Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 00:37
(This is an expanded version of my most recent column in CounterPunch’s print magazine.)
O the horror, the horror. To see the "shameless descent" of the "one-time countercultural figurehead" -- who had made his name as a bold stylistic innovator and powerful voice of authenticity -- now reduced to a corporate shill, parading himself, hussy-like, in a national advertisement.
How it had it happened? He had been a rawboned kid from the Midwest, a seeker and searcher who burst out of the stifling confines of bourgeois life and made his way to the very heart of the revolutionary artistic ferment raging in one of the world's great centers of countercultural bohemia. He had thrived there, magpie-like, picking up tricks of the trade, learning from mentors, stealing riffs from rivals; a little seedy, a little needy, passionate, faithless, bursting with talent. In the end, he forged an original voice that made him a towering figure in American culture and one of the most famous people on the planet, influencing generations of artists who came after him. Every year, there was serious talk of him winning the Nobel Prize -- and now this.
There he was -- posturing for the camera, an aging, taxidermy caricature of his dynamic younger self. There were his words -- his own words! -- once regarded as blazons of truth, now gummed into dim banality just to push some product to the rubes.
Sad, surreal, shameless -- yes, who can forget that awful moment when they first opened their new copy of Life magazine and saw Ernest Hemingway's ad for Ballantine Ale?
Surely, all right-thinking people condemned this act of crass hucksterism, an ugly spectacle that cast a tainted shadow over all his earlier achievements -- which could now be seen merely as sly ploys on the way to the inevitable sell-out …
In fact, literary history does not record any such reaction to the 1951 ad. Or indeed, any reaction at all. (Except perhaps from John Steinbeck, who obviously thought, "How can I land me one of them Ballantine ads?" -- and did so a couple of years later.) But such has been the blowback in many quarters to Bob Dylan’s recent Super Bowl ad for Chrysler. In some ways, it’s sort of sweet; who knew Dylan could still touch such a nerve? But mostly the imbroglio has itself been a “surreal tableau,” as one of its more scathing respondents called the ad. It’s as if an historical moment frozen in amber – the “Dylan/Judas sell-out to pop music” scandal of 1965 – has suddenly been melted by the Super Bowl klieg lights, releasing its undiluted fury into the present day.
Of course, people are free to despise Dylan for doing an ad, on whatever grounds they please: moral, political, philosophical, aesthetic. But reading the fresh shock and angry surprise of the denouncers, one has to wonder: where have they been for the past 50 years? For a full half a century, Dylan has been insisting that he is not a protest singer or a ‘countercultural figurehead’ or anything of the sort. And he has behaved accordingly. Where was the rage when he did a Cadillac commercial a couple of years ago? Or the lingerie ad before that? Or the Fender guitar ads he did at the height of his countercultural figureheadom in the mid-60s?
As a “Columbia recording artist” (which is how he is always introduced in concert), Dylan has been taking money from – and making money for – corporate interests since 1962. He is no more or less a “sell-out” in 2014 than he has been throughout his entire career, including his days as a folk singer. Again, dismiss him for that if you like. But why rage at his “betrayal” of a media-hyped, fantasized “countercultural figurehead role” that he has spent a long lifetime refusing? You’re not angry with Bob Dylan; you’re mad at an imaginary friend you’ve created in his image.
Dylan’s “shameful sell-out” has been contrasted with the moral integrity of Pete Seeger, who died just before the Chrysler commercial aired. Fair enough -- although Seeger himself didn’t mind appearing with Harry Belafonte last year after the latter’s “shameful descent” into corporate ads for Gap. Nor did Seeger scruple to sing for many years with Woody Guthrie, who lent his name and voice to many an advertisement – and once even let a tobacco company adapt one of his hard-travelin’ songs for a perky jingle. Nor did Seeger blanch at singing a song by Dylan – long after the little weasel had been hawking underwear and Cadillacs – in the only music video the folk patriarch ever made: a rendition of “Forever Young” for Amnesty International in 2012.
