Bad as You Wanna Be

Posted: January 1, 2021 in Conspiracy, Crime, Culture, Ethics, Legal Matters, Outrage, Torture, War
Tags: , , , , ,

The end of every U.S. presidential administration is preceded by a spate of pardons and commutations — the equivalents of a get-out-of-jail-free card offered routinely to conspirators collaborators with the outgoing executive and general-purpose crony capitalists. This practice, along with diplomatic immunity and supranational elevation of people (and corporations-as-people) beyond the reach of prosecution, is a deplorable workaround obviating the rule of law. Whose brilliant idea it was to offer special indulgence to miscreants is unknown to me, but it’s pretty clear that, with the right connections and/or with enough wealth, you can essentially be as bad as you wanna be with little fear of real consequence (a/k/a too big to fail a/k/a too big to jail). Similarly, politicians, whose very job it is to manage the affairs of society, are free to be incompetent and destructive in their brazen disregard for needs of the citizenry. Only modest effort (typically a lot of jawing directed to the wrong things) is necessary to enjoy the advantages of incumbency.

In this moment of year-end summaries, I could choose from among an array of insane, destructive, counter-productive, and ultimately self-defeating nominees (behaviors exhibited by elite powers that be) as the very worst, the baddest of the bad. For me, in the largest sense, that would be the abject failure of the rule of law (read: restraints), which has (so far) seen only a handful of high-office criminals prosecuted successfully (special investigations leading nowhere and failed impeachments don’t count) for their misdeeds and malfeasance. I prefer to be more specific. Given my indignation over the use of torture, that would seem an obvious choice. However, those news stories have been shoved to the back burner, including the ongoing torture of Julian Assange for essentially revealing truths cynics like me already suspected and now know to be accurate, where they general little heat. Instead, I choose war as the very worst, an example of the U.S. (via its leadership) being as bad as it can possibly be. The recent election cycle offered a few candidates who bucked the consensus that U.S. involvement in every unnecessary, undeclared war since WWII is justified. They were effectively shut out by the military-industrial complex. And as the incoming executive tweeted on November 24, 2020, America’s back, baby! Ready to do our worst again (read: some more, since we [the U.S. military] never stopped [making war]). A sizeable portion of the American public is aligned with this approach, too.

So rule of law has failed and we [Americans] are infested with crime and incompetence at the highest levels. Requirements, rights, and protections found in the U.S. Constitution are handily ignored. That means every administration since Truman has been full of war criminals, because torture and elective war are crimes. The insult to my sensibilities is far worse than the unaffordability of war, the failure to win or end conflicts, or the lack of righteousness in our supposed cause. It’s that we [America, as viewed from outside] are belligerent, bellicose aggressors. We [Americans] are predators. And we [Americans, but really all humans] are stuck in an adolescent concept of conduct in the world shared with animals that must kill just to eat. We [humans] make no humanitarian progress at all. But the increasing scale of our [human] destructiveness is progress if drones, robots, and other DARPA-developed weaponry impress.

A quote commonly misattributed to Albert Einstein goes, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” It’s plainly foreseeable, but we [humans] learn nothing in our intergenerational folly, which also accounts for our [human] failure to address climate change or population overshoot or energy policy with anything approaching sanity. The writing on the wall regarding war is summarized well by Andrew Bacevich (publishing at, where he iterates seven commonalities between U.S. wars in Vietnam and Iraq:

First, Vietnam and Iraq were both avoidable: For the United States, they were wars of choice. No one pushed us. We dove in headfirst.

Second, both turned out to be superfluous, undertaken in response to threats … that were figments of fevered imaginations. In both cases, cynicism and moral cowardice played a role in paving the way toward war. Dissenting voices were ignored.

Third, both conflicts proved to be costly distractions. Each devoured on a prodigious scale resources that might have been used so much more productively elsewhere. Each diverted attention from matters of far more immediate importance to Americans. Each, in other words, triggered a massive hemorrhage of blood, treasure, and influence to no purpose whatsoever.

Fourth, in each instance, political leaders in Washington and senior commanders in the field collaborated in committing grievous blunders. War is complicated. All wars see their share of mistakes and misjudgments. But those two featured a level of incompetence unmatched since Custer’s Last Stand.

