details. In 2012, at the Air Force’s largest conference, he publicly stated that the relationship with Lockheed was the worst arrangement he had ever seen between the Pentagon and a defense contractor.

The Center for Defense Information at POGO (Project on Government Oversight) goes so far as to say that Lockheed Martin has transformed the Pentagon into a “beggar agency” at the mercy of defense contractors and powerless to find out how or where taxpayer dollars are spent. Dan Grazier of POGO charges that “it’s no accident that there are more than 1,500 suppliers for the F-35 program,” spread out over 45 states and Puerto Rico that build parts for the plane. “This means that there’s basically a veto-proof constituency bloc on Capitol Hill for the F-35 program.”

At Hill Air Force Base in Utah, home to the first operational F-35s, long turnaround times for maintenance tasks has meant that about 30 percent of the squadron’s aircraft are grounded at any given time. At some bases flying older models of the jet, up to 60 percent of F-35s are not operable, according to the August article in the New York Times Magazine. In both 2017 and 2018, only about half of the U.S. F-35 fleet was available to fly at any given time, with the rest down for maintenance. (Which may be a blessing, if the F-35 ever does come to Madison).

A major cause for the F-35s sitting idle is the shortage of replacement parts. Rather than buying spare parts directly from the manufacturers, the Pentagon pays Lockheed Martin for access to a pool of spares that the company manages, according to POGO. Lockheed doesn’t build each part, but purchases them from suppliers across the country. Pentagon officials have recently criticized a collection of companies for price-gouging on spare parts. One company, Esterline, makes clamps, high-temperature seals and stealth products for the F-35. Esterline is a subsidiary of TransDigm, which just this past May was exposed for marking up the price on parts it sold to the Pentagon by as much as 4,451 percent.

But the Pentagon itself bears some responsibility for the ongoing shortage of parts. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this past April found that the Pentagon had a repair backlog of about 4,300 parts, wasn’t managing its inventory adequately, and often lacked data on the cost and current location of F-35 components.

I’ve noticed that the ANG and active duty personnel at Truax include –and will include more in the future–of what the military calls maintainers. According to POGO, these maintainers strip the usable parts off of aircraft that are in the worst shape, (what they call hangar queens), to replace the broken parts on other planes. Cannibalization is their term for this. This is a common practice across the services but is generally infrequent for newer items. With the “state-of-the-art” F-35, maintainers cannibalize at a rate six times the expected frequency.

Along with three branches of the U.S. military, a dozen other nations will someday be flying the F-35. All will pay for access to Lockheed’s pool of replacement parts. This will exacerbate the problem of spare part shortage. So this is the gift that the Chamber and much of Madison’s progressive leadership wants to bequeath to the city: a white elephant of an aircraft that has suffered legions of technical problems since its inception, was rushed into production without proper testing and development, and now likely destined to have ongoing issues regarding the availability of parts and maintenance. An accident waiting to happen over Madison’s skies, perhaps?

Safety concerns aside, there is a financial cost associated with slow and complicated maintenance. As is the case with most weapon systems, maintenance is expected to account for more than 70 percent of the F-35s total program cost over the life of the project. As the New York Times Magazine article noted, “an important measure of the cost, sustainability and value of the new jet is its total operating cost.” Flying the F-35A this past year cost taxpayers about $44,000 per hour, on average, about twice the cost of operating Boeing’s F/A-18/F Super Hornet. According to the Times, some of the Air Force’s top brass have complained that the plane is too expensive to fly and maintain.

With “Good Neighbors” Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

 The depiction of the F-35 as “state-of-the-art” is only one myth that state legislators and the Chamber of Commerce have attempted to foist on our local populace. The more egregious fiction is that the Air National Guard has been a “good neighbor” to Madison residents.

(I will not even discuss the sordid history of sexual assault within the National Guard. But what people need to bear in mind is that rape has been a tactic of warfare throughout recorded history and that our local ANG base is part of the war machine, not just another local business. Anyone who expresses shock or surprise at the prevalence of sexual assault in the military is living in a fantasy world.)

Let’s be clear. The local ANG base is one little cog in a vast, monstrous machinery of death and destruction which has finally brought us, here in the 21st Century, to a state of perpetual, “forever” warfare. One by-product of the forever war here in Madison is a group of thousands of fluorocarbon compounds with the acronym of PFAS. These synthetic compounds, with some of the strongest molecular bonds ever discovered, are called “forever chemicals” because they are almost impossible to get rid of and don’t break down in the environment. They also accumulate in our bodies and can take years to leave, if ever.

Exposure to PFAS is linked to increased risk of cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, thyroid hormone disruption, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, decreased antibody response to vaccines and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Infants and children are particularly vulnerable and exposure can affect birth weight, growth, learning, behavior and possibly result in birth defects. So, to put it bluntly, here’s what it means for low-income and minority children in Madison and elsewhere: if the water doesn’t get them, then the jet noise will. If both of these don’t do the job, then the military will get them and use them for cannon fodder. Life in the land of the free.

pfas-family-treeSo, when you talk about “the important economic and community benefits” of the 115th Fighter Wing, Mark, are you factoring in the poisoning of our community with toxic chemicals since the 1950s or earlier? Are you factoring in the contamination of our groundwater, surface water and drinking water with PFAS since the early 1970s?

Oh yes, I’m aware you have been busy introducing legislation to regulate PFAS for the past few months, but this is nearly 2020. Isn’t it a little disingenuous to start now, while also lobbying for the F-35s? Certainly after all those years at the base and in the legislature, you must have become aware that the Air Force and Guard, (along with the County and City), have been using fire-fighting foam containing PFAS for about a half century. So far they have refused to investigate and remediate the contamination on and near the base, which the City now says must happen prior to any new construction at Truax.

Recent testing by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) revealed that concentrations of highly-toxic PFAS chemicals in Starkweather Creek are more than 15 times the proposed limit for groundwater recommended by state health officials. Starkweather Creek is part of the Starkweather Watershed, the largest watershed in Madison. The creek empties into Lake Monona, the second largest lake in Dane County. People fish in both the creek and lake, particularly low-income and minority residents, who often fish for subsistence. Recent sample testing where the creek enters Lake Monona, a popular fishing site, revealed a combined PFAS level of 187 ppt. (The State of Michigan has set surface water standards of 11 to 12 ppt for PFOS, the compound most likely to build up in fish.) The stormwater outfall at the airport that receives runoff from a large part of the Truax base tested at a total PFAS level of about 1,690 ppt.

As the Wisconsin State Journal reported this past December, “the military hasn’t yet begun to remove heavily tainted soil and groundwater from the Truax Field Air National Guard base, or tried to determine the level of contamination in an underground plume that stretches nearly a mile to Well 15.” According to the same article, the Air National Guard spent about $430,000 investigating levels of two common PFAS compounds at Truax and two other Wisconsin bases. Lt. Colonel Randy Saldivar, public affairs director at Air National Guard headquarters, said: “the working estimate for future investigation and mitigation for the three bases is $4.9 million”

Of course, this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of one F-35, and probably just a drop in the bucket compared to the real cost to make things right for Madison residents. The cost of equipping Well 15 with a filter system could easily exceed $3 million, which doesn’t include the ongoing cost of disposing of pollutants captured by the filter.

Madison is only one of hundreds of communities across the country that has been subjected to the U.S. military’s idea of “good neighboring.”  The Military Times noted two months ago that 297 military installations have documented PFAS contamination. Last year, the Defense Department reported they had identified a total of 401 active and inactive installations with at least one area with a known or suspected release of PFAS. There were 36 sites with drinking water contamination on-base and more than 90 reporting on-base or off-base drinking water or groundwater contamination in which water tested above EPA’s acceptable levels.

A total of 50 Air Force bases, 25 Army bases and 49 Navy and Marine Corps bases have tested at higher than acceptable levels for PFAS compounds in either drinking water or groundwater, according to last year’s DoD report. The DoD tested 2,668 groundwater wells on-base or in surrounding off-base communities and found that 61 percent tested above EPA standards.

Air Force Fly Right - PFAS Rally.jpg

Farmers in western states like Colorado and New Mexico have been losing their livelihoods due to all this good neighboring. The Air Force has refused to reimburse three Colorado communities for funds spent to remediate water contamination caused by the military’s PFAS-laden firefighting foam, potentially stranding the towns with an $11 million tab. Who is to say this won’t happen here?

Another article in the Military Times this past March reported that Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado measured PFAS contamination ranging from 79 to 88,400 ppt. in its on-base wells and 79 to 7,910 ppt. in off-base public and private drinking wells. One former Army reservist reported that 16 of his relatives had been diagnosed with cancer and ten had died. “In my family alone, we have had five kidney cancer deaths,” he said. The military can’t even be a good neighbor to its own family, but what else should we expect from an institution whose mission is death, destruction and exploitation?

Water pollution in eastern New Mexico has destroyed and bankrupted large dairy farms near Cannon Air Force Base. The toxic plume there is “spreading slowly and inexorably” under farm fields and across the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s largest aquifer, which spans 174,000 miles and parts of eight states.

So what has the U.S. military done to make amends? Apologized? Promised to clean up their mess? Fat chance. No, instead the Pentagon and Air Force have put pressure on the EPA to lower the proposed standards they announced early this year, which would make the military liable for cleaning up over 400 locations nationwide.  If this does not indicate bad faith, then I don’t know what does. Is this the Wisconsin legislature’s idea of a “good neighbor”: poison communities, refuse to clean them up, and then pressure the government to lower their standards?

Anyone who expresses surprise at all this good neighboring is either a hypocrite or a fool. The PFAS scandal is not an aberration but rather standard procedure for the U.S. military and its corporate partners in the military industrial complex. The behavior predates PFAS, depleted uranium, the decimation of Iraq, the savage annihilation of Vietnam or any of the other countless criminal ventures this empire has engaged in in recent decades. There have always been “sacrifice zones” to serve the rabid appetite of the empire, so why should the low-income neighborhoods of Madison be any exception?

To cite just one example out of thousands, from an article earlier this month, the situation of the ill-fated Marshall Islands: a collection of 29 atolls across 1,156 islands in the Pacific with more than 50,000 residents. During the Cold War, the U.S. nuked the islands 67 times. On March 1, 1954 the Pentagon conducted Castle Bravo, exploding a 15 megaton thermonuclear warhead over the Bikini Atoll, the largest nuclear weapon the U.S. ever detonated. Fallout from the explosion rained down on the people of the Marshall Islands. (A few years after the nuclear rainstorm, women on the islands began to give birth to “things less than human,” as one woman described it. Birth defects are so common that the islanders have names for these new creatures: marlins, devils, jellyfish children and grape babies.)

After the nuking was done, the Pentagon dropped biological weapons on the islands. After that, the U.S. scooped up the irradiated and ruined soil from the islands, (added 130 tons more from Nevada), poured it into a crater left from a nuclear detonation, mixed it with concrete, and covered the whole mess with a concrete dome and christened it “The Tomb.”

After the U.S. relocated some of the islanders and built the Tomb, it claimed its responsibility was over. The trouble is that, due to global warming, temperatures and sea levels are rising and the Tomb is cracking. As it cracks, water rushes over it, leaching out plutonium and dumping it into the sea. By the end of the century, experts say the sea level could rise four or five feet, submerging the island and the Tomb. Then it will be everyone’s problem.

The Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded the Marshall Islands $2 billion in damages in 2001, but so far the U.S. has only coughed up $4 million. The islanders will probably get their just due about the same time the U.S. military cleans up the PFAS in Madison and the rest of the country. How is that for being a good neighbor? If anyone is skeptical that this is only one of thousands of examples, or thinks I am exaggerating, then you need to find yourself a good history book. I hear there’s a university just a few blocks from the Capitol.

Okay. Maybe you’ll agree with me that there’s such a thing as “forever chemicals.”  Maybe you’ll even acknowledge that they’ve been polluting your own Senate district for half a century. Maybe, after walking down State Street and visiting the campus library, or even having coffee with a history professor, you’ll acknowledge that the U.S. military has not been a very good neighbor after all, here in Madison or anywhere else in the world. But this notion of a “forever war,” certainly that must be a fantasy promulgated by left-wing conspirators.

After all, the last war that the U.S. declared was World War II. That must prove that we’re a peaceable nation with only the best of intentions. Oh yeah, there was that little incident in Afghanistan. Oh yeah, you may have seen the Time magazine cover story saying they’re now recruiting boys for cannon fodder that weren’t even born when this particular conflict began. But it’s not an abomination, just an aberration. Nothing to be concerned about. But some might disagree.

“The sheer size of the military establishment and the habit of equating spending on it with patriotism make both sound management and serious oversight of defense expenditures rare. As a democracy, we are on an unusual and risky path,” wrote Jessica Mathews in the New York Review of Books earlier this year. Mathews is the former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (She was born on the fourth of July so she must be patriotic.  She is the daughter of Barbara Tuchman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Guns of August, so she must know a little history.)

“The annual debate about the next year’s military spending … no longer probes where real cuts may be made (as opposed to cuts in previously planned growth) but only asks how big the increase should be. The political momentum that drives this annual increase … threatens to become – or may have already become – unstoppable. The consequences are huge. At home, defense spending crowds out funds for everything else a prosperous economy and a healthy society need. Abroad, it has led us to become a country reflexively reliant on the military and one quite different from what we think ourselves to be or, I believe, wish to be,” Mathews wrote.

Defense spending now accounts for about 60 percent of the nation’s discretionary budget, she pointed out, leaving only two-fifths for everything else. If the U.S. actually faced acute threats, spending 60 percent of unrestricted funds on armaments might be necessary. We don’t face such a threat, she argued, “but we still spend more on defense than the next eight largest spenders combined – China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and Japan – and four of those countries are treaty allies. The disproportion has held for decades.”

american-imperialism-military-spending cartoon

She added: “Arguably the worst consequence of spending on legacy weapons systems, un-needed facilities, and over-staffed, inefficient bureaucracies is what isn’t done with that money. The revolution in cyber technology means that the militaries of the future will use swarms of cheap, unmanned weapons, targeted and controlled using networked satellites and artificial intelligence, rather than small numbers of very high-cost, manned weapons systems like the new F-35 fighter, at $90 million per plane.”

“The world that lies ahead of us is unequivocally one in which more and more of the greatest challenges – cyber regulation, arms control, nonproliferation, financial stability and trade, climate change, health and the environment, crime and rule of law – can only be dealt with multilaterally. Yet since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has rejected most of the international agreements the rest of the world has approved, including the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban, and the International Criminal Court. It has refused to ratify treaties protecting genetic resources, restricting trade in conventional arms, banning cluster bombs, and protecting persons with disabilities … During this nearly thirty years of sweeping diplomatic withdrawal, America has been engaged in conflict for all but a few months. It has undertaken nine large-scale military actions, including three of the five major wars it has fought since 1945 … Every approach the U.S. has tried – regime change, nation-building, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, redlines, responsibility to protect – alone or in concert with others, has failed to achieve the desired results.”

I think the most disturbing words I’ve heard recently about perpetual war come, not from a peace activist, historian or public official, but from a stand-up comic. I’m going to omit most of the jokes and witty comments, but you can read Lee Camp’s entire article here.

“The United States military drops an explosive with a strength you can hardly comprehend once every twelve minutes,” he writes. “And that’s odd, because we’re technically at war with – let me think – zero countries. So that should mean zero bombs are being dropped, right?

“You’re thinking of a rational world. We do not live there.

“Instead, we live in a world where the Pentagon is completely and utterly out of control. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the $21 trillion (that’s not a typo) that has gone unaccounted for at the Pentagon. But I didn’t get into the number of bombs that ridiculous amount of money buys us. President George W. Bush’s military dropped 70,000 bombs on five countries. But of that outrageous number, only 57 of those bombs really upset the international community.

“Because there were 57 strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen – countries the U.S. was neither at war with nor had ongoing conflicts with. And the world was kind of horrified. There was a lot of talk that went something like, “Wait a second. We’re bombing in countries outside of war zones? Is it possible that’s a slippery slope ending in us just bombing all the goddamn time? (Awkward pause.) … Nah. Whichever president follows Bush will be a normal adult person (with a functional brain stem of some sort) and will therefore stop this madness.”

“We were so cute and naïve back then, like a kitten when it’s first waking up in the morning.

“The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that under President Barack Obama there were “563 strikes, largely by drones, that targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.”

“There was basically a media blackout while Obama was president. You could count on one hand the number of mainstream media reports on the Pentagon’s daily bombing campaigns under Obama. And even when the media did mention it, the underlying sentiment was, “Yeah, but look how suave Obama is while he’s OK’ing endless destruction. He’s like the Steve McQueen of aerial death.

berko-obama - Z communications

“And let’s take a moment to wipe away the idea that our “advanced weaponry” hits only the bad guys … According to the C.I.A.’s own documents, the people on the ‘kill list’ who were targeted for ‘death-by-drone,’ accounted for only 2% of the deaths caused by the drone strikes.

“But those 70,000 bombs dropped by Bush – it was child’s play. Obama dropped 100,000 bombs in seven countries. He out-bombed Bush by 30,000 bombs and two countries.

“You have to admit that’s impressively horrific. That puts Obama in a very elite group of Nobel Peace Prize winners who have killed that many innocent civilians. The reunions are mainly just him and Henry Kissinger wearing little hand-drawn name tags and munching on deviled eggs.

“However, we now know that Donald Trump’s administration puts all previous presidents to shame. The Pentagon’s numbers show that during George W. Bush’s eight years he averaged 24 bombs dropped per day, which is 8,750 per year. Over the course of Obama’s time in office, his military dropped 34 bombs per day, 12,500 per year. And in Trump’s first year in office, he averaged 121 bombs per day, for an annual total of 44,096.

“He has basically taken the gloves off the Pentagon, taken the leash off an already rabid dog. Under Trump, five bombs are dropped per hour – every hour of every day. That averages out to a bomb every 12 minutes

“This is not about Trump, even though he’s a maniac. It’s not about Obama, even though he’s a war criminal. It’s not about Bush, even though he has the intelligence of boiled cabbage … This is about a runaway military-industrial complex that our ruling elite are more than happy to let loose. Almost no one in Congress or the presidency tries to restrain our 121 bombs a day. Almost no one in a mainstream outlet tries to get people to care about this.

“We are a rogue nation with a rogue military and a completely unaccountable ruling elite. The government and military you and I support by being a part of this society are murdering people every 12 minutes, and in response, there’s nothing but a ghostly silence. It is beneath us as a people and a species to give this topic nothing but silence. It is a crime against humanity.”

Why does it take a stand-up comedian to talk about this? Why does only one person in the Wisconsin Senate have the guts and sanity to vote against this national madness?

At a time when the world is facing the twin existential threats of climate chaos and nuclear war, it’s baffling that Democrats, both at the state and national level, exhibit such a paucity of imagination and creativity. You want to risk the survival of the planet for 64 military jobs when three times as many jobs, or more, could be created here by either a peaceful mission for the Air National Guard or by combining the air base with Oscar Meyer and other redevelopment efforts on the north side.

We could create a sustainable economy here in Madison based on green-deal jobs that would be life-serving. But you prefer to pay homage to the death machine.  Mark Miller and your friends on both sides of the aisle, please tell me, what is your vision, or do you have one at all? Do we need to call in a comedian to stimulate your imaginations?

Books could be written about how, as 2020 nears, we as a nation have distanced ourselves from the result of our action (or lack of action), from the repugnant work of our empire: through drones, nameless, endless wars, death and destruction transformed into a business, so that now, in a supposedly “liberal” city, a heinous machine of war is seen as nothing more than a way to create a few more jobs and earn a few more votes. Is it that difficult to think creatively, or is it just so much simpler to sell us all out for a few pieces of tainted silver?

Camus once said that we are required to be neither victim nor executioner. Victims already lie strewn all over this empire. In country after country, and here at home, there are more and more “sacrifice zones,” where the poor and powerless must sacrifice to satisfy the greed of the rich and powerful. If you side with Lockheed Martin and the other merchants of death, you have chosen to side with the executioners. It is that simple.

It took our universe 13.8 billion years to evolve to the point where it could sustain life. Now that capacity to sustain life is threatened, due to climate change and the U.S. military machine that is the primary user of fossil fuels and the primary destroyer of human life. Do you really want your legacy to be that you sided with this madness, or would you rather people say that you stood out against it?

I am quite aware that you are in the minority in the legislature, that the “boiled cabbage” heads are in control. I’m also aware that you think you have no power. But you have no power only because you have made yourselves irrelevant. You could actually choose to become a viable alternative to the cabbage heads if only you could muster the courage, imagination and integrity to excite the populace with a vision of life and hope rather than one of fear and death.

You do have the power, as each of us, to oppose the death machine, to oppose the empire, to oppose the forever pollutants and the forever wars. There is still time.

A Nation Addicted to War / How Can We Kick the Habit?

This is the last of an eight-part series on issues of War or Peace.

It’s several days before Labor Day, 2018, and I’m sitting outside in my back yard. I’m reading an article about a Native American poet, Layli Long Soldier, who wrote about the execution of 38 Sioux warriors, the largest “legal” execution in US history. President Lincoln approved the execution the same week he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Black people “emancipated,” red people exterminated.

Much later, the US “apologized” for its long policy of genocide toward native people in a series of “toothless clauses” in a Senate resolution, Long Soldier wrote. The resolution was cut by half and tucked into a defense appropriations bill. It was signed by President Obama on a December weekend with no announcement and no tribal representation.

As I’m reading this account, appropriately enough, the fighter jets are raging overhead. A mourning dove is perched placidly on a telephone wire. Is the dove mourning? Or perhaps pondering the unlikely notion of peace? Or does it care at all about what we arrogant, utterly stupid humans do?

As usual, I cannot actually see the jets, can only hear the awful, annoying, obnoxious roar of violence. It strikes me that the jet fighters are a metaphor for the military industrial complex itself, something pervasive that we cannot see, or at least choose not to see. Maybe Obama’s “apology” was a metaphor too, something evasive and meaningless.

  ▪ ▪ ▪

Fast forward to November, three days after the midterm elections, and the dust still hasn’t settled. Excerpts from a new memoir by Michelle Obama have just been released, in which she writes that she will “never forgive” President Trump for espousing the birther conspiracy in regards to her husband.

Trump wastes no time in responding, lambasting the former president for being weak on national defense. “I’ll never forgive him for what he did to our United States military by not funding it properly,” Trump ranted to reporters before boarding a plane for Paris. “It was depleted and everything was old and tired,” he said. “And I came in and I had to fix it, and I’m in the process of spending tremendous amounts of money. So I’ll never forgive him for what he did to our military.”

The truth, as the Yahoo News account pointed out, was that Obama had not neglected the military at all during his tenure. The story cited PolitiFact, which reported that military budget cuts under Obama were the result of troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, deployments that Trump had sharply criticized during his presidential campaign. It also quoted a Harvard professor, who noted that Obama had “laid out a trillion dollar plan to modernize every aspect of the US nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years.”

Of course, it is a common ploy of rabid Republicans to attack centrist Democrats like Obama, calling them leftists, socialists or commie sympathizers and, for the most part, it seems to work for them. But the sad fact is that there are frightfully few politicians on the right, center or liberal side who could be accused of being “soft” when it comes to national “defense.” The sad fact is that this country is suffering from a grievous addiction to war, violence and militarism. It makes our addictions to opiates, tobacco, sex, TV and smart phones pale by comparison.

                          ▪ ▪ ▪

Only some predators are reprehensible in the warfare state

Late last year, Andrew Bacevich posted an article on TomDispatch where he talked about all the sexual predators in the entertainment industry, the media, politics and other professions who have been outed and, in some cases, held accountable for their crimes and indiscretions. We are all familiar with their names: Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump. The list goes on and on and now we can probably add a Supreme Court Justice.

But Bacevich, a Boston University history professor and former Army colonel, wondered why it was that some predators are raised up for public ridicule and held accountable for their crimes while others go free and do not even seem to penetrate the public consciousness.  Their “predation” surges from year to year and some even wear the name Predator, though these were retired last year, to be replaced by Reapers (as in Grim Reaper). Yes, these predators and reapers do not rape or pinch butts; they are America’s robotic assassins. And these drones are just one minor part of America’s wars, 17 years and counting, that have fueled funding for the national security state and transformed Washington into a permanent war capital.

We are witnessing a profound change in this post-Weinstein world, Bacevich contends, where the once-empty slogan “zero tolerance has become a battle cry.” In “some matters, at least, the American people retain an admirable capacity for outrage. We can distinguish between the tolerable and the intolerable. And we can demand accountability of powerful individuals and institutions. “

“What’s puzzling is why that capacity for outrage and demand for accountability doesn’t extend to our now well-established penchant for waging war across much of the planet,” he continued.

Bacevich goes on to list a litany of “indisputable facts”: that recent US wars have spread disorder and instability, creating failed or failing states across the Middle East and Africa; that these wars have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and will ultimately cost US taxpayers many trillions of dollars; that, in the wake of these wars, many more, not fewer, jihadist groups have sprung up while acts of terror have soared globally.

“I feel a bit like the doctor telling the lifelong smoker with stage-four lung cancer that an addiction to cigarettes is adversely affecting his health,” Bacevich admits. “Nothing the doc says is going to budge the smoker from his habit. You go through the motions but wonder why. In a similar fashion, war has become a habit to which the United States is addicted.”

Tom Engelhardt, the editor of the TomDispatch website, similarly wondered last year why “a war effort that has already cost US taxpayers trillions of dollars does not involve the slightest mobilization of the American people? No war taxes, no war bonds, war drives, victory gardens, sacrifice of any sort or, for that matter, serious criticism, protest or resistance?”

“In our era, war, like the Pentagon budget and the growing powers of the national security state, has been inoculated against the virus of citizen involvement, and so against any significant form of criticism or resistance,” Engelhardt said.

There are various explanations for what Engelhardt calls the Demobilizing of America, including Nixon’s ending of the draft and the implementation of an all-volunteer military. This new army, which Engelhardt says is closer to an “American foreign legion,” now has a more secretive force embedded within it, a 70,000 strong Special Operations Command. The members of this elite crew, Engelhardt says, could be considered the president’s private army, “now regularly dispatched around the globe to train literal foreign legions and to commit deeds that are, at best, only half-known to the American people.”

And Americans, for the most part, do not care to know what their government is doing on their behalf, Engelhardt insists, (which is why, perhaps, they elected a president who himself represents the epitome of ignorance). “Americans have largely been convinced that secrecy is the single most crucial factor in national security; that what we do know will hurt us; and that ignorance of the workings of our own government … will help keep us safe from “terror.” In other words, knowledge is danger and ignorance, safety. However Orwellian that may sound, it has become the norm of twenty-first-century America.”

Under Bush, as he launched the Global War on Terror after 9/11, there would be no prying journalists in our wars, no body bags or body counts. There would be only two roles for American citizens: go shopping and thank and praise America’s warriors.

“In many ways, from its founding the United States has been a nation made by wars,” Engelhardt said at the end his piece. “The question in this century is: Will its citizens and its form of government be unmade by them?”

What does America’s addiction to war look like in practice? Tom Engelhardt chose to celebrate the new year back on January 4 by drawing a picture of it. Actually, he just published it. The map of Washington’s War on Terror was created by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. According to Engelhardt, it is “the first map of its kind ever.”

The map is actually limited to US “counter-terror” activity between 2015 and October, 2017, and thus omits a range of hostilities prior to that time, as well as certain categories of military activity. It does document four different types of military engagement: air and drone strikes, combat troops, military bases and training in counter-terrorism.

When Washington launched its war on terror in October, 2001, there was just one country targeted, Afghanistan. Now, 17 years later, the Costs of War Project identifies no less than 76 countries, nearly 40 percent of those on the planet, as involved in the global conflict. The war stretches from the Philippines through South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and West Africa. It includes Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, where US drone or other air strikes are normal and where ground troops (often Special Operations forces) have been directly or indirectly engaged in combat.

A separate study released by the Costs of War Project a year ago estimated the monetary cost to US taxpayers of the war on terror at $5.6 trillion, including some future expenses.

“It’s important to try to imagine what’s been happening visually, since we’re facing a new kind of disaster, a planetary militarization of a sort we’ve never truly seen before,” Engelhardt wrote.

“We are now in an era in which the US military is the leading edge—often the only edge—of what used to be called American “foreign policy” and the State Department is being radically downsized. American Special Operations forces were deployed in 149 countries in 2017 alone and the US has so many troops on so many bases in so many places on Earth that the Pentagon can’t even account for the whereabouts of 44,000 of them.”

John Dower, an emeritus professor of history from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Pulitzer Prize winner, has been praised by both Engelhardt and Bacevich for his scholarly explication of American war and terror since World War II. Dower refutes those mainstream scholars and statisticians who argue that the world since World War II is actually a safer and more peaceful place than it used to be. While conceding that the number and deadliness of global conflicts has declined, he maintains that the “so-called postwar peace was, and still is, saturated in blood and wracked with suffering.” He points to five devastating conflicts: in China, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and between Iran and Iraq. He lists over a dozen political mass killings and genocides in various countries including the Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Angola and Cambodia.

“Branding the long postwar era as an epoch of relative peace is disingenuous,” Dower says, “not just because it deflects attention from the significant death and agony that actually did occur and still does. It also obscures the degree to which the United States bears responsibility for contributing to, rather than impeding, militarization and mayhem after 1945. Ceaseless US-led transformations of the instruments of mass destruction—and the provocative impact of this technological obsession—are by and large ignored.”

“The more subtle and insidious dimension of postwar US militarization—namely the violence done to civil society by funneling resources into a gargantuan, intrusive and ever-expanding national security state—goes largely unaddressed in arguments fixated on numerical declines in violence since World War II,” adds Dower.

He also cites data from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in mid-2015 indicating that the number of people “forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations” had surpassed 60 million, the highest level recorded since World War II. Roughly two-thirds of these men women and children were displaced within their own countries; the rest were refugees and over half of these were children.

In 1996, the UN had estimated that there were 37.3 million forcibly-displaced people on the planet. At the end of 2015, 20 years later, the total of displaced had risen to 65.3 million, an increase of 75 percent.

A “largely unmeasurable” factor that the bean-counters of war and violence fail to take into account, adds Dower, is “the damage that war, conflict, militarization, and plain existential fear inflict upon civil society and democratic practice.” This has been “especially conspicuous” in the US since Washington launched its war on terror in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Dower cites data from the Global Terrorism Index indicating that more than 61,000 terrorism incidents claimed over 140,000 lives from the year 2000 till 2014. But people in Western countries experienced less than five percent of these incidents and only three percent of the deaths, even including 9/11. Dower points out that the 140,000 estimated lives lost to terrorism is roughly identical to the death toll from “a single act of terror bombing, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”

Dower poses an important question: “If the overall incidence of violence, including 21st Century terrorism, is relatively low compared to earlier global threats and conflicts, why has the United States responded by becoming an increasingly militarized, secretive, unaccountable and intrusive “national security state”? Is it really possible that a patchwork of non-state adversaries that do not possess massive firepower or follow traditional rules of engagement has, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared in 2012, “made the world more threatening than ever?”

A part of the answer might be that it behooves the powers and principalities that we remain shackled and addicted to permanent war and its accompanying national security state, with its secrecy, unaccountability and intrusiveness.

When did the addiction start? If we can put a finger on when and how it was that we succumbed to this deadliest of all diseases, perhaps we can discover some clues on how to treat it.

James Carroll thinks he can pinpoint the genesis of the addiction, or at least the rise of the military industrial complex and the relentless surge toward permanent war. He posits that it all began one week in January, 1943, coincidentally about a week or so before he was born in Chicago.

Carroll is a prize-winning writer who was once a Roman Catholic priest and became friends with Dan and Philip Berrigan, priests, anti-war activists and founders of the Plowshares movement. (Carroll was also the son of a three-star general, the first director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.) Among his many books is the 2006 tome, House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power.

In the book, which was lauded by the Chicago Tribune as “the first great non-fiction book of the new millennium,” Carrol argues that four things happened that week in January “which generated a momentum that we’re still at the mercy of.” In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now in May, 2006, he outlined the four momentous events.

The first took place at Casablanca where “Franklin Roosevelt, really against the wishes of his partner, Winston Churchill, announced a new policy of unconditional surrender, the Axis powers would have to unconditionally surrender to the Allies, a position that would have disastrous consequences.”

“The second thing that happened that week was Los Alamos really was up and running … The Manhattan Project had been initiated the previous autumn, but it really began right then,” Carroll told Goodman.

“The third thing that happened that week, Churchill and Roosevelt together agreed on a joint bomber offensive between the R.A.F. and the Army air forces of the United States. It was the beginning of the American embrace of strategic bombing as a mode of war. The fire bombing attack by the Americans against a German city took place two weeks later.

“So, strategic bombing, nuclear weapons, a spirit of total war embodied in unconditional surrender, all joined to the other thing that happened that week: the beginning of the building, this mass bureaucracy, which itself then would take on a kind of life that was beyond the ability of any one person or group of persons to check it. The momentum that began that week really has flowed on essentially unchecked ever since, right through to the present catastrophe in Iraq,” said Carroll.

The $3.1 million Pentagon building was dedicated on the 15th of January, 1943. Ironically, construction contracts were approved and the ground-breaking ceremony occurred on September 11, 1941, “60 years, perhaps almost to the minute, before the building was hit by a hijacked airplane,” Carroll noted.

1024px-The Pentagon

He was struck by other events that occurred on that same date. On September 11, 1945, Henry Stimson, US Secretary of War, proposed to President Truman, after Nagasaki, that the US “should share the atomic bomb with the Soviet Union and enter into an international agreement for its control … in order to “head off an armament race of a rather desperate character.” Stimson had presided over the military victories over Germany and Japan, as well as the creation of the atomic bomb.

One of the most important supporters of Stimson’s proposal, noted Carroll, was Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, who at that time was prone to trust the Soviet Union to a certain extent. Later, Acheson would evolve into “the most suspicious hawk in the Cabinet by the onset of the Korean War.”

Carroll told Goodman he borrowed the term “disastrous rise” in the subtitle of his book from Dwight Eisenhower, who had used it in his famous military-industrial complex speech. Ike was really referring to a much broader dilemma, Carroll said, a military-industrial-political-academic-economic-labor complex. (Today, we could add the mass media to that list, and today the complex has escalated into an addiction.) “All of the great pillars of American life were recruited into, conscripted, you could say, into the power of this military machine centered in the Pentagon,” said Carroll.

Ike and Military Industrial Complex

“At the crucial turning points of American history since World War II, again and again decisions have been made all too easily in favor of war and against creating structures of peace. It happened at the end of the war with the decision, the unnecessary decision to use the atomic bomb. It happened immediately after the war with the unnecessary militarization of the contest with the Soviet Union and so forth. At each of these crucial points, America misperceived the world and made decisions to protect against a threat that was more imagined than real.”

Carroll discusses a number of other “unnecessary decisions” in his book, decisions with grave repercussions that led the world away from peace and toward perpetual war. These include:

  • The US refusal to dismantle its huge military establishment at the end of the Cold War. (Remember all the talk about a “peace dividend” when that war ended?) Carroll notes that the US sent its troops and bombers abroad within days of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Creation of a new “archipelago” of US military bases stretching across the Middle East into the heart of the Soviet Union, ending a tradition of defensively deployed forces, linked to allies and ready to respond to conflicts rather than initiate.  (Andrew Bacevich has noted that the build-up of bases has served to constrict Russia’s borders more than any time since the 19th Century.)
  • An overt disdain for international organizations including the United Nations, NATO and the International Criminal Court (ICC). One of George W. Bush’s first acts as president was to “unsign” the ICC Treaty, while Bill Clinton failed to argue in favor of it.
  • A National Security Strategy, published in 2002, followed by a National Defense Strategy proclaimed in 2005, which take for granted “preventive” wars, wars waged by the US alone, military platforms in outer space, and other obscenities.

Carroll asserts in his book that there was nothing genocidal in what the Allies initially wanted to do in World War II. When the Germans and Japanese stopped, they would stop, was the reasoning. But the policy of unconditional surrender pushed the moment of stopping to the far extreme of destruction. Just then, Carroll says, “the human capacity for destruction was being revolutionized” (in what many now refer to as the Good War.)


Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference in 1943.

The Red Army included the rape of women and murder of elderly and children as admissible targets, while the British and Americans “continued to define the savaging of noncombatants as crimes,” Carroll said, except when it occurred from the air.

“Americans deflected the realities of air warfare from the start, refusing to look directly at what bombardment was doing,” Carroll wrote.  “The Red Army’s terror tactics were duplicated by the British and Americans, but impersonally, without the heat of passion and overt sadism. Terror from the air was humanely different from terror on the ground, but not morally.”

Which causes me to ask: which type of warfare is worse, the personal or the impersonal? Are they the same, or is it possible the impersonal is even more evil because it is easier for us to commit? Which makes me think again of Obama, the smooth-talking, professorial president who fashioned impersonal warfare into a fine art, following in the footsteps of that other Democratic terrorist, the much-admired Harry Truman.

Here are a few lines from a Wendell Berry poem, The Morning News, that speak to this:

To kill in hot savagery like a beast
is understandable. It is forgivable and curable.
But to kill by design, deliberately, without wrath,
that is the sullen labor that perfects Hell.

Speaking of Democrats, Carroll noted that in his 2004 presidential campaign, Senator John Kerry “found nothing to criticize in Bush’s conduct of the war [in Iraq] or, for that matter, in Bush’s warmongering responses to 9/11. Kerry, “reporting for duty,” as he put it to the convention that nominated him, showed with his staged salute that he, together with the Democratic Party, was as carried along by the irrational current toward savage violence as his Republican rival …  Democrats could not hold up a mirror to the nation on this question because they had no more interest in a look at the truth than anyone else.”

Carroll mentioned a new “archipelago” of US military bases. There doesn’t seem to be definitive data on the number and extent of America’s overseas bases. Some sources appear to under-estimate the numbers while others exaggerate, based on how they define “bases” and even how they define foreign nations.

