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Skepticism and critical thinking is not panacea, but can help to understand the world better
The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War by Andrew Bacevich
Oxford, 270 pp, £16.99, August 2005, ISBN 0 19 517338 4
A key justification of the Bush administration's purported strategy of 'democratising' the Middle East is the argument that democracies are pacific, and that Muslim democracies will therefore eventually settle down peacefully under the benign hegemony of the US. Yet, as Andrew Bacevich points out in one of the most acute analyses of America to have appeared in recent years, the United States itself is in many ways a militaristic country, and becoming more so:The president's title of 'commander-in-chief' is used by administration propagandists to suggest, in a way reminiscent of German militarists before 1914 attempting to defend their half-witted kaiser, that any criticism of his record in external affairs comes close to a betrayal of the military and the country. Compared to German and other past militarisms, however, the contemporary American variant is extremely complex, and the forces that have generated it have very diverse origins and widely differing motives:
at the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The scepticism about arms and armies that informed the original Wilsonian vision, indeed, that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamoured with military might.
The ensuing affair had, and continues to have, a heedless, Gatsby-like aspect, a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue.
The new American militarism is the handiwork of several disparate groups that shared little in common apart from being intent on undoing the purportedly nefarious effects of the 1960s. Military officers intent on rehabilitating their profession; intellectuals fearing that the loss of confidence at home was paving the way for the triumph of totalitarianism abroad; religious leaders dismayed by the collapse of traditional moral standards; strategists wrestling with the implications of a humiliating defeat that had undermined their credibility; politicians on the make; purveyors of pop culture looking to make a buck: as early as 1980, each saw military power as the apparent answer to any number of problems.
Two other factors have also been critical: the dependence on imported oil is seen as requiring American hegemony over the Middle East; and the Israel lobby has worked assiduously and with extraordinary success to make sure that Israel's enemies are seen by Americans as also being those of the US. And let's not forget the role played by the entrenched interests of the military itself and what Dwight Eisenhower once denounced as the 'military-industrial-academic complex'.
The security elites are obviously interested in the maintenance and expansion of US global military power, if only because their own jobs and profits depend on it. Jobs and patronage also ensure the support of much of the Congress, which often authorises defence spending on weapons systems the Pentagon doesn't want and hasn't asked for, in order to help some group of senators and congressmen in whose home states these systems are manufactured. To achieve wider support in the media and among the public, it is also necessary to keep up the illusion that certain foreign nations constitute a threat to the US, and to maintain a permanent level of international tension.
That's not the same, however, as having an actual desire for war, least of all for a major conflict which might ruin the international economy. US ground forces have bitter memories of Vietnam, and no wish to wage an aggressive war: Rumsfeld and his political appointees had to override the objections of the senior generals, in particular those of the army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, before the attack on Iraq. The navy and air force do not have to fight insurgents in hell-holes like Fallujah, and so naturally have a more relaxed attitude.
To understand how the Bush administration was able to manipulate the public into supporting the Iraq war one has to look for deeper explanations. They would include the element of messianism embodied in American civic nationalism, with its quasi-religious belief in the universal and timeless validity of its own democratic system, and in its right and duty to spread that system to the rest of the world. This leads to a genuine belief that American soldiers can do no real wrong because they are spreading 'freedom'. Also of great importance at least until the Iraqi insurgency rubbed American noses in the horrors of war has been the development of an aesthetic that sees war as waged by the US as technological, clean and antiseptic; and thanks to its supremacy in weaponry, painlessly victorious. Victory over the Iraqi army in 2003 led to a new flowering of megalomania in militarist quarters. The amazing Max Boot of the Wall Street Journal an armchair commentator, not a frontline journalist declared that the US victory had made 'fabled generals such as Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian seem positively incompetent by comparison'. Nor was this kind of talk restricted to Republicans. More than two years into the Iraq quagmire, strategic thinkers from the Democratic establishment were still declaring that 'American military power in today's world is practically unlimited.'
Important sections of contemporary US popular culture are suffused with the language of militarism. Take Bacevich on the popular novelist Tom Clancy:
In any Clancy novel, the international order is a dangerous and threatening place, awash with heavily armed and implacably determined enemies who threaten the United States. That Americans have managed to avoid Armageddon is attributable to a single fact: the men and women of America's uniformed military and its intelligence services have thus far managed to avert those threats. The typical Clancy novel is an unabashed tribute to the skill, honour, extraordinary technological aptitude and sheer decency of the nation's defenders. To read Red Storm Rising is to enter a world of 'virtuous men and perfect weapons', as one reviewer noted. 'All the Americans are paragons of courage, endurance and devotion to service and country. Their officers are uniformly competent and occasionally inspired. Men of all ranks are faithful husbands and devoted fathers.' Indeed, in the contract that he signed for the filming of Red October, Clancy stipulated that nothing in the film show the navy in a bad light.
Such attitudes go beyond simply glorying in violence, military might and technological prowess. They reflect a belief genuine or assumed in what the Germans used to call Soldatentum: the pre-eminent value of the military virtues of courage, discipline and sacrifice, and explicitly or implicitly the superiority of these virtues to those of a hedonistic, contemptible and untrustworthy civilian society and political class. In the words of Thomas Friedman, the ostensibly liberal foreign affairs commentator of the ostensibly liberal New York Times, 'we do not deserve these people. They are so much better than the country they are fighting for.' Such sentiments have a sinister pedigree in modern history.
In the run-up to the last election, even a general as undistinguished as Wesley Clark could see his past generalship alone as qualifying him for the presidency and gain the support of leading liberal intellectuals. Not that this was new: the first president was a general and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries both generals and more junior officers ran for the presidency on the strength of their military records. And yet, as Bacevich points out, this does not mean that the uniformed military have real power over policy-making, even in matters of war. General Tommy Franks may have regarded Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense, as 'the stupidest fucking guy on the planet', but he took Feith's orders, and those of the civilians standing behind him: Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the president himself. Their combination of militarism and contempt for military advice recalls Clemenceau and Churchill or Hitler and Stalin.
Indeed, a portrait of US militarism today could be built around a set of such apparently glaring contradictions: the contradiction, for example, between the military coercion of other nations and the belief in the spreading of 'freedom' and 'democracy'. Among most non-Americans, and among many American realists and progressives, the collocation seems inherently ludicrous. But, as Bacevich brings out, it has deep roots in American history. Indeed, the combination is historically coterminous with Western imperialism. Historians of the future will perhaps see preaching 'freedom' at the point of an American rifle as no less morally and intellectually absurd than 'voluntary' conversion to Christianity at the point of a Spanish arquebus.
Its symbols may be often childish and its methods brutish, but American belief in 'freedom' is a real and living force. This cuts two ways. On the one hand, the adherence of many leading intellectuals in the Democratic Party to a belief in muscular democratisation has had a disastrous effect on the party's ability to put up a strong resistance to the policies of the administration. Bush's messianic language of 'freedom' supported by the specifically Israeli agenda of Natan Sharansky and his allies in the US has been all too successful in winning over much of the opposition. On the other hand, the fact that a belief in freedom and democracy lies at the heart of civic nationalism places certain limits on American imperialism weak no doubt, but nonetheless real. It is not possible for the US, unlike previous empires, to pursue a strategy of absolutely unconstrained Machtpolitik. This has been demonstrated recently in the breach between the Bush administration and the Karimov tyranny in Uzbekistan.
