Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Some good web sites for the paranoid to check out:

Prison Planet
Info Wars

also, now that the holidays are over, make sure you check out this Science of Shopping piece
and Don Rumsfeld's xmas tree

I've only just started to read Carlo Boggs' latest book, Imperial Delusions: American Militarism and Endless War, but I suspect that despite the fact that he doesn't reference it once, it owes a lot to a forgotten modern radical masterpiece: Permanent War: The Militarization of America by Sidney Lens. (1986).

Nearly two decades later, Lens' book seems as fresh as ever, and is as good a challenge to the American system of military power as any book I've read. And prescient:

"Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights predicts that the term terrorism may be used as justification for bypassing the Constitution in the same way that the term communism was used thirty years ago. It may be the shield under which the administration will try to regain the untrammeled right to intevene militarily overseas, to limit domestic opposition to foreign intervention, restrict further access to information about government activities, and lift restraints on intelligence agencies, raise their budgets, and mute criticism against them.

The main thesis of Lens' book is fairly obvious. But he states the obvious very well: The National Security State has created an institutional framework for the subversion of the system of checks and balances on which the nation was founded. This is something new in American life. While pre-World War II governments had frequently violated democratic principles, it was only in the postwar period that an institutional framework was created to legitimize subversive behavior. (79)

Everything changes, everything stays the same:

"When President Truman decided to finance Greece's war against communist guerrillas in 1947, Arthur Vandenberg, Republican leader of the Senate, warned him that it would be necessary "to scare the hell out of the country [i.e. , the United States]," if he wanted to get congressional approval. The advice was most useful in promoting the permanent war. .... General Douglas MacArthur, no dove, warned in a speech to the Michigan State Legislature in 1952 that "our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artifically induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear." (125)

There's a certain kind of morbid satisfaction in reading gems like that. After all, it's not exactly Michael Moore being quoted here.

In later chapters, Lens expands from an examination of the role of the lawless Executive branch and the military-intelligence complex to examine the broader societal context and consequences. What emerges is a picture of the emerging American fascism that is even bolder under Bush:

"Adjacent to the militarist establishment itself and running parallel to it are a number of constituencies which have either monetary or ideological interests in the militarization of America. One of the largest is the Christian fundamentalist movement which takes seriously such right-wing notions as that of a Heritage Foundation report that "individual liberties are secondary to the requirement of national security and internal civil order."

Meanwhile, others sort of suffer from a sense of psychic numbing:

"The qualitatively greater scope for violence in this era of permanent war and nuclear bombs has compounded the psychological problem. Robert Jay Lifton of Yale, winner of the National Book Award for his study of Hiroshima survivors, speaks of the "psychic numbing" of young people who took part in the air raid drills of the 1950s, and to an extent the rest of us. "It came out," Lifton says, "in dreams, in fantasies, and then the suppression of that terror .. in which one tried to put it aside." In adult life these same people, according to Lifton, manifested "a kind of moving back and forth between numbing and a certain amount of anxiety ...." A second symptom, which he noted in children but which applies to adults as well, "is the sense that nothing can be depended on to last, that the threat of extinction renders life unimaginable. This 'new ephemeralism' includes doubts about the lasting nature of anything and similar doubts about the authenticity of virtually all claims of achievement." ... Not all social problems are due to the militarization of America. Lifton, for instance, is careful to point out that such ills as juvenile delinquency existed long before the present era. But "the imagery of extinction adds to existing effects and intensifies them. Every existing relationship is under a shadow. The tendency to violate law is intensified, because of the feeling that everything is temporary." (204-205)

Existential angst and acid, Beatniks, Punk, Metal, you name it -- all have some futility and nihilistic excuse in the system. "It's all connected, man."

Lens was no nihilist himself. He was, in fact, a union activist and writer who cranked out some great books. This one -- intended as a discussion document for a conference against militarism --came out as Iran-Contra was breaking (he died shortly after it came out). He bridged his intellectual rigor with activism.