The Cost of War Project counts 44 countries hosting US military bases but their criteria may be too limiting. Another source, using Department of Defense (DoD) data from 2002, figured there were US troops and bases in 63 countries and troops in 156 countries. Perhaps the most accurate source might be a 2015 report in Politico magazine by David Vine, a professor of sociology at American University who authored a book, Base Nation: How US Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. Vine reported that, even after closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US still maintained nearly 800 bases in more than 70 countries and territories. For comparison, he noted that Britain, France and Russia combined had about 30 bases in foreign countries.

Let’s take a look at just one of the bases in the vast US “archipelago” to get a sense of the impact these bases have on those that “host” them. In an article in Foreign Policy in Focus several months ago, (reprinted on Truthout), Patricia Miguel and Ana Marrugo, public anthropology scholars from American University, revealed the case of Mauritius and the Chagos Archipelago.

Mauritius was the British Empire’s last-created colony but in 1965, when it was gaining its independence, the British government decided to “exclude” the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius territory in disregard of UN conventions. Then the US conspired with Britain to remove about 1,500 Chagossians from their home, where they had lived since the late 18th Century. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the two governments uprooted the natives of Diego Garcia from their homes, possessions and livelihoods in order to build what became a major US military base. The base played a key role in the two US Gulf Wars in Iraq and the US war in Afghanistan.

For 50 years now, the Chagossians have been struggling, through protests, strikes and in the courts, to obtain just compensation. The US did pay $14 million (of your tax dollars) to relocate the Chagossians, while hiding the mass deportation from Congress, British Parliament, the UN and the mass media. In June 2017, the UN General Assembly ruled overwhelmingly to send the case to the International Court, over the opposition of the US and UK.

John Dower suggests that the foreign bases are largely a legacy of World War II and the Korean conflict, with the majority of sites in Germany (181), Japan (122) and South Korea (83). The development of Special Operations forces is a Cold War legacy that expanded after the demise of the Soviet Union. But dispatching covert missions to three-fourths of the world’s nations is largely a manifestation of the “War on Terror,” he points out. Over the course of 2015, (the “peace president” was in power), US Special Operations forces were deployed in about 150 countries and the US provided military assistance to an even larger number of nations.

In my files, I have a list compiled by historian William Blum of all the countries the US has bombed between 1945 (the end of World War II) and 2003. About 20 lucky nations made the list, including the Congo, Peru, Laos, Libya, Grenada, Sudan and Yugoslavia. Some, such as Guatemala, China and Afghanistan, made it multiple times. Since 2003, when Blum presumably got tired of counting, we can add Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Syria, at a minimum.

Ask yourself if bombing all these countries has increased your personal sense of “security.”  Blum noted that in none of these instances did a democratic government, respectful of human rights, result.

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“A mean and dangerous place”

Writing this past May on TomDispatch, Michael Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies, predicted that a Third Gulf War was an entirely probable scenario, if not an inevitability. Donald Trump had just shredded the nuclear agreement with Iran and US Army Special Forces were secretly aiding the Saudi Arabian military against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. A “Third Gulf War—not against Iraq but Iran and its allies—will undoubtedly result in another American “victory” that could loose even more horrific forces of chaos and bloodshed,” Klare wrote.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been long-time recipients of tens of billions in US military aid, Klare noted, and Trump has promised to provide them with much more. Trump has filled his administration with Iranophobes and he himself “seems to harbor a primeval animosity toward the Iranians,” Klare said, “perhaps because they don’t treat him with the adoration he feels he deserves. [Trump] has a soft spot for the Saudi royals, who do.”

“While in Riyadh, he conferred at length with then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 31-year-old son of King Salman and a key architect of Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical contest with the Iranians. Prince Mohammed, who serves as the Saudi defense minister and was named crown prince in June 2017, is the prime mover behind the kingdom’s (so far unsuccessful) drive to crush the Houthi rebels in Yemen and is known to harbor fierce anti-Iranian views,” Klare added.

Trump and King Salman, Saudi Arabia

President Trump and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017 at Royal Court Palace in Riyadh.  Credit: White House Photo, Shealah Craighead, Wikimedia Commons.

Six months after Klare published this piece, we know that Prince Mohammed bin Salman more than likely orchestrated the gruesome assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime and a Washington Post columnist. After first vowing to take strong action against the kingdom if it was revealed that the Saudis were implicated in the assassination, Trump, true to form, backed off. His transparent public statement revealed his flawless reasoning:

“After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great US defense contractors.”

“The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump declared at the start of his statement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed his comment. “It’s a mean, nasty world out there—the Middle East in particular,” he said.

Coincidentally, at about the same time I read these statements I came across an essay by Noam Chomsky, the great MIT linguist, historian and social critic. Written in early 2014, Chomsky was commenting on a WIN/Gallup International poll that posed the question: Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today? The US was the “champion” by a landslide, winning three times the votes of Pakistan, its nearest competitor.

In some parts of the world, Chomsky noted, the US ranked even higher as a perceived menace to world peace, such as in the Middle East, “where overwhelming majorities regard the US and its close ally Israel as the major threats they face, not the US-Israeli favorite: Iran.”

Yes, the world is indeed a mean and dangerous place, but not everyone agrees about who is to blame.

The first two Gulf Wars, Michael Klare said, were driven mainly by the geopolitics of oil. After the second world war, the US grew increasingly dependent on foreign sources of oil and thus drew even closer to Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil producer. Under the Carter Doctrine of January 1980, the US pledged for the first time to use force, if necessary, to prevent the interruption of the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations to the US.

“Ronald Reagan, the first president to implement [the Carter] doctrine, authorized the “reflagging” of Saudi and Kuwaiti oil tankers with the stars and stripes during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War … and their protection by the US Navy,” Klare recounted. “When Iranian gunboats menaced such tankers, American vessels drove them off in incidents that represented the first actual military clashes between the US and Iran. At the time, President Reagan put the matter in no uncertain terms: “The use of the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf will not be dictated by the Iranians.” “

Oil figured prominently in George H.W. Bush’s decision to intervene in the First Gulf War, Klare wrote. When Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait and appeared poised to invade Saudi Arabia, Bush announced he would send US forces to defend the kingdom and so played out the Carter Doctrine in real time. “Our country now imports nearly half the oil it consumes and could face a major threat to its economic independence,” Bush declared. “The sovereign independence of Saudi Arabia is of vital interest to the United States.”

But that was 1990. Today the US is still addicted to oil but manages to get some of its fix elsewhere. Klare believes oil has lessened significantly as a factor in Persian Gulf geopolitics. “Of greater significance … is an escalating struggle for regional dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia (with a nuclear-armed Israel lurking in the wings),” he reasons. “President Trump, clearly harboring deep antipathy toward the Iranians, has chosen to side with the Saudis big league … while Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, fearing Iranian advances in the region, has opted to weigh in on the Saudi side of the equation in a major way as well. The result, as suggested by military historian Andrew Bacevich, is the “inauguration of a Saudi-American-Israeli axis” and a “major realignment of US strategic relationships.” “

While major disasters in themselves, “the wars in Syria and Yemen have only added additional complexity to the geopolitical chessboard on which Washington finds itself [after the 2003 invasion of Iraq] and from which it has never extricated itself,” Klare said.

Since March 2015, the US has supported a coalition of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia in a civil war in Yemen. The brutal war to crush the Iran-backed Houthi rebels has included a blockade of the country, leading to mass famine and a relentless US-backed air campaign that often hits civilian targets including markets, schools and weddings. The result has been the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with 10,000 or more civilians killed, 14 million people on the brink of famine, and the largest and fastest-growing cholera epidemic ever documented. UNICEF says that a Yemeni child dies from a preventable disease every ten minutes.

“The United States is deeply engaged in this war,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in an op-ed this October. “We are providing bombs the Saudi-led coalition is using, we are refueling their planes before they drop those bombs, and we are assisting with intelligence. In far too many cases, the bomb’s targets have been civilian ones.”

Sanders cited reports from the Yemen Data Project that 30 percent of the coalition’s targets have been non-military. Another source cited indicated that civilian deaths have increased by 160 percent in one region.

Back in February, Sanders, along with Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), introduced a resolution calling on the president to withdraw from the Saudi-led war.  The Senate voted 55 to 44 to delay consideration of the resolution. The congressmen reintroduced the resolution this November, after the Khashoggi assassination, and on November 29 the Senate voted 63-37 to move forward with legislation calling for an end to US involvement in the war. Two weeks later, on December 13, in a momentous action, the Senate voted 56-41 for legislation directing President Trump to end US support for the war in Yemen.

Peace Action’s statement that day said: “Beyond its significance for the people of Yemen, by successfully invoking the War Powers Act, this vote heralds the beginning of the end of Congress’ abdication of its war powers after nearly two decades with no meaningful oversight.” Let’s hope so.

“Article 1 of the Constitution clearly states that it is Congress, not the president, which has the power to declare war,” Sanders wrote in his op-ed. “Over many years, Congress has allowed that power to ebb. That must change.”

As Peace Action indicated, Congress had pretty much abdicated its war-making powers and responsibilities during the past couple decades. Bush and Obama found their own ways to make war without bothering to consult Congress, much less the wishes of the American people.

Last year, when Congress was considering legislation to authorize and appropriate over $1 trillion in “national security” spending, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), formerly the Center for Defense Information, published an article charging that Congress was afraid to assume responsibility for US wars. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) had offered an amendment to the House Appropriations Bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The 2001 AUMF had authorized the use of force in response to the 9/11 attacks, but has since been “twisted to cover a number of conflicts that had little or no connection” to 9/11, POGO noted. The Congressional Research Service found that the AUMF had been used to justify military activity in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia and Djibouti.

Djibouti? How many US citizens, I wonder, have ever heard of Djibouti? Like me, I suspect that most would need to Google it. Turns out, it’s a small, barren, nomadic country on the Horn of Africa, home to one of the saltiest lakes in the world. Is this our “national security” interest? Has the CIA gotten wind of an impending international shortage of sea salt? No. I read a little further. It’s the gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. It’s a former French colony and now hosts America’s largest military base in Africa, as well as Japan’s first military base since World War II.

Turns out, Djibouti has had its share of troubles: droughts, civil war, border disputes, and various internal and external conflicts. But now there is both a Chinese and Saudi base in the country, along with the US and Japanese bases. I’m sure all these foreign forces will look after the interests of the citizens of Djibouti, but I digress …

Surprisingly, the Lee amendment passed committee on a bipartisan vote but then the House Rules Committee “stripped the language from the [appropriations] bill in the dead of night before it could get to the Floor for a vote,” according to POGO. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said it was a “mistake” that the amendment had passed and that the appropriations bill was the wrong place to debate the issue. POGO pointed out that Ryan and his predecessors of both parties have repeatedly blocked votes on this issue on defense authorization bills and have not permitted stand-alone legislation to be considered either.

“Congress is truly broken if they think they can absolve themselves of responsibility for our war efforts,” the POGO article charged. “Large Pentagon budgets don’t show support for the troops so much as they do for defense contractors and campaign donors. Real support for our troops would be Congress giving serious consideration to where and why we send our men and women into harm’s way, and then having the guts to vote for it on the record.”

So what is the United States’ actual budget for what it euphemistically calls “defense”? Like counting the number of US troops or bases abroad, it’s not that easy to figure out. Tom Engelhardt reported as 2018 began that “the first Pentagon budget of the Trump era, passed with bipartisan unanimity by Congress and signed by the President, is a staggering $700 billion.”

But this probably only represents the budget item which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calls “National Defense.” In last summer’s issue of POGO’s newsletter, The Defense Monitor, it put this figure at $655 billion for 2017 (as enacted), and $677 billion (as requested) for 2018. Congress probably increased this figure beyond what the Pentagon requested, as it is apt to do.

But this is only the top half of what The Defense Monitor computes for total US National Security Spending. For this it includes mandatory spending, funding for nuclear weapons, veteran affairs, homeland security, international affairs and the share of interest on the national debt. Adding these items to the mix produces a budget of $1,045.5 billion for 2017 and $1,069 billion requested for 2018.

I was never much good at math. I have no idea what the number $1,069 billion really means. Is one thousand billion more than a trillion or less? All I know is that it’s mind-boggling and represents a hell-full of waste, misery and death. It’s sinful and abhorrent.

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$16 million per boom

In Andrew Bacevich’s article on America’s addiction to war, he has a paragraph about the war in Afghanistan. I doubt it was intentional but Bacevich describes the US’s longest war as if it is a junkie trying every drug he can get his hands on to see which will kill him quickest. “Short of using nuclear weapons, US forces … have experimented with just about every approach imaginable: invasion, regime change, occupation, nation-building, pacification, decapitation, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, not to mention various surges … a big troop presence and a smaller one, more bombing and less, restrictive rules of engagement and permissive ones.” Then came Trump, and “in the military equivalent of throwing in the kitchen sink, a US Special Operations Command four-engine prop plane … deposited the largest non-nuclear weapon in the American arsenal on a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan. “Although the bomb made a big boom, no offer of surrender materialized.”

The bomb that made that big boom is named the GBU-43B, also known as the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), also known as the Mother of All Bombs. How much did the big mother, weighing in at 20,000 pounds, cost you? Just $16 million per unit—or per boom, if you prefer—and an additional $314 million to develop it.

MOAB bomb

Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon at Eglin Air Force Armament Center, 2003. DoD photo.

Six days earlier, on April 7, 2017, Trump (or one of his mindless minions) launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria from two Navy destroyers. Mainstream media accounts of the attack were typically obsequious. “The Tomahawk is an intermediate-range, jet engine-powered missile that is launched from a ship or submarine,” ABC News politely explained. “It flies at low levels, up to 1,500 miles at 550 mph and can carry up to a 1,000-pound conventional warhead or nuclear weapon.

“With no pilot, its use ensures that US military personnel aren’t put in harm’s way. The long and lean missile, standing 18-20 feet, simply finds its target using GPS coordinates. But it doesn’t necessarily fly in a straight line. Rather, the US Navy describes the path as “an evasive route” designed by “several mission-tailored guidance systems.” “

USS Wisconsin launching Tomahawk cruise missile

Battleship USS Wisconsin launches a BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile against a target in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, January 18, 1991.

When I first heard of the Tomahawk assault, it sounded like familiar news to me. I had just been sorting through old files of papers so I quickly found a front-page article from the Quad City Times in Davenport, Iowa, where I had been working for three years. The story was from December, 1998, and it was about all the weapons the US might use in the impending war with Iraq. There, leading the pageant of ten different missiles, with names like Hellfire, Sidewinder, Maverick and Sparrow, was the Tomahawk.

The price of the missile was listed at $1 million. I did the math, something even I could calculate in my head: 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles x $1 million each equals $59 million. I referred back to the ABC report and my calculations were confirmed: a nearly $1 million price tag for each missile, for a total spending spree of $59 million. The article went on to say that the Tomahawks were first used in the 1991 Gulf War “and they’ve been a mainstay of the military ever since.” After Iraq they were used in Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Syria.

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“One of my favorite things” … no, it’s not raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens

The response of media outlets like ABC to Trump’s first “show of force” seemed restrained compared to conservative pundits, who praised Trump for being willing to project American power, contrasting him with what they claimed was Obama’s caution and reluctance to use military force. Geraldo Rivera was ebullient when Trump dropped the big one. “One of my favorite things in the 16 years I’ve been here at Fox News is watching bombs drop on bad guys,” he said.

As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Trump accused Obama of grossly neglecting the military, forcing Trump to spend “tremendous amounts of money” to make things right again. Presumably, he would have preferred to spend that money on health care for all, good schools, mass transit, protecting the environment and re-settling immigrants from war-torn countries. But, as usual, Trump’s accusation had little, if any, truth to it.

As John Dower notes in his book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two, in 2014 the Obama administration unveiled a “modernization” of the US nuclear arsenal. The 30-year project would cost an estimated $1 trillion (not including the usual cost overruns), to “perfect a new arsenal of “smart” and smaller nuclear weapons, and extensively refurbish the existing delivery “triad” of long-range manned bombers, nuclear-armed submarines, and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads.”

Of course, Dower noted, “nuclear modernization” is just a portion of the American military machine. Obama said as much in his 2016 State of the Union address when he boasted: “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”

Indeed we do. Dower pointed out that the projected price tag for just the 30-year nuclear modernization program would be over $90 million a day, or nearly $4 million an hour. So much for neglecting our military.

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The Doomsday Machine

Many people know that Daniel Ellsberg was the military analyst who released the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the press and public in 1971. The 7,000-page document was a key component in ending the Vietnam War.

But many people may not know that ten years earlier, as a consultant to the Pentagon and White House, he helped draft plans to fight a nuclear war. He confessed all this in a book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, released this past December. Ellsberg talked about what it was like, making plans for Doomsday, on the Democracy Now show with Amy Goodman and Juan González.

When John Kennedy moved into the White House, Ellsberg had the job of briefing some of his staff on Eisenhower’s plans, then in effect, and determining how they could be improved. This wasn’t much of a challenge, he confided, because Ike’s “were the worst plans in the history of warfare.” Few civilians knew what the nuclear strategy was, he said, and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff couldn’t get many details from General Curtis LeMay at the Strategic Air Command.

Daniel Ellsberg, 1973

Daniel Ellsberg in 1973

There was a good reason LeMay and others kept the plans under wraps, Ellsberg explained; it was because “they were insane.”  Eisenhower’s plans called for a first strike. He refused to consider plans for a limited war of any kind with the Soviet Union. His plan was for an “all-out war, in a first initiation of nuclear war, assuming the Soviets had not used nuclear weapons,” Ellsberg said.

“And that plan called, in our first strike, for hitting every city—actually every town over 25,000—in the USSR and every city in China. The captive nations, the East Europe satellites in the Warsaw Pact, were to be hit in their air defenses, which were all near cities, their transport points, their communications of any kind. So they were to be annihilated, as well.”

Ellsberg was aware at the time that the planners had calculated actual figures for the number of targets, how many planes would be required, and other details, but he could not believe there were calculations for the number of people who would be killed. Air Force brass that were friends of his said they had never seen actual figures. So he drafted a question that was sent to the joint chiefs in the name of the president. He asked: In the USSR and China alone, if you implement your nuclear war plans, how many will die? He expected that they would decline to answer or respond that they had not done the calculations. He was wrong.

“They came back with an answer very quickly: 325 million people in the USRR and China alone,” Ellsberg said. “Well, then I asked, “All right, how many altogether?” And a few days later, 100 million in East Europe, the captive nations, another 100 million in West Europe, our allies, from our own strikes, by fallout, depending on which way the wind blew, and, however the wind blew, a third 100 million in adjoining countries … a total of 600 million people. That was a time, by the way, when the population of the world was three billion. And that was an underestimate of their casualties—a hundred Holocausts.

“It was very clear that they hadn’t included—I hadn’t asked, actually, what would Russian retaliation be against us and against West Europe. They were thought, at that time—wrongly—to have hundreds of weapons against the US. But they did have The Next War in high definitionhundreds of weapons against West Europe, no question. West Europe would go, under any circumstances. If we were defending West Europe—Germany, for example—we were planning to destroy the continent in order to save it.

“Six hundred million … a hundred Holocausts. And when I held the piece of paper in my hand … that they had sent out unembarrassedly, you know, proudly, to the president—“Here’s what we will do”—I thought, “This is the most evil plan that has ever existed. It’s insane.”

Much later in the interview, Ellsberg pointed out that these calculations failed to include the effects of fire, the biggest effect of thermonuclear weapons. “So the number would really have been, at that time, well over a billion, plus the Soviet retaliation against Europe. So we’re talking over a billion people, a third of the Earth’s population at that time.”

Ellsberg said he had heard Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb and inspiration for the fictional Dr. Strangelove, say that thermonuclear weapons would cause the death of one-third of the population, close to the calculation of the joint chiefs. “But the fact is, he was wrong … In fact, it would be three-thirds.”

Ellsberg went on to explain that the weapons targeted on the cities—targeted then and now—would burn the cities. There would be firestorms and smoke. In World War II, he said, there had been only three such firestorms: Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo. The fires were so widespread that they caused a column of air to rise suddenly into the stratosphere.

“And what had not been calculated before, till 1983, was that the millions and millions, possibly 100 million tons of smoke and black soot would be lofted into the stratosphere, where it would not be rained out ever, and it would spread quickly around the world, causing a blanket that would destroy—or, rather, absorb—most of the sunlight from reaching the Earth, 70 percent of the sunlight, killing all the harvests worldwide and preventing any vegetation, starving everyone on Earth, essentially—nearly everyone, let me correct that … extinction is very unlikely … But 98 or 99 percent of the people will go near extinction—close enough to be called a Doomsday machine.”

Ellsberg went on to list a few of the numerous “near misses” where the Doomsday machine was almost activated: during the Cuban missile crisis; in 1995 when a Norwegian weather rocket was mistaken by Russia as a nuclear missile and Premier Yeltsin nearly pulled the trigger; and when Truman made nuclear threats against North Korea but, since North Korea was not yet a nuclear state, he opted instead to burn it to the ground without using nuclear weapons.

What does all this cause me to think of, besides the fact that we are all extremely fortunate to be here? I think of all we have done, since 9/11, to destroy much of the Middle East, all the people the US has killed, all those driven from their homes to become refugees, all the harm and horror we have caused, and the national security state created that has stripped us of so much of our freedom here at home. And all this has ostensibly been done in the name of a “War on Terror.” And I have to ask myself: How can there possibly be anything that can begin to compare to the terror we began to beget—this Doomsday machine—back in 1945? As the cartoon character Pogo once stated so eloquently, “We have found the enemy and he is us.” The US is the terrorist state par excellence. As Obama would say, “Nobody else even comes close.”

Do you need a break about now? Here’s a few lines from a poem by Katherine Riegel entitled America:

Every country’s history is written in blood
but yours is boastful and too
close to me, the stink always on my skin.

America, your hands
are too hard, you have metal blades
for teeth. Maybe you were an idea once
but now you are a machine. Remember
humans live here, in our soft bodies.
America you are scaring me.

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Spreading chaos

Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. In an article published two years ago on CounterPunch, he talked about how the press spent a lot of time discussing George Bush’s supposed goal of “nation-building” after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“The stark truth is that the US really has no intention to build strong states in the Middle East or elsewhere,” Kovalik said. Time and time again, he wrote, “the goal of US foreign policy … is increasingly and more aggressively the destruction and balkanization of independent states.”

This is not just a contemporary phenomenon, he noted, citing the Korean War and quoting South Korean human rights scholar Dong Choon Kim, who argues that even back then the nation-building of Third World peoples was viewed as something subversive, to be “snuffed out.” Kim said the Korean War “was a bridge to connect the old type of massacres under colonialism and the new types of state terrorism and political massacre during the Cold War … The mass killings committed by US soldiers in the Korean War marked the inception of military interventions by the US in the Third World at the cost of enormous civilian deaths.”

This apparent pathological violence and destruction can be traced back to the post-WWII period, when George Kennan and others were framing US foreign policy. Kovalik points to oft-quoted 1948 remarks by Kennan concerning the role the US should play on the world stage.

“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population,” Kennan explained. “This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia … we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.”

Today, Kovalik noted, we compose about five percent of the world’s population and consume about one-quarter of its resources. “The only way the US has been able to achieve this impressive, though morally reprehensible, feat has been to undermine, many times fatally, the ability of independent states to exist, defend themselves and to protect their own resources from foreign plunder,” he said. “This is why the US has teamed up with the world’s most deplorable forces in destroying independent states around the globe.”

Kovalik cites US activity in Vietnam, the Congo, Colombia and Libya as a few examples of this behavior. In Libya, he said, the US “partnered with jihadists in 2011 in overthrowing and indeed smashing a state which used its oil wealth to guarantee the best living standards of any country in Africa while assisting independence struggles around the world. In this way, Libya, which under Gaddafi also happened to be one of the staunchest enemies of Al-Qaeda in the world, presented a double threat to US foreign policy aims. Post-intervention Libya is now a failed state with little prospects of being able to secure its oil wealth for its own people again, much less for any other peoples in the Third World.”

In Syria, Kovalik added, the CIA and Pentagon have backed opposing militant groups that are fighting each other. “The result is a drawn-out war which threatens to leave Syria in chaos and ruins for the foreseeable future.

“The US appears to be intentionally spreading chaos throughout strategic portions of the world,” Kovalik charged, “leaving virtually no independent states standing to protect their resources, especially oil, from Western exploitation. And this goal is being achieved with resounding success, while also achieving the subsidiary goal of enriching the behemoth industrial-military complex.”

Kovalik ended by quoting José Martí, the great Cuban poet and revolutionary hero, who once said, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love and create, and those who hate and destroy.” Kovalik added: “There is no doubt that the US has proven itself to be of the latter kind; indeed, the very nature of US foreign policy is destruction.

“There is only one proper goal, then, of people of good will—to oppose US military intervention with every fiber of our being.”

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Kicking the Habit of War

So how do we do that? How do we oppose military intervention with every fiber of our being? How do we overcome our addiction and kick the habit of war and militarism?

Granted, it won’t be easy. It will be a long and difficult struggle. We may not make much progress in our lifetime. But our children’s children’s future and the fate of the planet impel us to begin. So here are a few ideas, big and small.

The biggest idea, encompassing all the rest and hardly original, is that we need to build a massive movement that is potent enough to dismantle the empire piece by piece. Nothing less will do. We need to be realistic about the enormity of the evil we face and, consequently, be serious, shrewd and strategic in how we approach the task.

One place we might begin is with our language. Words are powerful and some more so than others. We can use them to inspire and to rally people to our side. As a friend suggested, we can use them to “express our dreams” for a more just, humane and peaceful world.

But some words are weak. One word that I suggest all peace activists (and activists of all stripes) banish from their vocabulary is the word protest. Whenever I hear this word, the image that comes to mind is of a three-year-old with his mother (or father) at the checkout counter of the supermarket (or Walmart). The child wants something he can’t have and so proceeds to  throw a tantrum. It is the image of someone totally lacking in power. Did you ever notice how the media loves to identify us as protesters?

The Native American leaders at Standing Rock were explicit in informing journalists who visited the encampment that they were water protectors, not protesters. They were too dignified to see themselves as lacking in power or their activity as merely a “protest”. I think the time has come for the rest of us, white, brown and black, to see our work as having power, purpose and dignity. We don’t want to protest, (at least I don’t); we want to have power over our own lives and our own future and we want to take power away from those who have abused it. We should speak as if we were already powerful.

It is time we begin to learn from the right-wing in this country, which is adept at using language to control the message that the public hears.

Nonviolence: Strategy and Way of Life

The mass-based movement we create must be a nonviolent movement, but here I feel obliged to provide a caution. Non-violence should not be interpreted as passive, complacent or peaceful. I think it is a dishonor to King and Gandhi to see our work as merely symbolic.  We should have a specific goal with nonviolence as a means to that goal, not the goal itself. Using symbols is fine but if our goal is only to feel sanctimonious and pure, then it is not worth much.

With a lot of help from the mass media, most people seem to have forgotten that King and Gandhi were, first and foremost, community organizers. King died while helping sanitation workers organize to gain a better livelihood and Gandhi was the leader of a successful independence movement. Neither one of them was killed for standing alone on a street corner holding a “protest” sign. They died because they were a significant threat to the principalities and powers of their time.

Gandhi - May1944

Gandhi, May 1944

The most important reason to rely on nonviolence, besides the fact that violence begets violence, is because it works. Gene Sharp, the world’s most prominent scholar and proponent of nonviolence as a political strategy, died early last year. In an opinion piece in the New York Times shortly after his death, Tina Rosenberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, pointed out that Sharp’s primary message was that nonviolence is usually the most effective strategy for winning power. That is why King and Gandhi chose nonviolence, not because, as a Baptist preacher and a Hindu, they were hoping the Catholic Church would anoint them saints.

“When Sharp began studying the history of nonviolence,” Rosenberg wrote, “it was seen—and dismissed—as a tactic used by saints and pacifists: sitting in front of bulldozers, appealing to the consciences of men with none.” (Of course, there’s plenty of places where we should sit in front of bulldozers because they’re usually up to no good: like in our forests and our mountains, or where tar sands pipelines are being laid, or when people’s homes are being demolished in Palestine. But better to sit-in in front of Caterpillar’s doors in Deerfield and Peoria, Illinois.)

“Sharp’s major contribution was to demonstrate that nonviolent struggle is not only effective, it’s superior to armed struggle in most circumstances,” said Rosenberg. “Research studies support this point. As a way to topple dictators, nonviolent struggle has double the success rate of violent resistance. And the bigger the role played by mass nonviolent resistance, the freer the country and the more durable the freedom that emerges.”

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

King and Gandhi, of course, were leaders motivated by a strong faith. Faith leaders played a significant role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, in the anti-war movement. I think it is imperative that faith leaders assume a pivotal role in a new movement to dismantle the warfare state. The challenge will be for them to place more emphasis on effectiveness than on appearing saintly.

Just as King and Gandhi inspired millions of people to action through their strong faith and spirituality, today we need our faith leaders to study the lessons that nonviolence has to offer and then take a lead in the struggle against the warfare state.

The Radical Sickness of Empire

David Hilfiker, a retired physician, writer and justice worker, wrote a remarkable article in The Other Side right after the second Iraq War. The article presented a challenge and guidance to people of faith on how to respond to a crumbling empire that has forsaken a loving God in favor of the worship of technology, affluence, domination and violence. Hilfiker’s advice was to face the truth, tell the truth, denounce the idolatry, act boldly and create communities of resistance, recognizing that we are in this world but not of it.

“Far from being proof of righteousness, the Iraqi war is symptomatic of a profound sickness that permeates our national life,” he wrote. “The same small group of CEOs and policy-makers who pushed for the multi-billion-dollar orgy of bombing now will reap multi-billion-dollar contracts to rebuild (all at taxpayers expense).

“We must tell the truth that, in invading Iraq, the United States ignored four hundred years of international law, the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Accords, and the clearly articulated will of the rest of the world, seriously destabilizing international relations,” Hilfiker said. “We must unveil the core immorality of the new “Bush doctrine,” in which the United States unabashedly reserves the right to attack any country preemptively, to overthrow any government that we perceive as a threat.

“We have sabotaged a long list of international treaties: the Kyoto accords, a treaty to ban land mines, the ABM treaty with Russia, an agreement to reduce international “small arms” sales, the International Court, and others. Against the rest of the world we have financed and supported, virtually without constraint, Israel’s occupation of Palestine. With new military bases planned for Iraq and the new bases in Asia resulting from the war in Afghanistan, we now have military semicircles ringing both Russia and China.

“All of these, as disturbing as they are,” he added, “are still only symptoms. We must learn to name the deadly sickness itself: It is nothing less than empire.”

Hilfiker went on to describe the nature and the driving engines of the empire. “Recent events have served to unmask a raw and unapologetic form of US imperialism that is unlike anything that came before. This new imperialism is a political and economic threat to the world—and a spiritual threat that we must take seriously.

“US empire is fed ultimately by our affluence and consumerism, which demand a disproportionate share of the world’s resources. Our standard of living is neither just nor sustainable and depends upon economic and political structures that impoverish others, structures that can be maintained only by domination. Addicted to consumerism, the American people often fail to see the connection between our lifestyle and the recent deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and soldiers … In order to maintain our affluence, we have committed ourselves, with almost religious zeal, to an extreme free-market economics … Within the last generation, we have forced the rest of the world to accept this same economic structure, damaging the local economies of many poor countries.

“US economic power, and the resultant injustice, cannot ultimately be maintained without force,”Hilfiker continued. “Consequently, the United States has found itself on the wrong side of almost every conflict in the developing world, as we have militarily supported non-democratic governments that accede to our economic interests.”

The US empire is a “prime manifestation of the powers and principalities” in our time, but it is nothing new, according to Hilfiker. Like all empires, it controls the military and the media and is controlled by and for the wealthy few, while exploiting the poor. What is different, he argued, is that we now “have the technological sophistication for unthinkable death and environmental devastation. Since 1945, we have had, for the only time in human history, the capacity to wipe ourselves out—and that capacity grows every year.”

“We are developing tools that we are not, as a species, capable of handling,” he continued. “There is a race between our technological growth and our spiritual growth. It does not look good.”

But what can we do and how can we act hopefully? he asked. For starters, read the “signs of the times,” he answered. Despite its economic, political and military might, the US is in that “stage of inevitable decline” that marks any empire that neglects justice for the poor. Second, we must recognize that Gospel values of love and forgiveness aren’t just “spiritual niceties” today but also “political necessities.”

Non-military solutions to conflict must be found or “technologically sophisticated violence will engulf us all,” he said. “Issues such as global warming, corporate globalism and US national security strategy all must be addressed in a coherent way, not as isolated arenas of resistance and organizing. They are of one cloth.”

“Third,” he said, “we must recognize how thoroughly the empire contaminates each of us.” (He recommends studying Bonhoeffer and the Book of Revelation.) A life in community “becomes utterly essential” in order for us not to be overwhelmed by the evil powers all around us.

Then he asked: How do we remain (or become) an alternative community in opposition to the dominant imperial culture? “For most of world history,” he responds, this wasn’t a problem. “You opposed the powers, and you were persecuted and likely killed. But our society has refined co-optation to an art form. Walter Brueggemann has suggested that if Moses was alive today, Pharaoh would make him a talk-show host.”

“Finally,” Hilfiker concluded, “we must find ways to act.” It is the nature of the powers to always appear invincible. But “there is no such thing as objective powerlessness,” he insisted. “Our belief that we are powerless is a sure sign that we have been duped by the powers.”

He ends by saying: “Our task is paradoxical: to live in a society that will probably collapse, yet continue to work with hope for peace, for justice, and for more humane, democratic structures … The primary task of the church is to be a community of resistance. I am convinced that it is only within such community that we will have the strength and fortitude to continue the long struggle. Our little, raggedy groups are our only chance.”

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 Taking Down the Empire … One Leg at a Time

Is the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) the same as the empire? I suggest it’s the primary tool of the empire, its means toward the end of domination. We could picture the empire as the table and the Military Industrial Complex as the legs. Let’s work on removing the legs and it’s likely the table won’t stand.

So how can we actually oppose and resist the MIC? Actually, it shouldn’t be that hard because it is so pervasive. Like a giant octopus, its tentacles extend into every sector of our society. Joan Roelofs, a political science professor, wrote a fascinating article on The Political Economy of the Weapons Industry. It was first published on CounterPunch and then reprinted last July on the website of Paul Craig Roberts. Roelofs writes that almost every department and level of government is connected to the military industry, along with business, many charities, social service, environmental and cultural organizations.

“Contracting out” is one way the MIC spreads its influence throughout the country and the world. Lockheed, currently the largest weapons contractor, sources parts to many countries for projects like the F-35 fighter plane. Some businesses have enormous multi-year contracts (in the billions), she notes, despite the constitutional proviso that Congress not appropriate military funds for more than two years. Construction companies build huge bases in the US and abroad, often with high-tech surveillance or operational capacity, and hire locals or third country nationals to do the work. “Medium, small and tiny businesses” including minority-owned ones, are drawn into the web, providing services for the military such as landscaping, dry cleaners and child care. Even educational book publishers like Scholastic and Pearson receive large DoD contracts.

“Much of what is left of organized industrial labor is in weapons manufacture,” Roelofs writes. Labor “PACs fund the few “progressive” candidates in our political system, who tend to be silent about war and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Unlike other factories, the armaments makers do not suddenly move overseas, although they do use subcontractors worldwide.”

The military provides well-paying jobs and the military economy “yields a high return on investment.” Lucrative mutual funds like Vanguard and Fidelity are heavily invested in weapons manufacturers. Not just the wealthy but the middle-class and working class, along with churches, benevolent and cultural organizations, reap these rewards.

Ordinary people may not know where the money in their funds’ portfolio is invested but more than likely some is invested in war. Roelofs mentions that World Beyond War [] has a campaign to encourage divestment of military stocks in the pension funds of state and local government workers. I visited the site and discovered that Wisconsin is one of several states highlighted.

The Wisconsin Investment Board (WIB), it turns out, was 24th on the list of world’s largest pension funds in 2015. The World Beyond War folks had done some research and posted a list of 17 of the top weapons dealers in the world that were part of WIB’s investment portfolio, included in both their Core Retirement Investment Trust and their Variable Retirement Investment Trust. (Don’t ask me how the core differs from the variable.) The website showed the total shares and total fair value for all of the weapons corporations for the year ending in December, 2014.

I then went to the Wisconsin Investment Board’s website and found the investment reports for the year ending last December. Scrolling through the list of 63 pages of corporations, I was able to locate the same weapons corporations for the core account; scrolling through 72 more pages, I found the same corporations for the variable account. I just focused on eight of the top weapons-makers: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Airbus Group and Honeywell International.

I noticed that, in the three years between the two reports, the number of shares owned in the eight corporations (in both accounts) often went down, but the fair value rose, more times than not, sometimes by a considerable amount. With Lockheed Martin, for instance, the Core Retirement Investment Trust showed 225,673 shares for 2014 and only 218,948 shares for 2017. But the fair value of the stock jumped from $43,457,850 in 2014 to $70,293,255 three years later.

Now I know about as much about investments as a fish knows about water polo, but this seems to be telling me that the weapons manufacturers are doing pretty well. War is a bullish business. By the same token, teachers and other public servants are also doing very well, investing in a “secure retirement” by having their earnings invested in weapons-makers who someday soon may see us all “retire” permanently from the planet we share.

