Every now and then the mask slips, and we see the true face of the system that marshals the world. For an instant, the heavy paint of sober wisdom and moral purpose falls away, and there, suddenly, with jolting clarity, is the snarling rictus of an ape.
Last week gave us two such moments: a quantum collision, where past and present co-exist temporarily, their overlapping images phasing in and out of synch: now Nixon now Bush now Kissinger now Rumsfeld, mouths, eyes, snarls morphing and shifting, with only one image holding constant between the eras–the twisted, shivered bodies of dead innocents.
First was the release of long-secret phone transcripts from Henry Kissinger’s heyday as Richard Nixon’s National Security Adviser. The transcripts were obtained by the National Security Archive, the independent research center that has uses America’s remarkable Freedom of Information Act (now under fierce assault by the Bush Regime) to unearth mountains of death and dishonor once locked in secret government files.
Most of the news stories about the release centered on the Nixon Gang’s panicky efforts to deal with bad publicity from the rape-and-slaughter rampage by U.S. troops in My Lai. As in today’s Iraqi torture scandal, the panic was sparked by the existence of photographs confirming atrocities that were long known to the top brass: in this case, pictures of mutilated bodies in a burned-out village. And as with Abu Ghraib, the great statesmen were concerned wholly with “containing” the PR damage, not stopping the systematic abuses–which were, after all, being carried out at their command. Then as now, rump-covering was the order of the day.
But hidden in the pile of power-talk–and virtually ignored by the press–was an extraordinary historical snapshot of a war crime in the moment of conception. It’s 1970. Nixon is angry: the Air Force is not killing enough people in Cambodia, the country he’s just illegally invaded without the slightest pretense of Congressional approval. The flyboys are doing “milk runs,” their intelligence-gathering for targets is too tame, too by-the-book:. There are “other methods of getting intelligence,” Nixon tells Kissinger. “You understand what I mean?” “Yes, I do,” pipes the loyal retainer.
Nixon then orders Kissinger to send every available plane into Cambodia–bombers, fighters, helicopters, prop planes–to “crack the hell out of them,” smother the entire country with deadly fire: “I want them to hit everything.” Kissinger dutifully calls his own top aide, General Alexander Haig, and tells him to try to implement the plan: “He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia,” Kissinger says. “It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves.”
“Anything that flies on anything that moves.” That’s how the system works–beneath the mask. A blustering fool issues an order–and thousands upon thousands of innocent people die. An entire country is ripped to shreds, and into the smoking ruins steps a fanatical band of crazed extremists–the Khmer Rouge–who murder a million more.
Just hours after the transcripts’ release, the image of Kissinger in 1970, jowls pressed to the phone, calmly ordering mass death, morphed into the squinting visage of Pentagon chief Don Rumsfeld, addressing West Point graduates in 2004, exhorting the young cadets to a life of honor and moral purpose– without a single mention of the rape-and-torture gulag he’s strung across the world at the order of his own hell-cracking master, George W. Bush. Rumsfeld also issued this stark warning to the world: the illegal invasion of Iraq is just “the beginning” of what is no longer merely a “war on terror” but is now an all-out death-struggle with what Rumsfeld called–in a major slip of the mask–“global insurgency.”
Note carefully the change in rhetoric–the change in target–from “terrorism” to “insurgency.” An “insurgent” is someone who rises up within a given domain to resist or overthrow the ruling power. George Washington was an insurgent; so was Pol Pot. But a perceived “global insurgency” can only be aimed at a global power–one whose domain encompasses the entire planet. What Rumsfeld is clearly saying is that anyone anywhere who resists the world-spanning will of the American Empire will be subject to “the path of action.” That’s the blood-and-iron terminology that Bush himself used to describe his policies in the official “National Security Strategy” he issued–just months before killing more than 10,000 civilians in Iraq.
No doubt the definition of “global insurgent” will prove to be every bit as elastic as “terrorist,” in a world where Iraqi prisoners–70-90 percent of them completely innocent, according to the Red Cross–were “Gitmo-ized,” treated just like the dubiously accused terrorists in America’s lawless Guantanamo concentration camp; a world where even U.S. citizens simply disappear into the maw of military custody, held without charges, indefinitely, on the president’s express order. If America controls your country and you don’t like it, then you’re an insurgent. If you’re an American who doesn’t like to control other countries, then you’re an insurgent too. And the war against you is “just beginning.”
“Global insurgency. Crack the hell out of them. The path of action. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” They should chisel these words on the Capital Dome, spraypaint them across the pristine walls of the White House walls, teach them in every classroom across the land–for this is the system, this is the true constitution of the National Security State, this is the authentic voice of the American Establishment, the great and the good, the best and brightest. This is what they do, what they’ve always done. From the Indians to the Iraqis, anyone who gets in the way of their power and privilege–individuals, tribes, whole nations–gets trampled, broken, ruined, slaughtered. “Anything that flies on anything that moves.”
Then again, there’s nothing uniquely “American” about these criminal policies, and the hypocrisy that attends them. It’s how elites have behaved from time immemorial, from the days of the apes: baring their teeth and pounding their chests, ruling through fear and violence, beating, biting, raping, killing–whatever it takes to maintain their perch at the top of the tree. They disguise their savagery–even from themselves–with masks of pomp and piety, with earnest protestations of their “good hearts,” their nobility, their enlightenment, their altruism. But what moves them is the spirit of the beast, the blind gut-lust for dominance, the ape-remnants that live on in our brains. They’re too weak, too stupefied with corruption to rise above this inherent bestiality.
What should we do with such dangerous creatures in a civilized society? Why, put them in a cage, of course.
CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. His CounterPunch piece on Rumsfeld’s plan to provoke terrorist attacks came in at Number 4 on Project Censored’s final tally of the Most Censored stories of 2002. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org