A Culture of Propaganda

“Contrary to previous readings by historians of the 20th century, which typically described propaganda films as glaringly biased and crude, contemporary historians have argued that filmmakers in propaganda’s coming of age were already educated in the power of subtle suggestion.”
~Christopher Maiytt, A Just Estimate of a Lie

“During the Cold War, it was commonplace to draw the distinction between “totalitarian” and “free” societies by noting that only in the free ones could groups self-organize independently of the state. But many of the groups that made that argument — including the magazines on this left — were often covertly-sponsored instruments of state power, at least in part.”
~Patrick Iber, Literary Magazines for Socialists Funded by the CIA, Ranked

“[Bernd] Scherer said he found fault with the CIA’s cultural programme for the way in which it “functionalised and thus corrupted the term ‘freedom’”, pointing out the paradoxes of an intelligence agency funnelling money to anti-apartheid organisations abroad while helping to sabotage the Black Panther movement at home.”
~Philip Oltermann, Berlin exhibition questions CIA’s influence on global art scene

The subjects of the American Empire are among the most propagandized in the world. And there is a long history of it. Propaganda during World War II was brought back home to be used in the United States, as were counterinsurgency techniques from Southeast Asian wars and covert operations. But few recognize it for what it is, as it filters our entire sense of reality, seeping into every crack and crevice of culture. It’s not merely disinformation. It’s a master narrative that rules our mind as the structures of power rule our lives.

There is a basic truth. In order to maintain the appearance of democracy in a banana republic, it requires maintaining basic levels of comfort so that people don’t question the world around them. This is why a minimal welfare state is necessary, to keep the population barely treading water and so keeping them from outright revolution. It’s the first part of carrot and stick, bread and circus.

Propaganda, as a vast circus, is all the more important to smooth over the bumps and divides. In a democratic society, Jacques Ellul argues in Propaganda, “as the government cannot follow opinion, opinion must follow the government. One must convince this present, ponderous, impassioned mass that the government’s decisions are legitimate and good and that its foreign policy is correct.”

A more blatantly authoritarian society is less reliant on propaganda since violent force maintains control and order. For example, the North Korean regime has little use for extensive and sophisticated methods of mind control and public perception management, since anyone who doesn’t conform and follow orders is simply imprisoned, tortured, or killed. But even in a banana republic such as the United States, violence always is a real threat, the stick for when the carrot fails.

There is a reason the American Empire has the largest military and prison system in history, a reason that it is the only country that has dropped atomic bombs on a human population, a reason it regularly supports terrorist groups and authoritarian regimes while overthrowing democracies. The authoritarian threat is not theoretical but quite real and carried out in punishing vast numbers of people every day, making them into examples — comply or else. Ask the large numbers of Americans who are locked away or ask the populations targeted by the military-industrial complex.

The trick is to turn public attention away from the brutality of raw power. Propaganda offers a story, a pleasant form of indoctrination. All Americans, on some level, know we are ruled by violent authoritarians and homicidal psychopaths. A good story makes us feel better about why we don’t revolt, why we stand by in complicity as millions suffer and die at the hands of the ruling elite, why we allow the theft of hundreds of trillions of dollars and the poisoning of the earth, leaving a horrific inheritance to our children and grandchildren.

Propaganda comes in many forms such as the daily mindless experience of the propaganda model of news or the invasive nature of corporate astroturf. But it has often been implemented as straightforward political rhetoric, propaganda campaigns, and psyops — see COINTELPRO and Operation Mockingbird. And look at the involvement of the CIA and Pentagon in education, art, literature, movies, video games, music, magazines, journals, and much else; even or especially philosophy and literary criticism — see the CIA obsession with postmodernism (CIA and the Cultural Cold War). Not to mention the CIA and FBI infiltration of organized labor, student groups, church organizations, and much else.

Also, one has to wonder about scientific fields as well, the social sciences most of all. Take anthropology (David H. Price, Anthropological Intelligence), such as with the career of Claude Lévi-Strauss. Or think of the less clear example of how the linguist Noam Chomsky criticized the military-industrial complex while essentially being on the payroll of the Pentagon (The Chomsky Problem); this is explored in Chris Knight’s book Decoding Chomsky. Be patient for a moment while we go off on a tangent.

* * *

One interesting detail is how consistent Chomsky has been in denying “conspiracy theories”, despite the fact that much of his own writing could only accurately be described as conspiracy theory, in that he analyzes the history of those who have conspired with various agendas and to various ends. Like many academics today, he seeks to be respectable. But how did alternative thinking become disreputable, even among alternative thinkers?

Although the term “conspiracy theorist” has been around since the 1800s, it was rarely used in the past. This changed following a 1967 CIA memo, in response to the Warren Commission Report, that conspired to control the narrative and manipulate public perception about the John F. Kennedy assassination: “The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists” (declassified CIA memo# 1035-960, “Countering Criticism of the Warren Report“; for more detailed info, read the book Conspiracy Theory in America by Prof. Lance deHaven-Smith).

In overtly advocating for the government to conspire against the public, the memo’s anonymous author directs CIA operatives to, “employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.” Who were these propaganda assets? And why was there such confidence in their power to carry out this conspiracy? Let’s put this in context.

That same year, in 1967, a Ramparts article exposed the CIA funding of the National Student Association. The following decade would lead to the revelations, in the Congressional investigations and reports, that the CIA was working with journalists in the mainstream media, along with connections to civic groups. At around the same time, the CIA Family Jewels report was compiled and, upon its declassification in 2007, it was shown that the CIA had a propaganda program called Operation Mockingbird that involved the media with operations going at least back to the 1960s. This was an extensive covert operation (AKA conspiracy), linked to major news outlets and influential journalists and editors in both the foreign and domestic media — from the Wikipedia article on Operation Mockingbird:

In a 1977 Rolling Stone magazine article, “The CIA and the Media,” reporter Carl Bernstein wrote that by 1953, CIA Director Allen Dulles oversaw the media network, which had major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies.[2] Its usual modus operandi was to place reports, developed from CIA-provided intelligence, with cooperating or unwitting reporters. Those reports would be repeated or cited by the recipient reporters and would then, in turn, be cited throughout the media wire services. These networks were run by people with well-known liberal but pro-American-big-business and anti-Soviet views, such as William S. Paley (CBS), Henry Luce (Time and Life), Arthur Hays Sulzberger (The New York Times), Alfred Friendly (managing editor of The Washington Post), Jerry O’Leary (The Washington Star), Hal Hendrix (Miami News), Barry Bingham, Sr. (Louisville Courier-Journal), James S. Copley (Copley News Services) and Joseph Harrison (The Christian Science Monitor).

This was admitted the year before, in 1976, by the Church Committee’s final report. About foreign media, it stated that, “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets” (Church Committee Final Report, Vol 1: Foreign and Military Intelligence, p. 455).

In our cynicism and passive complicity, we Americans expect that the CIA would be tangled up in all kinds of foreign organizations and many of us support these covert operations, maybe even feeling some pride in the greatness of American imperialism. But the shocking part is that the CIA would do the same in the United States and, sadly, most Americans have been intentionally kept ignorant of this fact (i.e., not typically taught about it as part of American history classes nor often mentioned in the news media and political debates). Read the following and let it sink in.

“Approximately 50 of the [CIA] assets are individual American journalists or employees of U.S. media organizations. Of these, fewer than half are “accredited” by U.S. media organizations … The remaining individuals are non-accredited freelance contributors and media representatives abroad … More than a dozen United States news organizations and commercial publishing houses formerly provided cover for CIA agents abroad. A few of these organizations were unaware that they provided this cover.”

Let’s get back to the CIA pushing the slur of “conspiracy theorists” through these assets. Just because a conspiracy is proven beyond a mere theory, that doesn’t mean it was effective and successful. So, what were the measurable results that followed? Kevin R. Ryan lays out the facts in showing how pivotal was that CIA memo in shifting the media framing — from Do we need another 9/11 conspiracy theory?:

“In the 45 years before the CIA memo came out, the phrase “conspiracy theory” appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times only 50 times, or about once per year. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, the phrase appeared 2,630 times, or about once per week.

“Before the CIA memo came out, the Washington Post and New York Times had never used the phrase “conspiracy theorist.” After the CIA memo came out, these two newspapers have used that phrase 1,118 times. Of course, in these uses the phrase is always delivered in a context in which “conspiracy theorists” were made to seem less intelligent and less rationale than people who uncritically accept official explanations for major events.”

Here is the sad irony. The CIA was always talented at playing two sides against each other. So, as they were using propaganda to weaponize “conspiracy theory” as an attack on critics of authoritarian statism and military imperialism, they were also using propaganda elsewhere to actively push false conspiracy theories to muddy the water. Kathryn S. Olmstead, a history professor at UC Davis, concluded that (Real Enemies, pp. 239-240, 2011),

“Citizens of a democracy must be wary of official and alternative conspiracists alike, demanding proof for the theories. Yet Americans should be most skeptical of official theorists, because the most dangerous conspiracies and conspiracy theories flow from the center of American government, not from the margins of society.

“Since the First World War, officials of the U.S. government have encouraged conspiracy theories, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally. They have engaged in conspiracies and used the cloak of national security to hide their actions from the American people. With cool calculation, they have promoted official conspiracy theories, sometimes demonstrably false ones, for their own purposes. They have assaulted civil liberties by spying on their domestic enemies. If antigovernment conspiracy theorists get the details wrong—and they often do—they get the basic issue right: it is the secret actions of the government that are the real enemies of democracy.”

[See my post Skepticism and Conspiracy.]

In respect to Chomsky, it was asked how alternative thinking became disreputable. This was not always the case. Chomsky is the most well-known left-winger in the world, but he often plays the role of guarding the boundaries of thought and shepherding loose sheep back into the fold, such as in recent elections repeatedly telling Americans to vote for corporatist Democrats. What in the hell is a supposed anarchist doing promoting corporatism? And why is he repeating a CIA talking point in dismissing conspiracy theories and acting condescending toward those he labels as conspiracy theorists?

One insightful answer is suggested by Chris Knight in Decoding Chomsky and it is highly recommended. The argument isn’t about claiming Chomsky is a CIA asset, but let’s remain focused on the point at hand. Left-wingers, earlier last century, were far less concerned about respectability, that is to say they were far more radical. “Around the time of the Second World War,” writes Ron Unz, “an important shift in political theory caused a huge decline in the respectability of any “conspiratorial” explanation of historical events” (American Pravda: How the CIA Invented “Conspiracy Theories”). He goes on to say that,

“For decades prior to that conflict, one of our most prominent scholars and public intellectuals had been historian Charles Beard, whose influential writings had heavily focused on the harmful role of various elite conspiracies in shaping American policy for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many, with his examples ranging from the earliest history of the United States down to the nation’s entry into WWI. Obviously, researchers never claimed that all major historical events had hidden causes, but it was widely accepted that some of them did, and attempting to investigate those possibilities was deemed a perfectly acceptable academic enterprise.”