The most important contradiction, however, is between the near worship of the military in much of American culture and the equally widespread unwillingness of most Americans elites and masses alike to serve in the armed forces. If people like Friedman accompanied their stated admiration for the military with a real desire to abandon their contemptible civilian lives and join the armed services, then American power in the world really might be practically unlimited. But as Bacevich notes,
having thus made plain his personal disdain for crass vulgarity and support for moral rectitude, Friedman in the course of a single paragraph drops the military and moves on to other pursuits. His many readers, meanwhile, having availed themselves of the opportunity to indulge, ever so briefly, in self-loathing, put down their newspapers and themselves move on to other things. Nothing has changed, but columnist and readers alike feel better for the cathartic effect of this oblique, reassuring encounter with an alien world.
Today, having dissolved any connection between claims to citizenship and obligation to serve, Americans entrust their security to a class of military professionals who see themselves in many respects as culturally and politically set apart from the rest of society.
This combination of a theoretical adulation with a profound desire not to serve is not of course new. It characterised most of British society in the 19th century, when, just as with the US today, the overwhelming rejection of conscription until 1916 meant that, appearances to the contrary, British power was far from unlimited. The British Empire could use its technological superiority, small numbers of professional troops and local auxiliaries to conquer backward and impoverished countries in Asia and Africa, but it would not have dreamed of intervening unilaterally in Europe or North America.
Despite spending more on the military than the rest of the world combined, and despite enjoying overwhelming technological superiority, American military power is actually quite limited. As Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan has demonstrated, the US can knock over states, but it cannot suppress the resulting insurgencies, even one based in such a comparatively small population as the Sunni Arabs of Iraq. As for invading and occupying a country the size of Iran, this is coming to seem as unlikely as an invasion of mainland China.
In other words, when it comes to actually applying military power the US is pretty much where it has been for several decades. Another war of occupation like Iraq would necessitate the restoration of conscription: an idea which, with Vietnam in mind, the military detests, and which politicians are well aware would probably make them unelectable. It is just possible that another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 might lead to a new draft, but that would bring the end of the US military empire several steps closer. Recognising this, the army is beginning to imitate ancient Rome in offering citizenship to foreign mercenaries in return for military service something that the amazing Boot approves, on the grounds that while it helped destroy the Roman Empire, it took four hundred years to do so.
Facing these dangers squarely, Bacevich proposes refocusing American strategy away from empire and towards genuine national security. It is a measure of the degree to which imperial thinking now dominates US politics that these moderate and commonsensical proposals would seem nothing short of revolutionary to the average member of the Washington establishment.
They include a renunciation of messianic dreams of improving the world through military force, except where a solid international consensus exists in support of US action; a recovery by Congress of its power over peace and war, as laid down in the constitution but shamefully surrendered in recent years; the adoption of a strategic doctrine explicitly making war a matter of last resort; and a decision that the military should focus on the defence of the nation, not the projection of US power. As a means of keeping military expenditure in some relationship to actual needs, Bacevich suggests pegging it to the combined annual expenditure of the next ten countries, just as in the 19th century the size of the British navy was pegged to that of the next two largest fleets it is an index of the budgetary elephantiasis of recent years that this would lead to very considerable spending reductions.
This book is important not only for the acuteness of its perceptions, but also for the identity of its author. Colonel Bacevich's views on the military, on US strategy and on world affairs were profoundly shaped by his service in Vietnam. His year there 'fell in the conflict's bleak latter stages long after an odour of failure had begun to envelop the entire enterprise'. The book is dedicated to his brother-in-law, 'a casualty of a misbegotten war'.
Just as Vietnam shaped his view of how the US and the US military should not intervene in the outside world, so the Cold War in Europe helped define his beliefs about the proper role of the military. For Bacevich and his fellow officers in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, defending the West from possible Soviet aggression, 'not conquest, regime change, preventive war or imperial policing', was 'the American soldier's true and honourable calling'.
In terms of cultural and political background, this former soldier remains a self-described Catholic conservative, and intensely patriotic. During the 1990s Bacevich wrote for right-wing journals, and still situates himself culturally on the right:
As long as we shared in the common cause of denouncing the foolishness and hypocrisies of the Clinton years, my relationship with modern American conservatism remained a mutually agreeable one But my disenchantment with what passes for mainstream conservatism, embodied in the Bush administration and its groupies, is just about absolute. Fiscal irresponsibility, a buccaneering foreign policy, a disregard for the constitution, the barest lip service as a response to profound moral controversies: these do not qualify as authentically conservative values.
On this score my views have come to coincide with the critique long offered by the radical left: it is the mainstream itself, the professional liberals as well as the professional conservatives, who define the problem The Republican and Democratic Parties may not be identical, but they produce nearly identical results.
Bacevich, in other words, is sceptical of the naive belief that replacing the present administration with a Democrat one would lead to serious changes in the US approach to the world. Formal party allegiances are becoming increasingly irrelevant as far as thinking about foreign and security policy is concerned.
Bacevich also makes plain the private anger of much of the US uniformed military at the way in which it has been sacrificed, and its institutions damaged, by chickenhawk civilian chauvinists who have taken good care never to see action themselves; and the deep private concern of senior officers that they might be ordered into further wars that would wreck the army altogether. Now, as never before, American progressives have the chance to overcome the knee-jerk hostility to the uniformed military that has characterised the left since Vietnam, and to reach out not only to the soldiers in uniform but also to the social, cultural and regional worlds from which they are drawn. For if the American left is once again to become an effective political force, it must return to some of its own military traditions, founded on the distinguished service of men like George McGovern, on the old idea of the citizen soldier, and on a real identification with that soldier's interests and values. With this in mind, Bacevich calls for moves to bind the military more closely into American society, including compulsory education for all officers at a civilian university, not only at the start of their careers but at intervals throughout them.
Or to put it another way, the left must fight imperialism in the name of patriotism. Barring a revolutionary and highly unlikely transformation of American mass culture, any political party that wishes to win majority support will have to demonstrate its commitment to the defence of the country. The Bush administration has used the accusation of weakness in security policy to undermine its opponents, and then used this advantage to pursue reckless strategies that have themselves drastically weakened the US. The left needs to heed Bacevich and draw up a tough, realistic and convincing alternative. It will also have to demonstrate its identification with the respectable aspects of military culture. The Bush administration and the US establishment in general may have grossly mismanaged the threats facing us, but the threats are real, and some at least may well need at some stage to be addressed by military force. And any effective military force also requires the backing of a distinctive military ethic embracing loyalty, discipline and a capacity for both sacrifice and ruthlessness.
In the terrible story of the Bush administration and the Iraq war, one of the most morally disgusting moments took place at a Senate Committee hearing on 29 April 2004, when Paul Wolfowitz another warmonger who has never served himself mistook, by a margin of hundreds, how many US soldiers had died in a war for which he was largely responsible. If an official in a Democratic administration had made a public mistake like that, the Republican opposition would have exploited it ruthlessly, unceasingly, to win the next election. The fact that the Democrats completely failed to do this says a great deal about their lack of political will, leadership and capacity to employ a focused strategy.
