We have arrived at what Tennessee Williams once called A Moon of Pause. When I asked him what on earth the phrase meant, as spoken by an actress in one of his plays, "It is," he said loftily, "the actual Greek translation of menopause." I said that the word "moon" did not come from menses (Latin, not Greek, for "month"). "Then what," he asked suspiciously, "is the Latin for moon?" When I told him it was luna and what fun he might have with the world "lunatic," he sighed and cut. -- Gore Vidal
Our revels now are not quite ended, but they have come to a moon of pause. I'm taking a sabbatical from the blog for awhile -- perhaps a long while. There are many reasons for this: personal, political, physical, psychological, philosophical (and other words beginning with p). I thought at first to set down a few of these reasons here; but on second thought, I thought not. Suffice to say that when the Burlesque returns, it will be with some new costumes, new dance routines, new music, new approaches. At least I hope so.
Meanwhile, thanks to the goodness of the blog's creator and webmaster, Rich Kastelein ("il miglior fabbro"), the site will remain "live" while I'm gone. Indeed, Rich's powerful collection of photos showing the realities of the American Imperium at war actually draws a large proportion of the blog's traffic every day. So the site itself will not be substantially affected by my absence.
In that absence, I leave behind a few statements which express some of the basic premises and stances behind the blog -- just in case somebody wanders by and wants to know what kind of place this is.
All that matters is that love exists somewhere in the world, and that we strive to make a world where this astonishing fact — which alone gives meaning to life, and is itself immortal — can flourish in all of its manifestations.
On Thursday, Bradley Manning, one of the foremost prisoners of conscience in the world today, testified in open court -- the first time his voice has been heard since he was arrested, confined and subjected to psychological torture by the U.S. government.
An event of some newsworthiness, you might think. Manning has admitted leaking documents that detailed American war crimes in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He has been held incommunicado for more than 900 days by the Obama administration. Reports of his treatment at the hands of his captors have sparked outrage, protests and concern around the world. He was now going to speak openly in a pre-trial hearing on a motion to dismiss his case because of that treatment. Surely such a moment of high courtroom drama would draw heavy media coverage, if only for its sensationalistic aspects.
But if you relied on the nation's pre-eminent journal of news reportage, the New York Times, you could have easily missed notice of the event altogether, much less learned any details of what transpired in the courtroom. The Times sent no reporter to the hearing, but contented itself with a brief bit of wire copy from AP, tucked away on Page 3, to note the occasion.
That story -- itself considered of such little importance by AP that it didn't even by-line the piece (perhaps the agency didn't send a reporter either, but simply picked up snippets from other sources) -- reduced the entire motion, and the long, intricate, systematic government attack on Manning's psyche, to a matter of petty petulance on Manning's part, a whiner's attempt to weasel out of what's coming to him. This is AP's sole summary of the motion and its context:
Private Manning is trying to avoid trial in the WikiLeaks case. He argues that he was punished enough when he was locked up alone in a small cell for nearly nine months at the brig in Quantico and had to sleep naked for several nights.
It is clear what the unnamed writer wants the reader to take away from his passage. We are supposed to think: "That's it? That's all he's got? That they gave him a private room and made him sleep in the buff for a few nights? Is that supposed to be torture?"
As we noted here the other day, the New York Times is the pacesetter for the American media; it plays a large part in setting the parameters of acceptable discourse and honing the proper attitude that serious, respectable people should take toward current events. The paper's treatment of Manning's court appearance is exemplary in this regard. The case is worth noting, yes, but only briefly, in passing; Manning himself is a rather pathetic figure whose treatment by the government, while perhaps not ideal in all respects, has not been especially harsh or onerous. This is what serious, respectable people are meant to believe about the case; and millions do.
For the actual details of Manning's hearing -- which actually began a few days before his appearance -- you have to turn to foreign papers, such as the Guardian, whose coverage of Manning's situation has been copious. The Guardian provided two long stories (here and here), totalling 68 paragraphs, on Manning's testimony, both written by one the paper's leading reporters, Ed Pilkington, who was actually present in the courtroom. This was preceded by three long stories (here, here and here), also by Pilkington reporting on the scene, about previous testimony in the hearing, from the brig's commander and from the Marine psychiatrist overseeing Manning's condition.
As noted, the Times provided only the single wire story, 11 paragraphs long, during the entire week of testimony. Contrast this to the paper of record's treatment of those other prisoners of conscience, Pussy Riot, when they were put on trial by the Russian government this summer. In an eight-day period surrounding the trial, the Times ran no less that 14 stories on Pussy Riot's plight. Later this fall, when sentencing hearings were held for the group, the NYT ran 13 stories in a comparable time period.
I believe Pussy Riot's case warranted such coverage. But certainly Manning's case -- involving revelations of war crime, mass murder, brutality and his own unconscionable treatment by an American government that lectures other nations, including Russia, about impartial justice and human rights -- is of at least equal weight. But of course, it is easier -- not to mention more politic, and profitable -- to run 27 stories about the Kremlin's harsh and wildly disproportionate punishment for an act of civil disobedience while dribbling out a single reductive, dismissive story about entirely similar actions by the American government.
Again, recall the NYT/AP appraisal of Manning's motion: "He argues that he was punished enough when he was locked up alone in a small cell for nearly nine months" and had to "sleep naked for several nights." Here, from Pilkington, is what really happened. We begin with Manning's treatment in Kuwait, where he was first incarcerated -- a period entirely ignored by the NYT, although it took up much of his six-hour testimony.
"I didn't know what was going on, I didn't have formal charges or anything, my interactions were very limited with anybody else, so it was very draining."
[Manning] was put on a schedule whereby he would be woken up at 10 o'clock at night and given lights out at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. "My nights blended into my days and my days into nights," he told the court. … The guards stopped taking him out of his cell so that he became entirely cut off from human company. "Someone tried to explain to me why, but I was a mess, I was starting to fall apart." Military police began coming into his cell in a tent in the Kuwaiti desert two or three times a day doing what they called a "shakedown": searching the cell and tearing it apart in the process.
Eventually, Manning was strapped into an airplane and transported to the Marine Corps prison at Quantico, Virginia. There he was placed under the brig's most restrictive regime:
…no contact with other people, being kept in his cell for more than 23 hours a day, being checked every five minutes, sleeping on a suicide mattress with no bedding, having his prescription glasses taken away, lights kept on at night, having toilet paper removed.
… [The cell was] 6ft by 8ft. The cell contained a toilet that was in the line of vision of the observation booth, and he was not allowed toilet paper. When he needed it, he told the court, he would stand to attention by the front bars of the cell and shout out to the observation guards: "Lance Corporal Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!" …
For the first few weeks of his confinement in Quantico he was allowed only 20 minutes outside the cell, known as a "sunshine call". Even then whenever he left his cell – and this remained the case throughout his nine months at the marine brig – he was put into full restraint: his hands were handcuffed to a leather belt around his waist and his legs put in irons, which meant that he could not walk without a staff member holding him. …
He was under observation throughout the night, with a fluorescent light located right outside the cell blazing into his eyes. While asleep he would frequently cover his eyes with his suicide blanket, or turn on to his side away from the light, and on those occasions, sometimes three times a night, the guards would bang on his cell bars to wake him up so they could see his face. … He was forbidden from taking exercise in his cell, and … allowed out of the cell for at most one hour a day for the entire nine months at Quantico.
