Causes Without Rebels: What Ails America Today

Imperial Proconsul Bremer, desert boots and all, in a distinctly American moment

Imperial Proconsul Bremer, desert boots and all, in a distinctly American moment

Michael Brenner

There are more reasons for Americans to feel aggrieved today than at any time since the Vietnam War ended nearly 40 years ago.  At no time before or since has there been so little effort to remedy those conditions. That contradiction should be our main grievance.

The array of deeply troubling national abuses is extensive and varied.  There is the unprecedented assault on personal liberties best exemplified by the de facto repeal of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.  We are subject to massive, indiscriminate surveillance that opens our private communications and movements to governmental scrutiny.  This is done with impunity by spy agencies that are encouraged in this intrusion by the President, a bipartisan consensus in Congress, and a judiciary that casts a blind eye on these infringements.  Citizens are by law now subject to imprisonment at the whim of the Executive wherever and whenever an arbitrary determination is made that anyone is a threat to national security.  Incarceration can be done anonymously without right to appeal – an annulment of habeas corpus.  American citizens outside the country are liable to be targeted for assassination on the basis of a similarly arbitrary determination by the President that he or she may take violent action against the United States, its people or its interests.  Four citizens already have been so liquidated – only one of whom had association with a hostile organization. The standard of “clear and imminent” threat has been so twisted as to be infinitely elastic.

In the economic sphere, the country has degenerated into a plutocracy wherein the wielders of great wealth dictate the terms of economic policy while exploiting what is for practical purposes immunity from punishment or meaningful regulation.  Financial predators triggered the financial collapse of 2008 through egregious actions that were aided and abetted by those with the nominal responsibility to monitor their conduct.  They escaped chastisement or suppression of their privileges to exploit and to outright plunder.  Their representatives were appointed to the key positions whose supposed mandate was to remedy the situation by President Obama.  The result was an emasculated legislation, the Dodd-Franks bill, that carried little potential to rein in abuse.  The deliberately lethargic process of implementing its provisions has seen the regulatory authorities work hand-in-glove with Wall Street to eliminate or neutralize whatever potential there was.

The Great Recession of 2008 – 2014 has been used to transfer roughly one trillion dollars in national wealth from 70% of Americans to the top 1%.  Inequality is greater today than at any time since the introduction of the progressive income tax nearly a century ago.  The inflation discounted earnings of salaried Americans have barely risen since 1970, i.e. virtually all of the expanded wealth created over that period has gone to the owners of capital and not to workers.  Tax laws and regulations are riddled with exemptions that allow corporations, and the super-rich, to minimize their obligations to the Treasury.  Apple used virtual cyber addresses to pay zero taxes last year. GE received a refund on revenues of $83 billion; so did Boeing on profits of $5.9 billion – over the past five years, its aggregate tax bill has been zero.

Prospects are for an aggravation of this condition.  Cutbacks in Social Security are now the taken as a given by both the Republicans and most Democrats.  The evisceration of trade unions, the freedom given businesses to eliminate benefits and slash wages by hiring more and more part-timers, the scapegoating of public employees as the cause of what ails American competitiveness, the resort to outsourcing and expatriation of jobs as the standard business practice – all of these developments together ensure that the fate of the American wage earner is bleak.  To aggravate their work life even further, draconian forms of worker control made possible by sophisticated monitoring technology are turning them into regimented chattels.

Looking abroad, we see the United States committed to a strategy of global power projection – political and military – independent of any concrete threat or specific purpose.  That entails the maintenance of a vastly inflated Pentagon budget, a vastly inflated intelligence budget, the extension of military bases into over 100 countries, and the subordination of diplomacy to coercion as the operative principle of the nation’s foreign policy.  Projection of American power is integral to a loosely conceived but boundless Global War On Terror (GWOT).  Set on achieving absolute security, it leads inexorably to a strategy of prevention that targets anyone or any group that could become a threat.  What began as a campaign against al-Qaeda has spiraled into an open-ended war against Islamic radicalism anywhere – even though most of groups have no intention of attacking the United States and none has the means to reach us.

The GWOT has had the effect of legitimizing the radical doctrine of establishing “full spectrum” military dominance in every region of the world.  None of these grand ideas have been candidly stated, much less debated.  They have led to embarrassing failure almost everywhere. The immediate expression of this strategic vision is the Obama administration’s unrelenting efforts to keep 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.  This is in direct contradiction of repeated pledges that the war there would be over by the end of 2014.  It also is pursued without any half-way persuasive justification; indeed, there is no public justification made whatsoever.  Despite the twelve plus years of serial fiasco that marks American interventions under the aegis of the Global War On Terror, despite the sullying of the country’s good name through torture, mass incarceration and “collateral” killing, our leaders presume deference to their dubious judgment and feel no obligation to pay a decent respect to the opinions of their fellow citizens.

Trapped in the warped post-9/11 mindset, the country has lost any sense of the absurd.  We see American soldiers scrambling around the high valleys of the Hindu Kush in pursuit of Pashtun tribesman become Taliban whose main interest in the United States is as a distant embodiment of what salafists despise.  No Taliban has ever attacked an American outside of the Afghanistan we occupy.  The al-Qaeda leadership which they hosted to their rueful regret is long gone.  We use drones to wipe out al-Shabab fighters in the wastelands of Somalia whose capabilities are primitive and who pronounced themselves al-Qaeda associates only two years ago when doing so promised them publicity and funding. We similarly have embroiled ourselves in the maelstrom of Yemeni tribal cum sectarian politics which are Iraq in spades.  We operate surreptitiously on the Pakistan side of the Hindu Kush in pursuit of other Islamist militants whose objectives lie in Lahore rather than Los Angeles (and whose political position is strengthened by our meddling).  We get lathered up over the noxious machinations of born-again ex-cigarette smugglers in the depths of the Sahara because they have announced themselves as combatants in one of the proliferating Islamist causes.  None of this involves consequential threats to the United States: none of this engages any significant American interest.

