By the age of eight or nine, most children realize that Santa Claus isn’t a real person, just as they know the Easter Bunny and similar pleasantries are only make-believe, tales of imagination offered to add a bit of fun to the holidays. The great majority of children give up these fantasies without experiencing emotional upheaval that remotely approaches serious trauma. Those very rare children fortunate enough to be raised by adults who accord them the seriousness and respect they deserve know such stories to be ones of invention from the beginning.
Unfortunately, the great majority of Americans led by a relentlessly trivial and mendacious political class and a comparably anti-intellectual media never approach again the psychological achievement of children who undergo this transition. Still more unfortunately, most of these same children, while able to recognize fabrications of the Santa Claus variety, become prisoners of the American mythology that I recently discussed. Their pathetic plight is understandable in one sense, since almost no one will disabuse them of the lies with which they comfort themselves. Nonetheless, one can legitimately hope and expect that upon attaining adulthood, more individuals would be prepared to exercise even limited independent powers of assessment. But if you have such expectations, you will almost always be disappointed.
Thus it is that we have repellently idiotic episodes of the following kind:
A tempest has been brewing today over something Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said while on CBS-TV’s Late Show With David Letterman.
“Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be,” about the situation in Iraq, McCain said. “We’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives.”
The word “wasted” drew a sharp rebuke from the Democratic National Committee:
“Senator McCain should apologize immediately for his comments,” Democratic National Committee Communications Director Karen Finney said in an e-mail to reporters. “McCain should also explain this poll-driven change in his tune. How is it that John McCain now believes American lives are being ‘wasted,’ yet he so stubbornly supports the President’s plan to escalate the war in Iraq and put more American lives in harm’s way? Clearly in looking at his sinking poll numbers, he really will do or say just about anything to win.”
McCain’s wording was similar to that of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., another presidential contender who got criticized for saying last month that “we now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.” He quickly apologized, saying that “even as I said it, I realized I had misspoken.”
McCain has moved to calm the waters. His staff just e-mailed a statement from the Republican senator, acknowledging that he too agrees he shouldn’t have used the word “wasted”:
“Last evening, I referred to American casualties in Iraq as wasted,” McCain says. “I should have used the word, sacrificed, as I have in the past. No one appreciates and honors more than I do the selfless patriotism of American servicemen and women in the Iraq War. We owe them a debt we can never fully repay. And America's leaders owe them, as well as the American people, our best judgment and honest appraisal of the progress of the war, in which they continue to sacrifice.
“That does not change the fact, however, that we have made many mistakes in the past, and we have paid a grievous price for those mistakes in the lives of the men and women who have died to protect our interests in Iraq and defend the rest of us from the even greater threat we would face if we are defeated there.”
“The selfless patriotism” of those “who have died to protect our interests in Iraq…”
What “interests” are those precisely, Senator? Iraq had not attacked us and did not seriously threaten us. Both facts were known to our leaders before the invasion of Iraq began, just as they were known by many “ordinary” citizens, both here and abroad. This was a naked, criminal war of aggression, now continued by means of an equally criminal occupation, against a third-rate country that was virtually defenseless before our onslaught. We have murdered more than half a million innocent Iraqis, and destroyed an entire nation. If by “interests,” McCain and the rest of our ruling class mean the “right” of the United States to uncontested world hegemony, then let them say so and be damned. No other “right” or “interest” explains or “justifies” our monstrous acts but that one most certainly does.
Moreover, our ongoing occupation of Iraq, which no one is prepared to even try to end, has resulted in the fragmentation and significantly increasing strength of a global jihadist movement which many experts (and non-experts) predicted before this catastrophe began. We have created far more enemies than we had before, and we therefore face greater dangers now than we did four years ago. Those dangers continue to increase every day that we remain.
Moreover, the costs of this sickening war and occupation have burdened the United States with a huge and growing debt to be paid off by our children, by their children, and by their children unto infinity, depending upon how much longer this continues. Our economy was already grossly distorted by the ravages of the military-industrial, corporate statist complex and now the damages have cracked the foundation wide open.
Moreover, this catastrophe without end has severely damaged our nation’s military, making us more vulnerable to actual threats we might face in the future. And no, Mr. Bush, Senator Reid, and assorted “major liberal bloggers,” the answer is not to enthusiastically and very expensively create a still “bigger military.” We already spend more on defense than most of the rest of the world combined. Why in God’s name should our military, in the words of Chalmers Johnson, regularly “deploy well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations” and why should we have over 700 bases in 130 countries around the globe? There is only one reason for insanity of this kind: we are absolutely convinced we are “entitled” to rule the world, by military force on a scale never before seen in all of world history. If that is what you believe, then say so and be damned.
The truth is infinitely worse than that these lives have been “wasted”: these deaths have served to strengthen our enemies and weaken our own country in countless ways that our actual enemies could never have achieved on their own. That these lives have been “wasted” is the best one can say, not the worst. They are the greatest boon our enemies could dream of. These lives have not been “wasted”: they are the precious tribute laid at the feet of our enemies, by our own leaders in the pursuit of indefensible and criminal aims.
Of course, the recognition of this truth requires that we act like adults, and that we are capable of coherent thought, shorn of lies. We must be willing to give up the myth of the “noble soldier” who “selflessly sacrifices” his life for the glory of the Perfect and Good United States and see that these individuals died in a criminal war of aggression launched to consolidate and expand America’s hegemonic role, a goal embraced by almost every leading politician, Republican and Democratic, over many decades of entirely avoidable conflict, chaos and death.
I find it easier to deal with the widespread ignorance that afflicts so many Americans for example, the almost total lack of knowledge concerning the U.S. occupation of the Philippines that I detailed last week. Since they are rarely provided with this information, it is possible that at least some Americans might prove capable of absorbing it, and begin to question the myths that sustain their identities as “Americans.”
But it is almost impossible to deal with the fact that so many Americans, almost all our political leaders, and our media virtually without exception are so relentlessly stupid, and so resolutely determined to remain so. As this latest episode in national idiocy proves yet again, and for the millionth time, this laughably pathetic state of affairs certainly would appear to be the unalterable truth of where we are.
And so we debate whether these lives were “wasted.” With the blind ferocity of religious maniacs, we enforce our new Puritan code, which demands that certain prohibited thoughts may never be uttered. Violation of this code means banishment from public life and from further “serious” consideration. Every matter of importance is reduced to the intellectual level of a remarkably backward house pet.
Meanwhile, no one will stop this criminal war and occupation. And no one will do a goddamned thing to stop the next war, which could alter all our lives forever.
How in the world do most Americans face themselves each morning? Someone needs to explain that to me. I truly would like to know.
March 3, 2007