Hillsdale’s Imprimis: Neocon Propaganda

“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.”
C.J. Hopkins

I came across an article from Hillsdale, a right-wing college that has come under the influence of neoconservatives. It is How Intelligence Works, in which Herbert Meyer asks and answers:

“So why has our intelligence service suffered so many failures during the last decade or so, losing the trust of so many? Because it’s been run by career bureaucrats and administrators who rose to the top by managing intelligence rather than actually doing it.”

Neocons aren’t actually against bureaucracy, obviously. They just want the right kind of bureaucracy. If anything, they want to turn everything into bureaucracy, an entire society bureaucratized, both public and private sectors.

When I read something like this, it comes off sounding like propaganda to me. It’s what the ruling elite put out to influence opinion. But it’s too simpleminded to be the actual opinion of the ruling elite. The Imprimis publication is respected on the political right. It is one of the sources that helps set the agenda across the Republican Party, right-wing think tanks, and right-wing media.

Read as propaganda, it is fascinating, partly because it is propaganda directed at the well educated upper classes. It makes you wonder what is the goal of their agenda. It seems to be neoconservatism of an extremely aggressive variety. Trump’s placing military figures in political positions is the kind of thing that is probably the hoped for end result. It is the militarization of all aspects of society, from federal agencies to the local police, since the military like the CIA is the bureaucratic to the core, one of the least democratically accountable parts of government.

This piece isn’t just about the CIA. It is creating a vision for how the entire deep state should operate. The purpose is to eliminate the bureaucracy which really means eliminating what little democratic proceduralism might exist. In its place, powerful leaders are to be made decision-makers, a concentrating of authority and control. It is a top-down model of command and control.

Interestingly, there is a critical piece from the Lew Rockwell site, A Warmonger’s Guide to Militarism and Imperialism. It is also right-wing, although of a more radical fringe variety. It is written by Thomas DiLorenzo, a bit of a kook, but he offers maybe useful perspective. What stood out to me is that apparently Imprimis was started by Lew Rockwell, an anti-statist, which makes it interesting that it has become a mouthpiece of statism.

“The Claremont Institute neocons claim to be “the” experts on the U.S. Constitution, with their educational arm now being Hillsdale College, run by former Claremont Institute president Larry Arnn. They hold an annual “Constitution Day” event in Washington, D.C., with this year’s featured speaker being Senator Cotton, who spoke on the subject of foreign policy and the Constitution. The senator’s speech is published in the recent issue of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College (a publication started by Lew Rockwell when he worked at Hillsdale, long before the neocon takeover). The speech is a textbook example of how the “Straussians,” who claim to have special knowledge of “the real meaning” of America’s historical documents (which is often dramatically different from the literal and historical meaning) distort history in the service of statism and militarism.”

Polarizing Effect of Perceived Polarization

“You probably have the sense that polarization is getting worse in our country, that the divide between the left and the right is as bad as it’s ever been in any or our lifetimes. But you might also reasonably wonder if research backs up your intuition. And in a nutshell, the answer is sadly yes.”

That is how Robb Willer began his TED Talk, How to have better political conversations. A commenter said, “He never answered why the polarization has gotten so much worse though.” In my opinion, it hasn’t gotten worse.

The US presently isn’t more divided than it was during the 1960s, isn’t more divided than it was during the violent early 1900s, isn’t more divided than it was in the decades leading up to the Civil War, and isn’t more divided than among the founding generation of Federalists vs Anti-Federalists. This is another one of those simplistic, superficial, and misleading mainstream narratives. And yet it is an extremely compelling story to tell.

People aren’t disagreeing more than ever. It’s just that they are being heard more and hearing others more, because of the growth of mass media and social media. People are being faced with knowing what others think and believe, not being allowed to remain in blissful ignorance as in the past. People feel polarized because they see it in activist groups, mainstream politics, and corporate media. That experience shouldn’t be dismissed, as it feels all too real and does have real consequences. Still, this sense of conflict is misleading. In reality, most Americans agree more about most issues than they disagree. But it depends on how you frame it.

If you make Americans choose between the labels of liberal and conservative, most people of course will pick one of them and the public will be divided. You can use that to frame questions and so prime people to give polarized answers. But the fact of the matter is that if you give people another option such as independent, most won’t choose either liberal or conservative.

If you only give Americans two viable political party choices, many will consistently choose candidates of the same party from election to election. But most Americans identify as independents and would prefer having other choices. Consider the fact that some of the voters that helped Republican Trump win were supporters of Democratic Sanders. Few people are ideological partisans. That is because few people think in ideological terms.

Consider specific issues.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they are for or against tough-on-crime policies, polarization in public opinion is the inevitable result. But if you ask people about crime prevention and rehabilitation, most would prefer that. The thing is few polls ever give people the full, accurate info about the available choices. The framing of the questions leads people to answer in a particular way.

That is because those asking the questions are typically more polarized and so they have an self-interest in finding polarized answers (in order to confirm their own biases and worldview), even if their motivations are unconscious. The corporate media also likes to frame everything in polarized terms, even when it isn’t the best framing, because it offers a simplistic narrative (i.e., entertainment news) that sells advertising.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they support pro-choice or pro-life, you will get a polarized response from the public. But if you ask people if they are for both women’s rights and abortion bans, you’ll find most Americans support both simultaneously. And if you ask people if they want to decrease abortions, you’ll find almost everyone wants to decrease abortions. It’s just people see different ways of decreasing abortions.

Most pro-choicers aren’t for increasing abortions (i.e., killing babies). And most pro-lifers aren’t for taking women’s rights away (i.e., theocratic authoritarianism). It’s just they see different policies as being more effective in achieving what pro-lifers claim to support. The two sides at worst disagree about methods, not goals or necessarily even fundamental values. Isn’t it interesting that so many pro-lifers support a women’s right to choose, depending on how the question is framed?

If you give people a forced choice question about whether or not they support same sex marriage, you get an almost evenly divided polarization of public opinion, with an ever so sleight majority toward support. But if polling is done differently, it is shown that the vast majority is tolerant of or indifferent toward this issue. People simply don’t care who marries whom, unless you intentionally frame it as a liberal agenda to use the government to promote gay marriage and force it onto the public. Framed as an issue of personal right of choice, most Americans are perfectly fine with individuals being allowed to make their own decisions. Even the average conservative doesn’t want to force their political views onto others, no matter what is asserted by the polarized GOP establishment and partisans who are reactionaries, authoritarians and social dominance orientation types.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they support gun rights or gun regulations, you will get what appears to be polarization. But if you give them a third choice of supporting both stronger gun rights and more effective gun regulations, most will take that third option. That is even true with NRA members who disagree with ideologically polarized NRA leadership. And it is also true of liberals, a demographic shown to have surprisingly high rates of guns in the household.

Here is the takeaway. The general public is not polarized, as research again and again has proven. It is the mainstream media and political elites, the political parties and think tanks, the lifelong partisans and ideological activists who are polarized. In economic terms, it the middle-to-upper class and not the lower classes that are polarized.

The apparent hyper-partisanship comes from not increasing number of partisans, but from increasing number of moderates identifying as independents and increasing number of non-partisans entirely giving up on the political system. I’d also add that it isn’t that this has happened equally across the board. Studies show Democrats aren’t any more liberal than they were decades ago (more conservative, if anything; or at least more neocon and neoliberal), even as Republicans have moved ever further to the right. This has caused public debate to become disconnected from the public opinion, disconnected from the beliefs, values and concerns of most Americans. On many major issues, the general public has moved to the political left which exacerbates this disconnection, creating a situation where the two choices are a conservative Democratic Party and a right-wing Republican Party.

The problem is that the polarized (or rather polarizing) minority entirely controls public debate and the political system. Watching this meaningless spectacle of polarized conflict and dysfunction, the non-polarized majority is some combination of not registered, not voting, voting third party, voting semi-randomly, identifying as independent, politically apathetic, demoralized, hopeless, resigned, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, etc. Some of the general public can be temporarily manipulated by polarization, such as when given forced choices and when threatened with fear-mongering, but in the end their basic values and concerns don’t support polarization.

