What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty and democracy?” – Mohandas Gandhi, “Non-Violence in Peace and War”
I want to be careful here. Not for fear of offending the oversensitive, or deriding the American military. This really isn’t about the military as much as it is a skewed perspective. It is a dangerous road the American public is being rail-roaded down in the manufactured hyper-exultation of the American military. The media derides the politician and statesman while placing the military on an artificially prominent pedestal.
Even now I feel an overwhelming pressure to couch my criticism of the media’s manipulation of reality, with some sort of obligatory “thank you for your service,” refrain. That refrain is most often uttered by various partisan pundits more as some sort of sub-conscious confession for their own failure to serve, as much as it is an essential condescension to their own political angles. That the American public has mostly allowed themselves to be fooled for so long is testimony to the slickly-polished marketing of modern media political manipulation that has learned to deftly mask itself as populist.
But to be clear, this is not about the military, nor is it a criticism of the American men and women in service to the nation. It is not. It is about a manipulation, a sleight of hand, the so-called shiny key syndrome. It is a distraction and a grand lie with both civilian and soldier caught in that trap of manipulation.
When I was a child in school I recall a social studies teacher remarking about the priorities of our nation, and what distinguished us from other nations. That was during the height of the Cold War and a time of heightened tensions with the then Soviet Union. What distinguished us from so many other nations, she said, was that America builds monuments and statues to statesmen, not generals. The reason, she explained, is that as a progressive nation, we value reason and diplomacy, law and process over war. War, when imposed upon us is for defense and to free the oppressed.
That was in the 1970s, or, in current timeline of American political history, about a million years ago.
The point is, George Washington is a founding father, not a founding conqueror. There is a Lincoln monument, not a Patton monument. Andrew Jackson was just a jerk.
The military monuments which we do uphold and revere are, or were designed to be subdued, solemn recollections of the sacrifice of American soldiers drawn from the common citizenry. That long established legacy always remained the standard.
Then something changed. While there has always been a struggle to balance the rights of the common citizen against the influence of money interests, those interests have endeavored through the later part of the Twentieth and start of the Twenty-first Centuries to secure their prominence and power. Those interests painted themselves as victim and moved aggressively to seize control of the government.
Too strong? In 1971 Lewis Powell Jr., corporate lawyer(surprise, surprise), wrote a confidential memorandum to key members of the US Chamber of Commerce. It is commonly referred to as the Powell Memo. For space, only the relevant information is below, edited from the original:
“The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.
Moreover, much of the media — for varying motives and in varying degrees — either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these “attackers,” or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.
What Can Be Done About the Public?
Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public. Among the more obvious means are the following:
The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance. This applies not merely to so-called educational programs (such as “Selling of the Pentagon”), but to the daily “news analysis” which so often includes the most insidious type of criticism of the enterprise system. Whether this criticism results from hostility or economic ignorance, the result is the gradual erosion of confidence in “business” and free enterprise.
This monitoring, to be effective, would require constant examination of the texts of adequate samples of programs. Complaints — to the media and to the Federal Communications Commission — should be
Radio and the press are also important, and every available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks, as well as to present the affirmative case through these media.
One has only to look at the state of contemporary media, the political system and the disparity between the top one percent and the bottom 70% of the population to see the success of that seminal idea. President Nixon nominated Powell to the Supreme Court. His memo is cited as influencing the Koch brothers, Joseph Coors who helped found the Rightwing think tank heritage Foundation, and the DeVos family of Amway fame, who were on the US Chamber board of directors. Blackwater CEO Erik Prince is brother-in-law to Rich DeVos.
And then there is the good Mr. Christopher Cline, a mining billionaire who resides in North Palm Beach Florida. With a record of environmental violations a mile long, Cline ran into trouble at a proposed mining operation, Gogebic Taconite, near Ashland Wisconsin. Opposed aggressively by local tribes, activists, state lawmakers and environmentalists, the mine hired the unlicensed Bulletproof Securities armed security contractor, whose combat-style hired guns were sent to intimidate protesters. Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Bulletproof bills themselves as a “No Compromise Security Force.” Interesting. But finally public pressure forced the withdrawal of these paramilitaries from the area.
What these stories show is an entire culture becoming psychotically militarized. Worse, that economy and mindset are becoming woven deeper and deeper into the culture and society. Take, for example, a recent ad campaign about the National Guard, describing them as ready and on scene to natural disasters, environmental disasters and for policing. There was a time they needed to be called out when, and only when the local authorities were in danger of being overwhelmed. Now they are virtually on the other end of every 9-1-1 call!
