Behind the all-consuming, overheated hypermania of the presidential campaign – Romney! Taxes! Swiss banks! Bain, Bain, Bain! – the dull-lidded behemoth of empire continues to trudge its way back and forth across the earth, knee-deep in human blood. Those who pray and pump and polemicize for the re-election of the behemoth’s current commander have to repeatedly gouge out their own eyes to avoid seeing the rank corruption and carnage their champion empowers and inflicts on the vulnerable and the defenseless.
We write here frequently of Honduras – the land where Barack Obama made his bones as hemispheric hierarch with the ritual overthrow of a democratic Latin American government and its replacement by murderous thugs. (Any American president who would be truly great must carry out this traditional blood sacrifice in the time-honored fashion.) The repression, death and corruption engendered in Honduras with Obama’s aid and complicity have been remarkable – yet have gone completely unremarked by the legion of progressives who rightly strained at the slightest gnat of evil during George W. Bush’s lawless regime but now happily swallow whole camels of crime when Obama wears the purple. Blind guides indeed.
Still, in fitful scraps and snatches, the story of what is actually happening in Honduras filters through on occasion, usually from foreign sources. Obama has seized the opportunity of the coup to launch a “surge” of a militarized American presence in Latin America, building new “forward bases” in Honduras and entwining U.S. soldiers and government agents more and more tightly with his compliant caudillos. The Guardian reports:
The deep bullet wound in Hilda Lezama's thigh is a livid pointer to Honduras's unwanted status as the latest front line in America's war on drugs. For all of her 53 years Lezama has lived in Ahuas, a village of wooden homes built on stilts, close to the fast-flowing Patuca river in the remote Mosquitia region of eastern Honduras. For 25 years, her family have run a business ferrying locals up and down the waterways that link the isolated jungle settlements.
On such a trip two months ago, she was shot from an American helicopter in a counter-narcotics raid involving US drug enforcement agents and Honduran troops. Four other local people, including two women, were killed.
"We were returning from a trip downriver with the fishermen," she remembered. "We were travelling at night to avoid the heat. We heard the helicopters above us, but we couldn't see them. They could have let us dock and then searched the boat, but instead they shot us. Maybe they were thinking we were someone else."
US officials say Lezama's boat had picked up a stash of drugs flown into an airstrip close to the river, a charge she categorically denies. "If we were criminals we could not complain, but we are innocent working people," she insisted.
As usual, the militarisation of the situation by the United States and its local coupsters has exacerbated the problems it was ostensibly launched to combat:
...The key to the traffickers' success was corruption, said Marlon. "Always, always, always when drugs are being moved, a member of the military is involved," he said. "They allow police officers to intercept a certain amount of drugs while the other part, majority is coming in through another channel. The police take a minimal amount, just to make it look as if they are doing a good job. Narco-trafficking has taken control of our country, it's everywhere, in politics, even in the churches."
...It is hardly surprising that Honduras's political institutions have failed to stem the tide of violence and corruption sweeping the country: Honduran democracy itself was undermined by a military coup on 28 June 2009, which ousted the populist president Manuel Zelaya … Latin American states condemned the coup. So – rather belatedly – did the Obama administration. But within months the US backed a new presidential election, and offered a warm welcome to the winner, Florida-educated conservative Porfirio Lobo. ...
According to the Honduran human rights group COFADEH, more than 300 civil society campaigners have been murdered since the coup. The figure includes trade unionists, campesino farmers demanding the restoration of lands acquired by Honduras's biggest landowners, gay rights activists, and more than 20 journalists.
...There is abundant evidence that elements within the police have been committing, not solving, murders. … According to Marvin Ponce, vice-president of the Honduran congress, up to 40% of police have ties to organised crime.
More than 300 innocent people murdered -- by the warmly-welcomed coupsters -- for the crime of supporting human rights and democracy: the very values we're told are the guide and goal of all American policy. Perhaps in wan acknowledgement of this powerful but empty myth, there was once a feeble flickering of institutional opposition to the flesh-ripping, murder-enabling, all-corrupting agenda being pursued by the Peace Laureate in Honduras, as the Guardian reports:
Last year 94 members of the US Congress called on the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to end all financial and logistical support for the Honduran security forces, "given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights".
So what happened? What do you think happened?
But US support for the Honduran government has in fact been boosted; a clear indication that Lobo is currently seen as a vital ally in seemingly never-ending war on drugs in Latin America.
I think we must set aside that bit of reflexive 'contextualizing' in the typical Establishment media mode at the end there. Washington is not supporting the Lobo regime because he's an ally in the 'war on drugs' -- especially given the glaring fact (outlined in the story itself) that the Lobo regime is facilitating the drug trade with its corruption. The 'war on drugs in Latin America' is simply the excuse du jour for the ancient American crusade to impose its military and economic will on Latin America -- and to thwart the rise of any possible alternative to rule by client thugs.
But what of that? Mitt Romney had a bad week! Obama looked cool in the rain! Who cares if the behemoth goes lumbering on? The ludicrous, hideous, hallucinatory sideshow is all that matters.
George Monbiot writes, and writes well, of one of my favorite poets, John Clare. Dirt-poor, little educated, ensconced deep in an ancient agrarian world that was being broken and transformed before his eyes, he made himself into one of the great English poets of the 19th century -- although much of his best work was written after he had been committed to an asylum, for decades, and was not rediscovered until the 20th century.
Another of my favorite poets, Robert Graves, was instrumental in rescuing Clare from oblivion, championing his work and making it much more widely known in the modern world. I had the great pleasure of annotating several of Clare's poems for a multi-media anthology I edited (in another lifetime, it seems), and I can testify that many of his poems repay close reading and exegesis.
