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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Twisting Of The American Mind: Shorter Noam & The Patriot's Toll


...The events of October 1962 are widely hailed as Kennedy’s finest hour. Graham Allison joins many others in presenting them as “a guide for how to defuse conflicts, manage great-power relationships, and make sound decisions about foreign policy in general.”

In a very narrow sense, that judgment seems reasonable. The ExComm tapes reveal that the president stood apart from others, sometimes almost all others, in rejecting premature violence. There is, however, a further question: How should JFK’s relative moderation in the management of the crisis be evaluated against the background of the broader considerations just reviewed? But that question does not arise in a disciplined intellectual and moral culture, which accepts without question the basic principle that the U.S. effectively owns the world by right, and is by definition a force for good despite occasional errors and misunderstandings, one in which it is plainly entirely proper for the U.S. to deploy massive offensive force all over the world while it is an outrage for others (allies and clients apart) to make even the slightest gesture in that direction or even to think of deterring the threatened use of violence by the benign global hegemon.
- Noam Chomsky -
The Week the World Stood Still
So writes the "subversive" and "un-American" Noam Chomsky, in one of the more accessible paragraphs in his essay, originally hosted at

"Shorter Noam"

Chomsky makes me "think really hard" when I'm reading him, and I'm not sure if that's an artifact of his academic pedigree, a failure of his prosaic skills, or my own density*. It usually takes me some time to get to the ultimate takeaway. The fact that, after wading through an article, the takeaway is pretty much what I would expect is of little comfort - I always feel like I may have missed something.

I think I got this one, though - so, first, the promised "shorter Noam."

The United States bears a higher responsibility for the provocation that became the Cuban Missile Crisis than is widely acknowledged, either by popular opinion or official historical record. Further, and conversely, it emerges as the less responsible party in the defusing of the hair-raising standoff.

Of course, many liberal-minded observers allow that our aggressions and provocations against Castro's Cuba undoubtedly played a significant role in buttressing its overtures to the Soviet Union, and the subsequent intervention that ultimately led to the crisis. What is historically glossed, however, is the extent to which these aggressions were embedded in mainstream U.S. government policy, more specifically Kennedy Administration policy.

It is fair to say that "conventional" wisdom often diminishes our intentions with lighthearted derogation over a "rogue" CIA, exploding cigars and beard poisoning. These obscure a darker truth.

(Aside: While not mentioned in the Chomsky essay, my own readings indicate that the revolutionaries themselves were quite divided and hesitant about the lopsided "partnership" that would emerge if the Soviets were involved as allies. It is not a leap to assume that the U.S. tipped that debate with their activities.)

As for the resolution of the crisis, it is fair to say that it is universally and unequivocally characterized as the result Kennedy's steely-nerved stare down of an international aggressor.

Steely indeed - but why did Kruschev ultimately accept the terms as offered? It is in this area that Noam is more circumspect. And understandably so - the professor is, I'm sure, quite weary of the attacks of "anti-Americanism" that he has endured.

Quickly - the Soviet leader looked madness in the eye and decided to "take one for the team" and put simple, human survival above principle. The sanity clause was invoked by the U.S.S.R., and decidedly not by the U.S.

At those levels of government communication, the genteel veneer of the "shining city on the hill" that was (is) presented to the public was stripped of its pretensions, and the hegemonic ambitions of the U.S. empire were seen to be already well-entrenched, decades before the indelicacies of neoconservative thumping made them obvious to all but the most mesmerized of America-philes.

This conclusion is amplified by the non-response of the Soviets less than two weeks after the event. An event, need I remind, that is considered one of the most dangerous cliff-hangers of world history - and yet we huffed onwards (my emphasis):
...On November 8th, the Pentagon announced that all known Soviet missile bases had been dismantled. On the same day, Stern reports, “a sabotage team carried out an attack on a Cuban factory,” though Kennedy’s terror campaign, Operation Mongoose, had been formally curtailed at the peak of the crisis. ..