Following Charles Beard, a new generation of intellectuals and scholars felt the walls closing in. They either quickly learned to submit and conform to the hidden demands of power or else find themselves shut out from polite society or even out of a job. It was the beginning of the era of respectability politics. In controlling the terms of debate, the CIA and other covert interests controlled public debate and hence public perception. The American ruling elite won the Cold War culture war, not only against the Soviet commies but also against the American people.

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“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”
~Sally Kempton, Ben Price’s None Dare Call It Propaganda

“Power is the ability to rule the imagination.”
~Jacques Necker, from Guillaume de Sardes’ Against the hegemony of American art

Pseudo-radicals were allowed to go through the motions of freedom, as long as they toed the line, as long as they demonstrated a properly indoctrinated mind. Then they could be successful and, more importantly, respectable. They simply had to make the Devil’s Bargain of never taking radical action.  Other than that, they could talk all they wanted while remaining safely within the system of the status quo, such as Chomsky regularly appearing on corporate media — he has admitted that the system maintains control of what he is allowed to communicate.

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient,” Chomsky fully understood, “is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” This how a system of propaganda becomes internalized with barriers erected in the mind. “With the help of propaganda,” Jacques Ellul writes,

“one can do almost anything, but certainly not create the behavior of a free man or, to a lesser degree, a democratic man. A man who lives in a democratic society and who is subjected to propaganda is being drained of the democratic content itself – of the style of democratic life, understanding of others, respect for minorities, re-examination of his own opinions, absence of dogmatism. The means employed to spread democratic ideas make the citizen, psychologically, a totalitarian man. The only difference between him and a Nazi is that he is a ‘totalitarian man with democratic convictions,’ but those convictions do not change his behavior in the least. Such contradiction is in no way felt by the individual for whom democracy has become a myth and a set of democratic imperatives, merely stimuli that activate conditioned reflexes. The word democracy, having become a simple incitation, no longer has anything to do with democratic behavior. And the citizen can repeat indefinitely ‘the sacred formulas of democracy’ while acting like a storm trooper.”

So, there was a closing of the American mind and a silencing of radical thought during the early Cold War. That is no surprise, but what is surprising is how leading radicals were not eliminated so much as neutered and house-trained. The conspiracy theory is that this was an intentional outcome, what the CIA was hoping to achieve. So, was that 1967 CIA memo part of a propaganda campaign? It would be hard to absolutely prove in terms of what specific actions were taken, even as the memo itself seems to admit to it and even as we know the CIA was using every dirty trick in the book. We will never fully and exactly know what were all those CIA assets doing within the world of media and culture.

Besides, it’s not always clear what is or is not propaganda, as the deep state has its hands in almost every aspect of society with its influences being pervasive if often subtle. But what can’t be denied is that, both when intentional or as a side effect, this has a propagandastic-like effect in shaping thought in the public mind and among intellectuals, writers, and artists. We are talking about immense amounts of money (and other resources) sloshing about determining which research gets funding, which articles get into journals, which books get published, which movies get made.

This is subterfuge at the highest level. One has to wonder about entirely other areas. Consider plutocratic and corporatist philanthropy, often combined with greenwashing and control of food systems, overlapping with big ag, big oil, and, of course, big food. Think about why the government and corporations have been so interested in manipulating the American diet since the world war era, coinciding with agricultural subsidies to artificially create cheap agricultural products (refined flour, corn syrup, etc) to be used as ingredients in mass-produced and industrially-processed foods.

Then look to something recent like the propagandistic EAT-Lancet report that argues for the need of authoritarian measures to control the global diet for reasons of ‘environment’ and ‘health’; and when one looks to the backers of this agenda, one finds transnational corporations, not only big farm and big food but other industries as well. It is a corporate narratizing to co-opt the environmentalist left, but it is being done through a respectable and powerful scientific institution, The Lancet Journal, that informs government policies.

In the American Empire, this has been a shared project of business and government. Ever since the early modern revolutionary era, the reactionaries — not only right-wing authoritarians and conservatives but also right-wing bourgeois liberals — have incessantly co-opted left-wing rhetoric, tactics, and cultural image (The Many Stolen Labels of the Reactionary Mind; & Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter). They simultaneously co-opt the left as they attack the left, essentially playing both sides and determining the field of play so as to control the game; and hence controlling the outcome, choosing the winners.

This has particularly been true of reactionaries in power. For an obvious example, think of president Donald Trump speaking the progressive language of the New Deal and so co-opting the public outrage of economic populism. Or worse still, look back to Joseph Stalin who, as a right-wing ultra-nationalist, co-opted the communist movement in Russia and used it to rebuild the Russian Empire; and in the process silenced radical leftists (unionsts, syndicalists, Trotskyists, Marxists, feminists, etc) by imprisonment, banishment, and death.

The American Imperialists didn’t necessarily oppose Stalin because of ideology, as they opposed those same radical leftists, but because the Soviet Union was seen as a competing global superpower. As for Stalin, he had no aspirations to attack the West and, instead, hoped to become trading partners with his wartime allies (Cold War Ideology and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies). The problem is, with the Nazis gone, the American Imperialists needed a new boogeyman for purposes of domestic social control, as authoritarian oppression at home always needs an externalized rationalization, a group to be scapegoated or an enemy to be fought — then again, many American oligarchs were pro-Nazi before the war and remained so afterwards. The Cold War right from the start was a propaganda campaign, albeit one that got out of control and nearly turned into a nuclear holocaust.

As one person put it, “It took a lot of mental gymnastics to transform the Soviet Union from an anti-fascist ally into an enemy, and CIA was created in part to do a lot of the heavy lifting” (comment by rararoadrunner). To create and maintain political power and social control requires narrative dominance combined with mass spectacle. The Cold War was better than a real war, in that it could be drawn out for decades. It helped to politically justify the immense money going into the deep state. The first purpose of propaganda is to persuade the public that the propagandists are necessary.

Most propaganda, though, has been so successful because it remains hidden in plain sight, influencing us without our awareness — framing and precluding what we think, and so not overtly appearing to tell us what to think. Sure, there was plenty of silencing going on during the Cold War witch hunts, from McCarthyism to corporate blackballing, but the CIA played the long game of instead making certain voices louder, to drown out all else. Controlling and co-opting the political left has turned out to be a much more effective strategy in castrating opposition and replacing it with a controlled opposition. It was ideological warfare as cannibalism, taking on the power of one’s enemies by consuming them.

The radical became tainted by this masquerade of con men manipulating and posing as what they are not. Combined with outright infiltration and sabotage on American soil (e.g., COINTELPRO), not to mention assassinations (e.g., Fred Hampton), this multi-pronged approach to social control and perception management has had a devastating effect. Reactionary forces and mindsets successfully infiltrated the political left and have maintained their hold, creating conflict and division with the left turned against itself. This took the punch out of leftist critique and organizing — the demoralization has lingered ever since. From The CIA Reads French Theory, Gabriel Rockhill writes:

“Even theoreticians who were not as opposed to Marxism as these intellectual reactionaries have made a significant contribution to an environment of disillusionment with transformative egalitarianism, detachment from social mobilization and “critical inquiry” devoid of radical politics. This is extremely important for understanding the CIA’s overall strategy in its broad and profound attempts to dismantle the cultural left in Europe and elsewhere. In recognizing it was unlikely that it could abolish it entirely, the world’s most powerful spy organization has sought to move leftist culture away from resolute anti-capitalist and transformative politics toward center-left reformist positions that are less overtly critical of US foreign and domestic policies. In fact, as Saunders has demonstrated in detail, the Agency went behind the back of the McCarthy-driven Congress in the postwar era in order to directly support and promote leftist projects that steered cultural producers and consumers away from the resolutely egalitarian left. In severing and discrediting the latter, it also aspired to fragment the left in general, leaving what remained of the center left with only minimal power and public support (as well as being potentially discredited due to its complicity with right-wing power politics, an issue that continues to plague contemporary institutionalized parties on the left).”

Then again, this is a positive sign of potential power. The OSS before and the CIA later on would not have spent so many resources for something that was not of an ultimate threat. The ideals and principles of leftist radicalism is inherently anti-authoritarian and the the intelligence agencies are inherently authoritarian; those are the terms of the fight. Even as the political left appears weak and has lost confidence, it remains a potent danger to authoritarian regimes like the American Empire. The culture war continues, the war over hearts and minds.

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In this concluding section, let’s look further into the (socio-)cultural aspect of the propagandistic culture wars. We’ll start with a personal or rather familial example and an interesting historical note.

Our father grew up in Alexandria, Indiana. It’s a small farm community that once was a small bustling factory town. There used to be many towns like it. That is why it was chosen to be designated, “Small Town USA“. This was part of a propaganda program set up by the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. Pamphlets were made of life in Alexandria as the utopian ideal of American-style capitalism. During the Second World War, these pamphlets were distributed throughout Europe. So, the so-called Cultural Cold War had begun before the Cold War itself.

By the way, Alexandria has remained true to being representative of the United States. It has declined into poverty and unemployment, having gone from a labor union town that was a Democratic stronghold to more recently supporting Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential victory. The sense of pride once elicited by that propaganda campaign became a point of shame that Trump was then able to take advantage of with his own rhetoric, Make American Great Again. The myth of the American Dream, even if a fantasy and often a nightmare, remains powerful capitalist propaganda in how it echoes across the generations. The Cold War lives on.

Much of the Cold War propaganda was about branding. And it’s interesting to note that the rhetoric used by the United States and the Soviet Union were often so similar, in both presenting an image of freedom. The Soviets loved to point out that the poor and minorities in America experienced very much the opposite of freedom, especially in the early Cold War when there were still lynchings, sundown towns, redlining, and Jim Crow. And much of that prejudice targeted not only blacks but also Jews, Catholics, and ethnic Americans (e.g., along with Japanese-Americans, innocent Italian-Americans and German-Americans were likewise rounded up into internment camps).

Think about what propaganda is in terms of branding. Sure, the American ruling elite were attempting to gain cultural influence, especially in Western Europe. That was important, but more important was creating a new American identity and to uphold an ideal of American culture. That was the problem since prior to the world war era the United States was not seen as having its own distinct culture. This is why American Studies was created in colleges involving professors who worked for the CIA, sometimes as spymasters (Early Cold War Liberalism), largely to indoctrinate American students, if also to spy on foreign students and to do other work such as textual analysis.