Because they are the ones who pay the price for reckless warmongering and geopolitical megalomania, soldiers and veterans of the army and marine corps could become valuable allies in the struggle to curb American imperialism, and return America's relationship with its military to the old limited, rational form. For this to happen, however, the soldiers have to believe that campaigns against the Iraq war, and against current US strategy, are anti-militarist, but not anti-military. We have needed the military desperately on occasions in the past; we will definitely need them again.
Vol. 27 No. 20 · 20 October 2005 " Anatol Lieven " We do not deserve these people
pages 11-12 | 3337 words
10 May 2013 | The Anti-Empire Report
What is it that makes young men, reasonably well educated, in good health and nice looking, with long lives ahead of them, use powerful explosives to murder complete strangers because of political beliefs?
I'm speaking about American military personnel of course, on the ground, in the air, or directing drones from an office in Nevada.
Do not the survivors of US attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere, and their loved ones, ask such a question?
The survivors and loved ones in Boston have their answer America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That's what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bomber has said in custody, and there's no reason to doubt that he means it, nor the dozens of others in the past two decades who have carried out terrorist attacks against American targets and expressed anger toward US foreign policy. 1 Both Tsarnaev brothers had expressed such opinions before the attack as well. 2 The Marathon bombing took place just days after a deadly US attack in Afghanistan killed 17 civilians, including 12 children, as but one example of countless similar horrors from recent years. "Oh", an American says, "but those are accidents. What terrorists do is on purpose. It's cold-blooded murder."
But if the American military sends out a bombing mission on Monday which kills multiple innocent civilians, and then the military announces: "Sorry, that was an accident." And then on Tuesday the American military sends out a bombing mission which kills multiple innocent civilians, and then the military announces: "Sorry, that was an accident." And then on Wednesday the American military sends out a bombing mission which kills multiple innocent civilians, and the military then announces: "Sorry, that was an accident." Thursday Friday How long before the American military loses the right to say it was an accident?
Terrorism is essentially an act of propaganda, to draw attention to a cause. The 9-11 perpetrators attacked famous symbols of American military and economic power. Traditionally, perpetrators would phone in their message to a local media outlet beforehand, but today, in this highly-surveilled society, with cameras and electronic monitoring at a science-fiction level, that's much more difficult to do without being detected; even finding a public payphone can be near impossible.
From what has been reported, the older brother, Tamerlan, regarded US foreign policy also as being anti-Islam, as do many other Muslims. I think this misreads Washington's intentions. The American Empire is not anti-Islam. It's anti-only those who present serious barriers to the Empire's plan for world domination.
The United States has had close relations with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar, amongst other Islamic states. And in recent years the US has gone to great lengths to overthrow the leading secular states of the Mideast Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Moreover, it's questionable that Washington is even against terrorism per se, but rather only those terrorists who are not allies of the empire. There has been, for example, a lengthy and infamous history of tolerance, and often outright support, for numerous anti-Castro terrorists, even when their terrorist acts were committed in the United States. Hundreds of anti-Castro and other Latin American terrorists have been given haven in the US over the years. The United States has also provided support to terrorists in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iran, Libya, and Syria, including those with known connections to al Qaeda, to further foreign policy goals more important than fighting terrorism.
Under one or more of the harsh anti-terrorist laws enacted in the United States in recent years, President Obama could be charged with serious crimes for allowing the United States to fight on the same side as al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Libya and Syria and for funding and supplying these groups. Others in the United States have been imprisoned for a lot less.
As a striking example of how Washington has put its imperialist agenda before anything else, we can consider the case of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord whose followers first gained attention in the 1980s by throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil. This is how these horrible men spent their time when they were not screaming "Death to America". CIA and State Department officials called Hekmatyar "scary," "vicious," "a fascist," "definite dictatorship material". 3 This did not prevent the United States government from showering the man with large amounts of aid to fight against the Soviet-supported government of Afghanistan.4 Hekmatyar is still a prominent warlord in Afghanistan.
A similar example is that of Luis Posada who masterminded the bombing of a Cuban airline in 1976, killing 73 civilians. He has lived a free man in Florida for many years.
USA Today reported a few months ago about a rebel fighter in Syria who told the newspaper in an interview: "The afterlife is the only thing that matters to me, and I can only reach it by waging jihad." 5 Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have chosen to have a shootout with the Boston police as an act of suicide; to die waging jihad, although questions remain about exactly how he died. In any event, I think it's safe to say that the authorities wanted to capture the brothers alive to be able to question them.
It would be most interesting to be present the moment after a jihadist dies and discovers, with great shock, that there's no afterlife. Of course, by definition, there would have to be an afterlife for him to discover that there's no afterlife. On the other hand, a non-believer would likely be thrilled to find out that he was wrong.
Let us hope that the distinguished statesmen, military officers, and corporate leaders who own and rule America find out in this life that to put an end to anti-American terrorism they're going to have to learn to live without unending war against the world. There's no other defense against a couple of fanatic young men with backpacks. Just calling them insane or evil doesn't tell you enough; it may tell you nothing.
But this change in consciousness in the elite is going to be extremely difficult, as difficult as it appears to be for the parents of the two boys to accept their sons' guilt. Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, stated after the Boston attack: "The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. In some respects, the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks We should be asking ourselves at this moment, 'How many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?'" 6
Officials in Canada and Britain as well as US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice have called for Falk to be fired. 7
President Kennedy's speech, half a century ago
I don't know how many times in the 50 years since President John F. Kennedy made his much celebrated 1963 speech at American University in Washington, DC 8 I've heard or read that if only he had lived he would have put a quick end to the war in Vietnam instead of it continuing for ten more terrible years, and that the Cold War might have ended 25 years sooner than it did. With the 50th anniversary coming up June 13 we can expect to hear a lot more of the same, so I'd like to jump the gun and offer a counter-view.
Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Soviet Union. It is discouraging to think that their leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write. It is discouraging to read a recent authoritative Soviet text on Military Strategy and find, on page after page, wholly baseless and incredible claims such as the allegation that "American imperialist circles are preparing to unleash different types of war that there is a very real threat of a preventative war being unleashed by American imperialists against the Soviet Union" [and that] the political aims and I quote "of the American imperialists are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries [and] to achieve world domination by means of aggressive war."
It is indeed refreshing that an American president would utter a thought such as: "It is discouraging to think that their leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write." This is what radicals in every country wonder about their leaders, not least in the United States. For example, "incredible claims such as the allegation that 'American imperialist circles are preparing to unleash different types of war'."
In Kennedy's short time in office the United States had unleashed many different types of war, from attempts to overthrow governments and suppress political movements to assassination attempts against leaders and actual military combat one or more of these in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, British Guiana, Iraq, Congo, Haiti, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Brazil. This is all in addition to the normal and routine CIA subversion of countries all over the world map. Did Kennedy really believe that the Soviet claims were "incredible"?
And did he really doubt that that the driving force behind US foreign policy was "world domination"? How else did he explain all the above interventions (which have continued non-stop into the 21st century)? If the president thought that the Russians were talking nonsense when they accused the US of seeking world domination, why didn't he then disavow the incessant US government and media warnings about the "International Communist Conspiracy"? Or at least provide a rigorous definition of the term and present good evidence of its veracity.