Fifth, thanks to that incompetence, both devolved into self-inflicted quagmires. In Washington, in Saigon, and in Baghdad’s “Green Zone,” baffled authorities watched as the control of events slipped from their grasp. Meanwhile, in the field, U.S. troops flailed about for years in futile pursuit of a satisfactory outcome.

Sixth, on the home front, both conflicts left behind a poisonous legacy of unrest, rancor, and bitterness. Members of the Baby Boom generation (to which I belong) have chosen to enshrine Vietnam-era protest as high-minded and admirable. Many Americans then held and still hold a different opinion. As for the Iraq War, it contributed mightily to yawning political cleavages that appear unlikely to heal anytime soon.

And finally [seventh], with both political and military elites alike preferring simply to move on, neither war has received a proper accounting. Their place in the larger narrative of American history is still unsettled. This may be the most important similarity of all. Both Vietnam and Iraq remain bizarrely undigested, their true meaning yet to be discerned and acknowledged. Too recent to forget, too confounding to ignore, they remain anomalous.

Why do we [humans] perpetuate this insane, world-destroying mindset? I have many suspicions, of course, but it probably boils down to one thing: we [humans, especially Americans] are really just that dumb.

Addendum: Since I’ve been raked (rightly so, I admit) for allowing a verbal tic (using pronouns with unclear antecedents), which gives the illusion of blame belonging to the people for being dominated by their own governments (“we get the leaders and governments we deserve”), I went back and inserted clarifying terms after each of the first person plural nouns and possessives. And just to be perfectly clear:

/rant on

Why does it continue? Because political leaders are psychopaths with control over a vast military budget and its operations. As mentioned in a blog post where Curtis White draws the moral out of one of Steven Spielberg’s several war propaganda movies, when the archetypical American is given a choice in war, “always choose death [of others], for if you do not, death will come anyway, later, multiplied.” That choice extends beyond the context of an active shooting war to choosing preemptive war, choosing torture, choosing cover ops, choosing sanctions, and choosing actions that imperil others. Those choosers are members of the vast military-industrial complex situated on top of American society. It is not that society itself; it’s an incubus. But as my trouble with pronouns above reveals, it’s all too easy to assume that because some not insignificant percentage of the American people are just fine, AOK, super pumped at projecting American power globally, all Americans are somehow responsible for the psychopaths choosing death so readily. Remember former President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? He went on to bomb and drone and strike enemies the U.S. military made for itself with little apparent restraint:

U.S. military forces have been at war for all eight years of Obama’s tenure, the first two-term president with that distinction. He launched airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries [we know of]: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Some of my acquaintances tell me that once in office or on the payroll of some corporation profiteering off of war, one sees things and then understands the necessity of violence and war. I’m not so easily convinced; neither is Andrew Bacevich. 45 admitted on camera that it’s not possible to turn off the U.S. military machinery and related fire hose of money once activated. Is that was Obama saw and understood? It’s a truth so obvious, yet rarely uttered aloud, that 45’s admission is usually characterized as an accident. “Oops, I told the truth”? We deserve better.

/rant off

  1. leavergirl says:

    Oh, c’mon. We?! WE?! I and you are not into wars. There is no we here.

    I think the criminality in the highest places go way back, I’d say to Wilson. He ran on peace; as soon as elected, unleashed a wave of propaganda to get America into the pointless war in Europe. And that was not enough. Lusitania. Always a good false flag to outrage the peons.

    There was no reason for WW!. Nobody gave a damn about the archduke. Certain people wanted war, armed both sides, waited for a handy spark, and reaped the profits. And so it’s been since then. Monstrosities are swept under the carpet like the firebombing of Dresden and Hiroshima/Nagasaki. What, one bomb was not enough to “save us from further fighting” — Truman had to drop two? Riiight.

    I could go on and on, but won’t. It’s not turtles all the way down, it’s lies.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. The “we” in my post is society. Read a long, tortured article about the singular “they” used by Wokesters. Turns out pronouns and their antecedents have a long, variable history of confusion going back to at least Middle English. So as members of society, “we” bear some measure of shared responsibility for not stemming the worst abuses of power. It’s a bogus argument, of course, but that’s how we get roped into “consent of the governed” and similar fictions when neither you nor I agree with quite a lot going on in our name as Americans.