To the extent that any of these people are a nuisance, they warrant the attention of local authorities, Interpol and maybe a few CIA skilled operational people who actually have an experienced understanding of the local scene.  Instead, we have mounted a Hollywood production of vast scale to chase the wisps of our own fevered imagination into the remotest corners of the world.

If some of the resulting scenes were depicted on Saturday Night Live fifteen years ago, we would be splitting our sides in laughter (e.g. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” descent onto an aircraft carrier; L. Paul Bremer’s imitation of a Roman proconsul in Baghdad costumed in a 3-piece Brooks Brother suit and desert camouflage boots in the 110 degree heat; the defection by 3 of 4 Mali elite units, trained for three years by Africa Command, as soon as the jihadis showed up; in Afghanistan, we sponsor talks with a Petraeus certified top Taliban leader who, months later, turns out to be a grocer from Quetta; high State Department official Victoria Nuland on the loose in combustible Kiev earns the Trifecta of alienating pro-West demonstrators, the existing government, and our European allies on an unsecured phone – using the F… word she later cited as part of her “charm.”  Then there is Raymond Davis, the CIA super sleuth, whose blown cover prompted him to panic and kill two Pakistani agents in the heart of Lahore; when arrested by police he had a make-up kit in his SUV and multiple U.S. government identity badges strung around his neck.  Today, lacking all perspective or inclination to rebel against the scary fanciful stories that we are spoon fed, Americans don’t laugh – they cower in dread.


This is just a partial list of the injustices and indignities inflicted on the American people.  The greatest menace to our democratic principles and traditions is the lack of any significant rebellion against the abuse of our rights and interests.  The egregious state of affairs enumerated above is the product of an implicit bipartisan consensus on the essential elements of each.  The swing to the far-Right by the Tea Party dominated Republicans  — buttressed by a cynical campaign organized and led by money-bags, demagogues and dogmatists – gives the superficial impression that a great breach has opened between the two parties.  The radical tactics of the Republicans in Congress and in State Houses add to that impression. On some social issues like abortion, that is the case.  Yet, a closer examination shows that the core thinking that has led to the conditions described above is shared to a considerable extent by both parties.  That reality is at once cause and effect of the meek reaction that these assaults on decency and the well-being of most citizens has produced.

Especially striking is the passivity of those who cast themselves as the liberal/progressive opposition to these developments.  In Washington, the Obama administration (as well as its supporters and apologists) have swallowed or even avidly adopted the outlook and policies of conservatives on national security, on surveillance, and the deference to the financial community as the mainstay of the economy.  In Congress, vocal criticism is episodic and muted – at best.  In contrast to the drumbeat of diatribe, denunciation and invective that comes from the forces of reaction, so-called liberals act as if it were unseemly to raise their voices.  They look mildly apologetic that they may be creating a fuss.  Months can go by without hearing a word from Senator X or Senator Y – supposed spokesmen for the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.  There are in fact only two Senators who make their presence, and their views felt on a regular and sustained basis: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.  It is no different on the House side.  So Democrats, on the NSA issue, put themselves in the shameful position of leaving the field of combat to the Tea Party darling, and sometimes Libertarian, Rand Paul.  Meanwhile, the “liberal” Diane Feinstein from liberal California declares that the question of whether Edward Snowden acted as a Russian agent is open.

So the Democratic caucus, in their bafflement, goes off for a winter retreat on the shores of the Chesapeake to ponder their bleak electoral prospects.  Joe Biden shows up with a grin-and-bear-it pep talk.  They are puzzled why the surveys show clearly that a substantial majority of opinion aligns with the Democratic platform, that they are revolted by the Republicans, yet appear ready to keep them in control of the House and perhaps take the Senate.  “What we have here is a problem of communication” – some say.  The electoral districts have been gerrymandered – say others.  What they won’t admit is their own lack of conviction, their political ineptitude,* and – not least – their subservience to a White House that never has seen the party as more than a label to run under and an assurance of automatic votes.  Yet, this abject state provokes no insurrections, no Young Turk movement, no dissent – nothing except whining and defeatism and misplaced loyalty.

Self-imposed reticence holds, too, for those elements of the media and punditocracy that consider themselves enlightened.  To find anything like truth –telling on a regular basis, one must revert to electronic sources and blogs outside the mainstream media.  Even the self-avowed Democratic leaning programs on MSNBC devote almost all their time slamming the Republicans while giving the White House a free ride.  Beyond the political arena, the absence of any rebellion against the affronts the country has been suffering has left a void.  On the abuse of civil liberties, the bar associations have not a word to say.  The American Medical Association has not a word to say about certified doctors participating in torture.  The American Psychological Association washes its hands off the reprehensible conduct of members who advised at Guantanamo and elsewhere on the most effective abusive techniques for interrogations.  As for the universities, they have been comatose.  On none of the issues discussed has there been any organized opposition to speak of by faculty or students. Academic leaders, for their part, subtlety discourage any “controversial” activities that could alienate fat-cat donors, state legislators, or the federal agencies on whose research funding they depend.