We tend to think of branding, in the corporate world, as targeting customers and prospective customers. But Nick Westergaard, in Brand Now, argues that only represents the outer layer of targeted influence. First and foremost, branding needs to become an identity that employees internalize, from entry-level workers to upper management. Our father worked in factory management and later became a professor in the same. He did some consulting work in later years, as did an associate of his. This associate told him that this was the primary purpose of the 1980s Ford advertising campaign, “Quality is Job #1” in that it was primarily intended to inculcate an image of employee identity. It’s about corporate culture, essentially no different than the patriotism of nationalistic culture that is promoted by government propaganda. The point is to make people into true believers who will defend and embody the official dogma, whether to be good workers or good citizens.

It’s only after creating a culture as a self-contained and self-reinforcing worldview that those in power can then extend their influence beyond it. But here is the thing. Those in power are the greatest targets of propaganda, as they are the influencers of society (Hillsdale’s Imprimis: Neocon Propaganda). If you can get them to truly believe the ruling ideology or else to mindlessly repeat the talking points for personal gain, those propaganda messages and memes will spread like a contagious disease. And they get others to believe them by acting as if they believe — the con man first has to con himself, as Jack Black (the early 20th century author, not the actor) observed in his memoir You Can’t Win. C. J. Hopkins writes (Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works):

“Chief among the common misconceptions about the way official propaganda works is the notion that its goal is to deceive the public into believing things that are not “the truth” (that Trump is a Russian agent, for example, or that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or that the terrorists hate us for our freedom, et cetera). However, while official propagandists are definitely pleased if anyone actually believes whatever lies they are selling, deception is not their primary aim.

“The primary aim of official propaganda is to generate an “official narrative” that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point. The point is to draw a Maginot line, a defensive ideological boundary, between “the truth” as defined by the ruling classes and any other “truth” that contradicts their narrative.”

It’s a similar methodology for why corporations spend so much money on astroturf and lobbying, especially in influencing doctors, health experts, government officials, academic researchers, etc (Sharyl Attkisson, Astroturf and manipulation of media messages). A lot of corporate funding goes to scientific journals, scientific conventions, and further education for professionals. Even more money gets thrown around to pay for fake news articles, fake positive reviews, fake social media accounts, etc. All of this to create an image and then to discredit anyone who challenges this image. Between the private and public sectors, this is an all-out propaganda onslaught from hundreds, if not thousands, of government agencies, corporations, lobbyist organizations, special interest groups, think tanks, and on and on.

“I am an intellectual thug who has slowly been accumulating a private arsenal with every intention of using it. In a mindless age, every insight takes on the character of a lethal weapon.”‬

‪Marshall McLuhan to Ezra Pound,‬ ‪letter, June 22, 1951‬.

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Let me give an example of private censorship by powerful corporations, as a type of negative propaganda where public perception is shaped not only by what Americans were allowed to see but by what was omitted and eliminated from view. It’s often forgotten that most of the oppressive actions during the Cold War were taken by big biz, not big gov, including but not limited to blackballing. In the documentary Red Hollywood, there is discussion of the 1954 independent film Salt of the Earth. It was written, directed, and produced by three men on the Hollywood blacklist in being alleged Communists. The narrator of the documentary described its groundbreaking significance:

“But only after the blacklist had forced them outside the studio system could Hollywood Communists make a film in which working-class women stood up and demanded equality. No Hollywood film had ever shown a strike from the workers’ point of view. No Hollywood film had ever portrayed a strike as just and rational. No Hollywood film had ever given Chicanos the leading parts and put Anglos in subordinate roles. No Hollywood film had ever shown women courageously and effectively taking over the work of men. Salt of the Earth broke all these taboos, but it never reached its intended public.”

Then the documentary cuts to an interview with Paul Jarrico, the producer of Salt of the Earth. He explained that,

“After the opening in New York where the picture was well-received, not only by an audience who packed the theater for nine weeks, I think, or 10, but by good reviews in the New York Times, and Time magazine, and other journals. And a number of exhibitors said they wanted to play the picture, and then one by one they were pressured by the majors: ‘You play that picture and you’ll never get another RKO picture.’ ‘You play that picture, you’ll never get another MGM picture.’ And one by one, they backed out. The original intent when we formed the company was to make a number of films using the talents of blacklisted people. But we lost our shirts on Salt of the Earth and that was the end of that noble experiment. In a way, it’s the grandfather of independent filmmaking in the United States. I mean, there’ve been a lot of independent films since, but we didn’t make them.”

This is how alternative voices were silenced, again and again. In their place, films that toed the line were promoted. Through control of the film industry and backing by government, the major film companies were able to have near total control of the indoctrination of American citizens. That is but one example among many.

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Hearts, Minds, and Dollars
by David Kaplan

A Lost Opportunity to Learn Lessons from the Cultural Cold War
by Steve Slick

How the CIA Really Won Hearts and Minds Naïve
by J.P. O’Malley

The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited
by James Petras

The CIA and the Media
by Carl Bernstein

A Propaganda Model
by Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky

The CIA and the Press: When the Washington Post Ran the CIA’s Propaganda Network
by Jeffrey St. Clair

Murdoch, Scaife and CIA Propaganda
by Robert Parry

Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’
by Frances Stonor Saunders

The CIA as Art Patron
by Lenni Brenner

Washington DC’s role behind the scenes in Hollywood goes deeper than you think
by Matthew Alford

Hollywood and the Pentagon
by Jacobin Editors

EXCLUSIVE: Documents expose how Hollywood promotes war on behalf of the Pentagon, CIA and NSA
by Tom Secker

ROI: Does the Pentagon Fund Movies?
from Spy Culture

How Many Movies has the Pentagon Prevented from Being Made?
from Spy Culture

CIA helped shape ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’ series into bigoted Venezuela regime change fantasy
by Max Blumenthal

How the Pentagon and CIA push Venezuela regime-change propaganda in video games
by Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton

“Invading Your Hearts and Minds”: Call of Duty® and the (Re)Writing of Militarism in U.S. Digital Games and Popular Culture
Frédérick Gagnon

Arts Armament: How the CIA Secretly Shaped The Arts in America
by Theodore Carter

The CIA-Soviet Culture Wars That Shaped American Art
by Juliana Spahr

Was modern art a weapon of the CIA?
by Alastair Sooke

Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’
by Frances Stonor Saunders

Modern art is a sham
by Arthur B. Alexi

The Occult War of Art
from Cult Of Frogs

The battle for Picasso’s mind
by Matthew Holman

Picasso and the CIA
by Susan Adler

How Jackson Pollock and the CIA Teamed Up to Win The Cold War
by Michael R. McBride

Postmodern philosopher Judith Butler repeatedly donated to ‘top cop’ Kamala Harris
by Ben Norton

The CIA Assesses the Power of French Post-Modern Philosophers: Read a Newly Declassified CIA Report from 1985
by Josh Jones

Why the CIA Cares About Marxism
by Michael Barker

Why the CIA Loved French New Left Philosophy, and Why They Were Wrong
from Spy Culture

Is Literature ‘the Most Important Weapon of Propaganda’?
by Nick Romeo

Literary Magazines for Socialists Funded by the CIA, Ranked
by Patrick Iber

The CIA Helped Build the Content Farm That Churns Out American Literature
by Brian Merchant

How Iowa Flattened Literature
by Eric Bennett

Hijack: The CIA and Literary Culture
by Antony Loewenstein

How the CIA Infiltrated the World’s Literature
by Mary von Aue

How the CIA Helped Shape the Creative Writing Scene in America
by Josh Jones

‘Workshops of Empire,’ by Eric Bennett
by Timothy Aubry

Silent Coup: How the CIA is Welcoming Itself Back Onto American University Campuses
by David Price

The science of spying: how the CIA secretly recruits academics
by Daniel Golden

Propaganda and Disinformation: How the CIA Manufactures History
by Victor Marchetti

The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America – Part 1 & Part 2
by Nancy Hanover

These are the propaganda ad campaigns that made socialism seem un-American
by Oana Godeanu-Kenworth

FBI Uses “Cute” Propaganda Campaign to Justify Civil Asset Forfeiture
by Jose Nino

An Empire of Shame

America as an empire. This has long been a contentious issue, going back to the colonial era, first as a debate over whether Americans wanted to remain a part of the British Empire and later as a debate over whether Americans wanted to create a new empire. We initially chose against empire with the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation. But then we chose for empire with the Constitution that allowed (pseudo-)Federalists to gain power and reshape the new government.

Some key Federalists openly talked about an American Empire. For the most part, though, American leaders have kept their imperial aspirations hidden behind rhetoric, even as our actions were obviously imperialistic. Heck, an Anti-Federalist like Thomas Jefferson took the imperialistic action of the Louisiana Purchase, a deal between one empire and another. Imperial expansionism continued through the 19th century and into the 20th century with numerous military interventions, from the Indian Wars to the Banana Wars. Not a year has gone by in American history when we weren’t involved in a war of aggression.

Yet it still is hard for Americans to admit that we are an empire. I’ve had numerous discussions with my conservative father on this topic. At times, he has surprisingly admitted we are an empire, but usually he is resistant. In our most recent debate, it occurred to me that the resistance is motivated by shame. We don’t want to admit we are an empire because we are ashamed of our government’s brutal use of power on our behalf. And shame is a powerful force. People will do and allow the most horrific actions out of shame.

Empires of the past tended to be projects built on pride and honor, of brazen rule through force. We Americans, instead, feel the need to hide our imperialism behind an image of benign and reluctant power. The difference is Americans, ever since we were colonists, have had an inferiority complex. It makes us both yearn for greatness and fear mockery. Our country is the young teenager that must prove himself, while not yet having the confidence to really believe in himself. So, we act slyly as an empire with implicit threats and backroom manipulations, proxy wars and covert operations, puppet governments and corporatist front groups. Then, when these morally depraved actions come to light, we rationalize why they were exceptions or why we were being forced to do so because of circumstances. It’s not our fault. We don’t want to hurt others, but we had no other choice. Besides, we were defending freedom and free markets, that is why we constantly intervene in other countries and endlessly kill innocents. It is for the greater good. We are willing to make this self-sacrifice on the behalf of others. We are the real victims.

