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Hush Money Generation

I went to a good concert recently. Essentially two headline acts, with Steve Winwood opening for Carlos Santana. Of equal interest was the venue, Bethel Woods, in Sullivan County, New York. This is the music center built on the site of the original 1969 Woodstock festival. It’s a modern amphitheater with outdoor lawn seating together accommodating 15,000 people, just up the hill and facing the other way from the original concert setup. Over 1700 hundred acres, parking galore, handicap transport, pond, more than 1000 trees planted on a manicured landscape, said to cost $100 million and looking every bit of it.

Carlos took the stage prepared to connect with Woodstock, including a live version of Soul Sacrifice together with a screened version of his performance at the original festival, making it difficult for some to discern where the music was coming from. In addition to his admittedly preachy message of universal godly togetherness (seemingly omitting atheists), he began a clarion call.

In rough paraphrase, “We are on hallowed ground…(deep crowd murmur)…ground zero for love and peace…(rousing applause)…the place where the Vietnam War ended…(applause) [and then tapered off into self-aggrandizement]…this is not Arizona, or Fox News”, although in that large crowd there surely were some Fox News people, and maybe some Arizonians.

Whatever role the iconic happening on Max Yasgur’s farm had on ending the Vietnam War, it was set in a milieu of affected youth, meaning draft age. And it’s not only draft age youths that are affected, it’s their parents, family and friends. It’s millions of people making lots of noise that becomes an annoyance for the state. But the state knew how to take care of that and now nobody has to burn their draft card anymore.

The youths of the Vietnam War era were no smarter than today’s youths. They merely acted in their own self-interest. Already this century we have two major wars going – been promised endless war – and there is a sense of quietude in the country. Our sons and daughters have to sign up to fight. You have to hand it to the state for the infinitely clever system it has devised.

The all volunteer army is funded with “hush money”, and there is an awful lot of it. I was drafted in 1961 and I seem to remember my pay at $78 month. I also seem to recall a general’s pay then was $1700 month. Today’s recruits begin at close to that. The “contractor class” of soldier can receive six figures annually, making each of them multiple MacArthurs.

So the country’s been hushed. You can’t say anything anymore. Even after Abu Ghraib you can’t say anything because didn’t we punish those few “bad apples”? Nobody can say anything because everyone’s been paid off. Those that fight get it in cash and those that don’t get it by not having to fight.

It’s tempting to think that there is a giant plan at work. Move wealth to the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes that, being thus deprived, become fodder for the state in the form of either prisoner or soldier. I don’t think there’s any such plan. It’s far too complicated and unnecessary.

The state acts in its own self-interest, which is necessarily in harmony with elite interests. So long as elite interests are served things will roll along merrily. Once a course is set – any course – certain things will break for you. It is not surprising that, in a wealthy security state such as ours, there is a steady supply of prisoners and soldiers.

There is a sign that dots the roads of my county, “Just vote them out!” OK, that would be nice, and then what? Leave the signs up? While it might be fun to see a perpetual throw the bums out parade, the sign itself is less latent than lament.

With our 2-party state (what a friend of mine calls the 1.1-party state) we have the party in power and the loyal opposition. That’s the trouble. They’re too loyal. What we need is opposition that is a little less loyal to a militaristic, imperialistic, secretive, hypocritical killing machine, and that can’t be found in either party.

Only a peoples’ party, a party of the left, unapologetic and uncompromising, could oppose the mindless course our country has set for itself. But we have no left. It’s a million miles away at present, so it’s no use asking where it will come from. It would sound something like what was heard most recently in the political words of Ralph Nader, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich who, pooled together, do not cross the 3% line.

Remember in the primary debate Mike Gravel said that Obama’s declaration that all options are on the table with Iran amounted to a threat of war. Obama responded that Iran’s nuclear programs pose a major threat to the United States. Gravel pointed out that the United States has refused to disarm its nuclear weapons. He then said, “Who the hell are we going to nuke? Tell me Barack, who do you want to nuke?” Barack smilingly answered, “I’m not planning to nuke anybody right now, Mike. I promise.” Obama had the crowd and got the laugh. He was preparing to become president, an outward seriousness concealing a trivial argument. Gravel was made to seem trivial while making a serious argument.

There’s a limit to how serious you can be and still be president. There’s no limit to how loyal you can be.

JAMES ROTHENBERG can be reached at:




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