You are browsing the archive for Martin Luther King Jr..

The Repetition Compulsion for War — and How It Might Fail This Time

3:54 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

No matter how many times we’ve seen it before, the frenzy for launching a military attack on another country is — to the extent we’re not numb — profoundly upsetting. Tanked up with talking points in Washington, top officials drive policy while intoxicated with what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism,” and most media coverage becomes similarly unhinged. That’s where we are now.

Each war is different, each war is the same

Each war is different, each war is the same

But new variables have opened up possibilities for disrupting the repetitive plunge to war. Syria is in the crosshairs of U.S. firepower, but cracks in the political machinery of the warfare state are widening here at home. For advocates of militarism and empire by any other name, the specter of democratic constraint looms as an ominous threat.

Into the Capitol Hill arena, the Obama White House sent Secretary of State John Kerry to speak in a best-and-brightest dialect of neocon tongues. The congressional hierarchies of both parties — Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, John Boehner, Eric Cantor — are on the same page for an attack on Syria. And meanwhile, the U.S. mass media have been cranking up the usual adrenalin-pumped hype for war.

More than 10 years ago, American media outlets were filled with breathless idolatry of the latest U.S. weapons poised to strike Iraq. Now, the big TV networks are at it again – starting to hype the Pentagon’s high-tech arsenal that’s ready to demolish Syrian targets. Of course the people at the other end of the weaponry aren’t in the picture.

The Media Education Foundation has just posted a two-minute montage of coverage from MSNBC, Fox and CNN idolizing the latest Pentagon weaponry for use in the Iraq invasion a decade ago — as well as Walter Cronkite doing the same on CBS during the Vietnam War. As a present-day bookend, a CNN clip from a few days ago provides a glimpse of how little has changed (except for slicker on-screen graphics).

But the usual agenda-building for war may not work this time.

The first week of September has stunned the military-industrial-media complex. It began with a familiar bellicose call for action from the president, seconded by leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill and echoed by mass media. And yet by the end of the week, grassroots opposition had interrupted the war momentum.

Senators and members of the House are being overwhelmed with anti-war messages via email, fax and phone. People are rising up to demand that Congress vote against launching a war on yet another country.

Whether Obama would actually abide by failure to gain congressional “authorization” to attack Syria is by no means clear. But our immediate task is to create such a failure.

This is a pivotal juncture of history in real time, an “all hands on deck” moment to exert enough public pressure to prevent a war-on-Syria resolution from getting through Congress. Such an outcome would thoroughly delegitimize any order from Obama to attack Syria. In the process, we would make real progress against the masters of war.

There’s an antidote to the repetition compulsion for war. It’s called democracy.
Read the rest of this entry →

Oiling the War Machinery, From Oslo to Heathrow to Washington

8:25 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

In Oslo, the world’s most important peace prize has been hijacked for war.

In London, government authority has just fired a new shot at freedom of the press.

Bradey Manning Hero

The Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to Bradley Manning.

And in Washington, the Obama administration continues to escalate its attacks on whistleblowers, journalism and civil liberties.

As a nation at peace becomes a fading memory, so does privacy. Commitments to idealism — seeking real alternatives to war and upholding democratic values — are under constant assault from the peaks of power.

Normalizing endless war and shameless surveillance, Uncle Sam and Big Brother are no longer just close. They’re the same, with a vast global reach.

Last week, I met with the Research Director of the Nobel Committee at its headquarters in Oslo. We sat at one end of a long polished conference table, next to boxes of petitions signed by 100,000 people urging that the Nobel Peace Prize go to Bradley Manning.

The Nobel official, Asle Toje, remained polite but frosty when I urged — as I had two hours earlier at a news conference – that the Nobel Committee show independence from the U.S. government by awarding the Peace Prize to Manning. Four years after the prize went to President Obama, his leadership for perpetual war is incontrovertible — while Manning’s brave whistleblowing for peace is inspiring.

In recent times, I pointed out, the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to some dissenters who were anathema to their governments’ leaders — but not to any recipient who profoundly displeased the U.S. government. Toje responded by mentioning Martin Luther King Jr., a rejoinder that struck me as odd; King received the prize 49 years ago, and more than two years passed after then until, in April 1967, he angered the White House with his first full-throated denunciation of the Vietnam War.

