On to Normalcy

Photograph Source: USMC Archives – CC BY 2.0

On Veteran’s Day last my chapter of Veterans for Peace/Major General Smedley Butler Brigade, stood out on one of the nation’s most ancient and venerable platforms of dissent, Boston Common. We are an aging group. Once able to marshal hundreds, only 15 of us carried placards condemning war and speaking forcefully against numerous overseas troop deployments. Covid-19 has depopulated downtown Boston but there were enough people moving about for me to realize that few paid us any attention. The pandemic, economic security and the election have obviously been the uppermost concerns of most citizens. Yet, the viral plague should be a wake-up for the public to understand how vulnerable we are to equally alarming threats. We need vaccines for far more than the virus.

Many CounterPunch readers are likely familiar with Major General Smedley Butler but far too few are aware among the broad public, which is why we describe ourselves with his name. It is no accident that he has been erased from ideological history. When I was in Marine basic training in 1965 all of us “boots” were regaled with the heroics of Butler’s career and his two congressional medals- the ultimate badge of “manhood” in our toxic militarized culture. Nothing was ever revealed about his denunciation and excoriation of the military exploits he came to comprehend as raw imperialist exploitation. As one of the few who rose to the heights of the military establishment at the time he remains unique and unheralded to this day. He knew first hand of the deceptions that led to American incursions into the Caribbean, Central America, and China and ultimately World War I. He was, he avowed, “a racketeer for capitalism” and had acted as a “gangster for the bankers.” He revealed to Congress a secret plot by agents of Wall Street to overthrow the election of Franklin Roosevelt that was quickly hushed up and spent the last years of his life condemning what he knew to be surreptitious plans to enter World War-Round II. No other general officer in American history has ever been so honest about the realities of American foreign policy and had the moral courage to speak out. No such rectitude will be forthcoming from the likes of four-star marine generals James Mattis or John Kelly, both now in highly paid retirement as consultants to the very arms corporations that, with Big Oil, and major banks dominate U.S. foreign policy.

A primary reason the U.S. entered World War I was the perception among corporate barons that the occasion of Europe’s self-destruction was a gilded opportunity to insert the U.S. and eventually restructure the global system to the benefit of American capital, to extend the “Open Door” to the entire planet. Indeed, American capital abetted the postwar restitution of Germany’s industry and its ability to rearm, thus a major factor leading to Round Two of the centuries-long inter-imperial war. The U.S. entered that war deceitfully, willing to sacrifice over 400,000 American lives but emerging as the only viable economy, upon which the reconstruction of the planetary system would ensue. World War II also advanced the development and manufacture of cataclysmic weapons, especially nukes, and the profits that accrued to immensely powerful institutions.

For all the blather about how richly the economy was performing before the pandemic ruined everything the reality is that the nature of capitalism relentlessly leads to mal-distribution of public wealth, i.e. the collective assets or capital produced by all working Americans. Incontrovertibly this wealth has for generations been steadily transferred from measures for public good to increasing concentration of ownership and control at the pinnacle of our inequitable and unjust society where they are re-invested in wasteful and dangerous weapons, oil and high technology. The moneyed rich are celebrating the Dow’s crossing into historic territory but the bulletins omit the fact that most of the profits deriving from Wall Street investments end up in the pockets of a mere five percent of the population. The unemployment rate has always been undercounted and dishonest and doesn’t begin to measure the realities of joblessness and hardship for millions who already lived precariously at the edge of disaster. The ongoing public health calamity has made the arduous life in the Other America utterly devastating for those who suffer unemployment, hunger, the loss of medical care, eviction, and a surge in homelessness. As Congress argues about how much of the public weal the profoundly needy should be permitted during the Covid-19 crisis hundreds of billions of tax dollars (and trillions over the decades) are wasted on weapons and preparations for endless.

