America Fiddles While California Burns

President Trump ordered 5,600 American troops to the Mexican border to stop around 3,500 poverty- and violence- fleeing Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the United States, while the worst wildfires in California’s history were destroying homes, killing people and displacing thousands more. To motivate his base to vote in the midterm elections, Trump whipped up the unarmed Caravan of men, women and children, weeks away from the U. S., as a threatening “invasion,” while strong winds continued to whip up flames of death and destruction upon drought-stricken Californians.   As American troops strung barbed wire at the Mexican border to block the migrants and their dreams of safety, residents in Northern and Southern California were seeing their dreams go up in smoke.  As the heavily body-armored American troops sat around and suffered from heat exhaustion while waiting for the weary, slow-moving caravan to arrive, thousands of exhausted California firefighters battled three major wildfires, as they waited for out-of-state crews to arrive. (See  “Deployed Inside the United States: The Military Waits for the Migrant Caravan” By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Helene Cooper, The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2018; and “California wildfires leave at least 66 dead with more than 600 still missing,” ABC News Radio, abc7.com,, Nov. 13, 2018)

Now that the midterm elections are over, President Trump is no longer harping about the threatened “invasion of our country” by a caravan of “very bad people.”   But he has finally taken notice of the deadly California wildfires, blaming them on “gross mismanagement of the forests” and threatening to withhold federal funds if the mismanagement were not corrected “now.”   The Pasadena Fire Association responded in a tweet: “The fires in SoCal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management. Come to SoCal and learn the facts & help the victims.” (“Trump blames California forest policies for deadly wildfires,” By Politico Staff, POLITICO, Nov. 10, 2018)

President Trump finally went to California, but apparently still did not “learn the facts.”  He was quoted as “promising to help the state recover but repeating his disputed view that forest management was to blame for the fire, the most destructive in California’s history.” (“Trump, Touring Fire Ruins in California, Repeats Disputed Claim on Forest Management,” By Thomas Fuller, The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2018)

Gross mismanagement?   American troops are fiddling at the Mexican border while California burns.  They, along with as many more troops as needed, should be in California, using their skills and equipment to assist overburdened firefighters seeking to save the lives and property of people and help victims – and protect domestic animals and wildlife as well.  What a waste of U.S. resources at the Mexican border to prevent migrants from exercising their right to apply for asylum – while California burns!

Along with California, America fiddles while our bipartisan government’s so-called global “war on terror” continues to burn.  Former president George W. Bush used the horrific 9/11 attacks against America as a pretext for starting a “worldwide war on terrorism.”  The Bush administration then launched unnecessary, falsely-based, bipartisan-supported, wars against Afghanistan and Iraq – which have become endless, spreading wars — and thus have provided endless profit for the military/industrial/energy/intelligence/evangelical faith complex.

A recent report on “The Costs of War” issued by Brown University’s Watson Institute estimates that “the United States’ so-called [global] War on Terrorism has killed about a half a million people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan,” and “about half of those killed were civilians.”  However, “the number of indirect deaths – because, for example, of war-related disease – is several times larger.” (“Half Million Killed by America’a Global War on Terror ‘Just Scratches the Surface’ of Human Destruction,” by Jessica Corbett, staff writer, commondreams.org,Nov. 9, 2018)

The “global war on terrorism’s” casualties also include “6,951 US military and “7,820” US contractors killed – and tens of thousands of US soldiers wounded. (“Human Cost of the Post 9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency,” By Neta C. Crawford, Watson Institute, Brown University, Nov. 2018)

If one googles the Watson Institute’s “Cost of Wars” report, it will be found in certain alternative media, but not in many mainstream newspapers.  And few, if any mainstream media columnists will be found citing the wars’ cost and criminality and calling for the prosecution of the proponents.