Quoting further: "Our military forces are committed to peace and disciplined in self-restraint." No comment.
"We are unwilling to impose our system on any unwilling people." Unless of course the people foolishly insist on some form of socialist alternative. Ask the people of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, British Guiana and Cuba, just to name some of those in Kennedy's time.
"At the same time we seek to keep peace inside the non-Communist world, where many nations, all of them our friends " American presidents have been speaking of "our friends" for many years. What they all mean, but never say, is that "our friends" are government and corporate leaders whom we keep in power through any means necessary the dictators, the kings, the oligarchs, the torturers not the masses of the population, particularly those with a measure of education.
"Our efforts in West New Guinea, in the Congo, in the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent, have been persistent and patient despite criticism from both sides."
Persistent, yes. Patient, often. But moral, fostering human rights, democracy, civil liberties, self-determination, not fawning over Israel ? As but one glaring example, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, perhaps the last chance for a decent life for the people of that painfully downtrodden land; planned by the CIA under Eisenhower, but executed under Kennedy.
"The Communist drive to impose their political and economic system on others is the primary cause of world tension today. For there can be no doubt that, if all nations could refrain from interfering in the self-determination of others, the peace would be much more assured."
See all of the above for this piece of hypocrisy. And so, if no nation interfered in the affairs of any other nation, there would be no wars. Brilliant. If everybody became rich there would be no poverty. If everybody learned to read there would be no illiteracy.
"The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war."
So Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, and literally dozens of other countries then, later, and now, all the way up to Libya in 2012 they all invaded the United States first? Remarkable.
And this was the man who was going to end the war in Vietnam very soon after being re-elected the following year? Lord help us.
This is not to put George W. Bush down. That's too easy, and I've done it many times. No, this is to counter the current trend to rehabilitate the man and his Iraqi horror show, which partly coincides with the opening of his presidential library in Texas. At the dedication ceremony, President Obama spoke of Bush's "compassion and generosity" and declared that: "He is a good man." The word "Iraq" did not pass his lips. The closest he came at all was saying "So even as we Americans may at times disagree on matters of foreign policy, we share a profound respect and reverence for the men and women of our military and their families." 9 Should morality be that flexible? Even for a politician? Obama could have just called in sick.
At the January 31 congressional hearing on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, Senator John McCain ripped into him for his critique of the Iraq war:
"The question is, were you right or were you wrong?" McCain demanded, pressing Hagel on why he opposed Bush's decision to send 20,000 additional troops to Iraq in the so-called 'surge'.
"I'm not going to give you a yes-or-no answer. I think it's far more complicated than that," Hagel responded. He said he would await the "judgment of history."
Glaring at Hagel, McCain ended the exchange with a bitter rejoinder: "I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you are on the wrong side of it." 10
Before the revisionist history of the surge gets chiseled into marble, let me repeat part of what I wrote in this report at the time, December 2007:
The American progress is measured by a decrease in violence, the White House has decided a daily holocaust has been cut back to a daily multiple catastrophe. And who's keeping the count? Why, the same good people who have been regularly feeding us a lie for the past five years about the number of Iraqi deaths, completely ignoring the epidemiological studies. A recent analysis by the Washington Post left the administration's claim pretty much in tatters. The article opened with: "The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends."
To the extent that there may have been a reduction in violence, we must also keep in mind that, thanks to this lovely little war, there are several million Iraqis either dead, wounded, in exile abroad, or in bursting American and Iraqi prisons. So the number of potential victims and killers has been greatly reduced. Moreover, extensive ethnic cleansing has taken place in Iraq (another good indication of progress, n'est-ce pas? nicht wahr?) Sunnis and Shiites are now living more in their own special enclaves than before, none of those stinking mixed communities with their unholy mixed marriages, so violence of the sectarian type has also gone down. On top of all this, US soldiers have been venturing out a lot less (for fear of things like well, dying), so the violence against our noble lads is also down.
One of the signs of the reduction in violence in Iraq, the administration would like us to believe, is that many Iraqi families are returning from Syria, where they had fled because of the violence. The New York Times, however, reported that "Under intense pressure to show results after months of political stalemate, the [Iraqi] government has continued to publicize figures that exaggerate the movement back to Iraq"; as well as exaggerating "Iraqis' confidence that the current lull in violence can be sustained." The count, it turns out, included all Iraqis crossing the border, for whatever reason. A United Nations survey found that 46 percent were leaving Syria because they could not afford to stay; 25 percent said they fell victim to a stricter Syrian visa policy; and only 14 percent said they were returning because they had heard about improved security.
How long can it be before vacation trips to "Exotic Iraq" are flashed across our TVs? "Baghdad's Beautiful Beaches Beckon". Just step over the bodies. Indeed, the State Department has recently advertised for a "business development/tourism" expert to work in Baghdad, "with a particular focus on tourism and related services." 11
Another argument raised again recently to preserve George W.'s legacy is that "He kept us safe". Hmm I could swear that he was in the White House around the time of September 11 What his supporters mean is that Bush's War on Terrorism was a success because there wasn't another terrorist attack in the United States after September 11, 2001 while he was in office; as if terrorists killing Americans is acceptable if it's done abroad. Following the American/Bush strike on Afghanistan in October 2001 there were literally scores of terrorist attacks including some major ones against American institutions in the Middle East, South Asia and the Pacific: military, civilian, Christian, and other targets associated with the United States.
Even the claim that the War on Terrorism kept Americans safe at home is questionable. There was no terrorist attack in the United States during the 6 1/2 years prior to the one in September 2001; not since the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. It would thus appear that the absence of terrorist attacks in the United States is the norm.
- William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, chapters 1 and 2, for cases up to about 2003; later similar cases are numerous; e.g., Glenn Greenwald, "They Hate US for our Occupations", Salon, October 12, 2010 ↩
- Huffington Post, April 20, 2013; Washington Post, April 21 ↩
- Tim Weiner, Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget (1990), p.149-50. ↩
- William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II ↩
- USA Today, December 3, 2012 ↩
- ForeignPolicyJournal.com, April 21, 2013 ↩
- The Telegraph (London), April 25, 2013; Politico.com, April 24 ↩
- Full text of speech↩
- Remarks by President Obama at Dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library↩
- Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2013 ↩
- Anti-Empire Report, #52, December 11, 2007↩
Other critics suggested the lockdown represented a massive overreaction that was symptomatic of a larger social crisis. Steven Rosenfeld argued that "beyond lingering questions of whether the government went too far by shutting down an entire city and whether that might encourage future terrorism, a deeper and darker question remains: why is America's obsession with evil so selective?" This was an important point and was largely ignored by most commentators on the tragedy. Implicit in Rosenfeld's question is why the notion of security and safety are limited to personal security and the fear of attacks by terrorists rather than the rise of a gun culture, the shredding of the safety net for millions of Americans, the imprisonment of one out of every 100 Americans, or the transformation of public schools into adjuncts of the punishing and surveillance state.
