Silber Hammer: Mapping the Roads to Hell


Arthur Silber hits hard at the new poll showing that a majority of the American people now support a military strike against Iran in the name of preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. The result is a deeply disheartening if completely unsurprising demonstration that the warmongering propaganda of the Bush Regime -- and those ever-bellicose Beltway Democrats -- is working with deadly effectiveness, as usual.

The fact that the most intensive inspection program in the history of International Atomic Energy Agency has produced no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program is irrelevant; very few of the American people have been told this by the corporate media, and they will not be told -- until, say, four months after the attack on Iran, when the "uncontrollable consequences of foreign intervention" that Silber mentions start to kick in. Also irrelevant is the fact that even if Iran did have a nuclear weapons program, it would not only take them many more years to develop a workable bomb, it would also require massive technological and scientific aid from the international community, which even George W. Bush was forced to admit, sotto voce, in his latest rattling of the hornet's nest. And completely irrelevant is the fact that even if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would pose no direct threat to the United States, as Silber has noted time and again. A nuclear Tehran would face the same constraints that a nuclear Moscow faced during the Cold War (and now): the guarantee of immediate incineration if they used their nukes against the United States.

But to argue the facts in this way is pointless. As we saw with the Iraq war -- or indeed the Vietnam War, or the subjugation of the Philippines, among countless other conflicts and interventions -- the facts absolutely do not matter to the American ruling class (and let's adopt Silber's plain-spoken definition) when they decide that mass murder and wanton destruction will best serve their bottomless appetite for loot and dominion. They will simply pound the drum, demonize the chosen target and "catapult the propaganda" (in the L'il Commander's most apt phrase) until the sheep are frightened enough to baaaa their assent to any action they are told will save them from the Big Bad Devil somewhere out there beyond the fence.

I was going to write more on the new poll, but as usual, Silber has gotten there the fustest with the mostest, with the usual deep analysis and historical understanding to undergird his searing passion. What's more, he points us to a prophetic 2006 piece in Truthdig by the man whom James Wolcott once called, accurately, "the father of us all," Gore Vidal. The once-gilded youth turned lion in winter, Vidal rages at the dying of the light from the last flickering embers of the Republic whose creation and mutation he has so unflinchingly limned in his life's work. Silber rightly hones in on Vidal's bleak view of the American people's widespread apathy to the depredations being visited upon them -- and upon others in their name. After quoting Vidal on the subject, Silber adds this grim gloss:

Most Americans don't care about the genocide in Iraq, and most Americans aren't even aware of it. Most Americans don't care about the destruction of liberty here at home, and most Americans know nothing about what has happened in recent years to the foundations of our government. I challenge any reader to ask 10 or 15 people encountered at random in your travels today to tell you what habeas corpus is, and what its status at present is in America. Don't ask people interested in politics to the extent you are; ask some of those "ordinary" Americans who are so wise and so peace-loving. If even one of them can tell you, I will be astonished. (I've performed this experiment myself, more than once. The results are uniformly dismaying in the extreme. "Ha---beas...what?") Some time ago, I noted that we are becoming the stupidest nation on Earth. So much for "the last, best hope" of the planet; so much for "the American people."

To return to intervention and its lethally destructive and uncontrollable effects: although an attack on Iran represents the gravest threat facing us in the immediate future, it is a serious error to think that the U.S. and Iran exhaust the list of significant actors in this deadly drama. That list is now much longer than you might think. For this is one of the disastrous consequences of intervention over a period of many decades -- and in fact, the Western powers' interventions in the Middle East have gone on for more than a century: the possibilities for catastrophe multiply in every direction, and the routes to what may literally and finally be a war to end all wars can barely be counted. More than one hundred years of unjustified, unnecessary and uniformly disastrous interventions have brought us one hundred routes to hell.

Silber also quotes Robert Higgs' to devastating effect:

No one should be surprised by the cultural proclivity for violence, of course, because Americans have always been a violent people in a violent land. Once the Europeans had committed themselves to reside on this continent, they undertook to slaughter the Indians and steal their land, and to bullwhip African slaves into submission and live off their labor—endeavors they pursued with considerable success over the next two and a half centuries. Absent other convenient victims, they have battered and killed one another on the slightest pretext, or for the simple pleasure of doing so, with guns, knives, and bare hands. If you take them to be a "peace-loving people," you haven’t been paying attention. Such violent people are easily led to war.

