Category Archives: Warfare

Headline of the day: Just as in Vietnam?

From the Guardian, a headline that mirrors the beginning of the escalation of American engagement in Vietnam a half-century ago. Next up, declarations that Washington can see the “light at the end of the tunnel.:

Kurdish fighters say US special forces have been fighting Isis for months

US denies peshmerga claims after Obama last year announced redeployment of 300 military advisers to Iraq, saying US combat troops would ‘not be fighting’

Dave Brown: David Cameron, Strangelovian

British editorial cartoonists have always been a bit more venturesome in their inclusion of classic film tropes in their work [previously], in part, we suspect, because Brits are still, as Americans once were, more attuned to the history of film.

Dave Brown’s latest work for The Independent depicts British Prime Minister David Cameron’s eager embrace of the bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq against ISIS:

BLOG Brown

The cartoon is also a pointed reference fo a brilliant 1963 film by director Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a brilliant satire of bellicose Cold War politics and the threat of imminent nuclear war weighing heavily on the minds of the Baby Boomer generation.

The film starred some of the greatest stars of the silver screen, including the brilliant Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, and Sterling Hayden. The film also features the screen debut of James Earl Jones and the first non-Western appearance by former rodeo clown Slim Pickens — in the iconic role portrayed in Brown’s cartoon as B-52 pilot Major T. J. “King” Kong, who is forced to manually rewire the controls to drop a hydrogen bomb on a Soviet missile complex.

And here it is:

And if you haven’t seen the film, by all means do!

ISIS and the U.S., legacy of a troubled history

Until 2003 Chris Hedges held one of the most prestigious jobs in American journalism, Mideast bureau chief for the New York Times, until he was reprimanded by the paper for speaking against the American invasion of Iraq at a college commencement in Rockford, Illinois.

These days he hosts Days of Revolt, a weekly interview series for Telesur English.

Today we’re posting a two-part discussion on the rise of ISIS and the long troubled history of imperial ambitions in the Middle East with Professor Sabah Alnasseri, a native of Basra, Iraq, who teaches Middle East politics at York University in Toronto.

And with that, the first episode:

Days of Revolt – ISIS, The New Israel

From the transcript:

HEDGES: So let’s begin with ISIS, which is historically an extremely important movement within the Middle East. The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which is named for the French and British diplomats that carved up the Middle East among the colonial–among the empire, essentially turning countries in the Middle East into protectorates, has only been changed twice. The first time was the Israeli independence movement, which rose up in Palestine, and now with ISIS, which controls an area roughly the size of Texas.

The mechanisms that were used to redraw the map in the Middle East are the same: the use of foreign money, the use of foreign fighters, the tactics of ethnic cleansing and terrorism, and this mythical vision, in the case of Israel, the re-creation of Judea and Samaria from the Bible, the land of Israel, and in the case of ISIS, the re-creation of the seventh century caliphate.

And these tactics have could prove quite effective. In both cases, in the case of Israel and in the case of ISIS, you could argue, especially with ISIS having roughly 20,000 foreign fighters, that these are forces that are as dependent on the areas outside the Middle East as within the Middle East. And I wondered if you could kind of address that phenomenon, this phenomenon that we are watching.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. I mean, you are right, because ISIS has a kind of settler colonialist form the way they occupy space, cleanse the space, plunder the resources.

HEDGES: Which is what–as Israel does.

ALNASSERI: Exactly, and carve out territory for itself.

But to understand the phenomenon of ISIS, we needed to contextualize it within the setbacks and counterrevolution against the Arab revolutions, the amount of violence, of intervention, in Libya, for instance, the war in Libya, the civil war in Syria, now the war also in Yemen, and–.

HEDGES: And Egypt. We can’t forget Egypt.

ALNASSERI: Exactly. We don’t forget Egypt. And the failure of this peaceful, nonviolent revolutions, this amount of violence, of counterrevolutionary violence, created this Frankenstein, this phenomenon. So you can say ISIS is a Hegelian-Fischer synthesis of two form of violence.