Meanwhile the party insiders of both main parties, when the issue is important enough to the interests of themselves, their cronies and the donor class, always seem to find a way to agree and cooperate about passing bills and enacting laws that further push public policy toward neoconservatism and neoliberalism. The culture war framing makes for good stories to tell on the corporate media for mass consumption, but they aren’t what drive actual politics.

At the very highest level of wealth and power, there is very little polarization and a whole lot of collusion and cronyism. Some would argue that even the political elite aren’t actually more polarized. They may be arguing more about more issues, even as the substance of conflict might not indicate any greater disagreement overall than in the past. Others, such as myself, would see most of the partisan bickering as yet more political theater to keep the public distracted.

Certainly, there is no polarization in the deep state, the double government, or whatever you wish to call it. Major public policies aren’t left to chance. Research has shown that the general public has little influence on what politicians do. Some take this argument further, pointing that often even elected officials have little power to change things. That is because elected officials represent a miniscule part of the entrenched bureaucracy. Besides, many political elites don’t necessarily operate within the government itself, such as think tanks shaping policy and lobbyists writing bills. For those who aren’t part of the ruling elite, this discourages them from getting involved in politics or running for office.

How would we know if our society is more polarized, in what ways, what it means, and to whose benefit? Polls don’t just tell us what public opinion is. They shape public opinion and polling during elections can influence voting behavior. And what data the corporate media decides to report and how they frame it shapes the public mind. Some might call it public perception management. Is the public really polarized or made to feel polarized or that everyone around them is polarized? What is the agenda in making the public feel divided and individuals isolated?

One thing is so clear as to be beyond all argument. We don’t have a functioning democracy: gerrymandering, establishment-controlled nomination process, third parties excluded from debates, partisan corporate media, perception management, think tank propaganda, astroturf organizations, paid trolls, voter disenfranchisement and suppression, campaigns and political access determined by big money, revolving door politics, regulatory capture, legalized bribery, pervasive secrecy and unaccountability, etc. So, we don’t have elections that offer real choices and actual influence. And because of this, we don’t have political elites that represent the citizenry.

I’m not sure what polarization means within a political system that is oligarchic, plutocratic, corporatist, and inverted totalitarian. Is it really polarized or is it working according to design? And for the all too real divisions that exist, are they ideological or demographic? Are the majority of poor, white and non-white, politically polarized in any meaningful sense when most of them are so politically apathetic as to not vote? As inequality grows along with poverty and desperation, will our greatest concern be how polarized are the tiny minority of the remaining middle-to-upper class?

* * *

Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects
Political Elites Disconnected From General Public
Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism
Warmongering Politicians & Progressive Public
Racial Polarization of Partisans
Most Americans Know What is True
Liberalism: Label vs Reality (analysis of data)
Non-Identifying Environmentalists And Liberals
US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism
Public Opinion On Government & Tea Party
Claims of US Becoming Pro-Life
Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich
Most Oppose Cutting Social Security (data)
The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2
Vietnam War Myths: Memory, Narrative, Rhetoric & Lies

* * *

7 in 10 Americans ‘Not Upset’ with Gay Marriage, New iMediaEthics Poll Finds
by Andy Sternberg and David W. Moore

Liberal Policy Preferences are Everywhere
by Yeggmen

America Is Much Less Conservative than the Mainstream Media Believe
by Eric Alterman

America Not as Politically Conservative as You Think
by Lee Drutman

Why most conservatives are secretly liberals
by John Sides

You’re Probably Not as Conservative as You Think
by Tom Jacobs

You May Think You’re Right … Young Adults Are More Liberal Than They Realize
by Ethan Zell and Michael J. Bernstein

The End of the Conservative Movement (Still)…
by George Hawley

Ideological Labels in America
by Claassen, Tucker, and Smith

Political Ideology
by Jost, Federico, and Napier

Operational and Symbolic Ideology in the American Electorate
by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson

The Ideological Right vs. The Group Benefits Left
by Matt Grossmann

In Search of the Big Sort
by Samuel J Abrams

Who Fits the Left-Right Divide?
by Carmines, Ensley, and Wagner

Despite Headline, Pew Poll Does Not Show a Polarized America
by Todd Eberly

Most experts think America is more polarized than ever. This Stanford professor disagrees. And he thinks the 2016 election has only buttressed his interpretation.
by Jeff Stein

Polarized or Sorted? Just What’s Wrong With Our Politics, Anyway?
by Alan I. Abramowitz and Morris P. Fiorina

Disconnected: The Political Class versus the People
by Morris P. Fiorina

Has the American Public Polarized?
by Morris P. Fiorina

America’s Missing Moderates: Hiding in Plain Sight
by Morris P. Fiorina

Moderates: Who Are They, and What Do They Want?
by Molly Ball

Politics aren’t more partisan today–we’re just fighting about more issues
by Heather Hurlburt

Preference Change through Choice
by Petter Johansson, Lars Hall, and Nick Chater

(Mis)perceptions of Partisan Polarization in the American Public
by Matthew S. Levendusky and Neil Malhotra

(Mis)perceiving Political Polarization
by Nathan Collins

Americans overestimate political polarization, according to new CU-Boulder research
by Greg Swenson

The Effect of “False” Polarization
by Matthew S. Levendusky and Neil A. Malhotra

Your opinion on climate change might not be as common as you think
by Leviston, Walker, and Morwinski

Constructing Public Opinion
by Justin Lewis

Does Media Coverage of Partisan Polarization Affect Political Attitudes?
by Matthew Levendusky and Neil Malhorta

Do Partisan Media Add to Political Polarization?
by Anne Kim

The Limits of Partisan Prejudice
by Yphtach Lelkes and Sean J. Westwood

Elite Polarization and Public Opinion
Joshua Robison and Kevin J. Mullinix

How polarisation in Washington affects a growing feeling of partisanship
by Harry J Enten

Elite Polarization, Partisan Ambivalence, and a Preference for Divided Government
by Lavine, Johnston, Steenbergen, and Perkins

Ideological Moderates Won’t Run: How Party Fit Matters for Partisan Polarization in Congress
by Danielle M. Thomsen

How party activists, not voters in general, drive political polarization
by Gillian Kiley

Polls of Persuasion: Beware of the Horse Race
by Alicia Wanless

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
by Jordan Michael Smith

Regurgitated Scripts

Below is something written back in November 8 of this year. I share it because illustrates clearly a problematic worldview.

Let me offer some initial context. The person writing it is a middle class white woman who is college-educated, married, lives in a nice house, and works as an actress in the theatre. She is a stereotypical white professional of the middle class and she gives voice to the privileged views of the liberal class.

Her views are not just typical but stereotypical, as she is perfectly playing the role cast for her. It’s a willing example of typecasting. Many others who fit her demographic profile would express the exact same views. It’s the liberal class reality tunnel.

I’ll break her comment down into parts. The first paragraph is about the perceived problem:

“We all know Donald Trump, we all have met him. I’ve met him in my professor whose eyes only focused on the male students when they spoke. I met him in a tow truck driver who disliked towing ‘colored people’, in men who seem to believe that the worst thing a woman can be is fat, in the manager of my first job who paid men more than women because they could lift heavy things. He’s the person who says they can’t be racist because they have black friends. He’s the roofer who changed his bid halfway through the job based on his own calculation error. He’s the guy at the gas station who grabbed my hands and asked if he could spoil me.”

I don’t like Trump, have never liked Trump, and don’t plan on liking Trump at any future point of my life. I have no need nor desire to defend him. I just don’t think that Trump as a person is the main issue.

As both sides have made clear, this was a choice between evils, not between one good and another. Even those who voted for Trump admitted in polls that they didn’t necessarily like Trump or agree with him. The large numbers of working class folk, minorities, and women who voted for Trump didn’t do so because his rich white male privilege inspired them. They were simply frustrated and outraged, and for good reason.

The above quoted view is a narrative framing. In the worldview of the middle class white feminist, Trump stands in for all these bad people.