Even on local matters that affect them directly, students and faculty remain inert.  Let’s recall the scandal a few years back when many schools (including some very prestigious universities) were found entering into sweetheart contracts with financial institutions that gave them a monopoly on lending to students.  As a result, interest rates and other terms were unfavorable.  In some instances, university officials received kickbacks (either personal or institutional).  The common response was to quickly sweep the matter under the rug.  Campuses remained mute.  Students, accustomed to being misused, saw it as just another bump on the road of life.**

Faculty simply couldn’t be bothered and/or were intimidated at the prospect of challenging administrators who had the power to determine whether to grant them salary raises – however paltry.  The same pattern of institutional flight from responsibility and faculty passivity is evident in the current epidemic of scandals at scores of universities involving the suppression of rape cases and/or the punishment of victims by officials intent on safeguarding the schools’ “good name.”

Perhaps the ultimate abrogation of civic responsibility is the reflexive anointment of Hillary Clinton as the next great hope.  And this after the historic misreading of Barack Obama.  The Clintons have been accomplices to every one of the adverse trends we have noted.  From encouragement of financial predation to the abuses of the GWOT, from the undermining of Social Security that began under Bill (remember his call at the 2012 Democratic convention to support the Bowles-Simpson emasculation of Medicare and Social Security) to Afghanistan, from whole-hearted backing for NSA spying to the corporate globalization of American jobs, they have been unswervingly promoters of established interests.  Here is Hillary stepping forth boldly on NSA spying: “This is a very important question….We need to have a sensible adult conversation about what is necessary to be done.” (Oct 12 Chatham House)

Hillary Clinton last fall took $400,000 from Goldman Sachs for two token appearances at closed door gatherings of clients where she mouthed platitudes about America’s future.  This is the improbable Jeanne d’Arc of rebellions still unborn.  What more is there to say.

* It should be obvious that going out of your way to antagonize a natural, historical ally like teachers is no way to win elections – even without resorting to pricey consultants who helped the Democrats to lose a series of elections that they should have won.

** At one major state university this month, the student Assembly was engaged in deliberations over proposed legislation to urge the university to invest in two-ply bathroom tissue instead of the one-ply now available across the campus.  The campaign was launched by two business schools students who claimed that “it has been the No. 1 complaint from students for a while” at the business school.  University administrators have put off a decision until a cost-benefit analysis of the switchover has been completed.

Michael Brenner is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations and Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.  He blogs regularly at Huffington Post.  Article used by permission of the author.

26 thoughts on “Causes Without Rebels: What Ails America Today

  1. Not the silence of the lambs, but rather:

    The Silence of the Lamb Chops

    Let us bow our heads in silence
    Let us close our shuttered eyes
    Let us ask no pointed questions
    Let us rather swallow lies

    Let our government mislead us
    Let them wallow in the waste
    Let us eat the crap they feed us
    Let us grow to like its taste

    Let them praise their stalwart courage
    Let us meekly toe the line
    Let the rich cut all their taxes
    Let the poor ones pay the fine

    Let us do no thing unbidden
    Let us ask permission first
    Let them keep the water hidden
    Let us rather die of thirst

    Let them keep our business secret
    Let us not know what they do
    Let them keep us safe from knowing
    Let us smile while us they screw

    Let the dead come home to quiet
    Let them spare us from the sight
    Let us never start a riot
    Let them send some more to fight

    Let us never raise our voices
    Let them whisper in our ear
    Let them order us to slaughter
    Let us live in abject fear

    Let authority compel us
    Let them prod the panicked herd
    Let them with cheap jargon quell us
    Let us scatter at their word

    Let them mumble mealy mouthfuls
    Let them bumble, lean, and tilt
    Let them tumble, trip, and falter
    Let them crumple all we’ve built

    Let them loan us Chinese money
    Let them keep us all in pawn
    Let them dine on milk and honey
    Let us let them lead us on

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2008

    • dear mister murry i just read your poem the silence of the lamb chops and would just like to say bravo to you sir i sir had just turned 18 when the veitnam war had come to an end and feel lucky i did have older friends who did go and have only the deepest respect for them and any of you who served reguardless of it being wrong or right just feel some of us do what we feel or think we must to just sum up i would love to see this posted on face book if it’s not there already and others you have written and point them out to some people i know there (please excuse my spellingon some words if incorrect) i just feel this poem speaks in volumes with whats wrong in this country today you sir are a master crafts man of the written word and i wish you nothing but the best in you life and in all you do sincerly a new fan of your work k. miller

  2. Not American the Beautiful, but ranter:

    America the Dutiful

    In the Land of the Fleeced and the Home of the Slave
    Where the cowed and the buffaloed moan
    Where seldom we find an inquisitive mind
    And the people pay up with a groan

    While at home on the range when the firing begins
    Not a word of encouragement sounds
    The temp workers leave for their other day jobs
    And the cops and the guards make their rounds

    When the rich ones start wars that the poor have to fight
    And the chickenhawks glare as they cluck
    The recruiters hold raffles and promise the moon
    In the neighborhoods down on their luck

    Where the clouds hang around for the length of the day
    Casting shadows and fear all around
    A lost mother grieves and starts haunting the land
    Having just laid her son in the ground

