(March 14, 2005)
Blowing One's NoseTo the Editor:
Apparently you do not care that the disenfranchised are having free elections. Bush could go on to become one of the greatest presidents we ever had. Afganistan, [sic] Lybia, [sic] Iraq, Ukraine, Egypt are all looking towards democracy. Stop rationalizing and realize that you have lost the election. Try to look down the road past the end of your nose.
Lakewood, New Jersey, USA - March 1, 2005
Continuous Progression of Empire: Philip Greenspan's A Comparison Of Three Wartime LeadersTo the Editor:
I must say, I have enjoyed much of the Swans articles and commentary for the better part of two years. Mr. Greenspan is a contributor whom I have developed much esteem for, although he is certainly not alone. I felt compelled to submit a few comments regarding his most recent article, adding my devaluing American currency's worth, if you will.
Firstly, I am working my way through an academic degree in history, with a personal focus on ethnocultural relations, international relations, and geopolitical history. While I suffer some small disadvantages in lacking a narrow, specialized focus, I have the advantage of absorbing a bigger picture. It is my effort to resolve the cultural tensions of being a modern-day American still clutching at some post-Enlightenment and post-modern ideals.
I would propose for Mr. Greenspan's consideration the simple, but unpalatable, idea that American international relations follow the continuous, not discontinuous, progression of empire. In the first few decades of the twentieth century, overt colonialism became eschewed for a "more socially acceptable" economic expansionism. It was how guys like Wilson and Hull wanted to resolve the competition for global hegemony, aggressive liberal capitalism, seeded in Smith's Wealth of Nations -- a far more relevant document to understanding American governance than a Constitution or an undesirable Bill of Rights. Military might is only truly necessary in the modern age insofar as it is useful to secure valued market resources (particularly and obviously oil, as that it the commodity tied to our currency) and protect colonial interests, now pictured as "colonial markets." From "colonial markets," it is an easy transition to understand the "failed state" consideration adopted by "civilized" Western nations. While these governances are divided into hierarchies of relevance (based on national resources, scheduled repayment of "aid," and degree of disagreeability), American intervention, "civilization," "democratization," "liberation" may only be successfully enacted domestically by framing the social tensions created by the truly inhumane nature of militarism (since the invention of the gatling-gun, say), and the rationalizing of this militarism as a humanitarian effort, or, better, a Patriotic defense of Nation-hood and cultural identity. The tensions of war, which is only very rarely a moral campaign (I don't feel I have seen a moral one in my life), are resolved for the greater portion of the (voting, apparently) populace by the demonizing "otherization" of a foreign cultures and civilizations, rendering them somehow less human. Mere collateral damage. Consider the treatment of indigenous Americans, African Americans, Mexicans, Filipinos, Hawaiians, Cubans, Haitians, Chinese, Japanese, the Arabian cultures, etc., and the framing of these people at points in our history as inferior peoples in need of our care, acculturation, and civilization. Add fear, stir. This is the recipe for the belief system adopted by the "Good American."
With regards to your article:
"Roosevelt anticipated participation in World War II well before the U.S. was threatened. He was anxious to get into the fight..." The latter part of this statement was not entirely true. America pursued a typical policy of wartime neutrality and war profiteering similar to that engaged in the early years of WWI. (This is why Prescott Bush found himself in some small trouble for loans issued to German interests through banks he sat on the board of.) Indeed, to the American perspective, fascism was better than communism. Until America was made to feel threatened by Germany's Japanese ally, America was slow to intervene. You are correct in your statements regarding Roosevelt's arms build-up in anticipation of Axis trouble, however. He was rather concerned with German invasions of South American territories ostensibly under American economic dominion, and he did engage in fairly covert arms trade with France and Britain, particularly planes and their designs. "Bush, with the mightiest military machine, attacked two weak sisters who could offer little resistance." This comment stood out to me, not only for the gender usage in your language, but for the American impertinence therein. I didn't expect that from you, and it must have been fairly off-hand. I assume the reference is to Afghanistan and Iraq, both nations with ancient and oftentimes troubled histories. The hubris inherent in the feminization of these nations is a generous part of the reason why occupying powers face resistance from those occupied. The lessons of overt colonialism SHOULD have taught us by now that occupation is a difficult and often unsuccessful endeavor. Our patriotic revolution was a struggle versus overt colonialism, (historian's irony) but notable recent proofs include India, Vietnam, Cuba, and greater portions of Indochina and Africa. The only sustained (partial) successes I can muster offhand, being Israel and South Korea. Dubious successes, certainly.
Thank you for your articles; keep up the good work.
Akron Ohio, USA - March 2, 2005
Latest on Milosevic and the Kangaroo Court at The HagueDear friends,
The Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic (UK) has posted reports on the CDSM website from last the February 26, 2005 ICDSM conference at The Hague:
There are currently three reports:
Ramsey Clark: Slobo's spirit is unbroken!
