Wait! Wait! What is that?
It’s like, It’s like this buzzing in my ear
It’ll be a Mosquito! … Well the Mosquitos are coming out this time of year.
Yeh, but they won’t be out for a couple of hours yet?
THE LATE HOWARD Zinn, in the essay Artists in Times of War —based on a speech he gave in the weeks after 9/11 and three days after the US and Britain began bombing Afghanistan in Oct 2001 —came up with a job description for those of us who regard ourselves as artists, whatever our particular field may be, pointing out that on the one hand:
The artist transcends the immediate. Transcends the here and now. Transcends the madness of the world. Transcends terrorism and war … taking us away from the moments of horror that we experience everyday.
On the other hand, he continued, being an artist does not transcend the fact that we are also citizens and human beings of the world, who “can and should do more … to transcend conventional wisdom, to transcend the word of the establishment, to transcend orthodoxy, to go beyond and escape what is handed down by the government or what is said in the media.”
On October 20th 2001 the US bombed the town of Tarinkot in Afghanistan killing 20 civilians including 9 children who died when the tractor and trailer they were fleeing on was targeted. Who knew that eleven-plus years on that the US and Britain would still be bombing Afghanistan, and conducting combat operations there, killing its civilians under the largely false pretences of a War on Terror. With a view to the projected US pull-out of Afghanistan, Ann Jones reports that: “Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to ‘push on’ Iran and China next. Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.” The ulterior motive of geo-strategic logic of US led wars makes Operation Enduring Freedom a twenty first century version of the Great Game.
As artists then, the first thing we can do is call war by its proper name. War is an exchange of means of inflicting injury and death, usually legitimized by fake rationale that hides the ulterior motives of some vested interests. Once in motion, war has a self –generating momentum to be and exist for its own sake. War, by its nature, necessarily ensures the deaths of civilians who want no part of that war. War is a misapropriation of that part of our human nature which leans towards co-operation and being part of a community or group. And as the bumper sticker says, war is terrorism with a bigger budget. According to the US Defense Department, the Afghan war, from October 7th 2001 to July 31, 2012 has cost the U.S. nearly $1.2 trillion.
At its most basic level it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that war is happening because the US is built to fight wars, and that “attack” is perceived as the best form of defense by war planners because attack creates the resentment that ensures the continuity of $600 billion defense budgets. Saying Obama’s military budget is down this year is like saying a cold winter in Washington means that global warming is not happening. The long-term trends in US military spending are up and ever on up–like the hockey stick graph of parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere–and not disconnectedly, marching to a similar time frame.
On January 3rd of this year, President Obama signed the Defense Budget for 2013 into law to the tune of $633 billion. Of that, $88.5 billion is allotted for the continuing war on Afghanistan. A further $528 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, and $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department, making up the rest of the annual projected military expenditure. That the budget is marginally lower than 2012 is no sign of real change, being the result of combat operations in Iraq winding down, as operations elsewhere fill the vacuum and sate the US war machine’s existential need to prosecute war.
The projected US draw-down in 2014 anticipates leaving at least 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan to conduct the proverbial “training and counter-terrorism” operations with Afghan National Security Force. The Pentagon would prefer to leave 25,000 troops, housed in the permanent bases which the US have built there, along with the US Embassy complex, which are still being expanded and developed.
Given the US’s uninterrupted record of military and CIA interventions since it increasingly assumed the mantle of Global Cop in the wake of World War Two from Britain, it is not rocket science to demonstrate that endless war is a deliberate US government policy objective. Writing in The Guardian of January 4th, the day after Obama signed the Defense Budget, Glen Greenwald comments that
There’s a good reason US officials are assuming the “War on Terror” will persist indefinitely: namely, their actions ensure that this occurs … (and) The polices adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade.
In other words the US government is already looking forward to and planning for the next ten years of endless war, and whilst that war will still be prosecuted under the fake rationale of the War on Terror–it was, is, and will increasingly be–war to protect the ability of corporations to exploit the planet in an era of intensifying competition for carbon energy, food and water resources.
As the Global Enforcer of the free market there is not always a linear connection between resources in one country and the need for the US to make war there; rather it often takes the form of a global Great Game designed to out-maneuver and out-think rivals, with the US operating a grand protection racket. Friendly states, as long as they remain friendly and offer the US strategic positioning in terms access to airspace and/or house US bases on the ground, get ‘military aid’ and favorable deals on buying US built weapons (think Saudi Arabia and Israel.)
Wavering states get US intimidation and let-this-be-a-lesson outright aggression, calculated to keep a local government on board (think Pakistan and Yemen.) And when a prior business partner turns bad and bites the hand that feeds, turning US weapons against its master, the total overwhelming force of war is applied to a whole society in the attempt to make an example of the rogue individual (think Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Gaddaffi in Libya, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.)
