Moral Meltdown

This country is in the middle of, a moral meltdown. What should one call it but immoral when a country tortures people; when it kidnaps them off the street; when its Department of Justice writes disgraceful memoranda approving the kidnapping and torture; when it causes the deaths of tens of thousands of persons by artillery, bombings, missiles and rifle fire for a cause nearly all think a great mistake and one caused by lies; when it claims it must continue this murder lest its position in the world decline, though the history of its relatively recent prior debacle, Viet Nam, in which it made exactly the same claim about a potentially declining position, shows that the opposite result occurs from terminating a horrid mistake; when it continues its horrid actions, despite the lesson of Viet Nam, in part because the Pretexter-in-Chief secretly relies on the advice of one of the arch, never punished, criminals of the Viet Nam era, Henry Kissinger; when it continues its horrid, losing actions even though a fundamental principle of the financial capitalism it seeks to force upon the whole world is to cut your losses?

What should one call it but immoral when the Congress (and the media) willingly, enthusiastically jumped aboard the bandwagon for this war that has caused tens of thousands of deaths; did so without questioning its lying rationale(s) to any significant extent; has never taken the slightest action to bring it to a close; refuses to even consider so slight a punishment as censure of those who brought it on; will not even mention the dread word impeachment; is in the grip of a tyrannical Republican leadership and corrupt Republican followers, assisted defacto by a Democratic leadership and followers who have no spine and who stood, and stand, for no principles; and when the only thing members of Congress care about is bringing home the pork — including John Murtha, the king of pork, you know, though he did speak out on the war, for which he got blasted?

What should one call it but immoral when the Republican Party, with its K Street program, has successfully imposed upon the country what may be the most corrupt, the most bribe ridden, the most graft ridden, Congressional autocracy since the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century, and when the country’s corporations and investment banks play ball with this and are, besides, riddled with financial corruption?

What should one call it but immoral when the Congress, desperately seeking reelection, and fearing to offend anyone, votes to give the President the power to continue approving what in effect is torture: he, after all — the same man who previously authorized and desired torture — will define what is or is not permitted; and when the Congress and media willfully refuse to recognize the obvious truth that the Pretexter and Vice Pretexter were the cause of the torture and kidnapping?

What should one call it but immoral when things mentioned in this essay have been permitted because so many conservatives in the country — so many citizens who are red staters in viewpoint regardless of where they live — have agreed with what has been done; continue to agree with it and want it done; vote for the people who are responsible for it; and by their agreement and votes have enabled it to continue, especially since the cheap hacks in politics who — often knowing no trade or profession or job but politics — fear loss of an election above all else?

What should one call it but immoral when American citizens, unlike the Germans of the 1930s and 1940s, could speak against the criminals, and vote to throw them out, without fear of being hung from lamp posts or meat hooks, yet instead speak in favor of the criminals and vote to keep them in office?

There is, one thinks, only one conclusion from all of this. This has become, at least currently, a deeply immoral nation. It is a nation in the throes of a moral breakdown, a moral meltdown. Yet people are surprised when some nut walks into a school building and starts shooting children? Surprise is possible only because this country has not, as a country, looked in the mirror.

Iraq is by far not the first time this country has suffered a moral meltdown. Other examples are, unhappily, legion. This country approved of slavery for nearly 90 years and reviled abolitionists for decades. Southerners murdered black prisoners of war during the Civil War. The country allowed Jim Crow to be imposed by a brutal South for 90 years (and allowed the South defacto to run Congress and therefore the country, as it still does). The country allowed the South to lynch blacks by the thousands. The country has railroaded, and hung or electrocuted, so-called radicals who likely were innocent of, or at least some of whom were innocent of, the charges against them. (E.g., the Haymarket socialists, and maybe Sacco and Vanzetti too, though opinions differ about the latter two.) This country acted unspeakably in the Philippines Insurrection, when it tortured people, burned down villages and engaged in mass murder — all of which our historians cavalierly ignored, reprehensibly ignored, for 65 or 70 years, until Viet Nam was well advanced. The country acted unspeakably in Viet Nam, which is too close in time for American actions to need detailing.

Moral breakdowns are, it appears, a regular phenomenon of American national life. And, without getting into it very deeply, they are always accompanied, as today, by false protestations that what is being done is in the name of a higher civilization, is in the name of an asserted moral imperative: slavery was claimed to be a positive good; Jim Crow was claimed to be a desirable and necessary separation of the races; socialists had to be eliminated lest they destroy the nation; we were civilizing the benighted in the Philippines; we were stopping the march of worldwide Communism in Viet Nam; today it is claimed we fight in Iraq to stop the march of worldwide jihadism, worldwide Islamofascism, etc., etc.

