Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vets hurl their medals at the NATO – imperialist - leaders in Chicago

The occupy and anti-war movements swept together in Chicago to battle NATO. NATO is an agency of war in Afghanistan, and which takes some of the financial heat off American militarism. The news covers the President’s view, Obama trying to get others to do "their share," Merkel to back off austerity a little, not drive Greece into the ground, out of the Euro (and as it fails to add, producing bank runs, further economic collapse and shock waves that would engulf America and the world). The media try again to talk down Occupy, even Andrew Sullivan and his blog (Andrew is quite reactionary about movements from below).

But the march Sunday was of some fifteen thousand. While there was a brief clash with police – Chicago under Rahm Emmanuel is an armed camp, a police state on behalf of the 1/10 of 1% - the most significant anti-war action was carried out by some 40 soldiers from Iraq Veterans against the War. They marched as a unit, then spoke briefly, each dedicating throwing away the war medals with which she or he had been decorated, to, for example, the Afghanis occupied and routinely slaughtered by the US/NATO – 2 women from Afghanis for Peace were there – murdered and displaced Iraqis, women sexually abused in the army, and Americans misled about what each war the US engages in is about. Take a few minutes to listen to their words here.

Each of the 40 spoke briefly and eloquently about how they had signed on after 9/11, prepared to fight the enemies of democracy and human rights, and found out, in Afghanistan and Iraq, that they themselves were among those enemies. Official words betrayed these men and women.

In contrast, their words are powerful, their throwing the medals toward the sick NATO meeting apt – there is no support for these wars in Europe and 2/3 of Americans want the US out of Afghanistan. The mainstream or oligarchic political spectrum is pulling in the opposite direction: Obama who escalated, though is now withdrawing forces slowly; Romney who demands more escalation and military spending....

That American politics has little to do with democracy or the will of ordinary people except in exceptional circumstances and given protest movements from below is captured in the polling about resistance to Afghanistan (the American people are also in large majorities for universal health coverage - try to get it by Congress and medical insurance companies, however; for bringing down the size of the prison system - 25% of the world's prisoners, 2.3 million - but privatized prisons and a whole bureaucracy of prison authorities block the way and so forth...).

Scott Olsen was one of the veterans who spoke. He tossed four medals at the NATO generals - toward the gate of the Nato "summit" - and then marched in a black helmet to protect his head. Freeing himself of American illusions, seeing the war on the ground, he became very critical of the US government while in Iraq. Back in Oakland, he went to an Occupy demonstration on October 25 and was shot by in the skull by a beanbag canister from a far off cop, his skull fractured, unable to speak for weeks. But he is now able to talk eloquently with Amy Goodman and embodies a courage in demonstrating against NATO which is exemplary for all of us who need to stand up against these aggressions/imperial wars. See here.

A march of several hundred against the closing of mental hospitals had gone to Rahnm Emmanuel’s house Saturday. See here.

But the corporate press would not cover any of it. Debbie Delgado who has been in a mental hospital - recently thrown out for lack of funding - whose son has ptsd from holding his dying brother, killed by a gang - now is leading the sit-ins against the smug Emmanuel. She had voted for Emmanuel and names his betrayal. She says her son cannot even now get money to cover visits with psychologists for treatment. But the Congress and Obama spend on the military, Rahm on the Cubs and on the police state clamping down on protest against NATO...

What is, she asks, of real importance in America?

In a Hegel and Heidegger seminar yesterday morning, I asked: what happened of major significance in Chicago over the weekend? Most people did not have a clear idea except that the police had combatted protests.

Yvonne Barela, a military leader in Iraq who has spoken of the corruption of the military and the joy of being in Occupy, had watched the protests on C-Span, seen the demonstrators refuse to disperse (hands at their sides, some pushed into the police). The police attacked them.

But even Yvonne had not heard the soldiers' words.

What DemocracyNow ran on Monday was a major story about the human meaning of American militarism. These soldiers had not gained their military honors lightly. Their words and their throwing the medals at NATO name the truth.

And the coverage of all the mainstream papers - the war complex led by the New York Times was nothing but imperial progaganda. No emptier words could have been found about protestors in Putin's Russia in Russian newspapers today (or in Pravda during the Soviet era) or in Iran about the Green movement.

