[Photo: Ruined homes in the U.S. battle in Falluja, Iraq. Christian Peacemaker Teams, Pressenza,]
By Mahboob Khawaja, PhD
War has always been a brutal devastation of life and land. That is what war is and only one earthly species engages in war – humans. Variations on “Truth is the first casualty of war” is attributed to a handful of people, but it appears that Samuel Johnson was the first as the following quote was found in The Idler of 1748: ‘Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.’ (Guardian) Why lie? Because the people would neither support nor fight in a war for the real purpose – the desires of those with power. All of this is to make note that the people (we, the supposed lessers in the broader scheme of things) know the real costs of war. However, we are lied to because the “leaders”, and those whose interests are served, cannot carry on these atrocities without us because they damn well don’t want to do their own dirty work.
Do we need to get out of our heads and into our hearts? It seems to me that we humans are having some serious mental issues and that we need to step back, take a breath, and listen a minute. Listen to our breath, the breath of the person next to us, the breath of the Earth in the sigh of the wind.
The truth is that “over there” has never been that far away and the impacts of events are always global – like a stone thrown into a lake. We can see the ripples, but even after we can’t see them with the naked eye they travel onward until they hit an obstacle (the shore, a rock, a floating log) and then they change course. But there are also the unseen consequences of that stone – the fish hit in the ribs from nowhere, or the rising water level from the water displacement. I remember reading about the birds in Britain that were disrupted by the nuclear tests in the Pacific. It was presumed that the massive air displacement of the explosions that were thousands of miles away was the cause of their distress. The same is true of whales reacting to ocean explosions.
So animals react to these things. Big deal. It has nothing to do with us. Really? What about the changes we can’t see, like the damage being done at the cellular level? There is now nuclear debris (with various degrees of radioactivity) everywhere on our home (and in it). Tactical nukes still disperse nuclear material, and nuclear plants still pose a global threat i.e. the Fukushima plant that was damaged by an earthquake. The damage caused by the broad range of loose nuclear debris is not only hidden (as in unseen) it is deliberately hidden. There are these scarce reports of environmental toxins (including radioactive materials) found in polar bears – largely from their food sources. Toxins contained throughout the food chain concentrate as they move up the chain. Just logically, what is at the top of the food chain? Supposedly humans. That means that problems anywhere in the food chain are in us… and have multiple effects. Of course, there are all kinds of incentives to distract us from simple biology to the complex as we go on the hunt for the reasons we are having health problems, and why children are getting diseases once thought contained to (older) adults.
Why is it we can believe in certain things we can’t see – like angels, God, evil spirits, and vampires – but not believe in other things we can’t see – like viruses, air pollution, and brain-damaging short waves? And then not believe in things that we can see like environmental destruction, and over-development, or high housing costs and the number of people living on the streets? I’d say that inquiring minds want to know, but there seem to be fewer and fewer of those around.
Between what we choose not to know (or think about) to conceptual ploys to shape our perceptions and attitudes, we lose sight of things right in front of us. Sometimes I think we are more conceptually limited than we want to admit. We can cry over the loss of one child – or maybe a few – but thousands of children are just a human reality we cannot hold in our heads. How high can we meaningfully count? I doubt that most of us can grasp the wealth held by the top 1%. What do our brains do with the fact that the top 1% in the U.S. held $45.9 TRILLION at the end of 2021? What is a trillion, or a billion, or for that matter a million? Can we really think past a few and many? I think not, and so we come up with mental shortcuts that blind us further like those who have worth and those who do not, and sadly that means that ultimately we are all worth less in the big scheme of things – and it seems like all the schemes are big these days.
“The irresolvable dilemma facing Western leaders is that this is a no-win situation. How can they militarily defeat Russia, when it possesses 6,000 nuclear warheads and its military doctrine explicitly states that it will use them before it will accept an existential military defeat?”
Neither side is willing to let go of its commitment: to protect, to expand, a piece of the whole planet, no matter what the cost. The game of conquest — the game of war, and all that comes with it, e.g., the dehumanization of most of humanity, and the indifference to its toll on the planet itself — has been going on for thousands of years. It’s our “history.” Indeed, history is taught from war to war to war.
Wars — who wins, who loses — are the building blocks of who we are, and they have managed to consume the various counter-philosophies that crop up, such as religious belief in love and interconnectedness, and turn them into allies. Love thy enemy? Nah, that’s silly. Love isn’t possible until you defeat the devil. And, oh yeah, violence is morally neutral, as per St. Augustine and the “just war theory” he came up with sixteen hundred years ago (as I wrote about last week). This made things so convenient for would-be conquerors.
And that philosophy has hardened into reality: We’re number one! Our empire is better than yours! And humanity’s weaponry — its ability to fight and kill — has advanced, from clubs to spears to guns to . . . uh, nukes.
Slight problem! Nuclear weapons clarify a truth we have previously been able to ignore: The consequences of war and dehumanization always, always, always come home. There are no “nations,” except in our imagi-nations.