I motioned to the stacks of the petition, which has included personal comments from tens of thousands of signers — reflecting deep distrust of the present-day Nobel Peace Prize, especially after Obama won it in 2009 while massively escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

We were in the grand and ornate building that has housed the Nobel Committee for more than a hundred years. Outside, a bust of Alfred Nobel graces the front entrance, and just across a small traffic circle is the U.S. Embassy, an imposing dark gray presence with several stories, hundreds of windows on each of its three sides and plenty of electronic gear on its roof. (That intersection is widely understood to be a base for American surveillance operations.) More than ever in recent years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee building’s physical proximity to the U.S. Embassy is an apt metaphor for its political alignment.

Over the weekend, the British government showed more toxic aspects of its “special relationship” with the U.S. government. As the Guardian reported, “The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programs by the U.S. National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London’s Heathrow Airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.” David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, “was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. … Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and game consoles.”

Assaulting press freedom is part of a comprehensive agenda that President Obama is now pursuing more flagrantly than ever. From seizing phone records of AP reporters to spying on a Fox News reporter to successfully fighting for a federal court decision to compel reporter James Risen to reveal his source for a New York Times story, Obama’s war on journalism is serving executive impunity — for surveillance that fundamentally violates the Fourth Amendment and for perpetual war that, by force of arms and force of example, pushes the world into further bloody chaos.

The destructive effects of these policies are countless. And along the way, for the Nobel Committee, more than ever, war is peace. Across the globe, aligned with and/or intimidated by official Washington, many governments are enablers of an American warfare/surveillance multinational state. And in Washington, at the top of the government, when it comes to civil liberties and war and so much more, the moral compass has gone due south.

Read the rest of this entry →

Bradley Manning Is Guilty of “Aiding the Enemy” — If the Enemy Is Democracy

3:38 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Of all the charges against Bradley Manning, the most pernicious — and revealing — is “aiding the enemy.”

South Korea Manning

South Koreans support Bradley Manning.

A blogger at The New Yorker, Amy Davidson, raised a pair of big questions that now loom over the courtroom at Fort Meade and over the entire country:

* “Would it aid the enemy, for example, to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government?”

* “In that case, who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”

When the deceptive operation of the warfare state can’t stand the light of day, truth-tellers are a constant hazard. And culpability must stay turned on its head.

That’s why accountability was upside-down when the U.S. Army prosecutor laid out the government’s case against Bradley Manning in an opening statement: “This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy — material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk.”

If so, those fellow soldiers have all been notably lucky; the Pentagon has admitted that none died as a result of Manning’s leaks in 2010. But many of his fellow soldiers lost their limbs or their lives in U.S. warfare made possible by the kind of lies that the U.S. government is now prosecuting Bradley Manning for exposing.

In the real world, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, prosecution for leaks is extremely slanted. “Let’s apply the government’s theory in the Manning case to one of the most revered journalists in Washington: Bob Woodward, who has become one of America’s richest reporters, if not the richest, by obtaining and publishing classified information far more sensitive than anything WikiLeaks has ever published,” Greenwald wrote in January.

He noted that “one of Woodward’s most enthusiastic readers was Osama bin Laden,” as a 2011 video from al-Qaeda made clear. And Greenwald added that “the same Bob Woodward book [Obama’s Wars] that Osama bin Laden obviously read and urged everyone else to read disclosed numerous vital national security secrets far more sensitive than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking. Doesn’t that necessarily mean that top-level government officials who served as Woodward’s sources, and the author himself, aided and abetted al-Qaida?”

But the prosecution of Manning is about carefully limiting the information that reaches the governed. Officials who run U.S. foreign policy choose exactly what classified info to dole out to the public. They leak like self-serving sieves to mainline journalists such as Woodward, who has divulged plenty of “Top Secret” information — a category of classification higher than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking.

While pick-and-choose secrecy is serving Washington’s top war-makers, the treatment of U.S. citizens is akin to the classic description of how to propagate mushrooms: keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.

In effect, for top managers of the warfare state, “the enemy” is democracy.

