The moral insanity of the Terror War continues to spawn more violence, more extremism, more repression, more injustice, and the total subversion of the “Western values,” all of which it is ostensibly designed to defend.
A new piece by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent provides a grimly illuminating look at this insanity in action on a specific front: Syria. It’s worth reading in full, but here is an excerpt:
The Syrian war has turned into a Syrian version of the Thirty Years War in Germany four centuries ago. Too many conflicts and too many players have become involved for any peace terms to be acceptable to all.. … It has become increasingly obvious over the past year that al-Qa’ida type movements, notably Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, have come to dominate or can operate freely in a great swathe of territory across northern Iraq and northern Syria. This gives Isis a vast hinterland in which it can manoeuvre and fight on both sides of what is a largely nominal Syrian-Iraqi border. …
Europeans have not yet woken up to the significance of these anarchic zones opening up on the shores of the Mediterranean in Syria and Libya. This is because the threat has been largely abstract but it is getting less so with the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a French jihadi who had been in Syria. US and European politicians do not want to explain why, 13 years after 9/11, when the “war on terror” was supposedly launched, thousands of al-Qa’ida militants have been able to carve out enclaves so close to Europe.
US and European politicians won’t explain it because any honest explanation would expose the emptiness at the core of all their proffered reasons for the Terror War. They can’t explain it because the Terror War system — including the increasing militarization and repression in their own countries — has now become organizing principle of Western society. Or rather, it is the latest incarnation of what has been the guiding principle of Western society since World War II: organizing society and the economy around war, either active war or the ever-present “threat” of war (assiduously exaggerated — or even manufactured — at every turn). For government and big business, the immense power and profit and control they inevitably accrued from conducting total war on a global basis was far too enticing to give up once the war was over. The full mobilization of society’s resources for war simply carried on; indeed, was expanded and amplified.
However, the war also had a life-transforming impact on many of its survivors. The savagery and loss — and the class-effacing comradeship — they had experienced during the war imbued millions of people with a burning desire to change society for the better, to do away with the poverty and injustices of the past, and build a better, more decent, more peaceful world. This spirit is evoked with remarkable power in a new book, Harry’s Last Stand, by Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old WII veteran enraged to see the neoliberal extremists that have held sway in the US and Britain for more than 30 years sweeping away the progress toward a more just society that his generation tried to build on the ruins of the war. (Some of Smith’s writing can be found here and here.)
The power structure was forced to deal with these aspirations. And, yes, some among the commanding heights shared these sentiments as well, to varying degrees. Thus for a a brief period — scarcely more than two generations — there was an attempt to balance two opposing organizing principles at once: war and human betterment. The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was perhaps the apex — and tragic denouement — of this conflict. Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty programs, and his muscling through of the Civil Rights Act, were profoundly transformative for millions of people, and even with their limitations and compromises could have laid the groundwork for a continual refinement and recalibration of society in the general direction of justice, opportunity and social peace. But Johnson was also a product — and propagator — of the war system: a hawk, eager to “project dominance,” subvert and overthrow “recalcitrant” states and employ violence on a massive, indiscriminate (and lucrative) scale. The Vietnam War destroyed his presidency, crippled the momentum of his social programs, and accelerated the triumph of the war principle.
Now those who remember what the world was like before the Second World War — the ugly, despairing poverty and inequality that Smith writes about so movingly — are almost gone. Even those of us who remember when the idea of human betterment seemed a realistic possibility for society, a practical goal to be pursued despite many difficulties, not a pipe dream scorned by the “savvy,” are fading away. There are now generations well into adulthood who have never known anything but the war principle and the neoliberal ascendancy as “normality,” the natural state of things. Indeed, in a very few years, we’ll see the first generation of adults who will have lived their entire lives under the reign of the Terror War. The relentless assault of the elites who have thrived under the war principle, increasing the unequal proportion of their wealth and power to unimaginable levels, have left these new generations very little to build upon. On so many fronts, so many levels, they will essentially have to start from scratch, re-discover old skills and insights that have been lost, re-fight old battles, and of course, create new ways of trying to go forward (like the Occupy movement).
And they will have to do it against a power structure that is far more powerful, more pervasive and implacable than before. A power structure that every day is darkening the future of its own children, creating a dystopia of chaos and fear, of aggression and blowback, repression and revenge. No leader can “explain” what is happening because none of them can admit the truth: that the world they are making — the world that has made them powerful, has lifted them up on a finely-meshed web of interlocking elite interests and will sustain them, and their families, among the elite for the rest of their lives — is organized around violence and loot. Not security, not prosperity, not liberty, not democracy, not justice, not peace. These are not the aims of the system, these are not the products of the system.
The Terror War — and the concomitant degradation of society and individual lives — shows in stark relief that the system is producing exactly what it aims to produce: death, despair — and record-breaking profits.