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The sense of disconnect is unreal and formidable. The US military is slowly moving back into Iraq and is threatening Russia. Joining the military are any number of CIA agents, mercenaries and unnamed operatives whose purpose is to kill whatever force might be the enemy of the week while convincing the civilian population the Pentagon means no harm. Accompanying this buildup in Iraq is a new endeavor against Iraq’s neighbor Syria. US planes will soon be bombing people and villages in that war ravaged land while a mercenary force assembled by the reactionary regime in Saudi Arabia (with assistance from the CIA) takes aim against those it opposes. In both cases, the original targets are supposedly those forces going under the name Islamic State. However, given the hatred of the Assad regime emanating from the US and Saudi Arabia, one feels secure predicting that the ultimate targets may well be those forces. One sees only disaster; disaster that will not be remedied by bombers, helicopter gunships or armed troops of any kind. Yet, the citizens of the US ignore what they see and hear and go on about their reality show lives.
Most of those that are paying attention either clamor for greater war, or support the president’s approach with or without modification. Those opposed to war at all go unheard. Part of Obama’s purpose in making his speech right before the annual remembrance of 9-11 began was to confuse. Like his predecessor who intentionally confused Iraq with Al-Qaida and the Taliban with Saddam Hussein, Obama hopes to connect the war he is mounting with the events of 9-11—events which continue to traumatize a certain segment of the US population and most of its political and media establishment. The point of all this is to maintain not just a war footing, but some semblance of an actual war. I say “semblance” mostly because the carnage on the US side of things is small when compared to that caused by most of Washington’s military adventures. The profits for those involved in such things, however, are greater than ever.
Although we are told that as one grows older they tend to become more conservative, I find this to not be the case for me. My outrage at the daily bloodshed and destruction has not paled nor diminished. Although perhaps tinged by a good deal more cynicism, I continue to be appalled at the greed of some humans and the efforts they undertake in their attempts to satisfy that greed. Meanwhile, our media entertains us with stories of celebrity misbehavior, from sexual antics among actors to violence against women and children by athletes. The fundamental lack of compassion required to maintain an empire like that of the United States cannot be redeemed by any amount of outrage regarding the domestic brutality of a professional athlete or entertainer. Yet, virtually everyone has an opinion regarding this misbehavior while only the most politically minded seem to have any opinion on the political issues of the day. In the United States and in many other nations, the political opinions celebrated in the press are primarily of the right-wing variety, even when they pretend to be otherwise. What I mean by that last statement is that the parameters of debate are skewed so far to the political right that there is essentially no such thing as a political left, at least not in the mainstream media.
There is plenty of beauty left on this planet. Yet, ugliness seems to be the stronger current, subsidized as it is by the machinery of capital and encouraged by those who serve that almighty mammon. Meanwhile, while these slaves to mammon wage their wars and ravage the planet, they work to place whatever beauty remains behind tollbooths and fences, hoarding the remaining beauty for those who can afford it. This process, called neoliberalism, privatizes national parkland and forests directly or by selling naming rights, maintenance and other elements involved in preserving parkland to corporate enterprises. Often, those corporations are involved in activities diametrically opposed to the park’s livelihood (i.e. logging industry maintaining national forests.) As for human beauty itself, not only does it come at a price, but it too is homogenized into a few models. Those who wish to fulfil the corporate ideal of beauty pay for synthetic assistance in the matter.
Even history, no matter how gruesome, is repackaged and sold. A recent example of this recently occurred in the US. First, the history. In May 1970 during protests against the US invasion of Cambodia four students were murdered by troops firing into the crowd of protesters. This action by the troops created an upsurge in already burgeoning protests and the shutdown of over one-third of the university and college campuses in the US. While other countries have experienced much worse scenes of murder and mayhem at the hands of police and military forces on their university campuses, the murder of these four students remains the most deadly police action against student protesters in US history. So, after forty-four years, the corporate clothing chain Urban Outfitters decided to cash in on this incident by designing and selling a sweatshirt featuring the Kent State University logo and several blood-colored spots designed to look like bloodstains. Naturally, the company told the media that it wished to remind its customers of this tragedy. In reality, it was all about the money. By turning this moment of history into a sweatshirt, Urban Outfitters trivialized the deaths, the protests, and the antiwar movement itself. It also received a lot of free advertising.
In closing, let me return to my previous comment regarding athletes and domestic violence. The politicians and media commentators who have filled the airwaves with statements blaming the professional sports leagues for their avoidance of NFL player Ray Rice’s wife-beating until a video was released have barely acknowledged the more fundamental violence in capitalist culture. Beyond the fact of a sport that emphasizes brutality is a culture based on predation and death. Virtually every politician, male or female, who called the US National Football League on the carpet for its lukewarm policing of its players involved in domestic violence, has ultimately supported every US military adventure. Some like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also vocalized support for the recent Israeli attacks on hospitals and schools. And she did so without any apparent understanding of the dissonance between that support and her opposition to women being beaten by their partners.
Like I said a few hundred words ago: the sense of disconnect is unreal.
Ron Jacobs is the author of a series of crime novels called The Seventies Series. All the Sinners, Saints, is the third novel in the series. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground . Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. His book Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies will be published by Counterpunch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.