For many, the presence and existence of mini-militaries around the nation, swathed in combat arms with a fundamental disdain and distrust of the average person goes almost unnoticed any more. We find them everywhere now, a legacy of two wars and showers of virtually unrestricted cash flowing to a daunting list of companies draining the nations of hundreds of billions of dollars (how is your local school doing?). One of these military contractor outfits even showed up just feet from one of the explosions moments before the bomb detonated in Boston. Hmm?
And while all of that is very interesting and conspiratorial, none of it really answers the ultimate question; why is the military so important to the Rightwing? I could thrill you with a grand tale of treachery and a dramatic scheme by the right to rally the military and march across the proverbial Rubicon and seize control of the country in a coup of some sort. I could, but that would be foolish, and it isn’t the reason.
First, it has always amazed me how poor and working class people who send their children off to war can be swayed so easily by the insincere wave of a flag or manufactured patriotism. I will not proclaim here that no war has ever been justified, though certainly it can be argued that it represents an absolute flaw in humanity. But if I am to send a loved one or a child to war, I want to know that war is the final option, and there truly is an urgent national interest in the cost in human life and national treasure.
But without pandering, co-opting and obfuscating their truest nature, the former Republican Party and Post-Republican party could hardly hope to keep the vote beyond a few affluent suburbs, a hand full of fringe trailer parks in the Deep South and a mumbling minority in retirement resorts.
The truth of it is, they factually or actually do not represent really any free thinking people in this nation. They certainly do not represent minorities, and their policies and the policies of their big-money allies have all but driven the middle class to the point of daily terror for the future by pressing them ever closer to the poverty line. Of course Republican propaganda has sufficiently, at least for a time, convinced many of them it is because immigrants are stealing their jobs, and that terrorists and criminals are lurking behind every bush.
It is a slight of hand, a distraction while the Republicans and their big money patrons continue their looting of the nation. But that slickly polished marketing fraud, wrapped in an American flag costume, buys them access to middle and working poor classes. Through a near virtual monopoly on media, in no small part thanks to the 1996 Telecommunications Act under Clinton, the Right is able to comfortably and completely continue their illusion and fraud.
It’s sort of like showing you a sad-eyed puppy while they are drowning your cat in a bucket. When you find out about the cat, they convince you that a Muslim neighbor, let in the gate by an undocumented immigrant, was responsible.
That’s what the Occupy movement was about. The Right created a “Tea Party” made up of sadly informed victims of Rightwing policies, who argued passionately and from a grassroots level about all the things the Right has tried to accomplish; less regulations on big corporations, access and cuts to your social security, no criminal liability for fraudulent mortgage loans, lower taxes for the super wealthy, who predominantly own better than 90% of all media in the country. Seeing a pattern here?
Occupy up-ended, for a time, the Right’s attempt to distract and confuse what truly is the bottom 99% of the nation from the real crimes and real injustices that stymie the nation from moving forward pursuant to the promise of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
So confusing the issue isn’t always the easiest or surest trick to play on Americans. There is an inherent risk in convincing parents to send their children off to war, or in convincing young men and women to potentially sacrifice their lives and futures for a war that truly only benefits weapons manufacturers. Imagine the blowback should hundreds of millions, or tens of millions of Americans realized the injustice heaped upon them through false wars, or the pilfering by hundreds of military contractor companies sucking away of tens and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, many in no-bid contracts?
Imagine if the American people really understood the true nature of just how deeply those contractors and manufacturers influenced national policy to the detriment of the American people and the nation’s standing and legacy in the world. Most are paid in the low to mid six digits, mostly if not entirely tax free. The case of Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower and a government contractor making better than Two hundred thousand annually, is a case in point. Those are your tax dollars. They are performing jobs that could be done cheaper by government workers and soldiers.
The media in this country has created, through games, movies, the tones of advertising, fear, unending propaganda a network of charities and selective news a cult of militarism a tribal mentality throughout our culture. And remember, the root of culture is cult.
In that cult, reality has been reshaped and twisted beyond cajoled by heartfelt ads for injured soldiers, or to help the families of the fallen. They are stirred and plucked from despair by grandiose stories of innovations in technologies to restore or replace limbs. For true threats those innovations are a blessing. For wasteful conflicts such as Iraq, which drew substantial focus and resource from arguably necessary conflicts such as Afghanistan, in the wake of September 11th, those innovations are window dressings to a crime.