Puritan Jackals

“When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out.”

— Ho Chi Minh

“The anti-war left’s attachment to the anti-Assad narrative is based in a colonial mentality which presumes that Westerners have the right to determine the destinies of peoples residing in what was formerly known as the Third World. It is the same mentality that drives the criminalization of Black America, reducing mass incarceration and police murder to products of the innate criminality of Black people.”

— Danny Haiphong

This is the week that Arkansas began its planned execution of eight death row convicts in eleven days. The urgency for this accelerated schedule has to do with the shelf life of certain chemicals being used in lethal injection. Ironically the makers of these chemicals asked that the state of Arkansas department of corrections cease and desist using their product in ways these corporate manufacturers never intended. Whether this is just optics I have no idea. But there is a palpable glee from the ghouls in the Arkansas correctional community at the opportunity to act as they have always wished they could. And to think the justification is the use-by date of a few gallons of tranquilizers. Trump supreme court appointee Neil Gorsuch immediately lifted stays that allowed the execution of the first man on this abbreviated death orgy. Lendell Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 pm CT, April 20th, after turning down his last meal to take communion. He had spent over 20 years on the Arkansas death row. Among the other convicts scheduled for execution are a paranoid schizophrenic named Bruce Ward (also having spent twenty years on the Row) and Jason McGee, a brain damaged sufferer of bi-polar disorder who was sniffing gasoline at age three and an alcoholic at age six. A man whose childhood is so horrific that none of us can begin to imagine it. Another, also bi polar, Jack Jones, has severe hallucinations and has committed himself twice before his crimes took place. He was also the victim of repeated and violent sexual abuse as a young boy. Another, Kenneth Williams, has an IQ of 70. That means he can barely tie his shoes. Don Davis, another, was described by a doctor thus: “Don also endured a serious head injury, which, along with his ADHD and low IQ, likely lead to ‘double deficits’ in cognitive functioning.” Don’s IQ score was 69. Marcel Williams is another with a long history of sexual abuse (his mother pimped him out at the age of 12). He also suffers severe cognitive impairment. And then there is Stacy Johnson who is probably innocent. We know for certain he did not receive adequate representation as his trial.

One has to step back and look at the culture of the United States today. There are 2902 men and women on death row . There are over two million in custody. The U.S. actively participated in (and continues to do so) in the Saudi assault on Yemen. A military assault that destroyed this poorest country in the Arab world and left mass starvation and famine. The U.S. is covertly (via, primarily, the CIA) funding various jihadists waging a war against the Syrian state and its people. At the same time the U.S. is pretending to fight the Islamic State, and has recently now sent more boots on the ground into Syria. President Assad does not want the U.S. there. The U.S. may have been complicit in some fashion with the alleged sarin gas attack (how many false flags does the U.S. have to carry out before the general public grasps that this is SOP for the agency). The U.S. defense budget is over three billion dollars a day. The U.S. send aid to Israel (in the neighborhood os 38 billion, but it depends on how you count it, and in reality it’s actually even more than that figure), a state that is currently carrying out the incremental extermination of the Palestinian people. An openly apartheid state. A state run by fanatics and virulent racists.

The largest amount of military aid (weapons sales and training mostly) goes to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But also to South Korea, to Australia, Turkey and Taiwan. And of course Israel. What do these countries have in common? Obedience to the U.S. is first. Second is their willingness to serve as sub contractors in the global war on the poor…er….terror. Right, the war on terror. Now in year 16. These countries are all very high on the list of human rights violators. Never mind. They are obedient.

Now, who is the United States targeting next for “humanitarian intervention”? The answer is Syria, North Korea and perhaps even Venezuela. And if the wet dreams of the Pentagon and the neo con policy wonks at the various NGOs in Washington come true, Iran. What do these countries have in common? They are disobedient. Have any of them attacked the U.S.? No. Of course not.

Margaret Kimberley, writing of Obama and Hillary Clinton’s assassination of Qadaffi…

“Their deliberate destruction of Libya was a war crime by all standards of international law. That country was just one victim of the American plan to eliminate secular governments in the Middle East. Under the guise of a phony “responsibility to protect” and with cover from organizations such as Human Rights Watch, American propaganda gave an atrocity the appearance of a humanitarian act. Now come reports from media and the International Organization for Migration that African migrants are being openly bought and sold in Libya. This practice would not be taking place if Muammar Gaddafi not been murdered by American backed jihadists in 2011.”

