The Rearguard Battles We Have Fought and Continue to Fight

Shortly after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, an article appeared in a left magazine. I can’t remember the article’s author, but I do remember the gist of the piece. We as a generation were exhausted from going to the barricades for so long to fight that war. The article predicted that despite the substantial loss of life and wealth in Vietnam, the empire that the U.S. now reigned over would last for perhaps another 200 years or so. In other words, the generation that had given and suffered so much could expect the vagaries and extremes of empire to continue despite our best efforts to change it.

The writer of that piece was prescient to a fault. Within a few short years of the end of the debacle that was the Vietnam War, the entire political, economic, and social systems of this nation would begin an inextricable move to the right and unravel for all but those with wealth who would soon learn how to buy the political system and have that system shamelessly do their bidding. The government was for sale and the military-industrial-financial complex would explode in a paroxysm of unimaginable wealth. It would begin in small ways during the Carter administration, and continue to expand under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and finally through Obama, before morphing into unspeakable ugliness before the altar of the far right with Trump, et al. It would not be a bedtime tale recounted for children, but rather an X-rated horror story.

War always was the handmaiden of empire, but the endless wars of today could never have been predicted. After all, hadn’t Reagan worked assiduously but slowly at first to dispel the very real Vietnam Syndrome, before Bush I and Bush II made war both endless and usual. Now, Trump can actually threaten North Korea with all-out war and the crowds go online and to the malls to consume and celebrate the holiday season.

“Consume: be silent,” is not just a handy far-right slogan. It’s what is actually happening on the ground each and every day. It’s business as usual. They are the bread and circuses of ancient Rome.

Certainly, there have been rearguard actions involving millions of people who buck the system, but like all rearguard battles they have only achieved modest success while the Leviathan rears its ugly head and moves inextricably toward the abyss.

Who would have guessed that the system would be so corrupt that a president and part of his electoral base would celebrate grabbing someone’s “pussy” and supporting a senate candidate like Roy Moore in Alabama who allegedly has committed grave wrongs of a sexual nature against innocent individuals? Did the women’s movement ever really happen, or is it like some dream? Did a vibrant and critical mass of people take part in antiwar actions and once stop the carnage and the murder?

Henry Giroux gives a brilliant interview at Salon in “Scholar Henry Giroux: Trump’s attack on democracy will fail,” December 4, 2017). Giroux’s  interviewer, Chauncey DeVega, places Trump squarely within the “racism, misogyny, greed and white supremacy,” that is the U.S. today. And that horror of hate extends to  many parts of the larger world, as is obvious to even a casual observer. DeVega rightly asks: “In what ways has the culture of cruelty been energized by Donald Trump? Is American democracy lost?”

Giroux says: “I think it (polarization and moral sickness) has longstanding roots in a discourse of hate, demonization, objectification and exploitation that really begins to emerge… with genocide and slavery—but more recently from the 1980s on…”

Toward the end of the interview, Giroux strikes a positive note about Trump’s prospects for success in 2020. “I think he’s going to lose. Trump is out of control.” Giroux believes that people in the U.S. will rise to challenge the extremism and violence that is now so much a part of this society. “I think that this nightmare will not go unchallenged.”

But the challenges have been only partially successful. The military budget is exploding. Sexual predators have a voice at the highest levels of government. Institutions in the U.S. that provide for the common good are being dismantled as I write. Public lands are being attacked, as is the entire global environment. Again, we fight rearguard battles with only limited prospects for success. Many on the left identify with small issues that while big to them and their individual lives, don’t begin to critique and act on the larger national and international systems that enforce violent predatory capitalism and mistake that economic system for democracy. We need grander visions! We need to fight! We need the young to participate in these most vacuous of times! Freedom from fear, from want, freedom of speech, and freedom to believe what one wishes (without tormenting others) without the constant sword of war and Damocles hanging perilously close to us, is what we must demand!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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