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Ian McColgin
12-14-2009, 01:06 PM
This article is a stinging rebuke of US imperial militarism and of Obama. I find the latter critique correct if my hopes remain unanswered, but I hope that, as Obama models so much of his presidency on Lincoln, he will run through the incompetent generals and bad strategies and hit on something righteous.

Published on Monday, December 14, 2009 by TruthDig.com

Gravel’s Lament: Fighting Another Dumb War

by Chris Hedges

I have spent enough time inside the American military to have tasted its dark brutality, frequent incompetence and profligate ability to waste human lives and taxpayer dollars. The deviousness and stupidity of generals, the absurdity of most war plans and the pathological addiction to violence—which is the only language most who command our armed forces are able to understand—make the American military the gravest threat to our anemic democracy, especially as we head toward economic collapse.

Barack Obama, who is as mesmerized by the red, white and blue bunting draped around our vast killing machine as the press, the two main political parties and our entertainment industry, will not halt our doomed imperial projects or renege on the $1 trillion in defense-related spending that is hollowing out the country from the inside. A plague of unchecked militarism has seeped outward from the Pentagon since the end of World War II and is now sucking our marrow dry. It is a familiar disease in imperial empires. We are in the terminal stage. We spend more on our military—half of all discretionary spending—than all of the other countries on Earth combined, although we face no explicit threat.

Mike Gravel, the former two-term senator from Alaska and 2008 presidential candidate, sat Saturday on a park bench in Lafayette Park facing the White House. Gravel and I were in the park, along with Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and other anti-war activists, to denounce the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a sparsely attended rally. [Click here for video clips of speeches by Kucinich, Hedges and Nader.] Few voices in American politics have been as consistent, as reasoned and as moral as his, which is why Gravel, on a chilly December morning, is in front of the White House, not inside it.

“I suspect that from the get-go he had an inferiority complex with respect to the military,” Gravel, who was a first lieutenant in the Army, said of the president. “It is the same problem [Bill] Clinton had by not serving in the military, by not having an actual experience. You don’t have to go into combat, you just have to get into the military and recognize at the lower reaches how incompetent the military can be. So not having that experience, and only dealing with generals, who of course learn to be charming—it’s the sergeants who inflict the pain—he has this aura about the military. We have acculturated the nation to a military culture. This is the sadness of it all because that sustains the military-industrial complex.”

“Obama comes on the scene,” he added. “He is endorsed in the course of the campaign by some 19 generals and admirals. These people had no confidence in [George W.] Bush. They recognized that Bush’s unilateralism and cavalier approach to torture was injurious to the American military. They gravitated towards Obama. It turned his head. He thought he could be commander in chief and he could, he has the intelligence, but he does not have fortitude. He lacks courage.”

Time is rapidly running out. The massive bailouts, stimulus packages, giveaways and short-term debt, along with imperial wars we can no longer afford, will leave the country struggling to finance nearly $5 trillion in debt by 2010. This will require the United States to auction off about $96 billion in debt a week. Once China and the oil-rich states walk away from our debt, which is inevitable, the Federal Reserve will become the buyer of last resort. The Fed has printed perhaps as much as 2 trillion new dollars in the last two years, and buying this much new debt will see it print trillions more. This is when inflation, and most likely hyperinflation, will turn the dollar into junk. A backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will tear apart the social fabric, unleash chaos and violence, and strengthen the calls for more draconian measures by our security apparatus and military.

Obama uses the veneer of intellectualism to promote the dirty politics of Bush. The president spoke in Oslo, when he accepted the Nobel Prize, of “just war” theory, although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not meet the criteria laid down by Thomas Aquinas or traditional Catholic just-war doctrine. He spoke of battling evil, dividing human reality into binary poles of black and white as Bush did, without examining the evil of pre-emptive war, sustained military occupation and imperialism. He compared al-Qaida to Hitler, ignoring the difference between a protean group of terrorists and a nation-state with the capacity to overwhelm its neighbors with conventional military force. “The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace,” Obama insisted in Oslo. The U.S., he said, has the right to “act unilaterally if necessary” and to launch wars whose purpose “extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor.” Obama’s policies, despite the high-blown rhetoric, are as morally bankrupt as those of his predecessor.

“The first time I met him I felt there was arrogance with a touch of cynicism,” Gravel said of the president. “Now the cynicism and the arrogance have overwhelmed his intelligence. Like Clinton, he is into power.”

Gravel’s shining moment as a politician occurred in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, handed the secret Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. The newspaper published portions of the document, which painted a picture of a failing war at odds with official pronouncements. The Justice Department swiftly blocked further publication and moved to punish newspaper publishers who revealed its contents. Gravel responded by reading large portions of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. His courageous public release of the papers made it possible for the publication to resume. Gravel also launched in 1971 a one-man five-month filibuster to end the peacetime military draft, forcing the Nixon administration to cut a deal that allowed the draft to expire in 1973. He was a feisty and blunt candidate in 2008 who lambasted the Democratic Party and its major candidates for being in the service of corporations, especially the arms industry. His outspokenness saw him banned by the Democratic leadership from later primary debates.

