What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things,
And the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
(From The Man Watching, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, p. 298)
There is a real danger that the contemporary world, especially the people of the United States could fall into the trap of thinking that the world has been brought to the brink of war solely by the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Bellicose rhetoric, lies, character assassination, and a general deportment of bravado and blaming may characterize the current president’s record. And yet, the country’s resort to an attitude of dominance, superiority, and a determination to use each situation as another step on the predictable and determined path of sustaining that dominance certainly did not start with the election of 2016.
Writing in the New Republic in 1977, Hans Morganthau points out, “the concentrations of private power which have actually governed America since the Civil War have withstood all attempts to control, let alone dissolve them (and) have preserved their hold upon the levers of political decision.” (Noam Chomsky, Foreign Policy and the Intelligentsia, The Essential Chomsky, p.166) “Private power” is a direct reference to the hold on public decision-making by those with the money, the status and the concomitant “power” to call the shots in a manner that serves their private interests.
Chomsky then proceeds to document the attitudes and vision of the Council on Foreign Relations’ War and Peace Project in the early 1940’s. Proposing a “Grand Area” dominated by the U.S. One paper reads, (The United States) must cultivate a mental view toward world settlement after this war which will enable us to impose our own terms, amounting perhaps to a pax-Americana. Also, in 1944, the State Department espouses (and exposes) the view and guiding principle of equal access to oil for American companies, but not others (Ibid, p. 171)
And then there is the question of the persistent resort to military power in the pursuit of the national interest, successfully in World War II and shortly thereafter in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada and then Iraq and Afghanistan. Naturally, there has been a ‘moral purpose’ to all conflicts, as if the nation were the agent of some deity, pursuing peace, justice, (and dominance) if and when any perceived provocation triggered its paranoia and the pursuit of its world dominance. Couching military actions under such evaluations as “stupid and accidental” when losses are incurred, without paying adequate attention to the savagery that was really going on, is just another way for the ‘establishment’ to preserve their hold on power by seducing the media and the public into support for their exaggerated and even lawless actions.
A report from the USAF (United States Air Force) details a series of targeted strikes in May 1953 at some twenty irrigation dams that furnished 75% of the water supply for North Korea’s rice production while wiping out supply lines to the North’s front lines. The report continues: The Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of this staple food commodity has for the Asian—starvation and slow death. ‘Rice famine,’for centuries the chronic scourge of the Orient, is more feared than the deadliest plague. Hence the show of rage, the flare of violent tempers, and the avowed threats of reprisals when bombs fell on five irrigation dams.” (Chomsky, Ibid, p. 185-86)
Does anyone think or believe that the current regime in North Korea is unfamiliar with this story, and others like it?
And it is not only the inhumane actions of the U.S. that need light shed into their dark corners. It is also the contravention of international rules, like Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. (Of course, the UN has throughout its history been regarded as an arm of United States foreign policy, by the Americans.) Article 51 assumes that the U.S. is engaged in collective self-defense against an armed attack from North Vietnam. However, the facts were discovered to be very different from the original estimate of danger. Quoting Chester Cooper, from The Lost Crusade, Chomsky (p. 127) writes:
Communist strength had increased substantially during the first few months of 1965. By the end of April it was believed that 100,000 VietCong irregulars and between 38,000 and 436,000 main-force troops, including a full battalion of regular North Vietnamese troops, were in South Vietnam. Meanwhile American combat forces were moving into South Vietnam at a rapid rate: in late April more than 35, 000 American troops had been deployed and by early May the number had increased to 45,000.
Cutting through the “propaganda,” Chomsky notes: The single North Vietnamese battalion of 400 to 500 men was tentatively identified in late April. (Ibid)
And then there are the well-documented instances of bombing the Vietnamese with “agent orange,” a killer weapon if ever there was one, perhaps a prelude to the Weapons of Mass Destruction of which must was made in the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003.
Oh, Iraq you say, just another case of a sophisticated campaign of misinformation, misleading both the American public and the world’s public interest, into another military conflict, based on tenuous claims at best, and at worst, outright lies? Well, yes, and yet, the pattern persists of exaggerating the danger, for the purpose of “imposing a dominant and irrepressible and insatiable political will on perceived enemies, in the name of doing good, persists into this century, without either abatement or the kind of restraint for which Obama was excoriated for “leading from behind”.
The establishment, in its self-righteous pursuit of its own self-interest, armed with the power of the bomb, the drones, the chemical labs and the Congress, not to mention the sycophant media, and the silent and thereby compliant-by-default intellectual community, rides roughshod over all “other” “extraneous” interests, like the public will and public interest, in the pursuit of ‘national goals’ that are really the needs of the corporatist state: power, profit, control, dominance.
Especially now, with the fall of the Soviet Union, and only the beginning of the rise of China and India, the United States is in the unenviable position of the only world super power, a status that evokes, among Americans, strong arguments for enhancing the hard power, the nation’s economic might and the retrenchment from from global interests and issues. And yet, parochialism, provincialism, deceptions, lies and savagery of both word and deed... all of it is based on a deep and profound residue of paranoia. This paranoia is based first of all on an incipient revolutionary act of a few thousand troops, supplemented copiously by French troops, and then on a deep and profound need to maintain superior status and power inside the country by the elite, followed by a global vision of dominance, in economics and only secondarily in politics, and the obsessive-compulsive clinging onto the elite legacy by succeeding generations.
Proud of its exceptionalism, without paying attention to the underside of that “papier-mâché” maturity of self-contentment and well-being, the United States is in danger of being hoisted on its own petard. And while trump may be the current actor on the American stage, he inherits a long legacy of intemperate, indecent, savage, lawless and destructive ‘norms’ that have been permitted, enhanced and aggrandized both by overt actions and policies, and by the inert blindness of denial and a refusal to invoke a “reality check” on national attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.
Ostracising voices “crying in the wilderness” like Noam Chomsky, and others who, like him, refuse to be silenced, or to be excommunicated from the national and the international debate, however, will never keep the truth from poking its sometimes ugly head through the asphalt of national hubris. It is not surprising that thinkers and writers like Chomsky are frequently invited to address public issues by the media and academia in countries other than the United States but rarely if even by those sectors of American political culture.
Apparently, the old axiom that one cannot be a prophet in one’s own town, or nation still holds firm.