Until now, I’ve always opposed the idea of posting the 10 Commandments on government buildings.
Photo: Kenneth Freeman / Flickr
I don’t want a theocracy. I don’t want religion at all, even separated from government. I’m embarrassed for my species that so many people imagine we haven’t advanced at all in millennia. Must we really turn to an ancient book that sanctions slavery and rape, stonings and genocide, to find not only guidance but unquestionable dictates? I’m disgusted by the notion that we should behave decently merely because of an imaginary system of rewards and punishments. Even mice only behave for real cheese and real shocks. How pathetic are we, exactly?
Well, truth be told, pretty damn pathetic. And how far have we advanced over the millennia? I’m beginning to wonder. Take a look at the ten commandments. Setting aside the preamble (worship this god, not that god, or you and your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will be visited with iniquity), the first thing we’re commanded to do is to limit the work week to six days.
A six-day work week would be a huge step forward for many workers in the United States, not to mention the vastly greater number of workers abroad who produce profits for U.S. owners, profiteers, “job creators.” That’s right, we have lots of little “creators” now, and we are expected to worship them, but — among other defects — they tend to create seven-day-a-week jobs. Remember, not only are you supposed to take a day off, but so are your son, daughter, manservant, maidservant, cattle, and strangers. There’s no “unless they’re building your i-phones” clause. It’s for you to judge, I guess, whether foreigners rise to the status of cattle.
Next we are to honor our fathers and mothers. I’m no theologian, but stripping away pensions and threatening to slash Social Security doesn’t seem like honoring to me. Enriching health insurance profiteers rather than providing healthcare strikes me as the opposite of honoring. If we honor our fathers and mothers, we’re told, our days will be long on the land that god gave us. Well, never mind for a minute where the land came from or whether one species owns it or whether owning it is a helpful concept at all, if the land is going to last long (for anyone to do anything on it) we’re going to have to stop destroying it so disgracefully. We’re going to have to learn to treat something as sacred, as more valuable that our individual lives — much less the enrichment of our fossil fuel barons.
The New York Times chose this “terror Tuesday” to publish an article called “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” a bizarre article that never explains what Obama’s principles or will are or even offers any evidence that Obama has any principles or will.
There is one section in which the authors point out that Obama went out of his way to sneak the despicable John Brennan into his White House despite Congressional opposition, and that none other than Harold “these bombs are not hostilities” Koh swears Brennan is a moral man. Perhaps we should assume that Brennan’s morality oozes upward from his “cave-like office in the White House basement” since his support for Bush’s crimes is redeemed by Koh who only supports Obama’s crimes.
Early on the article refers to “American values,” suggesting that Obama’s royal dilemma has been to defend not his principles, but America’s principles. The trouble, of course, is that the New York Times never explains what those are. This being the New York Times, one would naturally assume that wars and killing and lies about wars and killing form the core of those values, but this goes unstated.
Obama is depicted as “keeping the tether short” by personally deciding on each and every drone kill. And yet, despite this personal care and attention, Obama has dramatically increased drone kills. The New York Times writes that Obama’s role of “personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda” is “without precedent in presidential history.” This is either because whatever the “shadow war with Al Qaeda” is has been created by Obama, or it’s because Bush let subordinate(s) oversee it. This meaningless claim immediately follows bragging about how many of Obama’s advisers the New York Times interviewed in order to produce it, and yet somehow the underwhelmed reader is still left to simply guess what is supposed to be meant. Presumably it is that Obama has created a new form of murder.
In fact, Obama has created drone wars, and an insider picture of how he runs them is found at the end of the article:
“Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret ‘nominations’ process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.”
How do Obama’s principles and will manifest themselves in this “due process” as he bestows it upon his victims? Well, according to the New York Times, he kills “without hand-wringing” and calls the decision to kill a U.S. citizen “an easy one.” (Killing the same man’s teenage son is so easy it goes unmentioned.) Obama is “a realist,” who is “never carried away” by any campaign promises he may have made. He shrewdly maneuvers to keep in place Bush’s powers of rendition, detention, and war, not to mention (and the New York Times doesn’t) torture — not to mention his huge leaps forward in formalizing and legitimizing those abuses.
