During the height of the Cold War, the United States was facing a powerful nation whose agenda differed markedly from our own. The Soviet Union was a problem for America because it was in competition with us for control over the world’s resources and because it had a bunch of nuclear weapons.
It was a dispute over economics and not ideology, although it was always described that way by both sides. The rest of the world lined up or didn’t line up and got beaten or not beaten by one or the other super power and sometimes each in turn.
America’s ‘defense’ budget in those days was designed in some measure for actual defense. With the Soviets almost as paranoid as the U.S., there was always the chance that some trigger-happy general would start a chain of events from which no escape would be available. We nearly came to nuclear war over Cuba, for God’s sake.
America’s defense budget in those days was enormous, taking up a large part of the nation’s resources. Lyndon Johnson famously claimed that we could have both guns and butter, but it turned out that we could afford only the guns.
Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned us. The confluence of the military and corporate worlds was ‘new in the American experience’, he said. And we ‘must guard against the unwarranted influence, sought or unsought, of the military-industrial complex. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties.’ Well, it's too bloody late now, isn't it?
Very rich, very powerful people did not want the Cold War to end. Too much money was being made. Bankers, arms manufacturers, professional soldiers, spies, they weren’t going to let that happen. But even killing Kennedy (and his brother) did not guarantee that the hayride would continue. There was suddenly the rapid, astonishing collapse of the Soviet empire. Gorbachev screwed everyone.
Without a Cold War, not only were munitions profits severely limited but all of the other elements of a Cold War society were at risk. For years, America’s leaders floundered. Invasions of places such as Grenada could generate only so much cash, while enthusiasm for war in general was dangerously waning.
Then came ‘terrorism.’ What a boon to commerce! An ‘enemy’ without a country offered an unlimited opportunity. War without end, amen. The ‘enemy’ could be anywhere, strike anywhere. Consequently, even without any nation on earth posing a real threat to America, we could pretend that we were constantly under siege.
9-11, as we know, was a gift to the nation’s rulers, whether directly manufactured or simply instigated. The Patriot Act could be dusted off and rammed through Congress without it even being read, so scared were the pols.
And now we have permanent war against an ‘enemy’ which in large part doesn’t exist. We have invented it and now we are stoking it. If ten years ago there were relatively few people on the planet anxious to harm the U.S., our foreign policy has since created millions more. And if there is only a handful of crazies interested in bombing something or other, our FBI and other state spy organizations will lure people into it, as recent arrests of several hapless morons demonstrates.
Memorial Day. Everyone is being urged to ‘remember our troops’ or ‘honor those who have sacrificed.’ Even, I’m told, the otherwise sane Rachel Maddow is climbing aboard the flag-wrapped train to oblivion.
I got an e-mail from Senator Barbara Boxer purporting to celebrate the ‘sacrifice’ our dead military have made for ‘our freedom.’
She used to be worth something, Boxer. Being from her old community, Marin County, and having sloshed around in politics myself in those days, I knew her pretty well. She organized against the Viet Nam war once, before she developed the kind of self-importance which confuses one’s moral clarity.
I wrote back, of course, although I know full well my letter went into the bin of unread letters in Washington. They want our money and our votes, but they do not otherwise want to hear from us. They are sophisticated. They know better than we do. Boxer has long since figured the calculus which rationalizes fakery and lying and the occasional despicable act. That’s politics: if I don’t sell out, how am I going to get re-elected so that I can do such great work?
In Boxer’s case, it’s hard to know why she’s still on her knobby knees to the God of the military. She’s not running for re-election or for anything else. She doesn’t have to please anyone now or raise all that Hollywood money so that she can keep Israel safe. Probably it’s become habit. When one leaves one’s moral character by the side of the road, it can be difficult to recall where one left it.
I’m angry today, not much change, I grant. All those flags flying in support of a bloated empire which stands for nothing and brings terror to the lives of ordinary people. But there’s something else.
While the pols debate budgetary matters –– while allocating millions, even billions, for stupid, wasteful projects designed to fatten the bank accounts of people already puffed to the exploding point by greed –– there are real people out here in the real world who are being ruined in capitalism’s corrupt endgame.
From today’s ‘Dear Abby’ column:
“Dear Abby: I’d like to relate an act of kindness I witnessed. An elderly woman came to my grocery checkout line with 10 items, including strawberries and shortcakes. She told me they were a little treat for herself. She said she didn’t have much on her late husband’s pension.
“When she saw the total, her face fell and she asked me to take the strawberries and shortcakes off. I was sad for her and thought about buying them myself, but had no cash on me and wasn’t sure if it might violate a store policy. She paid for her other items and went outside to rest on a bench before walking home.
“My next customer asked me what had happened, then told me to include the strawberries in her total and asked me to deliver them to the woman outside. I did, explaining to the older woman what my other customer had done. She looked down at the strawberries, tucked them into her bag and began to cry...”
There are still decent people in America, thank God. We’re going to need them more than ever because it’s plain that our government, our politicians and rule-makers and corporate pricks, our wealthy tax-dodgers, limo riders, CEOs and the rest of the scumsucking bastards who run this country don’t give a damn about the rest of us, the ordinary people who, more than ever, could use some help, could use a hand.
We live in a country where, despite our historic wealth, pensioners can’t afford even a small treat for themselves, and meanwhile General Electric Corporation pays no taxes on billions in profit, and creeps are lionized. That’s what’s on my mind this Memorial Day weekend. I’m not feeling very generous toward the Praetorian Guard right now, the initiators of and executioners at Fallujah. I’m sorry some are suckers but that’s not enough.
The woman sitting on the bench to rest before walking home, unable to afford even a small generosity to herself thanks to a country which doesn’t give a damn about the poor, the woman whose heart was rescued for the moment by a decent human being,
that woman is one of many, one of millions in fact.
Our nauseating national orgy of flag-waving does not completely obscure the truth about America, that we worship violence and praise those who wield it, that we spend our resources and those we steal from the rest of the world on pathetic, trivial things, and that ordinary people must be deprived of the simplest pleasures so that Donald Trump can act out his sociopathic fantasies.
As Tom Morello said, poverty is not an accident; there are criminals involved. That’s what’s on my mind, this Memorial Day weekend, and I’m tired of this shit.