Maybe Seeger, in his wisdom, took a broader view of such matters than the angry Amberists. Perhaps he didn’t dismiss an artist’s output or idealism or authenticity just because they did the occasional spot for commercial sponsors – the way Dylan hero Hank Williams did throughout his career: for Mother’s Best biscuit flour, for Haldacol (a snake-oil “health” tonic he pitched in a traveling commercial “caravan” that also featured Milton Berle, Jack Dempsey, Chico Marx and James Cagney), and many other concerns. At one point, Hank even styled himself “the Ol’ Syrup Sopper” in a campaign for a Shreveport syrup company.
In 2008, yet another Dylan TV ad appeared across Europe, although it apparently escaped the notice of the Amberists. This time the shameless huckster was shilling for … an international mission to “make water safe and clean for every human being living in this world” and head off the looming conflicts over resource scarcity due to climate change. Then the next year saw ads for his much-hooted Christmas album, with all proceeds, in perpetuity, going to food banks in the US and Europe; in the first year alone, Dylan’s contribution fed an estimated 1.4 million people in the U.S, according to the American charity involved.
And of course, long after he abandoned the progressive purity of “protest” music, for decades the tainted figurehead has kept popping up to sing for (or give his music to or donate concert profits to) a plethora of causes: in aid of Salvador Allende in his struggle against CIA subversion; for Bangladeshi flood victims; against apartheid; for Hurricane Carter; for inner city children in California; for handicapped children; for nuclear disarmament; for starving people at Live Aid; for ruined farmers at Farm Aid (inspired by a remark he made at Live Aid); for Amnesty International; for gun victims in Scotland; for typhoon victims in the Philippines; for tsunami victims in Japan; for earthquake victims in Haiti; for cancer research in the US; for cancer research in the UK; for literacy in Canada; for skate-board parks in low-income communities; for children in war zones … and perhaps more out there beyond a 10-minute Google search.
But all of this is obliterated by a two-minute commercial focused almost entirely on factory workers in America’s most economically ravaged city. Yes, how the mighty have fallen. Thank god we don’t have to listen to this sullied ol’ syrup sopper anymore. We can stay pure in our amber ... while the old man keeps rolling on, neither a figurehead or a spearhead or paragon or a hero, but nothing more or less than what he's always claimed to be: a singer of songs.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 10 March 2014 00:54
Has it only been 10 months since Edward Snowden's NSA revelations changed the world? Can you even remember what the world was like, before he gave 50,000 -- no, 200,000 -- no, wait, 2 million-- secret documents to Glenn Greenwald: smoking guns that exposed Washington's global surveillance state, which far outstripped the wildest, wettest dreams of the Stasi, of Stalin, yea of Orwell himself?
Try to recall those dark days -- now long since banished, thank God! -- when the American imperium thrust its grubby hands and greedy eyes into every single digital pie available, scarfing up emails, URLs, locations, even webcam shots, of anybody and everybody, then storing them all in gargantuan data silos, to sift through and fondle for years on end. Remember that? Remember how this surveillance state, this über-Stasi, was put to the service of a regime that was actually going all over the world and murdering people -- without charges, without due process, without defense, without warning. Just circling the world, blowing up a wedding party here, a couple of teenagers there, a village, a funeral, a farm, an apartment block, day after day, week after week, year after year? Innocent people, "guilty" people; guilty of something or other, that is -- maybe just behaving in a "suspicious manner" in the eyes of unaccountable officials acting arbitrarily in secret, on the basis of screenshots sent by back by robots, and rumors and vendettas gathered, for pay, by secret agents.
Do you remember how this brutal, barbaric, ugly, inhuman regime would then go around the world condemning other nations for not being moral, holy, freedom-loving and strictly adherent to international law? Do you remember the base, sickening hypocrisy of it all? State murderers -- proud state murderers, murderers who would go before legislators and under oath to God Almighty swear how proud they were to be murdering people -- telling other nations how to order their affairs according to the principles of law and justice and human rights?
