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Oct 27, 2017

What I've Been Reading Lately

tags: Raymond Bonner; Andrew Bacevich; Nick Fischer; Polner

Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

"All that I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice.' –  Albert Camus, 1948

Milton Viorst's probing and relevant "Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal" (St. Martin's Press) will not be appreciated by our obedient American Israel lobby and the many American governments and politicians whose support for Jewish money and votes have ruined any possibility for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian bitter dispute.

For me, the book recalls my former American Jewish Committee boss, David Gordis,   who bravely and publicly called  today's Israel "a failure... distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behavior rather than the best"-- as it also tries to silence   any and all criticisms of Israeli policies  by  American Jews and non-Jews. 

Viorst, a longtime observer of the Middle East, poses a central problem and offers some answers to "How did Zionism, over the course of a century, evolve from the idealism of providing refuge for beleaguered Jews to a rationalization for the army's occupation of powerless Palestinians?" And, too, how and why did "Zionism became increasingly defined by military power?"


The New York Times, which initially approved George the whiz kid Bush's decision to invade Iraq, recently, published an angry editorial, "America's Forever Wars," in which it asked Americans "how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate." The august newspaper, which had initially backed  the invasion of Iraq, had the gall to quote Andrew Bacevich, a conservative  dove, and  retired army colonel and Boston University professor, whose  soldier son was killed in Iraq, writing that "a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America..."

True enough, but in his essential and imperative book, "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, (Metropolitan, Holt)" Bacevich wisely points to the continuing bloody blunders and misinterpretations born of ignorance and set in concrete--or crimes by our leaders if you prefer -- "from the era of Forrestal and Nitze to the present, [they] have repeatedly misconstrued and exaggerated existing targets with perverse effects."If anyone needs yet another example and they haven't already done so, they need to view the latest Ken Burns-Lynn Novick fascinating if quite imperfect documentary about our defeat in Vietnam or if in Manhattan. visit the New York Historical Society's exhibit. "The Vietnam War," 1945-1975."

So who's next? Iran?  North Korea? Syria?  Russia? Maybe we're crazy enough to invade Venezuela?


"The lifeblood of anticommunist propaganda was conspiracy theory,"  argues Nick Fischer, an Austrian scholar in his compelling   "Spider Web: The Birth of American  Anticommunism  (University of Illinois), dangerous nonsense which soon became the rationale for our  worthless wars and  baloney like the Cold War's Domino Theory,  the widely- accepted notion that the Commies were everywhere and every place ,a  potent menace, at home and abroad,  an overstatement repeated ad nauseum  and which became the unquestioned mantra for why we  had to kill so many people.

 0ur hysterical obsession with -Communism led to ugly and indefensible Red Scares and blacklists. The lack of interest by our courts in our unconstitutional Presidential  wars,  (see what the Founding Fathers said about the process of  going to war) meant that people were deported  or  went to prison for their political beliefs. Thus, many of our wars could never end without the approval of those who started and defended them.

"The intellectual, moral and psychological paralysis of paranoid anti-communist conspiracy theory," wrote Fischer, was fostered and operated by those who benefitted politically and financially from 1917-to the first Cold War era and now threatens to continue as a sequel.  And of course "It led to the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers in external wars of choice," about whom few Americans care or remember.


But back to the NY Times and its why Americans haven't protested our nonstop, senseless wars editorial (Have the Times' editors?)  The editorial implies that one explanation is the absence of a draft. (As a veteran, I absolutely disagree)  With a draft, it means non-military families will then  care about our wars and their sons and daughters will once again shutdown their campuses, and march on Washington shouting "Hell No, We Won't Go." To which Bacevich smartly adds that sort of hot air is "akin to the notion that putting Christ back in Christmas will reawaken American spirituality. A pleasant enough fantasy, it overlooks the forces that transformed a religious holiday into an orgy of consumption in the first place." The truth is that all a draft can do is stimulate the appetite of our conservative, neocon and liberal hawks and lead to more wars, more graves and more monuments in Washington.