Now, what is so interesting about ISIS and why it is so attractive for many young, unemployed, mostly Arab fighters–most of the fighters, by the way, they come from Libya or Tunisia and so on, less from Europe, etc. It’s mostly from the Middle East. What attracted them to ISIS is that when these peaceful revolution failed, revolutions turn into kind of jihadism, that ISIS is much more effective in its leadership, organization, logistical structure, and its geologies, than all the other peaceful, nonviolent movements, mass movements.

And the second part:

Days of Revolt – The Revolutionary Age

From the transcript:

HEDGES: So I think what we want to focus on in this segment is the dynamics of revolutionary change in an age of globalism and neoliberalism, how it will look like revolutions in the past, and how it will look like something else. And I know this is something you have examined.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. I will start with the end of the Cold War and the breakdown of of the Soviet Union, because this world historical context is very important in understanding any kind of politics, revolutionary or otherwise.

Since the ‘90s, we observe the dominant political form [of] Europe, the United States, but also other parts of the world is populism. Before, at least until the ‘70s, political parties were organized around specific classes, articulated interests of classes, the social democracy for the working class, etc. But since the ‘90s, the dominant political form of the ruling classes is populism. And that’s not a coincidence with this neoliberal offensive, with half of the world open to be conquered by neoliberalism after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. There is a radical shift in the form of politics, articulation of interests, representation, etc. So what we see is that the majority of the population on a worldwide scale actually are excluded from the political system, are not represented. Their interests are not articulated.

So I believe that within this context–and that’s why the current revolutions are different than the historical one–that revolutions and revolt probably is the only political form available for the popular classes to introduce a radical change in the [crosstalk]

HEDGES: Well, I agree completely, and that is the thesis of my own book, Wages of Rebellion. But what about nationalism? I mean, nationalism still remains a powerful force.

ALNASSERI: Yes, yes and no, because nationalism now is embedded in an international and global context. So even nationalist movement, if they are not linked to a wider movement and solidarity and support, their prospective of success is almost zero. You can see this. Take the example of SYRIZA in Greece. SYRIZA, the first right approach was to say that you need a Europe-wide movement and solidarity in order to empower SYRIZA in Greece to deal with the European Central Bank, with the IMF, etc., and E.U. Commission, etc. So there’s a sense of embedding nationalist, or nationalist, say, movement within a wider context, a regional or international context. I think this is very important. It’s different than the old form of internationalism we knew in the 19th and 20th century, because the old form of internationalism was different in three instances. The first one, it was mostly European-centered, not international in this sense. The second point is it was mostly class-based. And third, all these revolt and revolution were organized by a political party with a strong leadership.

HEDGES: But that wasn’t true for the Communist Party. There was an internationalist element to that.

ALNASSERI: Yeah, but again, if you look at it historically, we’ll see mostly within Europe–there are some connection to other part of the world, but mostly it was within Europe, and I think that’s a big difference today. We have–you can call it the first international of the people. And it’s cross-class. It’s not nation- or nation states-centered, and it’s not articulated, organized by a specific political party.

Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Getrank: Coke was it

Yep, Americans who arrived in Berlin for the 1936 Olympics were greeted by a familiar brand and a slogan that mixed the familiar with the unfamiliar.

The two words normally following ein Volk and ein Reich [one people and one empire] were ein Fuhrer, but the folks at Coca Cola substituted the German for one drink, followed by the familiar “Coke is it.”

BLOG Nazi coke

It wasn’t the first time Coke played with symbolism near and dear to Nazis, although their 1925 use of the swastika as a key fob in the U.S. may owe more to the sigil’s use as a traditional good luck charm rather than to the Nazi Party, still a German fringe movement at the time:

BLOG Nazi Coke II

When the war began, German bottlers couldn’t import the coca and cola nuts needed to produce the brown beverage, so the company’s chemists came up with a substitute.

Earlier this year, on Fanta’s 75th anniversary, German television featured a commemorative ad, celebrating those “good old times” when Germany’s innovators created such a marvelous beverage.

The ad didn’t sit too well with countless Germans and countless others who lost parents, grandparents, spouses, and siblings during those “good old times,” and the ad was pulled and the requisite apology issued.