I regularly come across quotes from American leaders who publicly or privately complained about our government, who spoke of failure and betrayal. This has included presidents and other political officials going back to the beginning of the country. Think of Jefferson and Adams in their later years worrying about the fate of the American experiment, that maybe we Americans didn’t have what it takes, that maybe we aren’t destined to be great. The sense of inferiority has haunted our collective imagination for so long that it is practically a defining feature. Despite our being the largest empire in world history, we don’t have the self-certain righteousness to declare ourselves an empire. That is why we get the false and weak bravado of someone like Donald Trump — sadly, he represents our country all too well. Then again, so did Hillary Clinton represent our country in her suppressing wages in Haiti so that U.S. companies would have cheap foreign labor (i.e., corporate wage slavery), the kind of actions the U.S. does all the time in secret in order to maintain control. We have talent for committing evil with a smiling face… or nervous laughter.

Rather than clear power asserted with pride and honor, the United States government acts like a bully on the world stage. We are constantly trying to prove ourselves. And our denial of imperialism is gaslighting, to make anyone feel crazy if they dare voice the truth of what we are. We tell others that we are the good guys. What we really are trying to do is to convince ourselves of our own bullshit. This causes a nervousness in the public mind, a fear that we might be found out. We are paralyzed by our shame and it gets tiring in our trying to keep up the pretense. The facade is crumbling. Our inner shame has become public such that now we are the shame of the world. That probably means our leaders will soon start a war to divert attention, and both main parties will be glad for the diversion.

There is a compelling argument made by James Gilligan in Preventing Violence. Among other things, he sees as a key cause to interpersonal violence is shame. And that there is something particularly shame-inducing about our society, especially for those on the bottom of society. He is attempting to explain violent crime. But what occurs to me is that our leaders are just as violent, if not more violent. It’s simply that those who make the laws determine which violence is legal and which violence illegal, their own violence being in the former category as it is implemented through the state or with the support of the state. Maybe it is shame that causes our government to be so violent toward foreign populations and toward the American population. And maybe shame is what causes American citizens to remain silent in their complicity, as the violent is done in their name.

Evil Empire

“The U.S. state is a key point of condensation for pressures from dominant groups around the world to resolve problems of global capitalism and to secure the legitimacy of the system overall. In this regard, “U.S.” imperialism refers to the use by transnational elites of the U.S. state apparatus to continue to attempt to expand, defend, and stabilize the global capitalist system. We are witness less to a “U.S.” imperialism per se than to a global capitalist imperialism. We face an empire of global capital, headquartered, for evident historical reasons, in Washington.”
~ William I. Robinson, Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, p. 122

“We can boil down the problem of terrorism to its purest expression: [we] kill them, so they try to kill us. Since World War Two, the United States is said to have had a direct hand in the death of millions of people worldwide, either through direct intervention or clandestine activities. William Blum’s Rogue State and James Lucas’s thoroughgoing look at interventions and death tolls in 37 countries are both instructive references. And yet at least two factors prevent Americans from recognizing the bloody global footprint of its government. One is the most sophisticated propaganda system in history. Another may be the fact that our crimes are not the work of a single, deranged despot, a Hitler or a Stalin, but rather the collective accomplishment of many men within a system of imperial capitalism that often disguises its brutality. We have a pantheon of iniquities enacted by men that better resemble Adolf Eichmann than Adolf Hitler. We might heed Hannah Arendt’s warning of the “banality of evil.” Empire, too, seen from within, appears banal.”
~ Jason Hirthler, Paris and the Soldiers of the Caliphate

“If this was earlier last century and I was describing Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany, or Fascist Italy, few Americans would pause for a second to call such a government an evil empire or at least an authoritarian regime.”
~ Benjamin D. Steele, The Sun Never Sets On The American Empire

2014 Gallup International poll: US #1 threat to world peace
by Carl Herman, Washington’s Blog

Gallup International’s poll of 68 countries for 2014 found the US as the greatest threat to peace in the world, voted three times more dangerous to world peace than the next country.

Among Americans, we overall voted our own nation as the 4th most dangerous to peace, and with demographics of students and 18-24 year-olds also concluding the US as the world’s greatest threat.

Opinion aside, we can objectively evaluate the US threat to peace, as younger Americans seem to be doing:

* * *

Seeing Our Wars for the First Time
by Tom Engelhardt

The Costs of War Project has produced not just a map of the war on terror, 2015-2017 (released at TomDispatch with this article), but the first map of its kind ever. It offers an astounding vision of Washington’s counterterror wars across the globe: their spread, the deployment of U.S. forces, the expanding missions to train foreign counterterror forces, the American bases that make them possible, the drone and other air strikes that are essential to them, and the U.S. combat troops helping to fight them. (Terror groups have, of course, morphed and expanded riotously as part and parcel of the same process.)

A glance at the map tells you that the war on terror, an increasingly complex set of intertwined conflicts, is now a remarkably global phenomenon. It stretches from the Philippines (with its own ISIS-branded group that just fought an almost five-month-long campaign that devastated Marawi, a city of 300,000) through South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and deep into West Africa where, only recently, four Green Berets died in an ambush in Niger.

No less stunning are the number of countries Washington’s war on terror has touched in some fashion. Once, of course, there was only one (or, if you want to include the United States, two). Now, the Costs of War Project identifies no less than 76 countries, 39% of those on the planet, as involved in that global conflict. That means places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya where U.S. drone or other air strikes are the norm and U.S. ground troops (often Special Operations forces) have been either directly or indirectly engaged in combat. It also means countries where U.S. advisers are training local militaries or even militias in counterterror tactics and those with bases crucial to this expanding set of conflicts. As the map makes clear, these categories often overlap.

Who could be surprised that such a “war” has been eating American taxpayer dollars at a rate that should stagger the imagination in a country whose infrastructure is now visibly crumbling? In a separate study, released in November, the Costs of War Project estimated that the price tag on the war on terror (with some future expenses included) had already reached an astronomical $5.6 trillion. Only recently, however, President Trump, now escalating those conflicts, tweeted an even more staggering figure: “After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!” (This figure, too, seems to have come in some fashion from the Costs of War estimate that “future interest payments on borrowing for the wars will likely add more than $7.9 trillion to the national debt” by mid-century.) […]

Let me repeat this mantra: once, almost seventeen years ago, there was one; now, the count is 76 and rising. Meanwhile, great cities have been turned into rubble; tens of millions of human beings have been displaced from their homes; refugees by the millions continue to cross borders, unsettling ever more lands; terror groups have become brand names across significant parts of the planet; and our American world continues to be militarized. […]

We are now in an era in which the U.S. military is the leading edge — often the only edge — of what used to be called American “foreign policy” and the State Department is being radically downsized. American Special Operations forces were deployed to 149 countries in 2017 alone and the U.S. has so many troops on so many bases in so many places on Earth that the Pentagon can’t even account for the whereabouts of 44,000 of them. There may, in fact, be no way to truly map all of this, though the Costs of War Project’s illustration is a triumph of what can be seen.

* * *

US Has Killed More Than 20 Million In 37 Nations Since WWII
By James A. Lucas, Popular Resistance

The causes of wars are complex. In some instances nations other than the U.S. may have been responsible for more deaths, but if the involvement of our nation appeared to have been a necessary cause of a war or conflict it was considered responsible for the deaths in it. In other words they probably would not have taken place if the U.S. had not used the heavy hand of its power. The military and economic power of the United States was crucial.

This study reveals that U.S. military forces were directly responsible for about 10 to 15 million deaths during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the two Iraq Wars. The Korean War also includes Chinese deaths while the Vietnam War also includes fatalities in Cambodia and Laos.

The American public probably is not aware of these numbers and knows even less about the proxy wars for which the United States is also responsible. In the latter wars there were between nine and 14 million deaths in Afghanistan, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Guatemala, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sudan.

But the victims are not just from big nations or one part of the world. The remaining deaths were in smaller ones which constitute over half the total number of nations. Virtually all parts of the world have been the target of U.S. intervention.

The overall conclusion reached is that the United States most likely has been responsible since WWII for the deaths of between 20 and 30 million people in wars and conflicts scattered over the world.

To the families and friends of these victims it makes little difference whether the causes were U.S. military action, proxy military forces, the provision of U.S. military supplies or advisors, or other ways, such as economic pressures applied by our nation. They had to make decisions about other things such as finding lost loved ones, whether to become refugees, and how to survive.

And the pain and anger is spread even further. Some authorities estimate that there are as many as 10 wounded for each person who dies in wars. Their visible, continued suffering is a continuing reminder to their fellow countrymen.

It is essential that Americans learn more about this topic so that they can begin to understand the pain that others feel. Someone once observed that the Germans during WWII “chose not to know.” We cannot allow history to say this about our country. The question posed above was “How many September 11ths has the United States caused in other nations since WWII?” The answer is: possibly 10,000.

Comment by Maxwell (from comments section):

This is an excellent piece and an excellent starting point for such an undertaking. I would suggest that the initial figure presented, 20 million, is a gross underestimation of the actual total. The reasons the figure is low in my opinion is that arriving at an accurate figure is an impossible task due to the nature of US foreign policy over the last several decades, the nature of weaponry in recent times and many other factors that are difficult to precisely quantify. I will cite a few examples of what I mean and I’m sure others could and will add to the list.

Examples:

1) How do you measure the number of deaths that go on the tab of the US when it arms various groups that are purportedly fighting a “civil war”- many examples of this abound through Africa and the Middle East in particular;

2) How do you measure the number of people killed by non-military US foreign policy, one example would be the case of Haiti- certainly through the years many thousands of Haitians have perished as a direct result of US foreign policy- the list of countries that would fall into this category is very long;

3) How do you accurately measure the legacy of US warring and weaponry even after the “fighting” has ended. The dislocation and social upheaval is massive and it takes decades for recovery during which the premature deaths go into the thousands. Add to this the toxic legacy of various munitions such as Napalm, Depleted Uranium and so forth and we can safely say many thousands more must be added to this macabre list.

There are many more examples like those I listed and certainly an attempt to include these things could be done. Suffice it to say when all of the death and destruction that has come at the hands of the US National Security State over the last 100 years is accurately totaled the figure is staggering. Go back further and include the Slave Trade and genocide of the original inhabitants and one must conclude the the founding ideals of “America” are that of a Death Star.

* * *

Horrors Wrought On The World Since 9/11
by Nicolas Davies, Popular Resistance

To briefly take stock of 14 years of war, which our leaders launched and continue to justify as a response to terrorism:

-The U.S. and its allies have conducted over 120,000 air strikes against seven countries, exploding fundamentalist jihadism from its original base in Afghanistan to an active presence in all seven countries and beyond.