Isn't it wonderful how much has changed since those days, when we discovered the spine and musculature of the surveillance regime that undergirded this ghastly system of murder and corruption and domination?
What? What do you mean nothing's changed? What do you mean that this barbaric system is still firing on all cylinders? What do you mean that the surveillance state has not been crippled or even slowed for a single instant by all these world-changing revelations? What are you saying? That those who facilitated the exposure of the NSA documents, like Greenwald, are now working for techno-oligarchs who fund rapacious, elite-enriching, regime-changing "philanthropic" enterprises all over the world? Whose companies actually helped strangulate Wikileaks in its greatest hour of need by cutting off its venues of funding?
Are you trying to tell me that even Snowden himself -- who risked so much to bring these crimes to light -- now declares forthrightly "that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue"? That he has taken great pains to declare that his incendiary material should only be "safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders," as Arthur Silber pointedly points out? In coordination with "government stakeholders?" The same "government stakeholders" who are murdering people around the world and sticking their webcams into our underwear? Is that what you're trying to tell me?
What next? Are you going to tell me that even Jeremy Scahill, Greenwald's partner in the oligarch-funded venture, First Look, which is going to transform journalism as we know it for all time to come, has also declared that their transformative operation will dutifully submit its work to government scrutiny -- with the caveat, of course, that they may not follow the government's advice on how 'dangerous' it might be to publish the dutifully submitted material? (Which is, of course, the same way that every other non-transformed journalistic entity in the Western world operates.)
Is that what you're trying to say? That the murder goes on, the surveillance goes on, the crime goes on, and that even our most cutting-edge, transformative, dangerous and subversive journalists and whistleblowers are committed to acting "responsibly" in "coordination with government stakeholders."
Well, if I may once again quote the great Mel Brooks quoting the great Joe Schrank: "I can hardly believe my hearing aid!"
Maybe I need new batteries for this thing. Everywhere I hear unstinting -- and unquestioning -- praise for these developments; but nowhere do I see any genuine effect. I mean, yes, of course, it's good to see "progressive" hero Rachel Maddow expressing umbrage at the revelations that Barack Obama's Stasi-State is now brazenly spying on their own putative Congressional overseers. Maddow even goes so far as to call this "End of the Republic stuff." But is this followed by a call for the impeachment of a president that is "ending the Republic" with a security apparat run amok? Of course not. The main progressive goal, as always, is to express a bit of marginal outrage while devoting one's main energies to ensuring that whatever "centrist" suit of clothes the bought-and-sold Democratic establishment puts up as a candidate is elected. (Next up: Hilary "Annihilate the Iranians" Clinton in 2016.)
But what of these 2 million documents that Snowden has bequeathed to a few chosen journalists who maintain their iron grip on the revelations, doling them out as they alone see fit - after, of course, submitting them to the scrutiny of "government stakeholders"? Let us return to a salient fact that Arthur Silber keeps pointing out: that only 1% to 2% of this vast trove has ever been seen:
Given all the publicly available evidence, when reporting on the Snowden documents is completed, the general public will have seen only 1% to 2% of all the documents involved. I've analyzed in detail how deeply problematic this is. That's putting it mildly, and with excessive politeness. In fact, this highly selective publishing of leaks is insulting, disgusting, and profoundly offensive ...
In short, the methodology adopted by Snowden and the favored journalists is leading straight to complete and utter disaster.
It is also necessary to mention that many of the published documents are offered only with redactions, which are sometimes substantial. Not only that but, as a rule, no explanation is offered as to why particular information has been redacted. Similarly, we are offered only the most general of explanations, if that, for why roughly 98% of the documents will never see the light of day. This presents the general public -- for whose benefit all this heroic work is allegedly undertaken -- with an insurmountable problem of evaluation and understanding.