Now, the New York Times does repeatedly claim that Obama is following “just war” theories, but such theories have always led to any desired interpretation, and the New York Times doesn’t even hint at where it thinks they lead, or where it thinks Obama thinks they lead. The job of the Times, however, in its defense, is not to think.
After this observation,
“And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the ‘single digits’ — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants,”
one might naively expect the New York Times to look into some of those independent counts. Instead, the New York Times finds some accaptable (i.e. U.S. government) skeptics to quote briefly before moving on:
“But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it ‘guilt by association’ that has led to ‘deceptive’ estimates of civilian casualties.”
Much later in the article, the New York Times gets around to mentioning Obama’s practice of targeting individuals without being able to identify them at all. This technique of “signature strikes” was recently expanded by Obama to Yemen.
The same article, despite this unanswered debate over who is being killed, gratuitously refers to drones as “a precision weapon.”
Much earlier, we’re told, with no evidence, that Obama’s droning has “eviscerated Al Qaeda,” even though the next sentence notes that the drone strikes have become Al Qaeda’s best recruiting tool.
We’re also told, with no evidence, that Obama has a “distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting.” Ha! Tell that to Democrats who tried to vote against military appropriations in 2009. Rarely has such vicious arm-twisting and extensive backslapping and rewarding been witnessed. How do we know that Obama doesn’t have a “distaste” for pushing for only those measures that don’t violate his principles? How do we know that murdering lots of people with high-tech equipment in great secrecy isn’t perfectly in line with his principles? How can we be sure that isn’t why he created it? And why should we care, as long as he’s getting away with it, whether it has anything to do with his principles or not?
Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday explained why it’s legal to murder people — not to execute prisoners convicted of capital crimes, not to shoot someone in self-defense, not to fight on a battlefield in a war that is somehow legalized, but to target and kill an individual sitting on his sofa, with no charges, no arrest, no trial, no approval from a court, no approval from a legislature, no approval from we the people, and in fact no sharing of information with any institutions that are not the president. Holder’s speech approached his topic in a round about manner:
“Since this country’s earliest days, the American people have risen to this challenge – and all that it demands. But, as we have seen – and as President John F. Kennedy may have described best – ‘In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.’”
Holder quotes that and then immediately rejects it, claiming that our generation too should act as if it is in such a moment, even if it isn’t, a moment that Holder’s position suggests may last forever:
“Half a century has passed since those words were spoken, but our nation today confronts grave national security threats that demand our constant attention and steadfast commitment. It is clear that, once again, we have reached an ‘hour of danger.’
“We are a nation at war. And, in this war, we face a nimble and determined enemy that cannot be underestimated.”
So, if I were to estimate that Al Qaeda barely exists and is no serious threat to the Homeland formerly known as the United States, I would not be underestimating it? If I were to point out that no member of that horrifying outfit has been killed in Afghanistan this year, that fact would not contribute to an unacceptable underestimation? What fun it is to fight the most glorious of wars in the hour of maximum danger against an enemy so pitiful that it literally cannot be underestimated.
If the people of Iraq and Afghanistan hadn’t risen up and defeated the trillion-dollar U.S. military with some homemade bombs and cell phones, and were Iran not threatening to fight back if attacked, this might be all fun and games. Except that Holder isn’t talking about those wars that still sort of look like wars. He’s talking about a war paralleling the Soviet Threat, a war that is everywhere all the time, a war that encompasses the murder of anybody anywhere as an “act of war,” even if there’s nothing warlike about the victim or the situation other than the fact that we are mudering him or her. Read the rest of this entry →
Not yet 30, Evan Knappenberger has already lived several lives. His story destroys the U.S. government’s case against whistleblower Bradley Manning, exposes the toxic mix of fraud and incompetence that creates U.S. war policies, and highlights the damage so often done to soldiers who come home without visible injuries.