Let’s pursue the inquiry put forward by columnist Amy Davidson early this year. If it is aiding the enemy “to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government,” then in reality “who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”

Candid answers to such questions are not only inadmissible in the military courtroom where Bradley Manning is on trial. Candor is also excluded from the national venues where the warfare state preens itself as virtue’s paragon.

Yet ongoing actions of the U.S. government have hugely boosted the propaganda impact and recruiting momentum of forces that Washington publicly describes as “the enemy.” Policies under the Bush and Obama administrations — in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond, with hovering drones, missile strikes and night raids, at prisons such as Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo and secret rendition torture sites — have “aided the enemy” on a scale so enormous that it makes the alleged (and fictitious) aid to named enemies from Manning’s leaks infinitesimal in comparison.

Blaming the humanist PFC messenger for “aiding the enemy” is an exercise in self-exculpation by an administration that cannot face up to its own vast war crimes.

Read the rest of this entry →

Our Twisted Politics of Grief

2:32 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

9/11 Smoking WTC Tower

Our politicized grief over 9/11 continues to cost lives worldwide.

Darwin observed that conscience is what most distinguishes humans from other animals. If so, grief isn’t far behind. Realms of anguish are deeply personal—yet prone to expropriation for public use, especially in this era of media hyper-spin. Narratives often thresh personal sorrow into political hay. More than ever, with grief marketed as a civic commodity, the personal is the politicized.

The politicizing of grief exploded in the wake of 9/11. When so much pain, rage and fear set the U.S. cauldron to boil, national leaders promised their alchemy would bring unalloyed security. The fool’s gold standard included degrading civil liberties and pursuing a global war effort that promised to be ceaseless. From the political outset, some of the dead and bereaved were vastly important, others insignificant. Such routine assumptions have remained implicit and intact.

The “war on terror” was built on two tiers of grief. Momentous and meaningless. Ours and theirs. The domestic politics of grief settled in for a very long haul, while perpetual war required the leaders of both major parties to keep affirming and reinforcing the two tiers of grief.

For individuals, actual grief is intimate, often ineffable. Maybe no one can help, but expressions of caring and condolences can matter. So, too, can indifference. Or worse. The first years of the 21st century normalized U.S. warfare in countries where civilians kept dying and American callousness seemed to harden. From the USA, a pattern froze and showed no signs of thawing; denials continued to be reflexive, while expressions of regret were perfunctory or nonexistent.

Drones became a key weapon—and symbol—of the U.S. war trajectory. With a belated nod to American public opinion early in the century’s second decade, Washington’s interest in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan did not reflect official eagerness to stop killing there or elsewhere. It did reflect eagerness to bring U.S. warfare more into line with the latest contours of domestic politics. The allure of remote-control devices like drones—integral to modern “counterterrorism” ideas at the Pentagon and CIA—has been enmeshed in the politics of grief. So much better theirs than ours.

Many people in the United States don’t agree with a foreign policy that glories in use of drones, cruise missiles and the like, but such disagreement is in a distinct minority. (A New York Times/CBS poll in late April 2013 found Americans favoring U.S. overseas drone strikes by 70 to 20 percent.) With the “war on terror” a longtime fact of political life, even skeptics or unbelievers are often tethered to some concept of pragmatism that largely privatizes misgivings. In the context of political engagement—when a person’s internal condition is much less important than outward behavior—notions of realism are apt to encourage a willing suspension of disbelief. As a practical matter, we easily absorb the dominant U.S. politics of grief, further making it our politics of grief.

The amazing technology of “unmanned aerial vehicles” glided forward as a satellite-guided deus ex machina to help lift Uncle Sam out of a tight geopolitical spot—exerting awesome airpower in Afghanistan and beyond while slowing the arrival of flag-draped coffins back home. More airborne killing and less boot prints on the ground meant fewer U.S. casualties. All the better to limit future grief, as much as possible, to those who are not us.

However facile or ephemeral the tributes may be at times, American casualties of war and their grieving families receive some public affirmation from government officials and news media. The suffering had real meaning. They mattered and matter. That’s our grief. But at the other end of American weaponry, their grief is a world of difference.