Women who are poor, minority, immigrant, etc probably have a less simplistic view because they can’t afford to live in such a disconnected narrative. They don’t worry about who the professor is looking at because they and most people they know have never had the opportunity to go to college. They also know that it isn’t just truck drivers who are racially biased but also privileged white liberals like Hillary Clinton with the Clinton legacy of dog whistle politics supporting racialized policies. They can’t afford to be willfully ignorant of such harsh realities.

It’s not that everything this person says is false. I’m sure she has had some of these experiences. As far as that goes, many people have had far worse experiences, including the poorest white men who are a large part of the unemployed, police brutality victims, prison population, and those fighting on the frontlines of pointless wars promoted by war hawks — all the horrific injustices promoted by the policies of the Clinton New Democrats. This is why the narratives of identity politics are mostly comforting to the already comfortable.

Now the next part is not exactly the solution. It’s more a portrayal of the perceived victim.

“We all know HRC, we have all met her. She’s the boring lady boss who isn’t as friendly as we expect. She’s the super smart girl in class who seemed not to know how to smile and flirt to endear herself, who was told that honey catches more flies than vinegar. She’s the unapologetically ambitious career woman who makes a mistake and gets dragged through the mud for it, even though her male coworkers do the exact same thing and everyone looks away. She makes mistakes but somehow catches more shit for them than anyone else partly because she doesn’t follow the usual social scripts for a woman.”

Hillary Clinton, as a well off white woman, stands in for all the struggles of well off white women who deserve to break the glass ceiling so that they can join as equals among the well off white men. Clinton isn’t one of the wealthy plutocrats and powerful ruling elite. No, she is a victim of society and of the system that is trying to keep her down.

And here is the last part, the solution:

“This election makes me so anxious because if Trump wins, it means the sins of the entire first paragraph is more okay than the sins of the second.”

So, what is the solution? Vote for Clinton or evil wins. She doesn’t really believe anything Clinton has done is a sin for she shows no evidence to the contrary. She demonstrates a lack of knowledge of what is involved, both in this particular post and other things she has posted.

The only sin she sees Clinton being guilty of is being a woman in a man’s world. That is the narrative and the story was supposed to end with Hillary Clinton winning, the final culmination of a century of progressive aspirations fought for by good liberals. We need to ensure Clinton was elected in order to protect her as a victim from those who seek to victimize her. Clinton would have been the first Victim-in-chief. Just ignore the minor details of all those victimized by Clinton’s policies.

I commented about this on Facebook. A couple people I know commented. Here is the first comment:

“Sometimes I think our education system that forces us to memorize things and then regurgitate them onto a test to get a pat on the head is to blame for some of this stuff. This is practically a word for word script we’ve been fed about why we should like and vote for her.”

And my response: I spoke of willful ignorance. But that’s not quite right. Willful ignorance is not an excuse, for sure. I’m not even sure it’s an explanation. You get at the issue better than I did, articulating what was bothering me about this. It’s a near perfect regurgitation of a script.

A stupid and ignorant person wouldn’t be able to do that. To regurgitate a script like that, you have to be well informed about the scripts so often repeated in the media. And, as you say, this is a skill that has to be learned, it being most well learned by the well-educated. As research shows, sometimes the most well informed people are simultaneously the most misinformed people, as they simply take it all in without discernment and self-awareness.

One interesting thing is that less educated people are less polarized and partisan. If you’re working poor, you don’t have the time to pay attention to all of the scripts in media and memorize them. It takes a fair amount of time and effort to be able to regurgitate scripts like that, so casually that it seems like your own opinion.

The first victims of propaganda and public perception management are the most media-saturated and media savvy. These are the people who have the luxury of free time to regularly absorb what is coming out of the mainstream media and out of the party machines. These people are typically more politically active and connected to those who are politically active. They are the mostly middle-to-upper class partisans who have high voting rates.

Scripts such as these aren’t meant for the poor and disenfranchised. No, their purpose is to keep the most loyal partisans in line and to keep them from thinking any original thoughts.

This is what another friend wrote:

“Doesn’t much resemble the Hillary Clinton I’ve seen on camera and heard on NPR all these years. The woman doesn’t have an ounce if humility or accountability in her. And no, again, her male co-workers did not do the same exact thing. She smiled plenty in the early pics of her, she’s a war hawk who has little perceivable innate warmth, a great deal of privilege, and a serious credibility problem.”

And my response: I agree. This is the fantasyland version of Hillary Clinton or rather the bizarro world version.

I keep repeating that the kind and amount of damning evidence revealed during the campaign season about Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, the DNC, and colluding MSM hasn’t happened in living memory. I’m not sure it has ever happened before.

Also, I don’t know of any other major candidate in US history that was being investigated about political corruption and wrongdoing leading up to a presidential election. I know my American history fairly well. If someone knows of a comparable situation, I’d love to know about it. But, as far as I can tell, we are in new territory.

This is not normal. And I hope it never becomes normal.

* * *

One last thought:

As this deals with smart people, it would likely involve the smart idiot effect. Professionals of the liberal class tend to not just be highly intelligent but also highly educated. They tend to know a lot about certain things and often to know a little about a lot of things, as a good liberal education gives them. Even so, they typically know less than they think they know. Even experts aren’t experts outside of their field of expertise.

These members of the liberal class are generally successful in their chosen careers or else are able to find other work that is satisfying and pays well. They tend to be more well traveled and worldly. They aren’t isolated in that sense, even as they are isolated in a reality tunnel and media bubble. Their social and class position gives them a sense of confidence and competence.

They are able to argue well and articulate clearly, to offer plausible explanations and convincing narratives. They are smart and able to present themselves as smart. If demanded of them, they would throw out many facts to support their beliefs. And there would be some truth to what they said, even as the evidence they used was cherry-picked.

It reminds me of a coworker my dad told me about. He was extremely smart and could come up with answers quickly. When asked about why he thought a particularly way, he could then offer an instant reason that made sense. But over time my dad realized that he was mostly just rationalizing his intuitions, which doesn’t mean his intuitions were wrong even as the rationalizations may have had little to do with them.

The smarter you are, the better you are likely to be at rationalizations, either in inventing them on the spot or memorizing them.

As always, this isn’t limited to the liberal class. It just seems all the more egregious when good liberals act this way. It’s a need for certainty and easy answers, an ironically conservative-minded tendency. The problem is the world is more complicated than standard political narratives allow for.

Cold War Ideology and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

I learned of a new author, Andrew Alexander, the same year he died. I came across him because of a book he wrote on the Cold War, America and the Imperialism of Ignorance: How America Won the War and Lost the Peace – US Foreign Policy Since 1945. I’ll add that book to my reading list for all Americans, even if Oprah doesn’t include it in her book club list.

Alexander was highly critical of Cold War policies and propaganda (and its continuing influence), having seen it as some combination of ignorance and delusion. But he was no radical activist, academic revisionist, or dogmatic ideologue trying to defend left-wing politics. Besides being a respectable editor, journalist and columnist for The Daily Mail, he was a Tory conservative (and once a Conservative candidate), Thatcher neoliberal, right-wing British patriot, and hardline anti-communist. As Simon Jenkins at the Guardian puts it, “No one could possibly call him leftwing, let alone a pacifist appeaser. He has no illusions about the evil of Stalin or Mao, any more than he has about Saddam and al-Qaida.” David Duff, in an Al Aribaya News article, states it simply when he calls Alexander “a crusty Tory of the old school.”

Alexander’s social circle included many in the British political and economic elite. He wasn’t some nobody attacking his perceived superiors in hoping to make a name for himself. His career has been well established for a long time. His is not an angry commentary from an outsider, but a set of long considered concerns directed toward his own ideological peers and associates. He makes this clear in the dedication to his book: “To my numerous friends in the Conservative Party whose relentless belief remains to this day that the Cold war arose from the aggressive ambitions of the Kremlin, thwarted by the bold response of our American friends. Their refusal to contemplate any other explanation has spurred me on in this, my survey of US foreign policy over the last sixty-five years.” His book was an offering to friends, not an attack against enemies. It was his love of country that made him take this issue so seriously, as he worried about the costs wasted and damages done.