John Laughland: ICTY 'undermines Nuremberg principles'
Chris Black: Tribunals are 'Kafkaesque inquisitions'
England - March 5, 2005
John Steppling's Review of Swans' February 28 Edition
To the Editor:
"Only the fakes survive."Charles Marowitz has a great take on the classics. I've been saying this for a long time...and still say it to students; read the classics. Why? Because (if for no other reason) they will provide a teflon-like shield that protects one from the word and image virus that surrounds us daily. They teach discrimination. These days our culture is in flight from the classics, and looks only to engage with the "fakes," with the imitation and ersatz. Marowitz is terrific -- especially -- when speaking about Shakespeare, and his comments on Hamlet are relevant and original. I was recently reading the essays of Herman Broch, and one of his points (in Evil and the Value System of Art) was that kitsch is a re-cycling of the familiar, and (more importantly) focused on beauty rather than on being good. For Broch this was, essentially, evil. He saw art as an ethical and moral force (and it was Adorno who said only a philistine would use a term like "feast for the eyes"). I suspect Marowitz feels the same. I remember watching a long interview, years ago, with Benazir Bhutto, and thinking, well; the only way to understand this is to go back and read ALL of Shakespeare's histories. Nixon's fall also had its Shakespearean aspects. By the time of Bill Clinton we were in the realm of Barbara Cartland. Bush? Perhaps Louis L'Amour. A great piece by Marowitz.
Michael Doliner outlines the post election situation within Iraq. All that he says seems about right, except that I suspect he underplays the importance of the resistance. I have a hard time evaluating some of this, especially what Doliner says about the Kurds. Maybe because I have little faith in the occupation compromising anything, and I feel the strength of the resistance is being ignored. What remains obvious is the continuation of the blood-bath.
Gilles touches on a series of "death of irony" moments. Starting with Colin Powell's Peace Prize nomination...a bit like giving it to Amos and Andy. The comments on Hugo Chavez and Venezuela are more depressing, however. Chavez is emerging as one of the only leaders one can look to for any kind of progressive action and is, hence, a target of the US government. Next we have Cuba, a longtime whipping boy, and of course a favorite item on the democracy loving administration agenda. Gilles also points out the demonizing of Mugabe and North Korea, as well as the mystification of the problems in Sudan. The tone of this piece drips with sarcasm...and yet is exactly right in all respects. How is it that so many Americans are unable to grasp the obvious? I am always reminded of Milosevic, and these days the trials in Rwanda, but one need only harken back to the days when our new intel chief (or soon to be) John Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras. That such a naked blood drenched stooge can still find work speaks eloquently to the state of American consciousness. Governor Arnold is having trouble with the nurses union -- but never mind, he represents (even better than Bush) the new fascist aesthetic. Loud, stupid, simplistic and vulgar....and (perhaps most important) a man in love with picking on the weak. This bullying seems the new fashion template for politicians. Pick on the poor, pick on weak nations (err, "failed states") and pick on the starving. Which reminds me, some elected cracker recently said we should nuke Syria. Well, why not, right? It's just a big sandbox with dirty black haired terrorists and wife beaters, Right? Gilles concludes with a reminder that "we are a peaceful nation". Right. Of course we are.
A good short piece by Gerard Donnelly Smith summarizes survival techniques in the late stages of Capitalism. A good reminder that anything or anyone can be a commodity.
Phillip Greenspan looks back at Hitler's rise to power (among other things). This comparison is becoming harder and harder to avoid. With students putting red stars on the doors of offices of liberal professors, with the witch hunt going on at several Universities, and the whole Ward Churchill attack, one imagines it won't be long before marauding hooligans roam the streets looking for Arabs or...well, anyone with a tan...and beating democracy into them. The new fascism is already here....only now is it becoming mobilized in serious ways. The domestic colonization of the U.S. is obvious too --- just look at prison statistics. Look at African American and Latino unemployment and incarceration, and look at the growing assault on the poor in general. The good German is now replaced by the good American. The absence of education, of historical thinking, and the rise of the new fundamentalist Christian (and their influence is felt all through the culture) means one should not be surprised at the state of things. This takes us back to Gilles and our propaganda machine, and back to Marowitz on the classics. I leave you with Herbert Marcuse (from his 1965 essay on "Repressive Tolerance"):
"In a democracy with a totalitarian organization, objectivity may fulfill a very different function, namely, to foster a mental attitude which tends to obliterate the difference between true and false, information and indoctrination, right and wrong....When a magazine prints side by side a negative and a positive report on the FBI, it fulfills honestly the requirements of objectivity: however the chances are the positive wins because the image of the institution is deeply engraved in the mind of the people. Or, if a newscaster reports the torture and murder of a civil rights worker in the same unemotional tone he uses to describe the stock market or the weather, or with same great emotion he says his commercials, then such objectivity is spurious -- more, it offends against humanity and truth by being calm where one should be enraged, by refraining from accusation where accusation is in the facts themselves. The tolerance expressed in such impartiality serves to minimize or even absolve prevailing intolerance and suppression. "I wonder what Herbert would make of FOX-News today? Or of PBS?