The official reason given for this treatment was Manning's mental health; he was supposedly a "suicide risk" who must be kept under special measures. This assessment by the brig commander was refuted by the brig's own psychiatrist, who testified during this week's hearing:
The psychiatrist who treated the WikiLeaks suspect, Bradley Manning, while he was in custody in the brig at Quantico has testified that his medical advice was regularly ignored by marine commanders who continued to impose harsh conditions on the soldier even though he posed no risk of suicide.
Captain William Hoctor told Manning's pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade that he grew frustrated and angry at the persistent refusal by marine officers to take on board his medical recommendations. The forensic psychiatrist said that he had never experienced such an unreceptive response from his military colleagues, not even when he treated terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo.
"I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this. It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain course of action, and my recommendations had no impact," Hoctor said. ….
By 27 August 2010, Hoctor testified, he had spent enough time with Manning to recommend a further easing of conditions. From then on he advised in a regular weekly report that Manning should be … returned to the general brig population.
… The blanket denial of his expert opinion was unprecedented in his quarter century of practice, the psychiatrist said. "Even when I did tours in Guantanamo and cared for detainees there my recommendations on suicidal behaviour were followed."
Hoctor said he openly protested about the thwarting of his expert opinion at a meeting with the commander responsible for the brig, Colonel Robert Oltman, on 13 January 2011. … Hoctor said that the marine commanders should no longer pretend they were acting out of medical concern for the detainee. "It wasn't good for Manning. I really didn't like them using a psychiatric standard when I thought it clinically inappropriate," Hoctor said.
The court heard that Oltman replied: "You make your recommendations, and we'll do what we want to do."
This is the treatment that Barack Obama upheld in his one public comment on the case, in 2011. Obama said that Manning's treatment was "appropriate and meeting our basic standards." In a private fundraiser that year, Obama went further and declared Manning -- who is yet to stand trial -- guilty: "He broke the law." As Horton said, the government had made up its mind "on a certain course of action" -- trying to break Manning's mind and will in its larger goal of punishing WikiLeaks for its multiple revelations of Washington's crime and folly around the world. And from brig commander to commander-in-chief, it followed this course with admirable discipline.
As Pilkington notes, it was one of Manning's efforts to show how sane he was -- and his misplaced trust in a guard -- that led to the most infamous aspect of his imprisonment: the forced nudity that his captors found so titillating:
[Manning] related how he turned for help to one particular member of staff at the brig at Quantico marine base in Virginia where he was taken in July 2010. He assumed that Staff Sergeant Pataki was on his side, so opened up to him.
"I wanted to convey the fact that I'd been on the [restrictive regime] for a long time. I'm not doing anything to harm myself. I'm not throwing myself against walls, or jumping up or down, or putting my head in the toilet."
Manning told Pataki that "if I was a danger to myself I would act out more". He used his underwear and flip-flops as an example, insisting that "if I really wanted to hurt myself I could use things now: underwear, flip-flops, they could potentially be used as something to harm oneself"…. Manning felt good about his interaction with Pataki. "I felt like he was listening and understanding, and he smiled a little. I thought I'd actually started to get through to him."
That night guards arrived at his cell and ordered him to strip naked. He was left without any clothes overnight, and the following morning made to stand outside his cell and stand to attention at the brig count, still nude, as officers inspected him.
The humiliating ritual continued for several days, and right until the day he was transferred from Quantico on 20 April 2011 he had his underwear removed every night. …
All this is what the Times and AP have reduced to nothing more than being "locked up alone in a small cell" and having to "sleep naked for several nights." Nothing at all about the draconian restrictions; nothing at all about "shakedowns," wake-ups, 24-hour surveillance in bright light (even on the toilet), isolation, chains, deprivation, betrayal, interrogation, and forced nudity -- not just when he was sleeping (in bright light, under observation) but also out in corridors, while "officers inspected him."
All of this has been erased by the 'objective' reporting of the NYT and AP. None of this is to be known or considered by serious, respectable people. It didn't happen. It doesn't matter. Manning is a whiner who made America look bad, and in doing so, he helped a website that made America look bad. That's all that really matters. The details of his treatment -- not to mention the details of what he and WikiLeaks revealed -- are unimportant. You don't have to think about it. Just nod your head, shrug your shoulders, and go about your business.
On Sunday, the New York Times -- the paper of record, the bellwether by which all "serious" American media sets its compass -- published a story about the Obama administration's efforts to codify its "extrajudicial killing program" before the election. The aim, we were told, was to make sure there were "clear standards and procedures" in place to keep the death squads going, even if the president lost the election.
The story was yet another in a series of White House-directed pieces about the killing program, in which anonymous, high-level administration officials leak top-secret information and insider gossip designed to paint the president and his aides as moral paragons struggling nobly to find the most effective and ethical way to use the killing programs and keep Americans safe. That is not only the underlying assumption of the story; it is the only assumption allowed in the story. There are three paragraphs in which duly accredited establishment figures voice what could be taken as mild criticisms about certain tactical aspects of the White House killing program.
But even these muted voices end with Shuja Nawaz -- an Establishment worthy from the Atlantic Council who is "Pakistani-born," the New York Times takes pains to tell us (without telling us that he once worked for the New York Times) -- calling on the Obama administration not to end the murderous drone campaign in his native land but to be more proud of it, more open about it, to detail every death it causes, including any "collateral deaths." This transparency will evidently assuage the anger of those who've watched their innocent loved ones -- including their children -- blown to bits by American drones, and they will no longer listen to "propaganda" from "jihadist groups."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the full extent of the criticism of the killing program permitted in the paper of record in its front-page Sunday story. The only possible problem with the president of the United States and his deputized subordinates killing people all over the world outside any legal procedure or standards of evidence or, in many cases, without knowing anything at all about who they are killing -- is that the program might not be as open and efficient as it could be.
I was going to write at length about this extraordinary piece of sinister puffery, but I find that Arthur Silber is already on the case, saying everything I wanted to say, and more. So I'm just going to excerpt a few passages from his piece, while urging you to get on over there and read the whole thing.
The NYT story is a vile exercise in fantasy, and a lie from beginning to end. As we know from numerous reports -- and as we know from what the Obama administration itself has acknowledged -- the Murder Program murders innocent human beings. This isn't a possibility, something that the administration fears might happen. It has happened in an unforgivable number of cases. Moreover, the NYT story tells us this with stark clarity. Here's the most obvious example:
[F]or several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown militants.
Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.
The State and its invaluable subsidiaries, such as the NYT, will never spell out the full meaning of passages like this one, and most people will not permit themselves to understand it.
Obama and his fellow murderers kill people about whom they have no specific information at all. That's what this phrase means: "young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups." We know from other accounts that they don't even need to be "toting arms." Their mere presence "in an area controlled by extremist groups" can be sufficient for the State to kill them. This logically and necessarily means that the State kills people who are completely innocent. Obama and the other criminals have no information whatsoever to even suggest otherwise. ...
