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Full-Spectrum Extinction

Photograph Source: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

Last week General Tod Wolder, top gun of the U.S. European Command, declared that “Russia remains an enduring existential threat to the United States and our European allies.” On February 23 President Biden’s choice for Central Intelligence Director, William Burns, testified that “adversarial, predatory Chinese leadership poses our biggest geopolitical test…out-competing China will be key to our national security in the days ahead…requiring intensified focus and urgency.” Newly minted Secretary of Defense, former 4-star General Lloyd Austin, chimed in that China posed the “most significant threat” to the U.S. Military.

Well, which malicious “adversary” is it? Will the Putinoids shortly sink the next American vessel to transit the Black or Barents Seas? Are the ever more malevolent Chinese aiming their new supersonic missile ship killers at the next U.S. carrier to transit the straits of Taiwan?

The Pentagon’s push for “full spectrum dominance” was extolled in the 1990s and it has proceeded full speed. Peace President Obama , having won the Nobel prize before doing anything peaceable, soon asserted his “pivot to the east” in fear of growing Chinese economic and military power. He also initiated the $1 trillion nuclear expansion program, stage managed the bombing and destruction of Libya, and armed the Saudi war in Yemen. Trump may have come close to nuclear war with North Korea but that issue is still on the burner. Not long ago the Pentagon called for a $100 billion development of missiles better able to carry and target nuclear weapons. Last week the U.S. Airforce dispatched B-1 Bombers to Norway that now overfly the Russian base in the Baltic and earlier deployed combat Marine units there as well. Recall that American armed forces are now stationed along Russia’s very borders and the NATO Alliance has essentially encircled Russia and now keens that it must urgently confront the Chinese peril.

It is estimated that the United States spends 40% of the global total devoted to arms purchases. The real military budget is far in excess of the official figure, given numerous secret projects off limits to Congressional inquiry or oversight. Washington easily outspends Russia and China combined. What evidence exists that these two “adversaries” plan any military actions against the U.S.? While we are at it let’s consider the fact that no enemy has invaded the U.S. since 1812, nor is it possible for any country to do. So, what IS the threat? Why are the national security mandarins fixated on military threats? What else could their deliberate employment of the term “existential” mean, especially when their response is to mount and deploy more military hardware to the national boundaries of the antagonists they cultivate?

Russia has sought to dominate its respective sphere for a millennium and China for at least four millennia, both without any indication they are intent on military global dominance. The U.S. has been doing the same in the Western hemisphere by contrast for slightly more than two centuries  and, like a punk adolescent, now believes itself the toughest guy on the geo-political block. The fact of the matter is that neither U.S. opponent threatens the U.S. They don’t station troops on the Mexican border or sail their fleets within sight of Guantanamo or build bases and station troops all over the planet. Primarily they oppose the declared American agenda of global dominance economically and politically, and they certainly are rapidly developing their own capacities for military response to the threat they perceive from the U.S. They do arm and support their own allies, and so does Washington and far more of them.

The only real existential jeopardies to Americans and the rest of the world are the proliferated nukes and from climate change and the stream of critical emergencies for all societies that are sure to ensue, and the intergroup violence that will exacerbate nationalist paranoias and provide fuel for more war. The current Pentagon call for improved  nuclear missiles should illuminate, but woefully does not, the very authentic existential menace that imperils us more critically by the hour. That is if the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is to be taken seriously. But who pays attention to them?

Obviously neither Russia nor China are innocent of crimes against other peoples. But crucially for our collective future is full acknowledgement that neither is the United States. The American public education system writ large teaches most students that their government has been opposed to both Russia and China for the last century because their communist or otherwise totalitarian system deprives their citizens of the freedoms and rights Americans value most and has always posed “threats” to the American way of life. How many pupils have ever learned of the military incursion ordered by President Wilson in tandem with Britain and Japan into Russia in 1918 in hope of strangling the communist infant in its cradle? Had Russian troops ever been on U.S. soil youngsters would learn that fact on the first day of the first grade. How many learn of the incursion of American forces in China at the dawn of the 20th century to throttle a Chinese rebellion against ever increasing western occupation of their land? How many become aware that the U.S threatened to nuke China during the Korean War? Why should we be surprised that both nations have employed their resources to attempt to match and contest the threats they feel from the U.S.?