In all, there were 186 pages of investments listed in WIB’s 2017 portfolio report. Who knows how many more of the hundreds of corporations not among the 20 researched by World Beyond War are also dealing in death and destruction? The report lists $55,211,579,128 in total equity in the first fund, and $8,029,481,921 in the second. It might be a “profitable investment” of time for anti-war activists to carefully research public pension funds and then mount campaigns to demand divestment from the war industry. It will not be easy though. Some countries actually forbid pension funds from engaging in boycott, divestment or sanctions (BDS) against other countries or defense industries; the State of Wisconsin recently passed legislation preventing businesses from using BDS to oppose Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Roelofs’s article also notes that many nonprofit organizations and educational institutions are engaged with the military in one way or another. Some of the biggest weapons-makers have provided financial support to groups like the NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; CEOs and board members of major weapons manufacturers serve on the boards of many nonprofits.

Roelofs pointed out that The Nature Conservancy claims it is “nonpolitical,” yet it has benefitted from millions of dollars in grants and contracts from DoD and other government agencies.

In Wisconsin, according to Roelofs, the Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin had $906 million of DoD contracts between 2000 and 2016. This Goodwill, which includes much of Northern Illinois and the Chicago area, is the largest of over 160 Goodwill organizations in the world, according to their website.

World Beyond War and CODEPINK and dozens of other organizations around the country are organizing around divestment campaigns as a way for individuals and institutions to sever their ties to the war machine. Wisconsin is not generally seen as a state that is heavily reliant on the weapons industry, but there are still a number of ways that a resurgent peace movement could exert pressure on corporations and individuals who are tied to or benefit from the merchants of death.

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Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane. No, it’s the military industrial complex!

I live on the north side of Madison, Wisconsin now. It’s probably just a mile or less—as the crows and the jets fly—from the local airport and Truax Field, home of the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. The fighter planes stationed here have been patrolling and training over much of the upper Midwest since 1948, the year I was born.

I’m in the flyway of the war jets, which today are F-16 Fighting Falcons. When the jets fly over, the whole neighborhood seems to shake. There are plenty of sounds in the city to shatter the silence and serenity, but none quite compare to this. It is a violent invasion of the senses. I always feel a wave of fear and anger when I hear it.

The eerie thing is that I never actually see the jets, I just hear them. I don’t know why this is and I don’t want to know. I think it has something to do with the flight patterns.

What do I think of when I hear them? I think of innocent people being slaughtered in sundry countries around the world. I think of the wealth of our nation being squandered on weapons whose only purpose is to cause misery to others. I think of our sullied and beleaguered planet, which desperately needs our loving care and instead is subjected to more violence, the most abhorrent form of violence.

But these Fighting Falcons that fly over every so often are now considered “obsolete” by the powers and principalities. They are to be replaced with more proficient and probably louder instruments of death.

The bigger and better solution for how best to efficiently annihilate people is called the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. It will be the most expensive weapons system in US history. The price tag for each jet currently runs around $100 million each, but the military pledges that the cost per unit will drop once the assembly line is revved up. (More on that in a minute.)

Early this year, the Air National Guard held a dog-and-pony show near the airport, a first step in the process of preparing and approving an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposal to “bed” two squadrons of F-35A jets in Madison. The two squadrons would consist of 40 planes.

Members of the Guard were stationed at different display tables in the hall to answer citizens’ questions. I approached one and inquired, as innocently as I could: “Isn’t there still a lot of concern and controversy regarding these planes?” The officer assured me that this was not the case. Everything was ready to roll.

The reality that the Air Force and Guard probably prefer citizens not know is that the F-35 Joint Strike project has been mired in controversy and delay since its inception. “The F-35 program’s record of performance has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance,” said US Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in opening remarks at an April 2016 hearing on the F-35 program. “It’s a textbook example of why this Committee has placed such a high priority on reforming the broken defense acquisition system.”

“Those F-35 aircraft being delivered are not being delivered as promised,” he continued. “They have problems with maintenance diagnostic software, radar instabilities, sensor fusion shortfalls, fuel system problems, structural cracks from service life testing, engine reliability deficits, limitations on the crew escape system that cause pilot weight restrictions, and potential cyber vulnerabilities. This list is as troubling as it is long.”

Of course, McCain (God bless his soul) did nothing during his service here on earth to actually stop the program. Up in heaven, I’m confident, he’s being rewarded for his role in attempting to create more efficient and effective death machinery. The more innocent lives the empire is able to dispose of, the fuller heaven gets. They do charge rent up there, don’t they?

This past September 28, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that an F-35 stealth fighter had crashed “for the first time” near a Marine Corps base in South Carolina. The crash came just one day after the F-35 was used in combat for the first time in Afghanistan, the article noted.

On the same day, the London Telegraph reported, in almost giddy fashion, that F-35 jets had touched down on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier “eight years after a fighter jet last landed on a British carrier.” The UK’s Defence Secretary gushed: “The largest warship in British history is joining forces with the most advanced fighter jets on the planet. This marks a rebirth of power to strike decisively from the seas anywhere in the world.”

It was, he said, “a monumental moment in our country’s proud military history” and, of course, clear evidence of Britain’s “determination to promote peace and prevent war.” The article noted that Britain was poised to purchase 138 F-35B jets. The Brits had skin in the game, The Telegraph noted, because “British industry giant BAE Systems” produces 15 percent of each F-35 and employs 2,250 people on the project.

A story by Reuters this November reported that Japan was preparing to buy at least 40 of the Lockheed Martin F-35s, worth about $4 billion. Global arms dealers were showing off their wares at an international aerospace exhibition in Tokyo.

Japan was expected to accelerate defense spending increases that would push it “beyond a self-imposed limit of one percent of gross domestic product,” Reuters noted. Although Japan ostensibly has a “pacifist constitution,” the island nation already ranks as one of the world’s biggest military spenders.

Apparently, the F-35 will be a lucrative cash cow for US arms dealers, but it is still unclear how much the jet fighter will cost American taxpayers. In mid-2017, it was reported that the cost of the jet fighter program could grow by seven percent to $406.5 billion. The overall average per-jet acquisition cost—the most complete measure of a weapon’s cost— rose to $164.6 million per plane, according to figures submitted to Congress. The long-term operations and support cost to keep the planes flying until 2070 increased over $35 billion to an estimated $1.1 trillion. By 2018, this overall program cost estimate had risen to $1.5 trillion.

F-35 fighter-jet

F-35 fighter jet

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin was claiming it was reducing the unit cost of the jets through a procedure known as “block-buying”. But in an article in September, 2017, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) labeled block-buying “irresponsible”.

“Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act authorize a block buy of 440 F-35s … even though the planes are still being developed and the testing necessary to prove they are operationally effective won’t be completed for years,” POGO charged. “Until that testing is done, all the American people will get for their money is a pile of parts for an unproven prototype …

“The problem, of course, is that even the Pentagon admits that costs for the program are going up, not down. The program is also entering its most complex stage of development and testing, particularly when it comes to the software essential for these planes to be effective in combat, which will likely involve expensive fixes.”

POGO also argues that program managers were hiding information concerning safety of the jets. The plane’s ejection seats posed “a heightened risk of fatal whiplash” and new $600,000 helmets only aggravated the risk. “The premature rush into production before development and testing is complete” would create what POGO called “concurrency orphans,” whereby aircraft purchased at full price would be too expensive to fix to make them combat ready. In McCain’s congressional statement back in 2016, he had called “concurrency” a “long nightmare.” He defined it as “the ill-advised simultaneous development, testing, and production of a complex and technologically challenging weapons system that the Department estimates will end up costing the American taxpayer $1.8 billion.”

POGO published another article a month later in which it detailed how the American taxpayers would be taken to the cleaners through “concurrency orphans.” The watchdog organization reported that the Vice Admiral in charge of the F-35 program was considering “leaving 108 aircraft in their current state because the funds to upgrade them to the fully combat-capable configuration would threaten the Air Force’s plans to ramp up production.” There were also 81 more F-35s purchased by the Navy and Marine Corps during the same period, POGO said. “If they are left in their current state, nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for. What makes this particularly galling is the aircraft that would be left behind by such a scheme were the most expensive F-35s purchased so far. When the tab for all the aircraft purchased in an immature state is added up, the total comes to nearly $40 billion. That is a lot of money to spend on training jets and aircraft that will simply be stripped for spare parts.

“The American people spent approximately $21.4 billion for those 108 orphaned F-35As,” the article continued, “slightly more than was spent on a four-year fight against ISIS.”

The F-35 program is one of the most “concurrent” in US history, POGO claims, pointing out that the military will have nearly 800 F-35s in hand or in the manufacturing pipeline before the design is fully proven. The article cited former Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall as calling it “acquisition malpractice.”

It also quoted a now-retired Director of Operational Test and Evaluation who warned that the armed services would need to send aircraft back to maintenance depots for modification. The Air Force had already listed 213 change items in its FY2018 budget request. The Government Accountability Office had identified $1.8 billion in retrofitting costs for the program in 2016, with $1.4 billion going to already known problems and another $386 million for anticipated fixes yet to be identified. “These figures are almost certainly much lower than the true cost to retrofit the aircraft already purchased because, as the testing process continues, it’s natural that more and more problems will be revealed,” POGO noted.

It makes one wonder: what kind of planes will be flying over Madison’s friendly skies? They almost certainly will be “training” planes, and those appear to be the ones that were rushed into production. Perhaps residents of Madison’s neighborhoods near Truax Field will have a lot more to be apprehensive about than just the hellish noise. Perhaps the National Guard could see to it that each resident is issued one of those $600,000 helmets that the pilots will be wearing.

So our Democratic politicians who represent our liberal cities are going to get us out of this mess? Right. Fat chance. Not unless we organize and exert a lot of pressure and convince them it’s in their interest to do what progressive politicians should be doing: actively opposing this incursion of the military industrial complex into our communities.

There probably aren’t many cities in the country ostensibly more progressive than Burlington, Vermont, home of Independent Senator Bernie Sanders. Yet Democrat and progressive leaders there are diligently pushing the US war machine in the form of the F-35. The entire mostly-Democratic “leadership” of the state has devoted more than a decade trying to force an F-35 airbase on the community of South Burlington, according to William Boardman, a professional writer who spent 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy has been “enthusiastic about militarizing his hometown from the start,” Boardman reports, and Sanders and Democratic congressman Peter Welch have hedged slightly, but neither has opposed the project. Governors of both parties have been cheerleaders, as well as Burlington’s Democratic mayor.

Burlington owns the airport in South Burlington and would probably need to bulldoze houses there to “meet environmental standards for imposing the quiet-shattering F-35 jet on a community that doesn’t want it and won’t benefit from it,” Boardman wrote early this year. Residents calling themselves Save Our Skies from the F-35s organized and then presented a petition with 3,000 signatures to the city in order to get the question on the ballot.

Several Democratic and “progressive” members of the City Council tried to substitute their own resolution at the last minute, but ultimately the SOS resolution was approved by the council on a 10-2 vote. In a March vote on the advisory resolution, 55 percent of Burlington voters opposed the F-35 base siting, as well as 75 percent of the City Council. Unfortunately, Boardman reported later, the mayor “betrayed” the citizens, not by vetoing the resolution but by refusing to sign it. He also attached a cover letter to the Air Force that was disingenuous and dishonest and undermined citizen efforts to stop the militarization of their community.

In Madison, our soon-to-be-former governor, Scott Walker, has said he is looking forward to hearing the F-35 Lightning II jet take off from Truax Field, describing the noise as the “sound of freedom,” according to the local Isthmus newspaper.

Another local official who apparently can’t wait to hear the sound of F-35s thundering over our neighborhoods is US Senator Tammy Baldwin, the darling of most Madison liberals. I’m not sure what it is she has done to win the admiration and affection of so many well-meaning people. One thing I am certain of is that she is not an opponent but rather a friend and enabler of the military industrial complex. She is not a progressive, if that term has any meaning at all, but rather one little cog in the war machine.

I have a friend in Milwaukee, Bob Graf, who wrote to Baldwin earlier this year regarding the F-35. He expressed his concerns about air pollution and other environmental danger that would accompany the fighter jets, but I’m sure his primary concerns had to do with war and peace and the common wealth of our country being squandered in order to feed the insatiable appetite of the empire. Bob was one of the Milwaukee 14, a group of clergy and other young men who entered a Selective Service office in downtown Milwaukee in September 1968, raided file cabinets and dumped draft files in bags and carried them outside to a small park, where they burned them with homemade napalm.

Now, 50 years later, Bob was concerned because he had friends who couldn’t afford to send their daughter to college, even though she had generous scholarship offers. As he wrote to some friends, he knew that Baldwin and others in the Senate had voted for a bipartisan $700 billion defense budget. It was $54 billion more than what President Trump had requested, enough “to make tuition free at public colleges and universities.”

Baldwin’s response to Graf’s letter explained that the planes deployed in Madison were “some of the oldest fighter jets still in service.” Not getting the new, improved war weaponry “would jeopardize operations at Truax Field, resulting in job losses and a significant, negative impact on the regional economy.”

Taking that extra step to support the war economy seems to be a trait with Baldwin. As The Defense Monitor, POGO’s newsletter, reported in their summer 2017 issue, the Pentagon’s 2018 budget had originally included “a small victory for taxpayers: it reduced its request for the troubled Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to only one ship for $1.2 billion.”

“The Navy doesn’t want them,” POGO quoted the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as saying. But two senators did: Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Baldwin. The LCS program currently produces two variations of the ship, POGO noted, one made by Austal in Mobile, Alabama and the other by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wisconsin.

Baldwin appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and argued that cutting that one ship out of the budget would result in job losses in Wisconsin, “harm the American taxpayers,” and endanger national security.

Tammy Baldwin

US Senator Tammy Baldwin

POGO’s article noted that Baldwin’s concerns were exaggerated and “run counter to the reality of the program.” I watched the video of the subcommittee hearing and this appeared to be the case. Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley assured the committee that jobs would not be impacted in the near future. He explained that the two shipyards had built ten ships between them but that 20 more were in the “backlog,” for a total of up to 30 ships.

POGO noted that the LCS program had already been forced into multiple changes due to “large cost overruns, lack of combat survivability and lethality discovered during operational testing and deployment, and the almost crippling technical failures and schedule delays.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that taxpayers could have saved $12 billion if the program had been cancelled.

A few hours after the appropriations hearing, the White House announced they would add another LCS to the budget. It was “record-breaking speed in pork pressure politics,” POGO charged. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain said. The Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith (D-WA), put it more bluntly: “They pulled that ship out of their asses.”

Yes, Tammy is good at bringing home the pork. Would that it were a nice, grass-fed pig raised on a small organic farm, rather than a rancid strip of bacon. If Baldwin really cares about creating industrial jobs, as well as protecting the pocketbooks of taxpayers, how about creating jobs to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure? To build mass transit systems like the one that Walker spurned? To build green energy systems? To build schools and hospitals? To put young people on our farmland? To help people start small businesses? No, that would all require creativity as well as courage. Better to go along as an obsequious servant to the empire and continue to feed the war behemoth.

I need to be blunt about this: we are too far down the road to total annihilation of the planet to mince words. Baldwin is not a friend to peace; she is a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the military industrial complex. Yes, I know what you’re going to say, she’s “the lesser of two evils.” Granted, her Republican opponent in November’s election was ten times worse. Americans are adept at voting for “the lesser evil” because our so-called democratic system does not provide any other options.

(For those of you who were not aware, Baldwin did have another opponent, an Independent named Mary Jo Walters, who opposed the F-35 and took a stronger stand on all the issues progressives should be concerned about. All she lacked was the $14 million that Baldwin had at her disposal. And, of course, voting for Walters would have meant “throwing your vote away.”)

Those jets that Baldwin dismissed in her letter to Graf, the F-16s currently stationed in Madison, may be old but historically they’ve left their mark, making obscene amounts of money for Lockheed Martin and causing unimaginable amounts of misery around the world.

Two women associated with CODEPINK, Ariel Gold and Haley Pedersen, penned an article a year ago November where they enumerated some of the ways Lockheed Martin “makes a killing off of killing.” The F-16 has proven to be one of the exemplary items in its product line.

Lockheed Martin has been selling arms to Israel since 1971, according to the company’s website. “The company’s notorious F-16 fighter jet came into Israel’s possession in 1980,” Gold and Pedersen noted. “Since that time, the company’s fighter jets have been integral to Israel’s brutal military campaigns in Lebanon and Palestine.”

The article goes on to mention the F-16s wide use in the 2006 invasion of Lebanon and the 2008-09 and 2014 assaults on Gaza. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN and other organizations investigated, documented and condemned all these campaigns for their high rate of civilian casualties and general failure to distinguish between military targets and civilians, including children.

As the article noted, Israel is not the only controversial country that is a valued Lockheed customer. A US State Department arms deal negotiated with Egypt under Obama was worth an estimated $3.2 billion and Lockheed was the primary contractor. In May 2017, Trump signed a $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, and Lockheed was slated to get over $29 billion of the package.

According to the article, Lockheed Martin grossed $43.4 billion in arms sales in 2016 and its CEO, Marilyn Hewson, earned $20 million. The federal contracts Lockheed received totaled more than the budgets of 22 US states. It is the largest weapons manufacturer in the world.

Before Obama left office, he increased military aid to Israel to $3.8 billion a year. The deal required Israel to use 100 percent of the funds to buy from US companies; part of the funds were to be used to update “the lion’s share” of its military aircraft. Included would be the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets. The first of the F-35s began arriving in Israel in December, two years ago, and Israel was the first country outside of the US to receive them.

So, maybe Baldwin’s reasoning is: If Israel can have them, why shouldn’t Madison? Perhaps we could even find some small villages of Lebanese or Palestinians out around Verona or Cross Plains that the pilots could practice on with their brand-new F-35s. It may also be a boon for economic development, if Epic doesn’t mind the noise.

Seriously, what options do we have besides throwing our vote away or throwing it at the military industrial complex? We can attempt to reform the democratic system, such as it is, but we should be clear about what we are up against. We should also begin to build a viable, powerful, local peace movement. Baldwin gets contributions from Lockheed Martin, (the arms merchant is 16th on the list of her contributions from PACs and individuals). But frankly, it’s a pittance compared to the blood money the company could afford to dish out and compared to what she receives from all sorts of do-gooders: teachers, attorneys, health professionals, university employees and such. What the peace movement needs to do is to organize all of these do-gooders to actually do some good and withhold their future support until she pledges to cut her ties to Lockheed Martin and the military industrial complex.

We can demand that all our Wisconsin leaders refuse to support the F-35 and instead work to create good industrial jobs in Marinette (and elsewhere) that are divorced from the military industrial complex.

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In bombs we trust

We should also divest ourselves of the delusion that Democrats are for peace and Republicans are for war. There is nothing in history to support this notion. In fact, you could build a good case for the opposite. This is a dangerous mythology that has impeded liberal-minded people from developing any coherent strategy to build a peace economy that will meet human needs and help make the world a safe place. It’s pathetic but probably true that the only alternative vision in terms of foreign policy that mainstream Democrats have put forward since Trump took power is to re-start the Cold War with Russia. How is that for progress?

I want to quote now a few paragraphs from a piece of paper I came across recently in order to make the point of how far we’ve regressed. It’s from the Congressional Record, just a snippet of a much longer speech in the US Senate. See if you can guess who is speaking.

Peace through strength is a fallacy, Mr. President, for peace is not simply the absence of a nuclear holocaust. Peace is not a nation which has seen its teenage suicide rate more than double in the past two decades. Peace is not a nation in which more people die every two years of gunshot wounds than died in the entire Vietnam War. Peace is not the town in Pennsylvania which last year was forced to cancel its high school graduation because officials believed that a group of students planned to commit suicide at the ceremony. And peace is not here in Washington where, after leading the Nation in murders last year, children are beginning to show the same psychological trauma as children in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Can we really believe that the decisions we have made—and are making—do not have a direct relationship to the violence which plagues our Nation?

I suggest that we consider changing the motto on our coins, Mr. President. It now reads: In God We Trust—but by blindly pursuing the nuclear arms race, by putting the destruction of life over the preservation of life, we have forsaken our trust in God. We have shaken our fist at God—as E.B. White once put it, we have stolen God’s stuff. Our motto ought to be: In Bombs We Trust. That is our national ethic—that is the example we are setting—here, on this floor …

Nuclear mushroom cloudBut is there no ethical dimension to the arms race—to our abuse of our natural and human resources, to our waste of scientific genius, to the bankrupting of the Federal Treasury to pay for weapons of mass destruction?

Is there no ethical dimension to our decision, our conscious decision, to add more and more weapons to our stockpiles, while millions of people in our own country have no roof over their heads, when we cannot fund our homeless programs, when we cannot fund our war on drugs? Is there no ethical dimension to the violent examples we are setting for our children? Is there no ethical dimensions to the definition of national security that we are passing on to the developing nations of the world, where arsenals are now as bloated as the bellies of the Third World’s children?

If you are a younger person, you probably will not have the foggiest notion who this was speaking on the floor of the US Senate. A few clues: it was not a Democrat nor an Independent. And the year was 1989, nearly thirty years ago. His name was Mark Hatfield, a Republican from Oregon. He had been a Lieutenant in the Navy and had commanded landing craft in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II. He was one of the first US military personnel to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.

As the Governor of Oregon, despite warnings of political suicide, he had cast the only vote at the 1965 National Governor’s Conference in opposition to a resolution supporting President Johnson’s Vietnam War policy. In 1981, he cast the lone vote in the Senate in opposition to enormous increases in the Department of Defense budget. He was known as the father of the Nuclear Freeze movement and was a strong opponent of the US colonial wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

How far have we come, or should I ask how far we have to go? Nowadays a “progressive” Democrat is one who represents one of the most “liberal” cities in the country and argues for more money for the war machine than even the Pentagon desires, in order to “create jobs.” As if the most powerful nation on earth can’t figure out a better way to create jobs.

Can you imagine anyone today who could or would make a speech like Hatfield’s in the Senate or the House? Perhaps Bernie Sanders would, if he could muster the courage (or whatever it takes) to make the connections between our domestic and our foreign policy.

One of the few people in the US Legislature today to articulate a consistent anti-intervention and anti-national security state message, and one of the only ones to speak out against Obama’s despicable drone warfare, has been Rand Paul (R-KY), someone most liberals would probably dismiss with disdain as a Tea Party fanatic.

I think it’s time we rethink who our friends are and who we may be able to build alliances with as we create a powerful peace movement. We should not assume that Democrats will be our allies because most have more allegiance to Wall Street than they do to the people who vote for them. As the saying goes, politicians never lead; the people must lead and the politicians will follow. Ultimately, we can’t depend on politicians to do what is right; we must rely on each other.

I admit that I’ve failed to offer a very clear roadmap on how we kick the war habit and build a peace movement. But hopefully you’ve found a few ideas here on where we might start. Allow me to summarize:

  • Let’s use powerful language and develop a powerful message that speaks to people’s sense of decency and yearning for peace, dignity and security. (Let’s not “protest” any more, if we can help it.) Let’s set our sights on gaining power.
  • Let’s use nonviolent direct action as a powerful tool to disrupt the system and ultimately transform it. We need to build strong, working coalitions with grassroots organizations that share our values and are concerned about issues of peace, gun violence, environmental justice, government surveillance and human needs. Let’s find creative ways to work together.
  • Let’s focus on local manifestations of the military industrial complex, like the F-35, and also organize divestment campaigns so that we, our friends and neighbors, and our organizations begin to systematically withdraw our support from the war economy.
  • For those of you who want to focus on taking over the Democratic Party, more power to you. (Hopefully you will succeed while there is still something left to save.) For those who want to start a new party that will better represent our ideals, values and aspirations, more power to you. Let’s work together from the “inside” and the “outside” to take back our political system and our democracy.

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Let’s hear from Smedley one more time

I think I will end this essay the same way I began it way back on Memorial Day, by hearing from our old friend Major General Smedley Darlington Butler. Just like Mark Hatfield, Butler knew what war is like from first-hand experience. Writing in 1935, he was the most decorated Marine in US history. Here are a few timely words from the end of his essay on war and peace. See how his words resonate for us today.

“Either the army is undermanned or under-equipped. Indeed, there is not a general in active service today who would dare state that we are properly armed. The appetites of the military for new material, for more men, is insatiable.

Add up these phases of the war racket we harbor and encourage, and the result is a pretty picture. We support armed forces that have all the evils of the old-time European prussianized military systems. They point out “enemies” for us. The speediest and most deadly branch, the Air Corps, is engaged in activities liable to drag us into a world crisis. The intelligence branch of the army is engaged in collecting useless and incendiary information abroad and in reprehensible activities at home. And industry has been invited into partnership with our armed forces so that the advent of war cannot be less than welcome to it …

We must give up the Prussian ideal—carrying on offensive warfare and imposing our wills upon other people in distant places. Such doctrine is unAmerican and vicious. War plans smedley butler photo and quotemust be made defensive plans only. The hypnotic influences of pointing out enemies must be eradicated …

Finally, the clique that has fastened itself upon Washington and which is responsible for these powerful militaristic influences must be uprooted and sent back to work for the true defense of the country. There must be no more reactionary and destructive intelligence work. The true domestic enemies of our nation—hunger, injustice and exploitation—should concern the military intelligence—not the subversive shadows of their own creation.

Such a policy will involve a change in our industrial plans for a future war. As the plans now stand, we must fight an offensive war on a grand scale ever to see these plans used. We need no gigantic procurement scheme to supply an army which can keep our shores inviolate …

The true effectiveness of our defensive preparations is being handicapped by the instability and incongruity of our military policies and activities. Nations should consider whether, after all, their best defense might not be to divert to social welfare the effort, energy and money spent preparing for offensive war.”


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Bush War II and Its Nightmare Prelude

This is the seventh in an eight part series of articles on issues of War or Peace.

Yes, you are right. Technically there were two Bushes and two Bush wars. But, if you read my last piece, you may remember my thesis: the first Bush war was the beginning of permanent war. So everything that has come since is just more of the same, the perpetuation of the hell on Earth that is the US warfare state.

Most people probably recall Bush War II so I don’t feel obligated to say too much about it. But I suspect that many have forgotten or were never aware of what transpired between the two “formal” Bush wars. This was the interregnum when Bill Clinton occupied the White House. What was wreaked on wretched Iraq during this period was equally vile and vicious, if not more so.

Let’s try to imagine the plight of Iraq around 2000 to 2002, the period just before the second war. The country had already been devastated a decade earlier, by a US war that deliberately targeted the civilian infrastructure. Throughout the 90s, Iraq was under constant siege from US-UN sanctions and nearly daily bombing by US and British forces. About 60 percent of the country was in a “no-fly” zone.

By early 1996, about five years after the first war supposedly “ended,” daily living conditions in Iraq were extremely dire for all but the rich. UN agencies and Harvard University researchers who had visited the country reported, in the journal of the British Medical Society, that water and sanitation systems damaged by US air attacks during the war had continued to deteriorate. Hospitals were functioning at only 40 percent of capacity and about a fifth of the population was subsisting solely on government rations.

A newsletter in my files from 1997, written by activists in northern Wisconsin, includes an interview by Larry Dodge with Mike Miles. Mike is a peace activist at the Anathoth Community Farm in Luck, Wisconsin. He had just returned from a trip to Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness peace group. In the interview, he described what it was like when he first entered Baghdad after driving 600 miles across a desert from Jordan:

What hit me was the terrible smell of raw sewage in pools and running in the streets. Wastewater and sewage pumps and water treatment plants and piping across this city of four million were destroyed. The systematic 42 days of US bombing deliberately knocked out 85 percent of Iraq’s infrastructure: electricity- generating plants, highways, bridges, airports, irrigation canals and pumps, hospitals, schools and industrial capability. People came with pails and bottles for drinking water to the water pumps still working. Some are situated next to raw sewage ponds.

Miles explained that, because the sanctions even prohibited parts for sewage and water system repair, as well as chlorine for water treatment, the disease impact was monstrous, particularly for the millions of malnourished children. Fifty percent of rural people had no access to potable water and epidemics of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis and cholera swept the country.

The sanctions have become a terrorist weapon of mass destruction.

A few years after Mike Miles visited Iraq, Thomas Nagy, a Holocaust survivor and business professor at George Washington University, uncovered government documents that proved the US used sanctions to destroy Iraq’s water supply. He charged that “the United States knew the cost that civilian Iraqis, mostly children, would pay” but pursued this genocidal policy anyway.

Writing in The Progressive in September, 2001, Nagy cited six documents drafted by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) ten years earlier which predicted in detail how the sanctions and coalition bombing would gradually destroy the country’s water supply and result in massive disease outbreaks.

“With no domestic sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals, Iraq will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations Sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease,” read one of the documents, dated January 22, 1991.

Food and medicine would also be affected, the same document stated. “Food processing, electronic, and, particularly, pharmaceutical plants require extremely pure water that is free from biological contaminants,” it said. Another document with the same date was even more candid in its predictions: “Increased incidence of diseases will be attributable to degradation of normal preventive medicine, waste disposal, water purification/distribution, electricity, and decreased ability to control disease outbreaks. Any urban area in Iraq that has received infrastructure damage will have similar problems.”

Several of the documents itemized all the diseases likely to occur. The list included acute diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, influenza, diphtheria and meningitis. Midway through the year, a heavily redacted document revealed that the DIA had sent a source to Iraq to ascertain how the agency’s rosy predictions were faring. According to Nagy, the source observed that the “Iraqi medical system was in considerable disarray, medical facilities had been extensively looted, and almost all medicines were in critically short supply.” At least 80 percent of the residents of one refugee camp had diarrhea and cholera, and hepatitis type B and measles had broken out. A protein deficiency disease was observed in the country “for the first time” and “gastroenteritis was killing children … In the south, 80 percent of the deaths were children.”

Nagy pointed out that the Geneva Convention, in a 1979 protocol relating to protection of victims of international armed conflicts, states: “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population.”

“But that is exactly what the US government did, with malice  aforethought,” Nagy wrote. “The sanctions, imposed for a decade largely at the insistence of the United States, constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention.”

In a presentation I attended in 2001 by two peace activists with Voices in the Wilderness, they noted that Iraq had once been nearly “a first-world country,” where life-long health care was free for all people and education was free from first grade through college. Now, they said, 3,000 children were dying each month. The largest dinar note, that used to be worth $750 US dollars, was worth about 14 cents. Doctors were earning $8 to $12 per month.

Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill reported, in the December 2000 issue of The Progressive, that most professionals in Iraq were earning $5 to $10 per month and were driving the family car as a taxi to make ends meet. Gas was cheap. A gallon cost less than five cents, while a liter of clean drinking water was a quarter.

“Our oil is like our damnation,” Scahill quoted a university professor in the oil-rich city of Basra as saying. “It will never bring us health and happiness as long as we have the US government and its so-called interests here,” he said.

Iraq and Iran have the largest reserves of unexploited oil and natural gas in the world, according to historian and novelist James Carroll. Forty percent of the world’s exported oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, he noted in House of War, his massive 2006 study of the Pentagon and the US warfare state.

“Despite devastating US-led economic sanctions, Iraq’s stature as a global oil giant endures,” Scahill wrote in his 2001 piece. Although its industry was in tatters, he reported, Iraq was still cranking out three million barrels of oil per day. Under the oil-for-food program, Iraq could produce and sell an unlimited amount of oil but did not control the revenue from its sale.

The oil revenues were put into an account controlled by a highly politicized UN committee, Scahill explained. Iraq had to apply for permission to use the funds to purchase goods and services on the world market. The US and Britain regularly blocked the importation of goods that included pencils, chlorine and ambulances.

“Ultimately, the sanctions prevent Baghdad from carrying out any significant restoration of facilities damaged or destroyed by a decade of consistent US bombing,” Scahill wrote. “The prohibitions on importing spare parts or new machinery and equipment have largely blocked Iraq from producing oil at a level even remotely close to its projected capacity … Iraq’s proven oil reserves total more than 112 billion barrels. Potential reserves are estimated at more than 200 billion barrels.”

Scahill quoted the director general for planning at the Iraqi Oil Ministry as saying: “If you control the Iraqi oil, you are halfway there to controlling the world oil. And with your substantial hold on the Saudi fields, then you are in complete control of oil supplies for a long time to come.”

The New York Times reported near the end of 1995 that at least 576,000 Iraqi children had died since the end of the war due to the sanctions imposed by the UN and US. Mortality rates for children under five tripled during Bush War I and had increased fivefold by 1995.

Chuck Quilty, a peace activist in Rock Island, Illinois and a Catholic Worker associated with Voices in the Wilderness (VITW), noted that it was the first time in history that a country was prohibited from buying and importing any food or medicine. “The sanctions have become a terrorist weapon of mass destruction,” he wrote in early 1996.

Throughout the deadly decade between the two Gulf wars, Voices in the Wilderness and members of the Catholic Worker movement made many trips to Iraq, bringing with them medical relief supplies in deliberate violation of the sanctions. Much of this work of courageous resistance was documented in the Kansas-based National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

“The children are dying, more than 4,500 a month under the age of five,” Kathy Kelly of VITW told NCR several months after returning from Iraq in 1997, citing UN statistics. “What we are doing is waging biological warfare against a civilian population,” she said. Malnutrition and water-borne diseases like cholera and typhus were rampant, she reported, with the youngest, oldest and poorest people most vulnerable. The unemployment rate was estimated at 85 percent.

US Genocide in Iraq

Genocide in Iraq

An August, 1999 article in NCR focused on a United Nations Children’s Fund report that revealed Iraqi children under five years old were dying at more than twice the rate they had a decade earlier. At the same time, the New York Times reported that, so far that year, forces bombing Iraq had flown “two-thirds as many missions as NATO pilots flew over Yugoslavia in 78 days of around-the-clock war there.” In other words, Clinton’s war in Iraq was just as nasty as his war in the Balkans, although most Americans probably associated him more with sexual impropriety than with bombing the hell out of countries in two different parts of the world. Such is American politics and American political consciousness.

The NCR story quoted a Catholic Worker, Christopher Allen-Doucot, from Hartford, Connecticut who had arrived in Iraq with a VITW delegation two days after US warplanes bombed two sites around Najaf, about 150 miles south of Baghdad. He said the bombing killed 13 civilians and seriously injured 18 others. One of the wounded, Hassan Muan, was a six-year-old boy who lost his right arm when hit by shrapnel. Looking at the photo taken by Doucot of this youngster lying in his hospital bed, I find it hard to imagine that he could have posed a threat to the most powerful nation on earth.

The boy’s father had asked: “Why does America bomb us? We are not criminals.”  Does anyone have a good answer to that simple question?

In the summer of 2000, Tom Heinen, then a religion editor with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and now the director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, visited Iraq with Kathy Kelly, Dr. Waleed Najeeb and Tom Seery, a staff person with Peace Action Wisconsin who had formerly served in the Wisconsin State Legislature. The delegation met with church leaders, Iraqi and UN officials, and visited hospitals and clinics in Baghdad and Basra. They brought with them medicine, medical supplies, and even medical books and journals also banned by the sanctions.

On their visits to the hospitals and clinics, they talked with health professionals and learned of case after case of children who had died for lack of antibiotics, medicine or spare parts for medical equipment. “Before the Gulf War, Iraq was a middle class country and their medical facilities were the best in the Middle East,” Seery wrote in the Peace Action newsletter. “Their doctors, some of whom were trained in the US, had received the best knowledge and training, and then taught in their medical colleges. The doctors we met knew their medicine. They just could not implement what they knew because of the sanctions.”

A little later in 2000, one of the same hospitals in Basra was visited by Hartford Courant journalist Mathew Hay Brown.  His resulting article was published in NCR. It’s just after midnight when the story starts. Dr. Faris Abdul Abbas, the chief resident at Basra Maternity and Pediatrics Hospital, has an ethical dilemma. He must choose whether to save the life of a 30-year-old woman who suffered a cervical tear during childbirth or Nawris Khatan, a four-year-old girl who has arrived at the trauma center in cardiac arrest.

The cherubic little girl, severely anemic, is a favorite of the hospital staff. Her parents have been “scouring the hospitals and blood banks of Iraq’s second-largest city for more than a week in search of blood for her monthly transfusion,” with no luck.

The woman and girl both need the same type of blood and they both need it immediately. But plastic blood bags are scarce under the sanctions and the hospital has canceled all elective surgery months ago. The hospital blood bank has just one unit of the blood left, barely enough for one patient.

“Abbas will decide who will live and who will die,” Brown wrote.

“The 33-year-old physician walks the darkened hallway to the trauma center. He will not tell Naris’ young parents that he is giving the blood to the woman, an otherwise healthy mother of three. Instead, he tells them there is no blood, and asks them to pray with him. Fighting back tears, he begs God to spare the child until morning, when some blood might become available.

“Back in his office, Abbas lays his head on his desk and cries. Dawn is still distant when Nawris dies.”

Like all those who came here before him, this writer provides a litany of all “the curable diseases burgeoning amid the wreckage of war. Dysentery and gastroenteritis are epidemic.” There is chronic malnutrition, pneumonia, bronchitis and other infections. Polio and meningitis are making comebacks and cholera and typhoid are thriving.

baby in Iraq - sanctions

A Baby in Iraq: Death by Sanctions.

“Before 1991, these problems were out of our minds,” said Dr. Ali Faisal Jawad, president of the hospital. “We have had to go back to the textbooks to learn how we should treat them.”

“I do not think Americans would accept this for their children,” Jawad told the reporter. “What is the difference between a sick American child and a sick Iraqi child?”

The answer, unfortunately, is: all the difference in the world.

“Basra, wedged between Iran and Kuwait, bore the brunt of the gulf war,” Brown explained. “Now it is bearing the brunt of the embargo.”

“Sanctions have kept the city from repairing sanitation facilities and power plants bombed during Operation Desert Storm. Now the canals that made this port the Venice of the Middle East bubble green with raw sewage. The public water supply is contaminated with human waste. Electricity flickers off for hours every day, leaving precious goods and medicine to spoil in the desert heat. There are not enough trucks to haul away the garbage that rots in the streets,” wrote Brown.

