Tag Archives: Colin Powell

Aspects of Terror 3. 1945 to 2015.

Laws and customs are useless without fear.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Il Principe, 1532.

In 1987 President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. Though history gave Ronnie credit for the wall’s fall, it had been obvious for years that Communism was a lame duck, an empty threat. When Gorbachev did as he was told, we took to calling him “Gorby”.  Anyway, after more than four decades of bloviating politicians, nuclear threats, military posturing and armed engagements, everybody needed a break. The US had suffered major shocks of its own after World War II and was in need of some psychic R and R.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) had unified the United States. But then came the military stand-off in Korea (1953) and the assassinations of President John Kennedy (1963) and five years later, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Richard, “Tricky Dick”, Nixon’s criminal Presidency and the defeat of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1975, topped off consecutive seasons of discontent. These successive traumas gradually undermined America’s self esteem and raised doubts about a future world order. All the while, allies of the U.S. continued to expect the US to confront and pay for any global conflict, arising anywhere, at any time. Talk about Schaden Freude!

–  All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.          ….Thomas Paine

At the time of  Reagan’s Berlin speech, religion had ceased to be a significant moral force in many western cultures. But, still gripping the heartland of America was a deep Christian belief in the wrath of God, the fear of death and its aftermath.

Then came 9/11, 11 September, 2001, when hijackings of four US commercial airplanes by Jihadists galvanized the US, bringing terror back to the heartland and providing political opportunists a ready made bandwagon. Before a joint session of Congress in January, 2002, George W. Bush used 9/11 to unveil  what became his presidency’s slogan, “Axis of Evil”, a not very subtle allusion to our II World War enemies and Biblical admonishments.  “Axis of Evil” and “Weapons of Mass Destruction” paved the way for a March, 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

– The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary          …H. L. Mencken

Tragically the War with Iraq, as it came to be known, was unnecessary.  Provoked by Dick Cheney, and justified by Gen. Colin Powell who, in February 2003, presented the United Nations with seemingly unimpeachable proof of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, the US invaded Iraq, dragging its allies behind it. But Colin Powell had been set up.  When Dick Cheney’s proof later proved to be fabricated, world wide condemnation of the US followed.

US tactics have been useless against individual acts of terror and so called Mid-East Jihadists. Those tactics, for there is no evidence of an intelligent strategy, have only exacerbated Mid-East problems. The institutional chaos among today’s Muslims is comparable to the Reformation in northern Europe when Catholicism splintered into multiple Protestant sects. Then as now, the conflicts have more to do with power than religious doctrine. Finally exhausted from years of carnage, Europe began to sort things out, sort of. The Mid-East must do the same.

It’ll take time, probably a long time, but that’s okay. Let’s leave the ball in their court and while they’re figuring out which strain of muslimicity is the purist, we can keep busy at home, shedding our ethnocentricity and recouping the losses we’ve suffered during our attempts to impose our brand of capitalism and democracy where it’s unwanted. Oh yes. We can also deal with the crooks on Wall Street. [1.]

Meanwhile, the Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror. According to current political cant, it will take years, perhaps generations to defeat terrorism. Now everyone can breath easily. No need to confront national problems, simply fixate on terror. However, proponents of a long term engagement with terror would do well to remember the fate of the French in Viet Nam, the Russians in Afghanistan, Napoleon in Russia, the Brits in America twice and the US in Viet Nam. Terror is part of the human condition. It will never be defeated by war. It can be sublimated, but that’s something our politicians seem willing to avoid.

For people saturated with terrorism, perpetually trapped, as it were, inside an Iron Maiden with an adolescent suicide bomber, I suggest the following remedies. Frequent and liberal doses of sarcasm, mockery, laughter and ridicule would certainly help. And read up on some terrorists from back-in-the-day. History will reveal contemporary terrorists to be merely tawdry exhibitionists.

Their kidnappings, beheadings, bombings, burnings and mass murders, constantly talked about, reported on and analyzed, will pale into insignificanse when compared to the exquisite terrors inflicted byTimor Lane, Pope Innocent the IV,  Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. These sadists did not wear masks nor seek publicity. They were confident of their missions. Leave all this Mid-East stuff to the Mid-East, the entire Mid-East. They’ve started killing each other, a good sign, so leave them to it. As Jon Stewart said, ” It’s all Bull shit”. So let’s start cleaning the shit off our boots. They’ve been on the ground for far too long.