A recent New York Times story admitted that even Obama did not want to escalate the war in Afghanistan, knew Al-Qaida was in Pakistan (Pak-Af not Af-Pak). Nonetheless, being President of an empire, he buckled to militarism and launched the surge. He is now, however, drawing the surge down, just not rapidly enough. Of course, Obama's use of drones, advised by the war criminal John Brennan, has killed many innocent people in Pakistan (and Yemen and Somalia, inter alia), and bred hatred for the United States. That is what it means to be even a clever - striving for the more decent possibilities within an indecent spectrum - head of the Empire.

American militarism or the war complex (or to spell it out, the military-industrial-Congressional-academic-media-think tank-intelligence-with a large foreign component like the Egyptian military dependent on US weapons largesse-complex) is part of American imperialism. Last night Hilary Putnam and I were talking and Hilary read a passage from the powerful introduction by F.M Cornford, a Trinity College at Cambridge translator of Plato's Republic, written in 1945. Here the idea of fascism as nothing but the advantage of the stronger is vivid, and Cornford easily connects Thrasymachus in book one of the Republic - see here, here, here and here - and the Athenian ambassadors at Melos (“the strong take what they can and the weak suffer what they must”) with imperialism.

It was not then hard to see that Hitler and Mussolini and Franco represented murderous imperalism on the part of an elite headed by a strong Fuehrer/Duce/"commander in chief power." It was not then hard in England to remember that the British empire was one on which the sun never set. The defeat of Churchill, a good war leader but an odious imperialist, was a precondition for the 1947 independence of India and Pakistan.*

Cornford was one of many Britains who saw the dangers in imperialism - the corruption of the Athenian ambassadors and Thrasymachus - and wanted no part in empire. He refers to the term – one of Lenin’s apt ideas – easily, in a way that is absent from today's American political and academic discourse.

But the need to dominate the world, to ship products and move capital here and there, to create the WTO to overrule any democratic decisions made within nation under pressure from below to protect the environment or human rights (see Michelle SforzaWhose Trade Organization), to have 1280 military bases secretly abroad, to spend a trillion dollars on militarism, to create the financial casino that brought the world economy down (Eduardo Porter reports in the Times today that the financial crisis lost 3 and one-half years of the world's economic output, and cost households $19.3 trillion dollars - see here), to serve the raider Romneys and odious Bloombergs and “barely Democratic” Jamie Dimons of this world while the 99% suffer is imperialism. The reign of finance capital which Lenin foresaw during the first World War has now achieved, with credit default swaps and derivatives, a degree of mathematical bizarreness - or a harmful to the common good rot - which he could not have imagined.

Arguably, the restrictions of the New Deal on the unbridled rule of finance capital - unemployment insurance, social security and Glass-Steagall (preventing banks from speculating with the deposits of ordinary people) – at least in tandem with the war economy in the Second World War – staved off such extremes of luxury and poverty for an epoch. But today what Lenin foresaw (and something even more ferocious than what Marx and Engels foresaw in the Manifesto where the proletariat was supposed to be the majority, but not the bottom 80% and in certain ways, even the bottom 99%) is startling.

I speak as a faculty member in a School of International Studies where no matter how corrupt American policy, the misnaming of American policies still echoes the State Department and Presidents (imperialism is, as it were, the sun, and the media and even many academics distant planets). America can not, can not, they say, be an empire; Presidents at least intend something good. While the leaders of America's enemies wear the "emperor's new clothes" - Iran tortures in its prisons - America engages in "enchanced interrogations" so the New York Times' reporting puts it and no one is brought to trial for what has been made - not legally, but as a matter of propaganda - a non-crime.

Academics do not speak of Obama as an imperialist, i.e. in English (Bush presses the matter, but in this fantasy, even he is not a war criminal and an imperialist).

Listen, once again, to the voices of these soldiers who threw their medals at NATO. Barack Obama is trying to save the American elite from its depradations (a collapsed economy and a destroyed planet is also not a survivable place to flourish even for the 1/10th of 1%). Only the force of Occupy, however, impelled Obama to recover himself...