Yes, there were a few people who spoke out besides the peace activists, but it was too little, too late. As NCR noted, Hans von Sponeck, a German and the person in charge of administering the Oil-for-Food program, quit his job as an act of resistance. Sponeck – the top UN official in Iraq – came to the US at the invitation of Voices in the Wilderness in late 2001, soon after 9/11.

“A World Trade Center incident happens every month in Iraq,” he told one audience, noting that 5,000 children died each month from disease and malnutrition. The UN estimated that more than one million people died during the decade of sanctions, and more than half a million were children. (Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter observed in 2002 that the sanctions took more lives than all the weapons of mass destruction ever used in war.)

Sponeck’s predecessor, Irish-born Denis Halliday, had also resigned in protest. Before leaving his post, Halliday told a London newspaper that humanitarian aid to Iraq was “only Band-Aid stuff.” When he left, he said: “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.”

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Then came Bush War II. A sane person (or a somewhat sane foreign policy) might have asked: What more could possibly be done to inflict mortal damage on a country and its people than had already been done? First there was Bush Sr. and what I call the beginning of the endless war, a war waged with a merciless savagery that was almost incomprehensible. Then came Bill and Hillary, enamored by so many liberals for their shameless rhetoric about how “it takes a village to raise a child” while they were implementing a policy of systematic genocide against all the children of Iraq. (Destroy the villages, and the cities too, and you don’t need to worry about raising the children. Problem solved.)

Finally came  Bush Junior and “Shock and Awe.” It was a spectacle, and the mass media obliged by treating it as such. Spectacle, as in: an eye-catching or dramatic public display. As in: spectator sport.

As John Burns recollected in the New York Times on the fifth anniversary of the event in 2008, it was “a mesmerizing display of American might.” Some “Western journalists had grandstand seats for the big event” and were not disappointed.

“For 40 minutes, followed by a break, and then another 40 minutes, a fusillade of missiles and bombs struck palaces, military complexes, intelligence buildings, the heart of Saddam Hussein’s years of murderous tyranny,” Burns wrote.

From their front-row seats on a hotel roof across the Tigris River from the military targets, the journalists watched, transfixed, “the air show – the sheer, astonishing, overwhelming demonstration of power, more like an act of God than man, unleashing in those watching from the roof something approaching awe.”


“Shock and Awe” in Iraq. March, 2003. Photo by Nat Perry, Consortiumnews

But within a few weeks, Burns admitted, the awe and fascination with American military power gave way to feelings of misgiving, even among the gullible journalists. Burns and Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker observed how mobs looted palaces and torture centers, along with museums, ministries and hospitals, while American troops stood by. The only building the Marines protected was the oil ministry.

On the 15th anniversary of “the spectacle,” a reporter in The Atlantic summed up the war in one succinct paragraph:

Fifteen years ago, the bombs started falling on Baghdad, US war planners had hoped a campaign of “shock and awe” would expedite the conflict, demoralize the Iraqi forces, and speed up their surrender. While the initial overthrow of Saddam Hussein was relatively quick, the Iraq War itself was anything but. For nearly nine years, occupying coalition troops tried to work with Iraqis to secure and rebuild in the face of mistrust, poor post-invasion planning, US mismanagement of defeated forces, insurgent rebellions, eruptions of sectarian violence, and serious self-inflicted issues like the inability to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (the main pretext for invasion), and the scandalous abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. The Iraq War caused more than 150,000 deaths, cost trillions of dollars, and its repercussions continue to have strong effects on the region, on foreign policy, and on thousands of families to this day.

Nat Perry, writing for Consortiumnews, also on the 15th anniversary of the invasion, summarized the cost of the war in American lives lost (5,000 killed and 100,000 wounded), Iraqi lives lost (hundreds of thousands), and four million refugees, along with a financial cost to US taxpayers of upwards of a trillion dollars.

“The accumulated evil of the whole is difficult to comprehend,” he added. “As staggering as those numbers may be, they don’t come close to describing the true cost of the war, or the magnitude of the crime that was committed by launching it … Besides the cost in blood and treasure, the cost to basic principles of international justice, long-term geopolitical stability, and the impacts on the US political system are equally profound.”

On the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, British documentary filmmaker Richard Sanders argued that the initial assault may have appeared efficient and overwhelming, but that the reality on the ground was very different. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, a national British paper published in London, Sanders described how young Marines approached Baghdad from the south at the start of the ground war.

As Marines stormed a bridge over the Diyala River, they shot indiscriminately at Iraqi civilians attempting to flee the city. While journalists and photographers accompanying the Marines pleaded with them to hold their fire, they killed about 15 civilians in this initial assault, including an elderly pedestrian walking with a cane. “Iraq Body Count, the most authoritative collator of casualty statistics in Iraq, estimated that 6,716 civilians died during the initial invasion – an average of 320 per day,” Sanders noted.

It took just three weeks to topple the regime in Baghdad, establishing the myth that the initial invasion was a success. But Sanders contended that “the origins of the Iraqi tragedy were all too visible during those first three weeks.” For the first Gulf War in 1991, the US assembled a coalition force of close to a million troops to invade Kuwait, he pointed out, but for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, coalition forces numbered fewer than 200,000. The 1991 invasion was preceded by a 40-day air campaign but there was virtually no air campaign in the latter war.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative allies were convinced a “New American Century” was dawning and they didn’t need “to spend six months assembling a colossal invasion force every time Washington felt the need to impose its will around the world,” Sanders said. They believed the invasion and occupation of Iraq would be easy and that the arrival of US troops would trigger an uprising and the troops would be greeted by grateful Iraqis. They were mistaken.

“The invasion of Iraq was an operation lacking intelligence in every sense of the word,” Sanders noted. He listed a number of blunders and miscalculations on the part of the American offensive including:

  • “Losing” three entire divisions of the Republican Guard, around 300,000 soldiers.
  • The thwarting of the US “multi-billion dollar array of hi-tech surveillance” through the Iraqis simple tactic of parking their tanks under palm trees.
  • The expectation that there would be a mass surrender of the Iraqi military, when what in fact happened was that the bulk of soldiers, including much of the Republican Guard, simply deserted.

Rumsfeld was right, Sanders said. The modest invasion force was sufficient to conquer Iraq, it just wasn’t adequate for the peace. The “American fantasy that the Iraqi state would continue to function and would pick up the pieces the day after Baghdad fell proved entirely unfounded,” said Sanders. “With the head removed, the Iraqi body politic simply dissolved.” General William Wallace, an American commander, put it succinctly: “There was nobody to receive the surrender from. We couldn’t find them. They weren’t there.”

Bush and Rumsfeld - 11-24-03

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld applauds President George W. Bush during remarks prior to signing the National Defense Authorization Act at the Pentagon on Nov. 24, 2003. The act provided $401.3 billion for the Department of Defense. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel.

Of course, the war would drag on, mercilessly, with or without an official surrender. More than 100,000 Iraqis would die and ever-complacent American taxpayers would be left with a tab of $3 trillion or more. From May 1st, 2003, when Bush proclaimed that “major combat operations” were over, until the first anniversary of the invasion the following March, another 6,331 Iraqi civilians would die, according to Iraq Body Count. Civilian casualties would continue to climb to over 30,000 by the third anniversary in March, 2006.

Iraq Body Count co-founder John Sloboda, speaking from London, said the figures were “an indictment of three years of occupation, which continues to make the lives of ordinary Iraqis worse, not better. Talk of civil war is a convenient way for the US and Iraqi authorities to mask the real and continuing core of this conflict, which is between an incompetent and brutal occupying power, on the one hand, and a nationalist insurgency fueled by grief, anger and humiliation on the other. This conflict is proof that violence begets violence. The initial act that sparked this cycle of violence is the illegal US-led invasion of March and April 2003, which resulted in 7,312 civilian deaths and 17,298 injured in a mere 42 days. The insurgency will remain strong so long as the US military remains in Iraq, and ordinary Iraqi people will have more death and destruction to look forward to.”

Criticism of the war and the manner in which it was conducted came from various quarters. In a book published in May, 2004, Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni charged that “everyone in the military knew” that the Bush Administration’s plan for Iraq consisted of only half the troops needed and that the country was “a powder keg” that could soon disintegrate into warring regions. Zinni was a former US commander in the Middle East and briefly served as a special envoy to Bush.

“In the lead-up to the Iraq War and its later conduct, I saw, at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility; at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption,” he wrote. “If there is a center that can hold this mess together, I don’t know what it is.”

In April and again in November of 2004, there would be vicious assaults on the Sunni city of Fallujah in western Iraq. US troops bombed hospitals and other buildings, forced residents out, attacked entire neighborhoods and denied entry to relief workers. At least 100,000 residents were permanently displaced and 10,000 buildings – 70 percent of the city’s structures – destroyed.

When independent American journalist Dahr Jamail visited more than four years later, he reported that unemployment in Fallujah was rampant, the city’s infrastructure remained largely in ruins, and tens of thousands of residents who had fled during the 2004 assaults were still refugees.

1024px-4-14_Marines_in_Fallujah - 11-04

US Marines firing an M-198 155mm Howitzer during the second battle of Fallujah.

Residents fortunate enough to have remained were forced to show a US-issued personal biometric ID card every time they entered or left the city. Local citizens could only obtain the card from US military personnel after their retinas were scanned and their fingerprints obtained. This was the good news.

When Jamail interviewed refugees fleeing Fallujah during the 2004 attack, many of them reported the use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus weapons by the US forces. Speaking on Democracy Now that November, Jamail said refugees described “horribly burned bodies, fires that burn on people … and they are unable to extinguish the fires, even after dumping large amounts of water on the people.”

The following November, Amy Goodman interviewed several people on Democracy Now concerning the use of white phosphorus bombs in Fallujah. The state-owned Italian TV news network, RAI, had just released a documentary it had produced called Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre. Goodman interviewed the RAI news editor, as well as a spokesman for the US military and a former US soldier featured in the documentary.

The film interviewed former soldiers and other eyewitnesses who charged that the US used white phosphorus bombs indiscriminately and against civilian populations in Fallujah. Both former soldiers and a biologist described how the chemical bombs produced a cloud that descended on the city, burning people and animals alike. White phosphorus burns people’s skin, down to the bone, while usually sparing their clothes.

“If you breathe it, it will blister your throat and your lungs until you suffocate, and then it will burn you from the inside,” explained Jeff Englehart, the soldier featured in the film and also interviewed by Goodman. “It basically reacts to skin, oxygen and water. The only way to stop the burning is with wet mud. But at that point, it’s just impossible to stop.”

The RAI news editor pointed out that the US, UK and Italy had all signed the Geneva Convention that prohibits use of chemical weapons. The documentary interviewed Alice Mahon, a member of the Labour Party in Britain who resigned her seat in Parliament in protest over the use of chemical weapons in Iraq. Mahon had demanded information from the UK’s Defense Ministry about whether or not the US had used chemical weapons. The ministry responded that the US had destroyed its arsenal of napalm used in Vietnam but that a bomb called MK-77 was being deployed in Iraq. The bomb does not have the same composition as napalm but has the same destructive effect, the ministry said.

In the documentary, a reporter asked Mahon: Is MK-77 very different from napalm? “No, it isn’t,” she replied. “It has exactly the same effect when it’s fired at people. It burns them. It destroys things. It melts bodies. It’s exactly the same effect. And what, of course – what is in a name if it does this to people? I think the Americans are wrong to use it. I think my government is wrong to help in the cover up of it being used. But, of course, in this war we’ve seen the United Nations Charter broken and defied over and over again.”

Over and over again. More atrocities. More “war crimes,” as if war itself isn’t a sufficient crime. In November, 2005, a year after the savage seize of Fallujah, there was the massacre at Haditha, a small town northwest of Baghdad.

A roadside bomb had hit a Humvee carrying US troops and one Marine was killed; two others were injured. The Marines initially claimed that 15 Iraqi civilians had died in the bomb blast. Later it became apparent, according to accounts by eyewitnesses and a Time reporter, that the Iraqi men, women and children died when soldiers burst into their homes and shot them in their nightclothes.

Ishaqi - Haditha massacre.1

The massacre in Haditha

In one house, Marines threw a grenade into a kitchen, setting off a propane tank that nearly destroyed the kitchen and killed several people. In another house, a nine-year-old girl survived but her parents, grandparents and other relatives were killed. In all, about 19 people were killed in their homes and four more outdoors. They ranged from adult males and females to small infants, according to a Marine not involved in the killings.

Not too long after, there was another massacre in the town of Ishaqi, north of Baghdad. The initial military account was that US troops had showed up at a house, gotten into a shoot-out while trying to get in, and that the house collapsed during the attack. In the version of events later revealed by a Knight Ridder reporter, the soldiers entered the house, herded the eleven occupants into one room, executed them, and then blew up the house. The victims ranged from a 75-year-old woman to a six-month-old child, and included two three-year-olds, two five-year-olds, and three other women. They had all been lined up against a wall, handcuffed, and shot in the head and chest.

This is US tax dollars at work, giving us a bang for our buck.

Dahr Jamail, one of the few independent and unembedded journalists to report from Iraq, said that there were countless My Lai massacres in Iraq. Speaking on Democracy Now in 2006, Jamail said that events like Haditha happened “on almost a daily basis on one level or another.”

If my memory is reliable, it seems that there were many American citizens who expressed outrage when they heard about My Lai. This did not seem to be the case with Iraq. Is it possible that all the wars since Vietnam have served to anesthetize US citizens against any feelings of moral outrage? Perhaps it is difficult to feel outrage about even the most heinous massacre when you know it is just one more incident in what is now an endless war.

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter in early 2004, Jesuit priest and humanities professor Raymond Schroth recalled how the US used cluster bombs during the war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The bombs were timed to explode high enough above ground so as “to scatter thousands of tiny, razor-like pellets or needles over an area the size of two football fields.”

Thanks to American ingenuity and generous taxpayers, we now have a broader variety of cluster bombs, some of which contain baby “bomblets, delivered by planes and artillery fire and capable of spreading death and havoc over large areas.” Schroth noted that USA Today conducted a four-month investigation, interviewing Iraqi civilians and US troops. The newspaper found that US forces had used nearly 10,800 cluster weapons and the British almost 2,200 in the early stages of the occupation. These weapons killed an estimated 372 civilians.

A Human Rights Watch report concluded that thousands of civilians were killed in the first three weeks of the war, most from cluster weapons and air attacks targeting senior Iraqi leaders. The rights organization noted that US forces bombed densely populated neighborhoods 50 times in an attempt to kill a single Iraqi leader. In every case, the target individual was not there but, in the four strikes researched by Human Rights Watch, 42 civilians were killed and dozens more injured.

In another incident in early April, 2003, the Pentagon got a tip that Saddam Hussein might be in a house in a residential district of Baghdad and 45 minutes later several houses and the target al Saa restaurant were flattened with four 2,000-pound bombs. A mother found her daughter’s torso and then her severed head. Eighteen innocent civilians were killed. US “intelligence” later confirmed that Hussein was not there.

The war in Iraq was not just a war against civilians and a war against children. It was also a war against the future generations. Saddam never had any weapons of mass destruction but the US used its weapons of mass destruction to ensure that even future generations were not spared.

Felicity Arbuthnot, a London-based journalist writing in August, 2013, detailed how white phosphorous, depleted uranium and enriched uranium weapons were poisoning the newly born in Iraq, the ones not killed in the Clinton genocide of the previous decade.

Her article, published in Global Research, a nonprofit media center based in Montreal, began with the case of Humam, a baby born in Fallujah. Humam was born with various diseases and abnormalities with long unpronounceable names that no infant should have to bear. These included: congenital heart disease; an abnormality that develops as the fetus is forming, resulting in abdominal organs protruding through an opening in the abdominal muscles near the umbilical cord; and extra digits on the hands and feet.

Arbuthnot referenced Dr. Chris Busby, a professor in Biomedical Sciences who had served on the UK Ministry of Defence Oversight Committee on Depleted Uranium and made extensive studies in Fallujah. Busby tested parents of children with congenital anomalies and also studied surface soils, river water and drinking water. “The only substance we found that could explain the high levels of genetic damage was the radioactive element uranium,” Busby said.

“Much has been made of the use of depleted uranium (DU) in Iraq in 1991 and the subsequent decade-plus illegal bombing of the country by the US and UK, then the 2003 and subsequent onslaughts,” Arbuthnot noted, but this is where it gets more complicated.

235px-Iraq_map_fallujah copyShe quotes Busby: “Astonishingly, it was not depleted uranium. It was slightly enriched uranium, the kind that is used in nuclear reactors or atomic bombs. We found it in the hair and also in the soil. We concentrated the soil chemically so there could be no mistake. Results showed slightly enriched uranium, manmade.”

Busby posits a clear connection between childhood cancers and deformities and the uranium weapons used in the bombardment of Fallujah in 2004. He explained that uranium is excreted into hair and, knowing the rate at which hair grows, they could trace the levels of uranium back to 2005.

“These results prove the existence of a new secret uranium weapon,” Busby said. “We have found some US patents for thermobaric and directed charge warheads which employ uranium … to increase their effect.” His team also investigated bomb craters in Lebanon in 2006 after Israeli attacks and found one that was radioactive and containing enriched uranium. They also found enriched uranium in car air filters in Lebanon and Gaza. Others had found evidence of its use in Afghanistan and possibly in the Balkans.

“An astonishing discovery with many global implications,” Busby said. “It is clear that the military has a secret uranium weapon of some sort. It causes widespread and terrifying genetic defects, causing cancer and birth anomalies and poisoning the gene pool of whole populations. This is a war crime and must be properly investigated.”

Busby’s team also found infant mortality in eighty of every thousand births in Fallujah, compared to seventeen in neighboring Jordan.

The distinguished British journalist Robert Fisk, a longtime Middle East correspondent, reported on a visit to Fallujah in 2012:

“The pictures flash up on a screen on an upper floor of the Fallujah General Hospital. And all at once, Nadhem Shokr al-Hadidi’s administrative office becomes a little chamber of horrors. A baby with a hugely deformed mouth. A child with a defect of the spinal cord, material from the spine outside the body. A baby with a terrible, vast Cyclopean eye. Another baby with only half a head, stillborn like the rest … a tiny child with half a right arm, no left leg, no genitalia … a dead baby with just one leg and a head four times the size of its body.”

A report sent to the UN General Assembly by Dr. Nawal Majeed Al-Sammarai, Iraq’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, stated that in September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 babies born, 75 percent of whom were deformed. A quarter of them died within their first week of life.

The rising rate of congenital heart defects, abnormalities, stillbirths and premature births was “an Iraq-wide phenomenon” since the 1991 bombings, Arbuthnot pointed out. She quoted Dr. Sundus Nsaif from the southern holy city of Najav: “After the start of the Iraq war, rates of cancer, leukemia and birth defects rose dramatically. The areas affected by American attacks saw the biggest increases … When you visit the hospital here, you see that cancer is more common than the flu.” In Basra, it was reported that birth defects increased seventeen fold in under a decade after the 2003 invasion.

A Tokyo-based international human rights organization, Human Rights Now (HRN), conducted an investigation in 2013 concerning the congenital birth defect epidemic in Iraq. The group released documentation and photographs of over 70 recent cases of birth defects in Fallujah. HRN called on the US, UK and UN to disclose information about the toxic weapons used in the conflict, and called on the Iraqi government to form an independent commission to investigate the health crisis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Iraq’s Ministry of Health were supposed to release a report on Iraq cancers and birth defects in late 2012, but the release was delayed several times. The two former UN officials, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, charged that information was being suppressed, possibly due to pressure from the US.

Von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General, said: “I served in Baghdad and was confronted with the reality of the environmental impact of DU. In 2001, I saw in Geneva how a WHO mission to conduct on-spot assessments in Basra and southern Iraq, where depleted uranium had led to devastating environmental health problems, was aborted under US political pressure. It would not be surprising if such US pressure has continued.

When the document was finally published, many observers criticized it for lack of scientific credibility. Dr. Keith Baverstock, a retired WHO expert on radiation and health from Finland noted that the study did not even attempt to review medical records in Iraqi hospitals. “The way this document was produced is extremely suspicious,” Baverstock was quoted as saying in The Guardian. In 2001, Baverstock had sat on an editorial board for a WHO research project that cleared the US and UK of responsibility for environmental health hazards relating to DU deployment. He had pressed to include new research in the report indicating that uranium was a genotoxin (capable of changing DNA).

“My editorial changes were suppressed, even though some of the research was from Department of Defense studies looking at subjects who had ingested DU from friendly fire, clearly proving that DU was genotoxic,” Baverstock said.

▪ ▪ ▪


Bush and his neoconservative cronies harbored lofty ambitions that they would reshape not just Iraq but the entire Mideast. I guess it could be argued that they succeeded, though probably not in the way they had imagined.

Perhaps more than any other war in recent history, the war in Iraq transformed an entire region of the world for the worse, bringing turmoil and tragedy to many countries and millions of people. It was another in a long list of military adventures in which the US lost and no one gained.

It was eleven years ago that Chris Hedges wrote an essay, still relevant today, in which he described the chaos that was Iraq and predicted the disastrous future that awaited the country and the region. Hedges, a former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East, as well as time in many other war zones. He was part of the paper’s team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. I will end with excerpts from his essay.

“Iraq no longer exists as a unified country,” Hedges wrote in August, 2007. “The experiment that was Iraq, the cobbling together of disparate and antagonistic patches of the Ottoman Empire by the victorious powers in the wake of World War I, belongs to the history books. It will never come back.

“There are two million Iraqis who have fled their homes and are internally displaced,” he wrote. “Another two million have left the country, most to Syria and Jordan, which now has the largest number of refugees per capita of any country on Earth. An Oxfam report estimates that one in three Iraqis is in need of emergency aid, but the chaos and violence is so widespread that assistance is impossible … The American occupation forces are one more source of terror tossed into the caldron of suicide bombings, mercenary armies, militias, massive explosions, ambushes, kidnappings and mass executions.

“It was not supposed to turn out like this,” he continued. “Remember all those visions of a democratic Iraq, visions peddled by the White House and fatuous pundits like Thomas Friedman and the gravel-voiced morons who pollute our airwaves on CNN and Fox News? They assured us that the war would be a cakewalk. We would be greeted as liberators. Democracy would seep out over the borders of Iraq to usher in a new Middle East. Now, struggling to salvage their own credibility, they blame the debacle on poor planning and mismanagement …

“Anyone who had spent significant time in Iraq knew this would not work. The war was not doomed because Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz did not do sufficient planning for the occupation. The war was doomed, period.  It never had a chance.

“This is not to deny the stupidity of the occupation. The disbanding of the Iraqi army; the ham-fisted attempt to install the crook and, it now turns out, Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi in power; the firing of all Baathist public officials, including university professors, primary school teachers, nurses and doctors; the failure to secure Baghdad and the vast weapons depots from looters; allowing heavily armed American units to blast their way through densely populated neighborhoods, giving the insurgency its most potent recruiting tool–all ensured a swift descent into chaos. But Iraq would not have held together even if we had been spared the gross incompetence of the Bush administration. Saddam Hussein, like the more benign dictator Josip Broz Tito in the former Yugoslavia, understood that the glue that held the country together was the secret police …

“The possibility that Iraq will become a Shiite state, run by clerics allied with Iran, terrifies the Arab world. Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel, would most likely keep the conflict going by arming Sunni militias. This anarchy could end with foreign forces, including Iran and Turkey, carving up the battered carcass of Iraq. No matter what happens, many, many Iraqis are going to die. And it is our fault.

“The neoconservatives–and the liberal interventionists, who still serve as the neocons’ useful idiots when it comes to Iran–have learned nothing. They talk about hitting Iran and maybe even Pakistan with airstrikes. Strikes on Iran would ensure a regional conflict. Such an action has the potential of drawing Israel into war–especially if Iran retaliates for any airstrikes by hitting Israel, as I would expect Tehran to do. There are still many in the US who cling to the doctrine of pre-emptive war, a doctrine that the post-World War II Nuremberg laws define as a criminal “war of aggression.”

“The occupation of Iraq, along with the Afghanistan occupation, has only furthered the spread of failed states and increased authoritarianism, savage violence, instability and anarchy. It has swelled the ranks of our real enemies–the Islamic terrorists–and opened up voids of lawlessness where they can operate and plot against us. It has scuttled the art of diplomacy. It has left us an outlaw state intent on creating more outlaw states. It has empowered Iran, as well as Russia and China, which sit on the sidelines gleefully watching our self-immolation. This is what George W. Bush and all those “reluctant hawks” who supported him have bequeathed us.

“What is terrifying is not that the architects and numerous apologists of the Iraq war have learned nothing, but that they may not yet be finished.”

·  · ·

Next time: Addicted to War / What Can We Do About It?

Bush War I: Just Another War Or Was It the Beginning of the Endless War?

This is the sixth installment in a series on issues of War or Peace. There will only be two more installments. I promise.


I’m trying to gain some perspective on a century and a half of wars and empire-building by the United States. I think I have a thesis which is rather simple, so please hear me out.

The Persian Gulf War, what I will call Bush War I for simplicity sake, was not a war at all but rather the beginning of permanent war. Everything since is not a series of separate events but a continuation of what is now a normal state of affairs. It is the modus operandi of the empire; it’s what keeps the business running, the oil in the machine, if you will. It is the state religion and an integral part of our culture and so-called “civilized society.”

That quick and nasty little war that George Bush the First and all his henchmen brought us, the war that most Americans probably forgot about years ago, was in fact the most successful one of all. It was successful because it set the stage and opened the door to the ultimate objective: endless war to sustain the empire.

Remember Vietnam? Probably one of the most savage and senseless wars in human history, up to that point. So what was the one good thing to come out of that war, which took down a president and utterly destroyed an entire country in Southeast Asia? It was something called the Vietnam Syndrome.

No, it’s not a virus to be defeated with a dose of antibiotics. It’s the name that was given by the principalities and powers to the natural aversion of humans to military force, foreign intervention and war. It’s the natural predisposition that war should be avoided at all cost, except for the most justifiable of causes, and that there should be reasonable limits to national power. In other words, it was a disease that had crept into the American psyche and needed to be vanquished.

After Bush War I came Clinton’s war, which was war-by-another-name, but nearly as deadly and disastrous. And that flowed right into Bush War II, where that nasty syndrome seemed to rear its ugly head again for a moment. But then came the relief of the Obama years, when the liberals all agreed that war, state-sponsored assassination and repression were fine as long as there was a black face at the helm of the imperial ship of state.

My thesis is that Bush War I was truly unique: the war that would make all things possible (except peace). All wars are cruel and, Catholic doctrine aside, none are “just.” But this war went beyond cruelty to sadism and barbarism. Violence and barbarism were not means to an end, but the end itself.

It was the institutionalization of terror. The charge could be made that it was a pointless war, except that the war itself was the point.

It was probably the most hypocritical of wars in a long history of ignominious US foreign policy in which hypocrisy has always played a major role. Last but not least, this sordid little war was the one where our exalted “free press” officially became part of the machinery of death. Moving forward, we would have our “smart” weapons and a dumb and drugged media to do the bidding of the principalities and powers. No more speaking truth to power. The media would partner with those in power in speaking lies to the public.

So why was there a war? What was the motivation, and why did Bush and his cronies rush to war before peace had a chance to break out?

Les Aspin, a Wisconsin Congressman who was head of the House Armed Services Committee, said the goal was to determine “whether we can or cannot still call on force to achieve our goals abroad.” A former Strategic Air Command (SAC) general commented that the war was necessary to give “a demonstration to the world” of “the real capability of some weapons that a lot of us have been working on for decades.” The Wall Street Journal said the purpose of the war was to let “America, and above all its elite, recover a sense of self-confidence and self-worth.”

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, hardly a left-wing radical, said the war “is about making money, about protecting governments loyal to America and punishing those which are not, and about who will set the price of oil.”

Diana Johnstone, in In These Times, may have said it best: “This is a war to prove that war works, that war is possible, that war is the future. It is the triumph of Henry Kissinger’s life work: to enable the US to overcome the inhibitions of nuclear deterrence and take up war as a normal instrument of foreign policy. It is the expression of our technological culture in which mastery of inert objects–missiles, electronic guidance systems, satellites–is so overwhelming that it allows our leaders to dispense altogether with the less quantifiable and more subtle science of human understanding.”

So yes, the war was a success. It was a feel-good pill for the wealthy and powerful. It was a show of force. It was an obscene display of “smart” new weapons and war technology and a beguiling invitation to Mideast countries to gorge themselves at the US arms bazaar.

What was the price? Only history can judge. Was it worth it? It depends on where you sit. If you happen to sit in the White House or a palace in Saudi Arabia, the answer is probably yes.

The US air campaign over Iraq and Kuwait was the most intensive, violent and sustained bombardment in human history.

The US dropped 82,000 tons of bombs during its six-week campaign. According to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the bombs measured ten times the explosive power of all the bombs dropped on Japan in the final 14 months of World War II.

How many people died in the war? The US wasn’t saying. General Norman Schwarzkopf, in charge of the slaughter, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying: “I have absolutely no idea what the Iraqi casualties [are], and I tell you, if I have anything to say about it, we’re never going to get into the body-counting business.” But estimates from various sources placed the total number of Iraqi troops killed at 100,000 to 200,000. Fewer than 150 Americans lost their lives.

This was just the kind of war the US needed: quick, clean and brutal. As an article in The Progressive a couple months after the war pointed out, the government and its think tanks had determined, in a 1984 study, that the citizenry still had a tendency to “fear and resist involvement that may draw US forces into another foreign conflict.” (The syndrome.)

In wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, and proxy wars in Nicaragua, Angola, Cambodia and elsewhere, the US used mass assassination and other tactics to dispose of a third of a million people with only about 200 American casualties. Then they  perfected the formula with the invasions of Grenada and Panama: paint the enemy as evil, strike with disproportionate force, and get the killing done before Americans die.

In my file on Bush War I, I came across two essays by Edward Said, the Columbia University professor who died in 2003. I think they are worth quoting at length for their perspective and their prophetic nature. In the first, published in The Christian Science Monitor in August, 1990, Said wrote:

“Saddam is a deeply unattractive, indeed revoltingly tough and callous leader, who has suppressed personal freedoms, subjected his gifted and hard-working people to unimaginable rigors, and harassed and invaded his neighbors. But he is neither mad nor, I would suggest, an unexpected figure to emerge out of the desolation that has characterized recent Arab history. He is admired today by many Arabs who deplore his methods, but who say the world is essentially dominated by powers who invade, grab land, and attempt to change governments.

Turkey seized part of Cyprus a few years ago, the Russians invaded Afghanistan, the US has bombed or invaded Grenada, Libya, and only a matter of months ago, Panama, because it suited its interests, as defined by the president. Above all, every Arab is agonizingly aware that because of an American green light the Israeli army invaded Lebanon, killed 20,000 people, attempted to destroy the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and set up a basically puppet government.

The US did not apply sanctions to Israel, and continues to subsidize the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and part of South Lebanon. At the UN, the US blocked any censure of Israel; together the two countries defied the entire world, with the US permitting only resolutions to pass that “regretted” the “violence on both sides,” a phrase both cynical and insulting. The habitual American leniency toward Israel confirms an indecent double standard …

We should not therefore underestimate Saddam’s appeal to Arabs who feel that nothing less than the future of Arab civilization is at stake. Historically opposed by the West, regarded with contempt and through a racist optic that considers Arabs mainly as greasy oil-suppliers, terrorists, or camel-jockeys, a resurgent Arab nationalism has taken heart from the resistance embodied in the Palestinian intifadah, the various Islamic groupings, and the Iraqi president …

Governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Jordan are likely to recover badly, if at all, from the US rush to military reaction. Immense economic and ecological changes unforeseen in their scope will, I think, radically change the face of the whole Middle East. And I greatly fear that Arab nationalist hopes and cultural assertions will yet again be re-channeled into xenophobia, religious revivalism, and the politics of hostility and revenge.

No Arab can excuse today’s ghastly spectacle of corrupt or unjust regimes, massive social and economic inequities, horrendously backward educational and cultural establishments, overblown security apparatuses and abrogated democratic freedoms. But I submit, the Western–and especially the American–failure to draw out the Arabs in a real dialogue, to take their hopes and fears seriously, has contributed to much of what is unattractive in the Arab world.”


Saddam Hussein

An opinion piece published in the New York Times five months later, on January 11, 1991, six days before the US air offensive began, was titled A Tragic Convergence. What follows are a few paragraphs from that essay:

“Clearly, the major reason for the American buildup and the increasing likelihood of war is that the US still believes in its right to project its power where it pleases, for its own ends, wrapped in its own “higher” morality and principles.

This is an imperialist ideology. In the new world now dominated by one superpower, US policymakers feel an urgent need to confront challenges to American interests and, if necessary, to rout the challengers.

It is terrifying to watch Iraq now being readied for mass destruction. First its leader is transformed into the personification of evil, and our new allies “the embodiment of virtue.” Then Iraq’s people and society are reduced to “military assets” in a demonized “Islamic jihad.”

Finally, after some arbitrary deadline has expired, Iraqi society is declared a virtual nonentity, with cities to be smashed from great distances and heights, agriculture and industry to be torched, roads and bridges to be reduced to rubble. In all this, Western ignorance of Arab and Islamic culture becomes a useful mode of warfare: The enemy is easily dehumanized and readied for the final blow …

Who has given the US the right to project its power while simultaneously proclaiming its higher purpose and superior wisdom? The US is in fact repeating the practices employed by the British and French in the 19th Century. The big differences are that Washington today is capable of much greater destruction, and it refuses to admit that it is engaged in the business of empire …

The Gulf is not merely an empty desert with a large pool of “our” oil underneath and a whole bunch of sheiks, terrorists or Hitlers on top. It is a place with actual peoples, traditions and societies whose aspirations and values have to be viewed as having merit independent of our needs and attitudes …

So overbearing have Arab rulers become that the most grotesque situations are tolerated … No Arab president or king is accountable to his people; this is just as true of Saddam Hussein as of the others.

The bureaucracies and the secret police rule more or less unchallenged although they are universally hated and feared. Only some of this can be blamed on imperialism or Zionism for, after all, it was the Arab states that deserted the Palestinian intifada. There is no Arab country today that can adequately defend itself or its borders, yet national security arguments are used to justify gigantically large outlays of money for imported weapons, standing armies and praetorian guards …

The tragedy, then, is that there is a convergence between an imperialist American will to war against an upstart third world state and an almost equally remorseless Arab propensity to violence and extremism that began with Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait and continues in the Iraqi-Kuwaiti-Saudi-Egyptian drive to war.

A further irony is that this convergence is beginning to look like a conflict between Islam and the West, those two always convenient rubrics. A sobering look at the concretely terrible consequences of a war that seems ever more likely might set a different course–less imperious and dreary–for Americans and Arabs alike. There can be no real winner in this war, despite braggadocio and threats. It must not begin at all.”

Writing in New Statesman and Society, also in August, 1990, Eqbal Ahmad referred to the US’s “splendid affliction with the Vietnam Syndrome” and its subsequent recovery from the disease. “Their responses to the latest crisis in the Middle East suggest that Congress and the media have decisively overcome the nascent habit of casting critical eyes at flexed American muscles,” he commented.

Ahmad, who died in 1999, was a Pakistani writer, lecturer, historian and activist who studied and taught at Princeton and other universities in the United States. For ten years he was a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.  In 1971, he was indicted along with anti-war priest Phillip Berrigan and other militant priests, nuns, teachers and students on federal charges of conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger in a plot to end the bombing of Southeast Asia. (The jury declared a mistrial.)

“In order … to establish the uniqueness of Iraq’s aggression in Kuwait,” Ahmad wrote, “the press has repeatedly stated that in the contemporary period no Arab country has invaded another. The statement obscures the more relevant fact that in recent decades invasions and annexations have been routinely carried out in the Middle East. Until it reacted to the Iraqi adventure, the United States had aided and condoned them all.”

Ahmad went on to point out that the United Nations was widely praised in the US for condemning Iraq and imposing sanctions. But he reminded readers that “in 1982 similar resolutions against Israel’s immensely more destructive invasion of Lebanon were repeatedly vetoed by the United States.”

“For the Arab people, this has been an era of grief and humiliation,” he wrote. “Since the end of the second world war, five Arab countries–Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt–have lost all or part of their land to Israel. Egypt finally regained Sinai but at the cost of betraying the others, and isolating itself from the Arab milieu.”

Ahmad went on to explain how a “power vacuum” came to exist in the Middle East, starting in the 1980s. When he signed a separate peace agreement with Israel, Egyptian  president Anwar Sadat anticipated a comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict that never materialized. “After making peace with its most populous and powerful Arab enemy, Israel proceeded to colonize and conquer the others with ruthless impunity,” he recounted.

Under the Camp David Accord, “A fraction of the Palestinian people (under one third of the whole) is promised a fraction of its rights (not including the national right to self-determination and statehood) in a fraction of its homeland (less than one-fifth of the area of the whole),” he said, quoting another commentator. Only days after the treaty had been signed, Israel announced the establishment of new Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. This was a violation of promises made at Camp David, as Jimmy Carter would confirm.

“The sheikhs, led by Saudi Arabia, pleaded with Washington to save Arab face and their own dynastic future,” wrote Ahmad. “But they are prisoners of dependence and uneven development. They have acquired wealth without working and make enormous profits without producing. Their countries are littered with expensive machines but they have no technology. Their economies have tied them symbiotically to the United States. As expectations failed, they became objects of contempt. The power vacuum in the Arab world came to be palpably felt.

“The first clear sign that Iraq, not its Ba’athist rival Syria, was keen to fill the vacuum in the Middle East came when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980. Instead of discouraging his adventure, the United States quietly helped his ally, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait supplied Iraq with no less than US $60 billion in aid. The monster, if that is what Saddam is, was made by them.”