-We have invaded and occupied Afghanistan for 14 years, Iraq for over 8 years, and destroyed Libya, Syria and Yemen for good measure.

-By conservative estimates, U.S.-led wars have killed about 1.6 million people, mostly civilians. That is 500 times the number of people killed by the original crimes in the U.S. Disproportionate use of force and geographic expansion of the conflict by our side has ensured an endless proliferation of violence on all sides.

War, occupation and human rights abuses have driven 59.5 million people from their homes, more than at any time since the Second World War.

-Since 2001, the U.S. has borrowed and spent $3.3 trillion in additional military spending to pay for the largest unilateral military build-up in history, but less than half the extra funding has been spent on current wars. (See Carl Conetta’s 2010 paper, “An Undisciplined Defense”, for more analysis of the Pentagon’s “spending surge.”)

When U.S. support for Muslim fundamentalist jihadis in Afghanistan led to the most catastrophic blowback in our history on September 11th 2001, our government declared a “global war on terror” against them. But less than a decade later, it once again began recruiting, training and arming Muslim fundamentalists to fight in Libya and Syria. The U.S. also made the largest arms sale in history to Saudi Arabia, which is already ruled by a dynasty of Muslim fundamentalists and whose role in the crimes of September 11th remains a closely guarded secret. It was only when IS invaded Iraq in 2014 that the U.S. government was finally forced to rethink its covert support for such groups in Syria. It has yet to seriously reconsider its alliances with their state sponsors: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and other Arab monarchies.

Throughout the past 14 years, whenever the fear of terrorism has temporarily receded, our government has quickly redirected its threats and uses of military force, covert operations and propaganda to a completely different purpose: destabilizing and overthrowing a laundry-list of internationally recognized governments, in Venezuela, Iraq, Honduras, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and around the world. In these operations, our government has never balked at allying with violent groups whom it would be quick to condemn as “terrorists” if they were on the other side. We are being treated to a new version of President Reagan’s comical division of violent groups into “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” based on their relationship to U.S. policy, with patriotic Iraqis resisting the illegal invasion of their country as “terrorists” and armed neo-Nazis in Ukraine as “protesters” and now part of a new “National Guard.

* * *

90% of All Deaths In War Are CIVILIANS
by WashingtonsBlog

The June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health  notes (free PDF here; hat tip David Swanson):

  • Around 90% of all deaths in war are civilians:

“The proportion of civilian deaths and the methods for classifying deaths as civilian are debated, but civilian war deaths constitute 85% to 90% of casualties caused by war, with about 10 civilians dying for every combatant killed in battle.”

  • Swanson notes: “A top defense of war is that it must be used to prevent something worse, called genocide. Not only does militarism generate genocide rather than preventing it, but the distinction between war and genocide is a very fine one at best.”
  • The U.S. launched 201 out of the 248 armed conflicts since the end of WWII:

“Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq ….”

  • U.S. military spending dwarfs all other countries:

“The United States is responsible for 41% of the world’s total military spending. The next largest in spending are China, accounting for 8.2%; Russia, 4.1%; and the United Kingdom and France, both 3.6%. . . . If all military . . . costs are included, annual [US] spending amounts to $1 trillion . . . . According to the DOD fiscal year 2012 base structure report, ‘The DOD manages global property of more than 555,000 facilities at more than 5,000 sites, covering more than 28 million acres.’ The United States maintains 700 to 1000 military bases or sites in more than 100 countries. . . .”

* * *

“We’re at War!” — And We Have Been Since 1776: 214 Years of American War-Making
by Danios, Loon Watch

The U.S., in the name of fighting terror, is waging seemingly Endless War in the Muslim world.   The “We are at War” mentality defines a generation of Americans, with many young adults having lived their entire lives while the country has been “at war.”  For them, war is the norm.

But if the future of America promises Endless War, be rest assured that this is no different than her past.  Below, I have reproduced a year-by-year timeline of America’s wars, which reveals something quite interesting: since the United States was founded in 1776, she has been at war during 214 out of her 235 calendar years of existence.  In other words, there were only 21 calendar years in which the U.S. did not wage any wars.

To put this in perspective:

  • Pick any year since 1776 and there is about a 91% chance that America was involved in some war during that calendar year.
  • No U.S. president truly qualifies as a peacetime president.  Instead, all U.S. presidents can technically be considered “war presidents.”
  • The U.S. has never gone a decade without war.
  • The only time the U.S. went five years without war (1935-40) was during the isolationist period of the Great Depression.

[…] The U.S. was born out of ethnic cleansing, a violent process that had started long before 1776 and would not be complete until 1900. In other words, more than half of America’s existence (about 53%) has been marked by the active process of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population, which was ultimately all but destroyed. […]

As Indian land was gobbled up by the use of force and fraud, the U.S. border expanded to the periphery of Mexico (which at that time consisted of most of the West Coast and Southwest of the modern United States). Hungry for this land too, the U.S. invaded Mexico, and “Mexicans were portrayed as violent and treacherous bandits who terrorized” the people [4]. American belligerence towards Mexico heated up in the 1800’s, culminated in the U.S. annexation of half of Mexico’s land (leaving right-wingers today to wonder “why so many Mexicans are in our country?”), and seamlessly transitioned into the Banana Wars of the early 1900’s.

Once the Americans had successfully implemented Manifest Destiny by conquering the land from sea to shining sea, the Monroe Doctrine was used to expand American influence in the Caribbean and Central America. Thus began the Banana Wars, a series of military interventions from 1898 all the way to 1934, which attempted to expand American hegemony to the south of its borders. America’s brutality in this part of the world is not well-known to most Americans, but it is well-documented. […]

It should be noted that American plans to dominate the Middle East date back to at least the end of World War II, when it was decided that the region was of critical strategic value. Now that the U.S. has followed through on this plan, do you think “radical Islam” is really “an existential threat” just as American Indians were “fierce savages” waging “an exterminating war” against the “peaceful inhabitants” of the United States; or how Mexicans were “violent” and “terrorized” people; or how Central Americans were “dangerous bandits”? The rampant Islamophobia that abounds today is part of a long tradition of vilifying, Other-izing, and dehumanizing the indigenous populations of lands that need to controlled.

The objects of American aggression have certainly changed with time, but the primary motivating factor behind U.S. wars of aggression have always been the same: expansion of U.S. hegemony. The Muslim world is being bombed, invaded, and occupied by the United States not because of radical Islam or any inherent flaw in themselves. Rather, it is being so attacked because it is in the path of the American juggernaut, which is always in need of war. […]

To put this into greater perspective, Iran has not invaded a country since 1795, which was 216 years ago.

Corporate Imperialism

Corporations have always been forms or aspects of governments, agents and manifestations of state power. The earliest corporate charters were given to colonial governments that often were simultaneously for-profit business ventures and were operated accordingly — typically dependent on free stolen land and resources combined with a cheap workforce of impoverished immigrants, convict labor, indentured servants, and slaves. That is the origin of modern capitalism.

By definition, a corporation is a political entity and institution, a creature of government. A corporate charter is a legal and political construction offering legal rights and privileges that are protected and enforced by official authority and, when necessary, violent force. In some cases, from the East India Company ruling India to the American Robber Barons ruling company towns, corporations have operated their own policing and employed their own goons. And as long as political reform or populist revolution doesn’t take them out of power, they eventually become fully functioning governments.

Essentially, a corporation is no different than a central bank, an alphabet soup agency, a political party, etc. In fact, many regulatory agencies are captured by and act on the behalf of corporations, not on behalf of the people or their elected representatives. Even from the beginning, it was never clear whether corporations were entities beholden to governments or a new kind of governing body and political organization. The struggle between colonial corporations and the colonial empires was often about which elite held ultimate power, only later involving local populations attempting to seize power for self-governance. The American Revolution, for example, was as much a revolt against a corporation as it was against an empire.

We are living at a time when the majority (about two third) of the largest economies in the world are transnational corporations. These new corporations are not only seizing the power of governments or otherwise pulling the strings behind the scenes: bribery, blackmail, cronyism, etc. Acting beyond the level of nation-states, they are creating something entirely new — a global network of corporate governance that lacks any and all democratic procedure, transparency, and accountability.

Once colonial imperialism asserted itself, it was inevitable what corporations would become. The early ideology of corporatism had its origins in the Catholic Church, another vast transnational institution. But now corporations serve no other master than raw power, which is to say authoritarianism — national corporatocracy growing into an even more fearsome predator, transnational inverted totalitarianism ruled by psychopaths, dominators, and narcissists.

As our new Lord and Savior Donald Trump demonstrates, a successful plutocrat and kleptocrat can declare bankruptcy numerous times over decades and still maintain his position of immense wealth while using that wealth to buy political influence and position (with decades of ties to foreign oligarchs and crime syndicates involving apparent money laundering, only now being investigated but probably with no real consequences). Before Trump, it was Ronald Reagan who went from radio sportscaster to Hollywood actor to corporate spokesperson to politician to the most powerful man in the world. But if not a cult of media personality like that surrounding Reagan or Trump, we would be instead be ruled by an internet tycoon like Jeff Bezos (with his ties to the CIA and Pentagon) or a tech tycoon like Peter Thiel (with his dreams of utopian technocracy)— the results would be similar, an ever increasing accumulation of wealth and concentration of power.

Even more concerning are the powerful interests and dark money that operate behind the scenes, the Koch brothers and Mercer families of the world, the most successful of them remaining hidden from public disclosure and news reporting. The emergent corporate imperialism isn’t limited to individuals but crony networks of establishment power, political dynasties, and vast inherited wealth; along with lobbyist organizations, think tanks, front groups, big biz media, etc.

The money men (they are mostly men and, of course, white) are the celebrities and idols of the present corporatist world in the way those in past eras admired, worshipped, and bowed down to popes, monarchs, and aristocrats. This 21st century ruling elite, including the puppet masters that keep the show going, is as untouchable as that of the ancien regime and in many ways more powerful if more covert than the East India Company, that is until a new revolutionary era comes. There isn’t much room for hope. In all of these centuries of struggle between various ruling elites, democracy for all its rhetoric remains a dream yet to be made real, a promise yet to be fulfilled.

* * *

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders
by William Dalrymple

It seemed impossible that a single London corporation, however ruthless and aggressive, could have conquered an empire that was so magnificently strong, so confident in its own strength and brilliance and effortless sense of beauty.

