War, Wealth, Empire & The Obama Presidency

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May 1, 2009 · Posted in Commentary 


I am not a warmonger by nature. I never was in the military, except for a couple of military schools I was sent to as a kid. One of the schools, Urban Military Academy (now Brentwood Academy on Sunset Boulevard in a ritzy part of West Los Angeles), was for spoiled rich kids. The other, Mt. Lowe in Altadena, was tough and mean, run by a real Army sergeant, who was big into discipline. Most of the students were at best middle class – there because their parents were getting divorced, or they just wanted to get them housed somewhere else.

At Mt. Lowe, we had real war games, played on several acres of hot bush and trees and hills in the back of the school. We went on patrols, pounced on enemy positions and sometimes got a bit roughed up and afterward felt very tired. Our casualties were symbolic, but somehow seemed real.

Contrast this with Urban where I did the more genteel thing and rode horses, including one spirited bareback creature who threw me off. I took a hard fall and never rode without a saddle again.

During Vietnam, I got married and had a kid in part because it kept me out of the war. It wasn’t that I was turning the other cheek. Why should I? Hell, Christians aren’t big into turning the other cheek, either. That’s why they have such a bloody history as regards Jews and Moslems.

I would have signed up for World War II. I was a Jew. But I was not going to go to Vietnam and fight for Johnson’s and Nixon’s visions of American Empire. I didn’t want to die for some half-baked crusade against ethnic communists. Especially when Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Vietnamese, had so endeared himself to me by answering a question about whether he hated Americans this way: “How can I be against the country that produced Mark Twain?” he said.

I loved Mark Twain.

For me, Twain was the real soul of the country. I would have gone to jail before getting drafted for Vietnam. Mark Twain had something to do with that determination. Vietnam was a raw deal for those who were drafted. They came back broken men, and to a hostile majority who had never favored the war. It was tragic, but that is what it was. Again, the presidents and such had unleashed destructive forces on their own people, but what is new about that? Anybody who ever read Mark Twain would have seen it coming.

I learned a long time ago that the geopolitical games politicians play are deadly serious, and most of the time have little to do with me. And that’s where my doubts come in about President Obama. I understand his thinking and that scares me.

Military action against Afghanistan made sense. That’s in part where the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was cooked up. Of course we could have also attacked Saudi Arabia for the same reason.

But for me, the most telling moment came when the Taliban took Afghanistan over, rounded up thousands of the educated Afghan women, those who had been journalists and lawyers and doctors and such, put them in the largest sports stadium around, and slaughtered them. Same as the military had done in Chile and Argentina. The video of it was seared in my head.

But then the Taliban was a kind of blowback produced by the CIA when it was fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

For that matter, Osama Ben Laden was the same. Israel had something to do with creating Hamas. The American Empire encouraged the Islamic fundamentalists and then are surprised when it backfired.

Obviously Bush should have gone to Afghanistan right after 9/11, done a quick strike against Ben Laden, and split. If we got him we could have tried him and be done with it. It felt to me like they were protecting Ben Laden and all the other Saudis from the beginning.

Invading Iraq obviously had more to do with oil, profits, and some crusading Christian fundamentalism than anything else.

I’m not unmindful of the terrible quandary Obama has in Afghanistan now.

I know the world is a terribly complex place. I think I first began contemplating some of these things when I met two British legislators at my mother’s house in West Hampstead in London in the early ’70s.

One, Lady Muriel Turner, was a member of the House of Lords, appointed by Labor not because of her aristocratic birth but because she had distinguished herself as the chief spokesperson for the British labor movement for some years. The other was a man, whose name I forget right now, who was an elected labor member of Parliament, a centrist social democrat, which in this country would make him a wild left-wing Democrat, I suppose. He represented the district that then included the Jaguar factory.

He was also Jewish, so we talked about anti-Semitism in England, comparing it with America.