In the last two decades, Clare has assumed a greater prominence in literary studies, but he retains for me that aura of a personal, private discovery -- having found out about him, many years ago, through an old and battered paperback compendium of essays by Graves, found in the stacked wooden crates of a used bookstore in a strip mall in Knoxville. So it was good to see Monbiot noting Clare's ever-deepening significance for our world today. Below are some excerpts:
The land around Helpston, just to the north of Peterborough in Northamptonshire, now ranks among the most dismal and regularised tracts of countryside in Europe. But when the poet John Clare was born this coming Friday in 1793, it swarmed with life. Clare describes species whose presence there is almost unimaginable today. …
While life was hard and spare, it was also, he records, joyful and thrilling. The meadows resounded with children pranking and frolicking and gathering cowslips for their May Day games; the woods were alive with catcalls and laughter; around the shepherds' fires, people sang ballads and told tales. We rightly remark on the poverty and injustice of rural labour at that time; we also forget its wealth of fellowship.
All this Clare notes in tremulous bewitching detail, in the dialect of his own people. His father was a casual farm labourer, his family never more than a few days' wages from the poorhouse. Clare himself, from early childhood, scraped a living in the fields. He was schooled capriciously, and only until the age of 12, but from his first bare contact fell wildly in love with the written word. His early poems are remarkable not only for the way in which everything he sees flares into life, but also for his ability to pour his mingled thoughts and observations on to the page as they occur, allowing you, as perhaps no other poet has done, to watch the world from inside his head. …
And then he sees it fall apart. Between 1809 and 1820, acts of enclosure granted the local landowners permission to fence the fields, the heaths and woods, excluding the people who had worked and played in them. Almost everything Clare loved was torn away. The ancient trees were felled, the scrub and furze were cleared, the rivers were canalised, the marshes drained, the natural curves of the land straightened and squared. Farming became more profitable, but many of the people of Helpston – especially those who depended on the commons for their survival – were deprived of their living. The places in which the people held their ceremonies and celebrated the passing of the seasons were fenced off. The community, like the land, was parcelled up, rationalised, atomised. I have watched the same process breaking up the Maasai of east Africa. …
As Jonathan Bate records in his magnificent biography, there were several possible causes of the "madness" that had Clare removed to an asylum in 1837: bipolar disorder, a blow to the head, malaria (then a common complaint on the edge of the fens). But it seems to me that a contributing factor must have been the loss of almost all he knew and loved. His work is a remarkable document of life before and after social and environmental collapse, and the anomie that resulted.
What Clare suffered was the fate of indigenous peoples torn from their land and belonging everywhere. His identity crisis, descent into mental agony and alcohol abuse, are familiar blights in reservations and outback shanties the world over. His loss was surely enough to drive almost anyone mad; our loss surely enough to drive us all a little mad.
For while economic rationalisation and growth have helped to deliver us from a remarkable range of ills, they have also torn us from our moorings, atomised and alienated us, sent us out, each in his different way, to seek our own identities. We have gained unimagined freedoms, we have lost unimagined freedoms – a paradox Clare explores in his wonderful poem The Fallen Elm. Our environmental crisis could be said to have begun with the enclosures. The current era of greed, privatisation and the seizure of public assets was foreshadowed by them: they prepared the soil for these toxic crops.
…. As far as I'm concerned, 13 July is Clare Day, and I'll be raising a glass to celebrate and mourn him. I hope you'll join me.
It’s become a sordid place, hollowed by money, by fear, by a meanness bred in the mud of lies, in fever-swamps of self-regard and relentless self-deception.
For a long, long time, the energy of beginning, like the flush and fire of youth, gave a glamour and a momentum that could mask the many toxins feeding on the flame of life to grow more virulent, more corrosive. But youth is gone now, energy spent; the mask is tattered and hides nothing.
Here the last extracted, blood-flecked exhalation of the slave and the native are hanging in the ashen mist of sundown. Here the busted, bloated progeny of all-devouring pioneers are gathered in the dwindled light of an abandoned strip-mall storefront, where they grunt old war-cries and chew sour rags.
Stewing in righteousness. Strangled by the spittle of their garbled prayers to the wilting god in their mirrors. Tearing the songlines out of their brains. Losing the knowledge of letters. Shaving off the mountaintops, then blaming the sky for being too far away.
Below are a couple of refrains to mark this the day when we remember our freedoms. (And we certainly do have to remember them, like mourners at a funeral; most of them aren't here any more.) First we have a brief precis on political platforms in this election year, then a song in honor of one the very few patriots who have actually acted on behalf of their country in recent years: Bradley Manning, who tried to end our nation's damnable atrocity in Iraq by exposing the reality of imperial war. Unfortunately, he overestimated the moral character of his countrymen, who by and large greeted his revelations with a shrug of the shoulders -- when they weren't actively cheering his imprisonment and/or calling for his execution. The last refuge of scoundrels, indeed. Happy Fourth!
When I was growing up, the "four-day work week" was considered a viable political and social goal: the next logical step after the long and often bloody struggle to win a five-day week for most working people. Like "full employment," this idea was sometimes actually built into the public platforms of serious, broad-based parties and political movements.
Yes, children, before "wealth creators" and other masters of the universe were held up as worthy models for their 80-hour weeks and unstinting dedication to squeezing every single minute ever more tightly for a few more bucks -- before those of us who serve the creators and masters were supposed to be supinely grateful for working ever harder and longer to swell the bosses' private coffers -- there once existed the notion that there might actually be more to human life than the treadmill and the ant hill. And that we might even use the amazing technological advances that our species has produced to make life easier, richer, deeper, more engaging and humane for all of us.
All of this is long gone now, of course. As Owen Hatherly notes in the Guardian, both Right and Left have combined, for many decades, to advance the idea that pointless labor is our lot, and that we should be happy with it:
... Conservatives have always loved to pontificate about the moral virtue of hard work and much of the left, focusing on the terrible effects of mass unemployment, understandably gives "more jobs" as its main solution to the crisis. Previous generations would have found this hopelessly disappointing.
In almost all cases, utopians, socialists and other futurologists believed that work would come near to being abolished for one reason above all – we could let the machines do it. The socialist thinker Paul Lafargue wrote in his pointedly titled tract The Right To Be Lazy (1883):
"Our machines, with breath of fire, with limbs of unwearying steel, with fruitfulness wonderful inexhaustible, accomplish by themselves with docility their sacred labour. And nevertheless the genius of the great philosophers of capitalism remains dominated by the prejudices of the wage system, worst of slaveries. They do not yet understand that the machine is the saviour of humanity, the god who shall redeem man from working for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and liberty."