[1.] The financial crash of 2008 was another kind of terror. American’s awoke to discover their  investments and pensions had been electronically siphoned into Wall Street banks. Overnight, America’s middle class almost disappeared and to date, no bank financial officer has been prosecuted, much less put in jail. The nation’s unity, so prominent after World War II, was fractured into a corrosive cocktail of bewilderment, disbelief, cynicism, disgust and fear. In seventy years, the US has dwindled from the world’s richest, most optimistic and powerful nation, to third world status.

The question is, will it stay there?

Note: In 1945, I was 8 years old. I clearly remember VE Day. I and my fellow students were given small paper American flags and sang “God Bless America” as we marched en mass around our school.


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War Games.

In 1989 as the Iron Curtain began to crumble, I expected and envisioned a dramatic shift of money away from the military industrial complex to our commonweal. Trillions of dollars would be available for the vital social imperatives of health, housing, food, education, research, the arts and the nation’s infrastructure. But this never happened and I now believe our government never envisioned or intended such a shift. War, real or threatened, had become an economic imperative.

After the Seven Years War, (1756-63) British hegemony was practically worldwide, but their national treasury was empty. The military expenses necessary for maintaining the Empire were thrust mainly upon the colonies in America in the form of taxes and duties. These and other burdens increased colonial desires for freedom and eventually led to war. During their retreat to Boston after the skirmishes in Lexinton and Concord, the Battle of Bunker’s Hill (Breed’s Hill) and their forced evacuation of Boston, the British experienced a shocking surprise to which they were never able to adapt – a colonial resolve and apptitude for fighting that may have given some of them a disturbing glimpse into the future.

There were other reasons for Britain losing the war. Among them was an ambivalence within its military command, its soldiers and the British government. British supply lines were too long to be sustainable and the economic strain became intolerable. Foremost however, was an enemy who would never lay down their arms while in defense of their country. Our present political and military leaders would do well toreflect on these facts.

The Civil War or war between the states which began in 1861, was predicted 65 years earlier by signatories to the Declaration of Independence. The toll in lives was ghastly large. Its slogans were Free the Slaves and Save the Union. Southern states were crippled both economically and psychically for many decades after the war, but history has sided with the war’s necessity.

The War to End All Wars, known also as the First World War [1..] and the Second World War were understood by a majority of Americans to be traditional and justifiable conflicts. Whether from fear or suspicion of standing armies, as  has often been suggested, or a general feeling of security provided by two vast oceans or perhaps a lack of interest, when these conflicts were over, the US disarmed.

George Orwell authored the term The Cold War. The Cold War (1947-91) became popular with politicians. It wasn’t a war at all. It was a catchy phrase, useful for justifying US intervention in almost any situation. The cold lasted forty years and helped to undermine the meaning of war.  Complicating the issue even further, President Truman insisted on calling the Korean War a Police Action because it involved United Nations forces. An almost dormant US military struggled to train new soldiers while holding the Pusan Perimeter.[2.]

The United States began its involvement in Vietnam by supplying military advisors. These tactical assistants became combatants after President Johnson, responding to a Domino Theorist and two incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin, lied to Congress. War had gone askew and patriotic US citizens were becoming wary of its governments calls to arm.

During and after The Cold War came an attempted invasion of Cuba, the Cuban Missile Crisis and an Invasion of Granada. [3.]  In the 1990s, the United States joined with UN forces to quell warfare in Eastern and South Eastern Europe. Most recently, the US has become embroiled in the Middle East, western Asia and North Africa. These engagements  were undertaken for the avowed purpose of bringing Democracy to people governed by despots. They were also fought to protect business interests. All have been unsuccessful.

The War in Iraq began with another lie. Displaying a righteous indignation befitting a war expert, US Gen. (Retired) Colin Powell showed the UN and the watching world, proof of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Just a short time after the war began, President George W. Bush appeared on a US Navy flight deck and declared to roars of ecstatic approval, ” the war was won.”  It had not been won and a cringing public folded in upon itself from fear of more “incontrovertible truths” they’d be powerless to expose. American military and political leaders had lied and their ‘Wars’ were merely  imbroglios, whose theme was money.

An escalation in rhetoric had accompanied a series of violent crimes: The New York City parking lot bomb explosion, the destruction of the twin towers, the attack on the Pentagon, the suicide bombers in the Arab states and the Boston Marathon murders. The perpetrators of these crimes were called Crazies or extremists, then Fanatics. Fanatics became Islamic Terrorists. When objections arose within the Islamic community, our politicians co-opted Al-Queada and Taliban.