As said, this country’s moral derelictions are not looked at as, or described in terms of being, moral delicts. They are looked at and described in other ways, and by the use of other terms. Why the country shies from using the word immoral does not seem hard to guess — who, after all, wants to describe his or her own conduct as immoral, or the conduct of those he/she votes for and supports as immoral, or his or her own country as immoral. What American historian wants to say, and does not fear the consequences to himself of saying, that the actions of this country have been or are immoral?

Yet immoral is exactly what the historical and current actions discussed here have been and are, and one suspects that a basic reason underlying the bitter opposition of many of us to what has been occurring recently is precisely that this country, its leaders, its media, its citizens have been acting immorally, very immorally, and continue to act very immorally. Call me radical (to steal from the opening sentence of Moby Dick), and call all of us radical who are motivated by the fact that the actions of this country have been horribly immoral, but that won’t change the fact of historical and current immorality. (Nor will it change the fact, at the heart of one of Ibsen’s plays, that persons who are willing to see and enunciate the truth are reviled for precisely that reason.) Nor will it change the justness of a comment made at an anti-imperialist rally in 1899 by Carl Schurz, in a take -off of Decatur’s famous but usually incompletely quoted statement about my country right or wrong. “Our country,” said Schurz, “right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.”

LAWRENCE R. VELVEL is the Dean of Massachusetts School of Law. He can be reached at velvel@mslaw.edu.



More articles by:

Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, is the author of Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam and An Enemy of the People. He can be reached at: Velvel@VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com

November 13, 2019
Vijay Prashad
After Evo, the Lithium Question Looms Large in Bolivia
Charles Pierson
How Not to End a Forever War
Kenneth Surin
“We’ll See You on the Barricades”: Bojo Johnson’s Poundshop Churchill Imitation
Nick Alexandrov
Murder Like It’s 1495: U.S.-Backed Counterinsurgency in the Philippines
George Ochenski
Montana’s Radioactive Waste Legacy
Brian Terrell
A Doubtful Proposition: a Reflection on the Trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7
Nick Pemberton
Assange, Zuckerberg and Free Speech
James Bovard
The “Officer Friendly” Police Fantasy
Dean Baker
The Logic of Medical Co-Payments
Jeff Mackler
Chicago Teachers Divided Over Strike Settlement
Binoy Kampmark
The ISC Report: Russian Connections in Albion?
Norman Solomon
Biden and Bloomberg Want Uncle Sam to Defer to Uncle Scrooge
Jesse Jackson
Risking Lives in Endless Wars is Morally Wrong and a Strategic Failure
Manuel García, Jr.
Criminalated Warmongers
November 12, 2019
Nino Pagliccia
Bolivia and Venezuela: Two Countries, But Same Hybrid War
Patrick Cockburn
How Iran-Backed Forces Are Taking Over Iraq
Jonathan Cook
Israel is Silencing the Last Voices Trying to Stop Abuses Against Palestinians
Jim Kavanagh
Trump’s Syrian See-Saw: From Pullout to Pillage
Susan Babbitt
Fidel, Three Years Later
Dean Baker
A Bold Plan to Strengthen and Improve Social Security is What America Needs
Trump’s Crime Against Humanity
Victor Grossman
The Wall and General Pyrrhus
Yoko Liriano
De Facto Martial Law in the Philippines
Ana Paula Vargas – Vijay Prashad
Lula is Free: Can Socialism Be Restored?
Thomas Knapp
Explainer: No, House Democrats Aren’t Violating Trump’s Rights
Wim Laven
Serve With Honor, Honor Those Who Serve; or Support Trump?
Colin Todhunter
Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer
Binoy Kampmark
Walls in the Head: “Ostalgia” and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later
Akio Tanaka
Response to Pete Dolack Articles on WBAI and Pacifica
Nyla Ali Khan
Bigotry and Ideology in India and Kashmir: the Legacy of the Babri Masjid Mosque
Yves Engler
Canada Backs Coup Against Bolivia’s President
November 11, 2019
Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes, and Roger Snider
Class War Violence: Centralia 1919
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
“Other Than Honorable?” Veterans With “Bad Paper” Seek Long Overdue Benefits
Peter Linebaugh
The Worm in the Apple
Joseph Natoli
In the Looming Shadow of Civil War
Robert Fisk
How the Syrian Democratic Forces Were Suddenly Transformed into “Kurdish Forces”
Patrick Cockburn
David Cameron and the Decline of British Leadership
Naomi Oreskes
The Greatest Scam in History: How the Energy Companies Took Us All
Fred Gardner
Most Iraq and Afghanistan Vets now Regret the Mission
Howard Lisnoff
The Dubious Case of Washing Machines and Student Performance
Nino Pagliccia
The Secret of Cuba’s Success: International Solidarity
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections
Kim C. Domenico
To Overthrow Radical Evil, Part II: A Grandmother’s Proposal
Marc Levy
Veterans’ Day: Four Poems
Weekend Edition
November 08, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Real Constitutional Crisis: The Constitution