Knappenberger, seen in this video, was trained as an “intelligence analyst” at the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Training Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in 2003 and 2004, the same school attended by Bradley Manning. In April of this year, the PBS show Frontline, responding to an article Knappenberger had published, flew him to Los Angeles on a private jet, and interviewed him for four hours.
Knappenberger told Frontline that he, like Manning, had had access to the U.S. government’s SIPRNet database when he had been in Iraq. Knappenberger told Frontline that 1,400 U.S. government agencies put their information on SIPRNet, and that 2 million employees were given access to it. SIPRNet has secret blogs, secret discussions, and its own secret Google search engine. At one point, the Pentagon encouraged gambling on SIPRNet on the likelihood of future terrorist attacks. Knappenberger also pointed out that the United States had given the Iraqi Army access to the database, knowing full well that many members of the Iraqi Army were also on the U.S. target list as enemies fighting U.S. troops.
Knappenberger was in Iraq in 2006, but said he believes the practice of sharing SIPRNet with the Iraqi Army began in 2005. The U.S. Army ran cables to laptops in Iraqi command posts, and gave each post a CPOF (command post of the future) super computer. Each Iraqi command post had access to everything Bradley Manning allegedly leaked to Wikileaks. At some point in 2006, the U.S. Army decided to get serious about security by assigning two U.S. soldiers with security clearances to guard each site. Each soldier was on guard for 12 hours and off for 12. Another step taken to boost security was the creation of passwords to access SIPRNet, but because no one could remember the passwords they were written on sticky notes and stuck to the backs of the computers. Knappenberger says he had the password on the back of his computer and has read that every computer in Manning’s unit had it too.
So, Knappenberger related this kind of information to Frontline for four hours and says that for three or four months afterwards he expected to go to prison for violating nondisclosure agreements. He popped a lot of PTSD pills and gained a huge amount of weight as a result of nervousness, he says. Then, the day before he expected the Frontline story to air, he says, the show told him it would not be airing. Frontline was afraid of being held liable for inducing Knappenberger to violate his nondisclosure agreements.
Knappenberger has made the same information public without any charges being brought against him. Frontline would simply have made it more public. Like Bradley Manning, Frontline would not have provided enemies of the United States with tools to be used against us. Rather, like Bradley Manning, Frontline would have informed more of us what our government was doing in our name. And some of what it has been doing is extremely hard to look at without turning away.
This past January, Knappenberger says he testified on the record, via telephone, to the office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner on the topic of torture. Knappenberger was not qualified to “interrogate” people, but Donald Rumsfeld’s reorganization of the Army found ways to put non-combat troops into combat roles. Used to test this model was Knappenberger’s First Special Troops Battalion. These cooks, military police, signals and chemical specialists, clerks, and analysts were called on to fight terror and spread freedom. Knappenberger says his platoon sergeant was a payroll specialist who “got his legs blown off in combat he was never trained for,” while a first sergeant “got his head blown off, and he was an intel geek.” Knappenberger says his roommate was a specialist in fixing radios who lost his hearing and suffered traumatic brain injury on an IED squad.
Knappenberger says that recruiters had told him he’d do desk work. But he also says that when he joined up he was ready to kill people. He ended up doing double duty. There would be 10 or 12 hours at your normal job, he says, followed by 8 hours on a combat job. Knappenberger’s combat job was not a shooting one. It was his duty to tell others where to shoot, what to blow up, whom to kill. Knappenberger at age 20 was one of three “intel” people in his unit at Camp Taji north of Baghdad, the other two being women aged 25 and 26. None of the three had experience, but they took over for eight well-trained veterans who had been there for two years, and some of whom even spoke Arabic. The 26-year-old woman in charge was a drone pilot now placed in charge of a combat area with 100,000 people around Camp Taji. Many FREs (former regime elements) lived right outside the base.