A film loop of hatred, destruction and death having no end and no purpose was playing 24 hours a day in every home. Twenty-two suicides a day occur in the US military services. More military men and women (predominently men) have committed suicide then have died in combat. [4.]

Yet, US military schedules were booked solid. There was Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt,Yemen and always, Palestine and Israel. Syria is looming.

A new Umbrella, a new Hook was needed. Entering stage Right,  “The War on Terror”.

As “The War on Terror” was bandied about, thoughtful people condemned it  for being a meaningless phrase. But they were a small minority quickly cast aside and forgotten by the media. Thought was deemed unsafe for television and was beside the point. War was a hot word from the past. It created visceral and predictable reactions in voters. Further, almost every one of the United States there are military installations of all kinds that employ thousands and infuse billions of dollars into local economies. Capitalists make money and politicians preserve their twin conceits of leadership and relevance. For any capitalist or politician, any war, anywhere, for any reason or lack thereof, was a necessity.

A dangerous transmogrification had occurred. What had begun as our War of Independence was now a slippery obfuscation, “The War on Terror”.

After attending his President’s classified, i.e. secret meetings about Syria, Senator Carl Levin summed up this semantic transformation by saying, ” Terrorism is no longer confined to a few individuals. It is a worldwide movement”.[5.]  Levin didn’t say who or what was creating his Terror nor did he define the Movement. I suspect he couldn’t or was afraid to name names. Whatever he intended, it was a neat excuse for continuing the military industrial status quo.

Listening to politicians talk about terror is a terrifying experience. Not since the war in Vietnam ended, have they had such a munificent “hook” upon which to hang their egos. As self professed leaders of the free world, they  wrap themselves in our nations flag and feign an almighty gravitas while promising to “free the world from terror”. But their actions and words have  finally exposed them. Their ignorance and lack of vision cannot be masked with patriotic anodynes, bluster, blather or bullying.

During a recent Senate committee appearance, Secretary of State John Kerry asked Rand Paul, “Don’t you think it more or less likely that Assad will do it (use chemical weapons) again?” Paul responded logically enough, “It’s unknown”. The prescient Kerry, emboldened by insecurity, yelled across the gap,  “Senator, it is known and I urge you to go to our classified briefings and learn”.

The birth of our nation was assisted by intellectuals, capitalists, soldiers, politicians, artists,  scholars and patriots. Among them, a small group of well read, thoughtful and tenacious people pondered the future. The result was their Declaration of Independence. It contained some of the World’s most provocative thoughts and a vision which helld a vascillating population together.

I believe religions pose a dire threat to our republic, but that threat cannot be met with tanks, planes, submarines and soldiers. Our nation’s health, housing, food, education, research, arts and  infrastructure are in desperate need of attention.

The time for dissembling is over. To insure our survival, It now seems we must foment another revolution to free ourselves from a dependency on war and its mongers. Perhaps our need will produce another group of men and women who can, with wisdom and candor, provoke us once again to act forcefully and courageously on behalf of our interests.


[1.] Winston Churchill referred to the Seven Years War as the first World War. Known in North America as the French and IndianWar, the Seven Years War pitted Great Britain, Prussia, Hanover, Portugal and the Iroquois Confederacy against France, Spain, Austria, the Mughal Empire, Russia, Sweden and Saxony in battles ranging from the Philippines to India to the Mediterranean countries and Europe, the Caribbean countries and North America. At its conclusion, Britain’s hegemony was world wide.

[2.] See Fehrenbach, T.R.: This Kind of War, T.R. Fehrenbach. 1963.

[3..]  The 1983 invasion of Granada was not a war,  but American military needed exercise. Nineteen of its soldiers were killed and 116 wounded. Granada had a population of 91,000 people and the US sent in 7,000 troops. Politically and militarily, Granada was comparable to Margaret Thatcher’s Falkland War.  255 British soldiers were killed and Thatcher was reelected for a second term. She often remarked about the “Falkland’s spirit”.

[4.] Official US Military statistics as of September 2013.

[5.] Senator Carl Levin (b. 1934) during a PBS News Hour interview, 3 September, 2013.  Levin graduated from Swarthmore college and the Harvard Law School. Elected to the Senate in 1979, he is the Senior United States Senator from Michigan and a member of the Democratic Party. He has announced his resignation from the Senate beginning in 2015.


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