Even relatively mild opposition from critical opponents of the American regime, like Bernie Sanders, AOC, and their social democratic allies, unsettles the plutocrats because they do comprehend that the bedrock economic resolution to the inequality and injustice the system has always relentlessly engendered is radical redistribution of national wealth and de-concentration from the hands of the opulent few. There can be no shift to a genuine “Green New Deal” unless the colossally profligate military budget is cut. Since a major component of oligarchical plunder derives from the sale of arms nationally and worldwide the plutocrats most definitely desire that citizens do not grasp this connection. Despite the reality that nuclear proliferation, accelerating climate change, renewed ultra-nationalism and the rapacious overexploitation of natural resources require rapid and meaningful attention the ruling classes of every major power continue their endgame of militarized antagonism when international cooperation is the only solution to avert the disaster in the offing. How to shift from global competition and exploitation is really the only pressing matter for the species. If we understand and admit this to ourselves then perhaps we can begin to imagine a pragmatic and viable way out of the dead end we have generated for ourselves.

Every war the United States has waged since 1945 has been based on lies, every one un-necessary, each in truth based on economic and strategic calculations of American domination and exploitation of resources and labor, and accompanied by massive environmental destruction. That means that millions of innocent civilians have died or suffered as have tens of thousands of American troops and civilians deployed to war zones. None of America’s forays into the lands of others had to occur. All have been chosen. Today as the nation celebrates the unseating of Trump, the establishment brays that his refusal to concede the election endangers the nation from afar. No elucidation is forthcoming. Is Washington’s Middle East strategy about to implode? Does Russian cyberwar threaten our undoing? Will the North Koreans conduct yet another nuclear test? Are the Chinese intent on military and economic domination of East Asia in defiance of the American “liberal world order?”

At no time since the War of 1812 has the U.S. been in any military danger from another nation. American troops do not exist to defend the national territory from invasion by other states; no other country could possible succeed even if it attempted. Americans own more weapons than there are people. U.S. armed forces exist to enter other people’s countries, always much weaker, and force them to accept their role in the longstanding global American agenda. Over the last century the Nazis, Stalinists, Maoists and Islamists have all been reviled as mass murderers. Yet we, the “arsenal of democracy,” have also killed and maimed millions of our fellow human beings in the absurd name of human rights and mendacious claims of threats to our “national security.”

Policies pursued by Washington since the end of World War II have inexorably resulted in the escalating nuclear arms race that threatens the extinction of the human species. That horrific potentiality was unleashed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki deliberately to warn and threaten the Soviet Union and the result was the development of the USSR’s own nukes. Since then seven more nations have acquired their own Doomsday weapons and entered the psychopathic race to annihilation. Incessantly, we are told to be on guard against the actions and plans of our perpetual “adversaries” and “enemies” yet we refuse to believe that our own actions and policies provoke their militarized responses. Think of American forces camped literally on the doorstep of Russia; think of the “pivot to Asia,” and the mounting martial chess game over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The end of WWII brought anxiety to the sovereigns of wealth. Would what Dwight Eisenhower later called the “Military Industrial Complex” have to be utterly dismantled? What the nation needed to maintain full employment and corporate profits said the czar of war production in 1944 was “permanent war.” Permanent production for permanent war would inescapably require enemies and there were none on the horizon. This posed a crucial problem. All combatants in Round II of global war, with the singular exception of the U.S., lay in desolation. So then… and now… antagonists were cultivated. The USSR had been an unlikely ally in the war against the Nazis because, contrary to national mythology, the U.S. did not singly defeat the Nazis and could never have defeated that imperial rival alone. But the USSR paid a terrible price with all its major cities destroyed and the loss of nearly 30 million lives. It remained “communist” and therefore closed to the broadening American agenda. Anti-colonial independence movements were also unleashed by the war and presented yet more obstacles to the world order the U.S. elite envisioned for the new American century, a world open to the penetration and profit of American style capitalism on American corporate terms. So Washington claimed that the Soviets were the new Nazis, and during the McCarthy era commies were declared to infest even Washington itself like red termites, thus “scaring hell” out of the American public. Full blown hysteria followed when the Soviets exploded their own nuclear weapon.