It is interesting to read the views of someone like him. It is hard to imagine a conservative of that variety in the mainstream media of the United States. From a Guardian article more than a decade old, he offered this gem (The Soviet threat was a myth):

“One can, of course, understand why few in the west want the orthodox view overturned. If that were to happen, the whole edifice of postwar politics would crumble. Could it be that the heavy burden of postwar rearmament was unnecessary, that the transatlantic alliance actually imperilled rather than saved us? Could it be that the world teetered on the verge of annihilation because post-war western leaders, particularly in Washington, lacked imagination, intelligence and understanding? The gloomy answer is yes.”

That is a damning conclusion, especially considering it comes from a conservative. To give some perspective, here is a passage from his book’s first chapter, The Flawed Cold War Orthodoxy (Kindle Locations 137-154):

“A wider look at history shows that a strongly interventionist US foreign policy is nothing new – though the current power to intervene globally is. A century ago, an American incomprehension of the outside world was exemplified by President Woodrow Wilson, so determined to remake countries in the American image after the First World War. His mixture of benevolence and ruthlessness may be summed up in a dispute with Mexico in 1913, when he announced ‘I will teach the Latin-Americans to elect good men’ followed by bombarding the town of Vera Cruz. His gunboat diplomacy intensified such feelings of nationalism and anti-Americanism that Germany hoped to make Mexico an ally in an attack on the USA in 1917 – famously exposed in the Zimmermann telegram, decoded by London.

“In 1945, the USA dedicated itself in Wilsonian language to bringing ‘democracy and freedom’ to the countries occupied by the Soviets at the end of the Second World War. The goal was high-minded. But there was a puzzling refusal to acknowledge the Soviet claim that two invasions by Germany in twenty-seven years made the firm control of Eastern Europe essential to Russian security. Truman insisted on seeing the Soviets as the determinedly expansionist enemy of the free world almost from the day he assumed office. They were, he said, ‘planning world conquest’.2

“The United States over which he presided had emerged from the Second World War with a military and economic supremacy unparalleled in history. Of the three powers which defeated the Axis alliance, the USA was unique in ending the war wealthier than when it began. By contrast, Britain’s income was down by a third with much of its overseas assets sold to buy armaments from the USA. In the case of Russia, which had been responsible for destroying the vast bulk of Hitler’s forces, the loss of income was immeasurable. Soviet statistics, always dubious, have never provided a wholly reliable picture of national income. But the scale of the devastation, involving at least twenty-two million and possibly twenty-seven million military and civilian deaths, speaks for itself.

“There was in fact no evidence in 1945 that the Soviet Union had a sinister plan to conquer the West. The threat perceived by Truman and others was imaginary – though no less powerful for that – stoked up by years of fearing the deadly spread of Communism.”

Alexander is able to write with such authority because he has gone to the direct words of Stalin and others. Mining records that weren’t available to earlier historians and journalists, his writings on the Cold War includes many telling quotes. What becomes clear is that Stalin was simply another nationalist despot with nationalist concerns. He worried about his own power and position, and of course he took seriously his role as leader of the country he ruled. He was a Russian nationalist, not an ideological communist and Trotsky internationalist (Stalin, by the way, assassinated Trotsky). Alexander states this in no uncertain terms (Kindle Locations 195-202):

“Given the German invasions, it would not have mattered whether the government in Moscow had been Communist, Tsarist or Social Democrat. It would still have insisted on firm control of these countries through which invasion had come; and bound to regard with deep suspicion any attempts to prevent it. In any case, Moscow could never forget that it was British and French policy in the interwar years to make Eastern Europe a barrier against the Soviet Union, even to consider – crucially – allowing Hitler a free hand against Russia. Colonel, later President, de Gaulle noted that even after the start of the Second World War:

“Certain circles saw the enemy in Stalin rather than Hitler. They busied themselves with finding means of striking Russia, either by aiding Finland or bombarding Baku or landing at Istanbul, much more than in coming to grips with Hitler.”

There is an intriguing insight about Stalin and non-Russian revolutions. Alexander explains that (Kindle Locations 161-165):

“Stalin’s attitude to the so-called world proletarian revolution is essential to understanding his personal and political motivation. He was, like the despot throughout the ages, principally concerned with his own survival rather than with ideological issues. He abandoned the grand global ambition of the world proletarian revolution in 1924 when he proclaimed that, henceforth, the aim was to be ‘socialism in one country’. To believe that he remained at all times a devout ideologue is to misread his character.”

One suspects those who saw Stalin as an ideologue were maybe projecting their own dogmatic tendencies. These Western ruling elites wanted an ideological war, whether or not Stalin wished to participate. “The determination of the West to see every Soviet move as explicable in terms of the pursuit of the world proletarian revolution provides one of history’s great ironies: the West took Communist doctrine more seriously than Stalin” (Kindle Locations 180-181). These ideologues were eventually able to force the hand of the Soviets to join this game of ideological battle, as they insisted on goading the Soviet government into aggression. In discussing the “European powers’ readiness to follow the American lead,” Alexander makes the point that “ironically…” (Kindle Locations 114-121),

“the launch of the Cold War by the USA did in due course bring into existence the very danger which had been imagined. It made frantic defence measures seem sensible. Threatened by President Truman, Russia responded by a vigorous programme of rearmament and an even tighter clampdown on Eastern Europe. With the refusal of the USA to respond to peace initiatives launched by the Soviet leadership on the death of Stalin in 1953, the Kremlin fought back under the new and more assertive leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. American and Western power in general was challenged wherever it could be found. It became rational to talk of a Communist threat and of the danger of a Soviet Union with a nuclear armoury. What was inaccurate was the assumption that a new military threat had come into being when the wartime allies finally came face to face in Germany.”

I sometimes find myself talking about the Cold War. I’m on the tail end of the Cold War generations, when that era was winding down. It’s just a childhood memory to me, mostly as portrayed in the fictionalized accounts of Hollywood movies and tv shows. I sense how different older Americans often respond to Cold War history. What to me just seems like propaganda to many who are older seems tangibly real. The ideological terms of capitalism versus communism so fully define and determine their sense of reality.

I found it interesting that even the Soviets talked about defending freedom and democracy from American greed, immorality, and destructiveness. Both sides were often making similar arguments. I’ve come to the conclusion that it never was about ideology. You can see evidence of that in how easily formerly communist Russia and Maoist China have come to embrace variants of capitalism.

It seems to me that the greatest threat to the United States has always been fascism, not communism. You can also see the evidence of that in how easily this country has taken on forms of crony capitalism, corporatism, and inverted totalitarianism. But it isn’t an ideological issue, per se. It is partly just about power and in the US power has always been tied up with capitalism, not any opposing ideologies. Even the most left-wing progressivism in the US merely sought to reform capitalism and did so to protect against anything further left.

Plus, I see the cultural angle being so much more important. That is seen with Stalin. He was a Russian nationalist, first and foremost, through and through. The United States has never been an ethnically homogeneous country like any of the communist countries or, for that matter, any of the traditionally fascist countries. Diversity has been a great protection for the US against the worst forms of authoritarian takeover.

In terms of Russia and Eastern Europe, there was never much of an issue, since only a small part of America’s population comes from that part of the world. The main reason fascism was a threat in this country wasn’t even the dominance of plutocratic capitalism, but because so many Americans came from countries that became fascist. Many German-Americans, the single largest ancestry in the US, proudly marched in the streets carrying flags and banners with the swastika. The characteristics of the American people that resonated with fascism were cultural rather than ideological. Even ignoring ancestry and issues of national loyalty, this resonance included America’s populist folk religiosity, a defining feature of fascism and quite opposite of official communist ideology. The same social and political forces that brought fascism to Europe also brought the German Bund and Second Klan to America.

