Crystallizing the Moment (re-redux)

Posted: May 2, 2016 in Culture, Debate, History, Media, Narrative, Politics
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I already updated my original post from 2009 once based on Tom Engelhardt’s analysis, adding a few of my own thoughts. I want to revisit the original, provide an addendum to my review of Oliver Stone’s Untold History, and draw attention to Andrew Bacevich’s alternative narrative titled “American Imperium.” This is about geopolitics and military history, which fall outside my usual areas of interest and blogging focus (excepting the disgrace of torture), but they’re nonetheless pretty central to what’s going on the world.

Having now watched the remainder of Untold History, it’s clear that every administration since WWII was neck deep in military adventurism. I had thought at least one or two would be unlike the others, and maybe Gerald Ford only waded in up to his knees, but the rest deployed the U.S. military regularly and forcefully enough to beggar the imagination: what on earth were they doing? The answer is both simple and complex, no doubt. I prefer the simple one: they were pursuing global American hegemony — frequently with overweening force against essentially medieval cultures. It’s a remarkably sad history, really, often undertaken with bland justifications such as “American interests” or “national security,” neither of which rings true. I’ve likened the U.S. before to the playground bully who torments others but can never be psychologically satisfied and so suffers his own private torments on the way to becoming a sociopath. Why does every American president resemble that profile (war criminals all), so afraid to look weak that he (thus far in U.S. history, always a he) must flex those muscles at the expense of ordinary people everywhere? Women in positions of authority (e.g., Sec. of State, National Security Advisor), by the way, exhibit the same behavior: advising striking at weaklings to prove they can wear pants, too.

One particular phrase in Untold History stuck with me. In discussing George W. Bush (Dubya) and his decision to invade Afghanistan then Iraq, Oliver Stone said that Dubya essentially went to war with a tactic, namely, terrorism. The irrational short-sightedness now 14+ years on is obvious, and it may well be that the U.S. has been suckered by Al-Qaeda’s rope-a-dope tactic much the same way the former Soviet Union was driven into bankruptcy and illegitimacy fighting the Cold War. Thus, the number and expense of U.S. military bases maintained (nearly 5,000 acknowledged, others no doubt unacknowledged) as de facto global police is enormous, including over 660 installations in 38 countries around the globe. It’s a uniquely American sickness; no other country has a military even remotely as large and unnecessary, especially foreign bases. Stone also corrected one of my misconceptions taken from history books, namely, that the U.S. was isolationist and pacifist between the two early 20th-century world wars. Stone states that instead we had simply learned from WWI not to commit American lives to folly, a lesson we unlearned quickly in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and never managed to relearn.

Based on titles available at Amazon, Andrew Bacevich writes a lot about the American military, and thus geopolitics. He contextualizes U.S. military escapades differently from Oliver Stone and from what I understand as the accepted narrative (history told by the victors — well, sometimes victors), where the U.S. is uniformly the good guys fighting for freedom, democracy, and justice. His scheme involves four multigenerational conflicts: “a Hundred Years’ War for the Hemisphere, launched in 1898; a War for Pacific Dominion, also initiated in 1898, petering out in the 1970s but today showing signs of reviving; a War for the West, already under way when the United States entered it in 1917 and destined to continue for seven more decades; and a War for the Greater Middle East, dating from 1980 and ongoing still with no end in sight” (quoting from Harper’s, link above, emphasis added). The War for the Hemisphere refers to the Americas (North and South), whereas the War for the West refers to Western Europe.

As with Oliver Stone’s alternative history, I found myself too easily convinced perhaps (or buffaloed) by Bacevich. Since military history is not an area where I possess anywhere near enough expertise to feign authority and judge accuracy, I will demur. However, unlike most others, I never for a moment believed the propaganda campaign during Dubya’s administration that led to ongoing escapades in the Middle East, nor did I adopt a judicious wait-and-see outlook. Seeing through some bullshit is remarkably easy if one isn’t reflexively jingoistic and uber-patriotic. In fact, significant citizen protest prior to sending troops abroad demonstrates that many others also disbelieved the lies stories spun by the Bush Administration and its minions. No matter now. We’re stuck, and even with cyclical troop withdrawals and deployments, the longer War for the Greater Middle East is certain to drag on for as long as the U.S. is able to project power and prosecute war.

Which brings me back to my original post. Did Dubya really crystallize the moment, seeing in terrorism a true threat needing to be put down? We all know the answer to that question; frankly, we knew the answer back in 2002. He possessed neither the discipline nor wit nor vision to judge perceptively and persuasively. But fools and idiots that we are, we plunged forward heedless of inconvenient analyses that suggested terrorism was always a proxy for a resource grab, ramping up the business of war (profitable for some, anyway), and an uninterrupted history of American military interventions abroad. Many American citizens have succumbed to the constant thrum of threat, pounded into us in part by journalists who ought to know better, making the so-called War Against Terror effective rhetoric. But that’s the point of rhetoric as practiced in the Postmodern world: it’s hollow and empty. What sort of republic might we have developed into instead if we had not allowed ourselves the cheap gratification of wasted effort, expense, and lives fighting multiple wars that didn’t need fighting? What if, instead of destroying people and places, we had built them up? Or just left them alone and tended our own gardens?

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  1. […] via Crystallizing the Moment (re-redux) — The Spiral Staircase […]

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