The NYT story also makes horribly clear that the debate about whether it is a good idea to murder innocent people is over. Worse than that, such a debate never took place. That's what we're told right near the beginning of the story:
Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory.
They're "still debating" whether they should murder innocent people only as a "last resort," or murder innocent people as "a more flexible tool." Whether they should murder innocent people at all never occurred to them. It was never even a question.
Think about that for a minute. It was never even a question for them.
... The story further informs us that the Obama administration is committed to developing a comprehensive system of rules to make certain that evil is committed in just the right way.
Yes, you should be shaking your head right now, because that makes absolutely no sense. It doesn't make any sense, yet this is the nature of the evil that steadily spreads across our national landscape. And as I have often noted before, every system of government has laws and rules, even dictatorships and even totalitarian governments. Appeals to the "sanctity of the law" and the crucial importance of "rules" play directly into the hands of the State and those who direct its lethal operations. The law and the rules are the means by which they implement and direct their power. When a corrupt and deadly system passes beyond a certain point, the law and the rules do not prevent the commission of evil: they make it possible. Moreover, and this makes all such discussions entirely absurd, the ruling class will disregard the law and the rules whenever they wish, for whatever purpose they choose. Surely the last decade has taught us that much, if nothing else at all.
There is much more in Silber's piece, so do read it in full. See also this recent post of his, about the rather warped views of those who support the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity.
David Atkins: There has been some annoyance in some quarters at the lack of comprehensive coverage of the events in Gaza by the much of the most widely read parts of the progressive blogosphere. I agree that the coverage has been limited. But there are three good reasons for that:
1) Incoherent, hateful backlash. The fact is that it's impossible to say anything substantive about the Israel-Palestine conflict without being called a hateful anti-Semite, or a hateful bloodthirsty imperialist. Most hilarious is the notion that silence on the issue is caused by defense of the Administration, as if most of the progressive blogosphere had been somehow aggressive against the Bush Administration for failure to be concerned about the Palestinian people. If one examines the archives, one will see that most of the big sites from Atrios to DailyKos to TPM to Hullabaloo and the rest have largely refrained from commenting too much on the issue for years, long before Obama took office. That's in large part because nothing can be said about it without eliciting a horrifying deluge of asinine commentary that no other issue seems to generate. Especially for unpaid bloggers more concerned with climate change, the predations of the financial sector, the ongoing assault against the middle class and women's rights, etc., it's often not worth the headache of being called a vicious anti-semitic terrorist enabler and/or imperialist apartheid murderer--often for the exact same post.
2) There are no good guys here. Bibi Netanyahu is a horrible person, and Likud is filled with horrible people. They're basically the Israeli version of Dick Cheney and John Bolton, but with a religious belief in their right to steal land that belongs to others.
Hamas, meanwhile, is a murderous organization of cutthroats who refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist and want to drive every Jew out of the land they believe their God owes them.
Israeli policy pretends to want to keep control of illegal settlements that continue to incur into Palestinian lands while secretly encouraging it. Whatever goes for Palestinian authority pretends to want peace and self-determination while doing next to nothing to prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians. Hamas knows that there can be no peace without recognizing Israel's fundamental right to exist, but they can't even bring themselves to put those words down on a negotiating contract. Israel knows that there can be no pressure on Hamas to negotiate fairly as long as Palestine remains an Apartheid-style lockdown zone with continued encroachment from settlement.
So we get the usual cycle of violence with no end in sight.
3) There's nothing we can do about it. It makes sense to blog about things that we can theoretically do something about. The Gaza situation is frankly hopeless at the moment. America is not going to abandon its commitment to protect the only functioning democracy in the region and the only dependable national refuge for the Jewish people. The American people can and should eschew support for Netanyahu and Likud, but it's not as if relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu aren't already frosty. Netanyahu quite obviously wanted Romney to win, and there can be little doubt that Obama would prefer to deal with someone from Labour/Kadima. Defunding Israel isn't an option, particularly given the hostility of other Middle Eastern powers to Israel's very existence.
So that leaves bloggers advocating for cooler heads and changes in leadership on both sides of a dispute over which American activists have very little control, and in which there are no clear-cut good guys. Syria is less complicated, frankly, with much greater suffering and bloodshed--and it's not exactly been a huge topic of debate in the progressive blogosphere, either.
So don't expect a lot of coverage of the issue. Most of us don't want to take a lot of stupid abuse from nutty people for speaking powerlessly over an issue in which both sides deserve plenty of scorn.
My reply: Taking these justifications point by point, here, as I understand it, is the essential argument for progressives remaining silent on the slaughter in Gaza.
1) We are scared. People might call us bad names, and that would be unpleasant. And it would also, somehow, interfere with our ability to support other causes. Do you want us to be like that fool Martin Luther King Jr., who didn't stick to his niche issue of civil rights but also took on murderous American militarism and economic injustice? That's not savvy, that's not how to get things done. Anyway, look what happened to him when he stuck his neck out too far.
2) We are childish. There are no "good guys" we can root for in a comic-book version of good vs. evil. [How about rooting for the innocent people being slaughtered? Are they not "good" enough?] Also, we are too uninterested to read of any context or history beyond the day's headlines, so we have no idea about the many efforts made by Hamas and others, including Israelis, to "prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians." We also have nothing to say about Israel's endless provocations -- killing children, blockades, assassinations, etc. -- that produce the missiles fired in retaliation. In short, because the institutional leaders on both sides are morally compromised individuals instead of clearly marked good guys and bad guys, we have nothingat all to say about innocent people being killed -- in our name, with American weaponry, American money and the full support of the president we have just worked so hard to re-elect.
3) We are helpless. You should only blog about things you can "theoretically" do something about. So apparently there is nothing anyone can ever do -- even "theoretically" -- to prevent the United States government from giving its full and unstinting support to the ongoing operation in Gaza. Even though George W. Bush himself condemned Israeli "extrajudicial assassinations," even though Ronald Reagan condemned the Israeli strike on Iraq's nuclear plant (and actually suspended arms shipments to Israel in protest), it is now completely impossible for anyone, anywhere, to put the slightest pressure on Barack Obama to voice even the mildest criticism of Israel's actions. So what's the point of using one's public platform to register even the smallest complaint about one's government using its money, weapons and full political muscle to support the slaughter of innocent people?
However, it must be theoretically possible to, say, convince Barack Obama not to sign a "grand bargain" that will gut social programs and entrench brutal economic and social injustice for generations. And how does one do that? By writing about it, agitating about it, talking about it, protesting against it, and so on -- as our leading progressives do every day. And even though the record of the past four years shows that Barack Obama does not pay the slightest attention to these efforts -- and has recently reiterated that the $4 trillion economy-wrecking, society-degrading "deal" he offered Republicans earlier is "still on the table" -- it is at least theoretically possible that strenuous protest and pressure might cause some alteration of policy.