Well, hold on there a minute, Arthur, you incorrigible skeptic you. What about the latest revelation from The Intercept, the flagship enterprise of First Look? Just last weekend, the Interceptors dug into this vast trove of criminality to inform us that ... the NSA's newsletter has its own Dear Abby column (or "agony aunt," as the Brits would say). Now how about that! The NSA has an internal advice column offering tidbits on personnel issues. Now that's transformative journalism with a vengeance! Just think how many innocent lives now doomed to die from Washington's surveillance state-supported death squads will now be saved because of this revelation!
Back to Silber:
Snowden has always been at pains to assure everyone -- and most particularly, to assure the State -- that he doesn't want to threaten the State in any serious way. And even though his major concern is with mass surveillance, that, too, would be acceptable to him in general terms, provided it is sanctioned by "informed public consent," and even though he himself would choose differently.
But look again at those concluding remarks to the EU. "[T]here are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens' rights..." Many other undisclosed programs that affect tens of millions of people. Maybe they'll find out about them, maybe they won't. And Snowden himself won't make that decision. "Responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders" will decide. We've witnessed this game for nine months; we know how it's played. The "responsible journalists" and "government stakeholders" will allow us to see perhaps 2% of all the documents Snowden gathered up. With redactions, and without explanations of the redactions or explanations, even in general terms, of what we will never be told.
But honestly, it's more than slightly ridiculous to parse these statements further. Snowden's formulation, and the adoption of his methodology by the "responsible journalists" involved, mean only one thing: these are, ultimately, State-sanctioned leaks. This is State-sanctioned whistleblowing. Whatever dangers much wider, and much more rapid, disclosure might have carried have been entirely obliterated. What remains constitutes no threat of any remotely serious kind to the States implicated. Yes, there will be hearings, some "reforms," and life for the States will go almost exactly as before. Your life, on the other hand ... well, who gives a damn about your life.
Of course, we are glad to have any little fragment of truth we can get our hands on in these dystopian times. As T.S. Eliot said: "these fragments I have shored against my ruins." And most assuredly, we are in ruins. But I continue to be amazed at the nugatory effect of the Snowden revelations. I continue to be shocked at the way these revelations are being handled -- kept tightly under the control of a handful of responsible figures who happily submit them to "government stakeholders," while effectively repressing 98 percent of the evidence of criminality and moral turpitude on the part of those same "government stakeholders." So I agree with Silber's conclusion, with which I'll conclude here:
I have one request, in the nature of truth in advertising. I want to see all future stories relying on the Snowden documents accompanied by a stamp in which appear the following words. We are provided similar guarantees in connection with food and drugs, for example, and I see no reason not to adapt the practice to "journalism," given what that term now appears to mean. Each such story should carry this ironclad assurance:
This story contains those facts, and only those facts, that we and the State have determined it is safe for you to know. We will never tell you anything else, and we will most certainly never tell you anything more.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 21 July 2009 11:27
In a new piece for Salon.com, Jeff Sharlet has more on the domestic side of the militarist-fundamentalist drive to devour the state, which we wrote about here yesterday. Sharlet writes of "The Family" -- the self-described "Christian Mafia" centered on the "C Street House" in Washington -- which for decades has spread its invisible, insidious influence throughout the U.S. government, while supporting mass-murdering dictators, rapacious crony capitalism -- and providing convenient cover and absolution for the high crimes and sexual misdemeanors of its members.
Sharlet has written of The Family for years, in articles for Harper's and in his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. He has described in great detail -- and from the inside -- a disturbing, decades-old network of big-time power players guided by cranks who push Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden, and Stalin as worthy role models in the pursuit of the Family's ultimate goal: a militarized, unfettered "totalitarianism of God." You would think that Sharlet's earlier revelations would have brought intensive, horrified scrutiny to bear on this nest of democracy-hating accomplices of atrocity and corruption -- but the stories never gained much traction in the corporate media. Who cares about all that boring stuff?