Oscar Wilde evidently agreed – in his 1891 essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism, he scorns the "nonsense that is written and talked today about the dignity of manual labour", and insists that "man is made for something better than distributing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine". He makes quite clear what he means:
"Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing".
Both Lafargue and Wilde would have been horrified if they'd realised that only 20 years later manual work itself would become an ideology in Labour and Communist parties, dedicating themselves to its glorification rather than abolition. ... American industrial theorists, strangely enough, seemed to share [these later] socialiists' views.
Of course, as Hatherly points out, in the hands of our wealth creators and universe masters, technology did eliminate a lot of work -- but not for those who labor and are heavy-laden. As with so much else in our system, the risks and downsides of technological development have been "socialized" -- borne solely by ordinary people -- while the profits and benefits are "privatized" into the coffers and control of the elite:
Yet the utopian vision of the elimination of industrial labour has in many ways come to pass. Over the past decade Sheffield steelworks produced more steel than ever before, with a tiny fraction of their former workforce; and the container ports of Avonmouth, Tilbury, Teesport and Southampton got rid of most of the dockers, but not the tonnage.
The result was not that dockers or steelworkers were free to, as Marx once put it, "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon and criticise after dinner". Instead, they were subjected to shame, poverty, and the endless worry over finding another job, which, if it arrived, might be insecure, poorly paid, un-unionised work in the service industry. In the current era of casualisation, that's practically the norm, so the idea of skilled, secure labour and pride in work doesn't seem quite so awful. Nonetheless, the workers' movement was once dedicated to the eventual abolition of all menial, tedious, grinding work. We have the machines to make that a reality today – but none of the will.
Yes, in our ultramodern, technologically super-savvy 21st century, we all must be grateful -- yea, humble and worshipful -- if we are lucky enough to be vouchsafed the privilege of wage slavery by the masters and creators.
This is what is known as "progress."
II. Hatherly's piece put me in mind of some scraps on this theme which I set down some time ago. These lines were initially prompted by some readings inBabylonian history, especially a passage about their belief that the gods, tired of working so hard themselves, made humankind to labor on their behalf.
Babylonian Theology If the gods themselves grew tired of ceaseless labor and rebelled, making the clay things that we are, endowing us with sufficient mind and spirit not only to do their work but also look and yearn beyond, why shouldn't we in our turn overthrow divine order in search of ease, rich pleasures and idleness?
Death, you say, will follow; but death is here already, it waits on the good servant and the bad, swallows both, swallows all. Why then blister your hand with the heft of an axe when you might instead lay it gently on some soft flesh?
No: proclaim yourself an enemy of all industry; he who works for another man's bread is a slave. Declare your fast devotion to the goddess of Joy: serve her with song, and wine, and every kind of dream.
Let no black hat or stiff collar come to charge you with sin or sloth or crime: if he'll crush no cup, then send him to the devil. If he will not sing, then let him die the blank white agonizing death in life of a soul unrooted from the natural way.
Every few weeks, we hear another story on the great danger posed to the security of the Republic if there is even a miniscule reduction in the rate of growth in the Pentagon budget. With wringing hands and furrowed brow and tones of stern alarum, they say the spigot must remain at full spate -- must even be increased -- if the shining city on the hill is to have the slightest chance to hold off the Yellow Peril, the Persian Menace, the Muslim Horde and all the other unknown unknowns that threaten our sacred way of life.
This is currently pitched in the context of budget cuts and austerity measures which have sadly been enforced on us all by the moral imperative of saving our financial elites from bearing the slightest tincture of responsibility or discomfort for the global economic meltdown they inadvertently and accidentally caused by years of systematic, deliberate and well-documented fraud. But of course, the Pentagon has been crying poor for years -- and never more so than in the 21st century, when it has commanded budgets beyond all human comprehension: trillions piled upon trillions, a floodtide sluicing off in a myriad of rivulets, coursing in all directions.
But still they cry, and still they are given, and still they spend, then cry for more. No one challenges them. The microscopic "cuts" (again, never in the actual military budget but only in its galloping growth rate) that are sometimes offered, meekly, are painfully absurd: even if enacted, they would amount to no more than throwing a sponge at Hurricane Katrina as it drove in the waters to drown New Orleans.
Five years ago -- yes, before the financial crash and the budget crisis -- I wrote a piece on this same theme, after the generals had gone to Congress, yet again, with their alarm bells and their bluster. The post focused not so much on their insatiable need for cash but on the undisguised imperial mindset behind it all: the begging brass, their Congressional enablers, and the media establishment that never questioned the hideous system these rituals exemplified.
And although the dramatis personae have changed slightly since that time, the mindset is even more pervasive, more entrenched, more brazen than before. So I thought it might be worth a second look. Here it is:
Hubris and Obscenity: Imperial Ambition on Naked Display Rarely has the imperial hubris that lies at the basis of U.S. foreign policy – the unspoken, unquestioned assumption of America's right to global domination by force – been so nakedly revealed than in the recent Washington Post story decrying the degraded state of the Pentagon's military preparedness. ("Military is Ill-Prepared for Other Conflicts") What makes the story so remarkable, and so valuable as a diagnostic tool for the health of the Republic (which could perhaps be most accurately described as "the sickness unto death") is that none of the generals or politicians quoted in the story – nor the writer herself – betray the slightest awareness of the moral obscenity upon which all their earnest concerns and diligent fact-finding are based.
On its surface, at the level of meaning it intends to convey to readers, the story is disturbing enough. The upshot is that Bush's reckless and stupid war of aggression in Iraq has plunged American military stocks and manpower reserves into a "death spiral" of depletion that will take years – and untold billions of dollars – to replenish. This in turn has put the United States in a horribly exposed strategic position, with the Pentagon incapable of responding "quickly and decisively to potential foreign crises," as the Post puts it. For example, the Army no longer has even a single brigade "ready to deploy within hours to an overseas hot spot," we're told. The highest brass – Joint Chief Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, and his vice chief, Gen. Richard Cody – attest, under oath, to the woeful state of unreadiness. Anonymous "senior officers" interviewed by the reporter then make clear the implications of their bosses' plaintive but coded warnings: the Iraq War is bleeding us dry.