You should read all of Silber's piece -- and all of Vidal. No, not just the Truthdig article, but all of Vidal. Begin with his massive collection of essays, United States, and go on to his chronicle novels of American history. (Lincoln is the masterpiece, but all of them are remarkable, and all of them not only tell us who we are and how we got there, they continue to speak strongly, even prophetically of our present calamities. For example, 1876 -- published in 1976 -- tells the story of a presidential election in which the uncharismatic Democratic candidate won the popular vote, but had the election taken away from him by lowdown hijinks in Florida (among other places) and by hugger-mugger in Washington backrooms. The Democrat failed to contest the clearly questionable election, and so an amiable-looking dimbulb was foisted on the nation. I wrote a column on this theme back in November 2000; it's not available on the net anymore, except for a fee, but you can find it after the jump.)

Vidal also touches on a truth too often unspoken today -- perhaps because it is, in a very real sense, unbearable:

We have also come to a point in this dark age where there is not only no hero in view but no alternative road unblocked. We are trapped terribly in a now that few foresaw and even fewer can define.

Or as T.S. Eliot once put it:

I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones

UPDATE: Who says the Bush Regime doesn't have its hand on the pulse of the American people? Just as soon as the polls had shown that Americans are now worried about a nuclear threat from Iran, the Regime began ratcheting down its recent "Iran is killing Americans in Iraq" campaign, as AP reports:  U.S. sees decline in Iran-linked bombs found in Iraq.

Looks like they are re-tooling the warmongering machine to focus more on the nuclear angle. After all, it was that minatory "mushroom cloud" imagery that really gulled the rubes on the Iraq scam. Sure, they will keep the unproven IED accusations simmering, but we will probably see more mushrooms sprouting in the Regime rhetoric in the coming days.

Old Wounds:
Bringing it all Back Home

The Moscow Times, November 14, 2000

The nation teeters on the brink of constitutional anarchy. The Democratic candidate has narrowly but clearly won the popular vote from an electorate still bitterly divided over the recent impeachment battle, when a rakish, scandal-ridden Southern president was almost ousted by the radical Republicans in control of Congress.

Now confusion reigns over the returns from Florida, where there is credible evidence of vote tampering by the Republican-run state government. The final tally shows the narrowest of margins for the laid-back Republican presidential candidate, the inexperienced governor of one of the country's largest states. The Democratic candidate, a stiff, inept campaigner known more for his exhausting discussions of policy than his ability to glad-hand the folks, is being urged by his supporters to challenge the results to the bitter end.

The year, of course, is 1876.

For those who believe that history began the day they bought their first copy of Time Magazine (i.e., 99.9 percent of the mainstream media), the electoral morass in America this week comes as a jaw-dropping surprise. But we have been here before. In fact, it's even fair to say that this is where we came in. For the 1876 election changed American politics in far-reaching ways, whose effects could be seen still playing themselves out in the disputed precincts of Florida on Tuesday.

And, sad to say, the results of the current imbroglio will very likely be the same as in 1876: weeks of anguished uncertainty, rancor, court fights and accusations ending in a backroom political deal to give the presidency to the second-place candidate by a single electoral vote.

The victory of the runner-up Republican, Ohio's Rutherford B. Hayes (known forever after as "Rutherfraud"), over New York's Samuel J. Tilden sealed the fate of America's blacks as second-class citizens. After months of confusion over the returns from Florida and two other Southern states, the radical Republicans in Congress, having failed in 1868 to impeach Tennessee Democrat Andrew Johnson (who, like Bill Clinton, was heavily backed by the newly enfranchised black voters), struck a deal with conservative Democrats. They would end federal efforts to enforce civil rights in the defeated Confederate states and give back local control to the ex-slaveowners in exchange for their support of Hayes.

The deal was done; a special commission was set up to analyze the disputed votes, and, lo and behold, the returns for Hayes were approved. He carried Florida and thus became president by one electoral vote. Black voting rights were then rolled back, hampered or openly abolished as the old Confederates regained control.

Now, 124 years later, the election of runner-up Republican George W. Bush hangs on the outcome of the vote in Florida, where at least 20,000 black votes were thrown out, uncounted, because of alleged ballot "mistakes," where hundreds of black university students were prevented from voting in Miami, and where armed state police set up "security roadblocks" in some black majority areas, in a bristling show of intimidation: all lingering legacies of that 1876 sweetheart deal. And if Bush's narrow, tainted lead is upheld – by courts, Congress or "special commission" – he, like Rutherfraud, will have become president by a single electoral vote.

It seems history doesn't always just repeat; sometimes it positively regurgitates itself.