But now that several of The Family's members and associates have found themselves caught in good old juicy sex scandals, suddenly the media has "re-discovered" the C Street House, and shined at least a little more light on that dark corner. Because as we all know, the only offense that an American politician must ever pay for is a sexual indiscretion. When it comes to murder, torture, oppression, war crimes, military aggression, tyranny, etc -- well, it's always best to "move on" from such unseemly doings, and stay "focused on the future, not the past."
Although truth to tell, even sexual indiscretions are increasingly unpaid for by our coddled, unaccountable elites. Look at Bill Clinton, swanning around the world like a rock star, swimming in his millions. And of course, all rightwing pols caught with their pants down can always play the "fallen sinner redeemed by God" card, and start all over again. Clinton also played this card for all it was worth, of course; recall his hilarious "counseling sessions" with various high-profile religious leaders, who, we are to believe, sat down with the President of the United States and gave him earnest, prayerful counsel on how to keep his pecker in his pants.
Even so, messing around in the sexual cellarage still causes a politician more of a spot of bother than, say, authorizing a drone strike (i.e., "targeted assassination," i.e., "extrajudicial assassination," i.e., "act of mass murder") that kills dozens of innocent people. The irony, of course, as Magnificent Valor points out, is that these sexual indiscretions are often the only interesting and vaguely human thing these time-serving, box-ticking, elitist automatons have ever done.
In any case, the wanton willy-waggling of Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Chip Pickering and other "Family" stalwarts has provided us with yet another glimpse at the truly strange and deranged power structure that governs our lives. You should read Sharlet's piece in full, but here are a few choice bits:
The Family likes to call itself a "Christian Mafia," but it began 74 years ago as an anti-New Deal coalition of businessmen convinced that organized labor was under the sway of Satan. The Great Depression, they believed, was a punishment from God for what they viewed as FDR's socialism. The Family's goal was the "consecration" of America to God, first through the repeal of New Deal reforms, then through the aggressive expansion of American power during the Cold War...
Historically, the Family has been strongly Republican [Sharlet includes a copious list of current power-players in the Family ranks], but it includes Democrats, too. There's Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, for instance, a vocal defender of putting the Ten Commandments in public places, and Sen. Mark Pryor, the pro-war Arkansas Democrat responsible for scuttling Obama's labor agenda. Sen. Pryor explained to me the meaning of bipartisanship he'd learned through the Family: "Jesus didn't come to take sides. He came to take over." And by Jesus, the Family means the Family.
Family leaders consider their political network to be Christ's avant garde, an elite that transcends not just conventional morality but also earthly laws regulating lobbying. ... Founder Abraham Vereide decided that the group could be more effective by working personally with politicians. "The more invisible you can make your organization," Vereide's successor, current leader Doug Coe preaches, "the more influence you can have."
...I met [David Coe, Doug Coe's son and heir apparent], when I lived for several weeks as a member of the Family... Attempting to explain what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was -- or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate -- he asked a young man who'd put himself, body and soul, under the Family's authority, "Let's say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?" The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was a monster. "No," answered Coe, "I wouldn't." Why? Because, as a member of the Family, he's among what Family leaders refer to as the "new chosen." If you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply.
If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about our nation's rulers, then I don't know what will. And of course, this "three rapes--so what?" philosophy of unaccountability is not confined to members of "The Family": it permeates the entire power structure.
And as we noted yesterday, this drive toward "Christian totalitarianism" seeks to use the military as one of its primary vehicles of subversion:
Christian right leader -- and Watergate felon -- Chuck Colson, converted through the efforts of the Family, has boasted of it as a "veritable underground of Christ's men all through government." What do they do? Rep. Zach Wamp, one of Ensign's fellow C Streeters who's been in the news for defending the Family's secrecy, has teamed up with Family-linked Reps. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., and John R. Carter, R-Texas, on an obscure appropriations committee to help greenlight tens of millions in federal funds for new megachurch-style chapels on military bases around the country.
