Dedicated to the felicitous memory of
Chalmers Johnson 1931-2010
Chalmers Johnson 1931-2010
Some time ago one of my former MBA classmates, confused by positions I had taken on some issues (because those stances didn't fit into neat partisan boxes), had asked, “but aren’t you a ‘crunchy arch-paleo-conservative?’” I laughed, as I realized how incomprehensible that label may be, especially in a world dominated by blowhards like Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher, and Bill O’Reilly. T.S. Eliot once famously defined himself as a “royalist, classicist, and anglo-Catholic.” Simplicity is best when trying to describe an overarching philosophy.
This month we also had the Midterm elections, in which the so-called "Tea Party" was responsible for energizing voters. When friends asked if I was happy because "conservatives" won, I realized that most people still think of "conservatives" as a large, amorphous, indistinguishable-in-its-parts blob.
So rather than describe an ideology (which conservatism is not) or a system of beliefs (which conservatism is not), I propose to look at two particular current issues through my lens, which I purport to call a “conservative” one. As I do so I will explain why such positions are conservative. To save a whole lot of time at the outset, I should mention that having a show on, or being featured on, Fox News is not necessarily a sign of conservative bona fides. It’s simply a sign that you’re probably a Republican, which for decades has meant: 1) collusion with big business to the detriment of small business, 2) warmongering, 3) bad foreign policy, 4) bad monetary policy, and much, much more in the way of harmful tyranny.
Jingoism and the American War Machine
While I was at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California, I heard a great many things in the 13 weeks that culminated in my earning forever the title “United States Marine.” But perhaps the quote that has stayed with me the longest came from one of my professors during a military history class: “A true warrior prays for peace but trains for war.” Conservatives are antiwar by disposition because they know what horrible wreckage it makes of communities and people; but, when brought to a war, conservatives’ antiwar sentiments are not an intellectual pacifism. Conservatives seek to know whether a war is just before engaging in it.
Before I speak about the wars that Americans are most recently acquainted with, our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is important to look back to where American imperialism began: the Monroe Doctrine.
This staple of US history tests was an assertion made by a very young country that an entire hemisphere was under its guardianship. Yet, how often the Europeans laughed at the hubristic assertion in its nascent days, they have lived to see that Monroe Doctrine metastasize with an addition of a Roosevelt Corollary, a “war to make the world safe for democracy,” and the non-disputable notion of American exceptionalism and policing of the world cheered on by the simians at the Project for a New American Century.
The idea of using bayonets to “make” the world “safe” for “democracy” was last effectively challenged between 1861-1865, in the War for Southern Independence. During this time the last stand of the American who believed in home, family, states’ rights, and tradition, was made. They stood against the collusion of Big Government and Big Business, encouraged by (surprise!) a Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, and they stood for the constitutionally guaranteed right of secession. The South painfully learned the lesson which America would later impart to other regions as “benighted” as the South: “if we disagree with you, and you have assets we want, we will invade you, loot you, and lamely try to convert you, and usually fail; we will afterward give up and go home.” When the South could hold out no longer, and had to learn to love Big Brother, the Old Republic died.
Since that time, America has, with few exceptions, often unthinkingly entered wars that have only caused more problems. World War I, which would have finally ended on its own exhausted terms (like the American War at Appomattox) rather than the triumphant revanchism when we went “over there” and tipped the scales in favor of the “Allies,” determined to see “good” and “evil” in an utter mess that Europe had gotten herself into and that we had no part intervening in. To this day the vast majority of Americans don’t know that the reason the Lusitania sunk so spectacularly was because it was carrying munitions and those ignited when the torpedo hit the hull (Never mind that carrying munitions de facto made it not a civilian ship and hence a legitimate target on the open seas).
Our ill-timed intervention in the “Great War” led to a horrific guilt laid on the backs and hearts of Germans, who were only too happy to devote themselves to a man who celebrated them and their kultur and told them they weren’t trash and weren’t solely responsible for the greatest war ever fought on Europe’s soil. No Versailles means no Hitler, and that simple conclusion was something I realized as a 17-year old in AP US History class.