On the second level of meaning – which the reporter may or may not have consciously intended to put across – we find something equally disturbing. Note well what the nation's top military officer, General Pace, has to say about this state of unreadiness:
In earlier House testimony, Pace said the military, using the Navy, Air Force and reserves, could handle one of three major contingencies, involving North Korea or -- although he did not name them -- Iran or China. But, he said, "It will not be as precise as we would like, nor will it be on the timelines that we would prefer, because we would then, while engaged in one fight, have to reallocate resources and remobilize the Guard and reserves."
The true import here is not so much the casualness with which these Beltway players – the generals, the legislators and the reporters – regard the prospect of war with North Korea, Iran and China as an unavoidable natural fact, something that is bound to happen sooner or later, and for which we must be massively steeled. This attitude is troubling, of course, but it's hardly news. No, what gives cause for the greatest immediate concern in Pace's remarks is his observation that in a coming "major contingency" – such as the all-but-inevitable attack on Iran – the Pentagon's campaign "will not be as precise as we would like." What is this but a tacit admission that when push comes to shove with Tehran, the United States will have to go in with a sledgehammer, lashing out left and right – no "surgical strike" against alleged nuclear facilities, but a blunderbuss assault, with the attendant "collateral damage" and destruction of civilian infrastructure that we have seen in Iraq (twice), Kosovo, Panama, Vietnam and other "contingencies."
Again, all of this is bad enough in itself. But it is the third level of meaning – never expressed either directly or indirectly but embodied by the story as a whole -- that is the most profoundly disturbing. The present state of affairs leaves the nation at grave risk, we are told. Why? Because it leaves the United States somewhat hobbled in its ability to impose its will military on any nation or region it so chooses. Again, attend to General Pace as he tells Congress that he is "not comfortable" with the Army's readiness:
"You take a lap around the globe -- you could start any place: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, North Korea, back around to Pakistan, and I probably missed a few. There's no dearth of challenges out there for our armed forces," Pace warned in his testimony.
This is not the statement of a military officer serving in the armed forces of a democratic republic devoted to the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of its citizens. This is the action list of a Roman general seeking more funds so that he might fulfill Caesar's commands for further conquests and punitive raids beyond the frontiers of the Empire. Nation after nation, in every corner of the globe, is laid out for possible military intervention – "and I probably missed a few." And the legislators – of both parties – who heard these dire warnings merely nodded their heads in solemn agreement: the United States must be ready at all times to strike with massive force at short notice anywhere and everywhere in the world.
Not as single Congressional official – or the reporter – ever asked the simple question: Why? Why must we be prepared to invade or intervene in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan at the drop of a hat, with at least an Army brigade's worth of troops backed up by air and naval power? In what way does the maintenance and expansion of a military establishment that has, as Chalmers Johnson notes, some "737 bases in more than 130 countries around the world" and the capacity for assaulting every other nation on earth advance the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of the American people? Because it "combats terrorism"? But the vast majority of the Pentagon's international empire was constructed long before this most elastic abstract noun became the bogeyman of America's night-mind. Most of it was built in the name of "fighting communism," that former all-devouring bogeyman who has now retired to shabby pensioner's digs in Havana.
But of course, these earlier outposts of empire were actually devoted to the same aim as the new imperial fortresses going up in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa: to assert American dominance of global political and economic affairs, to enrich politically connected American contractors (and the pols who grease them so diligently with public money), and to prevent the rise of any possible alternative systems in foreign countries that might adversely affect the power, privilege and profits of the American elite and their local collaborators. (And any such system, whether it was based on Marxism or – as was most often the case – not, was reflexively labeled "communism" and its adherents dehumanized, dispossessed, incarcerated or simply killed. The history of El Salvador during the Reagan-Bush administrations is but one example. And this demonization was the case even with the "liberation theology" advanced by anti-communist Catholic churchmen in Latin America – a movement so dangerous to the corrupt status quo that it is still being actively quashed today by the former head of the Inquisition, Pope Benedict.)
Here again, Chalmers Johnson is instructive. In a recent interview with Buzzflash.com, he notes:
…History tells us there’s no more unstable, critical configuration than the combination of domestic democracy and foreign empire. You can be one or the other. You can be a democratic country, as we have claimed in the past to be, based on our Constitution. Or you can be an empire. But you can’t be both.…The causative issue is militarism. Imperialism, by definition, requires military force. It requires huge standing armies. It requires a large military-industrial complex. It requires the willingness to use force regularly. Imperialism is a pure form of tyranny. It never rules through consent, any more than we do in Iraq today.
Imagine the uproar in Washington if the leading Chinese papers reported that the Red Army's top general had appeared before the Politburo and gave them a "trot around the globe," detailing, by name, the many nations that China must be able to attack at a moment's notice. Or asserted that China must be able to install and maintain hundreds of military bases all over the world to protect its interests. Or if Putin's top general told the Duma this. Or if Iran's military leaders declared that they too were going to place military bases in 130 countries and raise a military force capable of meeting "contingencies" in a range of specific countries – with the proviso, of course, that they "may have missed a few" potential targets for military action. And all of this, of course, cloaked in the rhetoric of justified defense, of helping others, of peace, prosperity and security for all humankind.
What an outcry we would hear from the White House, from Congress, from the media: "The arrogance of these foreign devils! The rank hypocrisy, gussying up their unbridled aggression, their naked greed, with flowery phrases! Why should they need such a vast military establishment – which goes far beyond the necessary requirements of defending their people – except to impose their will upon other nations? These ruthless military ambitions will destabilize the entire planet, set off frantic arms races, spark wars, sow mistrust, foment terrorism, drive millions into want and ruin. We won't stand for this kind of domination!"