As the only male, Knappenberger says he was assigned to do the questioning of suspects brought in. Lacking any census, the only database of individuals Knappenberger possessed came from the oil-for-food program. A friend had found the information in Baghdad and typed it in. When someone was pulled over, soldiers would radio to Knappenberger who would search for them in the database. Usually they’d be released. If someone was caught “with a bloody knife or a tube of mortars” Knappenberger says, “they’d be brought in.” But without really good evidence they could not be booked for lack of space. So, good evidence had to be obtained within 24 hours. The method of choice was coerced confession.
Knappenberger told me they used sensory deprivation on these suspects. They blindfolded them, put bags on their heads, handcuffed them, sat them on the cold ground in their underwear, etc. In one case that he described to me, they drove a man in circles around the base blindfolded in a truck, put him on the ground, and gave him a cigarette. The man “freaked out because he thought he’d been driven to the middle of nowhere to be executed. But we never told him that, so it was legal.” The more common approach, Knappenberger said, was to tell someone you would drop him off in the middle of the market and give him $100. This would amount to framing someone with turning in others, and the penalty would likely be death . . . for the individual and for his family. “We’d show them pictures of dead bodies and say ‘This is what’s going to happen to you,’ and we’d talk about their wives and girlfriends.” Knappenberger says he did not engage in physical abuse, but that others did while he literally turned his back. Iraqi interpreters, wearing masks, hit, slapped, grabbed hair, etc. Turning your back was understood by the U.S. Army as making you a non-witness, Knappenberger says.
This went on from January to March, 2006, until “I finally got into trouble.” Afraid that a prisoner would file a complaint after being booked, Knappenberger’s boss promoted him from the tactical to the operational command staff. Knappenberger’s new job, too, provides a window into the madness of war.
Knappenberger came up with an analysis of likely weapons caches. Some were in junk yards and other random sites. But the largest was in a munitions depot supposedly guarded by the Iraqi Army. The further one moved away from this depot, Knappenberger found, the fewer weapons caches were found. Similarly, Knappenberger identified likely locations of ethnic killings as Iraqi Army checkpoints.
The Oil Protection Force, a special unit of the Iraqi Army, was headquartered in one of the hottest spots for IEDs in all of Iraq, Knappenberger says. “We were paying them and they were stealing oil out of the pipeline they were supposedly guarding.” When Knappenberger’s unit arrested the head of the Oil Protection Force for leading a Sunni militia against U.S. troops, within an hour, he says, a DIA helicopter arrived and “the guys in suits took him and put him back out on the streets.” Shortly afterwards the pipeline blew up and burned for 30 days.
Another Iraqi whom Knappenberger had an interesting encounter with is Ali Latif Ibrahim Hamad el Falahi. “I spent eight months trying to find that guy,” he says. Knappenberger met Falahi at a civil affairs dinner at a sheik’s house his first week in Iraq and spoke with him for about an hour. Three days later, Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped. Knappenberger says Falahi was “the suspect” and was “our number two target for a year and a half” as he engaged in ethnic cleansing, decapitation, and ambushing Shiite units in the Iraqi Army. “I spent 8 months trying to have him killed. We killed dozens of people trying to find him. We had a gunship fly around his orchard because of heat signals there. Thirteen people died there, none him.” Falahi was reportedly later killed in the same sheik’s house after failing to set off a suicide vest beside a U.S. soldier.
“I think about that guy every day,” says Knappenberger. “We raided his house. I had his diary translated. I had a whole file on this guy.” Remarkably, Knappenberger recognizes humanity in Falahi, saying “I don’t think he was a bad person because I didn’t get that vibe from him when I talked to him.” Knappenberger uses the example of Hitler to suggest that there is good in the worst of people. Of Falahi he says, “He did very bad things. He killed a lot of people. There were even allegations that he was raping women. But before the Americans came he was just a hardworking farmer taking care of his aunt.” Falahi had gone to his Imam and argued over how to get Americans to leave without violence, says Knappenberger. “Falahi and his nephews went through Camp Taji and took a bunch of weapons the day Saddam disappeared. And it was supposed to be for protection. They set up a militia to guard the village. They had check points on the road in and out.” Then the United States armed the Shiites as the new Iraqi Army, and Paul Bremer cut out the Baath Party and banned possession of over 30 rounds of ammunition per family. “That’s when he got radicalized.”