But of course, one of the main thrusts of The Family's business has been succoring murderous dictators around the world:
One needn't be a Marxist to find fault with the Family's mash-up of New Testament and unfettered capitalism -- Adam Smith himself would have recognized that theology as a disingenuous form of self-interest by proxy. Such interests have led the Family into some strange alliances over the years. Seduced by the Indonesian dictator Suharto's militant anti-communism, they described the murder of hundreds of thousands that brought him to power as a "spiritual revolution," and sent delegations of congressmen and oil executives to pray to Jesus with the Muslim leader. In Africa, they anointed the Somali killer Siad Barre as God's man and sent Sen. Grassley and a defense contractor as emissaries. Barre described himself as a "Koranic Marxist," but he agreed to pray to Grassley's American Christ in return for American military aid, which he then used to wreak a biblical terror on his nation. It has not yet recovered.
Needless to say, while this group of gilded sectarians leave mounds of corpses in their political gaming around the world, their main business is -- what else? -- business:
[In their Family-paid junkets, members are] representing "Jesus plus nothing," as Doug Coe puts it, the "totalitarianism of God," in the words of an early Family leader, a vision that encompasses not just social issues but also the kind of free-market fundamentalism that is the real object of devotion for Ensign, Coburn, Pickering, Wamp and Sanford, along with Family insiders such as Sens. DeMint, Sam Brownback and Chuck Grassley. At the heart of the Family's spiritual advice for its proxies in Congress is the conviction that the market's invisible hand represents the guidance of God, and that God wants his "new chosen" to look out for one another.
As we all know, one of the most dangerous creatures on earth is the bullshitter who believes his own bullshit. There is absolutely no doubt that Adolf Hitler went to his death thinking he was a swell guy, a worthy, righteous man more sinned against than sinning. The self-absolution -- and self-hypnosis -- of fanatical certitude is a deadly toxin; not just for the individual, but for the world. We see the fruits of Family-style fundamentalism all around us today, in the blood-soaked ruin of the Terror Wars, in the collapse of communities, families, individuals -- and the world economy -- from the rapine of "godly" market extremism, even down to the rise in teen pregnancies and sexual disease, which are, of course, most prevalent and growing in the very areas dominated by the Dominationists' wilfully ignorant, sexually obsessed sectarianism, as the Guardian reports. These are real lives, of real people, blighted -- or blotted out -- by the divinely-robed barbarism of their leaders.
What the elites reserve for themselves -- security, assistance, wealth, power, personal license -- they deny to others. Indeed, this denial is essential to their identity as the "chosen;" if others have what they have, how can they be exalted, set apart, special? Thus they must be implacable enemies of the very idea of the common good -- at home, abroad, at every level of life. It is, at its heart, a sinister vision of life -- yet it has become the unspoken, unquestioned ruling assumption underlying our society today.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 20 July 2009 16:33
A remarkable story in Haaretz (via Antiwar.com) reveals that Orthodox Jewish extremists in the United States have, with the help of radical sectarians in Israel, distributed booklets to Israeli soldiers and officers claiming that the Vatican is organizing "tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah members to teach them how to wipe out Jews."
As Haaretz notes, the booklets -- published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America -- has been given to Israeli soldiers "for months." The booklet is purportedly written by a former Hezbollah insider who converted to Judaism. He writes of Pope Benedict XVI's personal direction of a wide-ranging program among "European elites" to train Hezbollah cadres in genocide, while also paying huge fees to journalists, academics and politicians who are critical of Israeli policies. What's more, the booklet asserts that Israeli critics of government policy are also funded by the Vatican-led effort to exterminate Jews. "Every real Arab, deep inside, is kind of a fan of the Nazis," the purported author declares.
The American extremists used the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, to distribute the tracts to Israeli soldiers. Eliahu's spokesman, David Menahemov, defended the booklet -- which in its deranged orgasm of paranoid fear and racial hatred rivals the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the Tsarist police concoction (taken from a 1864 satirical novel about French tyrant Louis Napoleon) about a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. The Protocols were given worldwide prominence in the 20th century by Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler, then got a new boost in the 21st century by America's staunch allies (and Israel's silent partner in Middle East power-gaming), the Saudi royals, who produced a 30-part TV miniseries based on the Protocols in 2001.