Still, major American corporations [including GM and IBM] and banks [including the one which George H.W. Bush’s father helped set up and profited from] made lots of money off the Third Reich. Indeed, it was IBM’s mechanical computers that enabled to Nazis to keep track of Jews in Germany and lands the Nazis conquered and send them on their ways to death camps, where more records were compiled by IBM’s Hollerith machines.

Headline of the day: Don’t you hate it when. . .

From the London Daily Mirror earlier this month but just brought to our attention:

Worrying footage shows nuclear warhead get rear-ended by its own armed escort on busy motorway

This ‘Bent Spear’ incident causes a nuclear drama as plans for smooth transportation of warhead go awry

This astonishing film shows the moment a nuclear weapon in transit is rear-ended by its own armed escort earning it the title of a “Bent Spear” incident.

According to reports the weapon of mass destruction was being transported on the back of a lorry surrounded by a convoy of heavily-armoured cars along a busy motorway in the United States.

Eyewitnesses say a number of helicopters were flying overhead as a police escort and the army attempted to transit the dangerous load near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

And here’s the video, from vlogger Paul Tedford:

Nuclear missile gets rear ended!

Program notes:

Have you ever seen a nuclear missile being transported in a convoy? Several helicopters in the air and federal marshals leading the way. The crazy thing is that the fed pulled over and was yelling and waving his hands that I can’t record this video! And then a truck rear ended the nuke!

Militarizing academia, a list and an omission

We begin with the latest edition of Days of Revolt, the new weekly broadcast series from Chris Hedges produced by The Real News Network for  Telesur English:

Days of Revolt – Militarizing Education

Program notes:

In this episode of Days of Revolt, host Chris Hedges discusses the militarization of higher education institutions with journalist Alexa O’Brien. They uncover the trail of money and influence from the national security state to college programs. Hedges and O’Brien identify the ways in which this apparatus has long-been in effect, and what it could mean for the future.

While we generally agree with her critique of the military’s increasing grasp on the military, we find one peculiar omission from the list of the 100 most militarized universities she published in VICE News.

Not on the list is the University of California, now headed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

Lest we forget, it was UC Berkeley’s own Robert Oppenheimer who headed the immense World War II scientific research program responsible for developing the atomic bomb. Berkeley is still involved in running Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratory, where new nuclear weapons are developed, and appoints three members to the board of Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the atomic bomb. And it was UC Berkeley’s John Yoo who provided the guiding legal advice justifying torture in the wake of 9/11.

The University of California also provided nearly half of the scientists of the Jason group, the secret, self-selected cabal of academics who provide research and advice to the Pentagon.

Among the Jasons’ “gifts” to humankind are the border patrolling drone and border-installed remote sensing devices, developed for the Vietnam War under the rubric of the Air-Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier [PDF].

A 2007 College Quarterly review of Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite, noted:

She was able to contact a number of Jasons and succeeded in interviewing thirty-six (published estimates of the total roster range from forty to about one hundred). Some refused to be interviewed. Some agreed only on condition of anonymity. Her book reveals that the $850 a day now paid to Jasons, while worthwhile, seems to be among the least of the motives for joining. More important is the sense of self-importance to be had from playing the part of a confident Washington insider. More likely still are altruistic, if naïve, beliefs that the Jasons make positive contributions to society by, if nothing else, exposing strategic errors or technological flaws in government plans and, of course, also solving real scientific problems in the bargain. They certainly have the skills to do so. Nobel laureates and giants of the intellectual community including Dyson, Hans Bethe, Steven Weinberg and the legendary Murray Gell-Mann have been Jasons. Too often, however, Finkbeiner concludes that their bargain is ultimately Faustian.

Jason has applied its collective braininess to such projects as the “electronic infiltration barrier” that did not, as it happens, protect South Vietnam from North Vietnam’s flow of troops (they tunnelled underground). Jason also worked out puzzles in adaptive optics, allowing telescopes to correct for atmospheric interference – information kept under wraps for a decade until the military found a use for it in Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”). Today, they may be providing advice on the occupation of Iraq; but, we won’t get the details on that soon, if ever.