The National Security Directive 26, US Policy Toward the Persian Gulf dated October 2nd 1989, and signed by George H.W. Bush the father in his first year as President, began with the overview:
Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to US national security. The United States remains committed to defend its vital interests in the region, if necessary and appropriate through the use of US military force, against the Soviet Union or any other regional power with interests inimical to our own. The United States remains committed to support the individual and collective self-defense of friendly countries in the area to enable them to play a more active role in their own defense and thereby reduce the necessity for unilateral military intervention. (my emphasis)
Everything that has happened in the Middle East and South Central Asia since then demonstrates this perceived necessity for US military intervention. According to prevailing circumstances and local conditions, whether it has been proxy war conducted by friendly states or direct US involvement, the necessity of military intervention has remained a priority for US government strategists to deter rivals and make the world a safe place for western corporations to do business.
NSD 26 remained secret for ten years and parts of it still remain classified. Whilst on paper this was a reiteration of US bottom line policy toward the Persian Gulf that had existed since the 1940’s, the emerging circumstances of the 1990’s meant that George H.W. Bush could and would act on this policy in a way that his predecessors were unable to do. When the Berlin Wall fell and communism collapsed in Eastern Europe in 1989, and with the specter of Vietnam receding, instead of looking to a “Peace Dividend,” President Bush the Elder and his Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ramped up the US capacity for endless war.
Not only is the prosecution of war by the US a multi-billion-dollar transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the US corporations who make weapons systems, but the arming of key friendly states is also a huge industry. As Thom Shanker reported in the New York Times last year: “Weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions, according to a new study for Congress … total(ing) $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.”
For these financial reasons alone the US would likely continue to prosecute war, but because of the geo-strategic significance of Afghanistan at the crossroads of Asia, bordering Iran to the west and Pakistan to the south and east, there is no question that the US, if allowed, will continue to instigate and prosecute war. The NSD 26 mission remains, albeit modified for twenty first century geo-politics, to ensure that oil from the Middle East flows mostly westwards to Europe, rather than mostly eastwards from Iraq and Iran through Pakistan to China.
Bush the Father conducted a practice turkey-shoot in Panama in December 1989 taking out Manuel Noriega, as a prelude to an all out war against Iraq and the double-crossing Saddam Hussein in January 1991. The net result of the first Gulf War was to re-establish the US as Global Enforcer after Vietnam, and to put permanent US military bases on the ground in the wider Gulf Region, and notably in Saudi Arabia. “Permanent” means good for at least ten years, but like a game of chess, the bases can and do rotate from one county to the next as local conditions determine.
The essential mission of keeping the US military boot-print of Baseworld somewhere, anywhere on the ground in “the arena,” is fulfilled. In other words as long as oil powers the planet; as long as Iran and Iraq keep swapping roles as the bogeyman; and as long as China and a possibly resurgent Russia remain key rivals, then the US will remain in the Middle East and South Central Asia.
As a cover story for geo-strategic war, the War on Terror is supremely more successful than the War on Drugs. The US is well practiced in creating the conditions to breed terrorists to ensure the war remains endless. Greenwald goes on, with highly unusual clarity for the mainstream media, to say that:
The US has long known, and its own studies have emphatically concluded, that “terrorism” is motivated not by a “hatred of our freedoms” but by US policy and aggression in the Muslim world. This causal connection is not news to the US government. Despite this – or, more accurately, because of it – they continue with these policies. (my emphasis)
The CIA armed and bankrolled the likes of Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen in the 1980’s in their fight against Soviet Union-occupied Afghanistan. In the 1990’s Bin Laden’s often stated gripe was that his native Saudi Arabian rulers allowed US bases in his sacred country during and following the first Gulf War, and with the bombing of US embassies in Africa in the late 1990’s US war planners knew that bin Laden had turned rogue. Whether US intelligence had specific warnings or not in advance of bin Laden’s 9/11 plans, they knew of his intentions to continue to attack the US in some form prior to 9/11, if not of his ability to do so directly on US soil. They knew that as a catalyst for legitimizing endless war as the tool of business, there is nothing more valuable to US planners than a friend turned bad. It did not matter that none of the 9/11 hijackers came from either Afghanistan or Iraq. And as the US-led wars in the wake of 9/11 have clearly demonstrated, US war planners have been seamlessly acting on a premise of the necessity of military intervention through the Bush and Obama years.
In other words the regular sense of outrage and surprise exhibited by US government officials that some of the people of an occupied country would chose to fight to oppose that occupation is a smart lie. Furthermore, when the occupation extends to the errant or casual killing of that country’s citizens by US bombs and drones, the intended stoking up of local resentment ensures more locals fight back, giving war its self-fulfilling momentum to exist and continue. As long as the US bombs civilian weddings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, stoking the fires of resentment, it remains a quid pro quo that some local people will choose to fight back, and a select few will become the bin Ladens of tomorrow.