I am left wondering at those who still cling to the Democratic Party; the party of Hillary and Lieberman...of Kerry and Edwards and Dean. That is not opposition. Co-signing Gonzales and Negroponte is not opposition. Imperialists are imperialists...on both sides of the aisle. As Marcuse says, it offends humanity to not get enraged. Dead children in Gaza and Falluja, men jailed for nothing with no due process in Gitmo, DU poisoning of several countries and even US soldiers, is reason for being enraged. The Good American, however, cares more for Janet's nipple, American Idol, and the Academy Awards than he or she does for being openly lied to. Robert Bly once said (I paraphrase) when a country accepts being lied to, it's a sick society, but when it WANTS to be lied to, it is terminal.
A final note on several articles recently posted (CounterPunch among others -- read Bhisma Karki's surreal analysis for the most absurd) that focus on Nepal and the new monarchy. All of them seem to find the Maoist insurgency a terrible thing, or to be seriously questioned....and this is from leftist sites....and all fail to ask a simple question: why are the Maoists gaining strength and why are they there at all? People don't one day fall from the sky as Maoists. People react to conditions and it amazes me that so many liberal and leftist commentators seem to forget this (per capita income in Nepal is $200). One might also ask who those beef-cake Americans were at the Hotel a day before the coup. Hmmm? Military bases in the land of Buddha? Count on it.
Come to think of it; the regicide at the Palace brings to mind, once more, Marowitz on Shakespeare, and in particular Hamlet. Read Shakespeare and you have a step up on the unreality all around us. Read Julius Cesar and read Corialanus, and then re-read them.
In Krakow the snow continues, although lighter than the last few weeks. Boris doesn't like the local Pit Bull, but seems happy to play by the river with his pal, the Labrador. The price of sugar is now 100% higher than before joining the EU. I hope spring comes before next issue....the end of winter blues is getting to all of us here.
Krakow, Poland - March 8, 2005
[ed. Steppling is a LA playwright (Rockefeller fellow, NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner) and screenwriter (most recent was Animal Factory directed by Steve Buscemi). He is currently living in Poland where he teaches at the National Film School in Lodz. You can find more about his writing on his personal Swans' cove.]
Swans Café ain't Starbucks but we do savor Harper's there: A conversation between Joe Bageant, Phil Rockstroh & John Steppling, in The Ghost In The HologramDear Sir:
Congratulations on "The Ghost In The Hologram." What a brilliant and inspiring exchange of ideas! It reminded me somewhat of Lapham's Forum format that occasionally appears in Harper's magazine, except unencumbered by Lewis's maddening efforts to remain polite and easily digestible.
Rockford, Illinois, USA - March 5, 2005
Here SHE Comes Again, with Definitive Words of Wisdom, malgré her Young Age
Hey, Monsieur d'Aymery,
Long time no see again. I've been busy with college, etc., but what happened to the greaaaaattttt Manuel García, Jr. -- yeah, Junior s'il vous plait...wonder what Senior has been doing lately... -- and his usual élucubrations? [ed. "imaginings," though élucubrations would deserve its place in the English idiom...]
Anyways, I'm growing fonder and fonder of Johnny-Jo Steppling. Could you tell him that I'm up to a little conversation with him? Were it not for his Annita, with whom I compete, at least age-wise, I'd be more than willing to converse a little further (remember my legs?). Hmm, haven't I already had this thread re Phil Rockstroh (and Angie)? Oh well, nothin' risked, nothin' gained, I suppose you say in Ameri$$a... Imagine Philip [Greenspan] being 30 or 40 years younger...miam miam! That those people (and others) are sticking with you baffles my mind...they should'a jumped the ship, rat-like, long ago and boarded the likes of the multi-posters that profess gazillions readers.
Thinking of the multi-posters, has it turned to your attention that the Anderson Valley Advertiser has become an annex of the two CounterPunchers? Nice neighborhood you live in, eh!
By the ways, I've noticed with great sadness and disappointment that your editing, as that of your Jannie, has become kind of sloppy lately... Okay, you make the corrections here and there...but what about your fact-checking bravado? Look at pebble-minded Gerard [Donnelly Smith] (why is Gerard not spelled with an accent aigu? -- ya' know, Gérard... the world did not begin in 1770 something (or was it Columbus day?, right?) and his piece on Bechtel. Come on, even an ignoramus like me knows that Bechtel is not a public company! Éternelle vigilance, Mr. d'Aymery, éternelle vigilance!
Go back to your roots before they castrate you on their way to lynching the remaining of your nothingness... Just another (free) advice from my gorgeous self...
Allez, bon vent. Give 'em hell.
Paris, France - March 8, 2005
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