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Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst

Like any sane person, I value life. But what if my country, bent on world domination, does not—or rather, does for itself and, somewhat, “friends and allies,” yet in the process distorts its meaning as integral to its very nature? What then? Life is a universal (I think of Kant’s categorical imperative applied to politics), not deniable to others while affirmed only for oneself-country-system of economy, as has happened in the US. Simply, harsh as it sounds, when America brings death and misery to others, it deserves to suffer the same fate itself. If there is world conflagration, there should be no exceptions to the excruciating pain and violence. This is not an academic proposition. We are already close to that point, and have been for some time.

I blame capitalism for the plight of humanity; no, not the abstract political economy of textbook fame, where in other societies there is a historical-cultural mix to mitigate its worst features and mitigate its voracious appetite. But America is different; unlike any other society in its historical development, America has known of, and experienced, little breadth of structural alternatives which might question or soften the deification of profit, accumulation, and the militarization of total resources to safeguard the two. Capitalism in extreme form, pure, undiluted, is in the bloodstream of every American, even among dissenters and those in active struggle against the system as they know it. The result (for those who are numerically few to begin with, more so now than ever) is to strike out at peripheral issues instead of the central core (as though an additive process of good works will in fact transform the system, and not reinforce its hold even more). Our best, well-meaning to the bone, is not good enough.

I respectfully dissent from the current state of the Left in America. It is relatively easy to sustain a criticism of domestic policy, so pervasive is the scope and extent of injustice. But however penetrating and deep, domestic criticism cannot jump the wall to foreign policy, where, I hold, the gravest danger to freedom lies. CP writers have caught on to Bernie, a foreign policy as vicious as anything the Executive, Joint Chiefs, and Pentagon could come up with, yet do not recognize the interrelatedness of the two: domestic policy is only as good as foreign policy allows it to be, basic change, humaneness, systemic equality all hemmed in by what proves to be America’s guiding principles of capitalist development and expansion. We must stretch our moral horizons before it is too late. For every person murdered in Charleston, or now practically anywhere in the US, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, are murdered by this nation, whether by war, intervention, drones, covert operations, or the legitimized violence through aggressive trade-and-manufacture policy of reducing living standards and conditions wherever America’s global economic penetration takes place.

Perhaps the most recent case in point: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, representing a power-grab for the largest US corporations ensuring their political and legal protection overseas, and thus, internally, a key instrument for domestic wealth concentration, strengthening the forces of reaction and circumscribing still further the boundaries of permissible social change. Yet that only scratches the surface. For what is TPP without the Pacific-first strategy, the so-called “pivot” in which military forces are being transferred to the region as, now, the principal war theater, less to protect American trade and commerce (gunboat diplomacy in the good old days) but, far more dangerous and provocatively so, to encircle and reduce the power of China, using trade, beyond markets, as the basis for cementing military alliances, already through joint-maneuvers and, like NATO in the West, shaping a coalition for military action? Yes, let us expose the Donalds and Bernies , and the Harridan of War, Hillary, America’s Madame Chiang Kai-shek, in our midst, but it is the unified structure of power, its tentacles reaching into every corner of American life, which most deserves our attention.

Can we do both? Of course. Should we do both? Of course. Any revelation of injustice and wrongdoing reflects on the rottenness of the societal core, but the connection has to be thought through and spelled out. Capitalism dehumanizes America, breeds false consciousness in the epistemological foundations of the society, where thought and understanding are grounded in and thus filtered through the commodity system and resulting commodification of the individual. Recently here I quoted from Marx’s Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, to suggest the basis for moral emptiness in a puristic capitalist society, chiefly, our own. Even as radicals we affirm an America that debases us and all others. What if America, as we know it, is beyond redemption? I’d hate to think that, and perhaps a start to constructive change lies in the recognition of capitalism’s absolutistic proportions in America. Where is that absolutism most felt and found? Racism, gender discrimination, ecological spoliation are simultaneously determinative and yet symptomatic of the far more insidious cancer of a foreign policy historically run amuck while our attention has been directed elsewhere, to the rectification of undoubted wrongs brought about by the inner logic of a capitalism free to realize its maximization of stability, security, and exploitation. It is that inner logic which must be addressed, the mentality of conquest, self-commending because identified with the traits, goals, desires, inhering in the absolute, which, by definition, can do no wrong.

To return to the starting point, if we bring havoc on the world, do we have the right to exempt ourselves from its effects? By consenting to the overwhelming complexion of the American polity, its militarism, seen from every angle, its military appropriations, its rancid contempt for the poor (and consequent valuing of hierarchy), its suicidal treatment of nature, its arrogation to itself of whatever it believes is to its self-interest, its flag-worship, etc., etc., etc., for the examples are limitless, we demonstrate how our consent is really complicity in the commonsense meaning of evil, that which brings sorrow and distress upon humankind—to which might be added, extinction.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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