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Envy and Resentment

by JAMES ROTHENBERG

Why do they hate us? The mere posing of the question strikes many Americans as unfair in the extreme. The media presents it as a tricky question, worthy of deeper study. At the top echelons of state management, the question has been settled for some time.

George Kennan, as director of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, offered this candid assessment in a top secret memo written in 1948. The particular remarks were focused on the Far East, but they easily generalize:

Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population…In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security…To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives…We should dispense with the aspiration to “be liked” or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism…We should cease to talk about vague…unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.   

It’s a simple insight. Controlling all that we do makes others envious and resentful. But we shouldn’t let that deter us. Rather we should figure out how to maintain the disparity, chiefly with force (straight power concepts), and stop talking nonsense about human rights and democracy.

We’ve been dealing in those “power concepts” ever since, but Kennan seems to have undervalued the usefulness of propaganda in their application. We can’t stop talking about human rights, freedom, and democracy whenever we use force. More likely is that Kennan is addressing these private remarks to the State Department that they shouldn’t fool themselves, not that they shouldn’t fool the public.

The United States Space Command (USSPACECOM), since merged into the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), had this to say in its 1997 report, Vision For 2020:

As stewards for military space, we must be prepared to exploit the advantages of the space medium.

Maybe you didn’t know that we are stewards for military space. It’s all ours. Stewardship: An ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources; linked to concept of sustainability. This ethic does not seem to require our exploiting its advantages.

US Space Command – dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment.

A clear and concise description of what, and more importantly, who, the US military really fights for. What kind of interests, and what type of investments, does the average person have in foreign countries that require protection?

Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.

And why do we have to assure ourselves of this perpetual dominance?

Although unlikely to be challenged by a global peer competitor, the United States will continue to be challenged regionally. The globalization of the world economy will also continue, with a widening between “haves” and “have-nots.”

The widening is continuing apace but “globalization” is a poor word choice. We’re all on the same globe. It sounds equal. Equal would not wrench the world into ever-widening parts. The culprit goes by the name of neoliberal capitalism. Its unrestrained predatory nature, operating freely across borders, places more and more of the world’s resources and assets into fewer and fewer private hands. Rising inequality is due to the war raging between the winning private sector and the losing public sector.

The selection by Kennan, perhaps the top foreign policy specialist of his time, was not for public consumption. It was top secret. The USSPACECOM report, on the other hand, was a public relations tool inviting inquiries for additional copies. Some readers will be familiar with the antiquated homily that we are against the militarization of space.

Credit Suisse, in its Global Wealth Report 2011, presents a comprehensive picture of worldwide wealth distribution. If you have wealth (total assets minus debts) of US $4,200, you already make it into the wealthiest half of the world. $82,000 gets you into the top 10% of global wealth holders and more than $712,000 to join the top 1%. About the global inequality:

Wealth is unevenly distributed. Our analysis finds some stark differences in the distribution of wealth. The bottom half of the global population owns barely 1% of  global wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest 10% own 84% of the world’s wealth, with the top 1% alone accounting for 44% of global assets.

Envy and resentment, and even hate, are expected reactions to inequality, particularly when its made clear that we intend to maintain our position of disparity. And that’s where the “pattern of relationships” comes in. Again, Kennan is speaking specifically about the Far East:

We should recognize that our influence…is going to be primarily military and economic. We should make a careful study to see what parts…are absolutely vital to our security, and we should concentrate our policy on seeing to it that those areas remain in hands which we can control or rely on.

Here he was referring to Japan and the Philippines as cornerstones to our retaining effective control over the area, with Japan the focal point. And in regard to the Philippines:

…to shape our relationship to the Philippines in such a way as to permit the Philippine Government a continued independence in all internal affairs but to preserve the archipelago as a bulwark of U.S. security in that area.

There is an unmistakable consistency between these and our present day “pattern of relationships” to our global fellow travelers, with control being the operative word. The countries we like are those “we can control or rely on”, and we don’t particularly like the countries we cannot control. A country’s “independence” is desirable (because it frees us from wasting resources, time, and energy to run it) insofar as our military enjoys its hospitality.

The typical American reaction to our military presence in over 100 of the world’s countries is, or rather amounts to: Just lucky I guess! And the Bilateral Immunity Agreements with over 100 countries, that ensure that Americans are granted immunity from the International Criminal Court? Lucky again!