    As the war against someone somewhere at some time
    Never quite seems to end or conclude
    War itself becomes reason for having this war
    Leaving no room for thought to intrude

    Unreported out west by vacationing scribes
    Seeking rest from Access Mentalpause
    The tombstones in Aspen turn up all at once
    Having roots that connect with their cause

    Now the Fig Leaf Contingent has answered the call
    From a time long ago it’s returned
    Once again to buy time for the guilty to mime
    More excuses for lives that they’ve burned

    So the dead really died so that more dead can die
    Goes the “logic” that once more holds sway
    Understanding, the Fig Leaf Contingent steps up,
    Packs its gear and then marches away

    Late at night out on runway strips hidden and dark
    Where the citizens can’t see what shocks
    The Contingent comes “home” one-by-one, all alone,
    In a wheelchair or flag-covered box

    So the long-promised “victory” ever recedes
    As the Fig Leaf Contingent fights on
    Keeping faith with the faithless who’ve ordered its doom
    Like a poorly schooled chess player’s pawn

    In the dutiful land of the fruitcakes and nuts
    Where the sun shines between the two seas
    The hills in their lavender majesty stand
    Unaffected by men’s howling pleas

    For to go with no reason where no purpose calls
    Leads to nothing but more of the same
    Till the Fig Leaf Contingent’s utility fails
    To deflect any more of the blame

    And since something was lost surely someone has failed
    Only whom could those proud persons be?
    Not the chickenhawks glaring and clucking for war!
    Not the neo-new, know-nothing “we”!

    As the first mate harpooner admonished his crew
    In the mad Captain Ahab’s vast tale
    He would not have along for a ride in his boat
    Any man not afraid of a whale

    For the ocean is great and my ship is so small
    And the winds blow beyond all command
    Only fools and the drowned ever this truth forget
    Which is why they should stay on dry land

    But the day-trippers out for a float on the pond
    Seldom think of the perilous shoals
    So they send off the Fig Leaf Contingent to fight
    Absent only some well-defined goals

    Thus they played on TV what in real life demands
    More than Hobbits, and Wizards, and Elves
    And they taught us our duty much better by far
    Than they put into practice themselves

    So we’ve come back again from our exile abroad
    With our tattered ranks bitter and sore
    Having done what our Maximum Leader would not
    All of that and a hundred times more

    We are here `cause we’re here `cause we’re here `cause we’re here
    And for no other reason on earth
    But for us in the Fig Leaf Contingent, we know
    What our duty and honor are worth

    So we will not abandon to memory’s hole
    Those we loved and who loved us in turn
    Still we go to our graveyards secure in our trust
    That America never will learn

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2005

    • Reminds me of Don Henley’s “If Dirt Were Dollars,” the lyrics to which are here:

      Walkin’ like a millionaire
      Smilin’ like a king
      He leaned his shopping cart against the wall
      He said, “I been a lot of places
      And I seen a lot of things
      But, sonny, I seen one thing that beats ’em all
      I was flyin’ back from Lubbock
      I saw Jesus on the plane
      …or maybe it was Elvis
      You know, they kinda look the same
      Hey, look out, Junior, you’re steppin’ on my bed”
      I said, “I don’t see nothin”
      He just glared at me and said,
      If dirt were dollars
      If dirt were dollars
      If dirt were dollars
      I wouldn’t worry anymore
      Lookin’ like a beauty queen
      Loyal as a wife
      She raised her little voice and testified,
      “I am a good girl
      I’ve been one all my life”
      But her virtue was as swollen as her pride
      She should’ve had the Oscar
      She must have been miscast
      Her fifteen minutes went by so fast
      I said, “Now, baby, have you got no shame?”
      She just looked at me, uncomprehendingly
      Like cows at a passing train
      If dirt were dollars
      If dirt were dollars
      If dirt were dollars
      I wouldn’t worry anymore
      We got the bully pulpit
      And the poisoned pen
      We got a press no better
      Than the public men
      This brave new world
      Gone bad again
      God’s finest little creatures
      Looking brave and strong
      Whistling past the graveyard
      Nothing can go wrong
      Quoting from the scriptures
      With patriotic tears
      We got the same old men
      With the same old fears
      Standing at attention
      Wrapped in stars and stripes
      They hear the phantom drummers
      And the nonexistent pipes
      These days the buck stops nowhere
      No one takes the blame
      But evil is still evil
      In anybody’s name
      If dirt were dollars
      If dirt were dollars
      If dirt were dollars
      We’d all be in the black

      • I really Don Henley’s work, both with the Eagles and in his solo career, especially “Sunset Grill,” “The End of the Innocence,” and “The Heart of the Matter.” Speaking of popular song lyrics — and apropos of the article above — puts me in mind of returning from Vietnam in early 1972 only to find the country as woefully misinformed and as disinterested in the ongoing disaster as one could possibly imagine. Hence a few thoughs in verse to the tune of:

        When Jaundice Comes Marching Home
        (after the popular Civil War song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”)

        When Jaundice comes marching home once more,
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        We’ll know what its masters have in store,
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        A shiver of terror to run up the spine,
        At the thought of what’s next if we don’t fall in line
        Oh they’d like us scared when
        Jaundice comes marching home

        When Jaundice comes snarling home this time
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        We’ll spit in its face with a jeering rhyme
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        Our leaders who screwed up and shot our wad
        Will tell us they did it for country and GAWD
        But we’ll know they lie when
        Jaundice comes snarling home