Obama has apparently set himself the goal of being a more able President for the empire than others. American imperialism, hidden by New York Times propaganda and academic circumlocution, is a corrupt thing. Occupy and the new anti-war movement are making the truth known.

Here are Cornford’s refreshing words, ones that would not be said by today's Struassian interpreters of Plato - a few wishful enthusiasts like Bill Kristol allude to a "benevolent hegemon" - or others, but should be heard afresh:

"Born in the year of the revolution at Corcyra and the revolt of Mitylene, Plato, as a child of twelve, had seen the Athenian fleet set sail on the disastrous expedition against Syracuse, and he was twenty-three when Athens capitulated and lost her empire to Sparta. The steps by which this empire had grown out of a defensive league of maritime states, formed after the repulse of the Persian invader at Salamis( 480), are traced in the first book of Thucydides. The rule of Periclean democracy over subjects who had once been allies had not been oppressive; but the Athenians themselves, as represented by their envoys at Sparta on the eve of the war, can find no better excuse than the plea that empire was forced upon them by the three most powerful motives, ambition, fear, and interest.

'We are not the first who have aspired to rule; the world has ever held that the weaker must be kept down by the stronger. And we think that we are worthy of power; and there was a time when you thought so too; but now when you mean expediency you talk about justice. Did justice ever deter anyone from taking by force whatever he could? Men who indulge the natural ambition of empire deserve credit if they are in any degree more careful of justice than they need be. How moderate we are would speedily appear if others took out place.'

The same philosophy of imperialism is even more frankly expressed by the Athenian representatives in the dialogue with the Melians which Thucydides prefixed to his story of Athens' aggression against Syracuse. It is also the philosophy of Thrasymachus in the first Part of the Republic.

The Peloponnesian War was, to a greater extent than Thucydides seems to have realized, a struggle between the business interests of Athens and Corinth for commercial supremacy in the West: all wars, Plato remarked, are made for the sake of getting money.** And, as at other times in the world's history, the same all-powerful motive was inflaming, within the several states, the ever-present conflict between oligarch and democrat or, in simpler terms, between rich and poor -- the conflict which it was one of Plato's chief aims to extinguish."***

*Divide and rule was an horrific policy which helped split apart the United India of Badshah Khan, leader of the Pathans, and Gandhi. See here. 13 million people were slaughtered along the borders. But one should not forget that the movement, including Gandhi’s and Khan’s nonviolence, had removed any patriarchal “moral” authority from the Crown, revealed the nakedness of imperialism as Occupy has of the 1/10th of 1%, and after the war against fascism, contributed decisively to bringing the Empire down.

**Perhaps Cornford is thinking of Glaucon's demand for a city of luxuries, a fevered city, which as Socrates points out, must aggress against others.

"Then we must further enlarge the city [, says Socrates]. The well-founded city we started with will not be enough. It must be extended and filled up with superfluities. There will, for example, be hunters aplenty. There will be crowds of imitators, those who paint and sculpt. Others will make music; there will be poets and their attendants, rhapsodizers, players, dancers and impresarios.There will be a market for a greater variety of goods, and stylish women will want dressmakers and more servants. Will not tutors be in demand as well along with wet-nurses and dry-nurses, barbers and beauticians, cooks and bakers? We shall also require swineherds. There was no need for them in our original city, for there were no pigs there. Now, however, we shall need pigs as well as other kinds of animals for those who will eat them."

"You are right" [Glaucon]

"And this way of life will require many more doctors than were needed before." [Socrates]

"That is certain" [Glaucon]

"Must we assume that the territory that was once sufficient to feed the city will no longer be adequate?" [Socrates]

"Yes." [Glaucon}

"So we shall covet some of our neighbor's lands in order to expand our pasture and tillage." (Republic, 373b-d)

***The city in speech seems to do this. But since that city is also Glaucon's city, a send-up and not a philosopher's city (an ideal which is hinted at in the Republic, but also a small city), one might wonder whether in actual cities, Plato hoped to do more than bridle such depradations. See here. Socrates (and I suspect, in his own way, Plato), stood for a modified Athenian democracy, one in which philosophy and questioning would be tolerated, one in which mad and self-destructive imperial efforts like Israeli or American bombing of Iran, would be stopped. Cornford, nonetheless, gives apt names to the policies.

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