Yet we go on arguing about ideology. It never was about ideology. It still isn’t. So many ideological debates ring hollow. Like the Cold War, the culture wars were simply a spectacle of distraction. Most Americans agree about most things. There is no grand ideological conflict in America, although there is a class war between the economic elite and everyone else (Joe Bageant made the argument that 60-70% of Americans are actually working class, those with little economic freedom and self-determination), but a class war in raw form is still not directly an issue of ideology. There certainly isn’t any threat of communist takeover. Even Bernie Sanders is simply a moderate mainstream social democrat and not a radical dogmatic ideologue.

I doubt the ideological Cold War will end until the last person with living memory of that era has left this earth. It has been such a powerful force in ruling over our collective psyche, strangling our ability to imagine anything else. We can only hope that with historical distance its grip will loosen and its influence fade.

What is the opposite of beauty?

“When I ask my students, ‘What is the opposite of beauty?’ they very quickly respond, ‘ugly.’ That’s what society tells us. But what if I say it’s glamour? We start seeing that glamour is the most dangerous thing because it disguises itself as beautiful, attracts us to it, ensnares us in false hopes and superficiality, and in that process takes us away from real beauty…”
~ Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu

Glamour is a charade, a deadly charade. It is superficial, a show, an entertainment. It is numbing, deadening. It is an image that seeks to replace reality.

Beauty, on the other hand, is the human soul laid bare. It is the essence of meaning, the expression of authenticity.

The peddlers of glamour would like us to believe that beauty is ugliness, that ugliness is beauty, to forget what is real. The point I take from the quote is that ugliness, as mainstream society defines it, isn’t the opposite of beauty.

That is why I chose this image by Banksy. The image shows the truth of cultural imperialism, of the military-capitalist complex. It is an image that subverts the image of consumerism. What is really being sold and at what cost? The line between advertising and propaganda is so thin as to be non-existent.

The girl running from the Napalm bombing represents much of what our society calls ugly, expressing pain and suffering, fear and desperation. But in reality the images of capitalism are what is ugly for what they seek to hide, the dark and violent underpinnings of the system of power and profit.

That is what we don’t want to face. That is what entertainment and infotainment is meant to distract us from.

American Celebration of War

I came across a claim that Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) and Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) were war buddies.

Something about the story given made me suspicious. It fit too neatly into what uber-patriotic military supporters would like to believe. It seemed highly unlikely. I looked it up and it indeed turned out to be false. They never fought together. In fact, Keeshan never saw any military action and Rogers never served in the military.

What is the point of making up such falsehoods? I just don’t get it. Why does everything have to be made into yet more war propaganda? Come on, at least leave Mister Rogers alone. Why make such a well-loved children’s icon into a symbol of war?

All of this came up because people were posting stuff on Facebook as it was Memorial Day. This brings up a larger issue of how Memorial Day became a celebration of American patriotism and a celebration of all things related to American war and to American military power and greatness. There are various origins of the holiday, but all go back to the Civil War.

It officially began with an order given by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan. The celebration involved, among other activities, strewing flowers on both the graves of Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers. The history of the Civil War puts the celebration in context. That era of conflict was the greatest threat and undermining to American patriotism that this country has ever experienced. The first Memorial Day was in honor of Americans killing and being killed by other Americans. It wasn’t just self-sacrifice of soldiers for their country, but also the self-sacrifice of the entire country in a war that split apart the American population, that split apart communities and families.

However, many earlier celebrations happened. The earliest of them all involved former slaves in South Carolina. They went to a mass grave of Union soldiers in a Confederate prison camp. They did individual reburials and then held a massive parade of thousands. For these former slaves, what they were celebrating was freedom and the sacrifice of those who had ended slavery. But the enemies of freedom in this case were also Americans, just as the former slaves were Americans. The fight for freedom that Memorial Day represents was a struggle within American society against those who wanted mass oppression to continue.

The best way to celebrate Memorial Day would be to honor the conflict that continues to exist in American society and to fight for greater freedom for all Americans. This struggle is far from over.

As an additional thought, I was reminded of the origins of Mother’s Day. It also began with the Civil War. The meaning of Mother’s Day isn’t about some apolitical celebration of motherhood. I’m a big fan of mothers as far as that go, but it is a shame that the holiday has become so superficial. The motivation behind the first Mother’s Day was to protest the carnage of the Civil War. It was a declaration of peace and demand for pacifism. It was an honoring of the mother’s who lost their sons to pointless bloodshed.

Why does everything get obscured that doesn’t contribute to simplistic patriotic propaganda? And why does everything have to serve the American war mentality or else be neutered of its criticism of the same?

The United States was founded on a violent revolution. But it wasn’t fought for patriotism. If those early colonists had cared about patriotism, they would have remained loyal British subjects.

When Memorial Day comes around, I always feel confused about what I’m supposed to be celebrating or honoring. I’m not a pacifist. The military sometimes is necessary. Some wars are started for worthy reasons and achieve worthy ends. Even so, what was so honorable about all the soldiers sent to their death in Iraq, a war that killed even larger numbers of innocent civilians? Those soldiers, sadly, didn’t die fighting for the freedom of Americans. When was the last time that American soldiers fought for anything as noble of a cause as freeing slaves?

Maybe we should spend holidays such as Memorial Day and Mother’s Day contemplating the continued violence and oppression in our own society.

Vietnam War Myths: Memory, Narrative, Rhetoric & Lies

I continually wonder how we can move forward as a society when we are so disconnected from our own past.

Ideological myths are strange. It doesn’t matter if the known facts contradict them. They can be refuted endlessly, but they continue as if nothing has changed. Their very power seems built not on passively being misinformed, but actively being in denial.

Military vets march against the Vietnam War, Washington D.C. (1967)

Vietnam veterans lead a march against the Vietnam War, Washington D.C. (1967)
White House Collection / National Archives

The Vietnam War is a great example of this.

Anti-war protesters came from both political parties, came from both urban and rural areas, came from both those with and without college education, came from radicals and average Americans, came from both veterans/soldiers and the general population. It wasn’t just a small group of malcontent hippies.

Some of the most radical protesters were the veterans and soldiers who knew about war firsthand because they and their friends had made personal sacrifices. I’ve even heard of Vietnam veterans who fought off the riot police when peaceful protesters were attacked, and that was the only incident during that era when the police retreated from protesters. There was even mass resistance among active duty military.

Anit-Vietnam War protester spits on soldier in G.I. Joe cartoon. (Cartoon: G.I. Joe)There are at least thousands of myths and they involve political issues across the board. The facts outnumber the myths, but it is easier to repeat a myth than to debunk a myth. Most people are too lazy and uninspired, too tired and overworked to spend the time trying to dissect complex issues that don’t fit into the tidy boxes of political myths.

Instead offering complex analysis, I’ll just offer the evidence about the Vietnam War for anyone who cares about reality over myth:

http://blogs.e-rockford.com/applesauce/2011/01/03/why-do-republicans-remain-hawkish-about-the-afghan-war-when-americans-generally-are-not/

Nor were Republicans especially hawkish about U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. In a Gallup poll conducted in June of 1967, a majority of Republican respondents said Vietnam was a mistake, while only one-third of Democrats agreed with them.

Even as American forces were leaving Southeast Asia and communist forces were overrunning Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia, most Republican respondents in a 1975 Gallup poll opposed any further U.S. military aid to the friendly governments in those countries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_Veterans_Against_the_War

Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) is a tax-exempt non-profit organization and corporation, originally created to oppose the Vietnam War. VVAW describes itself as a national veterans’ organization that campaigns for peace, justice, and the rights of all United States military veterans. It publishes a twice-yearly newsletter The Veteran, previously published more frequently as 1st Casualty (1971–1972) and then as Winter Soldier (1973–1975). VVAW considers itself as anti-war, although not in the pacifistic sense. Membership varied greatly, from almost 25,000 veterans during the height of the war to fewer than a couple thousand in subsequent decades. While the member veterans were a small fraction of the millions that served between 1965–75, the VVAW is widely considered to be among the most influential anti-war organizations of that era.

http://www.vvaw.org/veteran/article/?id=1656

In April of 1971 the war was raging in Indochina. The vast majority of American were sick and tired of it and wanted the war to end. Thousands and thousands were actively demonstrating their opposition to the war as the US government was losing more and more support for its Vietnam policies.

