A cursory glance at The New York Times is enough to unsettle an otherwise tepid Tuesday. One recalls the story of Noam Chomsky’s doctor telling him he ground his teeth, which Chomsky explained might have come from reading the Times each morning. Clearly not a prescription for low blood pressure. Unless, that is, you are an uncritical adherent of America’s adopted rhetoric—the unceasing recitation of “The White Man’s Burden,” Rudyard Kipling’s antiquated piece of racist condescension from centuries past and grim ideological accessory to our War on Terror. Over the last hundred years the complexion of the protagonists has changed. Our current imperial caretaker is of mixed race, but it seems to make little difference to the dynamics of power. The engine of empire roars on, with the Times as its mouthpiece of imperial rectitude.
Postcards from Pyongyang
The headline of the digital edition opens with a photo of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s pudgy scion, and the title, “North Korea Confirms It Conducted 3rd Nuclear Test.” The article quickly summons the necessary note of trepidation—this test was far more advanced than past tests by the cultish Koreans. Experts are hastily assembled to discuss kilotons, and President Obama rushes to a White House microphone to declare this distant test a “provocative act,” unlike our own mindless production of weaponry, which of course is defensive in nature and benign in intent.
The Great Transformation
With headline histrionics out of the way, a “Washington Memo” talks in dulcet and reasonable tones about whether Obama will prove a more aggressively liberal president in his second term, now that he no longer has to worry about his re-election. The authors murmur excitedly about an agenda of true progressive policies in advance of the President’s State of the Union address. Still the shimmering façade dazzles. No mention is made of Obama’s obsequious submission to power, an intellectual abdication made decades ago in the misty dawn of our false prophet’s ascendency. Yet how the faithful pine.
Having successfully portrayed the President as liberty’s judicious steward and not simply empire’s latest janitor, the paper moves on to another unquestioned assumption: that our military has a rightful stake in the African continent. The article is titled, “Militant Threats Test Role of a Pentagon Command in Africa.” Is this a newsworthy insight? Why wouldn’t there be “militant” threats to yet another imperial intrusion? Yet without once questioning our involvement in a land still reeling from the effects of colonialism and struggling to elude the shackles of the IMF, the paper reflexively states, “Created to train African forces and build social, political and economic programs, the Pentagon’s Africa Command…”
Two observations come to mind—one the fatuous notion that the Pentagon is or should ever be engaged in building social, political, or economic programs, and second that the imposed entity is artlessly named “Africa Command.” First, isn’t the Pentagon’s sole purpose to reduce said social programs into a flaming rubbish heap? Particularly in instances in which “militant threats” cannot be otherwise distinguished from their social peers, who may have—how can we ever know—provided “material support” to the enemy? What, then, is this new and novel humanitarian gesture—laying aside arms and forging ploughshares? Or perhaps this is just another piece of State Department drivel. And secondly, regarding the name of our outpost, what better way to signal one’s intentions than to simply state them in your nomenclature? Africa Command. Forgive me if I have it wrong, but doesn’t that mean, “to command Africa?” As the Roman’s often remarked, “Nomen est omen.”
An Western commonplace follows: another timeless tale of a desert people’s bungling attempts to civilize themselves. In this latest installment, a “Budding Generation” of “Afghan Strivers” face “Fears of the Future.” As an unthinking imbiber of doublethink, one wonders why these aspiring Persians would fear their glittering democratic future? Has their distant nation, surely not an American concern, been harmed in some way, perhaps trampled underfoot by a nomadic, oil-thirsty hyper-power? Hard to say. In any case, the Times suggests that “thousands of Afghans” who have built careers on international aid, now comprise a “budding” Afghan Middle Class. Later the authors tepidly note that, “the norm is still grinding poverty.” That aside, the new Middle Class of thousands now fears that, as America beats a hasty retreat from yet another smoking battlefield, Pentagon dollars will go with it, sinking the Washington-funded bubble economy on which young Kabulites shaped a false future.
Cultural Kitsch and Mad Mullahs
Various other unrelated but necessary articles swiftly follow: an even-handed review of Pope Benedict XVI’s short-lived reign, conducted with the preternatural sangfroid only Times editors can bring to the world’s foremost pedophile amnesty program; a passing mention of a random shooting on an American campus; the requisite corruption inquiry; and a grave look at the fate of Olympic wrestling; and, finally, a discussion of Iranian nuclear activities, this time a nervous about-face from previous articles in which the Iranians were largely viewed as a nation of seething mullahs and other bearded radicals racing toward a nuclear bomb. Now, it seems the Iranians have foolishly converted enriched uranium to reactor fuel, making it harder to build the bomb they so desperately crave—oh, but for the incompetence of terrorists—but that does make the creation of civilian nuclear energy—their stated aim—easier to achieve.
Shouldering the Burden
It might be instructive to ask exactly which nations these obvious rogues North Korea and Iran have actually invaded in the last fifty years. Since we are pathologically obsessed with their every footfall, there must be some historic precedent for our fears? In fact, neither nation has invaded another country since 1950, when North Korea attacked South Korea. It shouldn’t be overlooked, though, that North Korea has skirmished with South Korea, allegedly sinking one of it’s warships, and Iran has funneled arms and cash to various regional parties like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Evidently this is sufficient cause for the U.S. to brand both nations as global pariahs and to launch economic and cyber offensives against them. If our criteria for vilification is aiding and abetting, we might ask, has noble America invaded any countries in the past half century? According to William Blum, no less than 70 just through 2000. Naturally, all of these were humanitarian necessities, but such is the thankless task of empires. When it doubt, simply recall Rudyard Kipling’s imperishable verse, delivered to Theodore Roosevelt as he contemplated the colonization of the Philippines,
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
On Tuesday night the President paid homage to these themes, noting the need to help an array of nations, “provide for their own security,” and to train Afghan forces so the country “does not again slip into chaos.” He also sounded the house organ of noble virtues, and the American exceptionalism that render our actions just. Ah, the benevolence of kings. This hubristic fatuity is exceeded only by the distant sound and fury of myopic economist Paul Krugman, raving in fulminant sprays of spittle at Republican “ignorance” of the economic “facts,” as the Times’ venerable masthead hovers above him like a forbidding drone.
Jason Hirthler is a writer, strategist, and 15-year veteran of the communications industry. He lives and works in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.