[Iranian TV, of course, recently produced a wildly popular TV mini-series depicting an Iranian diplomat in Paris trying to save Jews from the Holocaust. But it is the Iranians who are depicted as maniacal, monolithic anti-Semites, not the Saudis. One might also note here that the West's new favorite Palestinian, Mahmoud Abbas -- the sort-of president of the Palestinian Authority whose term expired months ago but who still somehow remains in office with America and Israel's full backing -- wrote a doctoral thesis declaring that the Holocaust was "a Zionist fantasy," a "fantastic lie", and that the "few hundred thousand" Jews who did die at Nazi hands were only killed because "Zionist" fanatics provoked the Germans: "The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule to arouse the government's hatred of them." But Abbas is a useful tool of Israeli domination, so his genuinely horrific revisionism is whitewashed, while outrageous falsehoods -- like a Vatican-Hezbollah genocide plan -- are used to stoke the hatred of soldiers sent to wage war on civilians in Gaza. Funny old world, ain't it?]
Like the defenders of the repeatedly and thoroughly debunked Protocols, Menahemov declared every word of the new hate booklet was true, and that the author is a real person. "I know the guy personally," he told Haaretz. "He's an Arab, who even though he converted still acts like an Arab." Still "acts like an Arab," does he? What, he swings from trees, grubs for roots, crawls on his belly like a reptile? No racism there then.
Israeli military brass say that although they had distributed the booklet "in good faith," they have since been "alerted to the sensitivity" of the document and stopped passing it out to their soldiers. (Didn't anyone read it before approving its distribution?) But of course the tract is still out there -- and the damage has already been done. As Haaretz notes:
"The book is distributed regularly and everyone reads it and believes it," said one soldier. "It's filled with made-up details but is presented as a true story. A whole company of soldiers, adults, told me: 'Read this and you'll understand who the Arabs are.'"
The savagery of the Israeli assault on Gaza becomes clearer all the time. The American-made booklet was just one part of a wide campaign among radical extremists to incite implacable hatred among the attacking forces -- much like American soldiers going into Iraq in 2003 were encouraged to believe that the act of aggression was "payback for 9/11" against those "who attacked our country."
The Orthodox Union's new 'Protocols of the Elders of Palestine' is also part and parcel of a more widespread phenomenon: the attempted takeover of secular military forces by religious extremists. Like the general rise of militant, wilfully ignorant fundamentalism that swept several world religions -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism -- over the past few decades, the "holy warrior" movement crosses sectarian boundaries. It is not only rife in Israel, but is growing more and more powerful in the American military as well. This is outlined in stark and disturbing detail in Jeff Sharlet's report in Harper's earlier this year, "Jesus Kills Mohammed" -- taken from a logo painted on the front of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle by a group of Christian soldiers who, gung-ho with viewings of Mel Gibson's torture-porn, "The Passion," conducted scattershot armed raids through civilian areas in Baghdad. As Sharlet reports on the "small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officer corps":
What men such as these have fomented is a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors—“ambassadors for Christ in uniform,” according to Officers’ Christian Fellowship; “government paid missionaries,” according to Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry.
...Within the fundamentalist front in the officer corps, the best organized group is Officers’ Christian Fellowship, with 15,000 members active at 80 percent of military bases... [An] OCF Bible study, “Mission Accomplished,” warns that victory abroad does not mean the war is won at home. “If Satan cannot succeed with threats from the outside, he will seek to destroy from within,” asserts the study, a reference to “fellow countrymen” both in biblical times and today who practice “spiritual adultery.” “Mission Accomplished” takes as its text Nehemiah 1–6, the story of the “wallbuilder” who rebuilt the fortifications around Jerusalem. An outsider might misinterpret the wall metaphor as a sign of respect for separation of church and state, but in contemporary fundamentalist thinking the story stands for just the opposite: a wall within which church and state are one. “With the wall completed the people could live an integrated life,” the study argues. “God was to be Lord of all or not Lord at all.” So it is today, “Mission Accomplished” continues, proposing that before military Christians can complete their wall, they must bring this “Lord of all” to the entire armed forces. “We will need to press ahead obediently,” the study concludes, “not allowing the opposition, all of which is spearheaded by Satan, to keep us from the mission of reclaiming territory for Christ in the military.”
