We bow our heads in a moment of silence, Bowed to remember those murdered, Bowed to reflect on the human carnage, the horror, the unspeakable terror
Sandy Hook: moment of silence Emanuel AME: moment of silence Aurora, Virginia Tech, the Sikh Temple, San Bernardino: a moment of silence We demand silence when what’s needed is loudness.
Loudness over the oppression, the learned aversion of the eyes, the easy rationalization, the racism, the misogyny, the white supremacy, the Islamophobia, the homophobia, the amalgam of ancient prejudices cleverly concealed for prime time consumption between commercial breaks.
A moment of silence? Silence amidst the deafening sounds of shotgun shells, handgun blasts, shrieking parents, and broken lives.
Silence accumulating like mold within the expanding shadow of propaganda, warlords, acceptable gangsterism, and scatterings of war paraphernalia.
Out of respect we solemnly bow our heads in a moment of silence. But does this silence inspire memory or feed our forgetfulness?
49 dead, 53 wounded. A familiar tragedy with new characters. And now the shadow has expanded to the Sunshine State™. How will we respond?
Another moment of silence?
Official doctrine in imperial society requires that the crimes of enemy states be circulated as widely as possible irrespective of fact or the historical record. Deviation from this code of conduct invariably elicits a barrage of insults and verbal abuse. Passionate condemnations of dissidents are meant to illustrate the deep humanitarian sensibilities of the intellectual class, moved to speak out against those not sufficiently outraged over the crimes of others, real or perceived. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s After the Cataclysm deconstructs this deeply rooted tradition of imperial society and, in the process, exposes the fabrications, omissions, and flagrant lies of a well-oiled propaganda industry. Reviewing both the scholarly and journalistic record on post-war Indochina, Herman and Chomsky reveal a persistent tendency in the US to obscure (if not ignore entirely) the decisive American role in the brutal destruction of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Rather than reflect seriously on the odious history of US savagery in Indochina, media accounts regularly portrayed the humanitarian consequences of the imperial assault as a quintessential expression of the evils of “communism.” Meanwhile, the US record of chemical warfare, indiscriminate murder of civilians and diplomatic sabotage remained safely concealed from public scrutiny. It was probably for this reason that President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel Laureate who used human rights rhetoric as a basis for his presidency, was able to evade US responsibility for the massive suffering in Vietnam by claiming “the destruction was mutual.” The US destroyed South Vietnam under the pretext that they were defending its inhabitants from northern “aggression.” This bombing occurred despite the fact that “about half of the population of the South supported the [National Liberation Front]” (official US government estimate).
One of the more transparently criminal operations in the US attack on the NLF was the Phoenix program. Former intelligence officer K. Barton Osborne described the program in an official testimony as “a sterile depersonalized murder program,” with “no cross-check”, “no investigation”, and “no second options.” Interestingly, President Obama’s drone assassination program mirrors the Phoenix program in many ways, excepting the fact that it’s more “sterile” and “depersonalized” than its predecessor. In addition to the material and human damage the US attack on Vietnam caused, it also destroyed the Vietnamese economy. In an attack on Vietnam’s agrarian-based economy, the US bombing devastated the countryside creating a mass population of internally displaced refugees. US bombing campaigns against the montagnard population was particularly brutal driving hundreds of thousands of people off their land (conservative estimates say a minimum of 125,000 people were forcibly expelled from their territory.) All of this information went completely ignored in the elite media and when alluded to was attributed to the so-called “logic” of “communism.”
Equal attention is given to the US aggression in Laos. CIA subversion was vital in undermining any possibility of democratic governance in Laos. This subversion included an attempt to manipulate Laotian elections in 1958 and ,after failing in this effort, backing “a Thai based military attack against the [Pathet Lao] government …”, a government “recognized by the United States.” Hostilities of this kind were submerged beneath orientalist rhetoric about “lovely little Laos” and its “gentle folk” victimized by North Vietnamese communists. Laotian Vice Foreign Minister Khamphay Boupha informed an American representative in Laos that “the US has dropped 3 million tons of bombs–one ton per head,” and “forced 700,000 peasants to abandon their fields.” Much like the US attack on Vietnam the US bombing of Laos also inflicted severe economic costs on the Laotian people. A harsh drought and a US-backed Thai blockade aggravated the economic crisis in the form of food shortages and an “exodus of skilled technicians.” Filtered through the propaganda industry the plight of Laos was described as follows: “Little Laos is in fact tragically caught between the anvil and the hammer: a pawn of the Vietnamese as the front line of defense against Thailand and a client of the Soviet Union in its big power competition with China.”