I think this is true. And I think it's an effort worth making, however slight its chance of success. But why does this not also apply to Obama's policy toward Israel and the Middle East? Instead of the gritty realism, savvy tactics and nuanced analyses we see on the Grand Bargain, on Gaza all we get are childish, cartoonish exaggerations: the idea that even criticising Israeli actions -- as George Bush did, as Ronald Reagan did -- is somehow equivalent to "abandoning Israel" and the Jewish people. This is puerile nonsense. (It is also an example of the aforementioned "incoherent, hateful backlash" in action, albeit in more muted, tasteful form. But it carries the same implication: "What, do you want us to abandon the Jewish people, drive them from their only refuge? What are you, some kind of Nazi?")
Look, people can concentrate on whatever issues they want. I do it; everyone who writes does it. I just found it remarkable -- and still do -- that several prominent liberal bloggers dedicated to analyzing American policy and politics had nothing at all to say about innocent people being slaughtered with the full support -- physical, financial and political -- of the American political establishment, which is the focus of their blogs. Not a single word on the subject -- positive, negative, even in passing -- nothing at all, day after day, death after death.
However, during the last major assault on Gaza, in the last days of the Bush administration, there were several mentions of Gaza on Hullaballoo, including a post from Digby on the horror of watching the slaughter on CNN. On Kos, there were no fewer than 29 "front-paged diary" entries that mentioned Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, including long columns of analysis, and pieces mocking George Bush for his claims to seek Middle East peace ("just ask the people of Gaza"), mocking Joe the Plumber for his "reporting" from the Israeli side of the attack, and so on.
All of this, I might add, was mixed in with other issues of the day: the economy, the predations of the financial sector, women's rights, etc. Apparently, when George Bush was still in office, it "made sense" to blog about Gaza, to criticize the Israeli actions AND the American support for them, and still continue to advocate for one's other concerns.
But now we are told that it is not even theoretically possible to influence American policy on this issue. It is pointless -- "frankly hopeless" -- to even try. So let the children die, with American lead shredding their flesh and American money loading the guns and American politicians -- including the Democrats our progressives worked so hard for -- officially recording their full support of these atrocities.
Again, people should write what they like. If an issue doesn't interest you, or if it's too complicated for you, or if it scares you, then by all means ignore it. But it seems strange to me that those who are publicly dedicated to building a better, more just society and a more ethical, morally responsible government would simply shrug their shoulders, give up hope and keep quiet when their government -- led by a man they themselves fought to elect -- gives its total support to such murderous deeds.
It makes one think that they have made their own "Grand Bargain": countenancing crime and murder (the drone wars, Obama's death squads, indefinite detention, support for state terror in Gaza, etc., etc.) in exchange for the hope -- the "theoretical possibility" -- that their support for such a system will be rewarded with a few crumbs and gestures on the domestic front. As I said before, this kind of "progressivism" seems to me to be a most paltry, curdled and complicit thing. It has lashed itself to the machine of power, and it will, in the end, go wherever power takes it.
"Too much of nothing Can make a man a liar." -- Bob Dylan
"Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again." -- Shakespeare, King Lear
It sure was a quiet weekend in the progressive blogosphere, where peace, justice and the alleviation of human suffering is an earnest, burning concern. At Eschaton, Atrios gave an amiable shrug and declared, "I got nothing to say." Digby and her co-pilot, David Atkins, did have a few things to say -- about Sarah Palin, General Pants-Down Petraeus, the grubby "Grand Bargaining" in the Beltway, and several examples of the stupidity and perfidy of right-wing Republicans. The posters at Daily Kos plied the same themes.
But even for those who didn't got nothing to say, it was all very much in a low-key, mopping-up, post-election mode. It seemed as if there were no major news events going on anywhere in the world that involved the violent, unjust infliction of human suffering, with the direct monetary, military and political support of United States government and its entire bipartisan political and media establishments. Nothing that might grab the attention -- even in passing -- of writers publicly and professionally dedicated to discussing and analyzing major news events involving American policy, politics and the media.
Anything like that going on this weekend? Anyone? Digby, Dave? No? Kos and the gang? Anything? Atrios?
Nope. They got nothing.
Not on Friday. Not on Saturday. Not by Sunday evening (as I write this).
If you were a follower of many of the major "progressive" bloggers, you could have passed the weekend blissfully unaware that the American-armed, American-backed Israeli military was busily raining death into the cramped and crowded concentration camp of Gaza. Children dying, old people being blown to bits in their houses, the Israeli government ordering a massive call-up of troops and reserves for a possible invasion; top officials from Egypt and Tunisia flying into the besieged camp to show solidarity, mass demonstrations across the Middle East, some meeting with violent repression, others threatening to escalate into revolutionary outpourings. On every side: death, turmoil, suffering, chaos, whole nations in ferment -- and Barack Obama standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Benjamin Netanyahu in defending assassination, aggression and the bombardment of defenseless civilians with massive military force.
For many of our leading progressives, none of this was of the slightest interest. Even as the stage is clearly being set for a rerun of the "Cast Lead" operation in 2008-2009 -- a bloodbath that killed hundreds of innocent people and was followed by a strangulating blockade -- our earnest concerners could not be stirred to even a passing comment on the developments. The idea that someone somewhere was touting Sarah Palin for 2016 was obviously far more interesting -- far more concerning -- than the American-backed bloodshed in Gaza. After all, what if Sarah Palin did become president, huh? (Get your 2016 lesser evilism going now! Start early, avoid the rush!) Why, she might declare her full support for military assaults on civilian areas in Gaza, just like that evil George Bush did in 2008. And you know you don't want anyone like that to be president, do you?
But beyond the Palin-haunted, poll-poring, got-nothing confines of the progressosphere, here's what been going on just today, as reported in the New York Times (which most top progressives at least take a glance at occasionally, I believe):
Israeli forces killed at least 11 people, including several children, in a single airstrike that destroyed a home here on Sunday ... Among the dead were five women and four small children, The Associated Press reported, citing a Palestinian health official. ... Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned of a “significant” expansion in the onslaught, which has already killed over 50 people, many of them civilians.
... Speaking on Sunday from Bangkok, President Obama condemned missile attacks by Palestinian fighters in Gaza and defended Israel’s right to protect itself. “There’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Mr. Obama said in his first public comments since the violence broke out. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Here the president ignores the fact, also reported -- albeit obscurely -- by the NYT, that the few sporadic and ineffective missiles from Gaza "raining down" on Israel before the attack were in fact retaliation for repeated missile strikes, mortar fire, assassinations and civilian deaths caused by Israeli military incursions into Gaza. But, as we noted here the other day, Gaza has no "right to defend itself;" indeed, it very clearly must "tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders." Thus saith the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
But that was not all he saith. As the NYT reports:
Mr. Obama said Sunday that he had spoken several times with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Morsi and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in hopes of finding a way to address Israel’s security concerns without further ramping up military operations. “We are actively working with all the parties in the region to see if we can end those missiles being fired without further escalation of violence in the region,” he said.