When Iraq invaded Iran in September, 1980, initiating a war that lasted for most of the decade, the US pursued a policy of playing both sides against the middle, with the objective of ensuring that neither nation would emerge with hegemony in the region. While maintaining what a White House official characterized as “55-45 percent neutrality” in favor of Iraq, the US helped both sides at one time or another. It secretly sold weapons to Iran in ’85 and ’86 while publicly asking its allies to embargo arms sales to that country. It provided reconnaissance information to Iraq via Saudi Arabia while clandestinely slipping information to Iran about Iraq. The US saw the Iran-Iraq war as an opportunity to increase its influence and military presence in the Gulf.

Despite this cynically opportunistic approach–a trademark of US foreign policy–the Reagan and Bush administrations consistently encouraged and supported Hussein during his rise to power. Early in 1983, when Iraq was near bankruptcy, the US granted $400 million in credit guarantees for the import of US wheat and agricultural commodities. Later that year, the “tilt” towards Iraq continued with the US informing its European and Gulf allies that an Iraqi defeat “would be contrary to US interests.”

In 1984, the same year the US confirmed Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, Ronald Reagan restored full diplomatic relations with Iraq. The US encouraged its allies to make major weapons sales to Iraq, since the Soviet Union had cut off sales when Iraq invaded Iran.

At an international conference on chemical weapons in Paris in 1989, the Bush Administration protected Saddam by opposing efforts of other countries to name Iraq as a violator of chemical weapons accords. In June, 1990, less than two months before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the Bush Administration refused to endorse attempts by members of Congress to impose sanctions against Iraq for its human rights record and the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Iraq for using chemical weapons on its own people.

Finally, on July 25, 1990, just one week before the Iraqi invasion, US Ambassador April Glaspie met with Hussein in Baghdad and told him: “President Bush is an intelligent man. He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq.” She added, “we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border dispute with Kuwait.”

Three days later the CIA informed Bush that there “was a high degree of probability” that Iraq was going to invade Kuwait. Still, the only action the US took was to kill a Voice of America broadcast warning Iraq against invading Kuwait.

All indications were that the US was giving Iraq a green light and that the intent was to trap Saddam in a war.  This is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility given that Bush was “an intelligent man,” as well as the nation’s former chief spook.

Jonathan Ide, a Madison, Wisconsin researcher, published a well-documented paper titled The Gulf War: A Citizen’s Questions, shortly after the war. In his 20-page paper, he detailed the various grievances that motivated Hussein to invade Kuwait, his efforts to negotiate, and the US response. As Ide explained, Hussein had three main grievances:

First, that during its war with Iran, Kuwait’s border with Iraq had “crept north” until 900 square miles had been incorporated into Kuwait territory, including a tip of the rich oil reserve at Rumaila. Iraq also claimed that Kuwait was slant-drilling wells in order to extract Iraqi oil from Rumaila.

Second, Iraq had long sought naval access to the Gulf. It wanted rights to two uninhabited islands that belonged to Kuwait, and had offered to lease the islands. Kuwait had refused.

Third, Kuwait had been depressing world oil prices by overproduction, costing Iraq billions in lost revenue. Since Iraq was in a desperate economic state, this was something it could not afford to lose.

Overproduction by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in violation of OPEC quotas, had forced the price of oil as low as $11 or $12 a barrel, while Iraq wanted an oil price of $25 a barrel. During spring and summer of 1990, Iraq held negotiations with Kuwait, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. At one point, the oil ministers of all these countries agreed to push their oil prices gradually higher, but the following day the Kuwaiti oil minister announced that Kuwait would significantly increase production instead.

To make matters worse, Iraq had entered the war with Iran with $40 billion dollars in the bank, but left it $80 billion in debt. Kuwait had provided about $10 billion to Iraq during the war, which Saddam thought had been a grant. When the war ended, Kuwait demanded repayment and refused to restructure the debt.

As Ide pointed out, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the US refused to respond to at least five Iraqi overtures to negotiate. These offers were documented by The Nation, Der Spiegel, The Progressive and other publications. On August 9, 1990, one week after its invasion, Iraq sent a proposal to Washington offering to withdraw its troops in exchange for three things: control of the Rumaila oil field, access to the Persian Gulf, and US-Iraqi negotiations on oil prices.

Two weeks later, Iraq went further, offering to release all hostages, asking for sanctions to be lifted when a settlement was reached, and calling for the two countries to work together to “improve stability in the Gulf and to ease Iraq’s economic problems.”

At the start of the new year, as reported in Newsday, Iraq offered “to withdraw from Kuwait if the United States pledges not to attack as soldiers are pulled out, if foreign troops leave the region, and if there is agreement on the Palestinian problem and on the banning of all weapons of mass destruction in the region.” Furthermore, the New York Times reported that Yasser Arafat and Hussein were willing to drop their demands for “linkage” to the Palestinian problem provided there were assurances that the problem would be addressed in the future. This offer did not even mention the Rumaila oil field or access to the Gulf.


Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and President George H.W. Bush visiting troops during the Gulf War

On January 14, the eve of war, France urged the UN Security Council to call for “a rapid and massive withdrawal” from Kuwait, together with a pledge that the Council would help settle regional matters, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by convening an international conference to work out “the security, the stability, and development of this region of the world.”

In exchange for no war, all the US was obliged to do was agree to a peace conference. But the French resolution was vetoed by the US and Britain. On February 15, Baghdad Radio announced an offer of “conditional “ withdrawal from Kuwait, asking only that it not take place under fire. The White House called the offer a “cruel hoax,” insisting the withdrawal must come before a cease-fire.

By February 21, Iraq had agreed to terms of a Soviet peace initiative, which included a specific timetable for withdrawal. But the US rejected the Soviet plan and gave Iraq 24 hours to start withdrawing under their terms. As the New York Times reported, “some American officers in Washington have said privately that an Iraqi retreat is “the last thing they want to see.”

As Jonathan Ide remarked in his paper, it was not really a war, it was a massacre, or, to use General Schwarzkopf’s words, “a war of annihilation.” This was most evident in the “ground war,” which was not a ground offensive at all. It appears that Iraqi forces had already started to withdraw on February 21, two days before the US launched its offensive, when Iraq accepted the Soviet peace initiative.

Although the White House and the military tried to hide the fact that the US was attacking Iraqi troops trying to withdraw, some US pilots gave the Washington Post a different story. They described a “massive, disorderly retreat” and termed the bombing offensive a “turkey shoot” and “like shooting fish in a barrel.”

As I’m writing this, I have in front of me, pulled from my files, a letter from Kathy Kelly, the Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Chicago activist who works with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. The letter is dated February 23, 1991 and addressed to an old friend of mine, Laurie Hasbrook, whom I knew from my years in Milwaukee. Kathy is writing from Amman, Jordan, where she has traveled with the Gulf Peace Team. The team had been evacuated from Baghdad on February 1 and she had felt “chilled and dismal,” she wrote. The letter is impeccably typed, which seems to belie the gravity of the situation.

“On the road between Baghdad and Amman, we passed numerous smoldering vehicles. Tankers, buses, cars … the route is vital for civilians who want to flee from the war and for humanitarian convoys that evacuate the wounded or bring supplies for the needy,” Kathy wrote.


Kathy Kelly

She went on to describe how a donor had sent a huge shipment of milk supplement and baby food, none of which could be included in their convoy because UN sanctions only allowed Jordan’s Red Crescent to send medical supplies. Janet, a doctor from Scotland, is shedding tears while she hoists heavy bags of milk supplement off one of the trucks, so as not to compromise Jordan’s neutrality.

Already 14 Jordanian drivers have been killed while traveling on the road, but Kathy described the Red Crescent convoy drivers as playful and full or energy. “It was wonderful to see them clamber into the seven vehicles that formed our convoy, the first international relief convoy sponsored by the Red Crescent.” Fifteen tons of medical supplies were delivered.

Later, in a Red Cross international refugee camp, Kathy’s team is visited, late at night, by two doctors. One is an Algerian Red Cross doctor, the other the director of International Development for the Iraqi Red Crescent. Both had just left Baghdad on route to Amman. “The Algerian doctor described the situation in Baghdad as a siege on civilians,” Kathy wrote. “He said that average healthy people won’t die from going without food for several weeks. It’s the babies, the nursing mothers and the elderly pensioners who will suffer needlessly.” The 1949 Geneva Conventions endorse the basic rights of civilian victims of war, she notes.

Jean Dreze, a Belgian member of the peace team, had done extensive research on the impact of famine caused by the Gulf War. Millions of civilians, not only in the Gulf but elsewhere, suffer severely from the ravaging disruption of ordinary life caused by the war, she reported. Deep economic recession in many countries, famine in large parts of Africa, and a catastrophic oil slick in the Persian Gulf were only a few examples of devastation caused by the conflict.

The infant mortality rate had doubled in Iraq, Kathy added. From 1989 to 1990, Iraq had imported $2 million worth of medical supplies daily, she wrote. Since the embargo, it had dropped to less than $2 million a month. “If only nations would wage war on poverty and hunger with the same determination and political will as they are currently waging war against Iraq,” Kathy wrote near the end of her letter home.

Kathy Kelly’s peace contingent departed Baghdad on February 1 and Ramsey Clark arrived in Iraq the following day. Clark was the Attorney General in Lyndon Johnson’s administration. (His father, Tom Clark, had served as Attorney General under Harry Truman and later as a conservative Supreme Court justice under Earl Warren).

In a March editorial in The Nation, Clark described his week-long visit to Iraq with two filmmakers and an Iraqi-born American citizen. They traveled over 2,000 miles and “saw probably several hundred damaged or destroyed vehicles along the road. All were civilian vehicles: oil tankers, tractor-trailers, flatbeds, pickups, buses, minibuses, taxicabs and many private cars. In those we examined, we found no evidence of any military use,” he wrote.


                     Destroyed Iraqi civilian and military vehicles on the “Highway of Death”.  Credit: Tech. Sgt. Joe Coleman

The group examined civilian damage in Baghdad, Basra and Diwaniya, as well as smaller towns and communities. “No city, town or roadside stop we visited had running water, electricity, telephone service or adequate gasoline for transportation,” Clark wrote. “The effect on the cities has been disastrous.” The Minister of Health reported that the pollution of public water systems was the greatest health problem in the country, with tens of thousands known to be sick, hundreds of thousands assumed to be, and several thousand dead.

Basra was the most heavily damaged place the team visited, with hundreds of homes destroyed and hundreds of people killed and injured. Bombs had hit a low-cost, public housing development, killing 46 people and injuring more than 70, and other bombs hit an elementary and a high school. On the outskirts of Basra, a mosque was bombed to rubble and a family of at least ten were killed in the blast.

“Damage elsewhere in the cities and towns we visited was similar,” Clark reported. “There was no “collateral” military damage; all the destruction was to civilians. Bridges, telephone exchange, electric generator plants, water-processing and pumping stations, even government office buildings are essentially civilian and entirely noncombatant. We saw no evidence of military presence in any of the bombed areas we visited … The air assault deliberately targeting the civilian population of Iraq is a war crime.”

In an interview in The Progressive the following month, Clark described the systematic destruction of water systems, telecommunications, hospitals and everything pertaining to civilian life in Iraq. “It’s heartbreaking to witness,” he said. “The people are the ones getting bombed. You can’t bomb a city without killing people, and the idea that there’s pinpoint precision is ridiculous, a great falsehood.”

“I believe America must liberate itself from its love of violence and its love of wealth–which are closely integrated,” Clark commented in response to a question from the interviewer. “We are a plutocracy in the purest sense of the word–a government of wealth … you can’t see the autopsy photos of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Bob Kennedy and you can’t read the history of the Philippine-American war, and watch what we were doing in Vietnam, without rejecting violence. I completely reject violence. And yet, at the sacrifice of everything else, America spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually on violence. We really believe that might makes right, and that leads us to perpetual war.”

Kathy Kelly and Ramsey Clark visited Iraq in February. On March 20, the United Nations released a report on conditions of life in Iraq. It read in part:

Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society. Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age.

The Reuters news service estimated the damage to Iraq’s civilian infrastructure at $180 billion.

As with most wars, it was not just innocent people, civilian infrastructure and the environment that suffered in Bush War I. It was also the concept of truth and the right of citizens to know what their government is doing that was damaged, perhaps beyond repair.

Bush I used the same ploy that his son would employ a decade later to sell a gullible public on war with Iraq: the pretext that Iraq was dangerously close to developing weapons of mass destruction. On November 22, 1990, Bush was warning a divided country about the grave threat of Saddam’s atomic program. But a comprehensive survey of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists a few months later would show that “Iraq was many years away from developing usable nuclear weapons.”

All the same, the US chose to attack all of Iraq’s major nuclear-research facilities, including the Tuwaitha reactor complex just 25 miles south of Baghdad. It was the first attack ever on an operational nuclear reactor. According to the Bulletin, the two small research reactors at Tuwaitha “were unconnected to Iraq’s bomb program.”

As noted in In These Times a couple of months after the war, the US won a minor PR victory at home “but defeated years of progress in international nuclear-arms control.” Just before the war, the UN General Assembly had passed a resolution urging against such attacks.

In the six-month build-up to the war, the American public was fed a steady stream of stories about Iraq’s fearsome arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Only after the war did Americans learn that Iraq lacked the technology to deploy those weapons. The New York Times reported that “captured Iraqi soldiers said most units had inadequate chemical-protection equipment, in some cases not even gas masks.” Newsweek reported that “not a single [Iraqi] chemical weapon has been found.” Does this sound all too familiar? Exactly. The whole script would be replayed a little over a decade later with another Bush in the starring role.

The media also speculated that Saddam possessed exotic fuel-air explosives (FAEs), powerful bombs that spread a highly inflammable mist over a wide area that they then ignite. An article in the New York Times warned that “Hussein might be planning to use [a] … horrific weapon, never before employed in combat, known as the fuel-air bomb.”

The In These Times article after the war pointed out that the fuel-air bomb had, in fact, been used before, by the US in Vietnam. If Iraq did have FAEs, it chose not to use them. The Boston Globe reported, on February 6, that “fuel-air bombs may have been dropped over Iraq” the previous weekend. The next day the Los Angeles Times reported that journalists touring a US air base in the Gulf spotted FAEs stockpiled on the tarmac. A few days later, a military spokesman admitted the US was dropping FAEs on Iraqi troops. On February 16, the Times reported that the largest FAE in the US arsenal, the 15,000-pound BLU-82/B, was being dropped on Iraqi targets. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute noted that this bomb “produces a concussive blast greater than that of the smallest nuclear devices.”

Not all the weapons employed by the US were “high-tech.” More than six months after the war, stories began to appear in the mainstream media about how the US Army had “used plows mounted on tanks and combat earth-movers to bury thousands of Iraqi soldiers–some still alive,” during the early stages of the ground attack. New York Newsday and the Philadelphia Inquirer gave the story front-page coverage, while the New York Times waited a few days and then “buried” the story.

An article in a veteran newspaper called On Guard reported on this heinous act of burying Iraqi soldiers and the subsequent response of the press. In an accompanying article in On Guard, Professor Francis Boyle, an expert on international law at the University of Illinois, inventoried a number of the atrocities committed by US troops and sharply refuted a report by Greenpeace which he claimed whitewashed US conduct of the war. Here are a few of the examples he cited:

  • When the US gave its final ultimatum for Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait, it promised it would not attack retreating Iraqi forces. But attacking retreating Iraqi forces is exactly what Bush did. “This is clearly a war crime,” Boyle said.
  • When Marine Corps aircraft joined ground troops and began to bomb Iraqis fleeing Kuwait, it was not just Iraqis but innocent Kuwaiti people fleeing Kuwait City who died on the “highway to hell,” Boyle pointed out. “My guess is that at least 5,000 Kuwaiti citizens were killed by US military forces on this highway,” he wrote.

“Notice the order by Schwarzkopf “not to let anybody or anything out of Kuwait City” was a war crime itself. It called for the indiscriminate destruction of these vehicles irrespective of whether civilians or military personnel were in them.” The US Air Force had been given instructions to make the area a “free fire zone,” Boyle said, and this was a violation of international law because of the refusal to discriminate between military and civilian targets.

  • Boyle noted that Greenpeace admitted that a rationale of the bombing was “to achieve a psychological effect on the Iraqi people.” That meant these were “terror bombings” … “clearly prohibited by international law and constituted war crimes,” Boyle attested.

When the war broke out in January, 1991, I wrote a letter to my then congressman, Scott Klug. His response was unsatisfactory but, since he ended by saying “I hope you will continue to keep in touch,” I followed up my first letter with an eleven-page missive that included a lot of history concerning Iraq, Iran and the Middle East. I mentioned the impact of European colonialism and US imperialism on the region, Winston Churchill’s bombing of Iraq in the 1920s to secure British domination of the Iraqi oil fields, and the British use of poison gas and other weapons when villages failed to pay their tribute to the British Empire.

I quoted Alexander Cockburn quoting Churchill, who defended his use of chemical weapons as “the application of Western science to modern warfare” and as saying “We cannot … acquiesce in the non-utilization of any weapons that are available to procure a speedy termination to the disorder that prevails on the frontier.”

The “disorder on the frontier” induced the United States, around 1948, (the year I was born), to gradually assume the role of dominant power in the Middle East. The US spent the late 40s and early 50s wrestling and shadow boxing with Britain for control of Middle East oil. The US used strong diplomatic pressure to oust Russia from a province in northern Iran where the Soviet Union had secured an oil concession with a 51-49 division of profits. (This was embarrassing to the Brits, who had allowed Iran only a 20 percent cut of oil profits.)

On May 1, 1951, three days after Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister, and with some egging on by the US, Iran nationalized the billion-dollar British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The US then collaborated with Britain to boycott Iranian oil and cut off its markets, while simultaneously giving Iran monetary aid. The US played with Mossadegh like a puppet on a string.

When Eisenhower came to office in 1952, the US resolved its differences with Britain and the puppet’s strings were promptly cut. John Foster Dulles was appointed Secretary of State and his brother, Allen Dulles, became Director of the CIA. (For those of you unfamiliar with US history of this era, picture Al Capone and John Dillinger on an international scale.)

The following August, a CIA-directed coup overthrew the Iranian government and replaced it with one led by a former Nazi collaborator. The CIA agent who managed the coup, Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Teddy, later left the CIA to join the Gulf Oil Corporation as “government relations director” in Washington. No, I’m not making this up. It gets worse.

As the intrigue in Iran was being plotted, Kermit was joined in Teheran by Brigadier General H. Norman Schwarszkopf, who had reorganized the Shah’s police force in the 1940s. That’s right, as if two George Bushes were not bad enough, there were also two “Stormin Norman”s. (Like father, like son.) Schwarszkopf was an old friend of the Nazi collaborator and he claimed he was in Teheran “just to see old friends again.” In truth, he was part of the operation that overthrew the Iranian government.

Schwarzkopf and Bush at Victory Parade in 1991

George H.W. Bush and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf at Gulf War Victory Parade in 1991.       Credit: Associated Press

As a result of the coup, Britain lost its oil monopoly and Iranian oil was turned over to a consortium of England, France, Holland and the US.

In January, 1957, Eisenhower delivered a proposal to Congress, known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, which asked for authority for the president to use armed force in the Middle East “to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations requesting aid against armed aggression from any nation controlled by International Communism.” Six months later, the US sent marines into Lebanon, accompanied by an armada off the coast of Beirut. It was a response to a rebellion against a pro-Western and crooked government, as well as a revolution in Iraq against the British-installed and pro-Western monarchy there.

The US first contemplated armed intervention in Iraq to oust the new government, but could not find anyone to collaborate with against the popular revolution. Instead, the US and Britain announced, according to the New York Times, that they would not invade Iraq unless the government failed to “respect western oil interests.”

In The Causes of World War III, a book he published shortly after the coup in Iraq, C. Wright Mills cited a Congressional document indicating that US concern had more to do with access to oil than any threat of “International Communism.” In fact, Colonel Karim Kassem, who took power in the coup, outlawed the Communist Party and slaughtered thousands of communists immediately after assuming control.

Shortly after, Kassem was toppled in another coup, which the French press said was inspired by the CIA. Kassem had announced formation of a national oil company and, according to an interview in Le Monde days before the coup, he had been threatened with sanctions by the US State Department. The Brits, aware of plans to oust Kassem, stipulated that the new government must abandon any claims to Kuwait, (still under the aegis of the British Empire), and must not proceed with plans to exploit the oil in areas recently recovered by Iraq.

Next followed the Nixon Doctrine, with Iran designated to play the role of surrogate policeman in the Persian Gulf. US arms merchants sold over $8 billion worth of weapons to the Shah during the 1970s and 50,000 US advisors helped expand and train his army and hated secret police.

The popular revolution that deposed the Shah in 1979 significantly altered the power equation in the Middle East. This and other events in the region led Washington to revert again to a strategy of direct military intervention. Soon after Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, his national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, dusted off an idea that had been around at least since the Vietnam War. The US should create a military force that could be dispatched rapidly to the Persian Gulf or anywhere else in the Third World.

In his State of the Union address in January, 1980, Carter declared: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” This became known as the Carter Doctrine.

Saudi Arabia, with a population too sparse to play a role like Iran had under the Nixon Doctrine, was ideally suited to assume a key role under the Carter Doctrine, which required not armies but bases in the Gulf. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia had courted US favor since its birth in 1932. Within a year, the Standard Oil Company of California cut a lucrative deal with Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman al Saud, the tribal leader who created the country by seizing territory from the Ottoman Turks.

The US government and US oil corporations have stood staunchly by the Saudi autocrats ever since, a relationship of mutual convenience. In what became known as the Irangate scandal, Congress refused the Reagan Administration funding for the Nicaraguan contras, so CIA chief William Casey called on the Saudi ambassador, who wrote a million dollar personal check for the contra account in Switzerland and promised another one every month.

Saudi princes have reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks on contract with western firms, particularly in the area of arms acquisitions. Between 1970 and ’79, Saudi Arabia had already purchased $3.2 billion worth of US weapons and military services. By 1978, nearly 700 US military personnel and 10,000 civilians employed by US defense contractors were constructing military installations in the country. The pattern persisted into the next decade, with over $18 billion in arms sold to Saudi Arabia by the US, France, Great Britain and other nations between 1983 and 1987.

The Carter Administration couldn’t find a pawn in the Gulf region willing to openly play host for the Rapid Deployment Force headquarters, but Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 provided the necessary leverage for the US to extract more concessions from Saudi Arabia. Over the next decade, Saudi Arabia dumped over $50 billion into building a Gulf-wide air defense system to US and NATO specifications. By 1988, the US Army Corps of Engineers had designed and constructed a $14 billion network of military facilities across the country. In August, 1990, the Corps returned to construct more facilities for the US troops there, since original scenarios hadn’t anticipated such a large deployment of ground forces.

Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense under Reagan in the 1980s, wrote in a classified Defense Guidance report that US troops, not Saudis, would be the first-line forces in any crisis. “Whatever the circumstances,” he wrote, “we should be prepared to introduce American forces into the region should it appear that the security of access to Persian Gulf oil is threatened.”

US naval intervention became reality in July, 1987, when Reagan responded to a Kuwaiti request to place its oil tankers under US protection. The US sent an armada that grew to nearly 50 ships in and near the Gulf. There were several confrontations with Iranian forces–opportunities to test sophisticated new weapons–including the missile system that shot down an Iranian civilian plane, killing 291 people.

Which pretty much brings us back up to 1991 and Bush War I, and my letters to Congressman Klug. I sent copies of the letters to US Senators Robert Kasten and Herb Kohl, Congressmen Les Aspin, James Moody and Robert Kastenmaier, and the mayors of Madison and Milwaukee.

My long second letter went out on February 15, but Senator Kasten replied on the 14th that, “with a heavy heart,” he had voted for the resolution authorizing Bush to use all necessary means to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait. “I believe that the President made every effort for a peaceful solution,” he wrote.

I wonder if he ever bothered to read the second letter, which clearly, extensively and unequivocally documented the fact that the US had been preparing for three decades or more for a non-peaceful solution.

Michael Klare, a professor of Peace and World Security Studies, wrote in The Progressive a couple months after the war that “American war aims in the Persian Gulf were truly predatory. The intensity of the bombing and the determination to destroy everything of industrial or military value in Iraq suggest a goal that exceeds battlefield considerations.”

It was “Iraq’s future military capabilities that US officials worried about most,” Klare wrote, “it’s theoretical ability to emerge as a regional superpower in the late 1990s and thereby constrain Washington’s intent to dominate the oil-rich Persian Gulf region. American leaders viewed the destruction of Iraq as a warning to other rising Third World powers of the terrible risks they will incur if they contest US primacy in areas the United States deems critical.”

Later in his article, Klare noted that some pundits were speaking of a new “Pax Americana” based on US domination of the international community. Bush himself had labeled this arrangement a “New World Order.” But Klare warned that it would be a terrible mistake to assume all challenges to US domination would disappear.

“The Iraqi experience is likely to lead other aspiring nations to move more rapidly toward the development of nuclear weapons so that they can effectively deter military intervention by the United States and its allies,” he wrote. “And those angry people who do not have access to powerful weapons will find other ways of expressing their hostility, producing an endless need for US “peacekeeping” throughout the vast sweep of the Third World … The destruction of Iraq may endow America with a sense of omnipotence, but it will not bring us peace.”

▪ ▪ ▪

Afghanistan: Slaughtering hearts and minds in the longest war

This is the fifth installment in a series on issues of War or Peace.

What’s there to say about this war? It’s the oldest in US history. It seems like it’s been dragging on forever, and yet it also seems to be a forgotten war. I wonder if anyone even thinks about it anymore?

Perhaps the Afghans, who lost family members, or lost their poor pillaged country, once again, to endless destruction, terror and violence? Perhaps the soldiers, sent once again to fight a senseless war, and lost their limbs, lost their buddies, or loss their sanity? Perhaps the brave peace activists from Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who never fail to care?

The media never seemed to pay it much attention. I have a whole file drawer stuffed with articles and news clippings about the Bush wars in Iraq, but only one meager file folder about the never-ending war in Afghanistan. I search my brain: what was the war called? The Americans, (as well as their Israeli pals), are always adept at coming up with catchy code names before they invade a country and wreak havoc. So I looked it up. They called it Operation Enduring Freedom when they attacked Afghanistan way back in October, 2001.

I suppose it may be hard to determine if the Afghan people feel more free than they did 17 years ago. I suspect it’s mostly about enduring.

I recall that I wrote a poem about the war back in early 2010, later published in the Atlanta Review. Even the poem seems ancient now. I had just heard General Stanley McChrystal say on NPR that “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in.” Now I wonder: what happened to the box? Was it big enough to do the job? What happened to the government? And what happened to all the lucky people who were going to get this government, a gift courtesy of Uncle Sam?

So what was the pretense for this war? That Afghan people needed a government? No, not quite. As it happened, they’d already had quite a few governments, most provided by an assortment of other generous foreign benefactors.

But the September 11 attacks had happened. Much of the world was in sympathy with the US and this sympathy could have been parlayed into a plan to bring peace, stability and social development to the Mideast. Uncle Sam had new-found friends willing to help with this task. But Bush and the military decided an enemy would be more useful. Why not Afghanistan? No matter that Afghanistan had nothing to do with September 11. The attacks were planned, funded and carried out by people connected with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s worst dictatorships but also a US ally. So Bush bombed Afghanistan instead and thus began the realm of permanent warfare in the US empire.

This war for “enduring freedom” has been a long one, even if you start the clock on October 7 of 2001, but the war has deeper roots. US involvement in that country actually began around 1979, nearly 40 years ago. I learned this from an article in my file from CovertAction Quarterly, (CAQ), a magazine founded by former CIA officer turned agency critic Philip Agee. (The magazine ceased publication in 2005).

In May 1979, seven months before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a CIA station chief in Islamabad met with Afghan mujahideen in Peshawar, Pakistan and agreed to supply them with arms. (This tidbit was actually attributed to Alfred McCoy, the University of Wisconsin historian and expert on CIA drug trafficking).

Once the Soviets invaded on December 24, 1979, and installed their own pro-Soviet government, the US began to support the Pakistan-based resistance more fully. From 1979 to ’89, more than half of the $5-6 billion in CIA aid went to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord with an unsavory reputation and renowned for his violence, who was both anti-Soviet and anti-US. With Uncle Sam’s money, he made war on the Soviets, as well as other resistance groups, while becoming the country’s leading drug lord.

Guns, money and aid from the CIA and Saudi Arabia were funneled through Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which “ensured that the more Islamist elements among the resistance got the plums of foreign assistance,” noted the CAQ article. “From the start, the US was aware that its aid was fostering a form of warlordism within the Afghan resistance … and that the … strategy of rewarding some resistance factions at the expense of others was undermining any chance of developing a “credible” non-Communist leadership.”

The US continued to supply Hekmatyar with arms even after the Soviets left and even after the US ambassador to Pakistan attested that the aid had stopped. Fighting between the various mujahideen factions intensified, with much of the struggle over who would control the drug trade rather than who would lead the state.

Training camps for Islamist fighters sprung up in eastern Afghanistan, in areas under Hekmatyar’s party’s control and “many of the participants in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center claimed to have had combat experience with Hekmatyar’s troops.” Someone convicted in the 90’s of plotting to blow up US airliners supposedly bragged of getting training in terrorist tactics in bases such as these.

“It became clear by 1994, five years after the Soviet withdrawal, that the so-called Afghan freedom fighters had turned their country into “a breeding ground for drugs and terrorism,”” the CAQ article concluded, citing stories in the New York Times and New York Times Magazine.

Then came the Taliban, fanatical students from the madressas, Islamic religious schools, many in Pakistan, and funded by the Saudis. Launching their first assault from a base in Pakistan in October 1994, they took advantage of all the discord and corruption among the Mujahideen warlords and quickly seized Kabul and about two-thirds of the country’s provinces. It’s not clear if the US had supported the Taliban all along, certainly Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had, but on the day the rebels captured Kabul, a State Department spokesperson acclaimed they might be “the group that might finally bring stability to Afghanistan.”

Stability was the one thing that Uncle Sam yearned for in Afghanistan, not so much so that the people could live in peace, but because it was good for business. Business in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, revolved around oil. Uncle Sam wanted to be warm and snugly with a government in Kabul so that it could pursue plans for a natural gas pipeline and an oil pipeline project involving the US firm Unocal, (now merged with Chevron), and the Saudi group Delta Oil.

Way back in the mid-90s, the two companies reached an agreement with Turkmenistan, the former Soviet republic, for a Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. It would stretch from the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea region of Turkmenistan, south through Afghanistan to Pakistan and into India.

Afghan mapA consortium to construct the pipeline, led by Unocal, was formed in 1996 and Robert Oakley, the US ambassador to Pakistan, joined up the following year. In January 1998, the Taliban signed an agreement to allow the project to proceed. But when two American embassies were bombed later than year, the US alleged that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, which led to a falling out with the Taliban. Unocal withdrew from the consortium that December and closed its offices in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

When negotiations with the Taliban stalled again in late 2001, the Bush Administration threatened them with war, according to some accounts, wrote Frank Blair and Julie Byrnes Enslow in an issue of the Peace Action Wisconsin newsletter in September 2010. “The attack on 9/11 was the needed trigger to launch a war on Afghanistan. Plans had been drawn up in advance,” they wrote.

Hamid Karzai, whom the US installed as Afghan president after the invasion, had been a Unocal adviser and a key collaborator in the pipeline plans, Blair and Enslow pointed out. Karzai signed the December 2002 deal on the pipeline along with the leaders of Turkmenistan and Pakistan.

Although Bush may have started it, Afghanistan became Obama’s war. He embraced it from the start, calling it a “good war” during his presidential campaign. What was bad under Bush became abominable under Obama. Hardly a month into his presidency he announced he would withdraw 100,000 troops from Iraq while ordering three brigades of troops – 17,000 soldiers and Marines – to Afghanistan to join the 30,000 Americans already there. The ugly pattern would continue to repeat itself: every time the US increased its forces, the insurgency grew stronger and the influence of the Taliban spread.

Not that he wasn’t warned. Most of the articles in my file are from the first two Obama years, with everyone from former Wisconsin Congressman David Obey to Amy Goodman cajoling, pleading and demanding that the president take a different path than his predecessor. He didn’t listen.

Here was Joe Galloway, writing for McClatchy Newspapers, the week Obama made his first fateful decision to send more troops: “The nation we set out to free from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and visit with the blessings of democracy has paid a hellish price for its salvation: Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered in civil war and ethnic cleansing and as collateral damage in the war. Millions more have been forced from their homes and turned into refugees … Now we wait to hear how many of the American troops leaving Iraq will be retrained and recycled into a potentially disastrous war in Afghanistan that’s dragged on even longer.

“The Taliban insurgents now have a chokehold on as much as 70 percent of Afghanistan, and they’re proving to be flexible and adaptive in their attacks on American, NATO and Afghan forces.

“If the new American team has some new ideas about how to succeed in Afghanistan, now would be the time to lay them out. Nothing that Alexander the Great, Queen Victoria or Leonid Brezhnev tried in their attempts to subdue the quarrelsome Afghan tribes worked, and nothing we’ve tried in the last eight years has, either.”

And here’s Joseph Gerson, director of the Peace and Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee, in a column published in the Madison Cap Times: “The mistaken “logic” underlining the contradictions of massively increasing the number of US warriors sent to Afghanistan is to increase bargaining leverage with the Taliban. Obama wants to augment US influence in Afghanistan before the US approves Karzai negotiations with the Taliban or publicly begins them on its own.

“Unfortunately, like LBJ and Nixon, Obama’s approach won’t work. With its corruption, its reliance on repressive and misogynist warlords, and the deaths and suffering of civilians caused by US-NATO attacks, Afghan hearts and minds will not rally to the Karzai government or to US forces. Similar to the failures of “Vietnamization” in the early 1970s, the idea that the US will be able to triple the size of the Afghan military, isolate it from corrupting warlord and Karzai government influences, and provide it with modern warfighting capabilities in just two years is a deadly pipe dream.

“This leads to a situation analogous to that described in the Pentagon Papers in which 85 percent of the reason for continuing the Vietnam War, and even escalating it, will be “perception,” to defend the image of the US as a military superpower that must not be challenged.”

One of the most cogent arguments to end the war was written by Sonali Kohlhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, less than a year into the Obama presidency. It was published in Foreign Policy in Focus and reprinted in Toward Freedom. With little debate among progressives about how bad the war was, she warned that the opportunity to end the war “is slipping through our fingers.”

She outlined the way that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were similar: how they killed both civilians and soldiers, made women less safe, the occupations were both unpopular on the ground and led to greater instability, and that “our tax dollars are being disappeared into a sinkhole of destruction rather than human needs.” Where they differed, she said, was that progressives were clear from the start about Iraq but Afghanistan “seems to confuse our moral compass.”

“Our actions in Afghanistan have caused a perfect storm of untold numbers of civilian deaths, fundamentalist resurgence, and women’s oppression … If ever the Afghanistan war had any legitimacy, it’s irreversibly gone,” she wrote.

“One of the original justifications for the war that seemed to resonate most with liberal Americans was the liberation of Afghan women from a misogynist regime,” she said. “What this logic misses is that the United States chose right from the start to sell out Afghan women to its misogynist fundamentalist allies on the ground. The US armed the

Afghan refugee girl

Afghan girl named Nasila in refugee camp in Passau, Germany in August, 2015. Credit: Jazzmany

Mujahideen leaders in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation, opening the door to successive fundamentalist governments including the Taliban. In 2001, the United States then armed the same men, now called the Northern Alliance, to fight the Taliban and then welcomed them into the newly formed government as a reward. The American puppet president Hamid Karzai, in concert with a cabinet and parliament of thugs and criminals, passed one misogynist law after another, appointed one fundamentalist zealot after another to the judiciary, and literally enabled the downfall of Afghan women’s rights over eight long years … add to this the unacceptably high number of innocent women and children killed in US bombing raids, which has also increased the Taliban’s numbers and clout.


“Those who make the case that withdrawing US troops will unleash another bloody civil war where Afghan women and men will be at the mercy of the Taliban and warlords, are raising the exact same justification made for the war in 2001: that it’s our moral duty to protect Afghans from fundamentalist violence. This logic ignores the fact that we have nurtured and created the very fundamentalist violence that targets Afghans.”

In March, 2011, Sojourners magazine ran a number of articles about the war in Afghanistan. Jim Wallis, the editor, in a column called Hearts & Minds, wrote that the monetary cost of the war was more than $100 billion a year and that the two wars together had already cost the country about $1.3 trillion in the preceding decade.

We are paying billions for weapons systems the military didn’t ask for and doesn’t need, Wallis said. “The amount of money spent on war is no longer tenable. It is time for the war in Afghanistan to end. Our financial and spiritual health depends on it.”

In another article, David Cortright, director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, wrote that military means had always been the first resort, not the last, in Afghanistan. More than 90 percent of all spending for the country had gone through the Pentagon, he said, and Bob Woodward’s account of Obama’s 2009 strategic review showed that nonmilitary options were never considered.

“Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have long supported the Taliban,” Cortright wrote. “The United States has responded to this dilemma by pressuring a reluctant Pakistani army to wage war against its own people. The US has also taken matters into its own hands by mounting frequent drone bombing strikes, commando raids, and targeted assassinations across the border. These actions have alienated and enraged many Pakistanis and are generating greater support for the insurgency the US is attempting to suppress, threatening to destabilize Pakistan itself and fueling extremism across the region.”

“The number of US military raids has increased sharply with the administration’s military surge, and this has created deepening resentment and anger among many Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai … The current strategy of large-scale counterinsurgency and targeted bombing is questionable morally, unwinnable militarily, and unsustainable politically.”

In yet another Sojourner’s article, Eric Stoner, a professor and freelance journalist, reported on his travels to Afghanistan in late 2010 with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. More than 30 years of war had left the country in a “perpetual state of crisis,” Stoner reported. Afghanistan had the lowest life expectancy in the world, he said, as well as the worst infant mortality rate, with one of every four children not surviving to see their fifth birthday.