Excluded from this picture entirely was the United States which at the time was “[refusing] to send any of its rice surplus to Laos (the world’s largest) , despite impending starvation.” The reason for not interfering to stop this US instigated plague of mass starvation was that such an act would “appear to be pro-communist” (official excuse of the White House). In 1975 the US “cut off its malaria prevention program.” Statements from foreign doctors described this decision as responsible for “killing adults and children indiscriminately, infecting pregnant women, and weakening many people so that they cannot work.” Unexploded ordinance is the lasting legacy of the US attack on Laos. During the war thousands were killed by these “golf-ball sized bombs containing explosives and steel bits released from a large canister.” Today this “war debris” continues to maim and murder the people of Laos.
Perhaps the most consequential section of Chomsky and Herman’s study, in terms of the discussion it generated and the insight it provides in regard to imperial ideology, is that on the US media’s role in distorting the post-war situation in Cambodia. Fake photographs, misquotations, and unverifiable allegations characterized this campaign of misinformation. Special attention is devoted to the media response to Francois Ponchaud’s book Cambodia: Year Zero. Among the assertions made in Ponchaud’s book that escaped critical examination was his claim that the killings in Cambodia were centrally organized and directed by the Khmer government. This unverified assertion conflicted with other credible reports that attributed the massacres to peasants, independent of government control, seeking vengeance for the utterly devastating effects of the US bombings of the Cambodian people. Though glossed over or ignored in media treatment of post-war Indochina, the US military destroyed Cambodia in 1973. Cambodia scholar Laura Summers reported that US B-52s “pounded Cambodia for 160 consecutive days, dropping more than 240,000 short ton bombs on rice fields, water buffalo [and] villages …” This tonnage represented “50 percent more than the conventional explosives dropped on Japan during World War II.” In a sharp departure from conventional narratives about post-war Cambodia Summers concluded that the Khmer revolution was “the expression of deep cultural and social malaise unleashed by a sudden and violent foreign assault on the nation’s social structure.”
One striking feature about the US attack on Cambodia and the media response is how closely it resembles the current discussion surrounding the drone bombings in northern Pakistan. In the case of Cambodia the bombings were conducted under the pretext that they were harboring “Viet Cong guerrillas” from Vietnam. Similarly, Pakistani villages are regularly bombed under the pretext that “terrorists” are hiding in the tribal areas. In both cases, the mass murder of civilians is ignored along with elementary principles of international law. In March of 1969, the year the US officially initiated its air war against Cambodia, the Cambodian government protested the killing of “peaceful Cambodian farmers,” adding that “these criminal acts must immediately and definitively stop …” Cambodian leader Prince Sihanouk organized a press conference shortly thereafter on March 28th. At this press conference he made it known that “unarmed and innocent people have been the victims of US bombs,” and in “the latest bombing, the victims … were Khmer peasants, women and children in particular.” In accord with the requirements of the “free press” these protests went unreported. In fact, the US circulated false reports claiming the Cambodian government welcomed the attack.
More than any other book, this text is often cited by propagandists as proof of Chomsky’s “support” for the Khmer Rouge. A simple reading of this book reveals this accusation to be a bad joke at best and at worst a slanderous lie. The purpose of the Cambodia section, and the book as a whole, is stated repeatedly and unambiguously; namely, to illustrate how “available facts were selected, modified, or sometimes invented to create a certain image offered to the general population”, that “the performance of the Free Press in helping to reconstruct a badly mauled imperial ideology has been eminently satisfactory,” and “the only casualties have been truth, decency and the prospects for a more humane world.” In short, the core objective of this text was to demonstrate the capacity for servility within the American intellectual classes, their ability to parrot information without the slightest regard for historical context or documentary evidence. This capacity for servility is regularly renewed in the aftermath of US imperial projects, the latest being the rape of Fallujah, which is now described as the US military’s effort to “pacify” a violent Iraqi insurgency. Chomsky and Herman’s careful study is, in this respect, an enduring moral refutation of faith-based journalists, scholars and the horrendous crimes of state in which they play a decisive ideological role.
The Washington Connection & Third World Fascism by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman
It would be a grave understatement to describe the near ubiquitous media coverage of the horrific massacre in Aurora, Colorado as dramatic. Alleged killer, James Holmes, has been scrutinized to the point of celebrity. Reports describe an orange-haired mass murderer “looking dazed, alternately bug-eyed and nodding with his eyes closing”. Latest reports from ABC News claim that he has begun “spitting at jail officers”.