Lockdown as a policy and mode of control misrepresents the notion of security by reducing it to personal safety and thereby mobilizing fears that demand trading civil liberties for increased militarized security. The lockdown that took place in Boston serves as a reminder of how narrow the notion of security has become in that it is almost entirely associated with personal safety but never with the insecurities that derive from poverty, a lack of social provisions, and the incarceration binge. Most importantly, it now serves as a metaphor for how we address problems facing a range of institutions including immigration detention centers, schools, hospitals, public housing and prisons. Lockdown is the new common sense of militarized society, the zone of unchecked surveillance, policing, and state brutality.
Security in this instance is reduced to issues of law and order and mirrors a Hobbesian free-for-all, a world that "reveres competitiveness and celebrates unrestrained individual responsibility, with an antipathy to anything collective that might impede market forces" - a world in which the Darwinian survival of the fittest ethos rules and the only values that matter are exchange values. In this panopticon-like social order, there is little understanding of society as a public good, of the importance of providing public necessities such as decent housing, job programs for the unemployed, housing for the poor and homeless, health care for everyone, and universal education for young people.
In a society where critical analysis and explanation of violent attacks of this nature are dismissed as terrorist sympathizing, there is a stultifying logic that assumes that contextualizing an event is tantamount to justifying it. This crippling impediment to public dialogue may be why the militarized response to the Boston Marathon bombings, infused with the fantasy of the Homeland as a battlefield and the necessity of the paramilitarized surveillance state, was for the most part given a pass in mainstream media. Of course, there is more at stake here than misplaced priorities and the dark cloud of historical amnesia and anti-intellectualism, there is also the drift of American society into a form of soft authoritarianism in which boots on the ground and the securitization of everyday life now serve either as a source of pride, entertainment, or for many disposable groups, a source of fear.
Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the marathon bombing, shock and collective dislocation left little room to think about the context in which the bombing took place or the implications of a lockdown strategy that hints at the broader danger of exchanging security for freedom. Any attempt to suggest that the overly militarized response to the bombings was less about protecting people than legitimating the ever expanding reach of military operations to solve domestic problems was either met with disdain or silence in the dominant media. Even more telling was the politically offensive reaction to such critics and the intensity of a right-wing diatribe that used the Boston Marathon bombing as an excuse to further the expansion of the punishing state with its apparatuses of militarization, surveillance, secrecy, and its embrace of lawless states of exception. Equally repulsive was how the Boston bombing produced an ample amount of nativist paranoia about immigrants and the quest for an "enemy combatant" behind every door.
In the midst of the emotional fervor that followed the bloody Boston Marathon bombings, a number of pundits decried any talk about a possible militarized overreaction to the event and the hint that such tactics pointed to the dangers of a police state. One critic in a moment of emotive local hysteria referred to such critics as "outrage junkies," claimed they were "masturbating in public," and insisted he was washing his hands of what he termed "bad rubbish." This particular line of thought with its discursive infantilism and echoes of nationalistic jingoism ominously hinted that what happened in Boston could only register legitimately as a deeply felt emotional event, one that was desecrated by trying to understand it within a broader historical and political context.
Another register of bad faith was evident in the comments of right-wing pundits, broadcasting elites, and squeamish liberals who amped up the frenzied media spectacle surrounding the marathon bombing. Many of them suggested, without apology, that the country should be grateful for an increase in invasive searches, the suspension of constitutional rights, the embrace of total surveillance, and the ongoing normalization of the security state and Islamophobia. One frightening offshoot of the Boston Marathon bombing was the authoritarian tirade unleashed among a range of government officials that indicated how close dissent is to being treated as a crime and how under siege public space is by the forces of manufactured terrorism. For example, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) used the attacks in an effort to undo immigration reform, no longer concealing his disdain for immigrants, especially Muslims and Mexicans. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued that President Obama should not only deny Tsarnaev his constitutional rights by refusing to read him his Miranda Rights, but also hold him as "an enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes." As one commentator pointed out, "This is pretty breathtaking. Graham is suggesting that an American citizen, captured on American soil, should be deprived of basic constitutional rights."
Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.) reasserted his long standing racism by repeatedly arguing that the greatest threat of terrorism faced by the U.S. "is coming from the Muslim community" and that it might be time for state and federal authorities to spy on all Muslims. According to King, "Police have to be in the community, they have to build up as many sources as they can, and they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there," adding "we can't be bound by political correctness." King seems to think that dismissing the rhetoric of political correctness provides a rationale for translating into policy his Islamophobia and the national hallucination it feeds. Of course, King and others are simply channeling the racism of the cartoonish Ann Coulter, who actually suggested that all "unauthorized immigrants in the United States might be terrorists." This nativist paranoia is not new and has a long and disgraceful legacy in American history.
What is new in the current historical moment is how easily nativist paranoia and a culture of cruelty have become normalized and generated an acceptable public lexicon more characteristic of state terrorism and a military state than a "free and open" democracy. For instance, New York State Sen. Greg Ball (R), channeling Dick Cheney, took this logic of state terrorism to its inevitable end point, reminding Americans of the degree to which the United States has lost its moral compass, when he sent a message from his Twitter account, suggesting that the authorities torture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. As Ball put it, "So, scum bag #2 in custody. Who wouldn't use torture on this punk to save more lives?" There is more at work here than an evasion of principle, to say nothing of international law. There is an erasure of the very notion of a substantive and democratic polity, and a frightening collective embrace of an authoritarianism that points to the final rasp of democracy in the United States. Such unconsidered remarks should compel us to examine the state's use of lockdown procedures within a savage market-driven society that sanctions the return of the 19th century debtor's prisons in which people are jailed - and their lives ruined - for not being able to pay what amounts to trivial fines. The culture of punishment and cruelty is also evident in the attempt on the part of some West Virginia Republican Party legislators who are pushing for a policy that would force low-income school children to work in exchange for free lunches. The flight from ethical responsibility associated with the rise of the punishing state and the politics of the lockdown is also evident in the willingness of police forces around the country to push young children into the criminal justice system. More specifically, there is a frightening, even normalized willingness in American life to align politics and everyday life with the forces of militarization, law enforcement officials, and the dictates of the national security state.
The lockdown and ongoing search for those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was an eminently political event because it amplified the dreadful potential and real consequences of the never-ending war on terror and the anti-democratic processes it has produced at all levels of government along with an increasing diminishment of civil liberties. The script has become familiar and includes the authorized use of state-sponsored torture, the unchecked power of the President to conduct targeted assassinations, the use of warrantless searches, extraordinary renditions, secret courts, and the continuing monitoring of targeted citizens.
Since 9/11 we have witnessed the rise of a national-security-surveillance state and the expansion of a lockdown mode of existence in a range of institutions that extend from schools and airports to the space of the city itself. The meaning of lockdown in this context has to be understood in broader terms as the use of military solutions to problems for which such approaches are not only unnecessary but further produce authoritarian and anti-democratic policies and practices. Under such circumstances, not only have civil liberties been violated in the name of national security, but the promise of national security has given rise to policies which are punitive, steeped in the logic of revenge, and support the rise of a punishing state whose echoes of authoritarianism are often lost in the moral comas that accompany the country's infatuation with war and the militarization of everyday life.
Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian, succinctly insists that the Boston Marathon bombing is a political event because it "connects to larger questions about our culture and because it was infused with all kinds of political messages about Muslims, about radicalism, about what the proper role of the police and the military are in the United States." While there has been some criticism over what was perceived as the unnecessary imposition of a lockdown in Boston, and especially Watertown, what has been missed in many of these arguments is that the US is already in lockdown mode, which has been intensifying since 9/11. A number of critics have raised questions about the abridgement of civil rights and the specter of excessive policing after the marathon bombing as one-off events, but few have discussed the continuity and expansion of the logic of lockdown predating September 11 which can be traced back to the massive incarceration of disproportionate numbers of people of color beginning in the early 1970s.
This history has been addressed by Christian Parenti, Tom Englehardt, Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, and others and need not be repeated here, but what does need to be addressed is how the concept and tactic of the lockdown has moved far beyond the walls of the prison and now shapes a whole range of institutions, making clear how the United States has moved into a lockdown mode that is consistent with the precepts of an authoritarian state. While the Boston lockdown was more of a request for the public to stay inside, it displayed all of the attributes of martial law, especially in Watertown where house-to-house searches took on the appearance of treating the residents as feared criminals.
Lockdown cannot be understood outside of the manufactured war on terrorism and the view, aptly expressed by Lindsey Graham, that the Boston Marathon bombing "is Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield." Graham's comments embrace the dangerous correlate that everyone is a possible enemy combatant and that domestic militarization and its embrace of perpetual war is a perfectly legitimate practice, however messy it might be when measured against democratic principles, human rights, and the most basic precepts of constitutional law. Lockdown as a concept and strategy gains its meaning and legitimacy under specific historical conditions informed by particular modes of ideology, governance, and policies.
At a time when the United States has embraced a number of anti-democratic practices extending from state torture to the ruthless militarized logic of a Darwinian politics of cruelty and disposability, the symbolic nature of the lockdown is difficult to both ignore and remove from the authoritarian state that increasingly relies on it as a form of policing and disciplinary control. This becomes all the more obvious by the fact that the lockdown in Boston appears to be a major overreach compared to the response of other countries to terrorist acts. As Michael Cohen, a correspondent for The Guardian, points out:
The actions allegedly committed by the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, were heinous. Four people dead and more than 100 wounded, some with shredded and amputated limbs. But Londoners, who endured IRA terror for years, might be forgiven for thinking that America over-reacted just a tad to the goings-on in Boston. They're right - and then some. What we saw was a collective freak-out like few that we've seen previously in the United States. It was yet another depressing reminder that more than 11 years after 9/11 Americans still allow themselves to be easily and willingly cowed by the "threat" of terrorism.
Some would argue that locking down an entire city because a homicidal killer was on the loose can be attributed to how little experience Americans have with daily acts of terrorism, unlike Israel, Baghdad, and other cities which are constantly subject to such attacks. While there is an element of truth to such arguments, what is missing from this position is a different and more frightening logic. Americans have become so indifferent to the militarization of everyday life that they barely blink when an entire city, school, prison, or campus is locked down. In a society in which everyone is treated as a potential enemy combatant, misfit, villain, or criminal "to be penalized, locked up or locked out," it is not surprising that institutions and policies are constructed that normalize a range of anti-democratic practices. These would include everything from invasive body searches by the police and the mass incarceration of people of color to the ongoing surveillance and securitization of schools, workplaces, the social media, Internet, businesses, neighborhoods, and individuals, all of which mimic the tactics of a police state. At a time when prison, poverty, and a culture of cruelty and punishment inform each other and encompass more and more Americans, the "governing-through-crime" complex moves across America like a fast-spreading virus. In its wake, Mississippi schoolchildren are handcuffed for not wearing a belt or the wrong color shoes, young mothers who cannot pay a traffic ticket are sent to jail, and according to Michelle Alexander "More African-American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began."
These examples are not merely anecdotal. They point to the frightening degree to which a society marked by a particularly savage violence in which lockdown becomes a central tool and organizing logic in controlling those growing populations now considered disposable and subject to the machinery of social and civil death. The racist grammars of state violence that emerged during and in the aftermath of the lockdown of Boston speak to a connection between the violence of disposability that haunts American life and the increasing reliance on the state's use of force to implement and maintain its structures of inequality, misplaced power, and domination. Within this system of control and domination, matters of moral, social, and political responsibility are silenced in the name of securitization, even as efforts to pass legislation on gun control are routinely displaced by the assertion of individual rights. For instance, Americans rightly mourn the victims of the Boston bombings but say nothing about the ongoing killing of hundreds of children in the streets of Chicago largely due to the abundance of high-powered weaponry and the gratuitous celebration of the spectacle of violence in American culture. Nor is there a public outcry and mourning for the tragic deaths of over 200 children killed as a result of drone attacks launched by the Obama administration in Afghanistan and other countries said to harbor terrorists. Evil in this equation when employed by the American media and its complicit politicians becomes too narrow and self-serving.
Accordingly, the rush to the lockdown mode must be understood within a wider military metaphysics, largely informed by the dictates of an authoritarian society, the ongoing war on terror, and the establishment of the permanent warfare state, which now moves across and shapes a wide range of sites and institutions. As a metaphysic, lockdown is an essential mode of governance, ideology, and practice that defines everyone as either a soldier, enemy combatant, or a willing client of the security state. One implication here is that the war on terror actively wages a war on the very possibility of judgment, informed argument, and critical agency itself. More specifically, the lockdown mode is hostile to dissent, the questioning of authority, and its disciplinary practices are steeped in a long history of abuse extending from harassing prison inmates, turning schools into prisons, transforming factories into slave labor camps, bullying student protesters, transforming black and brown communities into armed camps, and treating public housing as a war zone. It is a practice that emerges out of the glorification of war and the appeal to a state of emergency and exception. Moreover, the values and practices it legitimates blur the lines between the wars at home and abroad and the ongoing investment in the culture of war and machineries of death.
Tom Englehardt has eloquently argued that the National Security Complex, with its "$75 billion or more budget," continues to accelerate and that "the Pentagon is, by now, a world unto itself, with a staggering budget at a moment when no other power or combination of powers comes near to challenging this country's might." Moreover, under the guise of the war on terror, the Bush and Obama administrations have "lifted the executive branch right out of the universe of American legality. They liberated it to do more or less what it wished, as long as 'war,' 'terrorism,' or 'security' could be invoked. Meanwhile, with their Global War on Terror well launched and promoted as a multigenerational struggle, they made wartime their property for the long run."
The lockdown mode exalts military authority and thrives in a society that "can no longer even expect our public institutions to do anything meaningful to address meaningful problems." One indication of the militarization of American society is the high social status now accorded to the military itself and the transformation of soldiers into objects of national reverence. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri point out,
What is most remarkable is not the growth in the number of soldiers in the United States but rather their social stature... Military personnel in uniform are given priority boarding on commercial airlines, and it is not uncommon for strangers to stop and thank them for their service. In the United States, rising esteem for the military in uniform corresponds to the growing militarization of the society as a whole. All of this despite repeated revelations of the illegality and immorality of the military's own incarceration systems, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, whose systematic practices border on if not actually constitute torture.