Yet it was precisely this aggression, this greed, this ruthless ambition that was on full display in the generals' Congressional testimony, and the Washington Post article. And we wonder why the other nations of the world mistrust us. We wonder why they would even try – in their own small, pitiful ways – to arm themselves against us. We wonder why they denounce our policies, our benevolent interventions, our cruise missiles, our bombs, our checkpoints, our house raids, our renditions, our secret prisons, our unfortunate infliction of collateral damage – all of which are devoted solely to justified defense, to helping others, to the peace, prosperity and security of all humankind.
Gen. Pace is famously concerned with morality, as he demonstrated last week with his stern denunciation of homosexuality. The idea of two people of the same gender giving pleasure to one another outrages and sickens him. But the obscenity of visiting death and suffering on dozens of countries who have not attacked the United States; of killing, maiming and despoiling multitudes of innocent people who pose no threat to the United States; of bankrupting the people of the United States and utterly corrupting the Republic of the United States in the service of a rampant militarist empire – this doesn't trouble General Pace, or Congress, or the arbiters of our national discourse such as the Washington Post, in the least.
While progressives pop firecrackers in celebration of the great victory for Barack Obama's ACA (Advancing Corporate Authority) program -- which forcibly delivers customers to some of the most horrendous and inhumane companies in the land and fills the coffers of these heartbreak cartels with public loot -- another one of the president's landmark achievements continues to build up an enduring legacy for his visionary leadership.
We refer, of course, to the living hell he has helped make in Honduras. In one of the early foreign policy successes of his illustrious administration, Obama helped midwife a brutal coup by Honduran oligarchs, who overthrew a democratically elected president, sent him into exile, then began jailing and murdering those who objected to this regime change. Although almost all of the nations of Latin America condemned the coup, Obama and his equally progressive Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, told the Hondurans to get over it, and embraced the murderous new government.
This despicable policy -- a throwback to the very worst of America's long and very dirty history in Latin America -- has not provoked the slightest ripple of concern from our earnest progressives. Of course it goes without saying that the earnest regressives on the Right have raised no objection either. (And they say bipartisanship is dead in Washington.) But you would think that people who make a profession (not to say a fetish) of progressivism might be just the slightest bit wiggly at the sight of their champion channeling Nixon in Chile and Reagan in Guatemala. But no: the most important thing in the world is that Barack's corporate welfare scam has been validated by suddenly saintly John Roberts.
It’s three years since the coup in Honduras that sent President Manuel Zelaya into exile in his pyjamas. Porfirio Lobo, who took over as president in January 2010 following highly questionable elections, is more than halfway through his term. The only grounds for optimism are offered by the resistance movement that sprang up after the coup.
Much that’s wrong with Honduras is illustrated by a recent incident. In the small hours of 11 May, in the remote Moskitia region, there was a drugs bust led by helicopters from the United States Drugs Enforcement Administration. The facts are clouded, but an on-the-ground investigation appears to confirm that sacks of cocaine had been transferred from a small plane to a boat which – spotted by the DEA helicopter – was then abandoned, with the drug-runners escaping into the night. A nearby passenger boat, about to put into the small port of Paptalaya, was mistakenly fired on, and four people were killed and several injured. The DEA personnel prevented people from helping the victims, violently intimidated the local community and did nothing to secure medical assistance for the injured. No drug traffickers were arrested, though 400 kg of cocaine was recovered from the drifting boat. (According to the Honduran police, the four victims were in a boat that fired on the authorities; the DEA says that none of its agents shot at anyone.)
The incident is indicative of [several] characteristics of Honduras since the coup. The first is drugs. In a suspiciously precise assessment, the DEA says that 79 per cent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America land in Honduras. Drug-running makes money for some of the country’s most powerful people. Miguel Facussé, described by the New York Times as ‘the octogenarian patriarch of one of the handful of families controlling much of Honduras’s economy’, was a strong supporter of the coup. He has been known to the US authorities as a drug-runner since 2004.
Second, violence is widespread. The murder rate in Honduras is four times Mexico’s, and it is now the world’s most dangerous country for journalists, with 23 assassinated since the coup. Four deaths in a remote region, especially in one of the country’s indigenous communities, are unremarkable. Last weekend, DEA agents killed another man in the same area.
Third, the peremptory official investigation into what happened in Moskitia in May is typical. Four months after the Comayagua prison fire in which 360 people died, no one has been charged. Police were implicated in the murder last October of the son of the rector of Honduras’s main university and, last month, of the journalist Alfredo Villatoro (an associate of President Lobo). No one has been charged in those cases either.
Violence, corruption and death for the truth. A marvelous legacy for our progressive commander -- one that even mean old Antonin Scalia can't threaten!
Plutarch writes that during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, an Egyptian pilot, Thamus, sailing to Italy, was called by a strange voice, which cried out to him: "Thamus, when you reach Palodes, tell them that the great god Pan is dead!" Following certain portents, Thamus did as he was told; Plutarch writes that a great lamentation rose from the shore at this news.
The story has long been seen as a symbolic representation of the death of the Classical world and its replacement by Christianity -- a process which actually occurred, with much strife and agony, over the next few centuries.
The piece below is a telescoped glimpse at this process, whose faint afterglow can still be seen, and felt, in our world today, in myriad forms.
Where were you when they raised the cry That the great god Pan is dead? The sailors hauled up near the shore While the dawn was glowing red. With a single voice, they made lament So that all might hear and know That a mighty force had left the world And joined the shades below.
It echoed through the woods and hills, And down every mountain stream. The earth itself looked dazed and pale, As if shaken from a dream. The roaring sun turned dark at noon, And a shiver split the ground. And every beast of field and sky Cried havoc all around.
Oh, yesterday the world was filled with the pulse of wild joy Now we cower in the shadow of the all-devouring void
The murk is thick and every path we take is choked with thorns And where the bride once stood arrayed, a lonely widow mourns
O darling, hold on tight to me, A change is gonna come: A different way to live and see – No more the pipe and drum. No more the trance in ivy-time, No more the dance and flow. The saints will ride with fire and sword To strike the final blow.
Overthrow the constitutionally elected democratic government. Install willing stooges, backed by local oligarchs, in its place. Send in your own troops to take part in the crusade du jour (anti-communism, anti-terrorism, the "War on Drugs") and establish your iron dominion over the lesser breeds south of the border. Repeat as often as necessary.