      I take your point about WWI, but the U.S. kept a pacifist/isolationist perspective that only changed over fully in the wake of WWII. So IMO, that’s the real dividing line.

      • leavergirl says:

        The problem with the we is nothing to do with pronouns per se. It’s about blame. You blame us for being dumb. How is that helping? If you mean society, then say society. If you mean the military industrial complex, then say so.

        Were the ancient slaves “dumb” and responsible somehow for the slavery system that fed Greece and Rome (and all the other empires)? Blaming humans for the evil of predatory elites sucks.

  2. leavergirl says:

    Thank you, Brutus, for listening. Gosh, a new year’s present. So few listen nowadays…

    “It is not that society itself; it’s an incubus.”

    A brilliant image. Yes. Yes. That expresses it perfectly.

  3. Greg Knepp says:

    In my view, it was the inertia of cultural lag that drove us to our involvement in the Vietnam war: the Red Scare, the ideations of America’s military invincibility and moral rectitude in all matters both domestic and foreign, and of course, the Flag and Mom’s apple pie. Such talismans, some material some ephemeral, played on the visceral motivations of LBJ, Nixon and most of the other movers and shakers of the nation. Even though they rationally suspected that a conflict in that remote corner of the world was a fool’s game*, their warrior guts told them that intervening in that war was the ‘Merican’ thing to do…I mean, after all, we’re not the French are we?

    I believe that Vietnam was less about the MI complex and misguided foreign policy machinations, and more about a confused primal creature staggering his way thru a complex and frighteningly technological world – a world that evolution had had neither the time nor the inclination to prepare him for.

    * LBJ, for one, was informed of the unwinability of the war by both military intelligence and CIA
    operatives prior to the 1964 deployment.

    • Brutus says:

      I have no confidence that I can tease out of the complex interactions of motivation and narrative a single, reductive answer to the question of what drove us into the Vietnam War. Glory? Money? Nihilism? Doesn’t have to be just one.

      • Greg Knepp says:

        True, there are a number of factors involved in the precipitation of war, mostly having to do with resource acquisition/protection. My point is that there exists a ceiling to humankind’s ability to avoid violent collective conflict via political/diplomatic means. And that ceiling is biological rather than purely cultural in nature. In fact, cultural patterns that are widely shared by diverse societies are, themselves, instinctually determined, at least in a general sense. Any society may be thought of as a ‘gene pool’. A society unwilling to go to war with competing societies to protect or expand its resource base, will be diluted or destroyed by those more aggressive groups, thereby changing the genetic heritage, however mildly, of the species forever.

  4. leavergirl says:

    It was all about the money. The United States set up is a Daddy Warbucks scheme. Has been for a long time.The various ideologies and justifications are just lipstick on the pig.

  5. Brutus says:

    Very interesting, Greg. I’m in agreement with what you write in much the same way that I agree with argumentation that instinctual (biological) drives inform, say, mating strategies, at least in aggregate. With violence and war, the sweep of time, location, and circumstance demonstrates that our conflict resolution skills are largely insufficient to foreswear violence and war, a few exceptions proving the rule. My objection is that applying this argument in individual instances is a non sequitur. So the biological ceiling you cite is why we never learn?

  6. Greg Knepp says:

    In the mid-20th century the 12 Step programs developed an interesting and effective remedy for the age-old problem of chemical and behavioral addictions. Its premise is exemplified by these quotes from AA literature: “Self-knowledge availed us nothing.” and “We tried to hold on to our old ideas but the result was nil until we let go absolutely.” The message here is that our reasoning abilities are, in the final analysis, too often subservient to our instinctive drives. To continue: “Yet the instincts, so necessary for our existence, often far exceed their proper function…man’s natural desires cause him great trouble, practically all the trouble there is.”

    Early AA organizers based their formulations largely on the work of Carl Jung, and the startling success of 12 Stepism, as compared to standard medical and psychological treatments of addictive patterns, is testimony to the soundness of its approach. In short, they were able to correctly defined the problem prior to developing a pragmatic treatment regime.

    Because of humankind’s intense social nature, what applies to the individual also applies to the group. Alas, internal forces much older and more powerful than our spanking new frontal lobes are in control.

    In answer to your question, yes, we learn, but to what end?

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