Coming to Grips
by Milo Clark

William Faulkner, an American writer whose work is steeped in the dripping wetlands of delta Mississippi plantations and communities when black was unseen and white pervasive, said that evil is a capacity for doing wrong without ever coming to grips with the consequences of one's actions. He may have provided an important corollary to the nostrum that unintended consequences are a function of unexamined assumptions. I suspect, however, that most folks are aware of the harm to others inherent in their actions and inactions.

A recent documentary about the Hoover Presidency (1928-1932) was heavily larded with déjà vu. During those years, the United States and the world became devastated on many fronts. The financial collapse of October, 1929 brought numerous legislative responses which, driven by the little-changed-to-this-day Republican Party orthodoxy, did more damage than good. The Hawley-Smoot Tarrif Act of 1930 raised tariffs to exclude imports and brought reciprocal actions by other nations paralyzing international trade and deepening the effects of the speculative balloon which collapsed in 1929. Today, we are enveloped in a speculative financial balloon operating at rates exponential to 1929 statistics.

Drought and succeeding dust bowl conditions from Arkansas across Oklahoma and up into the plains states ruined family farm and plantation alike driving thousands into poverty and food prices upward. Red Cross and local resources were rapidly outstripped. Governments from local to federal refused to supply relief.

Ruined tenants and sharecroppers were driven from their shacks and shanties by landlords who also physically blocked relief supplies in the belief that relief would keep field workers from working. To the landowners, getting in the harvest was more important than helping starving workers and their families. From 1980 to now, the years dominated by Reagan and Bush presidencies, the tiny percentage of family farms remaining have been decimated.

Transnational agribusiness owns international food supplies unconditionally and without alternatives. Landowning smaller farmers? Independent farm workers? Eliminated and expendible. Next question?

The World War One (1917 - 1918 for the US) veterans had been promised a bonus in 1945 (if that could be believed). Driven to desperation, clutching their meaningless bonus certificates, veterans began to congregate around Washington in the spring and summer of 1932. In peaceful, if noisy, protest almost unimaginable today, they naively demanded their bonus payments now. Congress stubbornly refused and adjourned.

General Douglas MacArthur assisted by Colonels Patton and Eisenhower violated President Hoover's orders. These officers ordered soldiers to burn down the veteran's village in Anacostia before driving them off with mounted cavalry, fixed bayonets, tear gas and the primitive tanks of the day. Soldiers followed orders to kill, if necessary, the veterans and their families. That all three officers would later become Republican heroes, one a Republican president, one disgraced for assaulting a private soldier who had broke down and the other dismissed for disobeying another President's orders has parallels reaching forward to Republican President Reagan to Ollie North and Iran-Contra times.

The arguments used in Hoover's time to deny assistance to drought and depression victims are identical to those used by the 1996 Republican Party. The arguments which led to laws destroying international trade to protect American business are the same arguments now used for GATT, NAFTA , the World Trade Organization and the fantasia of "free markets". American business is now transnational, multinational and still needs to be protected from people. The risks of international retaliation to laws forcing other countries' businesses to obey America's unilateral trade embargoes whether Cuba or Iran parallel those of the disastrous Hawley-Smoot Tariff of 1930.

At no time in modern financial history have the international markets been more manipulated to force money into increasingly risky and ill-supported equity markets. At no time in modern financial history have currency markets been more fragile. Electronic money systems cover massive financial flows totally outside the supervision of governmental or financial monitoring systems. The controls placed to prevent repetition of another 1929 or 1987 market break are analogous to the military penchant for preparing to fight the last war rather than the next one.

And why is any of this unlikely to make much difference until the earthquake comes? Because no one wants to look at the strains which stress the overall system.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a scion of an old patroon family in New York, saved capitalism and his class with his New Deal policies and earned their vilification because, temporarily they hoped, they had to give up a few things to the people (enough of whom quickly grabbed a section for themselves from which, in turn, to exclude others).

Now with godless communism imploded, savage capitalism is unleashed to try to get back whatever may have been temporarily conceded. How else do you explain a government which drove itself so far into debt as to make social spending impossible even if, or especially, if the people vote for it (which they aren't as yet).

Just like there are always people willing to be police, military, inquisitioners, prison guards, torturers and executioners: to carry out the orders of exploiters and repressors against their own peers; today it may not be unrealistic to expect a Republican victory in 1996. Evil may indeed be the capacity for doing wrong without ever coming to grips with the consequences of one's actions.

A story is told of one of the early atomic scientists who was horrified at the prospect of a faceless military man carrying the briefcase with the atomic war trigger perpetually at the President's side. Smothered in the disembodied argumentation of realpolitik; strategy A when confronted with tactic Z by enemy R demanding a response; the nearest, easiest response being a switch in a briefcase, the President could (and still can), with minimum human considerations intervening, launch Armageddon. The scientist proposed that the President's atomic trigger be surgically inserted beneath the skin, next to his heart, of the faceless military man. The President would be given a long butcher knife. To launch an attack, the President would have to plunge the knife into the subcutaneous trigger, to kill this human being who followed him so faithfully. The Pentagon leadership reacted with outrage. How could the scientist expect the President to kill anyone?

I suspect there may be a moral contained in this story. Will you explain it to me?

Published September 16, 1996
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