Where Are We Headed?

By: Alton C. Thompson

By “we” I am referring here to the United States in particular—while recognizing, however, that what occurs in the United States impacts the rest of the world.

With that qualification out of the way, let me begin by noting that one can grow up in the United States without learning what an evil country this has been, virtually from the beginning. While in elementary and high school one learns that as white colonists pushed westward, they did so at the expense of Native American groups, but this phase of our history tends to be sugar-coated. We learn of Native Americans helping the colonists survive, colonists purchasing (rather than stealing!) land from Native Americans, colonists and Native Americans celebrating Thanksgiving together, etc. If we learned that colonists killed Native Americans, well, as the colonists were “advancing” westward—as they “had” to do—it was inevitable that they would be attacked by Native Americans—and they “had” then to defend themselves, of course.

In fact, while in college one learned (from the writings of Frederick Jackson Turner) that this westward expansion had a profound—and positive—impact on American values, in that we became a more egalitarian people who valued, and practiced, democratic procedures.

Of course, we also learned that slavery had been practiced by many of the landowners who lived in the South, and that even some of our Founding Fathers were slaveholders. We learned to excuse them for this, however, because it was common “at that time.” And besides, slaveholders didn’t necessarily mistreat their slaves—and didn’t William Grayson, in his “The Hireling and the Slave” (1856), argue—very reasonably—that Southern slaves often were better off than Northern factory workers?! Besides, we fought the Civil War to end that evil anyway, didn’t we? The Tentacles of Empire

In 1935 Gen. Smedley Butler published his War is a Racket—in which he criticized the military adventurism in which he had been a participant at the government’s direction, adventurism that had our country interfering in the affairs of other countries to benefit American corporations. “Interfere” is, of course too mild a word for this adventurism, because it resulted in a great deal of killing—of innocents. But how many American students learn about the adventurism discussed by Butler while they are in college? Very few, I suspect.

A more recent writer who has been exposing elements of our despicable past—and another writer likely given little attention in our colleges and universities, I suspect—is William Blum. Blum is the author of Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (2000) and Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II (2003—with a 2008 edition now available). Some of the chapters of the latter book can be downloaded from Bill’s web site, www.killinghope.org. Also, Bill produces a free monthly newsletter—one needs only to ask to be placed on his emailing list.

In addition to William Blum, another notable writer who has written honestly about our past—again primarily from an “interventionist” (in other countries) point of view—is the late Chalmers Johnson [1931 – 2010], who had been a consultant for the CIA between 1967 and 1973. Among the books that Johnson wrote were Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire ( 2004, second edition); The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004); Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2008); and Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope (2011).

In the final chapter of Nemisis, Johnson made this comment:

The Sorrows of Empire was written during the American preparations for and launching of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. I began to study our continuous military buildup since World War II and the 737 military bases we currently maintain in other people’s countries. This empire of bases is the concrete manifestation of our global hegemony, and many of the blowback-inducing wars we have conducted had as their true purpose the sustaining and expanding of this network. We do not think of these overseas deployments as a form of empire; in fact, most Americans do not give them any thought at all until something truly shocking, such as the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, brings them to our attention. But the people living next door to these bases and dealing with the swaggering soldiers who brawl and sometimes rape their women certainly think of them as imperial enclaves, just as the people of ancient Iberia or nineteenth-century India knew that they were victims of foreign colonization.”

Those of us aware of our country’s evil past, and disgusted with George W. Bush for starting an unprovoked war against Iraq (done because Israel wanted us to?) voted for Barack Obama because we believed that he might lead our country in a different direction—toward decency. Little did we suspect (although perhaps we should have known, if we had examined Obama more closely) that he would continue, and even extend, the policies of his predecessor.

Today (March 31, 2012—my late dad’s birthday, I just realized!) I learned that while Obama was attending high school in Hawaii, he was known by his schoolmates (fellow basketball players in particular, evidently) as “Barry O’Bomber”! Should we be surprised, then, that Obama has become “Bush junior”? (A rhetorical question—as I’m sure you realize!)

As Ralph Nader notes in the article just cited,

The bombings by Mr. Obama, as secret prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, trample proper constitutional authority, separation of powers, and checks and balances and constitute repeated impeachable offenses. That is, if a pathetic Congress ever decided to uphold its constitutional responsibility, including and beyond Article I, section 8’s war-declaring powers.

Nader—a lawyer by training—faults members of the U. S. Congress—and members of his own profession—for failing to criticize Obama, and act as a check on his vile actions.