Historians propose many reasons: the fracturing of Mughal India into tiny, competing states; the military edge that the industrial revolution had given the European powers. But perhaps most crucial was the support that the East India Company enjoyed from the British parliament. The relationship between them grew steadily more symbiotic throughout the 18th century. Returned nabobs like Clive used their wealth to buy both MPs and parliamentary seats – the famous Rotten Boroughs. In turn, parliament backed the company with state power: the ships and soldiers that were needed when the French and British East India Companies trained their guns on each other. […]

In September, the governor of India’s central bank, Raghuram Rajan, made a speech in Mumbai expressing his anxieties about corporate money eroding the integrity of parliament: “Even as our democracy and our economy have become more vibrant,” he said, “an important issue in the recent election was whether we had substituted the crony socialism of the past with crony capitalism, where the rich and the influential are alleged to have received land, natural resources and spectrum in return for payoffs to venal politicians. By killing transparency and competition, crony capitalism is harmful to free enterprise, and economic growth. And by substituting special interests for the public interest, it is harmful to democratic expression.

His anxieties were remarkably like those expressed in Britain more than 200 years earlier, when the East India Company had become synonymous with ostentatious wealth and political corruption: “What is England now?” fumed the Whig litterateur Horace Walpole, “A sink of Indian wealth.” In 1767 the company bought off parliamentary opposition by donating £400,000 to the Crown in return for its continued right to govern Bengal. But the anger against it finally reached ignition point on 13 February 1788, at the impeachment, for looting and corruption, of Clive’s successor as governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings. It was the nearest the British ever got to putting the EIC on trial, and they did so with one of their greatest orators at the helm – Edmund Burke.

Burke, leading the prosecution, railed against the way the returned company “nabobs” (or “nobs”, both corruptions of the Urdu word “Nawab”) were buying parliamentary influence, not just by bribing MPs to vote for their interests, but by corruptly using their Indian plunder to bribe their way into parliamentary office: “To-day the Commons of Great Britain prosecutes the delinquents of India,” thundered Burke, referring to the returned nabobs. “Tomorrow these delinquents of India may be the Commons of Great Britain.”

Burke thus correctly identified what remains today one of the great anxieties of modern liberal democracies: the ability of a ruthless corporation corruptly to buy a legislature. And just as corporations now recruit retired politicians in order to exploit their establishment contacts and use their influence, so did the East India Company. So it was, for example, that Lord Cornwallis, the man who oversaw the loss of the American colonies to Washington, was recruited by the EIC to oversee its Indian territories. As one observer wrote: “Of all human conditions, perhaps the most brilliant and at the same time the most anomalous, is that of the Governor General of British India. A private English gentleman, and the servant of a joint-stock company, during the brief period of his government he is the deputed sovereign of the greatest empire in the world; the ruler of a hundred million men; while dependant kings and princes bow down to him with a deferential awe and submission. There is nothing in history analogous to this position …”

Hastings survived his impeachment, but parliament did finally remove the EIC from power following the great Indian Uprising of 1857, some 90 years after the granting of the Diwani and 60 years after Hastings’s own trial. On 10 May 1857, the EIC’s own security forces rose up against their employer and on successfully crushing the insurgency, after nine uncertain months, the company distinguished itself for a final time by hanging and murdering tens of thousands of suspected rebels in the bazaar towns that lined the Ganges – probably the most bloody episode in the entire history of British colonialism.

Enough was enough. The same parliament that had done so much to enable the EIC to rise to unprecedented power, finally gobbled up its own baby. The British state, alerted to the dangers posed by corporate greed and incompetence, successfully tamed history’s most voracious corporation. In 1859, it was again within the walls of Allahabad Fort that the governor general, Lord Canning, formally announced that the company’s Indian possessions would be nationalised and pass into the control of the British Crown. Queen Victoria, rather than the directors of the EIC would henceforth be ruler of India. […]

For the corporation – a revolutionary European invention contemporaneous with the beginnings of European colonialism, and which helped give Europe its competitive edge – has continued to thrive long after the collapse of European imperialism. When historians discuss the legacy of British colonialism in India, they usually mention democracy, the rule of law, railways, tea and cricket. Yet the idea of the joint-stock company is arguably one of Britain’s most important exports to India, and the one that has for better or worse changed South Asia as much any other European idea. Its influence certainly outweighs that of communism and Protestant Christianity, and possibly even that of democracy.

Companies and corporations now occupy the time and energy of more Indians than any institution other than the family. This should come as no surprise: as Ira Jackson, the former director of Harvard’s Centre for Business and Government, recently noted, corporations and their leaders have today “displaced politics and politicians as … the new high priests and oligarchs of our system”. Covertly, companies still govern the lives of a significant proportion of the human race.

The 300-year-old question of how to cope with the power and perils of large multinational corporations remains today without a clear answer: it is not clear how a nation state can adequately protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess. As the international subprime bubble and bank collapses of 2007-2009 have so recently demonstrated, just as corporations can shape the destiny of nations, they can also drag down their economies. In all, US and European banks lost more than $1tn on toxic assets from January 2007 to September 2009. What Burke feared the East India Company would do to England in 1772 actually happened to Iceland in 2008-11, when the systemic collapse of all three of the country’s major privately owned commercial banks brought the country to the brink of complete bankruptcy. A powerful corporation can still overwhelm or subvert a state every bit as effectively as the East India Company did in Bengal in 1765.

Corporate influence, with its fatal mix of power, money and unaccountability, is particularly potent and dangerous in frail states where corporations are insufficiently or ineffectually regulated, and where the purchasing power of a large company can outbid or overwhelm an underfunded government. This would seem to have been the case under the Congress government that ruled India until last year. Yet as we have seen in London, media organisations can still bend under the influence of corporations such as HSBC – while Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s boast about opening British embassies for the benefit of Chinese firms shows that the nexus between business and politics is as tight as it has ever been.

The East India Company no longer exists, and it has, thankfully, no exact modern equivalent. Walmart, which is the world’s largest corporation in revenue terms, does not number among its assets a fleet of nuclear submarines; neither Facebook nor Shell possesses regiments of infantry. Yet the East India Company – the first great multinational corporation, and the first to run amok – was the ultimate model for many of today’s joint-stock corporations. The most powerful among them do not need their own armies: they can rely on governments to protect their interests and bail them out. The East India Company remains history’s most terrifying warning about the potential for the abuse of corporate power – and the insidious means by which the interests of shareholders become those of the state. Three hundred and fifteen years after its founding, its story has never been more current.

 

End of Nation-States

Nation-states have not been the dominant form of power for a long while. The United States gave up the nation-state model early on. The genuine alliance of nation-states formed in the Articles of Confederation was quickly scrapped for a new form of nation-imperialism, as declared in the (second) Constitution.

The Anti-Federalists (i.e., Real Federalists) warned against this pseudo-Federalism. But it’s too late now. It is here to stay and has taken on even more powerful forms with transnational corporatism. The remaining nation-states elsewhere in the world are increasingly subordinated to and controlled or owned by other interests. Wealth is one of the main outward symbols of power and, as inequality grows, global wealth is being concentrated and centralized among an emerging global plutocracy.

This new system isn’t beholden to democratic processes or national citizenries. Barring collapse or revolution, we will continue along this path. Still, authoritarianism isn’t inevitable. It could transform into something else, depending on the changing conditions and forces in the world. If we wish to kill or chain this beast, it will require that we the people on this planet to assert our authority and sovereignty by organizing. Either that or let it play itself out, giving into passive hope and apathetic cynicism.

We are already in a new world. Most people don’t yet realize it, though. Some event will trigger it all to come out into the open, likely mass global conflict involving war, civil war, and revolutions or maybe various existential crises of economics, environment, and refuges. Then raw power will assert itself seeking to re-enforce social control and political order. The average person won’t see it coming, until it is too late, as always. Then we will be presented with a choice in how to respond or react… or to continue to go along to get along and see what results.

The basic outline of emerging power, however, can already be seen.

* * *

How long will nation-states last?
answer by Elijah Kourt, Quora

I believe that supranational structures are bound to be the ruling system of our global society in the (perhaps not so distant) future. They will include not only the political but also all the other forces that govern the relations among peoples and societies, in which we will regard former nation-states with the same enthusiasm and fervor as we regard today the autonomous areas, provinces and regions of our countries.

The relevance of states is shifting from being an important individual actor to becoming an important part of a greater system. One can see that each day this is more and more the case in nearly all areas of international relations, and actors such as Google, Facebook, Coca Cola, Hollywood and FIFA have greater importance in shaping the international relations than many nation-states. The traditional role of the nation-states is therefore disappearing, together with their power and relevance in international matters. I saw this very clearly when I found out that in 2002 of the world’s 100 largest economies, 51 were corporations and 49 were countries. In 2014, the proportion might have changed to 63 – 37, which results very surprising and unexpected even to me:

A Story of Walking Away

Back during the early Bush era, American imperialism was rearing its ugly head. I was in a group at the time where I met a guy who would become a close friend. The group read a story by Ursula K. Le Guin. It was “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” a story written a in 1973 which was a couple of years before I was born. Those were the waning days of Nixon’s reign, another dark time right before his fall from power. I had forgotten about Le Guin’s story, until my friend mentioned it the other day. We are once more at a moment of societal angst. And the story remains relevant.

As told by the narrator, there is a utopian world, a supposedly wonderful and perfect society in all ways but one. A single innocent child must suffer alone as the price to be paid for the greater good. “The central idea of this psychomyth,” Le Guin explains in a preface, is “the scapegoat.” In giving the story further thought, my friend suggested: “I considered the central idea could be empire–that some would live very well off the misery of others (only 1 other in the story, but could be any number). Is one basis of empire, scapegoating?” I suspect Le Guin would accept that as a background influence to the central idea, if not the central idea itself. She says the inspiration came from William James (“The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life“):

“Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier’s and Bellamy’s and Morris’s utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far‑off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?”

This story is about the belief in substitutionary sacrifice, a narrative frame that gives meaning and purpose. It has ancient roots and took its present form by way of Judeo-Christian theology. The scapegoat is at the heart of our civilizational project. Ultimately, it’s a form of dark magic. And its power comes from telling a compelling story. But the exact details of the story are a distraction, pointing away from whatever is the real issue.

The real issue, one way or another, is always the social order. To anchor a social order, a story has to be viscerally embodied within collective experience. It’s not enough that someone is sacrificed for it must be known and accepted, must be felt as real and necessary by those within the social order. It makes them complicit and so binds them to the social order. It is a social contract written in blood. Dark magic is blood magic.

Le Guin is using counter-magic by telling her own story. It appears as mere fiction to allow it to slide below our psychological defenses. By doing so, she slips in a seed of potential awareness. The story isn’t about some other place. It is about our own society. The belief in substitutionary sacrifice as having magical power is what makes this kind of society possible, the shining city on a hill of corpses. Imperialism or any such authoritarian regime comes at great costs and those must be rationalized as necessary for the greater good. Le Guin describes that the young people of Omelas, upon learning of the suffering child, are moved by compassion as any good person would be in a good society:

“Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science.”