This is strange; for before the attack began, there was already an "actively working" deal to "end the missiles being fired without further violence in the region" -- as the New York Times itself reported on Friday. But as Israeli negotiator Gershon Baskin wrote in the Times, this agreement was aborted when the Israelis assassinated the very Hamas minister who was negotiating the deal. This "extrajudicial killing" -- part of an attack that, of course, killed several civilians as well, including the 11-month-old son of a BBC cameraman -- was the start of the current operation. And it led, as the Israelis knew -- and hoped -- it would, to retaliatory strikes by Hamas. Baskin writes:
I was able to learn firsthand that Mr. Jabari wasn’t just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt. ...
Israel has used targeted killings, ground invasions, drones, F-16s, economic siege and political boycott. The only thing it has not tried and tested is reaching an agreement (through third parties) for a long-term mutual cease-fire. ... The difference between the proposal I drafted in cooperation with my Hamas counterpart and past proposals was that it included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches. This draft was to be translated and shared with both Mr. Jabari and Israeli security officials, who were aware of our mediation efforts.
The proposal was at least worth testing. Moreover, it included the understanding that if Israel were to take out a real ticking bomb — people imminently preparing to launch a rocket — such a strike would not be considered a breach of the cease-fire and would not lead to escalation.
Instead, Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire.
In other words, the Netanyahu government deliberately scuttled a deal which would have provided exactly what it says it is seeking. They knew the assassination would kill the deal; they knew it would provoke violent relatiation. That is precisely what they wanted.
What's more, it is absolutely impossible that Barack Obama did not know this as well. The US government had to know these negotiations were going on. And even if one takes the position of the extreme Obamalators and believes that the innocent president was kept uninformed of these developments before the attack -- just as he was protected from all knowledge that his FBI was investigating his CIA director for months on end -- he certainly knew of the plan after it was published in the New York Times on November 16 -- two days before he made his statement on November 18.
In other words -- and brace yourself for this shocking revelation -- Barack Obama was lying through his teeth when he regurgitated his empty pieties on Sunday.
Imagine the kind of play Kos would have given to such sinister mendacity had it issued from the gorge of evil George. Imagine what razor-sharp slashings of moral outrage we would have seen from Digby n' Dave had Dick Cheney trotted out such threadbare lies to support the murder of a key official in the midst of peace negotiations. And is it conceivable that Atrios would have "got nothing" if Condi Rice had been issuing "full-throttle support" for an operation that has set the most volatile region in the world ablaze with death and turmoil? No; yet if a Democrat arms, pays for and supports such things, there is no outrage, there is no criticism, there is no analysis. There is only ... nothing.
But Shakespeare knew the self-deluded Lear was wrong: something can indeed come from nothing. In fact, the whole murderous course of the tragedy issues from Cordelia's "nothing." And although the assault on Gaza is as nothing to the progressives, something is happening there. Even as I've been writing this, more details have come in about the attack mentioned in the NYT story above. From the Guardian:
At least 11 members of one family, including five women and four children, were killed when Israel bombed a house in Gaza City on Sunday as the five-day-old war claimed more civilian lives with no sign of a letup in the intense bombardment.
The air strike flattened the home of the Dalou family in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City, causing the biggest death toll in a single incident since the offensive began last Wednesday.
The bodies of the children were pulled from the rubble and taken to the morgue at the Shifa hospital. The dead also included an 80-year-old woman. ... Witnesses said there were chaotic scenes as the dead and injured were brought to the Shifa hospital, which has been on emergency footing since the start of Operation Pillar of Defence. The bodies of four young children lay on two metal trays in the morgue, covered in dust and blood. A crowd of onlookers outside became increasingly distressed as the body of the children's mother was wheeled in, covered in blankets.
But this is of no apparent concern to those so earnestly concerned with peace, justice and the alleviation of human suffering. Those children, that old woman, the grieving survivors -- they must be the wrong people suffering. Or perhaps it's just that the right person is aiding, abetting and supporting their suffering. No need for comment. No need to notice. Nothing to see here.
And thus political tribalism curdles into moral cretinism.
UPDATE: Meanwhile, back in the real world, the London Review of Books has more on the process of deliberate provocation -- and the deliberate scuttling of peace deals -- that lay behind the current round of slaughter in Gaza.
... This time round, on 8 November, a week before Ahmad Jabari was assassinated, Israeli soldiers shot dead 13-year-old Ahmad Abu Daqqa while he was playing football outside his house in Gaza. Palestinian militants retaliated with a bomb and then a missile fired at an armoured personnel carrier, wounding several Israeli soldiers. Israel responded by shelling first another football field and then a mourning tent, killing four civilian non-combatants and wounding dozens. Four Israelis were wounded by the inevitable Palestinian missile volleys that followed. Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, which typically brokers security agreements relating to the Gaza Strip, stepped up its efforts.
By 12 November, amid demands from Israel’s Home Front Defence minister, Avi Dichter, to ‘reformat’ the Gaza Strip and calls from the transport minister, Yisrael Katz, to cut off the supply of all goods and services to Gaza’s population of 1.5 million until they begged for air, the Egyptians had crafted a ceasefire proposal that was accepted by the Palestinians and – according to the Egyptians – Israel too. With responsibility not only for fighting Israel but also enforcing agreements with it, Jabari began implementing the ceasefire. Two days later he was blown up. ...
Pummelling Gaza yet again was intended to remind all concerned – not least the new Egypt – who makes the rules, though it would also reassure the Israeli electorate they need not fear the prospect of Obama punishing Israel for Netanyahu’s embrace of the Romney/Adelson ticket. As expected, the Obama White House has reiterated its commitment to Israel, and Congress has been busy passing unanimous resolutions supporting Israel’s right to self-defence in its colonial possessions. The positions of most European states have been only marginally less obscene. …
Israeli hesitation about what may lie ahead, in combination with furious diplomacy directed at Washington by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and others, may lead to a new ceasefire agreement in the coming days. If not, the primary issue for those committed to peace in the Middle East will be to ensure Israel is deprived of the impunity it enjoyed during and after Operation Cast Lead.
Hell is coming. Hell is near. Thousands upon thousands of troops are massing for the ground invasion of a small patch of land crammed full with human beings trapped without any defense against the steel that will destroy them. Several children have already died in the preliminaries. Many, many more will die when the real feast of death begins. As Arthur Silber says:
[From CBS News:] "At least half of the Palestinians killed in the conflict so far have been civilians, including at least eight children and a pregnant woman." Dead children are now a commonplace of the ceaseless death campaigns conducted by the United States and Israel. That alone reveals a great deal, more than anyone decent cares to know, about the nature of the "civilization" involved. But ... a pregnant woman. That's a new and creative touch. Does someone in Israel get extra points for that? A special medal for extraordinary heroism? I suspect so.
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
Like Silber, I wonder if the American soldiers who killed the pregnant Artica Salim got a medal for their defense of civilization?
Concerning civilization, what does Israel's Interior Minister say is the goal of the current operation? It's quite simple. From Haaretz:
Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Israel's operation in Gaza: "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years."
In fact, who can forget Tom's giddy cheerleading for the Clinton-Blair air war against the civilian population of Serbia? Who can forget his bone-chilling warning to the unruly Slavs in his classic 1999 column, "Give War a Chance," when he wrote: "Let's at least have a real war. It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted...Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."