At the same time, military values no longer operate within the exclusive realm and marginalized space of the armed forces or those governing structures dedicated to defense. On the contrary, the ideas, values and profits emerging from the war sector flood civilian society to create what Charles Derber and Yale Magrass call a militarized society, which, as they put it,
develops a culture and institutions which program civilians for violence at home as well as abroad. War celebrates the heroism of soldiers who use the same style weapons and ammunition used by the mass shooters at Newtown, Los Angeles or Columbine. A warrior society values its armed forces as heroic protectors of freedom, sending a message that the use of guns [and the organized production of violence are] morally essential.
Military values in America have become one of the few sources of civic pride. In part, this explains the public's silence in the face of not only the eradication and suppression of civil liberties, public values and democratic institutions by the expanding financial elite and military-industrial-complex but also the transformations of a number of institutions into militarized spheres more concerned about imposing a punitive authority rather than creating the conditions for the production of an engaged and critical citizenry. Lockdown politics signals the rise of an anti-politics, the rise of a new authoritarianism - an era of liminal drift in which democracy does not merely get thinned out but begins to collapse into dangerous forms of militarization that are increasingly normalized. Since when are SWAT teams viewed as the highest expression of national honor?
Militarism thrives on the mass-produced culture of fear and the spectacle of violence. It abhors dissent and flourishes in an ever-expanding web of secrecy. Both Bush and Obama have used the cult of secrecy to silence whistleblowers, allow those who have committed torture under the government direction to go free, and refused those who have been interrogated illegally to take their case to the courts. In the age of illegal legalities, the rule of law disappears into a vast abyss of secret memos, personal preferences, classified documents, targeted killings, and secret missions conducted by special operations forces. Tom Englehardt rightly argues that America has become a country locked into the ethical-stripping fantasy that the rule of law not only still prevails but applies to everyone. He writes:
What it means to be in such a post-legal world - to know that, no matter what acts a government official commits, he or she will never be brought to court or have a chance of being put in jail - has yet to fully sink in. In reality, in the Bush and Obama years, the United States has become a nation not of laws but of legal memos, not of legality but of legalisms - and you don't have to be a lawyer to know it. The result? Secret armies, secret wars, secret surveillance, and spreading state secrecy, which meant a government of the bureaucrats about which the American people could know next to nothing. And it's all 'legal.'
The cult of secrecy in the age of the lockdown suggests that the United States has more in common with authoritarian regimes than with flourishing democracies. Yet, the American people still believe they live in what is touted in the mainstream media and right-wing cultural apparatuses as a country that represents the apogee of freedom and democracy. Why aren't people pouring into the streets of American cities protesting the rise of the prison and military as America's dominant institutions, especially when, as Brian Terrell argues, "prisons and the military, America's dominant institutions, exist not to bring healing to domestic ills or relief from foreign threats but to exacerbate and manipulate them for the profit of the wealthiest few, at great cost and peril for the rest of us?"
What will it take for the American public to connect the increasing militarization of everyday life to the ways in which the prison-industrial complex destroys lives and for-profit corporations have the power to put poor people in jails for being in debt. Or for that matter when school authorities punish young children by putting them in seclusion rooms while on a larger scale the US government increasingly relies on solitary confinement in detaining immigrants. When will the American people link images of the "shattered bodies, dismembered limbs, severed arteries ... and terrified survivors" to the reports of over 200 young children killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia as a result of drone attacks launched by faux video gamers sitting in dark rooms in cities thousands of miles away from their targets? In the face of the Boston Marathon bombings, the question that haunts the American public is not about our capacity for compassion and solidarity for the victims of this tragedy but how indifferent we are to the conditions that too readily have turned this terrible tragedy into just another exemplary register of the war on terror and a further legitimization for the military-industrial-national security state.
Violence and its handmaidens, militarism and military culture, have become essential parts of the fabric of American life. We live in a culture in which a lack of imagination is matched by diminishing intellectual visions and a collective refusal to rebel against injustices, however blatant and corrosive they may be. For instance, a political system completely corrupted by big money is barely the subject of sustained analysis and public outrage. The mortgaging of the future of many young people to the incessant greed of casino capitalism and the growing disparities in income and wealth does little to diminish the public's faith in the fraud of the free market. The embarrassing judgments of a judicial system that punishes the poor and allows the rich to go free in the face of unimaginable financial crimes boggles the mind. The challenge facing Americans is not the risk of illusory hopes but those undemocratic economic, political, and cultural forces that hold sway over American life, intent on destroying civic society and any vestige of agency willing to challenge them.
Young people, especially those in the Occupy movement, the Quebec protesters, and the student resisters in France, Chile and Greece seem currently to represent the only hope we have left in the United States and abroad for a display of political and moral courage in which they are willing individually and collectively to oppose the authority of the market and a growing lockdown state while still raising fundamental questions about the project of democracy and why they have been left out of it. Salman Rushdie has argued that political courage has become ambiguous and that the American public, among others, has "become suspicious of those who take a stand against the abuses of power or dogma" or even worse, are blamed increasingly for upsetting people, given their willingness to stand against and challenge orthodoxy or bigotry. Gone, he argues, are the writers and intellectuals who opposed Stalinism, capitalist tyranny, and the various religious and ideological orthodoxies that reduce thinking and critically engaged subjects to anti-intellectual fundamentalists and political cowards, or even worse, willing accomplices to power.
Of course, there are brave intellectuals all over the world such as Ai Weiwei, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Stuart Hall, Olivia Ward, and others who do not tie their intellectual capital to the possibility of a summer cruise, the rewards provided to those who either shut up or sell their souls to the intelligence agencies who offer research funds, or the likes of Fox News that offers anti-public intellectuals instant celebrity status and substantial reward for parading the virtues of being uninformed and thoughtless, demonstrating the pedagogical virtues of keeping the public politically illiterate while making it easier to push risk-takers to the margins of society. An Noam Chomsky has pointed out, these are pseudo public intellectuals whose most distinguishing feature is not only "acceptance within the system of power and a ready path to privilege, but also the inestimable advantage of freedom from the onerous demands of thought, inquiry, and argument."
American culture powers a massive disimagination machine in which historical memory is hijacked as struggles by the oppressed disappear, the "state as the guardian of the public interest is erased," and the memory of institutions serving the public good vanishes. The memories of diverse struggles for democracy need to be resurrected in order to reimagine a politics capable of reclaiming democratic institutions of governance, culture, and education; moreover, the educative nature of politics has to be addressed in order to develop both new forms of individual and collective agency and vast social movements that can challenge the global concentration of economic and political power held by a dangerous class of financial and wealthy elites.
Gayatri Spivak has argued that "without a strong imagination, there can be no democratic judgment, which can imagine something other than one's own well-being."  The current historical conjuncture dominated by the discourse and institutions of neoliberalism and militarization present a threat not just to the economy but to the very possibility of imagining an alternative to a machinery of death that now reaches into every aspect of daily life. A generalized fear now shapes American society, one that thrives on insecurity, precarity, dread of punishment, and a concern with external threats. Any struggle that matters will have to imagine and fight for a society in which it becomes possible once again to imagine the project of a substantive democracy. Central to such a struggle is the educational task of inquiring not only how democracy has been lost under the current regime of neoliberal capitalism with its gangster rulers and utter disregard for its production of organized irresponsibility but also how the project of democracy can be retrieved through the joint power and efforts of workers, young people, educators, minorities, immigrants, and others. At the present historical moment, lockdown culture is being challenged in many societies. A fight for democracy is emerging across the globe led by young people, workers, and others unwilling to live in societies in which lockdown becomes an organizing tool for social control and repression. The future of democracy rests precisely with such groups both in the United States and abroad who are willing to create new social movements built on a powerful vision of the promise of democracy and the durable organizations that make it possible.