Ray McGovern has also, though, commented recently on Obama’s illegal actions, and I find his comments even more impressive—because McGovern is passionate about expressing his views regarding Obama, and presents a broader perspective than does Nader.

The basis for McGovern’s article is an article that appeared in the New York Times on May 29, 2012, by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, entitled “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.” McGovern, in summarizing the article, notes that both Obama and his predecessor have been playing “fast and loose” with the law, with the former receiving legal advice—and justification—for doing what he has been doing from his Attorney General, Eric Holder, and State Department lawyer Harold Koh. On the basis of that advice, Obama has been directing his counterterrorist (a misnomer!!) advisor John Brennan to “nominate” (a prostitution of the English language!) people to be killed, “without charge or trial, including American citizens.”

Whereas Nader had commented on this latest development from a Constitutional perspective, McGovern uses a religious one—not surprising given that he now works for Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC.

McGovern notes that Brennan was presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, degree by Fordham University—a Jesuit university—on May 19, and was asked to give the commencement address there as well. McGovern went on to note that there is a bumper sticker that reads:

When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I think he probably meant not to kill them.

And went on to note, pointedly:

Not one of the thousand cars driving onto the Bronx campus of Fordham University for commencement on May 19 was sporting that bumper sticker, nor was there any attention given to the general concept at commencement.

I don’t know if McGovern actually observed all of the cars entering the Fordham parking lot that day—and counted them!—but his point is that here is a religious institution—an institution that assumedly accepts the teaching that one should love the neighbor—that was not forced to invite a person of Brennan’s ilk to its campus—for an honor, and to give an address, at that—but did so anyway. Are we now living in an Orwellian world where hate is love, or are members of Fordham’s administration simply blind? Let us hope that it is the latter rather than the former! Fortunately, some of Fordham’s students had better vision and they “orchestrated some imaginative protests.”

McGovern noted that one of those in attendance was Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and head of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (and, I would add, an Archbishop here in Milwaukee before moving on to New York). McGovern muses:

I wonder if it occurred to Dolan that from these same steps an honorary degree was conferred in 1936 on Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, author of the Vatican’s Concordat with Nazi Germany.Later, as Pope Pius XII, Pacelli could not find his voice to speak out forcefully against the wars and other abuses of the Third Reich, including genocide against the Jews.

(I should note that Catholic theologian Daniel C. Maguire, who teaches at Marquette University here in Milwaukee, was a vocal critic of Dolan while Dolan was here in Milwaukee, and has continued to criticize him; see, e.g., this. Dan has a web site that deals with various ethical issues, http://www.religiousconsultation.org/).

McGovern concludes his article on a chilling note. He states that he had recently visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in West Jerusalem, and several years ago had visited the Dachau concentration—“death” would be a more apt term!—camp. Referring specifically to Dachau he said:

There were parallels that stood stark naked for any thinking American to see: parallels between Hitler’s success in grabbing dictatorial power in Germany—largely because of a supine Parliament, an acquiescent Church, a careerist Army leadership, and a fearful populace—and the situation we Americans face today with “kill lists,” unconstitutional “laws,” and Gestapo-style police armed to the teeth.

He went on to say:

I noticed that one of the English-speaking guides [at Dachau] pointed to the generals and jurists but avoided mentioning the bishops, so I insisted he make full disclosure. (It occurred to me that Hitler might have been stymied, had the Catholic and Lutheran bishops been able to find their voice.)

And (quoting “unbeliever” Albert Camus):

“What I know–and what sometimes creates a deep longing in me–is that if Christians made up their mind to it, millions of voices–millions, I say–throughout the world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals, who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly for children and other people.”

(Excerpted from Resistance, Rebellion, and Death: Essays)

The question that McGovern’s article leaves us with us Americans, then, is: Given that the dominant religion in this country is (still) Christianity, a religion supposedly based on the teachings of Jesus, its putative founder, and that Jesus taught—as the bumper sticker cited earlier suggested—that Jesus did not condone killing, why have not the religious leaders in this country (including non-Christian ones—who, after all, share with Christians a similar ethic) raised their voices in protest against the decisions and actions of the current president, to say nothing of his predecessors? Why is it that an “unbeliever” such as Albert Camus can be so ethically astute while religious leaders remain so obtuse?

It’s enough to make one cry! After all, if Jesus could weep (v. 35) in response to the death of Lazarus—one person—why is it so hard for us to weep at the deaths of numerous innocents at the hands of our leaders?!

About the author: Al Thompson works (data management) for an Engineering (Avionics) firm in Milwaukee. Click here to mail him.

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