“Obama has wasted an opportunity to be a great president,” Gravel lamented. “More than 50 percent of the American people do not buy into this war. He could have stood up and said ‘we are getting out.’ Forget the Congress. Forget the Republicans. Forget the hawks. Forget mainstream media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, which are hawks. He would have weathered that storm because he would have had the American people on his side. And what did he do? He caved in to the leadership of [David] Petraeus and [Stanley A.] McChrystal and adopted a scenario that is a total loser.”

“When he hugs his children at night, when he puts them to bed, he has got to begin to think there are little girls like this in Afghanistan who are being killed and maimed,” Gravel told me. “If he can’t have that kind of a thought then his arrogance knows no boundaries. I saw this in the Senate during the Vietnam War. People detach themselves from the immediacy of the crime. They vote for the money. They vote for the policy. The picture of people dying is distant. My God, if you are sitting next to me and a bomb explodes and your arm is ripped off that is not distant. It is immediate. I saw the film by Robert Greenwald, “Rethink Afghanistan.” It rips your heart out. And America under the leadership of Obama is a party to this crime. Close your eyes. Listen to the media. Listen to the pundits. Listen to the rhetoric. It is Vietnam all over again. What is the difference between our vital interests and the domino theory? We could leave Afghanistan and it would be as significant as when we left Vietnam.”

“Don’t be hoodwinked by Obama going to Dover [Air Force Base] to watch the caskets or going to Arlington to salute the graves, with his snappy salute,” Gravel says. “Adolf Hitler lionized soldiers dying. This is the old idea that it is honorable to die. It is not honorable to die in vain. People died in vain in Vietnam. They are dying in vain in Iraq and Afghanistan. And more people will die in vain because of the leadership of Barack Obama.”

“They don’t hate us because we are free,” Gravel said of the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They hate us because we are killing them.”

Copyright © 2009 Truthdig, L.L.C.
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com . Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning , What Every Person Should Know About War , and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle .

Bill Griffin
12-14-2009, 02:21 PM
Yes, I think we should have a draft (after we rid ourselves of these two wars). There will always be volunteers, of course, but we're now two generations into a professional only military. Too many of the people who make the decisions for us have no idea what they are sending our military into when they opt out of dipliomacy. There's no common history for the leaders. Every person that enters the military services, even the cooks and supply weenies, have at least one moment where they face the realization that they may be required to die as part of their obligation. I think that realization should be spread around more, so that more people will be likely to hold the pols feet to the fire. And just maybe more pols would have had that midnight epiphany and think three times before voting to start the bullets flying again. I'm not thimping the tub here, but I been there ('66-'75) and I truly believe that way too many people don't realize the seriousness of it all. YMMV

htom
12-14-2009, 02:21 PM
“They don’t hate us because we are free,” Gravel said of the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They hate us because we are killing them.”

They can hate anyone all they like. Killing others (including us) is the problem we have with them.

Ian McColgin
12-14-2009, 02:25 PM
The problem we have is identifying "them." So long as our drones bomb and kill non-combatants, we will be spreading and growing hatred of our nation by our racist hatred and contempt for third world people.

Ian McColgin
12-14-2009, 03:28 PM
Donn is quite right that Islam is not a race or ethnicity. In it's early spread, Islam got past racism far faster than Christianity ever did. Today way over half of the world's Muslims are asian and Indonesia has the largest Muslim population.

Sadly, our nation has made an unfortunate association with “towelheads” as terrorists. That is the imprecise “them” we are bombing at the moment with the same sensitivity and high purpose that we bombed “slopes” in the last generation.

ishmael
12-14-2009, 05:57 PM
I may have missed something, but most of the current string of crazies is Arab. Are there other nut jobs singing Alluai Akbar? Sure. But because Israel is the center of the dispute, most are Arabs.

As to a draft, I think that would be a good idea. Depending on a volunteer armed forces shifts the responsibility heavily on to the lower class, who sign on because other prospects are dim. Having the burden shared would make a better military.

Tristan
12-14-2009, 06:14 PM
I'd hate to see a bunch of kids being drafted to fight another futile war. Ask the British and Russians about it.

purri
12-14-2009, 07:15 PM
Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, the various 'stans and Indon to name but a few aren't Arab (i.e most of Islam isn't Arab)

John Smith
12-14-2009, 07:17 PM
I'd hate to see a bunch of kids being drafted to fight another futile war. Ask the British and Russians about it.
There is another school of thought. The draft would make wars everyone's business.

Maybe that would help us not get into needless wars.

peb
12-14-2009, 07:26 PM
Donn is quite right that Islam is not a race or ethnicity. In it's early spread, Islam got past racism far faster than Christianity ever did. Today way over half of the world's Muslims are asian and Indonesia has the largest Muslim population.
.