It's a tried-and-true formula, a traditional remedy, as American as apple pie, Chevrolet and murdering wedding guests and funeral-goers by remote control from a comfy chair in a secure fortress 10,000 miles away. And Barack Obama -- who is nothing if not a genuine American Traditionalist -- is carrying on the grand tradition of America's always extra-special relationship with the nations of Central America.
Last Saturday, the Obama Administration finally came clean on its "commando-style" operations in Honduras -- the country whose government Obama helped overthrow in the rosy dawn of his progressive presidency. A "commando" of the Drug Enforcement Agency shot and killed a man in a group of alleged drug smugglers who had surrendered after a raid. As the New York Times reports:
During the operation,[U.S. embassy spokesman Stephen] Posivak said, the government agents told a group suspected of smuggling to surrender. Four of the suspects did so and were arrested, but a fifth reached for a holstered weapon. The American agent shot him before he could fire.
“The suspect, instead of surrendering, reached for his firearm,” Mr. Posivak said. “The other suspects surrendered, but this guy went for his gun.”
Well, that's what Mr. Posivak said, so it must be true. It may even be as true as the story of Osama bin Laden going for his gun when he was shot down unarmed in his bed. Or maybe the "guy" in Honduras was reaching for his holstered weapon in order to surrender it, as ordered. Who knows? But if the story changes tomorrow or next week, we should not be surprised -- nor should it make us doubt the words of our leaders and their Posivaks as they try their darndest to give us the true facts through the ever-present "fog of war."
America's drug-warring commandos have been linked to a number of deaths in Honduras this year -- including a raid in which two pregnant women were killed, according to local eyewitnesses -- but the White House has always denied that our boys were actually pulling the triggers. But now, after the carefully orchestrated revelations by "administration insiders" about Obama's weekly Death Squad meetings -- and the near-universal non-reaction to this story by the media-political establishment and the general public -- there's no need to hide a little penny-ante wetwork down south. Now it's praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, the whole world is a "free-fire zone."
As the NYT noted in an earlier story about the spread of American "forward bases" in the client land, "government leaders in Honduras, who came to power in a controversial election a few months after a 2009 coup, have strongly supported assistance from the United States, but skeptics contend that enthusiasm is in part because the partnership bolsters their fragile hold on power."
Oh, those skeptics. Always pouring cold water on even the most altruistic operation. For everyone knows that the sole and only single purpose of the War on Drugs is to keep the pusherman away from little Sally's middle-school playground. Sure, the Drug War has given rise to the most powerful underworld organizations the world has ever seen; sure, it's corrupted governments and politics around the world on a staggering scale; sure, it's stuffed respectable banks with obscene profits from money-laundering; sure, it's led to the deaths of countless thousands of innocent people, fueled civil wars and insurgencies, served as an excuse for government repression and tyranny, and blighted the lives of millions of people who have been jailed and ruined for the crime of choosing the wrong kind of intoxicant. But despite this 40-year record of carnage and despair (which, oddly enough, has not curtailed the trafficking and use of drugs), we all know that the War on Drugs is a good thing. It has made the world a better place.
And that's why a good progressive like Barack Obama has embraced the War on Drugs with same avidity with which he has taken up -- and extended -- the War on Terror. That's why our boys are down in Honduras today, shooting "guys" with holstered weapons and helping our satraps keep their grip on the power we gave them.
II. But just to give a little context to this noble crusade, we might look back at Obama's progressive dealing with Honduras since coming to power. As I wrote here last year, in a piece that came out as the White House was basking in the glow of the bin Laden killing:
One of President Barack Obama's most signal achievements in inter-American relations has been his countenancing of a brutal coup in Honduras and his avid embrace of the repressive regime produced by the elitist overthrow of the democratically elected government. As we noted here last year:
Since the installation of these throwbacks to the corrupt and brutal 'banana republics' of yore, Obama's secretary of state, the "progressive" Hillary Clinton, has spent a good deal of time and effort trying to coerce Honduras' outraged neighbors in Latin America to "welcome" the thug-clique, now led by Porfirio Lobo, back into the "community of nations." Let bygones be bygones, Clinton says, as Lobo's regime murders journalists (nine so far this year), political opponents and carries on the wholesale trashing of Honduran independence (such as sacking four Supreme Court justices who opposed the gutting of liberties and the overthrow of constitutional order). After all, isn't that Obama's own philosophy: always "look forward," forget the crimes of the past? Every day is a new day, a clean slate, a chance for a new beginning -- indeed, for "hope and change."
In other words: let the dead bury the dead -- and the rich and powerful reap their rewards.
And even as Obama basks in the atavistic glow of the Warrior Prince (you would think he'd killed bin Laden in single combat on the field of battle instead of ordering 80 Navy Seals to storm a house filled with women and children and shoot an unarmed man), his favored elites in Honduras continue to hunt down and kill those who seek to shine the smallest light on their corrupt, repressive rule. As the Washington Post reported last week:
Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a journalist outside his home in a city in northern Honduras, officials said Wednesday. Francisco Medina, a 35-year-old television reporter, was ambushed Tuesday night in the city of Morazan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Honduras’ capital, said Santos Galvez, a member of Honduras’ College of Journalists press group .....
In his reporting, Medina was critical of the Honduran national police and of private security firms contracted by ranchers in the area, where drug traffickers operate. Medina became the 11th journalist to be killed in the past 18 months in Honduras. ... A committee of missing persons in Honduras said Medina was followed by two men on a motorcycle after his evening show. They shot him three times in the back and once in his arm as he was about to enter his home. Relatives of Medina called an ambulance, which took him to a hospital. He later died. Medina’s brother, Carlos Medina, said police officers refused to escort the journalist in the ambulance.
This is a precise echo of the case noted here last year:
[From John Perry at the London Review of Books]: On the night of 14 June, Luis Arturo Mondragón was sitting with his son on the pavement outside his house in the city of El Paraíso in western Honduras. He had often criticised local politicians on his weekly radio programme, the latest edition of which had just been broadcast. He had received several death threats, but disregarded them. At 10 p.m. a car drew up and the driver fired four bullets, killing him instantly. Mondragón was the ninth journalist to be murdered so far this year. Honduras is now officially the most dangerous country in the world in which to work for the press.