Individual portraits of this kind have been given some depth with the commentary of psychologists. Australian forensic psychologist Paul Mullen provided arguably the most illuminating glance into “the minds of mass killers”. In an ABC News interview Mullen maintained that mass murderers are “typically social isolates,” who “are angry and resentful at the world”. Mass killers, he adds, “blame the world for not recognizing their qualities,” while “ruminating on . . . past slights and offences.”
Analysis of the mental states of notorious killers is not uncommon in the aftermath of tragedies, especially in shooting sprees like that which transpired in Aurora. For example, weeks after former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was nearly killed by 23-year-old gunman Jared Loughner, Time Magazine published an article portraying him as “a quiet, normal boy who had grown into a man descending into serious mental illness”. In accord with this motif, former chief research psychologist Marissa Randazzo suggests that Holmes “may be in the middle of a psychotic episode,” if he is not “faking,” mental illness. Virginia Tech shooter, Seung Hui Cho elicited similar commentary, described in Time magazine as someone who indulged in “revenge fantasies”–a pattern of behavior that led to his “involuntary commitment to a mental institution.”
Mainstream treatment of these cases share a crucial characteristic, namely they obscure, if not reject, the sociocultural context within which these crimes unfold. Each killer is portrayed as a “lone wolf,” detached from the influences of society at large. Such explanations, while convenient, ought to come under closer scrutiny when the military and diplomatic record of the United States is considered along with its cultural implications. According to figures published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute the US commanded 41% of the world’s military spending in 2011, vastly outspending China (8.2%), Russia (4.1%), France (3.6%), and the United Kingdom (3.6%). Additionally, “The volume of the USA’s arms exports increased by 24 percent between 2002-2006 and 2007-2011,” making it the world’s largest arms exporter. This huge disparity in military might is essential to sustain myths of American exceptionalism and its cultural corollaries.
Quite predictably, this monopoly on what Karim H. Karim called “the legitimate use of force,” has normalized state terror as a defining feature of the American “way of life,” with roots traceable to the European conquest of the Americas. The historical significance of this terror was captured perhaps most powerfully by an American soldier contemplating his role in the destruction of the native Iroquois civilization under the command of the great “Town destroyer,” George Washington. Struck by the savagery of this genocidal mission, the soldier remarked, “I really feel guilty as I applied the torch to huts that were Homes of Content until we ravagers came spreading desolation everywhere”. The soldier went on to add “our mission here is ostensibly to destroy but may it not transpire that we pillagers are carelessly sowing the seeds of Empire?” Incidentally, the “Town destroyer,” himself receives ample tribute within contemporary centers of power.
Writing on the “20 most influential Americans of all time,” the staff of Time magazine describes George Washington as a “sensible and wise,” man who possessed “the tolerance of a landsman . . .” and “the faith that comes with witnessing the changing seasons year in and year out”. An instructive sample of this abiding “faith,” can be sensed in a letter written by Washington in 1783 addressed to James Duane. In this letter Washington observed that efforts “to drive [the indigenous population] by force of arms out of their Country . . . is like driving the Wild Beasts of the Forest which will return as soon as the pursuit is at an end and fall perhaps on those that are left there.” In his final assessment of the mass slaughter he concluded “the gradual extension of our Settlements will as certainly cause the Savage as the Wolf to retire; both being beasts of prey tho’ they differ in shape.” Time magazine encapsulated this genocidal record by noting that “Washington’s military achievements are admired for their perseverance rather than their brilliance”. It would be instructive to measure our reaction to a magazine staff that hailed the “brilliance,” of the Wehrmacht in their invasion of Poland, as the extermination camps of Auschwitz certainly present 20th century analogues to Washington’s “military achievements”.
Pronouncements of this kind persist in the Obama administration and serve as a strong affirmation of an idea articulated by French philosopher Michel Foucault. In his famous study of “the history of madness during the so-called classical age”, Madness and Civilization, Foucault observes that madness is “the most rigorously necessary form of the qui pro quo in the dramatic economy, for it needs no external element to reach a true resolution. It merely has to carry its illusion to the point of truth.” Is this qui pro quo not most violently embodied in the Obama administration’s assassination campaign, where international law is flagrantly violated, national sovereignty is undermined, and over 700 innocent civilians are mercilessly slaughtered? What was the assassination of Osama Bin Laden but a reiteration of Foucault’s maxim that madness “has to carry its illusion to the point of truth”. In this case the “illusion” was the notion that Osama Bin Laden posed an imminent threat to the United States while the assassination marked the brutal end of this illusion, its “point of truth,” punctuated with the President’s memorable phrase “justice has been done”.