But what about World War II? Surely that was just? Perhaps, but can we not see that it only occurred because of how we mismanaged the peace of World War I? This is to say nothing of the horrific murder of innocent Japanese civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These atrocities were committed by the “indispensible nation” and were rivaled only by the bombings of Dresden, Tokyo, and London. The end of WWII provided the excuse and odd mandate for Alfred Thayer Mahan’s wildest dreams to come true: a global empire of bases to buttress sea power and global military dominance that has its current expression in what Donald Rumsfeld articulated as a “lilly-pad base” strategy.
Insertion of troops in Japan and later Korea continued to perpetrate the notion that America, the only nation who took up arms to “help people” had any business having troops in Asia. We would continue to not learn this lesson in Vietnam. Andrew Bacevich, in his well-written Washington Rules, thoughtfully laments that perhaps the greatest tragedy of Vietnam is that we learned absolutely nothing from it.
The military industrial complex, so named by a former Supreme Allied commander (who knew a thing or two about the military, perhaps), once it had experienced the exorbitant benefits of war, would never again settle for the measly dividend of peace. New wars and new enemies would fuel new weapons and new money for budgets, black and otherwise. This would eventually have outgrowths in the horrid revolving door between both military contractors and defense personnel and people who are supposed to oversee and regulate the relationship between the same: a model which has been copied by the agro-industrial and medical-industrial complexes.
Understanding America’s misconceived Adventures Abroad in this broader context, to say nothing of the secret wars of the CIA which have caused still-coming blowback, helps us to understand why Gulf Wars I and II and Afghanistan had to happen.
In none of these wars was America’s national security threatened. Indeed, like the brutal takeovers of Hawaii and Guatemala in years gone by, what was at stake was powerful business interests, never the sentiments or vital interests of the native peoples. In the most recent wars America has been engaged in, we have followed the Eisenhower Doctrine of securing an uninterrupted flow of oil as vital to our national security.
This was even more distressing as we commemorated the 9th anniversary of 9/11 this year. Iraq did not attack us on 9/11. Afghanistan did not attack us on 9/11. Even if you believe the government conspiracy theory that is articulated in the 9/11 Commission Report (a document which, like the Patriot Act, most Americans have no real knowledge of), it is humorous to consider that the Taliban, funded by and supported by former CIA asset Osama bin Laden, was given its strongest growth during the US-funded radicalization of the mujahedeen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and is today supported by the Pakistani ISI, who, of course, receives money from us through our aid to Pakistan: an aid package masquerading as bets against “terrorism.” Irony is supposed to be funny, though darkly at times, and we are told that America, the soi-distante “Exceptional Nation” will triumph where the British and the Soviets failed on the border of a nuclear Pakistan. Not bloody likely.
We will lose the war in Afghanistan and its consequences will bleed into the failed state that Iraq is destined to become, even as President Obama, in Nixon-esque fashion, finally gets us out of something he was elected to end.
In the meantime, America’s reputation continues to suffer under President Obama, who has continued to let the NSA and CIA run wild, has tacitly sanctioned the use of torture and secret prisons, to say nothing of the status quo continuance of the mishandling of North Korea and the never-ending treatment of Japan as a client state in military matters, directly contravening the will and desires of the majority of the Japanese people. So much for democracy.
Conservatives believe that peace and security follow the ancient axiom that charity begins at home. What matters are small, local communities that together form a nation, and usually, a people. America today is neither a nation nor a people, so it was with surprise to everyone that Congress responded to the first bailout bill by defeating it, in response to commonsense Americans jamming congressional phone lines with threats.
The talking heads who got America into the financial mess in the first place by absurd suggestions (Alan Greenspan’s stupid encouragement of home equity loans, the idea that you should transform an asset into a liability so that you can buy more consumables), encouraged by government backing of private initiatives (the eventual Fannie/Freddie bailout and the complete asleep-at-the-switch behavior of the ratings companies like Moody’s, the banks, and the charlatans at the SEC, which behaved in typical governmental fashion when, warned of a certain Bernie Madoff, chose the path of ignorance. This governmental trend of ignoring actionable, backed intelligence shows no signs of abating. Witness the Christmas 2009 underwear bomber’s father’s warnings, or numerous FBI and CIA officials warning of 9/11, best exemplified in President Bush’s Presidential Daily Brief of August 2001, entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike in US.”) were shocked, shocked that Americans were against giving wheelbarrows of cash to banksters.