        When Jaundice comes limping home to hate
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        The wars that it lost and the shit on its plate
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        The ones who deployed it to bomb and kill
        Now find that they’ve used up the easy thrill
        So they’ll have to hide when
        Jaundice comes limping home

        When Jaundice comes sneaking home to hide
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        The failure and waste and our wounded pride
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        Of no further use is the man in pain
        Who can’t be recruited to do it again
        So avert your eyes when
        Jaundice comes sneaking home

        When Jaundice has marched in its last parade
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        And laid down to sleep in the endless shade
        Guffaw! Guffaw!
        We’ll have us a wake for the late deceased
        From whose awful clutches we’re now released
        How we’ll all breathe free when
        Jaundice has died at home

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2012

    • Michael. Powerful poetry, powerful words! If you have published these could you let us know how to get the book. we’ll figure out a way. Thank you again for very powerful words and emotion.

      • Thank you for the kind words. As for publishing my poetry — or vitriolic verse essays, as some might call them — I have heard that books of poetry do not do well financially since few people want to pay money to read that sort of thing. I would like to publish something in the future, but the work would probably have to take the form of a prose memoir with the poems included, as appropriate, either as footnotes, or an appendix, or woven somehow into the primary text. I already have a tentative working title: “The Misfortune Teller: Memoirs of a Misfit,” but I would have to learn to write in prose as well as verse, and I don’t know if I have enough years left to accomplish that. So, in the meantime, I have put most of my verse on the web which you can peruse at your leisure or inclination here. I would welcome any comments, criticism, or suggestions.

      • Okay, now I feel like a dunce for not reading to the top of my Inbox queue to find you’d answered this question! My own memoir of resisting the War Against Southeast Asia from within the US Army is in progress. Mike, I think you’ll do fine writing straight prose!! And there ARE publishing houses that specialize in poetry. I want to encourage you in the strongest terms to get to work on such a project!!! Best wishes…

  3. Michael. I am sure you are aware of the vast opposition to the Vietnam war. I belonged to a group of business executives ( Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace) that ran full page anti war ads in Chicago, New York, and L.A. ) We also went to Washington to personally lobby our Senators and representatives and had direct confrontations about the continued support they showed for the war. We also joined with hundreds of thousands of others in the vast anti war marches in Washington. . The country was misinformed, as it is today, by the MSM and politicians, but the people were anti war. Yes, returning veterans were not treated very well. That was a complex problem. You guys were generally were draftees and didn’t ask to go. But is it better today when we have a mercenary army and they are treated like heroes for killing innocent Iraqis or Afghans? Tough call.

    • Yes, I knew of the millions of people, worldwide, who protested against the U.S. government’s deranged policy in Souteast Asia. Personally, I thanked them and wished them all the success in the world. It just took them so long to have any effect, that I had come home and gotten out of the military three years before Congress finally just cut off the funding for the whole mad misadventure. I will say, though, that one good thing (for Americans) did come out of America’s War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), namely:

      “The Twenty-sixth Amendment (Amendment XXVI) to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from setting a voting age higher than eighteen. It was adopted in response to student activism against the Vietnam War and to partially overrule the Supreme Court’s decision in Oregon v. Mitchell. It was adopted on July 1, 1971.” — Wikipedia

      So after almost six years in the military, I finally returned to civilian life and got to vote for a U.S. president, or rather, against President Nixon who had sent me to Vietham in July of 1970 after promising us in 1968 that he had a plan to end the war. Naturally, the American public — including many of those newly-enfranchised 18-year-old voters — re-elected Nixon in a landslide, after which he sent squadrons of B-52 bombers to carpet-bomb North Vietnam on Christmas Day, telling some of his aides: “I’m going to bomb the bastards like they’ve never been bombed before.” So much for the hard-won franchise. I do think, though, that only fear of actually causing young people to come out and vote in huge numbers keeps the U.S. government from reinstituting conscription. So the perpetual war has to continue using a “professional” military, dragooned reserve units, and highly paid dogs-of-war mercenaries who, none the less, die in relatively fewer numbers than would be the case if conscription still existed. Not an especially comforting thought to the foreign victims of rampant American militarism, but perhaps some American families will not lose as many of their loved ones as they otherwise would if the U.S. government still had the ability to impose conscription. We don’t have too few soldiers. We just have too many wars.

      And I don’t consider anyone who kills a “hero.” Many people will kill to survive or to protect friends and loved ones from an actuall physical assualt. But killing those who have never done us any harm hardly counts as “heroic,” no matter the circumstancest or the government’s desire to “hide behind the troops” or “wave the bloody shirt” just to maintain themselves in power. I do not consider the killers of my own generation “heroes” nor the killers of any other generation, past or future. From your remarks, it doesn’t sound like you do, either.

      • Michael Murry–I am curious as to how you came to spend nearly 6 years in Uncle Sugar’s military before becoming enlightened. New topic: Very interesting headline at NY Times today (I haven’t gone back for the details yet, myself). Seems Chuck Hagel has proposed shrinking US Army headcount to its level of 1940 and eliminating “a whole class” of jet fighters (surely not the F-35 recently discussed here?!?). Of course there’s no guarantee this will float, but the implications are fascinating and should surely be analyzed and discussed here at Contrary Perspective!