So are we stuck with all this power we’ve aligned against ourselves in defense of a falsehood? That seems to be the case, as the war in Ukraine continues and escalates, pushing itself (and all of us) closer to Armageddon. Much of the world is aware of the danger of this falsehood; we even have a global organization, the United Nations, that keeps trying to unite the world, but it has no power to force unity (or sanity) on the planet. The fate of all of us seems to be in the hands of a few leaders who actually possess nuclear weapons, and will use them if “necessary.”
And sometimes I fear the worst: that the only way such leaders will lose their power — to develop and maybe use their nukes — is for one or several of them too, oh my God, launch a nuclear war. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re a split-second decision away from such an occurrence. Seemingly, in the wake of such a war — if human life has survived and is able to begin rebuilding civilization — sanity and a sense of global wholeness might find their way to the core of the human social structure; and our collective thinking, having no other choice, will finally see beyond war and war preparation.
Let me drop the narrative at this point. I have no idea what’s going to happen, let alone what’s going to happen “next.” I can only reach into the depths of my soul and begin praying, you might say, to every God on this planet. Oh Lords, let humanity grow up before it kills itself.
And as I pray, who shows up but the French philosopher and political activist Simone Weil, who died in 1943, two years before the nuclear age birthed itself, but who knew something was deeply wrong? And of course, much was already wrong. The Nazis controlled her country. She was able to flee France with her parents, but she died at age 34, apparently of a combination of tuberculosis and self-starvation.
But what she left behind in her writing is a precious pearl of awareness. Is it too late? Here’s where I drop to my knees.
“Weil,” wrote Christy Wampole in a New York Times op-ed three years ago, “saw in her historical moment a loss of a sense of scale, a creeping ineptitude in judgment and communication and, ultimately, a forfeiture of rational thought. She observed how political platforms being built upon words like ‘roots’ or ‘homeland’ could use more abstractions — like ‘the foreigner,’ ‘the immigrant,’ ‘the minority’ and ‘the refugee’ — to turn flesh-and-blood individuals into targets.”
No human being is an abstraction! Is this where the rebuilding starts?
And then a song started playing in my head, in my soul. The song is “Deportee,” written and sung by Woody Guthrie 75 years ago, after a plane crashed over California’s Los Gatos Canyon, killing 32 people — mostly Mexicans, being sent back to Mexico because they were either here “illegally” or their guest worker contracts had expired. Initially, the media identified by name only the actual Americans who died (pilot, copilot, stewardess). The rest were simply deportees.
Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees.”
What does this have to do with a Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, ongoing slaughter and nuclear powers at odds with each other in Ukraine, a world in endless and bloody conflict almost everywhere? I have no idea.
Except, maybe, this: If a nuclear war happens, everyone on the planet is no more than a deportee.
[Photo: “Guns and Book”, Pat Bagley, Salt Lake City, UT (3/21/2022). ]
By: Henry A. Giroux
This post combines two recent pieces by Henry A. Giroux. The first piece was published at Salon and provides an analytical framework of the far-right transformation of education in the United States. The second was published at Counterpunch and is essentially a case study of what is happening in Florida under the rule of Governor Ron DeSantis. If this was a print journal, I would publish them side by side but that is not possible and the best way to keep them together is to publish them together. You can read them separately at the websites where they were originally published.
This is an essay that I just wanted to curl up with. It centers around a book review (that is now on my reading list) and wanders off into an analysis of power, patriarchy, oppression, and … a new path that humanity could take.
Critcal thinking is such a crucial skill but so few seem to acquire it. One would think it would be easy to learn critical thinking; afterall, we have these big brains for something. But in my years of trying to teach it, I have found that it those who are outsiders are the likeliest to learn it. It is even harder to maintain that frame of mind over time because it does require not taking the easiest intellectual path, and most of us (myself included) get lazy from time to time. If we let ourselves get lazy too frequently, we can find ourselves swept along the scenic tour and missing the clues of reality glittering on the shore.
As the war in Ukraine grinds on with no end in sight, side negotiations to allow the movement of oil and grain for both nations are underway. The blockage of grain, in particular, is having devastating effects across the Middle East and Africa increasing both hunger and poverty in multiple nations – including the United States. There are significant economic impacts for both Ukraine and Russia which is particularly difficult in the devastation of war.
I know that many of us are heartsick about the state of affairs in the United States and the world. However, it is critical that we not give up.
IOW short for In Other Words
People often feel either that things can’t get worse (IOW, we have already lost), or that things will right themselves (IOW, I don’t have to do anything). First, don’t give in to the former. Remember September 11, 2001, and our “failure of imagination”? Or thinking that the GW Bush administration was the bottom… and then we got Trump and crew? Things can, and will, definitely get worse IF WE DO NOT ACT. In relationship to the second, things may right themselves – in several thousand years. So we MUST ACT!
Call it “dark humor” or “writing with teeth”, this essay by Elizabeth Anker (AKA Eliza Daley), had me from the first paragraph. Anyone who has been here at UncommonThought for a while knows my love of language. And like Henry A. Giroux, I believe that language is critical to agency, and to taking our power back. This piece has numerous examples of this – just one of which is reclaiming “normal” from its politicized painting over of reality.