Evan Knappenberger says he began as an Ayn Rand fan, an atheist and a Republican (and you thought Karl Rove was the only atheist Republican!). Knappenberger has since turned against Ayn Rand and rightwing politics including war, and gone religious.
Evan says that he found the Army to be “a pretty socialist institution,” in which people are encouraged to protect their friends as a way to motivate them to kill. But, he says, “I was willing to kill without that.” Why? As revenge for 9-11, he says, and as an expression of hatred that Evan says he harbored even before 9-11. He remembers reading Readers Digest as a kid and learning about “terrorists who want to kill us.” In the end, Evan says he did not shoot anyone. But he prepared packets of information on targets, including maps to their homes, photos of them, the reasons they were targets, and what was to be done to them (kill/capture, exploit, source, etc.) Artillery officers, who Evan says are “notoriously stupid,” became a targeting cell, and whatever he told them (“This guy is bad. This is where he lives.”) they would work from to plan bombings and raids.
My impression from speaking with Evan Knappenberger is that what turned him against war and militarism, even more than the SNAFU experience in Iraq, even more than the gradual exposure of the lies that launched the war, and more than the “socialism” within the military, was coming into contact with radical inequality of wealth and power within the Army, mirroring our society at large.
On a two-week leave, completely exhausted, in the middle of his year in Iraq, Evan flew back to Charlottesville, Virginia. On the last leg from Atlanta, he was one of two people in uniform on the plane. The other was a JAG general with a gold watch and a leather briefcase but no combat patch. Evan, in contrast, hadn’t had a shower in a week, and it showed. Apparently the two of them regarded each other with mutual contempt. While on leave, Evan attended a jobs fair in Crystal City for people with security clearances like his. At lunch time, he says, lots of officers came over from the Pentagon looking for high-paying jobs. “I was the lowest ranking person in the room. And the thing that really shocked the hell out of me: You go six months in Iraq and the highest ranking person you see is a colonel. And I’m in a room full of generals and sergeant majors of the army and chief warrant officer fives, and not one of them had a combat job in the whole big ball room — not one of those m—– f—— had been in a combat zone for 30 days to get a combat patch — or if they did they weren’t proud of it. And these were the people making the decisions and making my life hell — and that had a lot to do with turning me against the war.”
Another factor was the unfairness of the policy of stop-loss. The Army had messed up Evan’s paperwork when he had shipped out, delaying him, and as a result his date for completing his contract just barely made it into the group the Army chose to hold over for additional “service.” To avoid being stop-lossed, Evan cut a deal with his commanders that would allow him to be honorably discharged for minor misbehavior. However, a brand new division commander gave Evan a general discharge, eliminating his GI Bill and other benefits. Evan says it took him three years to get any disability coverage from the V.A.
Evan still has PTSD, as well as a skin problem he attributes to toxic chemicals and garbage burned in open pits in Iraq by the U.S. Army. On tower guard duty adjacent to such a pit, Evan says he lost his sense of smell and coughed up a black substance. “That whole year was like a nightmare,” he says. “Getting mortared every night. Rockets coming in. The first couple of times I got shot at on guard duty I had no idea what was going on. . . . I thought it was bats. . . . I got so used to getting mortared. I was at the airport getting ready to leave and was in the portapotty when a siren went off. Then there were booms and after the last boom dirt clods falling on the portapotty. I walked out, doing up my belt, and there was a major and a sergeant major under a truck face down in the mud. And the guy screams at me: ‘Get to the bunker!’” Evan’s response was a casual “Whatever. It’s over now.”