Soldiers in Vietnam were refusing to go on combat missions. At home, veterans formed a national organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). It was in April of 1971 that VVAW held its first national demonstration to protest the war in Vietnam. The demonstration was named “Operation Dewey Canyon III” (Dewey Canyon I and II were secret operations into Laos that were never reported to the American people). It was held in Washington DC from April 18th to April 23rd, and was the most powerful antiwar demonstration held up to that time; it sparked off a series of major demonstrations that made it clear that the American people wanted the US out of Indochina.

http://libcom.org/history/vietnam-gi-resistance

The U.S. government would be happy to see the history of the Vietnam War buried and forgotten. Not least because it saw the world’s greatest superpower defeated by a peasant army, but mainly because of what defeated the war effort – the collective resistance of the enlisted men and women in the U.S. armed forces, who mutinied, sabotaged, shirked, fragged and smoked their way to a full withdrawal and an end to the conflict.

Military morale was considered high before the war began. In fact, the pre-Vietnam Army was considered the best the United States had ever put into the field. Consequently, the military high command was taken quite by surprise by the rapid disintegration of the very foundations of their power.

http://www.isreview.org/issues/22/feat-franklin.shtml

No, it was not Vietnam but the United States that ended up divided by America’s war. And the division cut even deeper than the armed forces, biting down into the core of the secret government itself. When members of the intelligence establishment joined the antiwar movement, they had the potential to inflict even greater damage than mutinous soldiers and sailors. The perfidy of the Central Intelligence Agency in Vietnam was revealed by one of its highest-level agents in South Vietnam, Ralph McGehee, author of Deadly Deceits: My Twenty-Five Years in the CIA. Philip Agee decided in 1971 to publish what eventually became Inside the Company: CIA Diary because of “the continuation of the Vietnam war and the Vietnamization programme,” writing, “Now more than ever exposure of CIA methods could help American people understand how we got into Vietnam and how our other Vietnams are germinating wherever the CIA is at work.” In that same year, two of the authors of the Pentagon’s own supersecret history of the war, Anthony Russo and Daniel Ellsberg, exposed it to the American people and the world.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/public-good-vs-splintered-society-pt-3/

There is the book The Spitting Image by Jerry Lembcke which analyzes how a legend formed around the claim that many Vietnam vets were spit upon by protesters (Damn hippies!) when they came home. In that book, he attributes the origins of this legend to movies such as Rambo: First Blood where there is a scene of Rambo raging about the injustices he met upon his return:

Colonel Trautman: It’s over Johnny. It’s over!

Rambo: Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off! It wasn’t my war! You asked me I didn’t ask you! And I did what I had to do to win, for somebody who wouldn’t let us win! Then I come back to the world, and I see all those maggots at the airport, protestin’ me, spittin’, callin’ me a baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me?! Huh?! Who are they?! Unless they been me and been there and know what the hell they yellin’ about!

Of course, this ignores that the anti-war protesters directed their anger and criticism at the political leaders and not the soldiers. It also ignores the fact that a fair number of Vietnam vets became anti-war protesters. But facts never get in the way of a good story.

Obviously, the Vietnam War was traumatizing to the American psyche similar to the Civil War. Both wars created a generation of physically and psychologically battered veterans many of whom felt victimized and resentful. And out of that trauma was born a sense of isolation and a sense of the individual being against the world. Rambo describes this in his words directly following the above speech about “all those maggots”:

Colonel Trautman: It was a bad time for everyone Rambo. It’s all in the past now.

Rambo: For you! For me civilian life is nothin’! In the field without a code of honor. You watch my back I watch yours. Back here there’s nothin’! Col. Trautman: You’re the last of an elite group. Don’t end it like this. Rambo: Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment. Back here I can’t even hold a job PARKING CARS!!!! UUHHHH!!!!! (Throws M-60 at wall and then slight emotional pause. He drops to the ground in a crouched position out of breath and very upset) Wha…I can’t…oh, I jus–omigod. Where is everybody? Oh God…I…I had a friend, who was Danforth. Wha–I had all these guys man. Back there I had all these fucking guys. Who were my friends. Cause back here there’s nothin’. Remember Danforth? He wore this black head band and I took one of those magic markers and I said to Feron, ‘Hey mail us to Las Vegas cause we were always talkin’ about Vegas, and this fucking car. This uh red ’58 Chevy convertible, he was talkin’ about this car, he said we were gonna cruise till the tires fall off. (upset pause) We were in this bar in Saigon. And this kid comes up, this kid carryin’ a shoe shine box, and eh he says uh ‘shine please, shine.’ I said no, eh an’ uh, he kept askin’ yeah and Joey said ‘yeah,’ and I went to get a couple beers and the ki–the box was wired, and he opened up the box, fuckin’ blew his body all over the place. And he’s layin’ there and he’s fuckin’ screamin’, there’s pieces of him all over me, jus like–! (frustrated he grabs at his bullet chain strapped around his chest and yanks it off) like this. And I’m tryin’ to pull em off you know? And ehe.. MY FRIEND IT’S ALL OVER ME! IT’S GOT BLOOD AND EVERYTHING! And I’m tryin’ to hold him together I put him together his fucking insides keep coming out, AND NOBODY WOULD HELP!! Nobody help me. He sayin’ plea I wanna go home I wanna go home. He keeps callin’ my name, I wanna go home Johnny, I wanna drive my Chevy. I said well (upset and breaking down) WHY I can’t find your fucking legs. I can’t find you legs. (softly now) I can’t get it out of my head. I fuc..I dream of seven years. Everyday I have this. And sometimes I wake up and I dunno where I am. I don’t talk to anybody. Sometimes a day–a week. (Almost inaudible) I can’t put it out of my mind…fucking…I can’t…….(totally sobbing now)

For the Rambo at the heart of our culture, the past is never past. The violence is continually relived.

Rambo, of course, was overly simplistic melodramatic violence porn. Maybe for that reason it had such an impact on the American psyche. Rambo expressed something that Americans felt, something that Americans wanted to believe. It gave all of the conflicts and doubts an emodied form. It put it all into the context of a story. And stories have a way of informing our perceived reality, our shared sense of identity.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/9723-reversing-the-vietnam-war-verdict

Historian Howard Zinn included this paragraph on the opposition to the Vietnam War by American soldiers in his People’s History of the United States:

The capacity for independent judgment among ordinary Americans is probably best shown by the swift development of antiwar feeling among American GIs — volunteers and draftees who came mostly from lower-income groups. There had been, earlier in American history, instances of soldiers’ disaffection from the war: isolated mutinies in the Revolutionary War, refusal of reenlistment in the midst of hostilities in the Mexican war, desertion and conscientious objection in World War I and World War II. But Vietnam produced opposition by soldiers and veterans on a scale, and with a fervor, never seen before.

According to the Washington Peace Center:

During the Vietnam War, the military ranks carried out mass resistance on bases and ships in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, U.S., and Europe. Military resistance was instrumental in ending the war by making the ranks politically unreliable. This history is well documented in Soldiers in Revolt by David Cortright and the recent film Sir! No Sir!

One of the key reports on GI resistance was written by Col. Robert D. Heinl Jr. and published in the Armed Forces Journal of June 7, 1971. He began:

The morale, discipline and battle worthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at anytime in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.

By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous. Elsewhere than Vietnam, the situation is nearly as serious.

Intolerably clobbered and buffeted from without and within by social turbulence, pandemic drug addiction, race war, sedition, civilian scapegoatise, draftee recalcitrance and malevolence, barracks theft and common crime, unsupported in their travail by the general government, in Congress as well as the executive branch, distrusted, disliked, and often reviled by the public, the uniformed services today are places of agony for the loyal, silent professions who doggedly hang on and try to keep the ship afloat.