A historically absurd statement. Certainly the early church did not have some type of racial bias based on its spread. Not that the muslims did, but christianity was spread to india, ethiopia, armenia, gaul, all within its first 100 years.

European protestantism is perhaps the one type of christianity that has had a log term problem with any type of racism in its evangelization. Which may be the basis for your distorted historical viewpoint.

delecta
12-14-2009, 07:30 PM
There is another school of thought. The draft would make wars everyone's business.

Maybe that would help us not get into needless wars.

Neither war is needless. Unfortunately, we forgot how to fight a war.

Both of these conflicts should have been over long ago but the world got PC. Instead of dealing with the needed civilian deaths in the first year we decided to slaughter them over a 10+ year campaign to make everyone at home feel better.

I hope you all feel better knowing that the world is a better place because of you. :rolleyes:

John Smith
12-14-2009, 07:32 PM
Neither war is needless. Unfortunately, we forgot how to fight a war.

Both of these conflicts should have been over long ago but the world got PC. Instead of dealing with the needed civilian deaths in the first year we decided to slaughter them over a 10+ year campaign to make everyone at home feel better.

I hope you all feel better knowing that the world is a better place because of you. :rolleyes:

I'd say the 'wars' we are now in are needless and pointless. It's easier to keep them going and send more troops because all the troops are volunteers.

If we had an all volunteer army then, we may still be in Vietnam.

Taylor Tarvin
12-15-2009, 10:30 AM
There is another school of thought. The draft would make wars everyone's business.

Maybe that would help us not get into needless wars.

You mean like Vietnam?

RodSBT
12-15-2009, 11:07 AM
If we actually followed the constitution and exercised our rights in this country we wouldn't have these problems.

Ian McColgin
12-15-2009, 11:34 AM
The military is by turns and sometimes simultaneously noble and viscious, stupid and brilliant, brave and craven. Fundamentally the professional lifer military preferr the reliable comradship of other lifers to the rotating rouble to not terribly willing draftees. They make up lots of arguments that weapons systems are so complex and war is so hard that only long years of training make a good warrior.

This is no more and no less true than ever. Our most highly trained small unit and individual warriors have the discipline to think first, shoot next. Other units work more behind a wall of lead or DU.

Historically the professionalism of West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs has been leavened by great career officers from other colleges and by reserve officers. Without diverse sourses the professional corps becomes its own in-bred villiage of incestuous jobbery and politicing.

Similarly a draft does two very important things: Mandated service of each person to the whole; and an enforced existential interest in national policies.

The draft does not alway prevent the escalation of our involvement in wrong or unjust war. It's argued without conclusion back and forth whether the draft and the resistance to the draft helped get us out of Vietnam. But what cannot be argued - was learned long ago by every nation in the chronicly warring Europe which is partly why Kipling could referr to the US as the nation settled by draft-dodgers - is that draftees are a tremendous brake on military adventurism. The worse the war, the more unwilling, disobedient, prone to shoot officers and generally undesirable they are. This is bad for military efficience in the narrowest sense but very important as a check on a bunch of professional as General Smedley called himself hitmen going out to show their stuff.

Checks and balances are about a certain degree of inefficiency.

Disclosure reminder. Many already know that for my war at that age, I was to the best of my ability a "resister." I believed then and still do that just as "There are no atheists in the foxholes" so also there is no indifference among the draftable.

The opportunity to be heroic in the manner of friends who went to jail or went to war was not mine due to the consequences of previous leg and hip injuries so I had to create my own service analagous to what was meted out to CO's.

However you do it, a few years of sacrificial service is a civic obligation for each of us in whatever measure and ability we have.

Taylor Tarvin
12-15-2009, 12:50 PM
I believed then and still do that just as "There are no atheists in the foxholes" so also there is no indifference among the draftable.

Ian, to many points to address at one time so I'll start with this. I can assure you there are atheists in foxholes and indifference among the draftable. If there wasn't indifference among the draftable you would need no draft. Everyone would have joined to fight for the cause or gone to jail for thier beliefs.

Ian McColgin
12-15-2009, 01:12 PM
Taylor, you are right in detail but the stereotype has enough truth to be useful in general. Anyone who served as a military chaplain - as I was trained for but never did - or organized peace marches - which I did - knows that motivations and reactions are widely varied. There are plenty of vets who actually come to atheism exactly because what they see admits no possiblity of a Divine. And there certainly are plenty of stoners 17 - 25 or so who appear to have no ability to connect even personal behavior to consequences, much less something as remote as foreign policy.

But, it's a little bit like the phrase from particle physics. The individual electron's movement may by totally random but the mass has its necessity. Individual behavior has every possible varient but in a large society having all people share the risks of foreign policy will produce both conscious and unconscious engagement.

ishmael
12-15-2009, 01:23 PM
Has anyone told you Ian that you are bloody wordy? Well, I'm here to tell you now, you are Bloody wordy. I can go on, but you win the cake.

Tell me what you think in a paragraph or it's lost.