In U.S. politics, American sorrow is profoundly important and revs up many rhetorical engines; the contrast with sorrow caused by the American military could hardly be greater. What is not ignored or dismissed as mere propaganda is just another unfortunate instance of good intentions gone awry. No harm intended, no foul. Yet consider these words from a Pakistani photographer, Noor Behram, describing the aftermath of a U.S. drone attack: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.”

A memorable moment in the film Lincoln comes when the president says, “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” A daring leap for a white American assessing race in 1865. Truly applying the same Euclidean theorem to grief would be just as daring now in U.S. politics. Let’s face it: in the American political culture of our day, all grief is not created equal. Not even close.

*****

We might say ’twas ever thus: countries and ethnic groups mourn their own while yawning or even rejoicing at the agonies of some “others.” And when grief weighs in on the U.S. political scale, the heaviness of our kind makes any other secondary at best. No wonder presidents have always been wary of red-white-and-blue coffins at Andrews Air Force Base. No wonder “Bring our troops home” is such an evergreen slogan of antiwar activism. If the only grief that matters much is American, then just getting Americans out of harm’s way is the ticket. The demand—like empathy for the war-torn grief of Americans—is vital. And grievously incomplete.

Read the rest of this entry →

A Letter I Wish Progressive Groups Would Send to Their Members

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Dear Progressives,

With President Obama’s second term underway and huge decisions looming on Capitol Hill, consider this statement from Howard Zinn: “When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.”

With so much at stake, we can’t afford to forget our role. For starters, it must include public clarity.

Let’s face it: despite often nice-sounding rhetoric from the president, this administration has continued with a wide range of policies antithetical to progressive values.

Corporate power, climate change and perpetual war are running amok while civil liberties and economic fairness take a beating. President Obama has even put Social Security and Medicare on the table for cuts.

Last fall, the vast majority of progressives voted for Obama to prevent the presidency from going to a Republican Party replete with racism, misogyny, anti-gay bigotry and xenophobia. Defeating the right wing was cause for celebration. And now is the time to fight for genuine progressive policies.

But let’s be real about our current situation. Obama has led the Democratic Party — including, at the end of the legislative day, almost every Democrat on Capitol Hill — deeper into an abyss of corporate-driven austerity, huge military outlays, normalization of civil-liberties abuses and absence of significant action on climate change. Leverage from the Oval Office is acting as a brake on many — in Congress and in progressive constituency groups — who would prefer to be moving legislation in a progressive direction.

Hopefully we’ve learned by now that progressive oratory is no substitute for progressive policies. The soaring rhetoric in Obama’s inaugural address this week offered inspiring words about a compassionate society where everyone is respected and we look out for each other. Unfortunately and routinely, the president’s lofty words have allowed him to slide by many progressives despite policies that often amount to a modern version of “social liberalism, fiscal conservatism.”

The New York Times headline over its front-page coverage, “Obama Offers a Liberal Vision in Inaugural Address,” served up the current presidential recipe: a spoonful of rhetorical sugar to help the worsening austerity go down. But no amount of verbal sweetness can make up for assorted policies aligned with Wall Street and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

“At their inaugurals,” independent journalist I.F. Stone noted long ago, our presidents “make us the dupes of our hopes.”

Unlike four years ago, Obama has a presidential record — and its contrasts with Monday’s oratorical performance are stark. A president seeking minimally fair economic policies, for instance, would not compound the disaster of four years of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury by replacing him with Jack Lew — arguably even more of a corporate flack.

On foreign policy, it was notably disingenuous for Obama to proclaim in his second inaugural speech that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war” — minutes after completing a first term when his administration launched more than 20,000 air strikes, sharply escalated the use of weaponized drones and did so much else to make war perpetual.

Meanwhile, the media hype on the inaugural speech’s passage about climate change has lacked any indication that the White House is ready to push for steps commensurate with the magnitude of the real climate crisis.

The founder of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, Daphne Wysham, points out that the inaugural words “will be meaningless unless a) the Obama administration rejects the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; b) Obama selects a new EPA administrator who is willing to take action under the Clean Air Act to rein in CO2 emissions from all sources; c) he stops pushing for dangerous energy development deep offshore in the Gulf, in the Arctic and via continued fracking for oil and gas; d) he pursues a renewable energy standard for the entire country; and e) he directs our publicly financed development banks and export credit agencies to get out of fossil fuels entirely.”