According to the 2003 book by Christian Appy, Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides, Gen. Creighton Abrams — the U.S. military commander in Vietnam — made this comment in 1971 after an investigation: “Is this a god-damned army or a mental hospital? Officers are afraid to lead their men into battle, and the men won’t follow. Jesus Christ! What happened?”

http://www.amazon.com/Spitting-Image-Memory-Legacy-Vietnam/dp/0814751474

One of the most resilient images of the Vietnam era is that of the anti-war protester — often a woman — spitting on the uniformed veteran just off the plane. The lingering potency of this icon was evident during the Gulf War, when war supporters invoked it to discredit their opposition.

In this startling book, Jerry Lembcke demonstrates that not a single incident of this sort has been convincingly documented. Rather, the anti-war Left saw in veterans a natural ally, and the relationship between anti-war forces and most veterans was defined by mutual support. Indeed one soldier wrote angrily to Vice President Spiro Agnew that the only Americans who seemed concerned about the soldier’s welfare were the anti-war activists.

While the veterans were sometimes made to feel uncomfortable about their service, this sense of unease was, Lembcke argues, more often rooted in the political practices of the Right. Tracing a range of conflicts in the twentieth century, the book illustrates how regimes engaged in unpopular conflicts often vilify their domestic opponents for “stabbing the boys in the back.”

Concluding with an account of the powerful role played by Hollywood in cementing the myth of the betrayed veteran through such films as Coming HomeTaxi Driver, and Rambo, Jerry Lembcke’s book stands as one of the most important, original, and controversial works of cultural history in recent years.

http://www.amazon.com/Turning-History-Vietnam-Veterans-Against/dp/0814736351

The anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States is perhaps best remembered for its young, counterculture student protesters. However, the Vietnam War was the first conflict in American history in which a substantial number of military personnel actively protested the war while it was in progress.

In The Turning, Andrew Hunt reclaims the history of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), an organization that transformed the antiwar movement by placing Vietnam veterans in the forefront of the nationwide struggle to end the war. Misunderstood by both authorities and radicals alike, VVAW members were mostly young men who had served in Vietnam and returned profoundly disillusioned with the rationale for the war and with American conduct in Southeast Asia. Angry, impassioned, and uncompromisingly militant, the VVAW that Hunt chronicles in this first history of the organization posed a formidable threat to America’s Vietnam policy and further contributed to the sense that the nation was under siege from within.

Based on extensive interviews and in-depth primary research, including recently declassified government files, The Turning is a vivid history of the men who risked censures, stigma, even imprisonment for a cause they believed to be “an extended tour of duty.”

http://www.amazon.com/New-Winter-Soldiers-Veteran-Perspectives/dp/0813522420

Richard Moser uses interviews and personal stories of Vietnam veterans to offer a fundamentally new interpretation of the Vietnam War and the antiwar movement. Although the Vietnam War was the most important conflict of recent American history, its decisive battle was not fought in the jungles of Vietnam, or even in the streets of the United States, but rather in the hearts and minds of American soldiers. To a degree unprecedented in American history, soldiers and veterans acted to oppose the very war they waged. Tens of thousands of soldiers and veterans engaged in desperate conflicts with their superiors and opposed the war through peaceful protest, creating a mass movement of dissident organizations and underground newspapers. Moser shows how the antiwar soldiers lived out the long tradition of the citizen-soldier first created in the American Revolution and Civil War. Unlike those great upheavals of the past, the Vietnam War offered no way to fulfill the citizen-soldier’s struggle for freedom and justice. Rather than abandoning such ideals, however, tens of thousands abandoned the war effort and instead fulfilled their heroic expectations in the movements for peace and justice. According to Moser, this transformation of warriors into peacemakers is the most important recent development of our military culture.

http://www.amazon.com/Protest-Survive-Underground-Newspapers-Vietnam/dp/0275978613

Drawing from more than 120 newspapers, published between 1968 and 1970, this study explores the emergence of an anti-militarist subculture within the U.S. armed services. These activists took the position that individual GIs could best challenge their subordination by working in concert with like-minded servicemen through GI movement organizations whose behaviors and activities were then publicized in these underground newspapers. In examining this movement, Lewes focuses on their treatment of power and authority within the armed forces and how this mirrored the wider and more inclusive relations of power and authority in the United States. He argues that this opposition among servicemen was the primary motivation for the United States to withdraw from Vietnam.

This first book length study of GI-published underground newspapers sheds light on the utility of alternative media for movements of social change, and provides information on how these movements are shaped by the environments in which they emerge. Lewes asserts that one cannot understand GI opposition as an extension of the civilian antiwar movement. Instead, it was the product of an embedded environment, whose inhabitants had been drafted or had enlisted to avoid the draft. They came from cities and small towns whose populations were often polarized between those who wholeheartedly supported the war and those who became progressively more critical of the need for Americans to be involved in Vietnam.

http://www.amazon.com/Soldiers-Revolt-Resistance-During-Vietnam/dp/1931859272

American Democracy?

I had someone ask me why they should care about politics. It was just a few days ago. They were responding to my posting a bunch of political stuff on facebook. They didn’t see how politics helped one live one’s life.

I gave a rational response. Everything is political. One should care about politics because one cares about anything at all. Whether or not one is involved in politics, politics is involved in every aspect of one’s life. The personal is political. But rationality doesn’t by itself offer anything compelling, much less inspiring.

I’m not a person who is obsessively involved with politics. I often don’t even feel sure that voting matters. I see how democracy functions to a limited extent on the local level, depending on the local politics, but it is for damn sure hard to tell if democracy is functioning even slightly on the national level. If it is, it’s barely hanging by a thread.

This has become increasingly apparent as I’ve grown older.

The first election I cared about was in 2000. And what happened? It was stolen. There was never a full recount done and the supreme court chose our president. American democracy became the joke of the world. If this scenario had happened in a third world country, it would’ve been an international scandal necessitating outside intervention. Gore did nothing in response, no demand for a full recount, no righteous defense of democracy, nothing. The 2006 election also was problematic.

More recently, there was disinformation campaign that destroyed ACORN. That was an organization that helped average and below average Americans, especially in terms of voting. Republicans attacked them and Democrats caved. It was one of the most morally depraved acts in recent years. Now, Republicans have stepped up their campaign against democracy by pushing voter suppression.

Citizens United was maybe the tipping point toward a new era of corporatism. Polls show that the average American is far to the left of the Democrats and yet the majority position is rarely heard in the mainstream media or from either of the two main parties. Even a strong majority of voters can’t compete against the corrupting power of big money.

I’m not sure which is worse: Republicans attacking democracy or Democrats refusing to defend it. I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the moment, voting against the attacks on democracy is strategically more important. If democracy is finally and completely corrupted and disempowerd in national politics, then any other attempts at defense are meaningless.

The last thing I want to see is Republicans being rewarded with votes for attacking democracy. It’s sad that this attack has happened at all. It’s even more sad that the mainstream media and the Democratic Party has given it so little attention. There is no more important issue in a democratic system than ensuring democracy functions. The only unforgivable sin in a democracy is to undermine democracy itself.

I don’t care about either candidate in this election or either main party in general. All I care about is saving what remnants of democracy that have managed to survive. However, if Romney wins this election, I’m going to give up on American democracy. I’ll join some critical leftwingers in their assessment that the entire political system has become dysfunctional beyond saving.

There apparently is a very large number of Americans who either don’t understand democracy or don’t care about democracy… or else maybe it is just cynicism and apathy. Democracy can’t defeat a highly organized and well funded campaign of propaganda and disenfranchisement. I’d like to believe that democracy has a fighting chance, but it is hard to keep the faith.

So, what is the point? When rationality fails me, my cynical response is to say, “Wake me up when the revolution begins.”

Dominant Culture Denies Its Dominance

There is a certain kind of awareness that many, if not most, people seem to lack.

It is a social awareness dealing with the dominant culture. I suppose this type of awareness is likely a learned ability that few ever learn for it probably offers few advantages, especially on the social level. People who question the dominant culture tend to be ignored, dismissed or sometimes even punished.

The opposite of this social awareness of dominant culture isn’t simply a lack of awareness but often an active denial of awareness (although maybe a subliminal awareness of what is being denied). It’s obvious what is being denied from an outside perspective and yet if you are too far outside you might not notice the incongruency. Standing on the edge of the dominant culture, part way in and part way out, offers the perfect position for this kind of social awareness.