The U.S. list of supported fascist dictators is very long. A short list, though, past and present, includes Paul Kagame in Rwanda, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow in Turkmenistan, Rafael Trujillo in the Domincan Republic, Papa and Baby Doc in Haiti, Jorge Ubico in Guatamala (and Rioss Montt), Pinochet in Argentina and Mobutu in Zaire. I mean the list goes on and on and on. In El Salvador in the 80s, the CIA trained the death squads that savaged the country (google El Mozote). Or Indonesia…as Nicholas J.S. Davis wrote…

“In 1965, General Suharto seized effective power from President Sukarno on the pretext of combatting a failed coup and unleashed an orgy of mass murderthat killed at least half a million people. U.S. diplomats later admitted providing lists of 5,000 Communist Party members to be killed. Political officer Robert Martens said, “It really was a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.”

You get the point. The U.S. currently helped put in power the Svoboda Party in Ukraine. The Svoboda Party are ardent admirers of Adolph Hitler. But such stuff should not stand in the way of Imperial ambitions, now should they?

“Svoboda’s cause was championed during the Maidan protests by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who egged on the crowds while standing under banners celebrating Stepan Bandera. McCain’s appearance was no accident. Since World War II, the Republican Party has been closely allied with pro-Nazi exile leaders from Eastern Europe. Many of them were recruited and paid by the CIA, and given secret legal exemptions to emigrate to the United States despite their history of war crimes.”

Jonathan Marshall

This was the brainchild of Hillary Clinton, then Sec of State and her undersecretary Victoria Nuland. It is worth noting again that America’s sympathy with Ukrainian fascism goes back to the end of WW2. Russ Bellant, in a book that is now forty years old, writes:

During the rise of European fascism after World War I, some Ukrainian nationalist groups tied their hopes to fascism as an ideology, and then collaborated with Hitler and nazism in World War II. One Ukrainian nationalist group was the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) which split into two organizations: a less militant wing, led by Andrew Melnyk and known as OUN-M, and the extremist group of Stepan Bandera, known as OUN-B. The Nazis preferred the radical nationalist OUN-B. During the German military occupation, the Ukraine witnessed terrible atrocities against Jews and other groups targeted by Nazi policies. The OUN-B organized military units that participated in these atrocities. With the collapse of the Third Reich, many Ukrainian collaborationists fled their homeland. After the war, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Bandera (OUN-B), a clandestine group financed in part by German intelligence and led by Stetsko, accelerated its work in the West. A secretive group, OUN-B’s tracks are difficult to follow. “You have to understand. We are an underground organization. We have spent years quietly penetrating positions of influence,” explained an OUN-B member who insisted on anonymity. The positions of influence under discussion were Reagan Administration appointments. All of the OUN-B’s key Administration contacts were through an organization called the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), headquartered in New York City. ( ) The White House had looked favorably on the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, appointing its chairman, Lev Dobriansky, ambassador to the Bahamas in 1983. Dobriansky is a longtime ASC official.”

The U.S. employed Croatian fascists (also admirers of Hitler and legatees of Ante Pavelic) during the destruction of Yugoslavia. The tentacles of European fascism also seems to always intersect with the Catholic Church. From Franco to Cardinal Stepinac , to the various Royal houses of Europe, there are always connections with the Church. And the late Pope John Paul, himself an ardent anti communist and CIA asset, was embedded in these various lines of association.

But to stick with Ukraine for a moment,

“In 2004 it rebranded itself as Svoboda and dispensed with its SS imagery. Nonetheless, Svoboda’s new leader lauded the OUN and UPA for having resisted “Jews and other scum, who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state.” He was decorated by veterans of a Ukrainian Waffen-SS division and championed the cause of Ukrainian death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk. His ideological adviser organized a think tank called the “Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center” in 2005.

Svoboda became the largest party in Lviv in 2010 and today enjoys strong influence at the national level. It has also extended its influence by allying itself with other far-right and fascist parties in Europe.”

— Jonathan Marshall.

Eric Draister wrote in 2014…

“In an attempt to pry Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence, the US-EU-NATO alliance has, not for the first time, allied itself with fascists. Of course, for decades, millions in Latin America were disappeared or murdered by fascist paramilitary forces armed and supported by the United States. The mujahideen of Afghanistan, which later transmogrified into Al Qaeda, also extreme ideological reactionaries, were created and financed by the United States for the purposes of destabilizing Russia. And of course, there is the painful reality of Libya and, most recently Syria, where the United States and its allies finance and support extremist jihadis against a government that has refused to align with the US and Israel.”

Remember, too, that John McCain and Nuland when they happily visited Ukraine to share photo-ops with the Svoboda leadership were well aware of the Nazi symbols everywhere.

