Kill the Messenger, On With the War: A Noxious Discharge From Armed Liberal

As a rule, I don't like to get into intramural "blogosphere" controversies at this site, nor do I like to write too much about myself. But I'm going to do both of those things today.

Yesterday I quoted at great length from a piece by Arthur Silber, which was sparked by a new polls showing that a majority of Americans now favor military action to stop Iran from raising that ole debbil mushroom cloud in the heartland of the homeland. Silber, as usual, delved deeper than the headlines, providing the rather bleak historical context of the American public's susceptibility to the siren call of war, and surveying the many other regions of the world where the chickens of a century of Western intervention on behalf of the interests of the ruling class might soon be coming home to horrific roost.

Silber quoted, among others, Gore Vidal, who in turn quoted scholar Morris Berman, author of Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire." Here is Silber's Vidal's Berman:

“Finally, we shouldn’t be surprised at the antipathy toward democracy displayed by the Bush administration. ... As already noted, fundamentalism and democracy are completely antithetical. The opposite of the Enlightenment, of course, is tribalism, groupthink; and more and more, this is the direction in which the United States is going. ... Anthony Lewis who worked as a columnist for the New York Times for thirty-two years, observes that what has happened in the wake of 9/11 is not just the threatening of the rights of a few detainees, but the undermining of the very foundation of democracy. Detention without trial, denial of access to attorneys, years of interrogation in isolation—these are now standard American practice, and most Americans don’t care. Nor did they care about the revelation in July 2004 (reported in Newsweek), that for several months the White House and the Department of Justice had been discussing the feasibility of canceling the upcoming presidential election in the event of a possible terrorist attack.”

Now comes a blogger named "Armed Liberal" to give a picture-perfect display of this tribalism and groupthink in action. Armed is incensed by Silber's failure to crawl on his belly like a reptile before the unstinting goodness and unerring wisdom of the American people and their leaders. He declares that Silber is "unhinged," a madman. His fellow tribalists in the comments take up this theme and ram it home, going into great detail on the particular pathology of Silber's clinical derangement, and the evil of his insults to American goodness, and hooting about his use of the term "genocide" for the slaughter of one million human beings as a direct result of George W. Bush's war crime of military aggression.

Armed -- and I can call him "Armed," can't I? I mean, this is the blogosphere, where we're all pretty informal, right? -- goes on to give what one can only assume is a willful misreading of Silber's passages about the uncontrollable and unforeseen consequences of armed intervention in foreign lands. (I hope the misreading is intentional; otherwise, one would have to conclude that Armed is a bit lacking in the reading comprehension department. And we certainly don't want that in our champions of "Liberty. Discovery. Humanity. Victory.")

Silber clearly states up front that he is speaking of "the effects of any foreign intervention that is not a demonstrably necessary act of self-defense." You cannot really spell it out more clearly than that, yet Armed and his groupthinkers make great hay of Silber's "silly" pacificism and his "hatred" for America (the latter being a big item among the groupthinking commenters). Why, Silber would have even let the Nazis conquer Europe! He is that bad. What's more, he is so filled to the brim with hatred of his own country that he doesn't recognize, as one commenter put it, that every single military action ever undertaken by the United States has "uniformly and explicitly been pursued to free others from the yoke of oppression."

This poor little commenter ought to read the works of General Smedley Butler sometime. Butler was a Marine general in the early part of the 20th century. He was once recruited by a clique from the elite circles of Big Business -- that "ruling class" that many of Armed's army also hootily dismissed Silber for mentioning -- to lead a military overthrow of Franklin Roosevelt's administration. Butler was wildly popular with his troops -- which is why the elite sought him out -- but they picked the wrong boy for their dirty work. Butler blew the whistle, and the plot unraveled. Here's what Major General Butler had to say in 1933 about his long career in those uniformly noble interventions:

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism...

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Well, but Butler hated America, of course, or he would never have said such things. He was probably psychologically damaged in childhood on account of that funny first name and all, and that's why he became "unhinged" and "insanely self-hating" after his long career. Yeah, that must be it.

But it seems that Silber's greatest sin, according to Armed himself, is that "thinking like this empowers the 'nuke Iran now' crowd, because it drives out sensible thinking about what we might do that is neither insanely self-hating nor insanely belligerent."

That makes perfect sense. You see, if you, as an ordinary citizen without power or influence, criticize the leaders of the greatest armed force in history for their obvious desire to attack another country for no demonstrably necessary reason of self-defense, then you -- the ordinary citizen without power or influence -- will be responsible, at least in part, for the carnage that follows when the leaders of the greatest armed force in history finally carry out their clear intention. And why is this? Because your impolite and impolitic writing on a blog will make "sensible liberals" and "moderate voices" look bad (by association, I guess; I confess to getting lost in the illogic at this point). And thus, the sensible, serious centrists will be unable to exercise the vast influence they have always had on the radical extremists of the Bush Administration.

You gotta go along to get along, don't you see? So you don't want to be standing around on street corners declaring that a pack of lying, thieving, murdering jackals who have already led your nation into one war on false pretenses are planning to do the same thing again. No, no, here's what you want to do: you want to support canny, savvy Beltway players like the Senate Democrats, who voted unanimously to accept the Bush Regime's mendacious and specious casus belli for war with Iran. You want to vote for things like the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which declares Iranian government agencies "terrorist entities" directly involved in killing American soldiers, thereby rendering Iran a fit and proper target for military action under the existing authorization for action in Iraq. You want to let authorizations for arbitrary presidential dictatorship like the Military Commissions Act stay in effect.

