America in the twilight

Sam Smith

Beyond the despicable behavior of CIA agents, the repugnant falsehoods of those like Michael Hayden and the false justifications for it all by politicians and major media, lies a less obvious but even more bitter truth: America’s inability to be shocked by it all. When, as polls indicate, over half of all Americans believe that Nuremberg level crimes such as committed by the CIA are “justifiable” the country has a problem far more damaging than just ISIL. In an unprecedented manner, we are surrendering values and integrity that – even if we failed to achieve them – were still a part of our aspirations. Now, after more than a decade of false claims, counterproductive strategies and an absence of reason, we find ourselves adopting a logic frighteningly similar to that of those we detest

And for what? For one war in Iraq costing $1.7 trillion, launched by presidential deceit. For another in Afghanistan of unknown goals for which we have already dumped, according to the Financial Times, nearly one trillion dollars to achieve practically nothing. And now, a befuddled battle with grim gangs of guerrillas created in no small part in reaction to our own brutal failures. In all our wars, we have never spent so much money to achieve so little with such unclear objectives and with such counterproductive results.

The Financial Times gives a sense of the current situation:

[Around 80 per cent of] spending on the Afghanistan conflict has taken place during the presidency of Barack Obama, who sharply increased the US military presence in the country after taking office in 2009.

John Sopko, the government’s special inspector-general for Afghanistan, whose organization monitors the more than $100bn that has been spent on reconstruction projects in the country, said that “billions of dollars” of those funds had been wasted or stolen on projects that often made little sense for the conditions in Afghanistan. “Time and again, I am running into people from USAID, State and the Pentagon who think they are in Kansas [not Afghanistan],” he said. “My auditors tell me things [about spending plans] and I say, ‘you have to be making this up, this is Alice in Wonderland’.”

On top of that there are medical costs already incurred for soldiers who have left the military. Linda Bilmes, a Harvard economist who has done extensive research on the war costs, estimates that medical spending on veterans from both Iraq and Afghanistan has so far reached $134bn.

And why does the public accept this? In no small part because of a mass media that from the start has too willingly served as an embedded propaganda machine for the mad men masquerading as leaders of a democracy.

Never has America been so badly misled at such a cost.

In my 1997 book, The Great Political Repair Manual, I cited some of the ways in which America was already losing its democracy, adding that:

About the most important job of a democracy — next to serving its people — is to make sure it stays a democracy. This is a lot harder than many people think. Forms of government don’t have tenure, and governments that rely on the consent of the governed — rather than, say, on tanks and prisons — particularly require constant tending. Unfortunately, many Americans either don’t understand or have come to ignore this basic principle. As things now stand, we could easily become the first people in history to lose democracy and its constitutional freedoms simply because we have forgotten what they are about.

How could it happen? Here’s how a college professor, in another country and in another time, described it:

What happened was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to be governed by surprise, to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believe that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security.

The crises and reforms (real reforms too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

To live in the process is absolutely not to notice it — please try to believe me — unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted.’

Believe me this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we did nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

This quote is from a remarkable book about Nazi Germany written by Milton Mayer in the 1950s. They Thought They Were Free examined not the horrific perversions but the horrible normalcies of the times. Mayer summed up his own experience this way:

Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany – It was what most Germans wanted — or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want. They wanted it; they got it; and they liked it. I came back home a little afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under pressure of combined reality and illusions. I felt — and feel — that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man. He happened to be in Germany under certain conditions. He might be here, under certain conditions. He might, under certain conditions, be I.

Justice William O. Douglas made a similar point:

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything seems seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we must be most aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

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