Yet, the bailout proceeded. The banks, protected in law since the deeply harmful and pernicious Federal Reserve Act of 1913, and emboldened by President Clinton’s Republican-backed repeal of Glass-Steagall, get to socialize risk while privatizing profit. Just like our war policies, which socialize harm and privatize profit for Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, KBR, Halliburton, and Blackwater.
The bailout continued into a new and trendy Keynesianism that believed that printing paper money and giving it away to the states would solve everything, and 5 minutes of watching any cable news channel will tell you that we will have “recovered” as a nation the minute our drunken orgy of spending restarts by indicating greater amounts of purchases of Nintendo Wiis or Apple iPads, or other similar non-contributors to our economy or culture (I’ve often told my students that the engraving “designed in California” on the back of their iPods is a psychological consolation prize because “made in China, at the expense of 250,000 American jobs” didn’t sound so great).
As long as Americans believe “always low prices” to be more important than the Sermon on the Mount, we will be subject to “free markets” where Americans think of themselves as consumers first and as members of a community dead last. This of course leads to the death of communities and the bankruptcy of the consumer.
The “wisdom” of the free market has irresistibly led to the almost complete end of American manufacturing. Americans have become the biggest debtor nation not just because we irresponsibly spend billions of dollars on insanely stupid militaristic imperial overreach, ignoring the lessons of history that all empires eventually fall, but because every minute of every day of every hour we buy goods from other countries. Those countries then use that money to build infrastructure while we merely consume most of the products we buy while finding ourselves on an out-of-control classic death spiral in manufacturing. Ever the “exception” America sets out to be a great nation while manufacturing nothing.
Government can change laws but it cannot change culture. People and religion change culture. Anyone who knows history knows that people can be temporarily distracted by celebrity and flash for a while (President Kennedy and the current man in the Oval, for example) but over time people are moved by the Permanent Things.
“I agree with a lot of the things you say, Stephen,” said one of my former students over dinner recently. “But it isn’t practical.” America is in the final stages of many different terminal diseases. Extreme times call for extreme measures, and here are a few (not all) extreme measures we can take as a country and a few common-sense measures we can take as individuals.
1. Withdraw from Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Korea, and Japan over the next two years and close the majority of our 700 bases and secret prisons worldwide. Spend money retraining our to-be-laid-off men and women in uniform in critical areas of need in our economy (we are still in a position to lead the "green" revolution). We can use the money from the obscenely bloated $770 Billion defense budget.
2. Stop foreign aid to all countries. This paternalistic policy has a lot more to do with political control than humanitarian concerns, as it effectively cripples the organic economic growth of developing countries.
1. End the Federal Reserve, but only after a comprehensive audit that illustrates the depths of deceit this private cabal has subjected the entire country to since its evil conception on (appropriately named) Jekyll Island.
2. Seal our borders and stop being a release valve for a corrupt Mexican government. The subsequent political pressure buildup should cause a serious revolution that deals with the real problems in that country instead of making those problems now the problems of two countries.
3. End governmental regulation of things best handled by people, not governments. Government doesn’t educate people, people do. End the Department of Education.
1. Buy from local merchants whenever possible, even if it means you pay slightly, or a lot, more. I understand that many things are bought online, but try to keep a community together, or when hard times hit, those national chains not anchored to your place will leave. Where will be your always low prices then?
2. Buy your food locally and not from agribusiness, be it from a farmers’ market or from a small local supermarket. Pay more for your food, and eat less. We’re an obese nation because we can’t stop stuffing our fat faces.
3. Put together a plan to be completely debt-free, have a savings account, have a few weeks’ supply of food and water in case of an emergency, and have some items of fungible value, be it gold or silver jewelry or coins, or even, as Kirkpatrick Sale recently sensibly suggested to me, bullets, to sell and trade should a catastrophic situation, God forbid, befall us.
At the end of the day, conservatives resist “change” because we know it probably won’t work anyway (6,000 years of civilization means a lot of people have tried things already) and because we prefer the devil we know to the one we don’t. We resist striving towards Babel-like-heaven-on-earth brave new worlds because we know such strivings to be vain in every sense of the word. We know we are fallen human beings, and imperfect until He perfects us, we are content to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, looking to our God, families, local communities, and nation first, and everyone and everything else after that.