Where does that leave us, the artists, in a time of war? There are 86,000 US troops and 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan along with smaller contingents from other nations. Were there 100,000 troops from foreign countries stationed here in the US —with the consent of our government but not that of the people— and were they deployed in combat missions against US insurgent nationals, would we then know about living in a state of war?
In the same way that anarchists have been targeted for raids by the FBI in the wake of Occupy demonstrations in Portland OR, Seattle WA and elsewhere, I would probably find myself on that list of insurgents, and we would be seeing an unaccountable drone war against US citizens. We would fully understand what Enduring Freedom really means, because as part of that war we would have to endure the complete lack of freedom which comes from bombing strikes and drone strikes regularly hitting our civilian homes and killing our families and friends. In other words, we would know war first hand.
As we have increasingly done in recent years we will continue to feel the war in the ever-increasing costs we have to pay to the middlemen of the Health Insurance racket, and we will feel it in the dwindling education budgets of US schools. But most of us will never smell the cordite or see the daily death that our tax dollars buys.
Financing the overriding long-term mission of the US military to be the global cop in service of making the world a safe place for corporations to do business, is paid for not least by the 47% of us who live near or below the poverty line.
As I have discussed here before at The Weeklings, in evolutionary terms the human condition as we know it arises in no small part from multi-level selection that pits individual selfishness against altruistic loyalty to the community. In deep historical terms a closely bonded group was essential to human survival because one group of Hunter-Gatherers would be pitted against another in competition for food resources. What this actually meant in terms of warfare is that, like chimpanzees, three or more guys from one tribe would sneak up on a lone member of another tribe, and beat him to death adding to the survival chances of the aggressors and their offspring.
With the later emergence of religion, in part as adaptive mechanism for bonding the group, each group had its own creation myth that unified the group by elevating them to the status of the chosen people of the Gods. The better the theological glue a particular group had, the better it was likely to be in mobilizing its members for war, in terms of unity and researching the technology of killing, and consequently the more likely that group was to survive in the more recognizable wars where whole groups attacked whole other groups.
The US today combines these two approaches to warfare, picking on the weak and using unusually excessive force —unleashing more tonnage of bombs than were dropped in the whole of World War Two in its ‘shock and awe’ bombing of Iraq— and in the way the US regularly outspends the next top ten military spending countries in the prosecution of its global policing operations. And, in having a rationale so well tuned for the making of war, the US continues to get away with it.
As humans beings and artists most of us do not feel the need to go out and club to death members of potentially rival groups and most of us do not go and join the military, but with government backing and the corporately-owned media on-message, the war planners malign and misappropriate our natural leanings towards community group identity, using it as a recruiting tool to fight wars that are not of our choosing. It is a false argument to say that because the US and Britain fight the war on terror abroad that we are generally spared attacks on home soil. If the US and Britain did not invade the air space and land masses of other countries, by the studies of their own research groups, they would not stir up the same resentments that send some young Muslim men flocking to the causes of al Qaida or the Taliban et al.
As human beings, we are for the time being collectively clever enough to produce sufficient food and shelter to have outgrown our need to fight wars to survive. In stark contrast those non-human entities, perversely accorded the rights of humans, i.e. corporations, rely for their survival on the continued fighting of wars.
The United States is big and wide and beautiful and has lots of cool stuff, and the problem as an artist or as a human being is that it is easy to forget that this country runs on a war economy and on a perpetual war footing. It is easy precisely because most of us remain ever-insulated from the direct effects of war and are many times removed from it intellectually, by the politics of illusion.
Growing up in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century through the present and living in the US, most of us don’t experience war first hand in terms of being sent into battle. Similarly, acts of war in the form of terrorist attacks on native soil remain the rare exception. On most days, if we glance at the media at all, we would not see much evidence of the fact that the US, Britain, and others have been fighting war in Afghanistan for eleven years and counting.
If, like me, you live in the mountains, then the roar of US fighter planes on training missions is a regular occurrence. Traveling as they do, faster than the speed of sound, they trick our senses and are not always easy to spot as they dart and turn high in the sky using local farms and homes as virtual target practice. On rare occasions a fighter plane will drop so low over the main street of town that you can see the guy in the cockpit, and a split second flash of his hyper-expensive ride, and be reminded that this country functions on an economy built for making war. The Lockheed Martin F-16, for instance, currently retails at around $47 million each.