...[On that same day, writes highly respected scholar Raymond Garthoff], “a Cuban covert action sabotage team dispatched from the United States successfully blew up a Cuban industrial facility,” killing 400 workers according to a Cuban government letter to the U.N. Secretary General.

Garthoff comments: “The Soviets could only see [the attack] as an effort to backpedal on what was, for them, the key question remaining: American assurances not to attack Cuba,” particularly since the terrorist attack was launched from the U.S. These and other “third party actions” reveal again, he concludes, “that the risk and danger to both sides could have been extreme, and catastrophe not excluded.” Garthoff also reviews the murderous and destructive operations of Kennedy’s terrorist campaign,
which we would certainly regard as more than ample justification for war, if the U.S. or its allies or clients were victims, not perpetrators.

American, Or Merely Human? The Patriot's Toll

I recently was ensnared in one of those unfortunate and regrettable Facebook comment-thread conversations, which quickly ended after these missives (I was simply talking about poverty and our obligation to our fellow citizens. I don't use the word "hate," I didn't even come close to discussing foreign policy, and I didn't even utter the word "America" or provoke in the manner of this post, I swear):
Instead of spreading negativity , I'd rather sit down and toast to a country that helps their neighbors
I'd rather see solutions with positivity
Michaels choices are too toxic for my comprehension. He chooses to stAy in a life poverty???
I'm all in for spreading positive vibes and can not stand it when hate is spread. I speak up. That's just me
My sarcasm is because its very hard to listen to u spread hate for the country u and I live in and u complain about things that even u are not trying to help with. Blogging negativity spreads negativity
My hope is for America
How can I block him
"My hope is for America." This crystallizes for me what I call here "the patriot's toll," or the twisting of the American mind.

Much is made of the dystopias of totalitarian governments (Cold War Soviet society was a popular example), and many today acknowledge that, with the continuing encroachment of corporate influence on policy, the U.S. itself suffers from some of this asphyxia - but one thing that we hold dear and robust is our commitment to the free speech aspects of the First Amendment. Right or left, this particular protection remains generally unchallenged, and indeed the permissive heights and depths of expression are on display in our culture.

As Orwell liked to point out, however - free speech is a joke if thought is unfree. What I want to say here goes beyond the criticisms of a TV-fueled population that is mesmerized with trivia and "mainstream media" conventional wisdom. These are serious things, and I surely do object and rail against the shiny object that is popular American culture.

But there is something deeper and darker, and of longer pedigree, afoot. It is utter impossibility that it has become to be an American, and to simply be a human being.

I want to juxtapose these two statements:
...which we would certainly regard as more than ample justification for war, if the U.S. or its allies or clients were victims, not perpetrators.
My hope is for America
As an "American," one is simply not permitted to entertain the simple thought experiment of considering what U.S. policy looks like to non-Americans. Any attempts to do so in what is considered "polite" cocktail chatter is sure to invite angry, accusatory, even eliminationist backlash.

It is easy to demonstrate. In the recent political debates, for example, the right of Iran to acquire nuclear parity** with other nations is not even open to question - only how it would be prevented. There are many, like the sad woman who authored the above Facebook comments, who would be quick to retire to his suburban domicile, ensconced in an easy chair in front of a "game" with her domestic beer*** (or the tasty import-of-choice that is the birthright brought to you by American dollars - the iron filings of the magnet of American empire), and comfortably denounce any questioning of this narrative. "Love it or leave it," he might say. I'll wager that you, the reader, may yourself be bristling at the example I've chosen.

It is this "closing of the American mind" (a characterization quite opposite than that proposed by Alan Bloom), this "patriot's toll." The price we pay to be a red-blooded, (White?), and true-blue American is the loss of our essential humanity, the loss of the freedom of thought - a mockery of the protections that the First Amendment purports to represent.


*Yea, yea - I know, I should talk. Who am I to write "shorter" anybody? Stuff it.

**Leaving aside the question as to whether any country should harbor such capability. Of course it is exacerbated when proliferation is a response, proliferation by anyone, but that is clearly not the terms of the debate where Iran - or any non-"ally" of the United States is concerned.

***Hey, back off. I like beer, too.

White Zombie

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