As Silber notes, these nightmare tropes will continue to play out, over and over again:
Gaza sets the pattern; expect to see it repeated in the years and decades to come. And most people still refuse to see what is happening.
More and more areas of the world will be turned into a charnel house. It happened twice in the twentieth century on an ungraspable scale, and it occurred many additional times in a more limited manner, which was no less horrifying for the victims. It seems the only lessons we learned from all these catastrophes are how to do it more efficiently and effectively, and with less resistance from the world at large. The victims change; the pattern does not. So for us at this moment in history, the slogan is not, "Never again!" The slogan is: "Always again!"
And again. And again. And again. Until time runs out.
Be clear about this: what we are witnessing -- and are about to witness -- in Gaza, as in Afghanistan, and in the drone-pocked regions of Pakistan, and in Yemen, Somalia, Mali and in other areas around the world: all of this, in every instance, represents a vast, irreparable, unspeakably tragic defeat for humankind -- and incredible, unspeakable pain for real human beings. It is a defeat, in every instance, a failure -- of nerve, of spirit, of intellect, of empathy; it is a show of weakness -- no matter how many of the "enemy" you kill; it is a display of ignorance, fear and barbarity. Again, just be clear: if you support it -- or support those who support it -- this is what you are supporting.
From Dr. Mona Al-Farra in Gaza City, an urgent message on Facebook: Dear Friends, Gaza is under extensive Israeli military attack ,in less than 2 hours , 14 military attacks against different targets in different parts of Gaza Strip , 6 were killed including 2 young girls age 4 and 7, 11 were injured, the hospitals are already lacking essential emergency medications, and citizens were called for blood donation, we do not have power , iam using UBS ,the first stage of this operation has been accomplished , we expect more escalation. your solidarity means a lot at this difficult times, pass the word, this aggression, should stop now.
*** The 20th paragraph -- the 20th paragraph -- of the New York Times story on the attack notes, very obliquely, that the recent rocket firing was in response to "deadly Israeli airstrikes":
Since then Hamas has mostly adhered to an informal, if shaky, cease-fire and at times tried to enforce the smaller militant groups to stick to it. But in recent months, under pressure from some of the Gaza population for not avenging deadly Israeli airstrikes, it has claimed responsibility for participating in the firing of rockets. Last week, it also claimed credit for detonating a tunnel packed with explosives along the Israel-Gaza border while Israeli soldiers were working nearby.
But elsewhere in the story, and everywhere in the media, the attack is clearly presented as righteous retaliation for unprovoked attacks: not as collective punishment on a captive people for themselves retaliating against airstrikes against them.
(UPDATE 1: In the latest online version of the constantly updated NYT story, the mention of the rocket attacks as retaliation for "deadly Israeli airstrikes" is now in the 32nd paragraph. Most of the new material is taken up with the Peace Laureate's firm support for Israel's right to "self-defense" -- a right which obviously does not extend to the Palestinians at any time, in any form. Like "good injuns," they're supposed to lay down and die on the cracked, caged earth of the reservation.)
*** In responding to the current attack, Arthur Silber also points to this this deeper look (from the 2009 slaughter in Gaza) at the template behind these spasms of atrocity -- a template much used not only by the "light unto the nations" but also "the shining city on the hill":
For a very long time, the United States government has specialized in the pattern pursued by Israel. The vastly more powerful nation wishes to act on a certain policy -- almost always territorial expansion, for purposes of access to resources, or to force itself into new markets, or to pursue the evil notion that economic and ideological success depend on brutality and conquest -- but a specifically moral justification for its planned actions does not lie easily to hand.
So the powerful nation embarks on a course designed to make life intolerable for the country and/or those people that stand in its way. The more powerful nation is confident that, given sufficient time and sufficient provocation, the weaker country and people will finally do something that the actual aggressor can seize on as a pretext for the policy upon which it had already decided. In this way, what then unfolds becomes the victim's fault.
UPDATE 2: I was remiss in failing to give the name of the dead child in the picture above. His name is Omar Misharawi. He is the son of Jihad Misharawi -- a journalist for the BBC's Arabic news service. Misharawi's house was hit by the pinpoint, carefully targeted, hi-tech, only-kill-the-bad-guys missiles being hurled into the heavily packed residential areas of Gaza by the Israeli military.
Below is a picture of what Omar looked like before he became "collateral damage." Strange; he looks almost like an actual, fully-fledged human being, doesn't he? Almost like one of us, like one of our children. Good thing he's just a "savage," right? One of them. For as our own Nobel Laureate has shown us, their lives have no value, no meaning. They're just so much "bug splat" on a screen.
UPDATE 3: Another great triumph for Western values was also reported today (Thursday): the first confirmed death of a child due to the draconian sanctions imposed on Iran by the Peace Laureate -- who celebrated his electoral triumph last week by tightening even further his ongoing strangulation of Iran. The Guardian reports:
A teenage Iranian boy suffering from haemophilia has died due to a shortage of medicine in the country. It is the first civilian death said to be directly linked to the impact that western economic sanctions are having on the Islamic republic.
Manouchehr Esmaili-Liousi was a 15-year-old from a nomadic tribe based in the mountains near the city of Dezful, in Iran's south-western province of Khuzestan. He died in hospital after his family failed to find the vital medicine he desperately needed for his disease, Iran's state news agencies reported on Wednesday …
Although sanctions are not directly targeting Iranian pharmacies and medical sectors, measures imposed on Iranian banks and trade restrictions have made life extremely difficult for patients across the country, who are facing difficulties in finding medicines made outside Iran. … According to Ghavidel, 75% of the medicines for the treatment of haemophilia are made in the US and the EU, making Iranian patients heavily dependent on their imports. He said haemophilia medicines available in Iranian markets had been reduced to a third of former supply levels….
Earlier this month, the New York Times published a detailed report on how sanctions were taking an unexpected toll on medical imports, including medicines such as Herceptin, which is made in the US. Among other medicines said to be scarce in Iranian pharmacies is the tetanus vaccine.
Baby milk is another imported product affected. Iran produces its own powdered milk, which is abundant in the market, but cannot produce certain diet milk types or those suitable for children with allergies. These are imported from outside. There have been instances of children hospitalised as a result of the milk shortages, but no reports of deaths as yet.
One down, 499,000 to go before Obama matches the good ole Big Dawg in the noble -- and Nobel -- pursuit of mass murder by sanctions. But no doubt he and his secretary of state -- the Big Dawg's own wife! -- will, like the Big Dawg's own secretary of state, believe the murders "are worth it."
*** Update 4: Arthur Silber has more on Gaza, in a new piece that speaks of unspeakable things. Below are some excerpts; but do read the whole thing.
The most striking and significant quality of our national conversation "is one of overwhelming, oppressive and suffocating unreality. It is as if everyone knows, but will never acknowledge, that we may speak only in code, and that we may only utilize the safe, empty phrases that we have agreed are 'acceptable' ... Truth is the enemy; truth is to be destroyed."