The Jasons have also served as a model for other nations, as noted in a 10 November 2009 report in Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal:

The British government has recruited a group of academics to tackle tricky scientific problems related to defence, Nature has learned.

The programme is similar to a group known as the JASONs, which the US government has consulted on technical issues since the 1960s. “You hear a lot about the JASONs and how much credibility they have in the United States,” says Mark Welland, the UK Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser. Britain needs a similarly “fast-moving, free-floating entity”, he says.

Scientific advice is frequently sought in Britain, but on security-related issues the advice usually comes from inside the government. Scientists at government labs such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston are consulted on sensitive topics, in part because academic researchers lack the necessary security clearances.

Though the Pentagon created the group in 1958, it was only in 1971 that their existence became known to the public, thanks to the leak of the Pentagon Papers.

While the group’s membership remains a secret, some names surfaced in 1972, thanks to the release of the in-depth report on the group, authored by UC Berkeley Professor Charlie Schwartz and colleagues.

According to one published estimate, fully half of the Jasons have come from the University of California, primarily Berkeley.

The Federation of American Scientists maintains a database of declassified Jason reports.

So any way you look at it, the University of California belongs on any list of the nation’s most militarized universities.

Climate change linked to rising terrorism

Is climate change a critical driver of the rising tide of terrorism?

That’s the plausible contention of New York University geographer/sociologist Christian Parenti, professor in the school’s Global Liberal Studies Program and author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, and the subject of this interview by Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News Network:

The Pentagon and Bernie Sanders Agree: Terrorism Linked to Climate Change

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So Chris, is Bernie Sanders slightly daffy to link climate change and terrorism? I just want your quick response right there.

PARENTI: No, Bernie Sanders is not in error in that regard. And most of the U.S. defense establishment agrees with him. The quadrennial defense review makes an issue of climate change as a threat multiplier, as a dynamic that is going to increase all sorts of threats, including terrorism. There are numerous declassified reports from various branches of the military and from numerous militaries around the world that take climate change seriously as a driving cause of violence.

So it’s very real, and experts really across the political spectrum accept this. The question, then, becomes what do you do? You know, the classic rightist response is, well, then you have to build higher walls and you have to prepare for open-ended counterinsurgency on a global scale forever. And a more progressive response would be no, we have to, one, radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately, mitigate emissions, but also deal with adaptation. And provide technology and capital for people to cope with the new, extreme weather that is already happening.

DESVARIEUX: But I want to still talk about this issue, about linking climate change and terrorism, before we get to alternatives, because there are some experts–I have two authors from the libertarian Cato institute. They came out with a recent article from Huffington Post. They say these drought issues have more to do with serious history of bad water management policies and a population that has tripled in the past 35 years. Don’t they have a point in here, Christian? Don’t 300 percent more people create water scarcity issues?

PARENTI: Well, if there is also a drought. But the fact of the matter is Syria went through the worst recorded drought in terms of lack of precipitation. So Syria, between 2005-2010, was not getting enough rainfall. There’s also the precipitating issues–I wouldn’t blame population. I would blame, as I do in my book, neoliberalism. Free market economics totally undermine people’s ability to adapt to this extreme weather. When the state cuts back on agricultural extension, veterinary services, that means farmers whose crops fail due to drought have to leave the land and go to cities, and there they end up often struggling over state power, which is exactly what happened in Syria.

So the thing about climate change is that it doesn’t ever act in isolation to cause violence. It acts by exacerbating pre-existing crises. Crises that libertarians have, intellectuals like the ones you mentioned, have been important in creating, mainly the, the 30-year legacy of free market economic restructuring pushed by the United States and the Bretton Woods institution, the World Bank and the IMF, on the developing economies of the global south, which have mandated that in exchange for lifeline loans, state assets such as state companies, et cetera, must be sold off. [Inaud.] must be deregulated. State support for health and human services, et cetera, must be cut back. This is austerity, this is the neoliberal restructuring agenda. And it has created increased inequality and increased absolute poverty, which is an endemic crisis in many places.