Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

War Politics


Playwright Lillian Hellman said: “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”

The statement was in a letter to the House Un-American Activities Committee. The year was 1952. We tell ourselves that the McCarthy era was vastly different than our own — but what about the political fashions of 2010?

This year’s fashions cut mean figures on Washington’s runways. Conformities lie, and people die.

While the escalating disaster of war in Afghanistan keeps setting deadly blazes, the few anti-war voices on Capitol Hill usually sound like people whispering “Fire!”

In 2010, this is what the warfare state looks like: a largely numbed state, mainlining anesthetics that induce routine torpor. In that context, the conformity of mild dissent is apt to be mistaken for outspoken moral acuity.

On the back of an envelope, or anywhere else, check this math:

$1,000,000 x 100,000 = $100,000,000,000

In round flat numbers, that’s the cost of deploying 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for one year — $100 billion. The initial “cost” includes none of the human consequences.

In a numbed process, filtered through media and political buzz phrases, we talk about one number, then another. Numb and number.

For domestic acceptance, a far-off war depends on the pumped-up anesthetics of verbal abstractions and hollow numbers, permeating news media and political discourse. Wooden words and figures, bolted together; every number a lie when wrenched into claiming to tell a human truth.

The number we get, the farther from warfare’s human consequences. While more lives are being shattered elsewhere, conscience hems and haws to fit this year’s fashions.

When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “Beyond Vietnam” speech on April 4, 1967, he told listeners that he had moved during the course of two years, finally, “to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart.”

At the podium of Riverside Church in New York City, he said: “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice.”

Dr. King noted that the human spirit has “great difficulty” moving against “all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world.”

In his own way, King was saying what Hellman had said 15 years earlier — when she declared herself unwilling to “cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”

This year, with the escalating occupation of Afghanistan widely believed to be on automatic policy pilot, conscience is fashionably cloaked with acquiescence. Many in Congress who say they don’t support the war keep voting to fund it — and keep their voices muffled. The brandished wrath of the House Speaker or the White House chief of staff is most effective as a preemptive club.

A dozen years after Hellman defied HUAC, a senator defied the fearful conformity of 1964. Seeing the escalation of the Vietnam War on the near horizon, Wayne Morse spoke truth to — and about — power. The contrast with today’s liberal baseline on Capitol Hill is painfully evident if you watch footage of Senator Morse for two minutes.

NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of Made Love, Got War.


Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”