The leadership we need is certainly not coming from the White House or Congress. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus,” Martin Luther King Jr. observed. The leadership we need has to come, first and foremost, from us.

Some members of Congress — maybe dozens — have shown commitment to a progressive agenda, and a larger number claim a progressive mantle. In any event, their role is not our role. They adhere to dotted lines that we should cross. They engage in Hill-speak euphemisms that we should bypass. Routinely, they decline to directly confront wrong-headed Obama administration policies. And we must confront those policies.

If certain members of Congress resent being pushed by progressives to challenge the White House, they lack an appreciation for the crucial potential of grassroots social movements. On the other hand, those in Congress who “get” progressive social change will appreciate our efforts to push them and their colleagues to stand progressive ground.

When we’re mere supplicants to members of Congress, the doors that open on Capitol Hill won’t lead very much of anywhere. Superficial “access” has scant impact. The kind of empowered access we need will come from mobilizing grassroots power.

We need to show that we’ll back up members of Congress who are intrepid for our values — and we can defeat others, including self-described “progressives,” who aren’t. Building electoral muscle should be part of building a progressive movement.

We’re in this for the long haul, but we’re not willing to mimic the verbiage or echo the silences from members of Congress who fail to challenge egregious realities of this administration’s policies. As Howard Zinn said, our role is to challenge, not fall in line.

King: I Have a Dream. Obama: I Have a Drone.

5:25 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

A simple twist of fate has set President Obama’s second Inaugural Address for January 21, the same day as the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.

Obama made no mention of King during the Inauguration four years ago — but since then, in word and deed, the president has done much to distinguish himself from the man who said “I have a dream.”

After his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, King went on to take great risks as a passionate advocate for peace.

After his Inaugural speech in January 2009, Obama has pursued policies that epitomize King’s grim warning in 1967: “When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.”

But Obama has not ignored King’s anti-war legacy. On the contrary, the president has gone out of his way to distort and belittle it.

In his eleventh month as president — while escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, a process that tripled the American troop levels there — Obama traveled to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. In his speech, he cast aspersions on the peace advocacy of another Nobel Peace laureate: Martin Luther King Jr.

The president struck a respectful tone as he whetted the rhetorical knife before twisting. “I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King,” he said, just before swiftly implying that those two advocates of nonviolent direct action were, in fact, passive and naive. “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people,” Obama added.

Moments later, he was straining to justify American warfare: past, present, future. “To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason,” Obama said. “I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.”

Then came the jingo pitch: “Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”

Crowing about the moral virtues of making war while accepting a peace prize might seem a bit odd, but Obama’s rhetoric was in sync with a key dictum from Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

Laboring to denigrate King’s anti-war past while boasting about Uncle Sam’s past (albeit acknowledging “mistakes,” a classic retrospective euphemism for carnage from the vantage point of perpetrators), Obama marshaled his oratory to foreshadow and justify the killing yet to come under his authority.

Two weeks before the start of Obama’s second term, the British daily The Guardian noted that “U.S. use of drones has soared during Obama’s time in office, with the White House authorizing attacks in at least four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is estimated that the CIA and the U.S. military have undertaken more than 300 drone strikes and killed about 2,500 people.”

The newspaper reported that a former member of Obama’s “counter-terrorism group” during the 2008 campaign, Michael Boyle, says the White House is now understating the number of civilian deaths due to the drone strikes, with loosened standards for when and where to attack: “The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur. No one really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands.”

Although Obama criticized the Bush-era “war on terror” several years ago, Boyle points out, President Obama “has been just as ruthless and indifferent to the rule of law as his predecessor.”

Boyle’s assessment — consistent with the conclusions of many other policy analysts — found the Obama administration’s use of drones is “encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent.”

In recent weeks, more than 50,000 Americans have signed a petition to Ban Weaponized Drones from the World. The petition says that “weaponized drones are no more acceptable than land mines, cluster bombs or chemical weapons.” It calls for President Obama “to abandon the use of weaponized drones, and to abandon his ‘kill list’ program regardless of the technology employed.”

Count on lofty rhetoric from the Inaugural podium. The spirit of Dr. King will be elsewhere.