Sharlet notes that the works of Rick Warren, the beefy, suburban Christianist whom Obama picked to bless his inauguration, is featured heavily by the military sectarians. For example:
In March 2008, a chaplain at Lakenheath, a U.S. Air Force–operated base in England, used a mandatory suicide-prevention assembly under Lieutenant General Rod Bishop as an opportunity to promote the principles of The Purpose-Driven Life to roughly 1,000 airmen. In a PowerPoint diagram depicting two family trees, the chaplain contrasted the likely future of a non-religious family, characterized by “Hopelessness” and “Death,” and that of a religious one. The secular family will, according to the diagram, spawn 300 convicts, 190 prostitutes, and 680 alcoholics. Purpose-driven breeding, meanwhile, will result in at least 430 ministers, seven congressmen, and one vice-president.
Sharlet ends with a chilling vignette of the fundamentalist (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) mindset in action -- a conversation he had with an Air Force cadet:
What if he was ordered to bomb a building in which terrorists were hiding, even though there were civilians in the way?
He shook his head. “Who are you to question why God builds up nations just to destroy them, so that those who are in grace can see that they’re in grace?” A smile lit up half his face, an expression that might be taken for sarcastic if Hrabak wasn’t a man committed to being in earnest at all times. What he’d just said—a paraphrase from Romans—might be something like a Word of Knowledge, a gift of wisdom from God. It blew his mind so much he had to repeat it, his voice picking up a speed and enthusiasm that bordered on joy. “He”—the Lord—“builds up an entire nation”—Iraq or Vietnam, Afghanistan or Pakistan, who are you to question why?—“just to destroy them! To show somebody else”—America, a young man guided to college by God, distrustful of his own choices—“that they’re in grace.”
In this, the cadet was echoing one of his comrades quoted earlier:
“How,” he asked, “in the midst of pulling a trigger and watching somebody die, in that instant are you going to be confident that that’s something God told you to do?” His answer was stark. “In this world, there are forces of good and evil. There’s angels and there’s demons, you know? And Satan hates what’s holy.”
The armies of the world are being filled up with soldiers -- and even more so, with officers -- on fire with the deranged certitudes of violent fundamentalism. Their enemies -- both heathenish foreigners and the "spiritual terrorists" among their own ranks, their own families and fellow citizens -- are agents of absolute evil. And there is no such thing as "collateral damage," no killing of innocents in their holy war -- for God Himself has targeted them for destruction, just to prove how righteous His warriors are.
Of course, militarism is itself a virulent cult; without any need for divine sanction, a vast war machine will seek to follow the logic of its construction and do what it was created for: make war. It takes a tremendous -- and ever-failing -- effort to restrain the machine even under the best circumstances. Stoking it with religious extremists committed to blind obedience and violence in the name of God is an unbelievably dangerous and stupid thing to do; yet, as Sharlet and others make clear, the Pentagon's top brass -- including the generals appointed or "continued" by Obama, such as David Petraeus, are deliberately choosing this course, giving their implicit -- and sometimes explicit -- approval to the growth of fanaticism in the ranks. Why not? It's easier to fight wars of imperial domination with soldiers who, in their slavish, unthinking submission, identify their superiors' agenda with God's will.
But our cynical generals are meddling with a volatile material that they cannot control in the long run -- just as they and our security apparatchiks did in cultivating violent Islamic extremists to fight the West's secular agenda in Afghanistan. The "blowback" from the unholy marriage of militarism and militant fundamentalism is certain to bring forth monstrous fruit.