Let me bring this into present realities of our own society. This ritualized suffering of the condemned is why even rich, powerful white men can occasionally be sacrificed in order to maintain the status quo. Anyone can be sacrificed, as long as the system itself is protected and unquestioned. The one thing that can’t be sacrificed is the social order itself.

That is what makes spectacles of publicly shaming individuals a safe outlet, whereas the greater and more pervasive realities of collective victimization must remain unspoken. This is why the overwhelming problems of lead toxicity and pollution, primarily harming poor dark-skinned people, has never led to the same level of moral outrage and media judgment as has the sexual scandals. And this is why those sexual scandals mostly focus on well off white victimizers and well off white victims. Millions of the poor and powerless being harmed far worse would never get the same amount of attention and concern.

Such media spectacle maintains the focus on those in power and privilege, their suffering and their wrongdoing. And so this keeps the public mind locked within the ideological structure of power and privilege. The rest of us are supposed to be spectators sitting silently in the dark as the actors entertain us on the stage. A few people will be sacrificed and then, as a society, we can fall back into unconsciousness. With substitutionary sacrifice, our collective sins once again are atoned for.

The only thing most of us have to do is passively submit to the public ritual. So we watch in silence. And the story being told is burned into our psyche, our soul. To tell a different story, as does Le Guin, is a danger to the world as we know it. And to read such a story threatens to break the magic spell, invoking a state of anxiety and discontent by reminding us that our way of life (and way of death) is and always has been a choice.

We are reminded that there are those who choose to walk away. What they walk away from isn’t only that society but, more importantly, the story of that society. They can only do that by walking toward a different story, even if another society hasn’t yet fully taken form. First, a story has to be told about the walking away:

“At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

The End of an Empire

Let me share some thoughts about imperialism, something hard to grasp in the contemporary world. My thoughts are inspired by a comment I wrote, which was in response to a comparison of countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). We live in a large geopolitical order that no longer can be explained in national terms. The Anglo-American Empire is a project involving dozens of countries in the Western world. Even as it looks different than the old empires, it maybe operates more similarly than not.

There are many issues involved: who pays the most and who benefits the most from this geopolitical order, where is control of the social order maintained most strictly and oppressively, where is the center and periphery of the imperial project, how are alliances formed and maintained, where does the moral authority and political legitimacy come from, how does complicity and plausible deniability play a key role in participating populations, what is the role of the propaganda model of (increasingly international) media in managing public opinion and perception across multiple countries, what are the meeting points and battle grounds of vying geopolitical forces, etc.

I was wondering about how does a ruling elite maintain a vast geopolitical order like the Anglo-American Empire. It requires keeping submissive all of the diverse and far-flung populations of imperial subjects and allies, which means authoritarian control at the heart of the empire and looser control at the peripheries, at least in the early stages of the imperial project. Every imperial project maybe is in the end a Ponzi scheme. Eventually, the bills come due and someone has to pay for them. Wealth and resources can only flow in from foreign lands for so long before they begin drying up. This is problematic, as maintaining an empire is costly and ever more so as it expands. The ruling elite has little choice for it is either continually expand or collapse, although expanding inevitably leads to overreach and so in the end collapse can only be delayed (even if some empires can keep this charade going for centuries). Many people are happy to be imperial subjects receiving the benefits of imperialism until they have to admit to being imperial subjects and accept responsibility. Allowing plausible deniability of complicity goes a long way in gaining participation from various populations and retaining the alliances of their governments.

It could be interpreted that present conflicts indicate that this present geopolitical order is fraying at the edges. The formerly contented and submissive populations within the Western world order are becoming restless. Austerity politics are shifting the costs back home and the good times are coming to an end. The costs of imperialism are coming to seem greater than the benefits, but that is because the costs always come after the benefits. The American colonists came to learn that lesson, after generations of receiving the benefits of empire and then later on being asked to pay for maintaining the empire that ensured those benefits. Worse still, it rubbed American colonists the wrong way to be forced to admit their role as willing participants in an oppressive sociopolitical order. It didn’t fit their sense of identity as freedom-loving Americans.

My thought is that Europeans (along with Canadians and other allied national populations) are starting to similarly question their role within the Anglo-American Empire, now that the costs no longer can be ignored. The problem is someone has to pay for those costs, as the entire international trade system is built on this costly geopolitical order. It requires an immense military and intelligence apparatus to maintain a secure political order, guarantee trade agreements that allow the wealth to flow around, and keep open the trade routes and access to foreign resources.

So far, the US government has played this role and US citizens have sacrificed funding to public education, public healthcare, etc in order to fund the militarized imperial system. If other countries are asked to help pay for what they have benefited from, like the American colonists they might decline to do so. Still, these other countries have paid through other means, by offering their alliances with the US government which means offering moral authority and political legitimacy to the Anglo-American Empire. When the US goes to war, all of its allies also go to war. This is because the US government is less a nation-state and more the capital of a geopolitical order. These allied nations are no longer autonomous citizenries because such things as the UN, NATO, NAFTA, etc has created a larger international system of governance.

These allied non-American subjects of the Anglo-American Empire have bought their benefits from the system through their participation in it and compliance with it. This is beginning to make Europeans, Canadians, and others feel uncomfortable. US citizen are also suspecting they’ve gotten a raw deal, for why are they paying for an international order that serves international interests and profits international corporations. What is the point of being an imperial subject if you aren’t getting a fair cut of the take from imperial pillaging and looting? Why remain subservient to a system that funnels nearly all of the wealth and resources to the top? Such economic issues then lead to moral questioning of the system itself and soul-searching about one’s place within it.

This is how empires end.

* * *

Anyway, below is the aforementioned comment about trying to compare the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — the various components of the former British Empire that are now the major participants in the present Anglo-American Empire. Here it is:

There is difficulty in comparing them, as they are all part of the same basic set of ideological traditions and cultural influences. All of their economies and governments have been closely intertwined for centuries. Even the US economy quickly re-established trade with Britain after the revolution. It was always as much a civil war as it was a revolution.

The Western neoliberalism we see now is largely a byproduct of pre-revolutionary British imperialism (and other varieties of trade-based imperialism, such as even earlier seen in the influential Spanish Empire). The American Empire is simply an extension of the British Empire. There is no way to separate the two.

All those countries that are supposedly less war-like depend on the military of the American Empire to maintain international trade agreements and trade routes. The American Empire inherited this role from the British Empire, and ever since the two have been close allies in maintaining the Anglo-American geopolitical order.

So much of the US taxpayers money doesn’t go to healthcare and such because it has to pay for this international military regime. That is what is hard for Americans to understand. We get cheap products because of imperialism, but there is a high price paid for living in the belly of the beast.

There are in many ways greater advantages to living more on the edge of the empire. It’s why early American colonists in the pre-revolutionary era had more freedom and wealth than British subjects living in England. That is the advantage of living in Canada or whatever, getting many of the benefits of the Anglo-American imperial order without having to pay as much of the direct costs for maintaining it. Of course, those in developing countries pay the worst costs of all, both in blood and resources.

If not for the complicity of the governments and citizens of dozens of countries, the Anglo-American empire and Western geopolitical order wouldn’t be possible. It was a set of alliances that were cemented in place because of two world wars and a cold war. It is hard to find too many completely innocent people within such an evil system of authoritarian power.

It is a strange phenomenon that those at the center of empire are both heavily oppressed and among the most accepting of oppression. I think it’s because, when you’re so deep within such an authoritarian structure, oppression becomes normalized. It doesn’t occur to you that all your money going to maintain the empire could have been used to fund public education, public healthcare, etc.

Thomas Paine ran into this problem. When he came to the colonies, he became riled up and found it was easy through writing to rile up others. Being on the edge of the empire offers some psychological distance that allows greater critical clarity. But when Paine returned home to England, he couldn’t get the even more oppressed and impoverished English peasantry to join in revolution, even though they would have gained the most from it.

In fact, the reform that was forced by threat of revolution did end up benefiting those English lower classes. But that reform had to be inspired from fear of external threat. It was the ruling elite that embraced reform, rather than it having been enforced upon them by the lower classes in England. The British monarchy and aristocracy was talented at suppressing populism while allowing just enough reform to keep the threat of foreign revolution at bay. But if not for that revolutionary fervor kicking at their back door, such internal reform may never have happened.

Interestingly, what led to the American Revolution was when the British ruling elite decided to shift the costs of the empire to the colonies. The colonists were fine with empire when they benefited more than they had to pay. That is similar right now with the equivalent to colonists in the present Anglo-American imperial order. But if similar the costs of this empire were shifted to the allied nations, I bet you’d suddenly see revolutionary fervor against empire.

That probably would be a good thing.

Who and where is the enemy?

I was looking at some books on the ancient world. A few of the books were on Rome, specifically the changes that happened after Christianization.

People often talk about the Barbarian invasions and the fall of Rome. But the fact of the matter is that the German tribes that ‘invaded’ were already there living in the empire. They had been mercenaries for generations and were trained by the Romans. They weren’t really ‘Barbarians’, in the sense of being a foreign pagan population that showed up from the wildlands beyond the Roman frontier.

These Germans were even already converted to Christianity, but it was at a time when Christianity was splintered in diverse traditions and beliefs. It’s quite likely that those in power feared the Germans because they adhered to heretical forms of Christianity. As far as that goes, most early Christians would be labeled as heretics by the heresiologists. That was fine until the heresiologists attempted to oppress and kill all competing Christian adherents. Maybe the German Christians took that personally and decided to fight for not just their sovereignty but also their religious freedom.

So, it was really just one population of Christians in Rome deciding to take power from or simply overthrow another population of Christians in Rome. Those Romanized and Christianized Germans would become the great monarchies and empires of Europe, such as the French Normans that turned much of Britain into England. And it was the Norman-descended Cavaliers who reinstated the monarchy after the English Civil War, creating modern England.

All that was meant in the ancient world by someone being Barbarian was that they were of a different ethnicity. It literally meant someone outside of one’s door, which is to say outside of one’s community. And in the Roman Empire, many ethnicities maintained separate communities. The Jews were Barbarians as well and the Romans feared them as well, although their earlier revolt failed.

It is interesting to think about those early German Christians that helped topple the Roman Empire. Maybe they were practicing for the later Protestant Reformation.

