Archive for September, 2013

Policy of Defiance

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Threats of armed force by national leaders against nations that might interfere with those leaders’ national objectives have been uncommon in recent years.  For one thing, they’re illegal. The United Nations charter forbids warfare and threats of warfare without UN approval, except in self-defense. Most nations seem to have taken a lesson from what happened to the war-loving peoples of Europe in the last century. National leaders  have mostly been restrained from threatening armed force.

There was a time when military conquest was part of our value system. Might makes right, as we used to say, and as some still claim to believe. Despite the proof of history that conquest is impermanent and injurious in modern times, there seems to be a fringe of Americans who crave organized violence. Arms and threats of violence are tools of virtue in their view. It worries these people not at all that every conflict launched by the USA and other military powers over the past 40 years has succeeded only in killing and maiming lots of people and destroying their property.

It’s a shrinking minority that subscribes to the old view, as more and more people push aside the veil that masks recent history. Today, the general consensus among peace-loving people is that aggressively militaristic leaders should be removed if possible and eliminated if necessary. We recognize that they have been extremely destructive over the decades and centuries, and we suspect that the world might have been a better place but for their brutal and self-glorifying adventures. People who issue threats of military force to advance national interests are now  considered armed and dangerous.  Restraining them is a matter of life and death.

That’s why many of us are shocked that the US President, a lifelong civilian, should publicly threaten military force against any and all members of the United Nations that might stand in his way. His words were unambiguous: “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.” With that chilling declaration, he’s made himself an enemy of all humanity, and he’s taken us with him. Any soldier of just about any nation might kill him or his subordinates and claim the justification of self-defense. Even his own people have a powerful incentive to remove him by all possible means, simply to save human lives.

What motivates this man, our national leader, to embrace such evil?  Does he speak for us?  Have our values changed so radically that we reject laws and standards of decency? Or is he speaking only for himself, drunk with glory in the knowledge that decent, ordinary kids are willing to kill and die at his command? If it’s personal ambition that motivates him, what’s our obligation to the world, to our nation, to each other?

Scared Silly

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

People ask what possible motive our leaders could have for another military adventure. The nation has achieved nothing from any engagement since 1945, and it’s lost plenty, both in dollars and in moral standing. The only thing we’ve gained has been enmity. Our enemies are everywhere. Often, they have been enemies of our own creation, as in Afghanistan and Panama. Could it be that enmity and the insecurity that goes with it are the whole point of all this strife?

Insecurity, anxiety and fear are useful tools for manipulators of mass behavior. Scared people tend to be compliant and needy, and so they resist less and buy more than they would if there were nothing to be afraid of. The more fearful they become, the more they have to fear, because insecurity puts them in fierce competition with one another and makes them dangerous. Close ties tend to disintegrate, and this colors their anxiety with anomie.

Intense anxiety makes us compliant at work, compliant at school, tolerant of malfeasance, obedient to corrupt authority and insatiable consumers of palliatives of all kinds. If Americans ever stopped being scared, our dementia-inducing consumer economy would probably take a steep dive. Maybe the proprietors of the United States of America, the rich and powerful people that control commerce and government, must keep us in a state of terror to retain their dominion. Mass imprisonment, unemployment, violent entertainment, and corrupt administration can put us off balance, but the thought of hosts of dark-skinned enemies can leave ordinary people in a state near panic.

The pliancy of terrorized people could explain why we must have a permanent state of war. The alternative is rebellion. Enemies divert our attention from what the proprietors are doing to us, between debt, unemployment, pollution, bad food, worse drugs, maldistribution of resources, and the excesses of government. If there were no foreign enemy, we might discover that our true enemies lurk in our own institutions.

Will the attack on Syria really be over conditions in Syria, or will it be to remedy a very specific condition here? With peace on the horizon in Afghanistan, we need new enemies. Syria’s government is as good an enemy as we can find, especially in view of its security arrangements with scary allies in Iran and Russia. We’ll have something to be afraid of again, and so we’ll wave flags and buy stuff instead of confronting our employers, our banks, our manufacturers and our elected officials.