If you live near, or drive by, one of the military super-base here in the US, such as Joint-Base Lewis McChord, 55 miles south of Seattle and 20 miles east of Olympia, housing 40,000 active service personnel, 15,000 civilians and accommodating 60,000 family members on base and in the surrounding area, then you know this country is built for war.
If you live near one of the US overseas bases in any of 150 countries around the world, then you know that the US is built for war. Living in Leeds, Yorkshire, England for 26 years, the closest US base was a mere 20 miles away. It is called RAF Menwith Hill. The RAF stands for Royal Air Force, which is the British Air Force, but the base is staffed by Americans and flies the Stars and Stripes, has July 4th celebrations and concurrent demonstrations outside the perimeter fence, with British police keeping protesters off the base. The base is run by the US National Security Agency (NSA), as part of the US ‘s military global positioning system and eavesdropping phone tap, e-mail tap system.
When the US bombs Kandahar or Baghdad, or more recently sends drones into Pakistani air-space, Menwith Hill is involved. If you happen to be in the Yorkshire countryside above Harrogate and are looking at the hiker tourist Ordinance Survey maps, don’t look for Menwith Hill; it is not marked on the maps. It is a secret base, which you cannot miss if you happen to be driving along the B6451 road on account of its huge and distinctive ‘golf ball’ radomes housing radar dishes, and its multiple razor wire perimeter fences. Go to Menwith Hill and you know the US, and Britain, is built for war.
My parents were children during World War Two, but I have relatives who were killed in that war, relatives who suffered post-traumatic stress after that war, and relatives who committed suicide after that war, resisting the geo-strategic ambitions of Hitler. I have never had any inclination to join the military and as an artist and human being have been protesting wars since Margaret Thatcher went to war with Argentina in 1982. As a person my opposition to war is in my bones but the sheer monotonous relentlessness with which the US and Britain instigate and prosecute war today makes it difficult as an artist to maintain the expression of my opposition when it seems to have little or no effect. On balance I still protest anyway.
My nephew toyed with the idea of joining the Army, but was dissuaded by his parents. I hope that my own children, when the time comes, do not lean towards military service. When they started Junior High back in September last year we had to sign a waiver excusing them from presentations (sowing the seed of recruitment drives) regularly given by US military personnel in schools. War is never as far away as we think. Some of my cousins’ children in England are in the armed forces, and one just received his call up to go to Afghanistan on Valentine’s Day 2013. War is never as far away as we are led to believe.
As artists, part of our job is to confront our own detachment from the national appetite for war. It is our job to transcend the establishment orthodoxy which gauges exactly how far we can be pushed, how much we will accept, and how easily we can be distracted–not only from protesting such wars–but even acknowledging they exist.
I suppose it could have been a mosquito. Maybe it’s tinnitus?
It’s like this ringing in my ear
No wait a minute
It’s someone’s alarm going off
Oh. Jeez. It’s my cell phone
Hi! Yeh, no I was just talking to the neighbors. I’m fine. Yeh It’s all good
Thanks for checking in. Mmmm! Yeh. I’ll see you later.
It’s still there though. It’s like dust on the needle. White noise.
But there’s this constant humming … I just have to ignore it
or it’s gonna drive me crazy … droning on and on.
Hey it sounds like music now
But way down in the mix
And it’s like it’s not quite in tune
Now somebody’s laughing …
Ya Ya Ya Ya
What’s the joke pal?
Sounds like a party?
Yeh it’s a party alright
But it’s not July. No!
You can smell the barbeque though
And the kids are playing football,
But where are the goalposts?
Hey! Who moved the goalposts?
Ohh! I can’t see now … I need my glasses. Aaagghhh! They’re all fogged up. Must be the smoke from the barbecue.
Wait a minute. Wait a minute It’s clearing, coming into focus.
Holy Crap! There’s a war going on …
In both speakers … Two wars!
Wars? Schmores more like. Hey who brought the marshmallows?
Aaagh! It’s all fogged up again now. It’s like a secret track. Way down in the mix.
Can I turn it up?
No you’d blow the speakers
We borrowed the set-up for the Barbecue You know, I already had to wipe the ketchup off there that the kids spilled.
Nah! Well you wouldn’t put your hand in a hornet’s nest, would you?
No I guess not. What was that?
Just a wasp? On second thoughts it was probably a mosquito.
Just a zither-hither … like a three eights forgotten dream
Hey! What’s that you got on your phone?
It’s a new app. Well it’s a new version of an old app.
What does it do?
You know. It like takes the temperature.
It‘s like how big is our appetite for crap and shit!
See look … we’re good. War down in the mix. No that’s a typo Computers? Don’t you hate how they can’t spell? There we go. It’s normal now… It’s all good.
Situation normal … nothing doing I guess.
Just a bit of white noise … dust on the needle Way down in the mix Nothing to phone home about.