In short, the only way to modify the behavior of lying, thieving, murdering jackals is to negotiate in good faith -- sensibly, seriously, with an open mind toward all viewpoints -- with those lying, thieving, murdering jackals...and then give the lying, thieving, murdering jackals everything they want. Because to do otherwise, you would have to take a baby step or two outside the groupthink of the tribe. You might have to -- gulp -- recognize that maybe, just maybe, not every military action launched by our leaders is uniformly and explicitly pursued solely to free others from oppression. You might have to acknowledge  -- with much wiggly trembling, to be sure -- that the United States is not the divinely exalted apotheosis of everything good and noble...and that you are not God's own special little sunbeam for having been born there.

But if you step outside the tribe's magic chalk circle, you are immediately and forever damned for your "hatred" of America, for being "insanely self-hating and insanely belligerent" as Armed said in his remarkably vicious closing blast at Silber. The latter theme was also taken up with gusto by the tribalists; the ones who weren't scorning Silber for his silly, sissy pacificism were accusing him of an active bloodlust against his own people, and painting him as a modern-day Chekist eager to enforce his extremist doctrine by force and genocide. (I think that anyone who has ever read more than two sentences of Silber's work and could still accuse him of being a violent extremist of any kind should start wondering about their own sanity -- or at least fretting about their reading comprehension skills.)

Now here's where the personal part comes in, and forgive me this rare indulgence. I too have been called an "American-hater" for many  years, from many different quarters, not least from rootin', tootin', fightin' armed liberals and the like. I too have been accused, over and over and over again, of being insane, being obsessed by "paranoid delusions," being "hysterical" and so on down the line.

And while I still get some of that occasionally, the worst of it occurred during the year or so before the invasion of Iraq. From my small perch on the Moscow Times, I clanged the bell loudly against the coming war crime, week after week, month after month. I said, Look, these people have lied to you before, they've been lying to their whole careers, and they're lying to you now: they're going to do this thing. This guy Colin Powell you set such great store by? He's been a lying bagman for these same elite interests all along, and he is lying to you now. And I laid out chapter and verse from the work of historians, investigative reporters, scholars, analysts -- and ordinary mainstream newspapers, where much of the truth was out there in plain sight (albeit usually buried in the back pages or bottom of stories) -- to back up my assertions.

For example, it was no secret that the intelligence on Saddam's alleged WMD was shaky at best. It was no secret that the intelligence services thought Ahmad Chalabi and his "Curveball" were peddling bullshit from the word go. It was no secret that the leading players in the Administration had long called for a U.S. military presence in Iraq regardless if Saddam was there or not. It was no secret that Pentagon officials had told the mainstream papers months in advance that the attack would take place at some point between mid-February and mid-March 2003, because that's when all the logistics would finally be in place. It was no secret that the intelligence services told Congress in the fall of 2002 that even if Saddam had WMD, the only way he would ever use them against the United States was if he was directly attacked by the United States.

And it was no secret that Bush's security organs were "renditioning" people to foreign hellholes where they were being tortured, or that American agents themselves had "taken the gloves off" and, as Cheney himself admitted on national television, were now working "on the dark side." All of this -- and much, much more about the history of corruption and deceit that marked all the leading players of the administration -- was in the public domain before the war.

And yet for drawing on this vast compendium of public knowledge, I was roundly pilloried, week after week, for being paranoid, hysterical, for "hating America." My sanity was questioned. My children were threatened. My parents were insulted in every way possible for having spawned such a monster. And of course, I was promised any number of gruesome deaths or exquisitely detailed sexual violations if the irate reader ever ran across me in person.

Now the situation today regarding Iran is almost exactly the same. There is the same vast and growing body of publicly available evidence that the Bush Administration is manufacturing, manipulating and misusing intelligence and conducting a relentless, cynical propaganda campaign to drive the nation into another war  -- a war that will be just as unnecessary and illegitimate as the Iraq war, and whose "unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences" will be horrific, evil and inhuman, however "limited" the strike is intended to be.

Yet those who, like Silber, are doing exactly what I and others did in the run-up to the Iraq invasion are getting exactly the same treatment. They are dismissed as crazy Cassandras, dirtying up the drawing room where nice, cozy centrists are trying to hold sensible, serious, open-minded conversations with the eminently reasonable officials of the Bush Administration. They are scorned and rebuked as deranged haters of America and everything about America.

Now, I don't know who Armed Liberal is. I'd never heard of him until someone sent me the link to his, well, "insanely belligerent" attack on Silber. Being a very dutiful journalist, I then spent about 14 seconds trying to find out more about him. I learned that besides being involved with the founding of Pajamas Media, he had an epiphany in a restaurant in 2002 when he suddenly realized that ordinary working people -- like house builders, aerospace workers, sewer workers, etc. -- were actually his equal as human beings. Well, that's something, I guess. Having come from a line of carpenters, sharecroppers, merchants and clerks myself, I'm glad that to know that if Armed Liberal saw me and my folk at "some really bad Italian restaurant," he'd embrace our heartland earthiness with his elitist empathy.

But wherever he and his groupthink groupies are coming from, their assertion that people like Silber, or Vidal (or even me, if I can temporarily place myself in such rarefied company) "hate America" is nothing but blithering pig-ignorance. There's no other way to describe such stupidity. Anyone who truly "hated America" would never say a single word against the Bush Administration or the decades-long bipartisan policies of empire that Chalmers Johnson, among others, has detailed so well. On the contrary: a true America-hater would be cheering on the Bush faction at every step as it drags the nation deeper into ruin and disgrace.

But the feeble-minded, mean-spirited farrago dumped on Silber's head by this crew is all too typical of the self-noodling complacency and complicity that has, yes, empowered the bloodcaked despoilers of the Republic.