Daily Archives: July 1st, 2011

Controlling U.S. Military Aggression – 3 Opinions

Randolph Bourne

…Once the State has begun to function, and a large class finds its interest and its expression of power in maintaining the State, this ruling class may compel obedience from any uninterested minority. The State thus becomes an instrument by which the power of the whole herd is wielded for the benefit of a class. The rulers soon learn to capitalize the reverence which the State produces in the majority, and turn it into a general resistance towards a lessening of their privileges. The sanctity of the State becomes identified with the sanctity of the ruling class and the latter are permitted to remain in power under the impression that in obeying and serving them, we are obeying and serving society, the nation, the great collectivity of all of us….
In practically no other contests has the electorate had for all practical purposes a choice except between two candidates, identical as far as their political role would be as representatives of the significant classes in the State. Campaigns … where one of the parties is captured by an element which seeks a real transference of power from the significant to the less significant classes, split the party, and sporadic third party attacks merely throw the scale one way or the other between the big parties, or, if threatening enough, produce a virtual coalition against them. ~Randolph Bourne

Bourne is a favorite of mine, who in many respects could be snatched right out of 1918 and pick up where he left off without breaking stride. He died before finishing his work on The State, excerpted as “War is the Health of the State“. A misuse of forceps at birth and spinal tuberculosis left Randolph Bourne deformed, stunted, gnarled and hunched, but his work is straight up and still standing. This writing was used to define a chapter in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, a good portion of which is read here by Zinn and Matt Damon.

In The Founders’ Wisdom, an army officer with three tours of active duty in Iraq, also writes with an understanding of the American people’s need to be involved in military decisions. Lt. Col. Paul Yingling’s opinion in the Armed Forces Journal recommends a return to America’s home-grown system of checks and balances, which, as a child of the ’60s left me feeling somewhat validated. If we have to send our children out to kill our neighbors’ children, if that’s our only problem solving option, then in fairness and an effort to curb the State’s lack of civility, let everyone’s children be sent to sacrifice life, limb and sanity. If that responsibility is shared by those who Bourne referred to as “the significant classes”, perhaps the war stories ballyhooed in America would be more often about their short duration or diplomatic avoidance altogether.

The dangers of military service are born solely by volunteers, a disproportionate number of whom come from working and middle-class families. The wealthiest and most privileged members of American society are all but absent from the ranks of the U.S. military.

I was a little disappointed that he didn’t address the impact that conscription might have on the DOD’s obvious wasteful spending and bloated budget, but he more than makes up for it by quoting and drawing from military history, pointing a strong finger at congress and others who have failed us, and by standing up to recommend that we consider an ill framed, unpopular and often misunderstood option: reinstating the draft.

Update: The Armed Forces Journal linked above has a new firewall. Sign up to read from the archives, or try this NYT piece about Lt. Col. Paul Yingling and The Founders’ Wisdom.

On Wednesday, David Sirota offered a third opinion, Why People Become Chickenhawks, on the people’s involvement in US military aggression. Based on a recently released study, it seems that those who have not served in active military duty nor fear they will be sent, tend to be more gung-ho about sending American lambs to slaughter.

Shielded from any personal risk of injury or death, the chickenhawk is thus permitted to wrap himself in an American flag and goose step his way through television studios as the alleged personification of patriotic bravery.

No doubt, the antiwar voices who have recently argued for the reinstatement of a draft will find fuel in this Berkeley/Columbia report. They argue that viscerally connecting the entire nation to the blood-and-guts consequences of war will make the nation less reflexively supportive of war — and the new data substantively supports that assertion. That’s why in the midst of (at least) three U.S. military occupations, this report is almost sure to be ignored by our chickenhawk-dominated political class — because it too explicitly exposes the selfish, self-centered and abhorrent roots of the chickenhawk ethos that now plays such an integral role in perpetuating a state of Endless War.

That’s it. Consider three worthwhile opinions from both sides of the aisle and from days of old to last Wednesday. Reading between the lines, all three say the same thing – the American people need to assume a bigger role in controlling U.S. military aggression. We need to be engaged in policy decisions effectively enough to ensure our own representation.


We of the bleeding heart, hand wringing left, have been generally mocked and derided for standing up for the idea that torture should not be part of the spectrum of interrogation techniques used by the United States military and the intelligence community when dealing with suspected terrorists or their sympathizers.  Silly liberals… We just don’t understand the real world where hard men and women have to fight the forever war against implacable, almost inhuman creatures (if only they were actual bugs…), bent on our destruction.  While we sit sipping fine wines and discussing the dubious allure of modern art and the joys of atheism, tough decisions are being made that are just too deep for us to fathom. And when I say too deep to fathom, I mean too deep to fathom.