In fact, it does not take much effort to notice that the US, in its use of terrorism as an instrument of power, meets almost, if not all, of the traits laid out by Mullen in his examination of “mass killers”. Like mass killers, centers of power within the US have also “developed a hatred for the whole world”. A graphic sample of this hatred can be perceived in the US record on the environmental front. Despite leading the world in pollution per capita, the US remains the most formidable obstacle in the way of an international resolution on climate change. In the climate talks at Kyoto the US voted against 192 other member states and effectively eliminated any prospect of meaningful action. This comes as record heat sweeps across the nation, endangering food production and animal life. MIT’s Center for Global Change and Science projected in 2009 that “without rapid and massive action the problem [of global warming] will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago if not worse”. To be precise, the “median probability of surface warming,” is to reach 5.2 degrees centigrade by 2100, more than double the 2003 projection at 2.4 degrees.
Also like Mullen’s “mass killer,” Washington can be observed “ruminating on . . . past slights and offences.” For example, the US is still “ruminating” on the “offence,” carried out by Cuba in 1959 when its people extricated themselves from the US-backed Batista dictatorship. Consistent with their passionate “hatred for the world,” every administration since Kennedy has made sure to vote down any measures implemented at the UN to bring an end to the economic blockade, consciously imposed for the crime of liberation. 186 to 2 (US and Israel voting against) was the final vote in the last General Assembly resolution condemning the embargo. The continued punishment of Iran for overthrowing the Shah dictatorship is yet another consequence of this rumination.
In an interview published by the Council on Foreign Relations, London Middle East Institute director Dr. Hassan Hakimian stated “Iran’s economy is facing a lot of challenges, and these challenges have been accentuated by the [US] sanctions. The main challenges are (and have been for a while) unemployment, especially amongst youth, and inflation, which is likely to get worse partially because of the depreciation of Iranian currency and partly because of the abolition of the subsidies scheme, which the government put in place about a year ago. These included some sixteen essential items, including energy and bread and sugar.” Collective punishment of this sort, in addition to depriving Iranians of these “essential items”, is a direct violation of international humanitarian law, most notably the Geneva Conventions.
These striking parallels between the “obsessional personality,” of Mullen’s mass killer and the geopolitical “interests,” of the US would lead any rational person to conclude that, apart from aberrations in an otherwise civilized society, killers like Holmes, Loughner, and Cho are symptomatic expressions of what Norman Finkelstein would call a “lunatic state”. This is not to say that these atrocities are reducible to state or corporate power but that the causes of individual acts of violence can be better understood within a larger, overarching system of structural violence (state-capitalism) which lays the groundwork for its full expression. This groundwork ranges from hailing Washington’s genocidal legacy as “military achievements,” to celebrating Gestapo-style assassinations as manifestations of “justice”.
Incidentally, the importance of structural violence is even conceded in a scientific study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Using a “nationally representative logitudinal data set,” to assess the “relationship between mental health and violence,” Dr. Eric B. Elbogen and Sally C. Johnson, MD conclude “the link between violence and mental disorder requires consideration of its association with other variables such as substance abuse, environmental stressors, and history of violence”. Furthermore, the study describes the scientific literature on this topic as “inconclusive,” seriously calling into question reductionist explanations that mass murderers like Holmes are simply “crazy”. Rather it should prompt us to revisit the possibility that these killers embody the reality that “we have become complicit and reliant on violence as a mediating force that increasingly shapes our daily experiences.”
Imperial doctrine forbids violence to mean anything outside of isolated acts carried out by deranged individuals. Equal standards apply for terrorism. Perhaps the flaw in this logic was best summed up by Feodor Dostoevsky in his Diary of a Writer when he wrote “It is not by confining one’s neighbor that one is convinced of one’s sanity.” These words are simply inapplicable to those who continue to wield weapons with the same intensity as the “guilty” soldier “carelessly sowing the seeds of Empire”. Whether it be a drone pilot in southern California bombing Pakistanis or a petroleum industry magnate depriving “unpeople,” of natural resources, the illusions of the powerful will proceed steadily toward its “point of truth,” but there’s no reason we should leave it to the wisdom of the lunatic state to determine if “justice has been done”.