He recounted visiting a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, full of people who had fled their homes in Helmand province after a US military offensive. A man showed him black-and-white photos of his children, killed during a US bombardment.  “To add insult to injury,” Stoner noted, residents of the camp “must look every day at the enormous US military base that is being constructed on a hill overlooking the squalid camp.”

For the cost of just 246 soldiers in Afghanistan for a year, he said, the US could fully pay for higher education for the entire country.

Robert Scheer, the award-winning journalist and editor-in-chief of Truthdig, penned an essay in 2010 called The High Price of Patriotism. “Our military investments recruit rather than combat terrorists, but that is not a bad outcome if the goal is greater instability as an excuse to keep defense spending absurdly high despite the end of the Cold War two decades ago,” he wrote. “Our military budget … is nothing more than a profit and jobs center for the defense industry, which has its tentacles in every congressional district. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were never about combating terrorism, which is a supranational phenomena anchored in neither country.

“Patriotism is always in the eye of the beholder, so why is Karzai’s patriotism tawdrier than that of the executives of Lockheed and Boeing who still build planes designed to evade Soviet air defenses that were never created?, Scheer said.

“Karzai is now playing the patriot who will line the pockets of his most influential countrymen … He is proving to be a substantial leader, corrupt as he may be, in that he is no longer willing to play the puppet. This sort of rebellion happened before in Vietnam when Ngo Dinh Diem, the US-imposed liberator, turned against us and our CIA assassinated him. How long before Karzai meets a similar fate?

“This fatal syndrome in American imperial designs is well known to Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s key civilian adviser, who played a similar role in Vietnam. Back then, when Holbrooke was involved in the Phoenix assassination program (he now is involved with the drone assassinations), the reckless murder of civilians was aimed at winning their hearts and minds. It didn’t work because we destroyed too many of their bodies in the process.

“The arrogance of these adventures in nation-building represents an enduring example of America’s deeply provincial and blindingly self-centered role in the world. That Holbrooke has learned nothing from his trail of deceit posing as diplomacy is not so startling given the obtuse nature of the man, but that Obama has entrusted this most critical aspect of his foreign policy to the likes of a hack like Holbrooke is truly depressing.”

On October 3, 2015, two Nobel Peace Prize winners came head-to-head with each other in Kunduz, Afghanistan. One bombed the hell out of the other. (The US and Britain had officially ended their combat operations in the country one year earlier, but more on that later.)

Doctors Without Borders, (Médecins Sans Frontieres, (MSF) as they are known elsewhere), opened the Kunduz Trauma Center in August 2011. It was the only facility of its kinds in northeastern Afghanistan, providing high-quality, free surgical care to victims of general trauma, including traffic accidents and conflict-related injuries. During 2014, the hospital had cared for more than 22,000 patients and performed 4,241 surgeries.

Before the facility opened, Doctors Without Borders participated in comprehensive negotiations with all parties to the conflict, discussing the nature of their work and reaching agreements regarding respect for the neutrality of the medical facility and activities. The agreement was grounded in International Humanitarian Law (IHL). MSF affirmed that a strict “no weapons” policy would be enforced at all times in the compound. The location and GPS coordinates of the facility were shared repeatedly with all relevant parties.

As heavy fighting broke out in Kunduz, the MSF staff launched a mass casualty plan for wounded patients and increased the number of beds. At first, government troops composed the bulk of those wounded in the fighting, then it shifted to more Taliban seeking treatment. In the week before the bombing, staff treated 376 patients in the ER, more than a quarter women and children under 15.

On the night of October 2, it was calm around the hospital. There was no fighting and no planes overhead. The staff was busy trying to catch up; there were 150 patients in the hospital and about 150 staff too. The building was brightly lit and spread across the roof was a large white and red flag reading Médecins Sans Frontieres.

Here’s a couple paragraphs from an MSF report about what happened next:

Between 2:00 am and 2:09 am on October 3, the first in what would be a sustained series of precise airstrikes was launched targeting the main hospital building. The first strike killed two patients on operating tables, among others, and drove staff to seek shelter in the sterilization room. The explosions woke MSF international staff members sleeping in the administrative building, where an MSF nurse arrived covered in debris and blood, his left arm hanging from a small piece of tissue. Medics provided immediate treatment to stabilize him.

Amidst ongoing volleys of fire and a series of ground-shaking explosions, many staff heard something that sounded like a propeller plane circling the hospital–consistent with reports that an American AC-130 gunship carried out the attacks. Many staff described seeing people shot as they ran from the main hospital building. Staff also recounted a patient in a wheelchair killed by shrapnel as he attempted to escape, an MSF doctor getting his leg blown off, people running while on fire before falling to the ground, and a staff member decapitated by shrapnel. Fire also hit the southern area of the compound, where two unarmed MSF guards were later found dead from shrapnel wounds.

The airstrikes stopped between 60 and 75 minutes after they started. About 42 people were killed in the attack, including 14 staff members. Six intensive care patients were burned to death in their beds. Surviving medical staff collected supplies, converted an administrative office into a makeshift emergency room, triaged patients, and began treating the wounded. Surgeries were performed on an office desk and a kitchen table.

Kunduz hospital bombing

At the time of the airstrikes on MSF’s hospital in Kunduz, the operating facilities were in use. There were patients on the tables being attended to by surgeons and other medical staff. Credit: Dan Sermand/MSF

The US military initially claimed the airstrike was carried out to defend US forces on the ground. Later, the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, said the strike was requested by Afghan forces that had come under Taliban fire. After an investigation, Campbell said the incident was “the direct result of avoidable human error, compounded by process and equipment failures.” Sixteen members of the US military were disciplined but none were criminally charged. Cockpit recording showed that the AC-130 crew questioned the strike’s legality.


Doctors Without Borders was clear about calling the attack a war crime. “This is not solely about whether or not Yemen or Afghanistan are safe for aid workers … It’s about how countries fighting wars under the banner of counterterrorism too often seek to extricate themselves from the bounds of international treaties and conventions. This was part of the post-9/11 rhetoric coming out of the US, when Bush administration officials labeled the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” and it relates to how the US’s drone program, to name one, operates now. This is how Russia conducted itself in Chechnya and elsewhere and is now conducting itself in Syria, where it bombed several medical centers in the first weeks of its overt involvement in the country. This is certainly how the Assad regime directs its campaign against its people.”

Bombing the hospital was just one of many incidents in the war that served to lose “the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people.

There was the case, on March 4, 2007 when US Marines, reacting to a suicide attack in Spinpul in Nangarhar Province, proceeded to slaughter a dozen civilians, including a one-year-old child. The soldiers sprayed bystanders “with machine-gun fire in a rampage that covered 10 miles of highway,” according to the New York Times.

A 16-year-old newly-married girl was killed while carrying a bundle of grass to her farmhouse to feed the animals. A car was hit and shredded by 250 bullets; the driver survived but two elderly men and a 16-year-old boy died. A 75-year-old man walking to his shop was hit by so many bullets that his son couldn’t recognize the body when he arrived at the scene.

Later that year, eight civilians, including a pregnant woman and a baby, died when a Polish unit shelled the village of Nangar Khel a few hours after an insurgent IED ambush damaged a Polish armored vehicle. Seven soldiers were charged with war crimes after locals stated that the unit fired mortar rounds and machine guns into a wedding celebration without provocation.

This incident was interesting to research in that reports from the Polish military command were included in the 91,731 classified documents released by WikiLeaks on

Afghan kids with signs

Afghan family protests at White House after US Army Staff Sargent Robert Bales charged with 17 counts of murder for killing 8 adults and 9 children in Afghanistan. Washington, DC, March 25, 2012. Credit: Will E. Davis, Shutterstock

July 25, 2010. A “consequence management team” from the Polish Battle Group (PBG), including a general and colonel and a Governor Khapalwak, visited the village a day after the attack, just as the last of the victims was being buried.

The Governor addressed the entire burial party and then heard complaints from the people gathered. “Men speaking on behalf of the crowd stated that they are a very poor people,” read the official report. “They hate the Taliban because the Taliban come into their village and steal money from them and tell them to feed their troops. They hate the Americans because they bomb our homes. (The villagers were not aware that Polish troops were now working the area.) The villagers felt the Americans acted the same as the Soviets, coming to Afghanistan under the pretense of helping the country but then proceeding to kill villagers.”

In 2011, a Polish military court cleared the soldiers of all crimes. “The mistaken killing of civilians by foreign forces, usually during air strikes or night-time raids, is a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and has complicated efforts to win support from ordinary Afghans,” the Reuters account noted.

On September 4, 2009, it was a Colonel Georg Klein, a German officer with a NATO unit, who ordered US jets to bomb two tankers that had been hijacked in the Taliban-controlled district of Chahar Dora near Kunduz. About 142 people, primarily civilians, died in the attack, but German lawyers and journalists later claimed that 179 civilians were killed.

Nearly a year later, Der Spiegel reported that the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, had agreed to compensate relatives of civilian victims with a payment of $5,000. Initially the army did not take any action on the case, the report noted, and, contrary to NATO regulations, did nothing to investigate the impact of the air strikes.

The compensation agreement did not include any admission of guilt. Military attorneys said that Germany’s recent reclassification of the Afghanistan mission as a “non-international armed conflict,” (a war), meant that the victims no longer had any legal claims.

So what should Americans call this conflict that was once called a war, our longest war, the war for “enduring freedom”? Is it still a war? I don’t know; perhaps you can figure it out. I scrolled through page after page of Wikipedia’s account of the conflict, hoping to gain some clarity.

What I found was that the “ending” of this war is elusive; it’s as never-ending as the war itself. Part of it is probably just the sticky nature of imperial counterinsurgency. Part of it is probably Obama’s great gift for getting liberals to believe one thing while he was doing another. About the same time he was surging, he was promising to withdraw.

In January of 2012, Karzai and Obama met in the United States and the US stated it was willing to withdraw all its troops by the end of 2014. In May of 2012, the NATO countries began announcing their intended exit from Afghanistan and Obama and Karzai signed an “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement.” (There’s that word enduring again.)

But as troops began to withdraw from Afghanistan, they were replaced by private security companies. (Eric Stoner pointed out that, for the first time in history, more private contractors lost their lives than did soldiers during the first six months of 2010 in Afghanistan.)

On May 27, 2014, Obama announced that US combat operations in Afghanistan would end that December. On October 26, both the US and Britain officially ended their combat operations in Afghanistan. But unofficially nothing much seemed to change.

In 2015, according to Wikipedia, “American forces increased raids against Islamist militants, moving beyond counterterrorism missions.” This was partially due to improved relations between the two countries when Ashraf Ghani was elected president in September, 2014. “Reasoning used for these raids include protecting American forces, which has been broadly interpreted,” Wikipedia noted.

In March, Reuters reported that US military bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad were likely to remain open beyond 2015, as the US considered slowing its withdrawal to help the new government fight the Taliban. Throughout 2015, the US launched about 1,000 bombs and missiles at targets in Afghanistan, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

In January 2016, the Obama administration sent a directive to the Pentagon granting new legal authority for the military to go on the offensive in Afghanistan. In June, Obama approved a policy to give the US military greater ability to “accompany and enable Afghan forces fighting the Taliban,” a decision allowing greater use of US air power. In July, Obama announced plans to leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan when he finished his term.

That September, the Afghan government signed a peace deal with Hezb-i-Islami, the organization led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Remember him?). The group agreed to cease hostilities, cut ties to extremist groups and respect the Afghan constitution. Hekmatyar was promised an honorary position in the government.

In February 2017, the Huffington Post reported that, according to a UN report, US aircraft conducted about 30 air strikes in Helmand Province in the preceding week. In April of last year, the Trump Administration deployed an additional 5,000 US Marines to Southern Helmand Province. On April 13, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb, the 21,600 pound Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), known endearingly as the “Mother of All Bombs,” on a village in eastern Afghanistan.

And so it goes.

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Next Time:  Bush War I: The Beginning of Permanent War

Violence in America: The Chickens Come Home to Roost

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the theme of War Or Peace

It’s one of those old sayings where everyone knows the meaning but it’s difficult to pinpoint the origin. Why chickens? Pretty harmless creatures, (if a bit quirky), aren’t they? They never struck me as fierce or nefarious. What does it matter if they happen to come home to roost?

The rallying cry of some on the left during the Vietnam War was Bring the War Home. Little did they know, I suspect, that it would happen, but probably not in quite the way they imagined or intended. But pick your proverb. The chickens came home and so did the war. If not the war, then at least the violence.

The ugly irony is that, with each new war America wages, fewer and fewer soldiers fight and fewer get killed. (More come home and kill themselves than die in combat.) But the home front, largely unscathed by foreign war for most of its history, grows more and more violent with each passing year.

I suspect that’s the nature of violence: it is a malignant virus that affects the perpetrator as well as the victim. The violence of warfare doesn’t lead to peace, just to an escalation of violence; and on the home front it permeates the body politic and infects it like a cancer.

“More and more, the United States resembles a giant laboratory researching death–its seduction and profitability,” wrote priest and peace activist Philip Berrigan at the start of the first Gulf war in early 1991. But who are the lab rats in this laboratory of death? The poor people of Iraq and Afghanistan, for sure, and Palestinians and Syrians, and last but not least, the citizens of the United States, who pay the bills to run the lab. They pay the bills and they are also the rats: the victims, intended or not, of the heinous research and experimentation that is transforming the whole country into a monstrosity that makes Frankenstein’s creature look mild-mannered.

Does this sound like hyperbole? I’m afraid it isn’t.

Recently, my life in transition, I spent a lot of time sorting through old magazines, newspaper articles and assorted files and papers. Here’s an article from the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal asserting that the United States is “the most violent and self-destructive nation on Earth,” according to a report from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The year? 1991. Based on FBI data, the report said Americans were killing, raping and robbing one another at a furious rate, surpassing every other country that keeps crime statistics.

“When viewed from the national perspective, these crime rates are sobering” the report stated. “When viewed from the international perspective, they are truly embarrassing.”  The report noted that the US murder rate was twice that of Northern Ireland, then torn by civil war, and eleven times that of Japan.

An article a few months earlier, published in a Catholic weekly in Milwaukee, quoted a priest that I had known from community organizing on the west side of the city. Milwaukee had just surpassed its old homicide record and the priest described the neighborhood as in a state of “paralysis.  It’s not just the poor inner city community that says life is cheap,” he said. “The larger community cheapens life” by not taking action to curb the violence.

In the same dog-eared file folder was an essay from the National Catholic Reporter by the late Jesuit priest Robert Drinan lamenting the fact that 36 percent of American households owned a gun. This was 2003 and the death rate by guns for young black men was 25 times the rate for white males, he said, decrying the “compelling power over members of Congress” exercised by the NRA. Drinan had been elected to Congress as an opponent of the Vietnam War and was the first member of Congress to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon, not because of the Watergate scandal but for Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia.

Rummaging further in the file folder, I found an article about “a new video game in which the player stalks and shoots fellow students and teachers in school settings.” School Shooter: North American Tour 2012 is “a first-person game that allows the player to move around a school and collect points by killing defenseless students and teachers,” the news story states. Sandy Hook happened in late 2012 but the article is from April of 2011.

[I drafted this post you are reading in February, right after Parkland. On May 29th, I came across an online petition announcing that the Valve Corporation of Bellevue, child with gunWashington was planning to launch a new video game on June 6th that allows players to simulate a school shooting. “Valve is considered to be one of the most important and influential companies in the gaming industry,” according to Wikipedia. Most, if not all of its games, are violent. I hope the school shooter game was never released. I hope the company goes bankrupt. I hope the video entrepreneurs die peacefully in their sleep and then go to hell, if there is such a place.]

The next newspaper article, faded yellow now, is from the Madison Isthmus, a 1993 opinion piece by Milwaukee-based conservative commentator Charles Sykes. The average American child sees 15,000 television murders by age 18, Sykes pointed out, and homicide was then the second leading cause of childhood death.

“Recent Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearings on television violence documented the mounting evidence linking televised violence with an increasingly violent society,” Sykes wrote. “The nonstop diet of beatings, assaults, rape, sadism and murder … sends very direct messages to children. On television, violence is the ultimate problem-solver; it provides the instant gratification of instant resolution. Faced with problems of their own, youngsters increasingly turn to violence as the first, rather than last, resort.”

Does that last sentence sound to you, as it does to me, like US foreign policy for the last 25 years or so?

Down near the bottom of this same file folder lurks the most fascinating article of all. It’s from the June, 1999, issue of U.S. Catholic magazine and written by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who had recently retired from the US Army. Grossman was an expert on the psychology of killing, what he termed “killology,” and he had already penned a book titled On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.

Grossman argued that kids aren’t just turning to violence on their own; American culture is training and teaching them to kill. He should know. He spent nearly 25 years as an army infantry officer and psychologist, “learning and studying how to enable people to kill.” According to Grossman, and this may be the best news in my essay, killing doesn’t come naturally. It is a learned skill. Even soldiers, he says, have a “God-given resistance” to killing their own kind.

In the Civil War, he points out, the average firing rate was incredibly low. In World War II, Army researchers discovered that only 15 to 20 percent of riflemen could bring themselves to fire at exposed enemy soldiers. “Men are willing to die, they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their nation, but they are not willing to kill,” he wrote.

This surprising insight into human nature was obviously a “problem” for the Army, so it systematically set about “fixing” it. By the Korean War, according to Grossman, 55 percent of soldiers were willing to fire to kill, and this increased to more than 90 percent by Vietnam.

Grossman then listed some of the methods the military uses to improve the killing rate of soldiers in combat. His premise is that our culture uses similar techniques to teach kids to kill.

Brutalization and desensitization is one of the training methods used in boot camp on 18-year-olds, he says. But the violence our children are exposed to in the media begins to affect them at the age of 18 months, as they begin to discern and become desensitized to the brutality depicted on the screen. He notes that the Journal of the American Medical Association published the definitive epidemiological study on the impact of TV violence. “In every nation, region or city with television, there was an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization of a three to five-year-old to reach the “prime crime age.” That’s how long it takes for you to reap what you have sown when you brutalize and desensitize a 3-year-old.”

shutterstock school shooting signs

Demonstration in Tallahassee, FL, Feb. 21, 2018. Credit:

What I’ve failed to mention is that Grossman’s hometown is Jonesboro, Arkansas. About a year before his article was published, a school massacre occurred there, when four girls and a teacher were killed and ten others injured. The two boys who shot them were ages 11 and 13. It was the deadliest school shooting in the country until, a month before his article appeared, the massacre at Columbine happened. And that was the deadliest high school shooting until the recent school massacre in Florida.

After the Jonesboro shooting, Grossman said that a teacher at the high school told him how her students reacted when informed about the shooting at the middle school. “They laughed,” she told him. Grossman calls this classical conditioning. Children watch images of human suffering and death and learn to associate it with whatever enticing products are being sold on the commercials. “A similar reaction happens all the time in movie theaters when there is bloody violence. The young people laugh and cheer and keep right on eating popcorn and drinking pop. We have raised a generation of barbarians who have learned to associate violence with pleasure, like the Romans cheering and snacking as the Christians were slaughtered in the Colosseum,” Grossman wrote.

Operant conditioning, says Grossman, is the method the military and law enforcement uses to make killing a conditional response. “Whereas target training in World War II used bull’s-eye targets, now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop up in their field of view–that’s the stimulus. The trainees only have a split second to engage the target, and then it drops. Stimulus-response–soldiers or police officers experience hundreds of repetitions of this. Later, when they’re out on the battlefield, or a police officer is walking a beat, and somebody pops up with a gun, they will shoot reflexively–and shoot to kill. Seventy-five to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training.”

“Every time a child plays an interactive point-and-shoot video game, he is learning the exact same conditional reflex and motor skills,” Grossman noted.” This process is extraordinarily powerful and frightening. The result is ever more homemade pseudo sociopaths who kill reflexively and show no remorse. Our children are learning to kill and learning to like it.”

Role modeling is another method used to teach people to kill. In the military, Grossman says, it is the drill sergeant who “personifies violence and aggression.” I suspect that Grossman and many of my readers will not agree with me but who are the role models most likely to influence impressionable young minds? Just turn on your TV if you’ve missed these serial killers, but I’ll name just a few: George Bush I and II, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Madeleine Albright, Barack Obama, Donald Trump. Not to mention most of the members of Congress. But they didn’t fire the guns, you say? Oh, of course not. Too messy, all that blood.

In my estimation, kids lose either way. If they embrace these role models, it means they aspire to follow in the footsteps of the Bushes and Obamas. Why not use a few of their school mates for target practice while they prepare for the real challenge of life in the greatest country on Earth: to dominate, oppress and slaughter as many innocent people as possible, while also devastating their homelands and holding the whole world hostage with the threat of a nuclear nightmare? If, on the other hand, they choose to reject these role models and the hypocrisy, hollowness and horror that their supposedly “civilized” culture has to offer, then they are opting to live a life of profound alienation and exile. Paul Goodman wrote about this existential dilemma in the 50s and 60s. He called it Growing Up Absurd, but who reads him anymore?

Teach Your Children Well, and that we do. But not in the way Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young probably had in mind. Kids are not stupid. They are perceptive and can see right through the dishonesty and hypocrisy and double standards of the adult world, the do as I say, not as I do. Like when Bill and Hillary, the darlings of American liberals, preached “it takes a village to raise a child” while simultaneously bombing several countries and killing a half million innocent children in Iraq. With lots of help from Madeleine (“it was worth it”) Albright.

Like many people who were children during the height of the Cold War, I remember the air raid drills, how we crouched under our puny wooden desks and prepared for the bombs to fall. They never did. But today children do similar drills in their schools to prepare for the more likely eventuality that one of their own classmates or some other youngster will go on a shooting rampage.

I can’t help thinking that, at some level, these two dreadful rituals, a half century apart, are intrinsically related.

When Nikolas Cruz, 19, walked into his former high school in Parkland, Florida to commit his wanton act of depravity, it was Valentine’s Day, the day of love. It was also Ash Wednesday, the Christian holy day for peace. He had an AR-15 in his hands and wore a maroon shirt with the logo from the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program as he proceeded to murder 17 students and school staff. It was the 18th school shooting in the country this year, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. That’s 18 school shootings in a month and a half; fortunately, no one was injured in almost half the shootings.

NPR journalist and commentator Scott Simon had this to say a few days later: “We can and should add up the number of students and teachers who are killed in school shootings and not forget their names, or forget the gift of their lives. But the casualties of school shootings don’t just include those killed or wounded. Each child who has to run for their life from their own school, each parent who has felt a stab in their heart to hear a child is in danger and even children and parents who may be thousands of miles away from the crime but terrified by it, have been inflicted with fear.

“I have covered enough gang shootings, civil wars and mob murders, and interviewed too many survivors of school shootings to believe some magic new law could make gangs, criminals, psychopaths, the mentally ill and anyone else who shouldn’t have guns line up to surrender them. But the Congressional Research Service says there are already more than 300 million guns in the United States. Should those who blame many mass shootings on poor access to mental health counseling be comfortable that Americans have mass access to so many guns?”

Exactly two weeks before the school shooting in Florida, I attended a presentation by the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE) on the outskirts of Milwaukee. The anti-gun group provided a power point with a daunting parade of statistics on gun ownership in America and the futility of trying to achieve domestic safety or security with more guns.

Recent data from the Small Arms Survey and Congressional Research Service shows that there are now 112.6 guns for every 100 people in the United States, a gun ownership rate that has roughly doubled since 1968 and the highest in the world. Has the rise in gun ownership made our citizens safer? Statistics show that 82 percent of firearm deaths (in 23 higher-income countries) occur in the US. And 91 percent of all children (ages 0-14) killed by guns live in the US, as well as 90 percent of all women. There were 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2017, but most gun deaths occur “in the privacy of one’s own home.” The WAVE people pointed out that the number of American soldiers killed in battle since the Revolution, roughly 664,560, is about the same as the number of men, women and children killed in their homes in the last 20 years.

The chickens have surely come home to roost. Or maybe you reap what you sow is a more apt axiom?

Just now, I turn on the internet and learn that a Missouri youth baseball team is holding an AR-15 raffle. The coach says the fundraiser will go on, despite heavy criticism. Teach Your Children Well. But the children are pushing back, in a good way. Rising up and speaking out against the hypocrisy. They are organizing protests and there is a die-in in front of the White House.

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Rally to protest and change gun laws, Tallahassee, FL. Credit: KMH Photovideo/

Two days after the Florida shooting, the Associated Press revealed that the NRA has been providing grants and other support to schools across the country for their ROTC programs. There are over 1,700 high school ROTC programs in the country. They receive support from the US military, as well as $2.2 million across 30 states from the NRA Foundation, according to the AP. More than $400,000 of that was in cash grants. A total of 18 schools in Florida received NRA donations in 2016, the highest of any state.


Nikolas Cruz was a cadet with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ROTC team. He reportedly excelled in the air-rifle marksmanship program that was supported by a grant from the NRA.

The same day as the shooting, Bess Kalb, a writer for the Jimmy Kimmel Live TV show, started publicly responding to the parade of politicians and lawmakers who were tweeting condolences over the Florida murders, taking them to task for taking money from the NRA. As Kalb pointed out, the Congressmen were busy praying and weeping elephant tears over the latest school tragedy while lining their pockets with the NRA’s blood money. Here’s a few from her list:

  • Senator Marco Rubio, praying, $3,303,064 from NRA
  • Senator Cory Gardner, heartbroken, $3,879,064 from NRA
  • Senator Rob Portman, also heartbroken, $3,061,941 from NRA
  • Senator Bill Cassidy, praying, $2,861,047 from NRA
  • Senator Thom Tillis, praying, $4,418,012 from NRA
  • Congressman Ken Burk, devastated and praying, $800,544
  • Senator Joni Ernst, praying, $3,124,213 from NRA
  • Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, heartbroken and praying. GOP candidates took $17,385,437 from NRA in 2015-16 election cycle, not counting $21 million to Donald Trump.

“Sorry to be crass, but we have the motherfucking receipts,” Kalb tweeted at 4 pm on February 14th.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut , who had been elected just prior to the Sandy Hook massacre, slammed his colleagues on the Senate floor just after the Florida shooting: “This happens nowhere else other than the United States of America,” he said. “This epidemic of mass slaughter … It only happens here, not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.”

Fr. Robert Drinan, a principled congressman of the type so rare today, had said in 2003 that the NRA held a compelling power over the members of Congress. Perhaps it would be more precise to say that it is a compelling power of money over morality.

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Another kind of home front violence that has reached near epidemic proportions in recent years is the killing of citizens by law enforcement officers.

In 2017, police in the US killed 1,147 people, according to a report, Mapping Police Violence. The Washington Post, which maintains a running tally, put the number killed last year at a little below one thousand. In any case, killing by cops does not appear to be lessening, despite all the public attention. The Post reported that there were 24 more fatal shootings last year than the year before and that mental illness played a role in a quarter of the incidents.

Just a few months ago, nine police officers in Vermont surrounded a 32-year-old white man near the high school he had once attended. The man was holding a realistic-looking BB gun, was a drug addict, and may have been suicidal. After a long standoff, the nine officers pumped him full of bullets as he stood passively on a football field. There was video of the execution and students inside the school took photos. A crisis negotiation team was present, but supposedly there was no indication of any negotiations or meaningful communication with the suspect. Two of the officers had been involved in another killing of a 32-year-old man just last summer by five officers. A crisis intervention team was also present at that incident.

This past September, Magdiel Sanchez, a 35-year-old deaf man was shot and killed by police outside his home in Oklahoma City. Sanchez was on his porch, carrying a metal walking stick, when officers arrived and one cop fired multiple shots at him. Neighbors shouted at the police that Sanchez was unable to hear, but to no avail.

A neighbor said that Sanchez had developmental disabilities and was non-verbal. “He didn’t speak, he didn’t hear, mainly it is hand movements. That’s how he communicates. I believe he was frustrated trying to tell them what was going on,” the neighbor said. Maybe it was his “hand movements” that got Sanchez killed.

Just recently, a police officer won a $175,000 settlement with a West Virginia municipality. The officer, Stephen Mader, had been fired by the city. His crime? Opting to talk to rather than shoot a citizen.

Mader, a Marine vet who had served in Afghanistan, had responded to a domestic disturbance call and found the suspect, Ronald Williams Jr., holding an unloaded handgun. Williams was “visibly choked up” and told Mader to shoot him. The officer determined that Williams was not a threat and tried to de-escalate the situation. Then two other police officers arrived at the scene and one of them shot and killed Williams. The police department terminated Mader for “apparent difficulties in critical incident reasoning.”

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New York City, N.Y. Credit: Brent Eysler/

This spring, police in Sacramento, California shot Stephon Clark seven times from behind as he was running into his grandmother’s backyard. Police officers opened fire on Clark, a 22-year-old black man, after shouting “gun, gun, gun.” Clark staggered sideways and fell on his stomach while officers continued to fire. After twenty shots, the officers called to him, apparently thinking he might still be alive and armed. When they finally approached him, they found no gun, just a cellphone. A physician determined it took three to ten minutes for Clark to die; police waited about five minutes before rendering medical aid.

And just a couple weeks ago, police in East Pittsburgh shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose, Jr. three times in the back and killed him. He too was unarmed. After the shooting, a poem that Rose wrote for a high school English class circulated on social media. The poem read, in part:

I am confused and afraid. I wonder what path I will take. I hear that there’s only two ways out. I see mothers bury their sons. I want my mom to never feel that pain. I am confused and afraid.

With the year only half over, the Washington Post’s running tally indicated that nearly 500 people had already been killed by police. The Post documented more than 980 deaths at the hands of police in 2017, while the Guardian put the number at more than 1,090.

But just in case you think black lives are cheap in this country, think again. Juries are willing to pay a handsome price as recompense when police kill a black man. Like the case in Florida where white deputies shot and killed a black man in his garage. The jury recently found the officers not at fault but generously awarded the dead man’s family $4.00. One dollar was for funeral costs and one dollar for each of the man’s three young children.

In 2015, the Washington Post did a massive study, working with researchers from Bowling Green State University, examining data since 2005 on all police officers who faced charges after a fatal shooting. Officers who actually faced charges accounted for only a small fraction of fatal police shootings, and few officers suffered any consequences. In an overwhelming majority of cases where an officer was charged, the victim was unarmed.

Rally for Justice - CTA Anti-Racism Team member Myra Brown, Rochester, NY

Rev. Myra Brown, ordained priest and member of Call to Action Anti-Racism Team, Rochester, New York. Copyright photo by Tom Boswell

Among the officers charged for fatal shootings in the decade the Post examined, more than three-quarters were white and two-thirds of their victims were minorities, all but two of them black. Nearly all other cases involved black officers who killed black victims.

The Post found that, even in the most blatant situations, the majority of officers whose cases are resolved have been acquitted. Even when they are convicted or plead guilty, their sentence is usually light. Prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute police officers and juries are reluctant to punish them.

Prosecutors usually insist on compelling evidence to pursue a case in court. In half the criminal cases identified by the Post, forensic and autopsy evidence indicated the unarmed suspects had been shot in the back. In a third of the cases where officers faced charges, video evidence showed the slain suspect had posed no threat when they were killed. In nearly a quarter of the cases, the officers’ colleagues gave statements testifying that the officer opened fire even though the suspect posed no danger.

In one of these cases, not yet resolved at the time of the study, a white police officer in Cleveland was indicted for killing a pair of black suspects after a grand jury reviewed a wide range of evidence, including nearly two dozen video recordings. The two suspects had driven by a police station when their car backfired. Officers mistook the sound for gunfire and 62 police vehicles raced in pursuit. The suspects, later found to be under the influence of drugs, were surrounded in a school parking lot by police. Eleven officers got out of their cars and formed a semicircle around the pairs’ auto. The officers opened fire, shooting 139 times. The officer who was indicted fired 34 shots at the car, then climbed onto its hood and fired 15 more times at close range through the windshield.

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Action in Solidarity with Ferguson demonstrators, Toronto, Canada. Credit: nisargmediaproductions/shutterstock.

Anyone who is not aware by now that our police departments are becoming increasingly militarized and increasingly violent must be living in la-la land. Unfortunately, it appears that there are quite a number of people who claim citizenship in that euphoric country. For a number of years, I lived in a rural region south of Madison, Wisconsin. Sprinkled like dandelions all over the lawns in the small towns and on the farms the last few years were signs asserting I Back the Badge or I Stand with the Blue.

Signs like these are springing up all over the country, it seems, but these were produced by the Janesville Gazette (and its radio affiliates), the daily newspaper in Paul Ryan’s hometown. Do the people who post these signs really know what they signify, in the context of what is happening in our country today? I suspect that maybe they have an inkling.  The ominous slogan I Back the Badge is a euphemism for Law and Order, which is a euphemism for Might Over Right, which is a euphemism for White Over Right, which is a euphemism for fascism is right around the corner. Thank you, Janesville Gazette.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a war correspondent who reported from more than 50 countries, a Presbyterian minister and a Princeton University professor. Among his eleven books is one titled War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I quote him often in this blog.

Four years ago, in one of his regular posts on the Truthdig website, Hedges wrote about The Rhetoric of Violence. He started with a litany of violent acts: nine people killed and 35 others wounded in shootings on one weekend in Chicago; a man arrested for firing on motorists on Kansas City-area highways; three people, including a child, murdered at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Kansas, leading to the arrest of a white supremacist; and armed militias in Nevada forcing the federal government to retreat so rancher Cliven Bundy could continue to graze his cattle on public land. “All this happened over a span of only nine days in the life of a country where more than 250 people are shot every day,” he wrote. “In America, violence and the threat of lethal force are the ways we communicate.

“Violence–the preferred form of control by the state–is an expression of our hatred, self-loathing and lust for vengeance. And this bloodletting will increasingly mark a nation in terminal decline.

“Violence … has a long and coveted place in US history,” he continued. “Vigilante groups including slave patrols … gangs of strikebreakers … and the Ku Klux Klan, which boasted more than 3 million members between 1915 and 1944 … formed and shaped America. Heavily armed mercenary paramilitaries, armed militias such as the Oath Keepers and the anti-immigration extremist group, Ranch Rescue, along with omnipotent and militarized police forces, are parts of a seamless continuation of America’s gun culture and tradition of vigilantism.”

The reason given by vigilante groups for the need to bear arms is that these weapons protect us from tyranny and keep us safe and secure, “but history does not support this contention,” Hedges argued, citing cases such as the Communist Party during the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany and citizens of Iraq and Yugoslavia. “I watched in Iraq and Yugoslavia as heavily armed units encircled houses and those inside walked out with hands in the air, leaving their assault rifles inside. And neither will American families engage in shootouts should members of the US Army or SWAT teams surround their homes. When roughly 10,000 armed miners at Blair Mountain in West Virginia rose up in 1921 for the right to form unions and held gun thugs and company militias at bay, the government called in the Army. The miners were not suicidal. When the Army arrived, they disbanded.

“America’s vigilante violence, rather than a protection from tyranny, is an expression of the fear by white people, especially white men, of the black underclass. This underclass has been enslaved, lynched, imprisoned and impoverished for centuries. The white vigilantes do not acknowledge the reality of this oppression, but at the same time they are deeply worried about  retribution directed against whites. Guns, for this reason, are easily available to white people while gun ownership is largely criminalized for blacks. The hatred expressed by vigilante groups for people of color, along with Jews and Muslims, is matched by their hatred for the college-educated elite, who did not decry the steady impoverishment of the working class. People of color, along with those who espouse the liberal social values of the college-educated elites, including gun control, are seen by the vigilantes as contaminants to society that must be removed to restore the nation to health …

“Our inability to formulate a coherent, militant , revolutionary ideology, meanwhile, leaves us powerless in the face of mounting violence. We wander around in a daze. We lack the toughness and asceticism of the radicals who went before us–the Wobblies, the anarchists, the socialist and the communists. We preach a mishmash of tolerance and Oprah-like hope and exude a fuzzy faith in the power of the people. And because of this we are run over like frogs blindly hopping up and down a road.

“Our most cherished civil liberties have been taken from us. Our incomes are in free fall while obscene wealth is in the hands of a few oligarchs. We are watched and monitored by the most pervasive security and surveillance system in human history. We are hemmed in by archipelagos of prisons. And the ecosystem on which we depend for life is being destroyed. And, through it all, we are bombarded with propaganda, manipulated and mocked by our elites as we dance in their choreographed political charades.

“We must begin to speak in the language of revolution, not accommodation. We must direct the rage that grips huge swaths of the population not against the oppressed but against the structures of corporate power that create oppression. We will have to begin from scratch, for America has no revolutionary intellectual tradition, with the exception of Thomas Paine. We have produced notable anarchists–Randolph Bourne, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky.” (I would add Paul Goodman.) “We have an array of great black radicals, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, James Cone and Cornel West, as astute about the evils of empire as white supremacy. We once had some fine socialists, Eugene V. Debs among them. But we lack genuine revolutionists such as Alexander Herzen, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci and Frantz Fanon, and because of this we are losing the class war …

“A revolutionary language and consciousness must replace the current murderous nihilism. The government is banking on the fact that we are not hard-wired for revolution. The state, for this reason, permits the population to load itself up with weapons, including assault rifles, because it understands that they are almost never turned against centers of power. There are some 310 million firearms in the United States, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. There is no reliable data on the number of military-style assault weapons in private hands, but one estimate is 1.5 million. The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world … We shoot each other or we shoot ourselves. Of the 282 people shot every day in the US, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 32 die in murders and 51 commit suicide.

“As we build a revolutionary consciousness, we must never place our faith in violence, [emphasis added] even as we understand that violence, especially by vigilantes, criminals and militarized police forces, will be used against us. Our strength is our truth. And this truth terrifies our power elites. Truth, not force, is the real power of revolutionaries … Revolutions do not succeed because of violence, although violence is often a component of revolutions. The glorification of violence as the principal agent of change is a lie. Revolutions succeed because of revolutionary thinking. Such consciousness takes years to build. It slowly, invisibly burrows into the organs of power. It leads those on the inside to defect to the revolution. And once that happens, state power crumbles.”