In April of 2007, Evan Knappenberger came back to Charlottesville. He says he’d been dating long distance and had a bad break up on the phone while driving. He just kept driving for three months, living out of his car and spending his Army money. He ended up in Bellingham, Washington, where he met a woman at a peace vigil and married her in October. The marriage has “almost been ruined a few times by PTSD.”
Evan has done a lot of antiwar activism in Bellingham, including helping AWOL soldiers make it to Canada. He built and did guard duty on a tower in Bellingham and then in Washington, D.C., to protest the stop loss policy. I organized a press conference for his mother in Charlottesville.
Evan was nothing if not outspoken. This included informing an Ohio couple that their son was dead, despite a government coverup and propaganda campaign. In 2004 Iraqis produced a video of a U.S. soldier, Matt Maupin, held hostage, and then another of him being killed. According to Knappenberger, the DIA used facial pattern recognition and a study of the blotches on his uniform and was 100% certain that Maupin had been executed. But the military told the media to suppress the video, and the U.S. media complied. Maupin’s parents campaigned for Bush’s “reelection” in the swing state of Ohio in ’04 because “John Kerry wants to leave Matt behind,” even though Knappenberger says the government knew that Matt was dead. As part of the public relations push, Maupin was repeatedly promoted in rank, and his pay was placed in an account for when he was found.
Evan saw the video in 2006. In 2007 he told a Washington Post reporter who filed a FOIA and was told the information was classified. So, in September 2007, Evan says he told Maupin’s parents, who were reluctant to believe him. An hour later, an Army intelligence officer called Evan and threatened him with jail. According to Knappenberger, he replied, “If you tell the parents I won’t have to. If you don’t I will.” Meanwhile, says Knappenberger, “the poor dad was putting together a team to go find Matt.” Maupin’s dad, Evan says, told him “I’ve got Andrew Card’s number. I’m calling him right now.” Two weeks later he was allowed to watch the video at the Pentagon.
One’s heart breaks for those parents and so many others like them, and for the vastly greater number of Iraqis whose loved ones have been killed by U.S. loved ones. One’s heart breaks for Evan Knappenberger as well. He says he is committed to nonviolence, but it is a process he is working at. He grew up in a violent culture and was trained to use and value violence. Since getting out of the Army, he has repeatedly been accused of threatening violence. He recounted to me an incident in which he threatened President Bush with violence. He has threatened rightwing war supporters with violence in blog posts. Evan’s been hospitalized twice for PTSD. He’s had an on-again off-again relationship with antiwar groups like IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War).
During what Evan describes as a “really bad breakdown” in January 2009, he showed up at the V.A. hospital in Seattle. It was full, and he was told to come back Monday. He called a senator, and had an appointment within an hour. Within another hour, he says, he was loaded up with antidepressants and on the street. Four weeks of antidepressants later, he had a worse breakdown that landed him in jail following an attempted suicide and what he says was an unfounded charge of “unlawful imprisonment” of his wife, which he pled to a misdemeanor.
Despite everything our society places in the way of it, Evan Knappenberger has obtained an associate’s degree and is working on a bachelor’s. After a troubled but useful contribution to Occupy Charlottesville (he says he quit, others say they evicted him), Evan is headed back to Bellingham to work on his marriage and his mortgage payments. I wish him well and thank him for speaking out.
“Ban the bombers are afraid of a fight
“Peace hurts business and that ain’t right
“How do I know? I read it in the Daily News”
PBS (the P stands for “Pure” I think) is concerned that if the U.S. government stops funding the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. economy will crash:
“An executive at a small defense contractor recently joked to me, ‘Afghanistan is our business plan.’ I asked him what he would do if the war ended. He stared at me for a moment and said, ‘Well, then I hope we invade Libya.’”
I’ve passed this story around on Facebook and Twitter to a general response of complete bewilderment. It seems that not many people are aware that the U.S. economy depends heavily on massive government investment. The investment is through the military, and through the militaries of foreign governments running the full gamut from quasi-democracy to total dictatorship. Making the materials of war is what we do; it is our major industry, and it is funded with about half of our income taxes every year. This helps explain why President Obama was willing to de-escalate in Iraq only as he escalated in Afghanistan, and why he escalated in Afghanistan prior to forming any plan for Afghanistan. War is business. The trick for this business is how to de-escalate in both Iraq and Afghanistan without a major escalation somewhere else.