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So, what is being denied?

The person fully within the dominant culture often defends the dominant culture by denying that it is the dominant culture. That is how dominant cultures work. The dominant culture is able to maintain its dominance by maintaining its invisibility, well invisibility to those within the dominant culture anyway.

A reality tunnel can only be taken as reality by disallowing the reality tunnel to be seen for what it is.

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Here is the example that got me thinking about this today. It is a comment by Alan Lichtenstein to the Wired article ‘Why Do Some People Learn Faster?’ and the following is the relevant part of the comment:

“Intelligence is overrated.  However, hard work is underrated.”

I read all the responses to this comment (19 responses by my count). Only one person disagreed with the statement that “Intelligence is overrated” and no one disagreed with the statement that “However, hard work is underrated”.

This is relevant because Wired magazine is very much a part of American mainstream media and hence a part of American mainstream culture. These readers seem to be typical mainstream Americans and their opinions representative of the dominant culture.

In order to discern the beliefs, biases and assumptions of the dominant culture, just look at what the Mr. Lichtenstein’s statements imply. Who is overrating intelligence and underrating hard work? Certainly not Mr. Lichtenstein and the typical mainstream American who agrees with him. The comment is based on an assumption that most Americans overrate intelligence and underrate hard work, but that is obviously not true.

In fact, the very opposite of what Mr. Lichtenstein says is true, at least in America:

Intelligence is underrated. However, hard work is overrated.

America has always had a strong strain of anti-intellectualism and hard work is one of the central tenets of American culture.

If hard work was any more overrated, it would be treated like a religious belief. In some ways, it already is a religious belief. Others (such as Max Weber) have noted that American’s work ethic is rooted in Protestantism. Many have argued as well that America’s anti-intellectualism is also rooted in Protestantism or Christianity in general.

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Here is the basic point that I’m making (stated as a generalized truth):

You know what the dominant culture affirms by what those in the dominant culture deny.

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I’ll give two other examples, one related to the media and the other related to religion.

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First, there is the conservative allegation that the mainstream media is liberal.

As a liberal who doesn’t identify fully with the mainstream, I’ve noticed that this conservative allegation typically comes from people who are in the mainstream media, who regularly watch the mainstream media, or who are generally a part of the mainstream. When I check out alternative media, it is much more rare to come across this conservative allegation or else its more common to hear the opposite allegation.

The fact that this conservative allegation has spread so widely should make one suspicious of its veracity. If the mainstream media actually were liberal, those in the mainstream media wouldn’t allege others are too liberal in order to prove their own conservative credentials.

It’s like when Republican presidential candidates attack each other as being too liberal. No objective person would take this as evidence that the Republican Party has become a liberal party. Once again, the opposite is true. The GOP has instead gone to the far right.

The liberal media allegation also demonstrates the difference between mainstream and average. The mainstream often doesn’t represent the average for dominant cultures often originate from and are enforced by a dominant elite. The mainstream media acting as gatekeepers is an example of this. Even as the mainstream media attacks the mainstream media as being too liberal, the average American is more liberal than mainstream media. So, relative to the average American, the mainstream media certainly isn’t too liberal.

The conservative allegation that the mainstream media is too liberal acts as an implied denial. It denies that the mainstream media is too conservative. Hence, it denies that the corporate ruling elite who owns and operates the mainstream media (and who influences politics more than any other demographic) is too conservative. Furthermore, it denies how liberal average Americans are by refusing to acknowledge that the mainstream media doesn’t represent average Americans. The allegation implies that the mainstream media is more liberal than the average American when in reality the complete opposite is true.

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Second, religious Americans are always complaining about being victims.

This is ironic considering how much power they wield. Atheists don’t have lobbyist groups that are as wealthy and influential as the religious lobbyist groups. No admitted atheist or agnostic (or any other variety of non-Christian) has ever been president of the United States. If a candidate doesn’t regularly declare or somehow clearly demonstrate their Christian credentials, they won’t even get nominated as a candidate for either party.

Conservative Christian’s denying they have power is evidence of how much power they have.

America is the most religious nation in the West and probably the most Christian nation in the world. A large part of US policy is determined by conservative Christian beliefs: obstruction of legalizing gay marriage, constant attacks on women’s health clinics because of abortion, undermining of health care reform partly because of abortions and birth control, continued funding of abstinence only sex education, the largest prison system in the world built on a conservative Christian punishment mentality, “In God We Trust” being placed on our money at the beginning of the Cold War, our constantly attacking Muslim countries and our massive support of Israel, and on and on.

The rate of religiosity such as church membership and attendance is higher in America now than when the country was founded. Atheism may be growing, but it is still a tiny percentage of the population. The majority of Americans continue to claim to believe many standard doctrines of contemporary mainstream Christianity, including such bizarre beliefs as the story about Noah’s Ark being real (even many Christians in the first centuries of Christianity didn’t take such Old Testament stories literally).

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These examples create an odd picture of American culture.

Most Americans are liberal Christians with a strong work ethic. However, Christianity is shrinking the most among lower class whites and the most religious demographic of all is that of minorities, although the upper classes are also more religious than lower class whites (the more educated an American gets the more religious they become, thus disproving the higher education system is dominated by an anti-religious liberal elite).

So, the average and below average white American is actually less Christian and more liberal than Americans in the upper classes. Meanwhile, the white upper class complains about liberalism and secularism, and also the white upper class complains about minorities despite minorities most strongly representing the religiosity upper class whites proclaim as the moral highground.

The dominant culture continues to be dominated by upper class WASPs. This is so despite the fact that atheists and minorities are two of the fastest growing demographics. Dominant culture by its nature attempts to maintain the status quo of power, wealth and social order.

Rasmussen & Gallup: Dishonesty & Disinformation

Voters Want Growth, Not Income Redistribution
A Commentary By Michael Barone

“He cites a recent Gallup poll showing that while 82 percent of Americans think it’s extremely or very important to “grow and expand the economy” and 70 percent say it’s similarly important to “increase equality of opportunity for people to get ahead,” only 46 percent say it’s important to “reduce the income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor,” and 54 percent say this is only somewhat or not important.”

This Rasmussen article is a simple but clear example of bad reporting, possibly intentionally misleading. Looking at the Gallup report, let me break it down:

First, reducing the income and wealth gap isn’t the same thing as redistributing wealth. The point is that the wealth was already redistributed which is why such a large and growing gap exists in the first place.

Second, it’s easy to manipulate the numbers. Why didn’t it get reported according to all Americans who support reducing the gap to some degree? 72% of Americans support it and only 28% are against it. This is either blatant dishonesty, propaganda even, or the person who wrote this is lacking in basic mental capacity.

Third, there is also the data about how many Americans support equalizing opportunity. The vast majority of Americans support this. This confirms the second point in that the gap of wealth can’t be reduced without reducing the gap of opportunity. The issue of redistributing wealth doesn’t even come up.

In addition, the Gallup report shares data on a related point. They put forth the following:

“Do you think the fact that some people in the United States are rich and others are poor . . . represents a problem that needs to be fixed or is an acceptable part of our economic system?”

The Gallup people are masters of propaganda. This is such a blatantly loaded question. Of course, there has always been poor people and rich people. Even in countries where wealth is spread very evenly, some people are relatively more poor and other relatively more rich. The issue isn’t the existence of a wealth gap per se, rather the existence of a large and growing wealth gap. I know the people working at Gallup know the difference. Their dishonesty is mind-blowing and heart-breaking.

I get so frustrated by this kind of thing. Instead of reporting on public opinion, Rasmussen and Gallup seeks to manipulate public opinion. I know Rasmussen has a conservative bias and apparently Gallup as well, but there is a big difference between a bias and outright dishonesty. Bias can be forgiven. Dishonesty, however, disqualifies an organization from being treated with respect. This makes all information from such an organization to be so untrustworthy as to be nearly worthless, except as being a comparison with more trustworthy sources.