Conn Hallinan ..also in 2014…wrote:

“Three months after the April ceremony, Ukrainians re-enacted the battle of Brody between the Galicia Division and Soviet troops, where the German XIII Army Corps was trying to hold off the Russians commanded by Marshall Ivan Konev. In general, going up against Konev meant a quick trip to Valhalla. In six days of fighting the Galicians lost two-thirds of their division and XIII Corps was sent reeling back to Poland. The Galicia Division survivors were shipped off to fight anti-Nazi partisans in Yugoslavia. In 1945 remnants of the unit surrendered to the Americans in Italy, and in 1947 many of them were allowed to emigrate to Britain and Canada.”

It’s all linked.

Central American and South American death squads all had (and have) links (every single one of them) to U.S. intelligence, the U.S. military, and the American Security Council. The majority were trained by the United States, in fact.

Back in the 70s in Uruguay, there were torture sessions conducted against homeless men by government and police in order to teach how to apply electro shock properly. All this under the supervision of U.S.Agency for Development — not even the CIA or military.

Alex Henderson writes of Paraguay…

“Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, who was in power from 1954-1989, was a strident anti-communist—and that was enough for the U.S., which pumped millions of dollars into his regime in the 1950s and 1960s and had a close relationship with the Paraguayan military for many years. Torture, kidnappings and other human rights abuses were common under the Stroessner regime, which authorized Pastor Milciades Coronel (who oversaw Stroessner’s secret police) to commit numerous atrocities. In 1975, Stroessner even listened on the phone while Miguel Soler, head of the Paraguayan Communist Party, was being dismembered with a chainsaw by Coronel’s policía secreta.

More recently, in 2016, our aid to the Philippines coincided with a brutal escalation of death squad violence orchestrated by President B.S. Aquino (a favorite of the U.S.).

The point is that there are clear positions that almost anybody (outside of the John McCains and Hillary Clintons and Donald Trumps of the world) should support. An end to war is first. And from that one arrives at the reality that far far far and away the leading purveyor of violence in the world is the United States. Almost no conflict in the world is not mediated by U.S. power, weapons, and money. Ergo, the basic default position has to be an end to U.S. state violence, both at home on death row in Arkansas (or anywhere) and globally against all other nations. I don’t care if people don’t like Venezuelian Bolivarism, or don’t like the DPRK, or Syria and Assad. It actually doesn’t matter. The fact is that the people of these nations support their government. They are not children. They can solve their issues if they have them. Remember, too, that the CIA has fomented more conflict and instability than any intelligence organization in history. To not support Assad against the Imperial war machine that is the U.S. is simply irrational to me. And to conflate or equate Russian involvement with U.S. involvement is politically immature at best. It is mendacious and venal and destructive at worst. When Danny Haiphong calls out Jacobin as the new faux left, he is pointing to this new crypto Imperialism. The same people who applauded the U.S. bombing of Belgrade are applauding the idea of removing Assad. The same propaganda is being employed. If one cannot remember back a decade, let alone forty years of U.S. destruction and war and assassination, then you are purposefully forgetting. Remember Vietnam? Cambodia? The wholesale destruction of Iraq? But Hollywood awards an Oscar to the obviously fraudulent White Helmets. Why? Because that narrative positions the white Western bourgeoisie as paternalistic world saviour. White people as the ultimate decision makers. For white America you are only supported if you give the appearance of abjection.In other words, *we* will help, but only if you recognise and acknowledge the need for our support. Acknowledge your debt. The western bourgeoisie do nothing for free. And moral debt is the best kind for others to owe you. This is the algebra of Imperial power. Resources, and western capital matter, too, of course. But the deeper implications, the *narrative*, is one of white superiority.

Assad asked the Russians for fuck sake. How bad does that make HIM? I mean I ask you. He accused NATO and the US of supporting jihadis and ISIS. No wonder Israel wants him gone, too. It is colonial and it mirrors globally a kind of plantation system. The Arab and Asian world are seen as colonial subjects. The West won’t forgive Mao for turning the perception of the Chinese into something that did not fit with Charlie Chan. Chavez upset the stereotype of banana republic *caudillo*. Dignity is not allowed the non white world.

The question is really how has it happened that the very worst most sadistic and venal people come to control so much of American power. How is it that people like Mitch McConnell or Asa Hutchinson or Jeff Sessions or Jared Kushner or Victoria Nuland or Samantha Power, or McCain or Lindsay Graham are in positions that wield actual power? The fact is that most Americans live in near desperation.