Today’s cornerstones? NATO, the force projection of US dominance, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the economic projections that can be just as lethal.

The systems of control and the striving for dominance are designed with the potential for “kickback” in mind. In a world of haves and have-nots, the haves must be ever watchful in maintaining their edge, both physically and economically.

An interesting parallel is taking place in the US today in regard to wealth inequality, the figurative 1% of the haves against the 99% of the have-nots. It would be sloppy thinking not to recognize that what the state must do “to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security” in the foreign arena is somehow not a subject of concern internally. This is not relatively a time of domestic bliss.

It took the government a blink of an eye to bail out the banks to the tune of trillions of dollars. At the same time, the banks were not required to write down the principal amounts of mortgages to reflect the dramatic decline in housing values when the bubble burst. This would have resulted in a onetime loss to the banks (something they could live with) but it would have kept people in their homes. The writedowns would have a stabilizing effect in that it would eliminate the uncertainty of the value of mortgage-backed securities that still hang around.

Big banks got bailed out, but small people didn’t. There was a good reason for this. The banks were too big to fail! David Kotz, Professor of Economics UMass Amherst, writing in 2008:

…millions of people have learned the important lesson that banks and other financial institutions are not ordinary private companies. If General Mills loses money, or even goes bankrupt, it harms its shareholders and workers— but its competitors gain. But if a few major banks lose money and are in danger of going under, this threatens the entire financial system, and with it the economy as a whole.

And the lesson we could have learned:

The obvious conclusion is that the financial sector cannot be operated on a profit-and-loss basis. Instead, it should become part of the public sector, operated to serve the public interest. If banks, which are granted the power to create our money supply, and whose credit is essential to the welfare of the entire public, were made public institutions, then public policy aims could guide their actions. They could be directed to stay away from speculative activities and instead make loans for socially valuable purposes… An advantage of public ownership of the banks over another cycle of government regulation of private banks is that re-regulated private banks would simply press for the elimination of the regulations—as they did successfully starting in the early 1980s.

The preferred method of population control is through psychological means. This includes education (particularly early), pomp and pageantry, solemnity on national mourning occasions, patriotic themes and songs, reverence of institutions, founding fathers, and the office of the presidency, the linking of the country to some higher celestial purpose. All these form part of our propaganda package.

Later education solidifies the unscientific belief that we live in the greatest country on earth, against mounting evidence that this “greatness” is inseparable from “strength”. Report after report belie the notion that the US is a country that cares first and foremost for its ordinary people. Amongst developed countries, we are markedly more ordinary than exceptional.

The UN Human Development Report 2011 attempts to measure in a single number the metrics of life expectancy at birth, mean and expected years of schooling, and a decent standard of living. It distinguishes between a human development index (HDI), that measures in the aggregate, and an inequality-adjusted human development index (IHDI). The latter “is the actual level of human development (taking into account inequality), while the HDI can be viewed as an index of the potential human development that could be achieved if there is no inequality”.

The US ranks 4th in the HDI, owing to the considerable skewing attributable to upper class benefits. The IHDI (the actual level of human development taking into account inequality – the real situation) places the US 23rd . Whether we’re the greatest country in the world or the 23rd greatest is a matter of perspective.

Backing up the soft psychological tools of persuasion, the US has some other items in its “pattern of relationships” to assure stability at home. Wikipedia cites a Washington Post report that “there are 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations in the United States that are working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence, and that the intelligence community as a whole includes 854,000 people who hold top-secret clearances”.

All these people in all these organizations, public and private, have at their disposal sophisticated means of surveilling American citizens. In this sense, part of the measure of the citizen is his/her expected potential to become an enemy of the state. It is a frank admission that, from the point of view of the state, the citizen is not to be fully trusted. That’s only fair considering the reciprocal nature of this relationship. The citizen need not fully trust the state.

Recognizing that there is an adversarial element in the relationship of state to citizen makes explicable the recent enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As if the US lacked sufficient domestic law enforcement capability, it authorizes the military to assist on US soil (only the unskeptical would assume this hasn’t taken place clandestinely)  under the rubric of counter-terrorism. This would endure until “hostilities” are over. In consideration of discussed circumstances, they may have only just begun.

James Rothenberg can be reached at: 
jrothenberg@taconic.net

James Rothenberg can be reached at:  jrothenberg@taconic.net

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