Next time: Afghanistan: Slaughtering Hearts & Minds in the Longest War

There’s No Business Like War Business

This is the third installment in a series on issues of War and Peace.  Future posts will examine the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, violence at home, and the US addiction to war.

Remember that iconic line from The Graduate? Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has recently graduated from college and his parents are throwing a cocktail party in his honor. A friend of Ben’s parents, a Mr. McGuire, pulls Ben outdoors to the patio, alongside the swimming pool:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Well, Mr. McGuire may have been right, even prophetic. There was a great future in plastics, as it turned out. But it was nothing compared to the business potential of another simple little word: war.

It was six years before The Graduate hit the big screen that Dwight D. Eisenhower gave what came to be known as his farewell address to the nation. In the speech, Eisenhower coined the term military-industrial complex. Looking back, it seems apparent that Ike’s insights and misgivings were also prophetic. The military-industrial complex has become a big business, unlike any other business in its magnitude and malignity. It’s a business with a few big winners and a lot of big losers.

Here’s an excerpt of what he said in that farewell speech:

“We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

Ike and Military Industrial Complex“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist … Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent, I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war—as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years—I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.”

While Eisenhower acknowledged the US was “compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions,” I wonder if he ever imagined it would lead, not to peace and security, but to permanent war? Or that this new industry, this military-corporate complex, in its insatiable lust for profit, would soon propel and dictate foreign policy? Or that the very notion of disarmament would become little more than a chimera because a major market strategy of this new industry would be to arm a good portion of the world?

It is only since World War II that the US has relied on private industry to produce most of its weaponry. I learned this in a 1987 newsletter from the Center for Defense Information (CDI), an organization founded in 1971 by retired military officers. (CDI merged with the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) in 2012.) Before the “Great War,” the nation used a mix of government-owned factories and private corporations to make its weapons. The “private sector” has accounted for the vast majority of arms production since the Korean War.

Making weapons was already a very big business back in 1987—30 years ago— according to the CDI newsletter. About 35,000 businesses received contracts directly from the Defense Department and another 150,000 or so were subcontractors. Most US industrial corporations had their hands in military work.

If the US arms industry were a national economy, CDI reported, it would be (in 1987) the 13th largest in the world. Ten giant enterprises accounted for a third of all weapons contracts. The top contractors were heavily subsidized by taxpayers, using $40 billion worth of government property free of charge.

Military sales were nearly $185 billion in 1985: $166 billion to the Pentagon, $6 billion to the Department of Energy and $13 billion in arms exports. By then, six major aerospace firms had become dependent on Uncle Sam for at least 60 percent of their sales. Lockheed, for instance, had evolved from a commercial aircraft business to “essentially an appendage of DoD, with 88 percent of its sales to the US government,” CDI noted. “These corporations have a vital interest in the continued sale of arms and bring all of their enormous economic and political leverage to bear to promote military and congressional support for their weapons programs.”

In the absence of effective competition in the arms industry, the profit motive gives corporations the incentive to sell as many weapons at as high a price as possible. A massive increase in military spending that began in 1979 made for a lucrative business for arms manufacturers. Between 1980 and 1985, annual military sales exploded from $84 billion to $163 billion.

Hard to believe that an industry that profits off of death, destruction and devastation could also be dishonest, but that seems to have been the case. “In the torrent of spending, the industry was awash in cash and scandal, registering record profits paralleled by record numbers of cases of contractor fraud and waste,” CDI reported. “Fifty-nine of the top 100 contractors were under investigation by 1986.”

A comprehensive 1985 study by the DoD found that defense contractors were getting a fair profit as a percentage of sales, but, as a return on assets, the profits were “grossly out of line.” The standard logic in business is: the greater the risk, the greater should be the profit. But in the arms business, CDI noted, contractors get higher profits for lower risk. The government and taxpaying public assume all the risk.

Of course, waste, fraud and high profits proved not to be a temporary aberration in the arms business. In an issue of the Nukewatch Quarterly in late 2010, my friend John La Forge wrote about a “war” on military waste that the Pentagon waged for one day … and lost. Donald Rumsfeld had just taken over as Pentagon chief and admitted in a press conference: “According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion dollars in transactions.” (That’s about $8,000 for each child, woman and man in the country, La Forge noted.)

Rumsfeld blamed the mess on “the Pentagon bureaucracy” and called the military-industrial complex a serious threat, “a matter of life and death.” (Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill wrote about this in more depth in the preface to his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army). Unfortunately, Rumsfeld’s press conference took place the day before 9/11. Soon after, George Bush announced a military budget that called for $48 billion in new spending. Before long another trillion dollars (one thousand billion) would go missing, La Forge noted. He cited a report from the San Francisco Chronicle from May, 2003, that the Pentagon’s efforts in cost control failed to even control the fiscal control programs. The government’s non-partisan Government Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed the Pentagon’s Corporate Information Management System (CIM), an attempt to consolidate 2,000 overlapping systems used for billing, inventory, payroll, etc. After spending over $20 billion, the CIM initiative was scrapped, the GAO said.

Rumsfeld and Bush

Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush

Then came the news that the US had flown nearly $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills from New York City to Baghdad in 2004, the year after the invasion of Iraq. The cash, about 281 million bills weighing 363 tons, was shipped in C-130 cargo planes, with deliveries occurring once or twice a month. The biggest shipment of $2,401,600,000 happened on June 22, six days before the interim Iraqi government was to take control of Iraqi funds.

This biggest transfer of cash in the history of the Federal Reserve was revealed by a US congressional committee and reported in The Guardian of London in February, 2007. Rep. Henry Waxman, the committee’s chair and a critic of the war, said that the way the money had been handled was mind-boggling. “The numbers are so large that it doesn’t seem possible that they’re true,” he said. “Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone?”

Cash payments were made from the back of pickup trucks and money was stashed in unguarded sacks in Iraqi ministry offices. One official was given $6.75 million in cash and ordered to spend it in one week, the Guardian reported. The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was supposed to appoint an independent, certified public accounting firm to oversee the expenditures. Instead, the CPA hired an obscure consulting firm that operated out of a private home in San Diego. The special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction found that the company “did not perform a review of internal controls as required by the contract.”

Paul Bremer, head of the CPA and responsible for much of the chaos that ensued after the US occupation of Iraq, excused the mismanagement of the funds. He rationalized that the money, which came from Iraqi oil sales, surplus funds from the UN oil-for-food-programme and seized Iraqi assets, actually belonged to Iraqis and not US taxpayers.

Retired Admiral David Oliver, Bremer’s financial adviser, when asked by the BBC news what had happened to the funds, answered: “I have no idea. I can’t tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn’t, nor do I actually think it’s important.”

Although the billions of dollars that disappeared was supposedly Iraqi money, it is likely that Bremer and his ilk cared not a whit for the billions more in US taxpayer money that was wasted on the war. Did I say billions?

Sorry, my mistake. Would it were only so. Let’s try trillions.

Twenty days after publishing the exposé about the pallets stacked with shrink-wrapped $100 bills, The Guardian ran another article on the true cost of the war in Iraq. It was an interview with Joseph Stiglitz, who had co-authored a book on that subject and would soon be testifying before Congress. After several years of painstaking research and calculations, Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes concluded that this second Iraq war would cost the United States “a conservatively-estimated $3 trillion. The rest of the world, including Britain, will probably account for about the same amount again,” the article reported.

Stiglitz is a Nobel prize-winning economist who spent four years on Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and another three as chief economist at the World Bank. At the time the Guardian interviewed him, the US had already been in Iraq for five years, longer than the country had spent in either world war. Daily military operations had already cost taxpayers more than 12 years in Vietnam and twice as much as the Korean War.

At that time, the US was spending $16 billion per month on running costs alone in Iraq and Afghanistan, equal to the entire annual budget for the United Nations. Many more millions were falling through the cracks at the Department of Defense, which “had failed every official audit of the past ten years. The DoD’s finances, based on an accounting system inaccurate for anything larger than a grocery store, are so inadequate that it is impossible to know exactly how much is being spent, or on what,” Stiglitz charged.

The economist said there were a number of reasons why the Bush administration and Pentagon’s estimates for the cost of the war were deceptively low. For instance, the government claimed the infamous “surge” would only cost $5.6 billion, but it counted only combat troops, not the 15,000 to 28,000 support troops that would be required. Official tallies neglect to count the cost of death payments or caring for the wounded, Stiglitz said, even though the ratio of wounded to dead in Iraq–seven to one–was the highest in US history.

And then there were the costs related to Bush and Rumsfeld’s new strategy of privatization of war-making. The fact that a private contractor working as a security guard gets about $400,000 a year, for example, as opposed to a soldier, who might get about $40,000. The administration insisted on “sole-source bidding” to award lucrative contracts to corporations like Halliburton while forcing free market and privatization ideals on Iraq. Many reconstruction jobs went to expensive American corporations rather than cheaper Iraqi ones, and American companies would hire cheap labor from countries like Nepal, while one of every two Iraqi men were out of work.

While many believe, perhaps rightly, that Bush bombed Iraq for oil, Stiglitz and Bilmes pointed out that cheap oil was not an outcome of the war. The price of oil climbed from $25 to $100 a barrel in five years, a benefit for oil-producing countries and contractors, but no one else. The economists projected that the US would pay an extra $1.6 trillion more on oil alone by 2015.

The cost to oil-importing countries in Europe and the Far East would be nearly as much, not to mention the trillions the rest of the world would shoulder due to a devastated Iraqi economy, tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, and the price of neighboring countries absorbing thousands of refugees.

Stiglitz and Bilmes calculated what just one trillion dollars wasted on the war could have paid for: eight million housing units, 15 million public school teachers, scholarships to university for 43 million students, or healthcare for 530 million children for a year. The entire three trillion could have fixed America’s social security problem for half a century.

When Donald Trump delivered his first joint address to Congress a year ago, he called for a staggering increase in Pentagon spending in order to “rebuild the military.” Every few years a president or members of Congress demand more funds for the Pentagon in order to “rebuild” our fighting forces, even as the military budget grows steadily, along with the waste and corruption.

An email letter from the Council for a Livable World the day after the President’s speech pointed out that US forces are hardly under-funded. “The United States spends over $600

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Photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, US Air Force

billion on defense every year–more than the next seven countries combined,” the letter said. And there is no transparency about how the money is spent, the Council added, claiming “the Pentagon has never successfully completed an audit … In 2016, the Defense Department’s Inspector General reported that the Army made $2.8 trillion worth of inaccurate or wrongful accounting adjustments in one quarter alone–and $6.5 trillion for the year–to make it appear that their books were balanced.”

Nobody probably knows for sure exactly how much the US spends (or wastes) on the military, and how that compares to other nations, but the fact is that there is no comparison. In his State of the Union address in January, 2016, President Obama said “We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.” The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, (citing sources such as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), concurred with the president, naming the eight trailing countries, in order of spending, as: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany. Total US military spending for 2016 was $611 billion, contrasted with $595 billion for the other eight nations.

Shuffling back through a pile of papers in my file folder on the military budget, I see that the situation hasn’t really changed in decades, no matter who controlled Congress or who resided in the White House. Democrat President Clinton and the Republican-led Congress back in 1995 were taking pains to “balance the budget” by slashing federal spending for housing, job training, school lunches, education and other domestic programs. But they made sure that the military was spared the axe.

The Center for Defense Information reported that Clinton proposed a Fiscal Year (FY) 1996 budget that included $258 billion in new “budget authority” and $261 billion in projected “outlays” for National Defense. The Administration’s six-year projection of military spending through FY 2001 was set at $1.6 trillion.

CDI noted that Clinton’s new military budget request was a full $20 billion more in current dollars than was spent on the military in the 1980s, a time of great Cold War tension in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. “America’s military budget is nearly as large as the military budgets of all the other nations in the world combined,” reported CDI. “It is more than three times the military budget of Russia, six times that of Japan, and eight times that of Germany.”

A 1999 newsletter from a Colorado peace group, borrowing CDI data, indicated that the US military budget was then five times greater than the seven countries usually perceived by the Pentagon as most likely adversaries: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

In 2004, a group of 16 UN-appointed military experts reported that global military spending would rise to nearly $950 billion by the end of the year, up from $900 billion the year before. By contrast, they said, rich nations spend only $50 to 60 billion on development aid each year. In other words, (employing very primitive math), nations were using only five percent as much of their wealth to help each other as they were using to kill each other.

The 2004 spending estimates would be “substantially higher if the costs of major armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were included,” the UN experts said. The US Congress had authorized spending of about $25 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq that year, but the figure was expected to more than double by years’ end.

The same article noted that the US budget for 2005 would allocate $1.15 billion a day, or $11,000 per second, for “defense,” according to Frida Berrigan, a senior research associate at the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center. The defense allocation does not include the cost of ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, about $15 billion per month, Berrigan said. “These costs are paid through emergency supplementals,” she said, of which Congress had already signed off on $190 billion worth of “emergencies” for war and occupation in these two countries.american-imperialism-military-spending cartoon

It’s important to recognize that total funds for “national defense” are not easy to calculate and no two organizations calculate them the same. The newsletter for the Wisconsin chapter of Peace Action, in late 2006, also borrowing information from CDI, reported that Congress had just passed a $377.6 billion Defense Appropriation bill for FY 2007. It had also voted for an additional $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the brief article pointed out that the figures are deceptive. The appropriations bill did not include $17 billion for nuclear weapon expenditures by the Department of Energy, nor $4.8 billion for “other defense-related activities,” nor $58.9 billion for military construction and “quality of life” programs President Bush had requested.

So the total was going to be $458 billion plus $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which equals $528.3 billion. “Are we done yet?” Peace Action asked. Nope. According to CDI, another $60 billion would be requested for the war in FY 2007 and, when all was said and done, the final figure for defense would be between $576.9 billion and $596.9 billion. Give or take a few billion.

Do you know where you tax dollars go? Not a chance. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the vast majority go to death and destruction.

Another Peace Action Wisconsin newsletter in March, 2008 informed us that Bush II was not done yet. He was proposing a FY 2009 budget of $515.4 billion for the DoD, which would be the biggest military budget since WWII, (adjusted for inflation). Of course, that budget did not include $140 billion projected costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor $17.1 billion for nuclear weapons, nor $40 billion for Homeland Security nor … well, you get the picture.

In another article from the same period, Robert Scheer wrote on that “Bush totally betrayed his campaign 2000 promise to reshape the post-Cold War US military when he seized upon the 9/11 attack as an opportunity to reverse the “peace dividend” that his father had begun to return to taxpayers. Instead Bush II ushered in the most profligate underwriting of weapons systems that are grotesquely irrelevant for combatting terrorism.”

But Bush was on his way out the door and Obama and Clinton were campaigning for the right to take over. “Curb your enthusiasm,” Scheer cautioned. “Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have treated the military budget as sacrosanct with their Senate votes and their campaign rhetoric.”

Now it’s January, 2009. Deepak Chopra is writing a memo to Barack Obama, who is now in the White House. He tells the president how “America has been on a war footing since the day after Pearl Harbor, 67 years ago. We spend more on our military than the next 16 countries combined … Since aerospace and military technologies remain the United States’ most destructive export, fostering wars around the world, what steps can we take to reverse that trend and build a peace-loving economy?”

He outlines nine steps Obama can take. Number four is to convert military bases to housing for the poor. Five is to phase out all foreign military bases. (The US had over 1,000 in 120 countries, costing $140 million to maintain. China had none.)

Deepak is a great dude, don’t get me wrong. He’s reportedly “one of the world’s greatest leaders in the field of mind-body medicine,” but what kind of Kool-Aid was he drinking? Needless to say, the president never got the memo.

April, 2009. Another Peace Action newsletter with the headline: Where is the Change? Obama Continues Bloated Military Budget. It’s beyond bloated. It’s over $700 billion a year and $6,000 per household, the article says. The Progressive Democrats of America say the military budget has increased by over 60% since 2001. The article ends by saying: “A rationale society would have the abolition of war as one of its primary goals. A rational society would try to minimize the use of scarce resources to produce weapons that, unlike all other products, are used optimally when they are not used at all.”

Sounds great, but we are a rational society. The rationale is money and profit. It’s a business, a better business than plastics. Who profits? The arms-makers, of course, but also the politicians. And the politicians rely on the arms-makers to help them buy votes.

One more article in that file folder, this time from the Washington Post. It’s still early 2009 and Obama is promising to fight defense spending he considers wasteful and inefficient. But who is he fighting with? None other than liberal Democrats. (You know, his own Peace Party, the one that all good liberals vote for rather than those nasty, brutish Republicans.)

It seems that Democrats had stuffed an estimated $524 million in defense earmarks (that the Pentagon did not request) into the appropriations bill, $220 million more than the Republicans did. It seems that 44 senators had begged Defense Secretary Robert Gates to build more F-22 Raptors, a fighter plane conceived during the Cold War that Pentagon officials said was not suited to 21st Century conflicts. It seems that most of these senators were Democrats.

It seems the Navy’s top brass had decided to stop producing their newest class of destroyers in response to classified intelligence reports highlighting their vulnerability. It seems that “seven Democratic senators quickly joined four Republicans to demand a reversal.” Within a month, Gates and the Navy changed course and endorsed production of another destroyer, at a cost of $2.7 billion.

“A lot of these weapons systems that are big-ticket items now have no purpose,” said the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New American Foundation, a Washington think tank. “The Taliban doesn’t have an air force. China and Russia are at least a generation behind us.”

The problem, he was quoted as saying, is that the defense industry is dominated by a handful of large firms with offices or subcontractors in key congressional districts, and they play the political game extremely well.

One example was the F-22, an aircraft with a price tag of $145 million, one which senior defense officials noted had not been used in Iraq or Afghanistan. The fighter had been conceived in the 1980s and, even though Defense Secretary Gates said that building 183 of the planes was enough, 194 House members had signed a letter to continue the program. It seems that tens of thousands of jobs directly related to production of the F-22 were spread across 44 states. Those who signed the letter to build more planes read like a Who’s Who of liberal Dems: Joe Biden, Edward Kennedy, Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer, Christopher Dodd, Barbara Mikulski and Diane Feinstein.

During the 2008 election cycle, the Post article noted, more than half of the defense industry’s estimated campaign contributions of $25.4 million went to Democrats. Of the two committees that control military spending in the House, Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chair John Murtha (D-PA) garnered the most industry cash, $743,275. Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skelton (D-MO) placed second with $268,799 in contributions.

Murtha added more than $100 million in earmarks to the FY 2008 defense bill, the article noted, nearly a fifth of the total inserted by all Democrats. Every earmark reflected a project the Pentagon did not seek in its budget request. Some of Murtha’s earmarks benefitted clients of a lobbying firm called PMA Group, under FBI investigation for possible violation of federal election law. PMA was run by a former Murtha aide and some of its clients were donors to his campaigns.

Murtha joined other Dems, including Boxer, in adding billions to the war budget for 15 Boeing C-17 cargo planes that the Pentagon did not request. “We have said we have enough, but members keep adding them to every spending bill,” a senior defense official complained.

The article also singled out Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Kennedy for adding nearly a billion dollars to the Pentagon budget for an alternate engine for a jet fighter that the Pentagon said was unnecessary. The plane was already $55 billion over budget. And Kennedy joined Senators John Kerry (D-MA), James Webb (D-VA), Herb Kohl (D-WI) and other Dems in demanding funding for a third unwanted and obsolete DDG-1000 Navy destroyer.

In 2011, Jim Wallis of Sojourners interviewed Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen and they talked at length about the military budget.

“Spending money on unnecessary weapons is taking away from our schools and hospitals and housing, and taking away the hopes of our children and the genius of our times,” Cohen said. “It’s just amazing to think about the huge expenditures of money on these unneeded weapons and what could be done with that same amount of money, if we used it to actually help people, especially people in poverty.”

Military spending accounted for 58 percent of the US discretionary spending budget for FY 2011, according to research by the National Priorities Project. Cohen pointed out that the US was spending five times as much on the military as its nearest competitor, China, which was also its biggest trading partner.

Which brings us all the way up to last fall, when the US Senate voted to increase military spending by $81 billion. In an article by Adam Johnson of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), the author wondered where all the “deficit hawks” in the mainstream media had gone, the ones who badgered and berated Bernie Sanders for his campaign proposals for universal health care, free college and a living wage. “How will we pay for it?” they had demanded to know.

Just the increase in the military budget alone was greater than the total spent annually on state university tuition by every US student, Johnson pointed out. If the military budget had just stayed the same, “the US could have paid the tuition for every public college student, with $11 billion left over for board and books.”

Defense cartoon

Why were the media deficit hawks quiet now? Johnson asked. One answer, he suggested, was that their notion of policing the deficit probably meant “keeping government money out of the hands of the poor–and in the coffers of weapons makers, banks and other wealthy interest groups.”

Of course, the American taxpayer isn’t the only one purchasing all the weapons the arms industry churns out. There are plenty of foreign markets for made-in-America weapons of mass destruction. (If you’ve got a good product, why not share it with the whole world? No harm there.) Since the end of the Cold War, Uncle Sam has been the top salesman in the international arms trade. Last year, the State Department set a new record for clearing weapons sales, with nearly $76 billion cleared for sale.

That was certainly cheery news for those in the arms business. They were feeling quite perky as evidenced by an article in Defense News in September. A Pentagon spokesman said that “sales continue to be strong and continue to indicate the interest of our partners in seeking the quality products and services we offer.”

Remy Nathan, vice president of international affairs with the Aerospace Industries Association, commented that “any growth in defense trade is positive. It supports high-skill, high wage American jobs and funds innovation, lowers unit costs and delivers a better deal for the taxpayer.”

By jingo! That sounds swell. Not to mention all the side benefits of this booming industry, such as more murder, mayhem and devastation throughout the Middle East, millions of refugees, endless instability, and potential annihilation of  a region, if not the whole planet.

In an article a year ago, financial analysts Michael Sauter and Samuel Stebbins reported that the US sent nearly $10 billion worth of military vehicles and weapons systems to foreign governments in 2016. Uncle Sam is by far the world’s largest purveyor of armaments, surpassing countries like Russia and China by billions of dollars. In the past five years, over 100 nations have directly purchased aircraft, ships, armored vehicles and missiles from the US government.

So who are Uncle Sam’s best customers? Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and Costa Rica, perhaps? Guess again. The one place on the planet that needs weapons least, the most volatile region, the one that the US has done its dogged best to devastate for three decades or so: the Middle East.

A snippet from the Peace Action newsletter from December, 2000, begins to tell the story: how the US began flooding the Middle East with weapons in the 1990s, right after its first Gulf War. Over $51 billion in arms were peddled to this tormented region between 1992 and 1999 according to the Congressional Research Service.

Saudi Arabia led the way, with $27.8 billion in arms purchases, followed by Egypt, $8.7 billion; Kuwait, $4.9 billion; United Arab Emirates, $1.1 billion; and Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco with purchases in the millions. Oh, let’s not forget Israel, which bought $5.8 billion in arms, along with its annual gift of $6 billion in military aid. But Israel, as we know, is a western-style “democracy,” which just coincidentally is burdened with supporting a brutal occupation, so it needs all the help it can get.

An accompanying article in this newsletter noted that Israel would be getting Apache helicopters, Blackhawk helicopters and Beechcraft light patrol aircraft, mostly paid for with US funds. Uncle Sam attested that the arms sales would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security” of the US by helping a country that “continues to be an important force for political stability … in the Middle East.”

In their article last year, Sauter and Stebbins reported that 13 countries accounted for almost 70 percent of US arms exports. Using figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfers Database, the authors identified the countries that were the biggest winners in Uncle Sam’s 2016 arms bazaar.

Saudi Arabia led the list with $1.9 billion in arms imports from the US. Iraq was second with $893 million in purchases. Close behind were Australia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, Italy and South Korea.

Saudi Arabia, that oil-rich beacon of democracy in the Middle East, had never spent more than about $600 million on US arms between 2006 and 2013. Then their spending shot up to well over $1 billion in 2014 and up to $1.9 billion in 2016. In the final weeks of his administration, Obama blocked the sale of 16,000 guided munitions kits to the Kingdom, amid growing concern over civilian casualties in Yemen.

But when Trump came to power, he opted to move forward with the sale and announced $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with an additional $240 billion committed over a ten-year period. As Andrew Exum noted in an article in The Atlantic last May, many of these sales were already in the works under Obama.

“The Obama Administration spent eight years quietly selling a lot of arms to Saudi Arabia: When President Obama left office, for example, the United States had $100 billion in the foreign military sales pipeline with Saudi Arabia and, in 2011, had inked what was previously the largest arms sale in US history with the Kingdom–a $29 billion deal to sell F-15s to the Saudis,” wrote Exum.

“Overall, the Arab Gulf states went on a spending spree during the Obama years, and most of the money was spent on American arms,” he added.

What lesson did Exum want you to learn from this, at least if you consider yourself a “progressive elite” or a Democratic politician trying to get elected? Basically, that you need to get savvy and brag about all the billions of dollars in weapons that Democratic administrations are selling (or giving) to foreign countries. Why? Because Democrats need to win back working class voters, because Boeing employs 157,000 people, most of them in the US, because Lockheed Martin employs 97,000 workers, and because Raytheon employs another 60,000.

Oh, don’t get him wrong. Exum is not that crass. He expresses grudging admiration for Senator Chris Murphy, “one of the most eloquent and consistent critics of US arms sales in the Senate, even though his own state has a very robust defense industrial base.”

He even admits that he harbors “a lot of respect for these progressives and their values.” And he confides that he “spent too much time in Sunday school … not to feel a little uneasy about the business of selling weapons.” But business is business and politics is politics and people need jobs and, of course, the best way to create jobs is to make weapons to kill people and destroy countries and possibly incinerate the entire planet.

This is the liberal mainstream media speaking. I don’t know which is more pathetic and disgusting, the paucity of morality or the paucity of imagination and vision. Am I just another “progressive elite” who is “out of touch” with voters, or is it conceivable that the American workers who produce such marvelous instruments of destruction that the whole world wants to buy could also be trained to build schools and houses and hospitals and roads and bridges and mass transit systems and all the other things that our country so desperately needs?

Here’s one last clipping, from a Catholic Worker newsletter from 1999: The US Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the ships used in Iraq, cost $5 billion dollars to build. I wonder what Ike would think if he were here today, after trying to warn us about the “military industrial complex”? Would he be proud of this $5 billion dollar warship with his name on it? Would his chest swell with pride to see what this nation has become?

The Draft and the Drone: Distancing Ourselves from War

The biggest mistake the peace movement ever made was probably to push for abolishing the draft. Ending the draft did nothing to eliminate war; but it did eliminate most resistance to war from those who were no longer in danger of losing their lives in one of America’s many imperial adventures.

When the draft ended, it was easy for the empire to fashion what was called a “professional army.”  This translates to mean an army composed of those with no better options than to serve as cannon fodder: the working class and the poor.

“When Nixon ends the draft, he doesn’t do it because he thinks having a professional army would be in the nation’s interest. What Nixon is trying to do is to basically cut the antiwar movement off at the knees, and his calculation was that by ending the draft, kids would get out of the streets and go back to class.”

That was Andrew Bacevich speaking with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now in August of 2008. He is a professor of history and international relations who also happens to be a retired colonel who spent 23 years in the U.S. Army. “We, the people, have so distanced ourselves from the professional army that unless you have a family member serving in uniform–and most people don’t–you don’t know where this military is, you don’t know what it’s like, and you really don’t have much say in the way it’s used,” Bacevich said.

“President Bush exploits that after 9/11 … for the first time in our history, when we go to war, instead of a president turning to the Congress and turning to the country and saying “We’re going to have to change the way we do business, because we’re at war,” President Bush actually says, “Go to Disney World. Go shopping ” … and the great majority of the American people basically did what Bush said and tuned the war out and allowed the burden to fall on a very small percentage of the population, which I find, frankly, morally objectionable.”

But even these cast-offs from capitalism–the poor and working class–will not be needed much longer. Who or what will replace them? The same thing that replaced them in the labor market, the marvels of modern technology. What better way to eliminate all resistance to war than to make soldiers obsolete?  Just as with the autonomous car, the future is just around the corner.

And what does it look like? Like a giant metal bat, only uglier. It’s called the Reaper, (as in Grim Reaper), and it is the progeny of another ugly machine called the Predator. Boeing proudly asserts it’s the “autonomous solution” to “dominate every domain.” (Have you ever noticed how everything sold nowadays is marketed as the solution but they never say what the problem is?) In this case, the problem is probably any people who happen to get in the way of US “national interests.”

What’s the price for this “solution”? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $16.9 million each, with an $11.8 billion “program cost.” I suspect a program means a specific military contract, but we all know what happens with these contracts, (cost overruns often reach the stratosphere), and these were 2013 figures.

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Predator drone firing laser guided Hellfire missile

But let’s not quibble about the cost. It’s probably worth every penny. The MQ-9 Reaper is the “primary offensive strike unmanned aerial vehicle for the U.S. Air Force” and has also been used by the Navy, CIA and even U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Since 1995 it’s been providing solutions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Somalia.

Simple and sinister as it looks from the outside, the Reaper is loaded with all sorts of fancy, hi-tech gadgets: a “robust suite of visual sensors” for targeting, TV cameras, lasers and laser-guided munitions, synthetic aperture radar and, of course, Hellfire missiles, “which possess highly accurate, low-collateral damage, anti-armor and anti-personnel engagement capabilities.” And to top it off, the Reaper can be disassembled and stuffed in a single container for deployment worldwide. Sounds almost too good to be true.

And it is. Because  war is now pretty painless for the majority of the populace of this great peace-loving nation. No need to hear evil, see evil, smell evil or think evil. It’s all done far away, almost like magic, by faceless, autonomous machines. Go ahead; take a look at your hands. They’re as clean as mine, aren’t they? Not a speck of blood to be found.

And who more providential a person to have arrived on the scene to lead us into the land of innocence and oblivion than the Peace President? He was well-educated, affable, suave and articulate. What’s more, he had even been a community organizer, (working for the same national network that I did.) What liberal wouldn’t love him?

But before Obama came Clinton and Bush. The Predator drone was the brainchild of an Israeli aeronautical engineer who immigrated to the U.S. and began working on development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Early models of the drone were employed for reconnaissance in the war in Serbia and by 2001 the Predator was being used in Afghanistan.

Way back in 1976, President Gerald Ford had issued an executive order stating that No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination. This was in response to post-Watergate revelations that the CIA had staged many attempts on the life of Cuban President Fidel Castro. This prohibition was respected, for a while.

But after 9/11, the Bush Administration decided it would not allow the directive banning assassination to deter it from fighting the “war on terror.” The Washington Post reported on October 21, 2001, that Bush had signed an intelligence “finding” a year earlier instructing the CIA to engage in “lethal covert operations” to destroy Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization. White House and CIA lawyers argued the intelligence finding was constitutional because the ban on political assassination does not apply in wartime. Since 9/11, as we know, the country has been engaged in permanent war, undeclared or not.

The U.S. had about 200 drones in operation at the time of the 9/11 attacks and well over 7,500 by 2014. President Bush, some have said, deployed drones reluctantly, particularly in Pakistan.

But all that changed when the Peace President came to power. About five months before the end of Obama’s first term, writer Tom Engelhardt posted a story he titled Praying at the Church of St. Drone, in which he said that no matter whom voters chose in November they would be electing an assassin-in-chief. “An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given the growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual. This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from,” Engelhardt wrote.

Engelhardt’s article was actually a critique of an extremely long and detailed story by two New York Times reporters that had appeared in the Times a few days earlier. The article described “the strangest of bureaucratic rituals” in which more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus meet by secure video teleconference to nominate the names of terror suspects, which are then presented to the president and his aides and advisors on what came to be known as “Terror Tuesday.”  Then, “guided by Mr. [John] Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan–about a third of the total.”

What was remarkable about the Times article, Engelhardt noted, was that it was not an exposé in any normal sense of the word. It was mere months before the election and three dozen of Obama’s current and former advisors agreed to be interviewed. One columnist even suggested the story was “planted.” In other words, the president and his team were proud of their kill list and wanted the public to know about it.

The Times called Obama’s role in the global killing machine “without precedent in presidential history.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that Obama oversaw more drone strikes in his first year in office than Bush did in his entire presidency. In all, there were ten times more air strikes in the covert war on terror during Obama’s presidency than under Bush.berko-obama - Z communications

During his first year in office, Obama ordered 54 drone strikes, all of which took place in Pakistan. (Bush could only claim 57 strikes for his entire presidency). Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 with 128 CIA drone attacks and at least 89 civilians killed, according to the Bureau.

Obama also launched an air campaign against Yemen early in his tenure. The first strike, on December 17, 2009, not only killed the intended target but also two neighboring families. A trail of cluster bombs took out many more innocent civilians. In all, 55 people died; 21 were children, ten of them under five, and 12 were women, five of them pregnant. Video footage of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, noted the Times, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said served to bolster al Qaeda.

But it was only in the last few paragraphs of the Times article that there was a hint of actual criticism of Obama’s reign of terror. “Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president,” the authors noted. “Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.”

Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence, (who was fired in May, 2010), was quoted as saying that the drone campaign was dangerously seductive. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do: low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness. It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”

But fortunately for our leaders, the American public seldom thinks long term and history is something only foreigners study. Of course, Obama didn’t just set a precedent closely observed by other countries.  The man who followed him to the White House was also taking notes.

During Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, more US strikes hit Yemen than in all of 2015 and 2016 combined. In March and April of 2017 alone, US jets and drones carried out 80 air attacks, more than twice the number than in the previous year.

An investigation by the Bureau revealed that at least 25 civilians died in a US ground raid aided by multiple air strikes just a week after Trump’s inauguration. The findings were confirmed by Human Rights Watch and The Intercept. The assault came just days after Trump exempted Yemen from Obama’s policies and rules designed to reduce civilian casualties and limit the circumstances for US strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

While Obama reserved for himself final responsibility for determining drone strikes, Trump has instead delegated this authority to his generals. Trump also restarted the drone war in Pakistan during his first 100 days, and returned the power to authorize strikes to the director of the CIA. An NBC story this past September reported that the Trump Administration was considering more policy changes to expand the CIA’s power to conduct drone strikes in countries in and out of war zones.

Brian Terrell of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) reported in a 2015 newsletter how President Obama had blamed the death of an American and an Italian hostage killed in a drone attack on the “fog of war.” Terrell explained that the phrase fog of war was introduced by a Prussian military analyst in 1832 to describe the uncertainty experienced by commanders and soldiers on the battlefield.

But the two hostages “were not killed in the fog of war,” Terrell argued. “They were not killed in war at all, not in any way war has been understood until now. They were killed in a country where the United States is not at war. No one was fighting at the compound where they died. The soldiers who fired the missiles that killed these two men were thousands of miles away in the United States and in no danger, even if anyone were firing back,” he wrote. “The decision that led to the deaths … was not reached in the crucible of combat but in the comfort and safety of offices and conference rooms.”

Although government propaganda praises the ability of drone technology to precisely target only the intended victim, the reality is that, like all modern air warfare, it is civilians that bear the brunt of the violence. At the peak of Obama’s drone campaign in Pakistan in 2010, an article in Der Spiegel noted that casualties from drone strikes are rarely counted and most casualties are civilians. The news magazine reported how 15 drone attacks were carried out to kill a Pakistani Taliban leader, and he was finally killed on the 16th attempt, along with ten friends and relatives. “According to sources in Islamabad, CIA drones killed some 700 civilians in 2009,” Der Spiegel said.

An article by Australian journalist Tony Iltis published in Toward Freedom in late 2010 cited a report by Philip Alston, a UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, as saying that armed drones were a way of avoiding accountability for conduct in war. “The result has been the displacement of clear legal standards with a vaguely defined license to kill, and the creation of a major accountability vacuum,” he said.

The article went on to describe how Israel uses remotely operated weapons to enforce a 300 metre buffer zone on the inside perimeter of the Gaza strip, “reserving for itself the right to kill anyone who strays into it. One of the weapons Israel uses is Sentry Tech, a system of machine guns on towers all along the Gaza wall operated by remote control.

On the horizon is the development of “fully autonomous” weapons including a new generation of drones “controlled by an internal computer on the basis of information it acquires from a bewildering array of sensors. The drones will be able to decide to attack a target without human intervention.”

The article asks: “If a computer automatically decides to commit a war crime, then who is responsible?”

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North Korea and the US: Whose finger is really on the button?

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a journal founded in 1945 by former Manhattan Project physicists after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The journal keeps a clock called the Doomsday Clock, which monitors how close we are–via nuclear weapons and other emerging technologies–to wiping out humanity and the planet. Fairly recently the scientists at the Bulletin pushed the hands of the clock forward 30 seconds. It now reads two minutes to midnight.

There are probably a variety of factors that the scientists considered in concluding that we are dangerously close to the end of life as we know it. There is the ongoing animosity between the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea and global warming, to name just a few. But the greatest threat to global security is undoubtedly the volatile and juvenile sparring match between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that has persisted for over half a year.

Trump has taunted Kim, referring to him as “Little Rocket Man,” and has threatened to rain down “fire and fury” and totally obliterate North Korea. More recently, the two leaders have clashed over who has the “biggest button,” with Trump bragging that his is “much bigger & more powerful.” Wouldn’t it be more interesting and a little reassuring if they were bickering over which one had the biggest brain?

Trump-DPRK-02 - cartoon dueling missiles

Dueling Missiles

The truth is that we are frightfully close to a monstrous catastrophe. The risk of nuclear war is real. Policy experts have been busy mapping out various scenarios of what could or might happen if the current war of words escalates to actual combat. All the potential outcomes would be disastrous. Even if a preemptive first strike by the US were to knock out North Korea’s nuclear capacity, (an unlikely prospect), millions of South Korean civilians and many of the 154,000 American civilians and 28,000 US service members stationed in South Korea would be killed in a conventional retaliatory attack.