For instance, those secret Muslim, fascist, communist, America hating liberals in the White House, via the DoJ are finishing the final touches on the cover up of the Bush torture regime just in time for the 4th of July.  Two cases in which detainees where killed during questioning (and someone presumably made the mistake of not destroying the records), will move forward.  The rest, gone down the memory hole as if it never happened.  You may remember George W. Bush mouthing the tautology that since  “America doesn’t torture… America doesn’t in fact torture”.  Well, President Obama is right there with him, and here’s a good place to shake our silly heads at those “centrist”, go along to get along Democrats that we are allowed to vote for instead of the stone cold crazy Republicans.  “The past is over, We can never look back, what’s done is done”. unless of course some numskull with an unfortunate name takes pictures of his privates and sends them around to various women (breaking no actual laws outside those of good taste), then we can dig and pry to get at the “truth”… but I digress.

So now this whole sordid, illegal mess is swept under the carpet once and for all and maybe some fall guy will do a little time (and if he’s good looking and can string sentences together in something approaching coherence, after he gets out of stir, he can be an expert analyst on a certain cable news channel known for it’s balance and fairness), and that will be it… Until next time.  And here’s the point, there will be a next time and a time after that, because now they know they can do as they please and get away with it.

One of the worst blow-backs from the Iran/Contra scandal in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration illegally sold advanced missile technology to the Ayatollah Khomeini and his America hating revolutionary guard who needed the weapons to fight our other client state, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in exchange for the release of hostages… and who then turned around and used that money to fund right wing death squads linked to cocaine trafficking in Central America… Was that no one of any significance spent even a day in jail.  The special prosecutor (a life long Republican) recommended impeaching the president, but the Democrats in Congress didn’t have the stomach for another Washington passion play just over a decade after Watergate, and so St. Ronnie was allowed to wander off the stage of history and into the right wing pantheon. That lesson was not lost on the Bushies, who had more than a few old Reagan and Nixon hands on board for that awful presidency.  It’s one thing for a popular Democratic president to be hounded for years, even impeached, for lying about his sexual infidelities, heck the Democrats will help out with the prosecution, all in the spirit of bipartisanship, but be asleep at the wheel during the worst terrorist attack in American history, use that attack as a pretext to gut the Constitution, botch getting the actual terrorists responsible, start a new war based at best on poor judgement and at worst on outright lies and then while incompetently prosecuting that mess… throw away the Geneva Conventions and start water-boarding anyone, innocent or guilty who falls into your hands because you don’t know what else to do… Do these things and rest assured that nothing will happen to you.  From that sad mediocrity in the Oval office and his éminence grise in the office down the hall, through the lawyers who green-lighted the torture all the way down to the agents and ill trained guards that carried out the actual acts… no one went to jail, no consequences, none.  And don’t tell me about Abu Ghraib, those sorry excuses for service men and women went down because someone was dumb enough to show the pictures around, and that’s it.

More than half a century ago we beat Adolph Hitler, who had an army and an air force and a navy at his disposal, who had conquered most of continental Europe and who genuinely threatened our national survival, and who had an ideology every bit as nihilistic and dangerous as anything Osama Bin Laden ever dreamt up in his Pakistani compound if not more so, and we did it without torturing prisoners, or even spies for that matter.  Torture was what the bad guys did to our brave soldiers and agents… because America didn’t torture!  Now the Obama administration has tidied up the loose ends of this decade long fiasco with a wink and a nod, and no one will be held accountable and since everyone really had the best of intentions while they were inflicting those beatings and stress positions and what not,  let’s let bygones be bygones and forgive and especially forget.  But make no mistake, the new mark has been set and noted.  The government, when it wishes can take custody of whom so ever it wishes, it can hold them secretly and indefinitely without charges or trial, it can extract confessions as it sees fit, or it can sub contract the work out to private companies or friendly despots, and if you think that stuff will only happen to deserving foreigners, think again, because this sort of thing always spreads.  They can do as they please, knowing if they screw it up, nothing will happen to them… Unless the pictures get out.

We bleeding heart liberals with our quaint talk of rights and consequences and the rule of law don’t understand the real world, where the President we helped elect just made the next set of atrocities inevitable.