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Most US residents seem to operate under the illusion that they are free. They are also pretty certain that their economy and military are the most powerful in the world. Holding these beliefs rules their interactions with each other and the world at large. Those interactions are best described as hubris. There is perhaps no better example of this than the man running for president of the United States known as Donald Trump. Indeed, although the hubris he exhibits is beyond the pale for most of his fellow citizens, he does have a fair number who agree with his arrogance and egocentrism. However, just because the rest of the nation finds Trump to be a boorish jerk does not mean they do not operate with assumptions quite similar to his when it comes to their nation’s place in the world and its relationship to that world.
Underlying these assumptions is a history soaked in bloody violence. From the early wars against the indigenous tribes the first Englishmen found along the Atlantic Coast of the North American continent to the imperial adventures of today, the folks (mostly white men) who rule the United States have never refused to use violence to get what they wanted. This historical reality is directly related to a lust for land and a desire to maximize profits. The patterns of investment by the wealthy and their bankers are directly and indirectly related to the wars US residents end up fighting. The wars are not accidental and the methods the rulers use to get us to fight them are just as intentional as the wars themselves.
Marc Pilisuk and Jennifer Achord Rountree make this quite clear in their recently released book The Hidden Structure of Violence: Who Benefits from Violence and War. Originally published in 2007 under the title Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System, this new, substantially revised title examines the networks, cultural and social psychology, and political and economic structures behind our contemporary reality. The picture the authors paint is disturbing, to say the least. Essentially an examination of modern US imperialism, the text uses the language of game theory and networks analysis to examine the world of economic inequality and military madness we cannot seem to escape from. From Henry Kissinger’s Latin American coups to Bill and Melinda Gates’ tax-saving philanthropic AIDS work that funnels most of their cash to big pharmaceutical companies, the mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism are laid out in all their complexities.
As I am writing this, the Pentagon is telling a different lie (from the one they told previously) to explain their recent bombing of a neutral hospital run by Medicin sans Frontiers doctors in Afghanistan–a land which is the site of the longest combat operation in US history. In an incredibly obvious example of the interconnectedness of the military, corporate America and the mainstream media, the NBC network explained away the entire incident on an evening news broadcast by telling its viewers: (I paraphrase here) “If the Afghans had done their job, then the US wouldn’t have been in the area and bombed the hospital.” Not only does this reasoning ignore the nature of the US intervention in Afghanistan, it is a prime example of Washington’s ongoing narrative that blames the victim for their tragedy, thereby exonerating the US forces (and citizens) of any culpability in the crimes of war.
Of course, the objective truth is if the US wasn’t there at all this would not have happened at all. Neither would have several other war crimes in that dirty little war. Like police departments explaining why their officers murder unarmed civilians, the military obfuscates the circumstances of its criminal actions without ever acknowledging its responsibility. The media does its job by repeating the lies and attacking the dead.
In a long discussion of US Christianity, capitalism and the myth of rural life in America near the book’s end, Pilisuk and Rountree examine the similarities and differences between these elements of the US psyche and the myths of the German Volk in the wake of their nation’s defeat in World War One; myths manipulated by Hitler and the Nazis in their rise to power and the creation of the Third Reich. The scenario described in these pages is frightening both because of its apparent truths and the fact that is the historical moment we are now living in.
Most of us know something is wrong in the USA. The current candidates for president are more than happy to tell us that. Of course, their understanding of it is limited by the nature of their backers and their politics. None of them, from the almost-fascist Donald Trump to the right-wing lunatics in the GOP and the social democrat Bernie Sanders, seem to be ready to get to the nitty gritty of the situation. In other words, none of them are going to tell us it is the system they all hope to be president of that is the problem behind our current reality. That task, it seems, is up to us.