“…the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. ( ) The FTE citizens (that 20%) rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for.”

Lynne Parramore

The above quote is from a piece reviewing a new book by economist Peter Temin. The slug line for the article is that for most America is now a third world country. And economically this is true. But its worse, actually. Culturally it is worse. When I’ve spent time in central America or India or North Africa or Mexico, I find a kind of creative spirit and community even amid the poverty. In the U.S. I don’t find that so often. I find the denuded landscape of American suburbia the most depressing on the planet. These are hostile areas of atomized and isolated individuals, with families that seem to hate each other and children already on the way to one or another personality disorder. It is a selfish and hyper competitive place with a populace frighteningly unhealthy and addicted to anti depressants. And yet this competition is for almost nothing. The real affluence is locked up and kept at a safe distance from the working class. And it is a racist culture. A profoundly racist culture. And I don’t find that in the same degree other places (with the exception of perhaps Poland).

While Arkansas prepared its death chamber for overtime usage, in the South Pacific there was a gathering of the rich and famous rich, including former president Barak Obama. The three thousand dollar a night resort was also hosting Oprah and Bruce Springsteen, Speilberg and Hanks. And most were staying on jillionaire David Geffan’s 135 meter yacht. I mention this because the distance between the life (and death) of Ledell Lee and that of the former President is almost unimaginable. And as I sit back and look at my native country I think, what kind of nation has leaders who frolic in Tahiti while seventeen executions are being carried out in something like a week? Carried out according to judgements made by one of the most racist and irrational penal and criminal justice systems in the world (one in 24 now on death row is innocent). Not a thought for the broken lives of the men sentenced to die an agonizing prolonged death that masquerades as rational. Veterinary pharmaceuticals are often used in a junk science death factory that feigns rationality. Not a word from the political class. Not a peep. These condemned men, all of them, suffered such appalling and bestial lives as children, subjected to such abuse, that most Americans would simply rather not know. There are good guys and bad guys. That’s what they say on TV cop shows.

When a populace can so wilfully ignore historical record, so impassively accept the naked propaganda of their own government, then one does wonder how long such a people can survive. Nothing was learned from the Korean war, nothing from Vietnam or Nicaragua, or Panama. Nor from Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing. I remember millions on the street to protest the invasion of Iraq. Bush and his friends ignored this. But when Obama continued Bush policy the protests stopped. I’m not sure how deeply anti war those protests were, but certainly it is different today. The so called ‘voice of the left’ is defending the removal of a secular Arab president, a man who won his last election with large majority mandate. A nation whose people have defended their country heroically. And yet the voice of the left know better. Let us help the poor Arab. Let us bomb sense into him. And I am sure there is a cell in the Hague awaiting Assad. Maybe he can have Milosevic’ old cell. Then he can sit for a decade as his health deteriorates (as happens with EVERY Hague prisoner) and fade from the collective American memory. Just as the Arkansas death spree will fade from memory. The leaders of the U.S. express their contempt for the working class on a daily basis. Absolute contempt. They blithely steal and plunder what is left of the social welfare system. And few really complain. Certainly not enough. Why that low wage sector seem unable to identify their enemy — why they seem to worship wealth and not hate it, is a complex question for which I have no easy simple answer. Although what I most return to is the legacy of the Puritan founding of a slave owning society. America wants someone in the stocks. America is accustomed to having someone lower than them in the food chain. And this is why communism was so despised by the ruling class. Sure it was bad for business, but perhaps even worse, it granted dignity to the worker. It erased class. And that was too terrifying an idea for the captains of industry.

Obama stands as pivotal in poisoning the last remnants of real anti war resistance. He was a genius bit of casting. Genius. And now the only protests are about Trump’s taxes. Not about war, or the creation of famine, or about illegal assassination, or giant bombs dropped into populous areas as a sort of test drive for the new weaponry, or the enthusiastic support for Nazis. No, it’s about taxes. Because, you know, there might be a Russian connection, I guess. Whatever that even means. I have no idea. Except that again, America loves to hate its enemies. It’s easiest if they are Arab or African or Asian. A bit harder if they are blond. But Putin is Russian and Russia was communist. And communists are even worse than Arabs. This is a very sick and dangerous country. My country, though I no longer can live there. But I am a citizen. Sick and dangerous the way rabid dogs are sick.  The way jackels are dangerous. But it has always been so. From day one.

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. Plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. Taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. A collection of plays, Sea of Cortez & Other Plays was published in 1999, and his book on aesthetics, Aesthetic Resistance and Dis-Interest was published by Mimesis International in 2016.