Systems Come Unglued

by SAUL LANDAU

The human mind doesn’t easily process catastrophe. As Libyan forces battled, tens of millions witnessed televised images of ocean water rising over barricades, picking up cars, trucks, houses and other edifices and carrying them away – to somewhere else. While TV news reporters told of trains gone missing in northern Japan, other urgent cables warned of the impending battle for Benghazi. Reporters ask: how many will die in this battle? Should the United States interfere militarily as “humanitarian” hawks demand?

Imagine President Obama: pacing, Oval Office.

Hamlet, rewrite March 2011

To intervene or not to intervene – that is the facade
Whether ’tis nobler in the public discourse
to suffer the slings and arrows
of yet another opportunity for war
Pass on it or take arms
against a desert of troubled oil wells
And by opposing extend them.

Meanwhile, TV viewers wondered: Where are the missing trains and passengers?

As nuclear power plants failed, experts talked of “cores melting,” warned people to evacuate; ominous phrases that destabilize the human mind. On March 15, President Obama, whatever his inner doubts, reassured Americans.

“Obviously, all energy sources have their downside – I mean we saw that with the gulf spill last summer. But I do think it’s important for us to think through constantly how can we improve nuclear technologies to deal with additional safety concerns that people have.” (CBS — in Pittsburgh)

Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress Americans “should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly.”

The Administration attempted to counter predictable skepticism about an industry that had already produced the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979 and whose facilities in Rocky Flats Colorado and Hanford Washington have had routine “leaks” over decades.

In addition, “Twenty-three of the US nuclear reactors use the same design as those found at the plant that failed in Japan.” Indeed, almost each US nuclear power installation “shares key design traits with the Japanese plant.” (CBS)

Imagine a strong swimmer, able to press 250 pounds, caught in rushing water, mixed with mud, and hurled against hard objects while drowning. Add radioactive clouds floating westward, sea water washing up on California shores with dead irradiated fish spilling onto the beach. The Japan shock feeds the fertile human imagination – and not in positive ways.

Previous nuclear “mistakes” like Chernobyl add mind pictures to the Japanese nuclear drama and foster universal skepticism about assurances from distinguished “experts” who perpetually promise nuclear energy will be cheap, safe and clean. Think what a hip hop artist could do with those three words!

Did this era of seeming disintegration begin with Hurricane Katrina’s devastation? Or the world financial system’s collapse?

Obama faces stunning political change in the Arab world. Millions demand an end to dictatorial regimes, previously pillars of  stability for the West’s economic and geopolitical systems.

After mass uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt forced out despots, and Yemen and Gulf states began trembling under democracy’s force, a revolt erupted in Libya.

At that point, talk of military intervention began. As the Saudi  King dispatched his oily troops to quell revolt in neighboring Bahrain, “humanitarian interventionists” demanded that Obama order the Air Force, with or without the UN and NATO, to bomb Libyan military targets – no fly zone precursor.

Obama now faces resurgent interventionists, those who cannot resist the lure of war to spread freedom. Although the media and political circles have not defined the Libyan revolutionaries’ values, they nevertheless demand “humanitarian intervention" on their behalf. Opponents of this freedom-loving quest got labeled as flaks for Qaddafi. Faint echoes whispered: “Remember Saddam who possessed WMD and links with Al Qaeda? Milosevic who ordered genocide?

Remember Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Kuwait, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan? Who killed more: NATO forces or Saddam’s loyalists in that “humanitarian invasion”? What did any of these people do to us? Who Invited Us?

Former NATO Commanding General Bill Smith offered his lesson from the experience of Vietnam: We shouldn’t fight anyone who can fight back.

Reflecting this wisdom, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned: an adviser who counseled a president to invade Asia or Africa "must have his head examined."

Defense intellectuals like Wolfowitz, Pearl, Libby and Lieberman who never had a school yard fight and draft dodgers like Dick Cheney pushed for war, while secretly scoffing at the fools who risk their necks in combat.

Liberals had jumped on the Iraq war wagon. NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who extolled globalization’s virtues, became a cheer leader for the Iraq war. His fellow “humanitarian interventionists” without fear or fact now demand action on Libya. None offer information on the nature of the Libyan rebels.

Nature attacks, nuclear disaster, economic chaos and war coincide with the multiplication of the world’s poor. Would a living Shakespeare have substituted banks and corporations for evil King Claudius and inspired his hero Hamlet (Barack) to denounce “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts; / Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters; / Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause.”

Hamlet feigned madness. Obama could shed his procrastinating façade and reveal courage to “denounce and then act against the villainous banks and corporations.” Barack and all good and noble men and women should act on Hamlet’s painful insight. “The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right.”

Instead, Obama in all sanity asked himself: “To bomb or not to bomb.” His answer:  “What a silly question.”

SAUL LANDAU’s latest book is A Bush and Botox World. (CP/AK Press).

 

 

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