 Eduardo Galeano, "The Theatre of Good and Evil, La Jornada (September 21, 2001), translated by Justin Podur.
 Andrew O'Hehir, "How Boston exposes America's dark post-9/11 bargain," Salon.com (April 20, 2013).
 Ibid., O'Hehir, "How Boston exposes America's dark post-9/11 bargain"
 Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 13.
 Michael Schwalbe, "The Lockdown Society Goes Primetime," Counterpunch, (April 24, 2013); see also, Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn, "Boston lockdown: The new normal?" Politico, (April 20, 2013); and Wendy Kaminer, "'We Don't Cower in Fear': Reconsidering the Boston Lockdown," The Atlantic, (April 21, 2013).
 Steven Rosenfeld, "America's Focus on Terrorism Blinds Us To Everyday Violence and Suffering," Alternet, (April 22, 2013).
 Guy Standing, The Precariat: A Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsury, 2011), p. 132.
 William Rivers Pitt, "Random Notes From the Police State," Truthout (April 23, 2013).
 On the cost of American militarism and national security, see Melvin R. Goodman, National Insecurity: the Cost of American Militarism (San Francisco: City Lights, 2013).
 Igor Volsky, "Top Opponent Of Immigration Reform Totally Loses It During Immigration Hearing," ThinkProgress (April 22, 2013).
 David A. Graham, "Shorter Lindsey Graham: Constitution? What Constitution?" The Atlantic (April 19, 2013).
 Ibid., Graham, "Shorter Lindsey Graham: Constitution? What Constitution?"
 On the question of racism and the response to the Boston Marathon bombing, see David Sirota, "The huge, unanswered questions post-Boston," Salon, (April 21, 2013) and Andrew O'Hehir, "How Boston exposes America's dark post-9/11 bargain," Salon.com, (April 20, 2013).
 Adam Serwer, "5 of the Worst Reactions to the Boston Manhunt," Mother Jones, (April 19, 2013). Some critics argued persuasively that the government response to the Boston marathon bombing indicated the degree to which a bloated surveillance state failed. See: John Stanton, "US National Security State Fails in Boston," Dissident Voice, (April 20, 2013) and Falguni A. Sheth and Robert E. Prasch, "In Boston, our bloated surveillance state didn't work," Salon, (April 22, 2013).
 Ibid., Serwer, "5 of the Worst Reactions to the Boston Manhunt."
 Katie McDonough, "New York state senator on Boston suspect: "Who wouldn't use torture on this punk?"," Salon, (April 20, 2013)
 A Report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, How Ohio's Debtors' Prisons Are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities (Cleveland, Ohio: ACLU, 2013).
 Hannah Groch-Begley, "Fox Asks If Children Should Work For School Meals," Media Matters, (April 25, 2013).
 See: Annette Fuentes, Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse (New York: Verso, 2011); Erik Eckholm, "With Police in Schools, More Children in Court," The New York Times, (April 12, 2013).
 I am drawing from the excellent article by Jonathan Turley, "10 Reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free," The Washington Post (January 13, 2012).
 Cited in Bill Moyers, "The Boston Manhunt as a 'Political' event," Truthout (April 25, 2013).
 One of the few who provided this type of analysis was Michael Schwalbe, "The Lockdown Society Goes Primetime," Counterpunch, (April 24, 2013).
 Jennifer Rubin, "Sen. Lindsey Graham: Boston bombing "is Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield'," The Washington Post (April 19, 2013).
 Michael Cohen, "Why does America lose its head over 'terror' but ignore its daily gun deaths?" The Guardian (April 21, 2013).
 Guy Standing, The Precariat: A Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsury, 2011), p. 132.
 A number of excellent sources take up this issue, see, for example, James Bamford, The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (New York: Anchor Books, 2009); Zygmunt Baum and David Lyons, Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation (London: Polity, 2013); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Declaration (New York: Argo Navis Author Services, 2012). Relatedly, see Stephen Graham, Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (New York: Verso, 2011).
 Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
 Nicole Flatow, "Report: Mississippi Children Handcuffed in School For Not Wearing a Belt," Nation of Change, (January 18, 2013); Suzi Parker, "Cops Nab 5-Year- Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School," Take Part, (January 18, 2013).
 Alex Kane, "Miss a Traffic Ticket, Go to Jail? The Return of Debtor Prison (Hard Times, USA)," Alternet, (February 3, 2013).
 Cited in Dick Price, "More Black Men Now in Prison System Then Were Enslaved", LA Progressive, (March 31, 2011).
 See, for instance, Robert Scheer, "277 Million Boston Bombings," Truthdig, (April 23, 2013).
 Tom Engelhardt, "Washington's Militarized Mindset," TomDispatch, (July 5, 2012).
 Tom Engelhardt, "The American Lockdown State," TomDispatch, (February 5, 2013).
 Steven Rosenfeld, "What Is the Cause of Violent and Senseless Massacres in America?" AlterNet, (July 24th, 2012).
 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Declaration (New York: Argo Navis Author Services, 2012), p. 22.
 Charles Derber and Yale Magrass, "When Wars Come Home," Truthout, (February 19, 2013).
 Tom Engelhardt, "The American Lockdown State," TomDispatch, (February 5, 2013).
 Brian Terrell, "Drones, Sanctions, and the Prison Industrial Complex," Monthly Review Magazine, (April 24, 2013).
 See: Mark Karlin, "How the Prison-Industrial Complex Destroys Lives: An Interview with Marc Mauer," Truthout (April 26, 2013). There are many excellent resources on the subject, see, for instance, Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire Interviews with Angela Y. Davis (New York: Seven Stories, 2005); Marc Bauer, Race to Incarcerate (New York: New Press, 2006); Anne-marie-Cusac, Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) and Michelle Alexander, New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2012).
 Ethan Bronner, "Poor Land in Jail as Companies Add Huge Fees for Probation," New York Times (July 2, 2012), p. A1.
 Bill Lichtenstein, "A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children," New York Times, (September 8, 2012).
 Ian Urbina and Catherine Rentz, "Immigrants Held in Solitary Cells, Often for Weeks," New York Times, (March 23, 2013).
 Barry Lando, "The Boston Marathon Bombing, Drones and the Meaning of Cowardice," Counterpunch, (April 16, 2013).
 Joshua Kurlantzick, Democracy in Retreat (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) and Hardt and Negri, Declaration.
 Peter Edelman, So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America (New York: The New Press, 2012); Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012); see also the brilliant article on iequality by Michael Yates, "The Great Inequality," Monthly Review, (March 1, 2012).
 See, Henry A. Giroux, Youth in Revolt (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013).
 Salman Rushdie, "Wither Moral Courage," New York Times (April 27, 2013). P. SR5.
 Noam Chomsky, The Culture of Terrorism (Boston: South End Press, 1988), p. 21.
 Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance (New York: Free Press, 1998), p. 1.
 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Changing Reflexes: Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak," Works and Days, 55/56: Vol. 28, 2010, pp. 1-2. Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.
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