The essence of what he said was that the British don’t much cotton to Jews, but they have provided safe haven to them back as far as the 13th century, even before the Inquisition. Relatively speaking, Jews have prospered in England.

Class and wealth and religion are real. One night my mother took me to Boodles, the titled aristocrat and landowning class social club in London dating back to 1762. Our host was an Anglican minister who responded to my question about whether the club had any Jews by proudly showing me the signature of Mr. Marks of Marks and Spencer, the big department store.

He said this after we had walked into Boodles not by the front entrance but the servant’s entrance. This was because women were only allowed in by the servant’s entrance. My mom was one of the few women who had ever been a guest in the hallowed halls and inner sanctum of Boodles. Still, she, and we, had to enter by the quite dingy servant’s entrance.

The Anglican clergyman was proud of the fact that Boodles had one Jew, and that my mom was able to enter into the wood-paneled, second story Inner Sanctum, even if by the servant’s entrance. I don’t think he could have contemplated my disgust at the irony of it all.

The labor member of Parliament explained to me that he was wary about the British and their disdain for Jews. But he added that the British looked down their noses at most everyone else in the country, whether they are Jewish or Arab, African, Indians, Pakistanis, French or Vietnamese.

He long ago had learned that more important even than national and religious differences between peoples is class and finances. That’s why he was something of a socialist, albeit a moderate one.

I asked him what the Labor Party had been able to nationalize.

“Failing industries that you can’t do without, like shipping, railroads, medicine and steel. But if we had ever tried to nationalize ‘The City,’ there would have been civil war,” he said.

“The City” is London’s equivalent of New York’s “Wall Street.”

You see, he explained, those industries have to go to “The City” for their financing anyway. The City was willing to take the profit from these industries without having the problems of running them.

At the end of the first decade of the new Millennium, I’m not sure where The City and Wall Street stood, since they had gotten bailed out with taxpayer’s money. But I suspect that The City and Wall Street pretty much regard that money as theirs, not ours.

Anyway, Lady Muriel Turner had been appointed to the House of Lords by the Labor Party because of her role as the chief spokesperson for the British Trade movement. She also knew Tony Blair well, and the two were even friends, until she dared to vote against Blair’s war on the former Yugoslavia.

She tried to remind people that the Serbians, so hated by Blair and demonized as the enemy, were intense enemies of the Nazis, often times taking in Jewish families fleeing the Germans during World War II.

Lady Turner lived next door to my mother on Canfield Street. She was far from having an aristocratic background. She was most definitely not to the manner born. She was a Welsh woman, with all the requisite left wing credentials for the job, including true proletarian genes.

Anyway, Lady Turner knew Tony Blair well, and it wasn’t until she and one conservative member of the House of Lords stood up to Blair’s war in the former Yugoslavia, that he corralled her to the back seats.

Unlike Bush, Blair was not a stupid man, but he was a religious man, “a kind of Christian socialist,” she said. He may have regarded himself as a Christian socialist, but he had that certitude all Christians seem to have, that they have the moral authority to start wars whenever they want. Turner said that her erstwhile friend Blair was probably much more genuinely a religious man than the supposedly pious Mr. Bush.

Blair corralled Clinton into supporting his war in the former Yugoslavia, just as he joined Bush in the war to regain control of the oil in Iraq. There was strong historic precedence for this.

The Brits had created Iraq in the ’20s as a modern country for the same reason. To own its oil.

Turner’s attitude was that Blair was playing into the hands of the Germans in their Yugoslavian adventures. As the most powerful country in the European Union, she believed Germany wanted control of the land between them and Russia. Just as Hitler had done.

Karl Marx who remains the most astute critic of modern capitalism and imperialism insisted that the only real source of wealth is human labor. The ruling classes may have expropriated some of that wealth with their system of paper and electronic bank statements. But at heart, the banking system turned out to be a fraud. Always has been. What is real are the games of geopolitics.



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