The overthrow of President Zelaya last year was only the second military coup in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. The first, a US-backed attempt to overthrow Chávez in Venezuela in 2002, was a failure. The coup in Tegucigalpa shouldn’t have succeeded either: Obama had promised a new approach to US policy in the region, and there was strong popular resistance to the coup in Honduras itself. And yet, a year on, the coup’s plotters have got practically everything they wanted. ...
Perry notes that Roland Valenzuela, a former minister in Zelaya’s government, claimed in an interview that he had papers which named several American-connected business figures behind the coup plot, including "former members of the army death squad known as Battalion 316." Perry also notes that "in aseparate development, it has become known that the plane which flew Zelaya out of the country first called at the US airforce base Palmerola."
We'll close with an excerpt from another piece on Obama's regime change op in Honduras, which sums up the staunch traditionalism displayed by the President again this week:
Barack Obama's famed "continuity" with his predecessors goes far beyond his avid, almost erotic embrace of George W. Bush's Terror War atrocities (foreign and domestic). In Latin America, it goes back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when American-backed, American-trained death squads and military juntas slaughtered thousands of people and stripped their people to the bone with the scorched-earth economics of oligarchy. (An ancient, barbaric system now being energetically imposed throughout the "developed" world, under the cover of "deficit reduction.") But of course, Reagan himself was standing on the shoulders of giants when it came to his Latin America policies, simply soldiering on in the proud tradition of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, James K. Polk and other paragons now chiseled in history's alabaster.
Below is a reprise of a piece I wrote some years ago: a work of "political fiction" (in the strict sense of the term -- not a euphemism for the slagheap of lies pouring out of Washington and other world capitals every day). In some respects, it chimes with themes currently being explored in a new series by Arthur Silber, who is using historical material to put our present day in a different, and disturbing, perspective. The piece below incorporates some direct quotes (with slight alterations) from our modern-day imperial apologists. As Faulkner once said: the past is never dead; it's not even past.
(P.S. While you're checking out Silber's series, consider dropping a few coins, if you've got them, in the contribution box there. Silber, driven to the margins of our benevolent society by ill health, depends on reader contributions to keep going. As we've noted often here, his is an important voice that we can ill afford to lose.)
The original version of this article appeared in the Feb. 22 2006 edition of The Moscow Times.
BERLIN, May 12, 2153 – Within the ivy-covered walls of Farben University, a great battle is now raging. But although the Reich's ancient capital has seen its share of warfare down through the centuries, today's combatants have no swords, no guns, no bio-disrupters – just words and pictures, marshalled on either side of a fierce debate that has split the staid academic world in two, and is beginning to spill over into national politics as well. It all revolves around a simple question: Was the German Empire a good thing or a bad thing?
At one time, the answer would have seemed clear. In the three decades since the last "Reich Protectorate" gained its independence (Ukraine, 2122), the liberal consensus among German historians has been that the Empire founded more than 200 years ago by Adolf Hitler was largely a malign development: "a system born in aggression and atrocity, which inflicted terrible suffering on the conquered lands for generations, and warped German society itself with its arrogance, brutality and corruption," as Germany's leading historian, Yuri Vinogradov, put it in his landmark 2128 work, Reich and Reality. That book set the tone for a flood of hard-hitting probes into Reich history that left almost no nationalist myth intact.
But in recent years, a group of conservative historians – dubbed the "Revisionists" – have sternly challenged this view. Led by the young Danzig firebrand, Gregor Metzger, the Revisionists argue that the achievements of the Empire – and the "Leader-State system" that was replaced by parliamentary democracy in 2120 – have been denigrated by, in Metzger's words, "liberal apologists picking at old scabs."
"Everyone knows there were blots on the Empire's record," Metzger says. "No one today would countenance, say, the early Reich's treatment of the Jews or the excesses in putting down the Muslim Rebellions in the Caucasus, etc. But neither should we look back and impose our modern values on the people of those times. Rather, we should try to understand them in their own context – and appreciate their many accomplishments."
These accomplishments, say the Revisionists, include: the eradication of Communism in Europe; the establishment of a continent-wide free market for goods, labor and capital; the creation of a common legal system and government institutions now used by most of the old colonies; and the planting of large settler communities throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia that have evolved into thriving cities and "carried the values of Western Civilization deep into benighted and lawless lands," as Metzger writes in his best-selling new book, The End of Shame: German Power in Perspective.
The Revisionists' work has been taken up by conservative politicians seeking to roll back many of the democratic reforms and cultural freedoms instituted by what they scornfully call "the new Weimar Republic." Citing Metzger and others, they are advancing a "national greatness agenda" to foster pride in the Homeland, restore "traditional moral values" to society, and reassert German dominance in world affairs. The centrist government, put on the defensive by these attacks, has increasingly adopted more nationalist rhetoric, and last month cancelled a long-planned exhibition at the National Museum on "Hitler's Tainted Legacy," calling it "too biased."
Much of the academic debate turns on interpretations of the Speer Era (1947-81). After Hitler's death from cancer in 1947, Armaments Minister Albert Speer took power with the backing of intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris in a brief but bloody coup against the Nazi old guard. He then negotiated an armistice, and the battle lines of the deadlocked armies became the boundaries of the new world order, leaving Germany in control of Europe from the Pyrenees to the Urals.
To the Revisionists, Speer and Canaris are heroes – pragmatic moderates who curbed the Regime's ugliest aspects while preserving its vast territorial gains and consolidating its power. "Although Leader Hitler's dream of a civilizing German empire in the East was somewhat skewed by his unfortunate adherence to the American pseudo-science of eugenics, it was still a noble vision," Metzger says. "Leader Speer purged this vision of its dross and made it the foundation of our modern world."