Gaza is a concentration camp. It is not like a concentration camp. It is not a metaphorical or figurative concentration camp. It is a concentration camp. Our culture, our political leaders, and the cacophony of voices in the media have all agreed that this truth must never be spoken. ... Israel imposes conditions on Gaza and its inhabitants that necessarily result in a slow, long, lingering death. Unjustified but quick murder, murder which occurs in an instant, is a terrible crime. How are we to describe the crime that sentences a huge number of people to death, but does so in a manner that ensures the unendurable pain will last for years, that pain and deprivation can never be forgotten, that agony becomes the increasingly overwhelming component of a human being's existence? ...
Because we may never say this, some of those determined to remain in a state of almost perfect ignorance will be heard to complain: "But surely nothing justifies the violence of the Palestinians themselves, or their firing rockets into Israel!" Gaza is a concentration camp. The inhabitants of Gaza act in defense of their lives, to the extent the hell to which they are condemned can be called "life" at all. That is: "When you leave people no choice but to engage in violence, they'll engage in violence." This, too, must never be acknowledged. ..
As has happened every time before, the world watches -- and the world does nothing. More horrifying is the fact that the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, supports this evil and guarantees that it will not only continue, but very probably get still worse. Any individual who expected a different response from the United States in any respect at all has blinded himself to the nature of the United States generally, and to the significance of the Obama administration more particularly. For the Obama administration has engaged in a worldwide campaign of death for four years, and promises to continue the campaign into the indefinite future. And Obama and his fellow murderers repeatedly proclaim their "right" to murder any innocent human being wherever he may be in the world, for any reason they invent and even for no reason at all. A nation led by a group of serial murderers will hardly object to another country's program of sadism.
To all those now hailing the re-election of Barack Obama as a triumph of decent, humane, liberal values over the oozing-postule perfidy of the Republicans, a simple question:
Is this child dead enough for you?
This little boy was named Naeemullah. He was in his house -- maybe playing, maybe sleeping, maybe having a meal -- when an American drone missile was fired into the residential area where he lived and blew up the house next door.
As we all know, these drone missiles are, like the president who wields them, super-smart, a triumph of technology and technocratic expertise. We know, for the president and his aides have repeatedly told us, that these weapons -- launched only after careful consultation of the just-war strictures of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas -- strike nothing but their intended targets and kill no one but "bad guys." Indeed, the president's top aides have testified under oath that not a single innocent person has been among the thousands of Pakistani civilians -- that is, civilians of a sovereign nation that is not at war with the United States -- who have been killed by the drone missile campaign of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Yet somehow, by some miracle, the missile that roared into the residential area where Naeemullah lived did not confine itself neatly to the house it struck. Somehow, inexplicably, the hunk of metal and wire and computer processors failed -- in this one instance -- to look into the souls of all the people in the village and ascertain, by magic, which ones were "bad guys" and then kill only them. Somehow -- perhaps the missile had been infected with Romney cooties? -- this supercharged hunk of high explosives simply, well, exploded with tremendous destructive power when it struck the residential area, blowing the neighborhood to smithereens.
As Wired reports, shrapnel and debris went flying through the walls of Naeemullah's house and ripped through his small body. When the attack was over -- when the buzzing drone sent with Augustinian wisdom by the Peace Laureate was no longer lurking over the village, shadowing the lives of every defenseless inhabitant with the terrorist threat of imminent death, Naeemullah was taken to the hospital in a nearby town.
This is where the picture of above was taken by Noor Behram, a resident of North Waziristan who has been chronicling the effects of the Peace Laureate's drone war. When the picture was taken, Naeemullah was dying. He died an hour later.
Is he dead enough for you?
Dead enough not to disturb your victory dance in any way? Dead enough not to trouble the inauguration parties yet to come? Dead enough not to diminish, even a little bit, your exultant glee at the fact that this great man, a figure of integrity, decency, honor and compassion, will be able to continue his noble leadership of the best nation in the history of the world?
Do you have children? Do they sit your house playing happily? Do they sleep sweetly scrunched up in their warm beds at night? Do they chatter and prattle like funny little birds as you eat with them at the family table? Do you love them? Do you treasure them? Do you consider them fully-fledged human beings, beloved souls of infinite worth?
How would you feel if you saw them ripped to shreds by flying shrapnel, in your own house? How would you feel as you rushed them to the hospital, praying every step of the way that another missile won't hurl down on you from the sky? Your child was innocent, you had done nothing, were simply living your life in your own house -- and someone thousands of miles away, in a country you had never seen, had no dealings with, had never harmed in any way, pushed a button and sent chunks of burning metal into your child's body. How would you feel as you watched him die, watched all your hopes and dreams for him, all the hours and days and years you would have to love him, fade away into oblivion, lost forever?
What would you think about the one who did this to your child? Would you say: "What a noble man of integrity and decency! I'm sure he is acting for the best."
Would you say: "Well, this is a bit unfortunate, but it's perfectly understandable. The Chinese government (or Iran or al Qaeda or North Korea or Russia, etc. etc.) believed there was someone next door to me who might possibly at some point in time pose some kind of threat in some unspecified way to their people or their political agenda -- or maybe it was just that my next-door neighbor behaved in a certain arbitrarily chosen way that indicated to people watching him on a computer screen thousands of miles away that he might possibly be the sort of person who might conceivably at some point in time pose some kind of unspecified threat to the Chinese (Iranians/Russians, etc.), even though they had no earthly idea who my neighbour is or what he does or believes or intends. I think the person in charge of such a program is a good, wise, decent man that any person would be proud to support. Why, I think I'll ask him to come speak at my little boy's funeral!"
Is that what you would say if shrapnel from a missile blew into your comfortable house and killed your own beloved little boy? You would not only accept, understand, forgive, shrug it off, move on -- you would actively support the person who did it, you would cheer his personal triumphs and sneer at all those who questioned his moral worthiness and good intentions? Is that really what you would do?
Well, that is what you are doing when you shrug off the murder of little Naeemullah. You are saying he is not worth as much as your child. You are saying he is not a fully-fledged human being, a beloved soul of infinite worth. You are saying that you support his death, you are happy about it, and you want to see many more like it. You are saying it doesn't matter if this child -- or a hundred like him, or a thousand like him, or, as in the Iraqi sanctions of the old liberal lion, Bill Clinton, five hundred thousand children like Naeemullah -- are killed in your name, by leaders you cheer and support. You are saying that the only thing that matters is that someone from your side is in charge of killing these children. This is the reality of "lesser evilism."
Before the election, we heard a lot of talk about this notion of the "lesser evil." From prominent dissidents and opponents of empire like Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky and Robert Parry to innumerable progressive blogs to personal conversations, one heard this basic argument: "Yes, the drone wars, the gutting of civil liberties, the White House death squads and all the rest are bad; but Romney would be worse. Therefore, with great reluctance, holding our noses and shaking our heads sadly, we must choose the lesser evil of Obama and vote accordingly."