But the Watson Institute’s report can be found in media outlets in Turkey, India and Japan, and in Al Jazeera News.  And the report’s horrible reality is also disclosed in a tweet by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif:

”US’ so-called ‘War on Terror’ has cost 500K+ lives.  110K+ dead just since Debacle has caused destruction of Iraq, Syria, Libya & Yemen.  It has spawned ISIS & multiple Al Qaeda affiliates.  Cost to US taxpayers: 7K dead Americans + $5.6 trillion.  Cost to MidEast: unfathomable.” (“Half Million Killed by America’s  Global War on Terror ‘Just Scratches the Surface’ of Human Destruction,” (“New Report Finds Half Million Killed by Global ‘War on Terror,’“ By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, truthout.org, Nov. 10, 2018)

Not just ”gross mismanagement.”  Gross criminality!

The president who ignited this disastrous criminal war, George W. Bush, remains at large.  In fact, he is treated as a statesman: his words on foreign policy becoming front page news.  Like his speech in Washington, warning of “the dangers of Isolation” presented by President Trump’s policies.  Bush turned reality on its head in stating, “American is indispensable for the world. The price of greatness is responsibility.  One cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without  being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.”  (“George W. Bush touts ‘dangers of isolation’ as Trump pulls out of Iran deal,” By Javier De Diego and Alessia Grunbrger ,CNN, May 11, 2018)  Bush and his “civilized” administration “convulsed” the Middle East with immeasurable “agonies” – that continue unabated.

Thus, world-renowned linguist, author and political activist Noam Chomsky is reported to have called “the US invasion of Iraq ‘the worst war crime of this century.’ “  Chomsky referred to “It’s horrible effects: it spawned sectarian conflicts that are tearing the region apart.  . . . The very idea of invading is criminal.”  But, he continued, “Try to find someone who describes it as a crime. Obama is praised because he describes (the Iraq War) as a mistake.  But does he describe it as a crime, does anyone?” (“Noam Chomsky: 2003 ‘Invasion of Iraq is the Worst Crime’ of21st Century,” Sputnik International, 10 28, 2015)

In launching his administration’s global “war on terror,” former president Bush declared, “This crusade, this war on terror is going to take a while,  . . . And the American people must be patient. . . . It is time for us to win the first war of the 21stcentury decisively,” he continued,” “so that our children and our grandchildren can live peacefully into the 21stcentury.” (“America’s ‘war on terror’ has cost the US nearly $6 trillion and killed roughly half a million people, and there’s no end in sight,” By John Haitiwanger, Business Insider, Nov. 15, 2018) The word “crusade” had a negative meaning for Muslims, as it harked back to Christianity’s imperialistic wars in the Middle Ages to wrest control of the Holy Land from the Muslim people.  Bush soon corrected his Christian-conditioned slip.

“The war on terror is going to take a while.”  Boston University professor Neta C. Crawford, co-director of the Cost of Wars Project provides a reality check in saying that the Cost of Wars “update just scratches the surface of the human consequences of 17 years of war.” Recognizing the Democrats now have control of the House, she states that “regardless of how Democrats proceed . . . there is a need to keep the public more informed about the consequences of the seemingly endless wars in the Middle East in order to drive demands for improving U.S. foreign policy.” (“New Report Finds Half Million Killed by Global ‘War on Terror,’ “ Ibid)

Not only did former President Obama not call the Bush administration’s bi-partisan-supported illegal invasion of Iraq a crime.  His wife, Michelle Obama, and former president Bush are reported as becoming “best buddies.”  Mrs. Obama is even photographed hugging Bush “at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.”  Dahleen Glanton of the
Chicago Tribune captured the scene: “It wasn’t that long ago that many of us despised Bush.  Now, our hearts appear to have warmed toward the president who led us into the Iraq War.”  Why the change?  Glanton continued: “Perhaps her acceptance of him has allowed us to be more forgiving of him.” (“Michelle Obama and George W. Bush: An Attraction of Opposites,” Sept. 4, 2018)

But Mrs. Obama is not forgiving President Trump.  In her memoir, Becoming, she wrote that Trump’s birther movement attempts to portray Barack Obama as not being born in the USA “was crazy and mean-spirited,” and “also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks . . . putting my family’s safety at risk.  And for this, I’d never forgive him.”  (“The 5 biggest takeaways from Michelle Obama’s revealing new memoir,” By Stavros Agorakis, Vox, Nov. 13, 2018)