  4. Bravo to one and all on the previous comments. (I think Don Henley is one of the finest living songwriters but I wasn’t familiar with this one!) Let us now ponder who is willing to take to the streets of Amerika, screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” in emulation of the brave citizens of Ukraine. Well, far as I can tell, the rag-tag citizens’ army would consist of: those who maintain that Obama has never been legally POTUS because of his Kenyan origin; those outraged that anyone would even suggest sensible legislation to slow the proliferation of firearms in this society; those incensed by the very notion of same-sex marriage; those hungering for a theocracy in the name of one Jesus Christ; those who would lynch in a heartbeat any provider of abortion services given the chance…need I continue? In brief, the colossally ill-informed and misled. Shall we admire, at least, their willingness to fly into a rage, to rant and rave with great eruptions of white-hot anger? Mmmmm…probably not. Sweet Reason lies a-moldering in his (her?) grave and the air is filled with “…sound and fury, signifying nothing” as the idiots tell their tales. How the “Founding Fathers” would weep!!!

    • You know the famous lines of Yeats:

      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

      What price revolution? The French Revolution unleashed the passions of the people, and the tumbrels rolled to the guillotines, followed by the endless “glorious” wars of a new “king,” Napoleon.

      The first step to reform, I think, is to get Big Money out of politics. But how to do this when the supreme court of our land associates Big Money with Freedom of Speech? Personally, I’d like to see every politician wear labels of their biggest corporate donors on their fancy suits, just like Nascar drivers do. But would the people care that their local politician is bought and paid for by Monsanto or Exxon or Lockheed Martin? As long as that politician was bringing home the pork for her district?

      • Yes, indeed, Professor. One of my favorites:

        William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


        Turning and turning in the widening gyre
        The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
        Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
        Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
        The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
        The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
        The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity.

        Surely some revelation is at hand;
        Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
        The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
        When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
        Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
        A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
        A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
        Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
        Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

        The darkness drops again but now I know
        That twenty centuries of stony sleep
        Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
        And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
        Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

        Reading that poem in the context of crusading American militarism — what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called “Messianic Globalism” — always puts me in mind of Shelly’s masterpiece:


        I met a traveller from an antique land
        Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
        Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
        Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
        And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
        Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
        Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
        The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
        And on the pedestal these words appear:
        `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
        Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
        Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
        Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
        The lone and level sands stretch far away.

        Which in turn I took as a challenge to try my own hand at this particular verse form, again in the context of U.S. “foreign policy” in the Middle East:

        Cozy, Scandalous

        I met a refugee from Gaza Strip,
        Who spoke to me with empty, staring eyes
        Dumb words whose depth of pain I could not grip
        With all the helping hands the world denies
        While lapping up the lurid lies that slip
        And roll so greasy off the practiced tongue
        Of Zionists whose caged and wounded prey
        Are told to flee and leave their dying young
        To weep beside the corpses of their old
        In darkened shattered former homes where they
        Cannot refute the garbage we’ve been told
        By glib Israeli liars trained to spread
        A veil of darkness over crimes they’ve sold
        As “Peaceful Co-Existence” — with the dead.

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2009

  5. Bill A.–I’m sure you are aware of Jefferson’s statement that the tree of Liberty needs to be sprinkled with the blood of tyrants from time to time. I most admire the Jacobins’ attitude toward The Church: Get the hell out of our affairs!! At the risk of sounding bloodthirsty (I’m actually a Buddhist) I will say that the failing of the French Revolution was that they were too SOFT on the enemy, allowing the reaction (“Thermidor”) to rear its head and push the masses aside. This is why V.I. Lenin argued that a true revolution requires “the smashing of the old state apparatus.” He also said without “revolutionary consciousness” there will be no revolution. And this is precisely where the sheeple (there, I’ve gone and done it: bothered a favorite term from the Libertarian crowd!) of USA are so pathetically lacking!! The Ruling Class is surely well aware of this, so why they keep militarizing police departments across the land mystifies me. Marx and Engels believed the working class in the most advanced nations, like their native Germany, would be first to rise and break Capital’s chains. Instead it happened in one of the most backward nations on Earth at the time, Russia (again, explained by the brilliant and witty Lenin). [What became of the Russian Revolution under Stalin is another tale of reaction regaining the upper hand, but too big a topic to delve into in detail in this post.] I believe it very safe to predict the working class of USA will be the LAST on Earth to embrace revolution, and before that can happen we will surely suffer a fascistic dictatorship. “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades” declared a pop song back in the days of “Morning In America” Reagan. Sorry, I just don’t see it that way.

    • As the late great historian Barbara Tuchman once observed: “Every successful revolution in time puts on the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.” That observation appears to have some relevance regarding the American revolution over two centuries ago. China has had many revolutions over her long history, which once prompted Henry Kissinger to ask Communist Chinese Premier Chou En Lai what he thought of the French Revolution of 1789. “Too soon to tell,” answered the laconic Chinese statesman. Or, as William Faulkner expressed a similar thought: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”