I understand that argument, I really do. I don't agree with it, as I made plain here many times before the election. I think the argument is wrong, I think our system is so far gone that even a "lesser evil" is too evil to support in any way, that such support only perpetuates the system's unconscionable evils. But I'm not a purist, not a puritan, not a commissar or dogmatist. I understand that people of good will can come to a different conclusion, and feel that they must reluctantly choose one imperial-militarist-corporate faction over the other, in the belief that this will mean some slight mitigation of the potential evil that the other side commit if it took power. I used to think that way myself, years ago. Again, I now disagree with this, and I think that the good people who believe this have not, for whatever reason or reasons, looked with sufficient clarity at the reality of our situation, of what is actually being done, in their name, by the political faction they support.
But of course, I am not the sole arbiter of reality, nor a judge of others; people see what they see, and they act (or refrain from acting) accordingly. I understand that. But here is what I don't understand: the sense of triumph and exultation and glee on the part of so many progressives and liberals and 'dissidents' at the victory of this "lesser evil." Where did the reluctance, the nose-holding, the sad head-shaking go? Should they not be mourning the fact that evil has triumphed in America, even if, by their lights, it is a "lesser" evil?
If you really believed that Obama was a lesser evil -- 2 percent less evil, as I believe Digby once described the Democrats in 2008 -- if you really did find the drone wars and the White House death squads and Wall Street bailouts and absolution for torturers and all the rest to be shameful and criminal, how can you be happy that all of this will continue? Happy -- and continuing to scorn anyone who opposed the perpetuation of this system?
The triumph of a lesser evil is still a victory for evil. If your neighborhood is tyrannized by warring mafia factions, you might prefer that the faction which occasionally doles out a few free hams wins out over their more skinflint rivals; but would you be joyful about the fact that your neighborhood is still being tyrannized by murderous criminals? Would you not be sad, cast down, discouraged and disheartened to see the violence and murder and corruption go on? Would you not mourn the fact that your children will have to grow up in the midst of all this?
So where is the mourning for the fact that we, as a nation, have come to this: a choice between murderers, a choice between plunderers? Even if you believe that you had to participate and make the horrific choice that was being offered to us -- "Do you want the Democrat to kill these children, or do you want the Republican to kill these children?" -- shouldn't this post-election period be a time of sorrow, not vaulting triumph and giddy glee and snarky put-downs of the "losers"?
If you really are a "lesser evilist" -- if this was a genuine moral choice you reluctantly made, and not a rationalization for indulging in unexamined, primitive partisanship -- then you will know that we are ALL the losers of this election. Even if you believe it could have been worse, it is still very bad. You yourself proclaimed that Obama was evil -- just a bit "lesser" so than his opponent. (2 percent maybe.) And so the evil that you yourself saw and named and denounced will go on. Again I ask: where is the joy and glory and triumph in this? Even if you believe it was unavoidable, why celebrate it? And ask yourself, bethink yourself: what are you celebrating? This dead child, and a hundred like him? A thousand like him? Five hundred thousand like him? How far will you go? What won't you celebrate?
And so step by step, holding the hand of the "lesser evil," we descend deeper and deeper into the pit.
Well, you got your lesser evil. Now all we can do is hope that he will do less evil than he did in his first term. Bitter experience, and a nodding acquaintance with history -- and human nature -- mitigate mightily against such a hope, but we are where we are, and that's all we've got.
In any case, I am eagerly looking forward to seeing how all our super-savvy lesser-evilist progressives "hold Obama's feet to the fire" in the months to come, as they promised so solemnly to do. You remember, don' t you? How they savagely condemned anyone who so much as thought about not supporting Obama, while pledging to unleash their righteous rage at his crimes and follies -- just as soon as he was safely returned to the White House. I'm sure they'll come down hard on him. Why, I can see it all now.....
"OK, now the inauguration's over, let's get to work. First of all, these drone attacks are criminal atrocities killing scores of innocent people. We can organize a protest march to--" Super-savvy prog: "Hush your mouth! We can't undermine the president right now. We've got to help the Democrats get control of the House in 2014! Or do you want the evil Rethuglicans to keep blocking everything? Wait until after the mid-term elections, then we'll put the pressure on."
"OK, we took back the House in 2014 with a slate of anti-abortion, pro-war, entitlement-slashing, deficit-hawk, Blue Dog Democrats. You said it was the savvy thing to do, the lesser evil to replace the anti-abortion, pro-war, entitlement-slashing, deficit-hawk Republicans. NOW can we go after Obama -- for the state terrorism of the drone campaign, the 'extrajudicial' murders, the 'disposition matrix,' the torture and imprisonment of the truth-teller Bradley Manning, the support of the brutal coup and murderous repression in Honduras, the fracking, the off-shore drilling, the 'Grand Bargaining' with Social Security and Medicare, the protection of CIA torturers, the global arms dealing, the growing prison population, the growing economic inequality, the ever-more draconian 'security apparatus', the bail-out of the oligarchs and the--"
Super- savvy prog: "Bite your tongue! We can't undermine the president right now! It will hurt the chances of his Democratic successor if we make Obama look bad! Or do you want Paul Ryan to be president? What kind of selfish moral purist are you?"
Oh yeah, they're really gonna make Obama sweat. Things will be different this time around. I can't wait!
There was an election. The winner was a man pledged to murder and plunder. His followers rejoiced that the murder and plunder would be flavored to their taste, done by one of their own. The losers lamented the fate of the nation because their man would not be in charge of the murder and plunder. Bitterness was everywhere. Poison, illusion.
The sun rose. The broken system, heaving and buckling under the weight of its foul excrescences, staggered on.
No answers. No resolution. No mercy, not from the structures; only from ourselves, each to each, one to one, moment to moment, hands touching, clutching, tearing free, in the turbulence of the waves.
UPDATE:Arthur Silber marshals the insights of Hannah Arendt in support of his own powerful arguments against legitimizing a brutal and murderous system that has forfeited all claim to legitimacy. Together, they dismantle the "lesser evil" argument, and make the moral case for refusal -- or as Silber terms it, "the power to say, No." For example, here is Arendt:
In their moral justification, the argument of the lesser evil has played a prominent role. If you are confronted with two evils, thus the argument runs, it is your duty to opt for the lesser one, whereas it is irresponsible to refuse to choose altogether. Those who denounce the moral fallacy of this argument are usually accused of a germ-proof moralism which is alien to political circumstances, of being unwilling to dirty their hands ....
Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil … Moreover, if we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of “the lesser evil”— far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite—is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such. …
We see here how unwilling the human mind is to face realities which in one way or another contradict totally its framework of reference. Unfortunately, it seems to be much easier to condition human behavior and to make people conduct themselves in the most unexpected and outrageous manner, than it is to persuade anybody to learn from experience, as the saying goes; that is, to start thinking and judging instead of applying categories and formulas which are deeply ingrained in our mind, but whose basis of experience has long been forgotten and whose plausibility resides in their intellectual consistency rather than in their adequacy to actual events.
… The nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority … asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command “Thou shalt not kill,” but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer—themselves. The precondition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but rather the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking. This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.
There is much more to the piece; read the whole thing. In many ways, it underscores what has been, essentially, the oft-repeated core message of this blog for many years now, based on the tragically abiding truth stated by the American refusenik Henry David Thoreau, which I'll repeat here yet again, as a last thought before the election:
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”