Now, our government could take the same money that it invests in wars, and the much larger pile of money that it invests in the base military budget, and instead invest it elsewhere. We could cut the military by 85% and still have the world’s largest. We could take some or all of that saved money and put it into infrastructure or green energy or education, each of which would produce more jobs and better paying jobs than the military. But there’s a problem. Investing public money in a massive jobs program that doesn’t slaughter lots of innocent human beings is Socialism. Slaughtering innocent human beings is something our politicians can stomach, but Socialism is simply beyond the pale. So it’s kill people or crash the economy; pick your poison. You can hurt others or yourselves. Or . . .
Or . . .
Or we can go with what Americans tell pollsters they want to do: end the wars, tax the rich, tax and disempower the corporations, create single-payer healthcare, and invest in education, green energy, and non-violent jobs.
I’m kidding. I’m kidding. Relax.
Like my FaceBook friends, I too am properly concerned that even if we run out of enemies on earth, we ought to be properly prepared to annihilate space aliens when and if they show their faces (assuming they have faces). But in the back of my head I have to wonder if killing people is necessarily part of space aliens’ “human nature” (or “alien nature”). It seems to me that aliens who survived their cultural adolescence and made it here would have learned to stop killing. They would also have learned to steer clear of suicidal killing machines like homo sapiens, meaning we won’t actually be seeing any aliens any time soon.
If we develop a nonkilling society, we may or may not be visited by aliens, but at least we’ll survive. However, this may be difficult given our murderous “human nature.” Between 1 million BCE and 2000 CE, an estimated 91 billion people have lived, of whom an estimated 3 billion have ever killed another person, in war or anywhere else. If we ignore the other 88 billion people as extreme and unusual cases, then it is simply a demonstrated fact that “human nature” involves killing. There’s just nothing to be done about it.
Unless, of course, we decided to think for ourselves rather than through pro-killing propaganda, for about five seconds. As Glenn D. Paige points out in an excellent book called “Nonkilling Global Political Science,” (PDF) (where you’ll find an explanation of those estimates above) most people do not kill. You’ve probably read Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, “The Lottery”. It’s a jarring story, because the twist at the end transforms human beings, normal and believable human beings, into killers. Change the ending, and the story would become a more typical depiction of what most people are like.
For virtually all of the existence of modern homo sapiens our ancestors evolved in bands of hunters and gatherers, living as prey far more than as predators, never knowing war. We now live outside of the world we evolved in. We have unlimited access to things like sugar, salt, petroleum, and weapons of mass destruction. We aren’t easily inclined to handle such access with restraint. We get fat. We change the earth’s climate. We kill. But most of us don’t want to do these things. We just haven’t learned to place sufficient restraints on those who gain great immediate satisfaction by endangering us all.
Learning is the solution. Douglas Fry studied two Mexican villages of similar socioeconomic characteristics but different beliefs about how humans are or should be. One viewed people as peaceful and was peaceful. The other viewed people as killers and saw a lot of killing. The difference was in outlook, not systemic forces. People behaved as they thought people should behave.
Political science, Paige laments, although this is changing, views killing as inevitable. It therefore does not seek to understand it. A political science that views a nonkilling society as possible must carefully study the causes and remedies of killing. Paige hopes to see universities take up the task of eliminating wars and killing. One problem with that proposal is the extent to which U.S. universities profit from killing. Here in Charlottesville, Va., the University of Virginia lives off the military jobs program. We learn very little about this from the local newspaper, the Daily Progress, which ran full-page color ads all this week promoting a military jobs fair. So, it was interesting to watch how Russian TV covered our local military-industrial-academic complex.
I guess it’s comforting to know that someone is paying attention to our self-destruction, even if it isn’t us.
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