      In regard to your question above about requiring six years of military service before becoming “enlightened” (or simply “fed up and disgusted”), I learned almost immediately after induction that no one particularly gave a damn what I thought. They taught us from the very first days of basic training that “If the Navy wants to know what you think, the Navy will tell you what you think.” In other words, we didn’t matter and we should just get used to that. I never did. The epiphany for me came one night in early October, 1966, about two weeks from boot camp graduation, as I circled around and around the clotheslines for hours outside our barracks, while trying not to fall asleep on watch listing to sixty other men snoring and talking in their dreams. I found myself looking out through the chain link fence that separated “in here” from “out there” and I suddenly experienced a near panic attack: a pathetic dread of ever leaving what in some insidious way had become “home.” Then I remembered — in a flash of humiliation and outrage — that only eight weeks before, I had driven my car up and down those same city streets without a care in the world, afraid of nothiing. I realized then that the sons-of-bitches who forced me into this crappy excuse for a “life” had almost — almost but not quite — managed to instill in me a fear of my own country, if not a fear and loathing of freedom itself. So I formulated a little mantra then and there that would help me preserve my sanity — a close call — for the next six years of penurious indentured servitude: namely, “They can tell me what to do, but they can’t tell me what to think about it.” So I went where they sent me and I did what they told me to do. But I felt like a prisoner condemned to serve time for a crime I had never committed, so I hated damn near every moment of military service as a consequence. Vietnam only served to exacerbate what I already felt and thought about those who had abused me, wasted years of my life, and then tried to make me thank them for it and ask for more. No way.

      • Mike (if I may get so informal)–The Navy is a four-year enlistment (or was in Vietnam days, at least). So was there such a thing as re-upping for just two years, or did you find a way to get out before your second hitch ran out? I find you an admirable poet. You haven’t answered “b. traven” ‘s inquiry as to whether you have a collection of your work in print (would this be “The Misfortune Teller” you keep referring to?). I would purchase a copy in a heartbeat. [I shoulda searched Amazon by now for such a thing, but haven’t gotten around to it. Spending too much time posting comments here, I guess!]

  6. Greg: Back in the day, the U.S. Navy did have a standard four-year enlistment, but required a commitment of two additional years for its nuclear power program, which I signed up for after consulting with my stepfather who had servied in the Navy Construction Battalions (Sea Bees) during WWII. He had just married my widowed mother but I had known him for many years. I genuinely liked him and respected his opinions. Understandably, he wanted to begin his marriage to mom without “a grown man” — meaning me — hanging around the house going to college. So I knew I had to drop out of school, find a job, and locate somewhere to live. Unfortunately, dropping out of college during the Draft left me with only four options: (1) Conscription into the Army, (2) Prison for refusing conscription, (3) Exile, or (4) Enlisting in one of the other military branches to fulfill my “six year military obligation.” I had no job skills or practical training at the time, so the prospects of making an independent living at eighteen years of age did not look promising.

    My stepdad told me that if I went into the Army or Marine Corps I would learn only two things: guns and men. “And you can’t make much of a living if that’s all you know,” he said. He told me that I might get some technical training in the Air Force but that it took a long time for enlisted men to make rank in that branch, so after four years I probably wouldn’t make much more money than when I went in. That left the Navy, where he said I had better chances of learning a technical trade — as he had done — while making rank faster taking fleet-wide promotion examinations. So he took me to a local recruiter, who looked over my high-school transcripts, pronounced me “a little weak on trigonometry” but otherwise quailified for the Navy’s nuclear power program, which sounded about as technical as things get as well as offering scant prospects of having to serve anywhere near Vietnam.

    Long story short, I enlisted, went through basic training and electrician’s tech school for several months, served aboard a submarine tender in San Diego for a year, then got a class at Nuke School and finished nuclear power prototype training by June of 1969, just about the time Neil Armstrong landed and walked on the moon. I got assigned to staff as an instructor, but then the reactor had to shut down for refueling and the Navy had no available berths in the fleet for those of us just graduating from school. So someone looked at my high school transcripts, saw that I had four years of French — in reality, two years of French I and two years of French II) and so I got orders to Counter Insurgency School (Coronado Island) followed by Vietnamese (Southern Dialect) at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey. So much for my technical career and steering clear of Vietnam. Four years of poverty and technical training down the tubes, with my enlistment automatically extended for two more, and me landing at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon in July of 1970 as part of President Nixon’s “Vietnamization” program. I’ll never forget how, just before we got off the plane, the head stewardess stood and made a little speech. She wished us the best of luck and hoped that we all made it back home safely. Then she burst out in a torrent of tears. Welcome to Vietnam, Nuclear Power Man.

    I think I’ll stop now. I’ll have to save the rest for some other time.

    • Interesting!! I was a medic stationed at Fort Ord from March 1970 to July 1971. Were you at Presidio of Monterey during early part of my posting?? I used to hang out there with the guy in charge of the Infirmary…he rolled magnificent joints! (I never mastered that essential skill of the ’60s/’70s.)

      • Apparently, our two ships passd in the night, so to speak, with neither of us knowing of the other’s existence. I attended DLI (West Coast) from late October of 1969 until my graduation from the 32-week Vietnamese language course on June 18. 1970. However, I had an Army Spec-5 for a roomate at the Presidio and he took me over to Fort Ord once to visit my younger brother who had gotten drafted into the Army and had to do his basic training there. Since I had orders for Vietnam, the Army couldn’t send my drafted brother there also, which meant that he wound up on Okinawa with the military police guarding Nike missle batteries while not playing football for the Army Gunner’s team or clubbing Okinawan student protesters during several hair-raising riots. Good duty for him, mostly, and if my serving in Vietnam meant that my brother didn’t have to, then I’ll count that as an unintended, worthy side-effect of my own extended enlistment.