Flashback to 1940. FDR, the president of the “neutral” U.S., orders covert naval actions in the North Atlantic in support of the British war against the Nazis. He anticipates that if an American vessel is attacked, or sunk, the outrage will tip the public toward acceptance of war. Earlier he has deployed the Pacific Fleet to Hawaii knowing full well that Japan will see this as a threat to the empire it is building in East Asia and so demands its withdrawal from China (or else!) and embargoes Japanese oil and steel, certain that the land of the rising sun will be forced to seek the indispensable fuel and other resources in the Dutch East Indies and French IndoChina. These measures are intended to provoke war. “Sooner or later” he avers, “the Japanese will make a move that will lead to war. “ In fact, American cryptographers have broken large parts of Japanese secret ciphers and know that Japan has decided on war.  Key figures in the U.S. government have prior knowledge of the attack to come at Pearl Harbor. On November 25 FDR tells his top advisers that we are “likely to be attacked as soon as next Monday.” On December 6 the last coded transmission to Tokyo by Japanese spies reads” All clear…no barrage balloons (air defenses) are up…there is an opportunity for a surprise attack against these places.” That same evening before the attack at Pearl harbor Roosevelt tells his closest aid. “This means war.” No warning of imminent assult is sent to commanders in Hawaii. The sacrifice of more than 2000 American lives, and subsequently another 400,000, will be the price of entry into World War II and the consequent prize of American ascendancy.

Of course, at the war’s outset no American planner believed that the entire planet was in existential danger and they also were positive that the U.S. would not suffer the invasions or aerial bombings faced by all the other belligerents. The real reasons the U.S. decided on war, all blather about human rights and “democracy” to the contrary, involved the danger to the American economy in a world shut off to American capital penetration at the moment then of the world’s most critical economic slump. The minor measures of social democracy enacted  throughout the Great Depression had failed so war production was the answer. The Third Reich and Japan posed every probability of creating autarkic zones that would all but shut out American access to markets, resources and cheap labor. The Soviet Union had already done too much of that and since the late 19th Century the U.S. had visualized the “Great China Market.” Japan’s takeover of East Asia precluded that blueprint and threatened to forestall the “American century.”

Well, we know the outcome. Although Japan was seeking surrender so long as the Emperor would not be tried as a war criminal, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were vaporized anyway. FDR had condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians by the other belligerents before the U.S. entered the war but that was then. What the Brits called the “Great Game” of empire proceeds apace. Americans certainly learned little from the most dangerous conflict in the species history. Soon to follow:  Korea, Vietnam, Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and many others now all but forgotten.

Daniel Ellsberg in an interview with The Real News two years ago asserted that it was not the Allied bombing campaign over Germany that thwarted Nazi development of the atomic bomb but, startlingly, that Hitler himself ordered the nascent project to be dropped. Why? Because he grasped the essential fact that the development of such weapons, what Ellsberg calls the ”Doomsday machine” writ large, would lead to all out nuclear war and the cessation of the human experiment on our planet, and necessarily his plans for the 3rd Reich. Apparently he was still naïve enough to think another emerging power would not initiate the preparations for the final day of reckoning, soon to be followed by nine other players, more than enough nukes to accomplish the mission.

These questions beg the real issues, which are that both Russia and China are much the same economic and power obstacles to the “liberal world order” that Germany and Japan did Washington has always claimed to desire and promote but which serves as camouflage and decoy for the real ambition which, to repeat, is Full Spectrum Dominance, a fool’s errand if ever there was. There is nothing humane or liberal about the global order the U.S. desires since the term is proclaimed to mean that democracy and human rights and “free trade” are the paramount values at stake. Tell that to a long list of those who have been favored with America’s paternal care since 1945 wherein the total numbers of deaths are in the millions. As for “existential threat,” the only real such hazard is the increasing probability that the mounting preparations for conflict in the immediate spheres of our “enemies” will result in some spark that will trigger all out war and escalation to species extinction. The geo-political adolescents who wield the power in our country are consumed with its arrogance and all but negate the authentic existential millstone that hangs weightier by the day.

Since our leaders learned nothing from the Cuban Missile Crisis (and many other near misses  like the Able Archer  war “game” of 1983) ought we be surprised  that neither have the mass of the American people. That truly existential crisis is all but forgotten. Few of my undergrads can speak accurately of it, and more than a few have never even heard of it. I still carry the sense of dread I felt as a 15 year old during those 13 days in October 1962. I recall the words of then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that he went to bed on the last night of the crisis fearing that he, and we, would not live to see the dawn.  Members of the “defense” establishment do know something of the extreme and awesome powers they wield. As even former U.S. SecDef William Perry warns, we are far closer to a nuclear holocaust than ever. Do we stand at the brink of Full Spectrum Destruction?

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

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