There were lots of scary stories in the press this past December concerning the imminence of all-out war with North Korea. While North Korea was testing nuclear bombs and ICBMs, the US was ramping up its presence near the Peninsula and conducting military exercises with South Korea. When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that negotiations were a possibility, Trump quickly undercut his efforts and denigrated the idea of diplomacy, tweeting “save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Just this spring, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley led a boycott of UN talks on outlawing nuclear weapons. “We would love to have a ban on nuclear weapons,” Haley said, “but in this day and time, we can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them, and those of us who are good, trying to keep peace and safety, not to have them.”

Former CIA director Mike Pompeo replaced Tillerson and yet another right-wing hawk now had the president’s ear. As Zack Beauchamp wrote in Vox in mid-December, the reality of war with North Korea was “almost too terrifying to imagine.” He noted that, when the US invaded Iraq in both 1990 and 2002, “the US military engaged in a massive buildup of troops and materiel in the region. North Korea learned a lesson from that: If America suddenly starts ramping up its military presence in your area, war is coming.”

He then quoted Joshua Pollack, an expert on North Korea’s nuclear program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies: “Going back as far as 1994, [the North Koreans] have said that they would not sit there like Iraq did and wait for the United States to build up its forces. They would strike first under those circumstances. And now they’ve said that we’re going to strike you with nuclear weapons, specifically.”

The article went on to note that there were no good lines of communication between Trump and Kim and quoted US Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, as saying that the US was “flying blind” in regards to North Korea’s intentions. Murphy proposed a bill to require Congressional approval for a strike on North Korea but got no support from his colleagues. “These are muscles that we haven’t used in decades, having not authorized military action for 14 years,” Murphy said. “It’s hard, given how much authority we’ve abdicated to the president over the past decade.”

Beauchamp wrote that the word coming from North Korean defectors was that the regime’s forces were on hair-trigger alert, one where authority to launch an attack is delegated down to individual battlefield commanders who may have little or no understanding of what the US is doing. “There are tens of thousands of North Korean artillery and short range missiles, ready to fire at any moment,” one former high-level North Korean diplomat testified to Congress. “North Korean officers are trained to press the button without further instruction from the general command if something happens on their side,” he said.

When North Korea tested its largest nuclear weapon this past September, it was estimated that the device was at least ten times greater than the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Alex Wellerstein, a nuclear weapons scholar, developed a modeling tool called NUKEMAP to estimate how many people would die in a nuclear strike. A 100 kiloton bomb like North Korea is believed to have could kill 440,000 people in seconds if detonated above the South Korean port city of Busan.  Over Seoul, it would kill 362,000 and 323,000 over San Francisco. But these are just immediate fatalities; secondary effects from fire and radioactive fallout would likely double the number. All told, one million people would die on the first day of a second Korean war, Scott Sagan wrote this past December in Foreign Policy magazine.

Second Korean War, huh? I would be willing to wager that if a survey were taken on any street in this country, the majority of the respondents would not even be aware that the United States ever fought a first war with Korea. But citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remember the war well.

Writing in The Intercept last May, British journalist Mehdi Hasan reminded readers that North Koreans both fear and loathe the United States and the hate is not all manufactured by their leaders. It is based in facts that “the United States blithely forgets.”  The war took place between 1950 and 1953, but is not really over, Hasan noted, since it was halted with an armistice agreement, not a peace treaty. “Despite the fact that the conflict saw the United States engage in numerous war crimes, which, perhaps unsurprisingly continue to shape the way North Koreans view the United States, even if [its] residents remain blissfully ignorant of their country’s belligerent past,” Hasan wrote.


Playing with our world

He quoted a University of Chicago historian, Bruce Cumings, who wrote that few Americans know or recall that the United States carpet-bombed the North for three years with little concern for civilian casualties. How many Americans are aware that US planes dropped more bombs on the Korean peninsula (635,000 tons) and more napalm (32,557 tons) than during the entire Pacific campaign against Japan in the Second World War?, Hasan asks. How many Americans know that, “over a period of three years or so,” to quote Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, “we killed off … 20 percent of the population?” Hasan points out that the Nazis exterminated 20 percent of Poland’s pre-World War II population. Quoting LeMay again, “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”

He also quotes Secretary of State Dean Rusk as saying that the US bombed “every brick that was standing on top of another, everything that moved.” Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas toured Korea in 1952 and was stunned by the “misery, disease, pain, suffering and starvation” he saw. US planes, having run out of military targets, had bombed farms, factories, dams, schools and hospitals. “I had seen the war-battered cities of Europe,” Justice Douglas lamented, “but I had not seen devastation until I had seen Korea.”

Many Americans believe that Donald Trump is unhinged, and rightly so, but how many know of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s plan to win the Korean War in ten days? MacArthur, who led the United Nations Command during the war, wanted to drop “between 30 and 50 atomic bombs … strung across the neck of Manchuria” that would have “spread behind us … a belt of radioactive cobalt.”

“How many Americans,” Hasan asks, “are taught in school about the Bodo League massacre of tens of thousands of suspected communists on the orders of the US-backed South Korean strongman, Syngman Rhee, in the summer of 1950?” (Estimates are that 100,000 to 200,000 civilians were killed.)

After reading Hasan’s piece, I downloaded an article by Charles Armstrong, who was cited by Hasan. Armstrong is a professor of history and Director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University. His article was published in The Asia-Pacific Journal in 2009.

Armstrong wrote that the US may have considered the Korean conflict a “limited war,” but for the Koreans it was “total war … The US Air Force estimated that North Korea’s destruction was proportionally greater than that of Japan in the Second World War, where the US had turned 64 major cities to rubble and used the atomic bomb to destroy two others.” More than three million civilians are believed to have been killed in the Korean War, the vast majority in the North, which had half the population of the South.

The US dismissed British concerns that mass bombardment would turn world opinion against them, Armstrong noted, and “Russian accusations of indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets did not register with the Americans at all. But for the North Koreans, living in fear of B-29 attacks for nearly three years, including the possibility of atomic bombs, the American air war left a deep and lasting impression.

“The DPRK never forgot the lesson of North Korea’s vulnerability to American air attack,” Armstrong wrote, “and for half a century after the Armistice continued to strengthen anti-aircraft defenses, build underground installations, and eventually develop nuclear weapons to ensure that North Korea would not find itself in such a position again. The long-term psychological effect of the war on the whole of North Korean society cannot be overestimated. The war against the United States, more than any other single factor, gave North Koreans a collective sense of anxiety and fear of outside threats that would continue long after the wars’ end.”

Who knows what Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” might have on Kim Jong-un, but can you imagine what impact they have on the people of Korea?donald-trump-kim-jong-un-moon-jae-cartoon-vector-illustration-september-drawing-100456938

Which brings us back to the question: whose finger is on the button? It would be frightening enough if it was just the finger of the maniac in the White House. But just as with the authorization of drone strikes, the word is that Trump has also delegated the authority to push the nuclear button to various military commanders.

Amy Goodman and Juan González interviewed Daniel Ellsberg about nuclear war planning on Democracy Now this past December. Ten years prior to leaking the “Pentagon Papers” to the press during the Vietnam War, Ellsberg had been a consultant to the Pentagon and White House, drafting plans for nuclear war. González asked him about the capacity of people other than the president to push the nuclear button.

“To start with,” Ellsberg replied, “even if it were only the president, no one man–really, no one nation–should have the ability to threaten or to carry out a hundred Holocausts at his will. That machinery should never have existed. And it does exist right now, and every president has had that power, and this president does have that power.

“But the recent discussions … which emphasize his sole authority to do that, don’t take account of the fact that he has authority to delegate. And he has delegated. Every president has delegated … Every president in the Cold War, right through Carter and Reagan, had delegated, in fact, to theater commanders in case communications were cut off.

“How many fingers are on buttons? Probably no president has ever really known the details of that. I knew, in ’61, for example, that Admiral Harry D. Felt in CINCPAC, commander-in-chief of Pacific, for whom I worked as a researcher, had delegated that to 7th Fleet, down to various commanders, and they, in turn, had delegated down to people.

“There was even a plan to do that automatically by computer,” Ellsberg continued, “as a number of our military always recommended, to make the whole thing computerized, as in the doomsday machine of Herman Kahn and Stanley Kubrick. But, generally they allow for lower-level majors, colonels to decide.”

Amy Goodman then asked about the exchange during a White House meeting when Rex Tillerson allegedly called the president a “f___ing moron,” supposedly in response to Trump asking three times: “If we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them?”

Ellsberg responded that, according to others, Trump had asked the same question during the presidential campaign. “And he is using them right now,” Ellsberg said. “He’s using them the way you use a gun when you point it at somebody in a confrontation, whether or not you pull the trigger.

“But, at the moment, they’re being pointed. And they’re being pointed by two people who are giving very good imitations of being crazy. That’s dangerous. I hope they’re pretending. They might be pretending. But to pretend to be crazy with nuclear weapons is not a safe game. It’s a game of chicken. Nuclear chicken.”



War or Peace? Which will it be? We can’t have both.

This past Memorial Day, one year ago, I was visiting an island community off the coast of Wisconsin. There was a Memorial Day commemoration and I found myself in the middle of a modest parade or procession that began at a church and ended several blocks later at a cemetery.

At the cemetery, in a ritual perhaps repeated in hundreds of thousands of communities across the country on this day each year, there was the presenting of the colors and then an elderly gentleman from the American Legion sat in a folding chair and read from a list. It was a list of all the servicemen and women from the island who had died in combat in all the wars this country has fought. The litany of names seemed to go on forever. One name would have been too many.

When the recitation was over, the old man said: “I want you to consider that all your freedoms, ALL your freedoms, are a gift from veterans.”

This is a sentiment I’ve heard many times and sometimes seen displayed on billboards on country roads: Thank a Soldier for Your Freedom. I’m sure people will still be hearing this message 100 years from now, provided the planet is still here.

But it’s not true. It’s a lie. It’s propaganda and those who propagate it are intentionally misleading or are misled. Those who believe it are being duped.

People are born free. They are not made free or given freedom by someone else or by some institution, least of all the institution of war. All war does is kill people, rob us of our common wealth, and spoil our earth. To believe otherwise is nonsense.

Does war have a purpose?

So what is the purpose of war? If you believe the politicians or the mass media, it is to keep us free, or to bring freedom to some unfortunate people somewhere else, or to protect our “national security” or to bring peace. One of the worst wars, early in the last century, was supposed to “put an end to war.” Of course, it didn’t happen. War is a business that has been booming ever since. Think Dresden. Think Hiroshima. Think My Lai. Think Baghdad. Think Kabul.

If we can’t trust the politicians or the mass media to tell us the truth, whom should we turn to? I’ve always liked what Smedley Darlington Butler had to say. (No, I’m not making up that name. No, you probably didn’t read about him in your high school history class.) Butler was a Major General in the Marine Corps, the highest rank possible in his time, and the most decorated marine in US history when he died. He “spent 33 years and four months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force.” I suppose he ought to know something about the purpose of war.

major general smedley butler art

Major General Smedley Butler

“During that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism,” Butler admitted. “Like all members of the military profession, I never had an original thought until I left the service.”

“Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested,” Butler wrote.

smedley butler photo and quoteA little later in this five-page confession, Butler declared:  “Since the Revolution, only the United Kingdom has beaten our record for square miles of territory acquired by military conquest. Our exploits against the American Indian, against the Filipinos, the Mexicans, and against Spain are on a par with the campaigns of Genghis Khan, the Japanese in Manchuria and the African attack of Mussolini. No country has ever declared war on us before we first obliged them with that gesture. Our whole history shows we have never fought a defensive war.”

It’s unfortunate that our military leaders today are not as honest. Perhaps, if they were, we would have real reason to thank them, if not for our “freedom,” at least for being truthful.  The truth might set us free.

American Exceptionalism: The Deadly Sin of National Pride

I suppose that every nation has its story, a story that serves to bind its people together. There is probably some truth to all these myths or legends. The United States is no exception. It has its creation story: that we are an exceptional people. Unfortunately, the myth of American exceptionalism is intrinsically linked to the notion of violence. It is at its very core.

In an Amy Goodman conversation with retired army colonel Andrew Bacevich in 2008, he spoke about the American myth of exceptionalism: “It’s clear that from the founding of the Anglo-American colonies, from the time that John Winthrop [Puritan lawyer and governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony] made his famous sermon and declared that “we shall be as a city upon a hill,” a light to the world–it’s clear that, from the outset, there has been a strong sense among Americans that we are a special people with a providential mission,” Bacevich said.

John Winthrop sketch public domain

John Winthrop

“In the twentieth century,” he continued, “probably going back to roughly the time of Woodrow Wilson, certainly since the end of the Cold War, this concept of a providential mission, a responsibility to the world, has translated into a sense of empowerment or prerogative to determine the way the world is supposed to work, what it’s supposed to look like, an also, over the last twenty years or so, an increasing willingness to use military force to cause the world to look the way we want it to look.”

But the force and violence has always been there, since the beginning. The country is rooted in violence. It’s like the humus that nourishes the tree.

In introducing an essay by Ira Chernus on the website, journalist and historian Nick Turse wrote that “whether we’re ruminating on all-American mass killings or slaughter by foreign terrorists, it’s worth recalling that America was incubated in a rolling storm of atrocity and birthed in savage cruelty.

“Just two years after the first Thanksgiving,” Turse noted, “Pilgrim commander Myles Standish was knocking the head off a Native American chief to be displayed on a pike in front of the fort at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Not so long after, in present day Jersey City … settler soldiers fell upon a group of mostly women and children of the Wappinger tribe. Thirty were tortured to death for “public amusement.” About 80 others were decapitated and their heads carried across the river to present-day Manhattan where they were gleefully kicked about the streets of the town.

“Fast-forward to 1779 and the father of this country, George Washington, was dispatching troops to devastate Iroquois settlements in New York and Pennsylvania. A couple of infant America’s slain enemies were then skinned and turned into footwear. The better part of a century later, native blood was still being spilled in savage fashion. At Sand Creek, Colorado, U.S. forces massacred hundreds, scalping old women, killing babies, even violating the dead body of a “comely young squaw.” Soldiers collected penises of the men, sliced off the breasts of the women. One soldier even wore a breast as a cap.

“This is not to say that Native Americans didn’t commit horrendous atrocities, only that violence is intricately woven into America’s DNA, a winding helix of cruelty that then threaded its way through the Philippines and the Caribbean, through Hiroshima, No Gun Ri, and My Lai, through Haditha and Kunduz. Where this country went, so went implements of bodily destruction, weaponry designed to kill or maim: rifles and landmines, bombs and missiles. So too went cruelty and massacre, rape and torture, horrendous acts as bad as or worse than any imaginable depredations by an “evil” terror group,” Turse wrote.

Ira Chernus, a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado, began his essay where Turse left off, with the concept of “evil” and how it relates to American exceptionalism. Chernus outlined six “mistakes” that seem to inevitably lead US policy-makers down the well-worn path to war.

The first is “treating the enemy as absolute evil, not even human.” Of course, it’s common knowledge that, in order to soften up the citizenry for yet another war, it’s a prerequisite that national leaders and the media dehumanize the enemy.

“Since we are human and they are not,” wrote Chernus, “we are the opposite in every way. If they are absolute evil, we must be the absolute opposite. It’s the old apocalyptic tale: God’s people versus Satan’s. It ensures that we never have to admit to any meaningful connection with the enemy. By this logic, it couldn’t be more obvious that the nation our leaders endlessly call “exceptional” and “indispensable,” the only nation capable of leading the rest of the world in the war against evil, bears no relationship to that evil.”

Mistake number two on the road to permanent war, Chernus concludes, is that, if it’s a “war against evil, God’s people must be innocent.”  As a result, we don’t have to look honestly at our own history and the ways this nation contributes to or even instigates the spiral of violence.

And mistake number three, “blotting out history,” inevitably follows from the previous premise. We don’t need to examine the role of the US (and CIA in particular) in creation, arming and funding of the mujahidin in Afghanistan, who opposed the Soviets in the 1980s, which led to al-Qaeda. Or George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which “cracked the region open and paved the way for the Islamic State.”

Mistake number four, Chernus opined, is to “assume that the enemy, like Lucifer himself, does evil just for the sake of doing it.” Even to think about the enemy’s motives, he says, “would smack of sympathy for the devil.”

After referring to several scholars and journalists who had dared to attempt to shed light on the motivation of ISIS, Chernus added: “It’s not just that IS fighters are distinctly human, but that in some ways they are eerily like us. After all, we, too, have a military that uses an ideological narrative to recruit young people and prepare them to be willing to die for it. Our military, too, is savvy in using social media and various forms of advertising and publicity to deploy its narrative effectively. Like IS recruits, youngsters join our military for all sorts of reasons, but some because they are rootless, disaffected, and in search of a belief system, or at least an exciting adventure (even one that may put them in danger of losing their lives). And don’t forget that these young recruits, like the IS fighters, often have only the sketchiest grasp of what exactly they are signing up to die for or of the nature of the conflicts they may be involved in.”

Mistake number five reasons that, if the enemy is evil incarnate, then they are also “as relentless, intractable and implacable as the devil himself. As a result, we also imagine that nothing we could do might diminish their will to evil … And since they are just crazy–not capable of normal rationality–there is no point in trying to talk with them.”

This leads to the sixth and final mistake: “The belief that we have only one option: annihilation.” Chernus pointed out that in the last presidential campaign, the three major candidates, Trump, Clinton and even Bernie Sanders all called for the total annihilation of the Islamic State.

“The dream of a war of annihilation against evil has a long, long history in white America,” Chernus added. “It began in 1636 when Puritans in New England wiped out the Pequot tribe, promising that such a lesson would prevent further attacks by other tribes. In fact, it created a spiral of violence and counter-violence, and a war-against-evil template that the country still follows nearly four centuries later in its “war on terror”. “

Why this seemingly irresistible urge to fight yet another war against evil? Chernus asks. Perhaps it has to do with another American myth, he suggests. He calls it the myth of national insecurity. “It tells us that we will always be at war with evildoers bent on destroying us; that war … is the mission and meaning of our nation; and that the only way to feel like a real American is to enlist permanently in permanent war.

“Even as we stoke the Islamic State,” he speculates, “we stoke ourselves as well. The longer we fight, the more deeply we are seized by fear. The more we fear, the more fiercely we are determined to fight. Perhaps the point is not to win the war but to remain trapped in this vicious circle, which feels perversely comforting because it offers a sense of unified national identity as nothing else can in our otherwise deeply divided nation.”

Vincent Kavaloski, a philosophy professor at Edgewood College in Madison, WI, explored this theme of a national myth in 1990, writing in a newsletter of the Ecumenical Partnership for Peace and Justice of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. The myth of nationalism combines a sense of superiority with a claim to divine destiny in order to justify war, Kavaloski wrote. “Most national myths celebrate military conquest as an essential part of their story.”

City on a Hill quoteThe founding American myth was “strikingly different” on the face of it, he wrote. It was the story of a freedom-loving people escaping the oppression and corruption of an “Old World” to found a “New World” built upon liberty and equality. “We see here a creative combination of two Biblical themes: America as an innocent Eden; and the Exodus journey out of slavery.”

The third Biblical theme, according to Kavaloski, was “America as Messiah … the U.S. would be a “redeemer nation” for all humanity, the bearer of “manifest destiny”.  The synthesis of these three Biblical themes created a potent but dangerous self-identity in the American psyche.” On one hand, we viewed ourselves as peaceful and innocent (Eden), as well as freedom-seeking (Exodus); but on the other hand, we believed we had the right, even the duty, to “save the world” (Messiah) through our military and economic power.

Kavaloski then quoted historian Ronald Wells, who said “the spiritual pride of the United States consisted in acting innocently upon the pretense of its special calling, despite the fact that it was almost constantly at war, either with the Indians at home, or with other nations.”

“Despite the historical record,” Kavaloski added, “most Americans continue to believe in the innocence and special destiny of the U.S. At one level, this demonstrates the power of myth over reason. From a theological point of view, the U.S. myth, like most myths of nationalism, is blasphemous. It portrays one nation as more “godly” than others, and hence above the moral law. It leads to what Senator Fulbright called the “arrogance of power”–an idolatrous worship of state power in pursuit of “vital national interests” (the new name for “manifest destiny”)”.

Kavaloski ended his essay with these words: “In the final analysis, the myth of the nation-state is a lie because it denies the fundamental truth of the oneness of humanity: that we share not only a common human nature and a common creation, but also a common propensity toward sin, pride and error.”

Next Time:  The draft and the Drone: Distancing ourselves from war and North Korea and the US: Whose finger is on the button?



The Time Has Come for Health Care for All!

 Let’s Make It Happen.

Well, you may be thinking that we’re on our way to hell in a handbasket but there’s a glimmer of a chance we can actually create significant change during the deranged reign of Donald Trump. Yes, the time may have finally come for health care for all in these United States.

Barack Obama stuck a band-aid on a system that needed a major heart transplant. Right-wing Republicans spent six years or more trying to rip the band-aid off and, when they finally got the opportunity, they had nothing to offer to replace it.

Oh yes, our Wisconsin resident-wonk, Paul Ryan, had a proposal. It proved to be even more unpopular than Obamacare. Ryan had a plan back in 2009 too, when Obamacare was first being crafted. He called it The Patient’s Choice Act, in which he generously offered Americans the choice between a casket and an urn. He followed this up two years later with an equally unpopular campaign to gut Medicare and Medicaid.

But all along there’s been a better option. In wonk-speak it’s called “single-payer.” Some people call it Medicare for All. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a common sense approach that guarantees quality, fair and cost effective healthcare for everyone.

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) has been introducing this legislation in every session of Congress since 2003. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), you may have heard of him, has been presenting similar legislation in the Senate since 2010, influenced by single-payer legislation introduced by the late Paul Wellstone (D-MN) in the early 1990s. Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), now retired, had worked with Wellstone, Conyers, Sanders and others in introducing universal healthcare legislation since 1994.

So is this just a case of a few politicians on the loony left jousting with windmills? Not quite. Conyer’s bill, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act (H.R. 676), was introduced early this year and already has 93 co-sponsors. Even Obama, before he became beholden to the powers-that-be, was in favor of universal healthcare. Speaking to an audience of union leaders in 2003, while running for the U.S. Senate, he had this to say:

I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health-care plan. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody.

As Ralph Nader wrote this past month, politicians on the left and right, from Harry Truman in the 1940s to Hillary Clinton and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in our time, have expressed their support for universal healthcare. According to Nader, Pelosi defended herself to young protesters at a recent town hall meeting by saying: “I’ve been for single-payer since before you were born.”

And what about that Tweety Bird in the White House? Back in 2000, he wrote: “The Canadian plan also helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans … We need, as a nation, to re-examine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing.”

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The Indictment

Let’s back up a little bit and revisit that time around 2006-2009, just before Obama’s Affordable Care Act was cooked up. The Obama reform bill was a political process that fit the adage about law-making: a messy, repugnant business akin to making sausage, not fit for the squeamish to watch.

So what was happening then, and what were the media, politicians and the grassroots doing and thinking?  First of all, there was a deluge of articles in newspapers, magazines and online about the healthcare crisis. Yes! Magazine dedicated an entire issue to it in the fall of 2006. Everyone seemed to concur that the system was broken and almost everyone had a somewhat different theory on what it would take to fix it.

Lately, Republicans have been bellowing about sharply rising healthcare costs, citing this fact to support their assertion that Obamacare has failed. But news reports a decade ago revealed that this trend did not begin with the Affordable Care Act. Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that U.S. health care costs climbed from 7.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1970 to 17.6 percent by 2009. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the U.S. spent more on healthcare as a percentage of GDP and more per person ($8,608) than any other country. At 17 percent of GDP, the U.S. spent twice as much in 2013 as France, the second highest country.

Back in 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) predicted that total healthcare spending would double to more than $4 trillion by 2017, accounting for one of every five dollars the country spends. (At the time, healthcare spending was increasing at nearly three times the rate of inflation.) When I consulted the latest CMS fact sheet, it showed that national health spending reached $3.2 trillion in 2015.

Americans like to say that “you get what you pay for” but study after study in those pre-Obamacare years revealed that the U.S. health care system was not just the most expensive in the world but also one of the worst performing. The system was not just costly but also inefficient, wasteful, inequitable and faulted for poor outcomes. If report cards were issued to the industrialized nations of the world based on health indicators, the USA would have flunked out of school years ago.

Yes! Magazine’s 2006 issue on American health care noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the U.S. health system 37th, well below most of Europe and even trailing some Latin American countries. On “level of health,” how efficiently a system translates spending into overall health, (i.e. “bang for the buck”), WHO ranked the USA 72nd.

The U.S. has a higher infant mortality rate than most of the world’s industrialized nations. The number of women here who die during or due to childbirth is now double the maternal mortality rate of Saudi Arabia or Canada, and triple that of the United Kingdom. Our life expectancy ranks 50th in the world, below most developed nations and some of the developing ones.

Back when Democrats were beginning to craft their healthcare reform bill, about 47 million Americans lacked health insurance and nearly 45,000 were dying annually due to lack of health insurance. It was estimated that 50 to 60 percent of all filings for bankruptcy were due, at least in part, to medical expenses. And 68 percent or more of those who went bankrupt had some form of health insurance.

A Harris poll in 2005 indicated that three-fourths of U.S. citizens wanted what all other industrialized countries already had, universal healthcare. So what happened? What went wrong?

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Obamacare: A Necessary Compromise or Kiss of Death?

It was not as if no one was watching and no one cared. Healthcare reform was the biggest story in the news—locally and nationally. It was estimated that at least 800 organizations were actively working on the issue. In Wisconsin alone there were probably close to 100.

I was involved, as a community organizer, with a local group that was part of the national, faith-based network that Obama had also worked for as a community organizer. Wisconsin physicians Linda and Gene Farley, who dedicated decades of their lives advocating for single-payer healthcare, spoke at our meetings. Both are now deceased. Three different bills, all of them calling for comprehensive healthcare reform, vied for support in the Wisconsin State Legislature.  One of them, the Wisconsin Health Security Act, would have created a single-payer, “Medicare for All” system in the state. None of the bills got much traction in the legislature, despite referenda in various counties and cities in 2006 indicating 82 percent support for affordable, universal healthcare and a 2008 poll that showed 61 percent of Wisconsin residents favored a  state-run health system.  Nonetheless, a number of significant reforms to the local health system were enacted.

But getting involved and getting to the table where the decisions are made proved to be two very different things. I could be wrong but I doubt that anyone from the multitude of local and national citizen coalitions (or labor unions or other progressive groups, for that matter), was ever invited to the table.

How about Dr. Quentin Young, a physician and native of Obama’s Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago? Young, who died just a year ago, was an ardent advocate of single-payer healthcare, a national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), and the leader of many other local and national health organizations. When Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Chicago, Young was his personal physician.

Other notables he treated in more than 50 years of private practice included former Chicago mayor Harold Washington, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn, writer Studs Terkel and newspaper columnist Mike Royko. Oh, and Barack Obama too. Young once commented that the legendary Royko “was always very sarcastic and never liked my leftist ideas. Studs would at least listen to me.” Did Obama listen to him, or invite him to the table where the decisions were being made and the deals cut? Apparently not.

So who did Obama and the Democratic power-brokers listen to back in 2009 and early 2010? A case could be made that they were listening to money.

Those who had the money just happened to be the same ones who make their money off healthcare: the drug industry and the insurance industry. As Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote early in 2009: “Our system of private insurance and powerful monopolies is vastly more wasteful and inefficient than the healthcare systems of other developed countries. Insurance companies spend tens of billions trying to insure the healthy, avoid the sick, and deny payment for claims. Pharmaceutical companies take $350 billion of our healthcare dollars for drugs that cost a small fraction of that sum to produce.”

During the first half of 2009, Big PhRMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) spent $13.1 million in lobbying and the drug company Pfizer reported $11.7 million in lobbying expenses.  “The pharmaceutical industry, which President Barack Obama promised to ‘take on’ during his campaign, is winning most of what it wants in the health-care overhaul,” wrote two reporters in the Wall Street Journal. This booty for the industry included no cost-cutting measures, no cheaper drugs allowed across the Canadian border, and no direct government negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies to lower Medicare drug prices.

At the same time, Bernie Sanders was pointing out that the combined profits of the nation’s major health insurance companies had increased by 170 percent from 2003 to 2007. The former head of UnitedHealth Group had accumulated stock options worth an estimated $1.6 billion and the Cigna CEO had reaped over $120 million in the past five years, Sanders wrote.

The Washington Post was scheduled to host a $25,000 per person “salon” to bring lobbyists and health care CEOs together with the policy-makers drafting the healthcare bill, until heat from the public forced the newspaper to cancel the event.

At the center of the national health care debate, as it dragged on in late 2009, was Max Baucus, chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.  Who was Baucus listening to? Probably not any of the millions of Americans lacking adequate healthcare or coverage, or those going bankrupt due to healthcare expenses.

Baucus not only had his own taxpayer-subsidized health coverage but also scored $3.9 million in contributions from the healthcare industry over a six-year period, the most among all members of Congress according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Citing data compiled by the Center, the Washington Post reported that the healthcare lobby donated nearly $170 million to federal lawmakers in 2007 and 2008. During the first quarter of 2009, the Dems, who controlled Congress, collected 60 percent of $5.4 million in contributions from the healthcare industry.

When doctors and nurses advocating single-payer healthcare were banned from Senate hearings on healthcare, they stood in silent protest and Baucus had them arrested.

Many liberal Democrats and some of the grassroots organizations had drawn a line in the sand. The line was what was euphemistically called the “public option.” But the political winds were blowing and sand would soon bury the line.

The public option was a proposal to create a government-run insurance agency to compete with private health insurance companies. It would provide an “option” for uninsured citizens who couldn’t afford the rates or were rejected by private health insurers. Obama promoted the public option concept while running for election in 2008 but downplayed it when he got in office.

The public option was included in three bills considered by the House of Representatives in 2009, one of which was passed by the House. But Baucus and other powerful congressional leaders were against it.

In August, 2009, a group of five dozen House progressives wrote to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ruling out support for any bill without a public option. In early September, two leaders of the progressive caucus wrote directly to Obama, drawing their line in the sand. “Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates–not negotiated rates–is unacceptable,” they wrote. “A health reform bill without a robust public option will not achieve the health reform this country so desperately needs,” they continued. “We won’t vote for anything less.”

In their brief letter, they used the word robust five times. The dictionary says it means to exhibit sound health or great strength and vigor, but the progressive wing of the Democratic Party proved to be somewhat lacking in these attributes. Late the following month, Joe Lieberman, the man without a party, threatened a filibuster and that was enough to bust the robust demand of the Dems, who began to cave.

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) voted against an early version of the Affordable Care Act in the House. In a public statement explaining his position, he charged: “Clearly the insurance companies are the problem, not the solution. They are driving up the cost of health care … But instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit insurance, H.R. 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care. In H.R. 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers.”

In mid-March of 2010, Kucinich was a guest on Amy Goodman’s show, Democracy Now!, along with another former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate. The House was about to vote on the Senate healthcare bill, Obama had just met with Kucinich on Air Force One on their way to a political rally, and all of the other 77 Democrats who had vowed not to vote for a bill without a public option had already relented. Now it was Kucinich’s turn to toss in the towel.

“It would be impossible to start a serious discussion in Washington if this bill goes down, despite the fact that I don’t like it at all. And every criticism I made still stands,” Kucinich said. “I want to see this as a step. It’s not the step I wanted to take, so that, after it passes, we can continue the discussion about comprehensive health care reform.”

“I think the President could really be instrumental in bringing about just about any kind of change that he wants,” Kucinich added. “For whatever reason, he decided to carefully construct a plan that would admit no chance for any real challenge to the market structure of private, for-profit insurance companies. He’s worked very tightly within that system. That’s a choice that he made. And during the campaign, you know, he made it very clear that he was looking at reforms within the context of the for-profit system.”

Nader, who was not subject to arm-twisting by the President, had this to say: “This bill does not provide universal, comprehensive or affordable care to the American people. It shovels hundreds and billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the worst corporations who’ve created this problem: the Aetnas, the Cignas, the health insurance companies. And it doesn’t require many contractual accountabilities and other accountabilities for people who are denied healthcare in this continuing pay-or-die system that is the disgrace of the Western world.

“For the drug companies, it’s a bonanza. It doesn’t require Uncle Sam to negotiate volume discounts. It allows these new biologic drugs, under patent, to fight off generic competition–that’s a terrible provision. And it doesn’t allow reimportation from counties like Canada to keep prices down.”

But Nader was rather mild in his remarks compared to commentator Keith Olbermann, who used his MSNBC soapbox, just before Christmas 2009, to rant about the legislative conflict and to berate those lawmakers who had fashioned the healthcare bill. Howard Dean had been on his show the night before and had announced he could not support the proposed legislation.

Olbermann began by quoting Winston Churchill: “We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, without a war.” He castigated Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) for “seeking the least common denominator. This is not health, this is not care, this is certainly not reform.”

Olbermann urged the Dems not to make the defeat worse “by passing a hollow shell of a bill” that had been “slowly bled to death by the political equivalent of the leeches that were once thought state-of-the-art medicine, is now little more than a series of microscopically minor tweaks of a system which is the real-life, here-and-now version of the malarkey of the Town Hallers.

“The American Insurance Cartel is the Death Panel, and this Senate bill does nothing to destroy it. Nor even to satiate it. It merely decrees that our underprivileged, our sick, our elderly, our middle class, can be fed into it, as human sacrifices to the great maw of corporate voraciousness.”

“Mr. (Chuck) Grassley of Iowa has lied, and fomented panic and fear,” he said, and “Mr. Baucus of Montana has operated as a virtual agent for the industry he is charged with regulating.”  Olbermann reserved his most scathing criticism for Lieberman, “the one man at the center of this farcical perversion of what a government is supposed to be … he has sold untold hundreds of thousands of us into pain and fear and privation and slavery–for money. He has been bought and sold by the insurance lobby. He has become a Senatorial prostitute.  And sadly, the President has not provided the leadership his office demands.”

Olbermann argued that the provision in the bill requiring people to buy insurance had to be stripped out. “The bill now is little more than a legally mandated delivery of the middle class (and those whose dreams of joining it slip even further away) into a kind of Chicago stockyards of insurance,” he said.

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The game plan: How do we get from here to there?

So here we are, seven years later. Obama got his healthcare program and “cemented his legacy.” He spent the rest of his administration making war and defending his bad health program against rabid Republicans. Instead of the national security of a healthcare system that works, he gave us the national security state. But who was paying attention?

What are our chances now, if Obama couldn’t or wouldn’t do it then? Accuse me of being delusional, if you will, but I think our chances might be a little better now. Here are a few reasons:

OneThe cost of healthcare continues to escalate out of control. In another seven years, nearly half of all healthcare spending is expected to be shouldered by the government, at all levels. So, if government is going to be involved anyway, why not have government take a robust position and save everyone lots of money, by eliminating the middle men (private insurers) and reining in the drug companies?

If the present system is allowed to continue, the government is likely to go bankrupt, along with many of its citizens. We can appeal to free-market Republicans on the basis of cost and appeal to everyone else on the basis of justice.

TwoThe present system is wasteful and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, making it doubly wasteful. And who likes waste?

Every other industrialized country in the world provides healthcare for its entire population at half the cost and has much better outcomes. In Canada, only 1.5 percent of healthcare costs are devoted to administration of the single-payer system. In the United States, 31 percent of healthcare expenditures go to the insurance industry.

According to Steffie Woolhandler, a physician and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, our hospitals are spending 25 percent of their total budgets on billing and administration, while those in Canada and Scotland are spending only 12 percent. In our bloated system, the number of administrative personnel has grown by 25 times the number of physicians, according to Bernie Sanders.

Trump expressed his admiration for the single-payer system in his book, The America We Deserve, and raved about the Scottish healthcare system on the David Letterman show just two years ago. We, as a nation, need to remind Trump that we do deserve a better system and we want it now!

ThreePeople’s attitudes are changing. More and more people view healthcare as a human right, not a privilege. Bernie Sanders, supposedly the most popular politician in the country, probably deserves a lot of credit for this. Sanders made a publicly-funded, single-payer, universal healthcare program the central tenet of his presidential campaign. Public opinion polls continue to show that the majority of people prefer a government-guaranteed healthcare program. In a LinkedIn survey just last month, nearly half of physicians said they would support a single-payer healthcare system.

Yes, there were people that thought some of Sanders’ proposals extreme, but today proposals of his such as free college tuition are being considered and even tested at the state level.

FourWe’ve tried the other options. They haven’t worked. Now it’s time to try something that will.

There were good progressive people, back in 2008 and 2009, who argued that we needed to “begin where people are at” or that we needed to “get to single-payer by another route.” Well, we’ve been there, done that. We underestimated the people. They were ready all along.

Even the corporate Wall Street Journal, just prior to the implosion of the Ryan healthcare plan, had this to say:

The Healthcare Market is at a crossroads. Either it heads in a more market-based direction step by step or it moves toward single-payer step by step. If Republicans blow this chance and default to Democrats, they might as well endorse single-payer because that is where the politics will end up.

Seven years ago, Dennis Kucinich said he hoped to use the Obama bill as a “step” toward real healthcare reform. Then the Republicans redistricted him out of office. Let’s get him back in the game and take the next step toward health care for all.

Bernie Sanders, who has not stopped campaigning and organizing, recently announced that he plans to soon introduce new healthcare legislation in Congress. Let’s get behind his bill and the Conyer’s bill. Let’s get our unions and faith communities and grassroots organizations and local Democratic groups and all the young people that Bernie brought into the political process to come together and organize another big push. Let’s demand that Trump help “make America great again” by providing a healthcare system that puts people before profits.

The time is now.