        As for the Presidio, we had to eat Army food there, and I remember a plaque on the outside of the chow hall that read “Chesty Puller ate a meal here.” Someone had crossed out the word “meal” and wrote “mule” below it. One day I found myself standing in line to eat next to an Asian-American Marine corporal — on the Marine Corps’ birthday. The guy threw back his head and loudly wailed: “Happy birthday, Crotch! What do I have to do to celebrate: clean the latrine twice?” Even though we didn’t have to pay for the Army food, most of us impoverished sailors would rather get into somebody’s car and drive over the Naval Post Graduate School where we could eat Navy chow for a reasonable price. At the Presido I learned to appreciate the old WWII comedian’s joke: “I never knew how bad a cook my mother was until I joined the Army.” In the Navy we called hospital corpsmen “chancre mechanics” because they would periodically make us enlisted men stand “short arm” inspections to check us for venereal disease. Did you Army medics have to do that? I don’t remember any of those at DLI. As for recreational substances, I never did any grass, but I did inhale vast clouds of tobacco smoke and, later in Vietnam, I would ingest gallons of alchohol upon occasion (until the supply ran out). But that story will have to wait for another time. …

      • Mike–My duties never covered “short arms inspections.” Had I graciously accepted Uncle’s two kind offers to post me in Nam, that might’ve been expected of me. But I had to decline with all due DISrespect to go along with that program. Which is the basic subject of my memoir. As a medic at Ord, of course, I ate in the hospital mess. Can’t really complain about that. In closing I’ll note that my friend from Presidio Infirmary, having wheels of his own, made the drive to eat there daily himself. So you are onto something about the food for the trainees at DLI!

  7. It’s a small world, Greg and Michael. My last assignment in the military was as the Associate Provost and Dean of Students at DLIFLC. And I also taught a class at the Naval Postgraduate School. Of course, this was 2002-05, not in the Vietnam era.

    Instead of sending youth to ‘Nam after teaching them Vietnamese, we were sending youth to Iraq after teaching them Arabic. And so it goes in Imperial America …

  8. It is fascinating reading all of your posts and is a testimony to how ones background effects their perception of the world. I don’t know about Greg, but Bill and Michael both came from the real backbone of America, what is known as the ‘working class’. It is a wonder that Bill, who volunteered and became an ranking officer, has not left his background behind in his dedication to peace and justice. I have known some people, who do not think their way through life, who came from working class families and make a little money or position and begin to think like the elite. ( see Anna Freud’s essay ” Identification with the Aggressor”) So kudos to all of you who have not forgotten your past.
    I cannot help but contrast my perceptions of the military with Greg and Michael’s and how both the context of the time and my personal life effected my views. To me, at 18, there was no alternative other than claiming “conscientious objection” to the war. I considered myself a pacifist but that became a passe’ position after Pearl Harbor. I went virtually straight from an orphan home into the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet and it seemed like a little bit of heaven to me. I had always loved airplanes and the freedom (?) of the opportunity to live like other young men was wonderful. The orphan home was a life pretty much like Michael describes his feelings of Navy boot camp. Get up with a bell in the morning, eat breakfast, scrub floors, wash dishes, than go to school. Not much fun. I hated it. No chance to wrestle with girls in the back seat of a car or drink beer or stay out till 1 in the morning. The Army discipline was easy for me and the Air Corps was better than the infantry. I might add that it helped that there was ‘total mobilization’ of the economy and the society and here was a real threat from the vast armadas of land, sea , and air that the Axis nations could bring to bear on us. That is unlike today where the “threat” is like the fear of a pinprick. We have more to fear from our own domestic power hungry elite class than from a handful of turban wearing middle easterners.

    • The psychiatrist and historian, Robert Jay Lifton — who coined the priceless term “thought-terminating-cliché” — calls this “fear of a pinprick” a manifestation of “aggrieved superpower, a giant violated and made vulnerable, which no superpower can permit. Indeed, at the core of superpower syndrome lies a powerful fear of vulnerability. A superpower’s victimization brings on both a sense of humiliation and an angry determination to restore, or even extend, the boundaries of a superpower-dominated world.”

      By superpower syndrome, Dr. Lifton means “a national mindset — put forward strongly by a tight-knit leadership group — that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it the right to hold sway over all other nations. … [But] more than merely dominate, the American superpower now seeks to control history. Such cosmic ambition is accompanied by and equally vast sense of entitlement, of special dispensation to pursue its aims. … a superpower — the world’s only superpower — is entitled to dominate and control precisely because it is a superpower.” — Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation With The World (2003)

      Of course, in his dystopian masterpiece 1984, George Orwell said that permanent war has only the single goal of using up the productive capacity of the economy — through endless arms manufacture and destruction — so that its benefits wouldl not go to raise the general standard of living, which would in turn lead to an educated population that would sweep away the ruling elite once they saw that it had no useful function. So, as a matter of fact, the ruling oligarchs wage endless war not against foreign enemies who could not possibly harm the United States, but against the people of the United States themselves. So, yes indeed, we have much more to fear “from our own domestic power-hungry elite class than from a handful of turban-waring middle easterners.” A superpower scared shitless of a “pinprick.” There you have it.

      • THE 55th STATE: Just a note in passing. By my count, there are now 55 states in the US of A. Israel was #51, Poland 52, Iraq 53 and Afghanistan 54. Ukraine now has the honor of being #55, as Secretary of War Hagel has warned Russia to keep its hands off. Should the stars be added to the US flag now, or are there too many more states to be added imminently? How about Venezuela for #56???

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