For the liberals, that is precisely the problem. "After the coup, Speer could have restored democracy," says Vinogradov. "He could have withdrawn from the conquered lands. He could have made reparations to Hitler's victims and confronted the nation's guilt. Instead he chose to assume Hitler's mantle, the semi-divine aura of the 'Leader,' exalting power above the law. Centuries of crime and tyranny flowed from that fatal choice. Yes, he closed the death-camps – but prosecuted no one for these atrocities. He accelerated the land-theft of the settlements, and drafted millions into forced labor to make up for the loss of native Germans to the colonies. Why pretend this was somehow noble or glorious? We should simply tell the truth about it."
Vinogradov is himself a product of the forced labor policy. When the Soviet state collapsed after Stalin's retreat to the Urals, European Russia was savagely reduced, and its territory parceled out to other Reich protectorates. Moscow was razed to the ground in 1944 and never rebuilt; its carefully preserved ruins are still a popular attraction for German tourists. Vinogradov's ancestors, native Muscovites, were shipped to Germany to work in the fields.
The Revisionists say the "scab-picking" over the past is irrelevant in the modern world. "What's done is done," says Metzger. "The Romans have already conquered Carthage. Britain has already built its imperial wealth on slavery and colonial rule. The Americans have already slaughtered the Indians and chained the slaves. We can't unring the bell. Nor should we want to. What matters are the long-term benefits to civilization we have accrued from those who came before us, whatever their mistakes or misdeeds might have been. Which of these benefits would you give up to rectify some ancient historical wrong?"
Metzger, tipped by many as the likely replacement for Vinogradov when he retires as head of the Farben history faculty next year, can't resist a slight personal dig at his venerable rival.
"One wonders if Herr Professor Vinogradov would enjoy the same kind of prosperity – and freedom to criticize – he possesses today if the Communist evil had not been destroyed, at great sacrifice, by German power," Metzger says. "While one sincerely regrets the injuries to the professor's forbears, I think, on balance, we can say that the liberation of the East from Stalinist tyranny was a boon for all humanity."
Vinogradov shrugs off these "shallow" arguments. "The point of historical research is not to dispossess the present, but to disillusion it: to strip away self-serving myth and fatal ignorance, in order to see more clearly how we got here, and what it really cost, and how these costs shape – and distort – our responses to reality. Otherwise, we are blind – easy prey for the abusers of power and their murderous deceptions."
A complete misinterpretation of my post. I'm advocating international consensus with credible enforcement as the means for resolving this problem. It's not as if there isn't a model for that: it's called a police force enforcing laws voted by consensus, and it's the model in every major world democracy.
The tendency of hairless monkeys in every community and nation state is restricted by the progressive power of the community to limit the private power to enforce injustice. My argument isn't a difference in kind, but only in degree. I do not see the nation-state as the pinnacle of human governmental organization.
Thanks for the response. However I disagree with the notion that my piece distorted your views. It dealt entirely with your idea about an international police force (or multinational peacekeeping force, as you originally put it) to impose enlightened, civilized values on nations, societies and religious groups. You reiterate those views here with admirable clarity. Where then is the misinterpretation? I simply tried to apply the logic of the system you advocate to existing reality, and inquired how such a system would really work in practice.
But the questions I addressed in my piece remain unanswered: Who will control this force? Who will pay for it, equip it, command it, staff it? (I see in the comments to your original post that you actually want to impose conscription on the entire world to fill the ranks of your global army! This is world-ordering on a Shigalovian scale, beyond the wildest dreams of the most fervent neo-con.) But again, who makes the decisions for this international military force, which must of necessity be a gargantuan war machine, capable of invading nations and bending not just whole countries but, in your own words, whole civilizations to its will?
Or to use your latest terms, who will forge this "international consensus"? Who will define and decide precisely which values, beliefs, policies and practices of this or that "in-group" requires "credible enforcement" by armed force? How will these deciders and definers be chosen? By whom? By what mechanism? Who will validate this choice? If, as you clearly say, we are all "essentially hairless monkeys whose basic dispositions haven't evolved that much" and who will "fight each other for the stupidest reasons," which group of stupid, unevolved, violent hairless monkeys do you suggest take on this leadership role?
These are all your own words and concepts, by the way. They are not being "misinterpreted"; they are being carefully considered and taken seriously. And if one does you the honor of taking your proposal seriously, such questions about "command and control" of this international police force keep multiplying. And given the terms you lay out, there is no apparent answer as to who will make these decisions other than a self-appointed elite who have somehow evolved a higher understanding.
It is clear that you don't see the nation-state as "the pinnacle of governmental organization." That's fine. Only a fool would believe that any kind of organization devised by imperfect human beings is a "pinnacle" that cannot be bettered. But that is not the issue here. The issue is the kind of human governmental organization you are advocating, and if such an organization -- predicated on the power of implacable, irresistible violence -- would in fact produce a more peaceful, humane and happy world.
And no one denies that these matters involve "differences in degree." But that is true of almost everything. I have a small cut on my arm: one doctor prescribes a dab of alcohol to prevent infection; another doctor prescribes hacking the whole arm off with a machete. This isn't a difference in kind, but only in degree. It is the degree that is the whole question here. A local police force is entirely different, in degree, from a global military force capable of breaking whole nations and killing vast amounts of people to impose "the progressive power of the community" (as defined by unknown people according to unknown criteria.)
Again, I believe I have not misinterpreted your post at all. If anything, I have understood your post -- taken it more seriously, thought about it more carefully -- than you seem to have. In the end, I think it comes down to the "Karamazov question": which innocent child should we kill to ensure universal peace and harmony? And who will make that decision?
And yes, it is a difference in degree: in order to have a local police force, making arrests with warrants, writing tickets, etc., you don't necessarily have to rip the bodies of small children to shreds. But you cannot have a "international police force" capable of doing what you specifically advocate -- invading and "policing" whole nations and societies and civilizations and imposing your value system on them-- without killing many, many innocent people, over and over again.
Perhaps this doesn't trouble you. Perhaps this collateral damage is, in Madeline Albright's famous words, "worth it" to you in order that your idea of proper order be imposed across the world. But such considerations do trouble me. And that's why I addressed them in my piece.
*** NOTE: This post has been edited since its original appearance to clarify and amplify the passage about "international conscription."