Mrs. Obama rightly condemned Donald Trump’s racism and xenophobia that put her family at risk.  But the president she hugged is responsible for needlessly causing untold misery and death in the name of spreading “freedom,” which he repeatedly used to rationalize his war crimes by declaring, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in the world.”  A president who needlessly sacrificed American lives and put so many others at risk. And, instead of prosecuting the Bush administration for its war crimes,  her husband kept Bush’s fraudulent wars going, and ramped up the use of drone warfare that has killed thousands of civilians in various countries.  The victims’ loved ones know how Mrs. Obama feels about President Trump: they have reason never to forgive her husband and George W. Bush and the United States for causing the terrible sadness and misery they have to endure.

Michelle Obama is not the only one who has hugged the worst war criminal of the 21stcentury.  The United Methodist Church was first in line, as George W. Bush is a United Methodist. Never mind that United Methodist Social Principles state: “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ.” (“Social Principles: The World Community,” The United Methodist Church) Evidently an exception can be made if one of your own members, who happened to be president, started the wars, and continues to be viewed as respectable and a source of power and profit.

The United Methodist Church gave Bush a big hug by creating The Georgjjue W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University.  A number of morally motivated United Methodists opposed erecting such a monument to honor the war criminal in their midst.  But the power, attraction and financial profit Bush represented was too attractive for most in the United Methodist hierarchy of bishops and others leaders to turn down.  Besides the status quo had fiddled away any moral awareness and challenging of the US-government’s criminal’s foreign policy called the global “war on terror.”

Rather than seeking to understand the connection between the U.S.’s imperialistic foreign policy and the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seized on the attacks to further militarize America and pursue wars for the profit of military-supported corporations and to maintain its own political power.  And many predatory white evangelical Christian leaders climbed aboard, as they saw the invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to convert Muslims to their brand of Christianity.  In time, the war protests of people of faith faded and accommodation to a militarized status quo set in.

The militarized conditioning is subtle. Today we repeatedly see a TV commercial of a young girl answering the phone, and calling out to her father, “Daddy, Momma’s on the phone!”  And a woman, dressed in a Khaki military uniform, appears on the telephone screen, and happily says to her husband and daughter, “How are you guys?”  And then an AT&T message appears: “AT&T proudly offers discounts to military, veterans, first responders and their families.”  (‘A T & T COMMERCIAL; MAN WAITING PHONE CALL FROM MILITARY WIFE,’ alltvspots.com)  That’s about as homey as you can get to disguise and sell the horrors of war.

A soldier returns from Iraq, and unexpectedly shows up at his son’s grade school to surprise him, much to the delight of teachers and members of his class.  The shocked child’s eyes widen, and he runs to his father’s outstretched arms.  A very human, universal, expression of love.  Enough to cause one not to think about the 4.5 million Iraqi children made orphans by the U.S. invasion. (See “Iraq: The Human Cost,” MIT, mit.edu/humancostiraq)  Nor about the American children orphaned by that falsely-based, unnecessary war.

At athletic events, soldiers and sailors are front and center as guests. With military flyovers providing the invocations at special athletic contests.  The football field has become sacred ground for promoting the battlefield.  Which is another reason why San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is white-balled from the National Football League for his sacrilege in kneeling on holy ground.

Some years ago, I encountered just how conditioned Americans can become to militarization when I went to get a haircut.  The barber and I talked about our histories.  And when I told him that I was in the U.S. Navy in World War II, he replied, “Thank you for your service.”  That was over 45 years ago!

The global “war on terror” has become as American as apple pie.   Whether the Democrats’ control of the House now will lead to a reassessment of the “war on terror” and accountability for it remains to be seen.

But we should not have to keep waiting for Christian faith leaders and their congregations to assess America’s global “war on terror” and to demand accountability from political leaders.  Not only did Jesus tell his followers to welcome strangers, he is recorded as declaring that the “spirit of the Lord . . . has anointed” him “to proclaim good news to the poor . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4: 18)

Faith leaders, by their own professed calling, are to be prophets of the people, and not only chaplains of the status quo.  America fiddles while California and the global “war on terror” burn.

More articles by:

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.

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