The original Lutherans, Anabaptists, Pietists, Moravians, Mennonites, Amish, etc were Germans. Calvin’s father came from the northern borderlands of the Roman Empire, in a town established by Romanized Gauls, and after Calvin escaped France Calvinism took hold in Switzerland. Huguenots also lived in the border regions of what once was the Roman Empire. The population out of which Puritanism arose, influenced by some of these German Christians, was of German descent. The English Midlands where the Scandinavians settled gave birth to Quakers and other dissenter traditions.

German Christians, along with other Northern European and British Christians, were constantly causing trouble. This challenging of religious authority lasted for more than a millennia. And to a lesser degree it continues. In the majority Germanic Midwest of the United States, this struggle over Christianity continues with much challenge and competition. The Midwestern Methodist church where my Germanic grandfather was once minister ended when some in the congregation challenged central church authority.

Christian authority is on the wane these days, though. American fundamentalists like to think of the United States as the last great bastion of Christian authority, like the Christianized Roman Empire once was. But if Washington is to fall as did Rome, it won’t likely be from an invading army of non-believers, of secularists, agnostics, and atheists. Maybe similar to those Germanic mercenaries, the defense contract mercenaries will grow so powerful that in their Godless capitalism (though Christianity has a strong toehold among military personnel and defense contractors) they will turn against their weakened American rulers. Corporatism will be our new religion, as the American empire collapses and disintegrates into corporate fiefdoms. Some would argue that corporatism is already our new religion.

Anyway, if history is to be repeated, the so-called barbarians at the gates are already here. And they have been here for a while. They won’t need to invade, as they were welcomed in long ago and were enculturated into our society. The mercenaries of our country, whether taken literally or metaphorically, might turn out to be a fifth column. The enemy within might be those we perceive as protecting us, until it’s too late. Mercenaries aren’t always known for their loyalty. So, who are the mercenaries in our society, the guns-for-hire? And who is the real enemy in this situation? The mercenaries of our society would answer that question differently, as did the German mercenaries living in the Roman Empire.

Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed.

“It’s not the Americans, what they are doing in this country or that, or the Germans or the French or such. It’s the dominant interests in that country. If anything, the common people in these countries are themselves also the victims. It’s their taxes that are used to raise the armies. It’s their sons and brothers and now daughters and such who go in and pay the price in blood.

“The empire feeds off of the republic’s resources. The people end up doing without essentials so that Patricians can pursue their far off plunder. Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed. And you see that very same thing happening today. You see, for instance, an estimated 200 to 250 billion is going to be spent on Iraq. Meanwhile, the Republican Congress is proposing about 300 billion in cuts in human services, in public services, in healthcare, in aid to public education, and the like.

“Every time they raise your tuition you are paying for the cost of empire. Every time they cut funds to the state of Wisconsin you have to make up the difference. Everywhere I go… and, when I pick up the local newspapers, it often seems like the same paper and every paper has the same story for a while, factoring when the fiscal year was ending, it would say: ‘State facing huge deficits’, ‘City council voting cuts in budget’…

“That is the cost of empire. What happens then is our economic democracy is under attack.

“Not everyone, as they say, pays the costs. Some people profit immensely.”

That is from a talk given by Michael Parenti at the University of Wisconsin.

What he spoke of here was part of a larger point he was making. Empires don’t happen by accident or by absentmindedness. Empires are built and that happens intentionally with immense effort and costs. We imperial subjects don’t always notice the costs because we aren’t used to thinking about our country as an empire. But the costs are always there, however hidden by mechanisms that externalize them, that defer and displace them.

Yet there are also benefits, powerful interests that are being served. The purpose for imperialism isn’t simply about brute power, though. It’s about control toward specific ends.

Parenti explains that, even without Western domination, many non-Western countries were more than willing to sell oil and participate in global trade. Still, that isn’t enough. The Western oil cartels want to be able to control the oil supply in foreign countries. Here is the problem presented by those like Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t sell his oil but that he insisted on selling his oil that was driving down oil prices. That is contrary to the interests who want to control and manipulate the oil markets, to artificially set the prices so that they will bring in the largest profits.

Also, the problem wasn’t that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. It was the US who put him in power in order to ensure the destruction of Iraqi democracy, an action that required the death, torture, and imprisonment of Iraqis fighting for their freedom. The US wanted a brutal dictator and supported him most strongly (with money and weapons, including weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons) precisely when he was at his most brutal, for he was being brutal in serving Western interests. What sealed his doom was his ultimate refusal to play the role of a subordinate puppet dictator. It turned out that, as leader, he wanted to serve the interests of Iraqis instead of the interests of Western powers. That is the one thing Western powers can’t tolerate.

All of that is obvious, to anyone who isn’t entirely propagandized by Western education and media. The main issue remains what I quoted. And it isn’t a new insight. Parenti is simply rephrasing what Dwight D. Eisenhower stated earlier last century, in his famous Chance for Peace speech. But it bears repeating, until one day the American people finally grasp the horrific injustice that has been forced on them, costs that aren’t just monetary but human. As Eisenhower explained it,

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

“This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Or to be poetical — Jessie Wiseman Gibbs from Peace Sonnets:

I tell you nay, but except we repent,
Ourselves shall likewise perish: for we feed
Bread of our children to the war-god’s greed
And with unholy mammon are defiled,
And turn away the face of our own child
From Christ, and know not our impoverishment!

Irreparable Damage, Voting Subjects, & Direct Action

I get the feeling that Barack Obama has done irreparable damage to the political left. So many Americans genuinely believed in and were excited by his message of hope and change. I bet even many people from the political right voted for him.

There was such a profound sense of disappointment and betrayal once he had been in office for a while. It turned out he was just another professional politician and that the hype had meant very little. He continued many of the same policies from the Bush administration. Worse still, he passed healthcare reform that was originally a Republican idea which favored insurance and drug companies, rather than the leftist single payer reform most Americans wanted.

Obama’s presidency has made many Americans far more cynical than they’ve been in a long time. No one expects Republicans to genuinely care about the poor and needy, to fight for the rights and opportunities of the lower classes. But many do expect this from Democrats, however naïve that might be.

I know of those who supported Obama in 2008. Some of them now support Clinton, Obama’s nemesis back then. The heir of hope and change is Bernie Sanders. Yet many have lost faith that hope and change is possible. It’s not just fear of Trump. These Clinton supporters, in many cases, have simply resigned themselves to the notion that Clinton is the best that the Democratic party will ever offer. It’s either take that pathetic choice or get nothing at all, so it seems from this jaded mindset.

Older voters, in particular, feel wary about trusting that genuine progress and reform is possible. They don’t want to be betrayed again. They’d rather go for the cynical choice because at least that way they’ll know what they’re getting. When cynicism overtakes the citizenry, that is the most dangerous moment for a democracy.

That is what Sanders is fighting against.

* * *

For US citizens, voting is a right. But it is also a privilege.

For one thing, not all US citizens have the right to vote, besides the young. Convicts and many ex-cons don’t have the right to vote. Many others who technically have the right to vote are politically disenfranchised and demoralized in various ways, by both parties in elections and in the presidential nomination process.

Another issue is that, for all intents and purposes, the US is an empire. Most of the people directly and indirectly effected by US policy aren’t voting US citizens. Who and what you support with your vote impacts not only non-voting Americans but also billions of people around the world.

This includes millions harmed, millions made homeless refugees, millions starving, and millions killed. Those impacted, mostly innocent victims, come from wars, including wars of aggression, proxy wars, and drug wars; CIA covert operations, such as inciting of governments coups, propped-up puppet dictators, US-backed authoritarian regimes, arming of paramilitaries, and School of the Americas military training; post-colonial resource exploitation, unfree trade agreements, US-aligned IMF-enforced austerity policies, and harmful sanctions; et cetera.

As a subject of the empire, you benefit greatly from US policies. It is other people, mostly poor and brown people, mostly in other countries that have to pay the full costs of these imperial benefits.

You are never making merely a personal decision when you vote. You are part of a privileged class of people on this planet. Your vote matters and the results are powerful. This is true, even as the system is rigged against American voters. The last thing you should ever do is support a candidate who supports the corrupt status quo of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

We Americans should take all of this much more seriously. For those who have personally experienced US power, this isn’t idle campaign rhetoric. What is at stake is their lives, their families, and their communities. This isn’t about your party or candidate winning. It’s about morality and justice. Be sure you’re on the right side of history. You are complicit in what you support. Choose wisely.

* * *

When I was a child, I played soccer. My main talents were that I could run fast and take pain. I often played defense because I was good at stopping things. I demonstrated this talent during one game when in elementary school. I was probably playing halfback that day, as it requires a lot of running around. A halfback’s purpose is to be a go-between, to go where and do what is needed. It requires adaptability to the situation, whether defense or offense is required.

Anyway, in whatever position I was in, it was further up the field. The game had just begun. The other team had the ball. One of their players dropped it back and got out of the way. A giant girl came forward and kicked the ball all the way down the field. She was their one great weapon. It forced everyone on my team to immediately run back down the field. After a second time of this, many on my team were already running before the ball went flying. After observing this predictable situation, a brilliant idea popped into my mind. Why not simply stop the ball before it goes flying? So, at the next opportunity, I ran full speed right at that girl and took a body blow. Every time they did it again, I took another body blow. It stopped the ball and allowed my teammates to push the play forward, instead of backwards.

It was a proud moment of my childhood. But I’ve always wondered what the life lesson was from this incident. Well, besides the willingness to take a hit for the team. A few things come to mind. A basic lesson is to look for the obvious. Another is that direct action can be a good thing. Also, it’s much easier to prevent something than to react to it once it has already happened.

I’d apply these lessons to the entire society I live in. Politics most of all. I’ve come to realize how rare it is for people to see the obvious. Partisan politics shows the power of groupthink. Everyone sees the situation as inevitable and then reacts to it. This feels justified, as every0ne else is reacting as well. Strategy usually consists of trying to react more effectively. It doesn’t occur to many people that, if there is an obvious problem, maybe we should do the obvious thing to stop the problem.

Our society is full of obvious problems. The solution or prevention to these problems is often just as obvious. Yet we seem stuck in a mentality of endless reaction, always chasing the ball down the field. But what if we simply threw ourselves in front of that ball. Would it hurt? Yes. Would it stop the problem and make life easier for all involved? Yes, a thousand times over.

If we want to reform our society and make the world a better place, then we should do it. In the simplest, most direct way possible. We’ve already wasted enough time tiring ourselves out by running the wrong direction down the field, again and again and again. One would think that we as a society would finally grasp the obvious.

Let’s stop the problem first. Then we can act as a team to move forward.