Then to  Central America, where the underlying principle -- especially since Reagan ---  was that the Commies were coming, the weathered theme  beloved by  our bellicose  neoconservatives, few if any had ever worn  a military uniform or sent their kids to war  Still, Nick Fischer shrewdly understands the propaganda barrage aimed at the US public about  the Red Menace and wrote that it also  "justified the violent overthrow of  democratically elected governments in Latin America  (and Iran)."'Secrets of State: Declassified History of the Chilean Dictatorship," recently shown at an exhibition in Santiago, Chile, revealed once more  about  US-assistance offered by the amoral Nixon regime in  overthrowing the democratically-elected Salvador Allende, the Socialist  President and  which brought Chileans  the US puppet Pinochet,  a  dedicated homicidal fascist. There is now speculation in Chile that the estimable Chilean poet, the Communist Pablo Neruda, did not die of cancer, as claimed by the Pinochet gang, but instead may have been murdered, But at this point in time that's  conjecture.

But it's hardly  speculation  when writing about  what America's anti-communist  serial killer  friends did elsewhere, as  in Guatemala where they and their Israeli friends tried to evade congressional limitations on  arms for the Guatemalan army which the Guatemalan Truth Commission  concluded had executed 100,000 of their countrymen and women.   Much the same happened in El Salvador, one of the poorest and most repressive nations in the Western Hemisphere. There, its repressive rulers were backed by --who else? -- the US, which believed the Salvadoran rebels were Reds in disguise. Their civil war lasted twelve gory years   And at war's end, some 75,000 Salvadorans were dead and its Truth for El Salvador Commission reported in 1993 that "the government forces" --our buddies-  :were responsible for eighty-five percent of the atrocities and human rights abuses."

Raymond Bonner's brilliant investigative report, "Weakness and Deceit: America and El Salvador's Dirty War" (0R Books) was one of two intrepid reporters (Bonner of the NY Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post and later The New Yorker the other) were the first to tell of the El Mozote mass murders, when some 900 residents of the small village of El Mozote were butchered by our pals in the Salvadoran army in December 1981.  

Bonner is on the mark when he closes. "Having learned little or nothing from the Vietnam debacle, the US read the coming of the leftwing Sandinistas in Nicaragua as the start of yet another version of the Domino Theory"-- which sees the entire Western Hemisphere as American private property, yet denies Russia and China the right to define it own --equally unjustified-- national interests in their regions of influence. `


And what about future wars involving Russia and NATO --the latter basically a Washington rental?

 Dave Majumdar,is the defense editor for the centrist  "National Interest" and his essay, "This is What a NATO vs. Russia War Over the Baltics Would Look Like" concludes that such a war isn't in the  immediate cards,  at least for now,  but  some unexpected mix-up could always  lead to big trouble, a la Sarajevo.   Majumdar winds up: "If NATO forces cross into Russian territory that might provoke a nuclear response from Moscow." Now here's the good news. "Such a war will almost certainly escalate into a full-up nuclear war between the planet's only two nuclear superpowers--which means everyone loses."


And then there's Iran, where our  civilian neoconservatives    who brought us the invasion of Iraq-- would love seeing it smashed by Americans storming the beaches of Iran, an imaginary replay of D-Day, and its bombers killing millions of ordinary Iranians.

Writing in the paleo-conservative"The American Conservative," Harry J. Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest offers his take.

In "I Fought a War Against Iran--and It Ended Badly, he referred to war games he had participated in 2013, which ended with the US and Iran at war but which now has him wondering, "Is war with Iran inevitable?" His answer: "It seems possible. And then he appends his personal feelings:"I'm scared to death" and explains. "It doesn't take a lot of imagination to dream up a situation where Washington and Teheran come close to the brink of war quite quickly. Indeed, it isn't out of the question that America could soon face what could be the ultimate foreign policy nightmare--crises with both Iran and North Korea at the same time."


Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier- son was killed in Iraq and was then mocked by our war lovers for her public mourning when she camped out near George W. Bush's Texas ranch in 2005. Referring to the recent dustup about what to say to a dead soldier's family, Sheehan told "The Daily Beast":

"I wish the conversation [with Trump and Bush and the family of dead military men] was about the barbarism of war and, in this instance, why are there special ops forces in Niger. Where is the movement to oppose US wars, instead of liberal handwringing over botched messages of condolences? My grief was exploited by Democrats and Republicans alike to score political points and win elections. And the wars I swore to stop are still going, and have expanded dramatically."

Dear Cindy Sheehan: Thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom. But the truth is that our historic addiction to war -will go on and on and on. Sadly, Plus ca change....

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