When the USSR imploded in 1991 the “National Security State” faced a wilderness devoid of enemies. The initial fix was easy. Saddam Hussein, whom the U.S. had armed to kill Iranians and provided him with the basic elements to produce chemical weapons, became the new Hitler and Iraq and Iraq’s population was reduced to ruin. Saddam was falsely claimed to be allied with al Qaeda which morphed into ISIS as a result of the dishonest invasion of that nation. That newly created threat was soon justified to enlarge the greater Middle East War and the bombing of Syria, of Libya and Yemen ensued, all crafted by the very nominees up for national security positions in the Biden administration today. But it has become apparent that these misadventures won’t keep the war machine busy- or profitable enough. So a new Cold War has been devised and the nemeses are familiar.

Even Henry Kissinger, manifestly no dove and the first to “normalize” relations with China, now warns that the situation between our two nations disturbingly resembles the conditions just prior to the outbreak of WWI. Michele Fluornoy currently the top candidate to become the next and first female Secretary of War ensures her bona fides with the Boys Gun Club along with Hillary, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Gina Haspel, Avril Haines, Condoleeza Rice, Madeleine Albright, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Many women celebrate what they perceive as Biden’s looming fragmentation of the foreign policy glass ceiling but as Arwa Mahdawi wrote in the Guardian, “There is nothing remotely feminist about women in rich countries dropping bombs on women in poor countries.

In her recent article on the matter of Taiwan in the bible of the foreign policy establishment, Foreign Affairs,  Fluornoy opines that the U.S. should develop the “capability to credibly sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines and merchant ships in the South China Sea…Chinese leaders might think twice before, say, launching a blockade or invasion of Taiwan.”

What will the Chinese make of that?

The politicians and punditocracies of both parties never miss a chance to condemn China’s actions but none of the prattle ever notes why China distrusts the U.S and Japan and West in general e.g. the Opium Wars of the 19thcentury; Western incursion in the early 20thCentury and the crushing of the Boxer Rebellion; the tens of millions of Chinese killed in World War II; U.S. secret threats to nuke China during the Korean War among numerous inimical actions. Whatever one thinks of the Chinese system it is a response to almost two centuries of intervention by outsiders. Still branded as “communists” China has actually created a form of capitalism that obstructs the global economic order the U.S. and its allies have been trying to foster since the end of WWII. Though competition is alleged to be the essence of capitalism the fact is that the U.S. corporate oligarchs and their political sycophants will brook no such rivalry- not economically and not militarily. And so the arms race intensifies.  Much ink is expended today, celebrating how technology will save the day and the degree of intelligence and collaboration necessary to achieve such breakthroughs. The unprecedentedly rapid development of the Covid-19 vaccine is a singular example. Can we not find the clear-sightedness and acumen to turn from our rabidly competitive international “system” and arrest its obviously self-destructive outcome?

Recently, China signed a trade agreement with 14 Asian or Pacific nations including Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand to the disadvantage of the U.S. according to Biden. “We make up 25 percent … of the economy in the world,” the president-elect said. “We need to be aligned with the other democracies, another 25 percent or more so that we can set the rules of the road.’ Our unwavering determination to be the top dog is at the heart of the problem.

Heat is rising between Japan and China over some rocks in the sea which both nations claim. Biden, quick to assure the professional hawks who dominate policy and who are certain to be among his policy corps, recently noted that the U.S.’s mutual defense treaty with Japan requires war should another nation attack its ally. On November 17 U.S. long range bombers entered China’s air defense zone as that nation conducted naval drills. Can we imagine the Chinese equivalent near our shores? On the same day the Navy Secretary announced plans to create a new force to be called the First Fleet to patrol the South China Sea. The navy’s Seventh Fleet is already there. Play this scenario out!

Many seem to believe that the dis-election of Trump and Biden’s assertion that “America is back!” will return us to “normal.” Yet our shared unwillingness, and therefore failure, to assess the contrived mythologies shaping the 21st century may turn out to be far more dangerous than the pandemic.


Paul Atwood is the author of War and Empire: the American Way of Life.