Sunday, September 23, 2007

Make Them Accountable


By David Podvin

In 1962, the Joint Chiefs Of Staff unanimously recommended that President Kennedy bomb a major American city to frame Fidel Castro and provide a pretext for conquering Cuba. It is one of history’s most amazing coincidences that four decades later New York City was bombed and Saddam Hussein was framed and Iraq was conquered… imagine the odds against the original military plan recurring with such precision. In any event, John Kennedy was a liberal Democratic president rather than a conservative professional soldier so he opted against bombing the American people. Joint Chiefs Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer then illegally attempted to destroy all evidence of the proposal so that he could deny it had ever been made, but the general was as inept as he was deceitful and some documentation survived.

During the Vietnam War, the American military again engaged in grotesque deceit. Commanding General William Westmoreland lied to Congress about the war’s progress, rhetorically transforming defeats into victories. The Pentagon routinely issued phony statistics and crafted false analyses that were designed to hoodwink the public. Following the needless deaths of fifty-eight thousand American soldiers and more than a million Vietnamese civilians the conflict finally ended, but the dishonesty of the armed forces did not. America’s military leaders lied about how many defenseless people were slaughtered during the Panama invasion. They even lied to their own afflicted soldiers about Gulf War Syndrome.

Despite conclusive historical evidence that the military has not earned a presumption of candor, liberals are being excoriated for doubting the congressional testimony of General David Petraeus. From the Republican perspective it does not matter that Petraeus is provably talking nonsense about American progress in Iraq – what matters is that liberals have no right to notice Petraeus is talking nonsense, and anyone who does notice is marginalized as being unpatriotic. Talk radio and Fox News and the rest of the Falangist commentariat feign outrage that a decorated military man is having his integrity questioned. Conservatives passionately argue that as a wounded war hero Petraeus is above reproach, but at the 2004 GOP convention these shameless hypocrites impugned wounded war hero John Kerry’s integrity by wearing Purple Heart-shaped band aids.

The contention that American military officers are somehow morally superior is absurd. General Nathan Bedford Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan. During the Great Depression, General Douglas MacArthur ordered a homicidal attack against starving American World War I veterans who were begging for pensions. At the conclusion of World War II, General George Patton advocated annihilating the Soviet Union. General Curtis LeMay proposed unloading our nuclear arsenal upon North Vietnamese women and children. And then there was General Benedict Arnold.

These military leaders shared a common trait, but the trait was not integrity. They were all right wing nuts. According to a recent survey, ninety-seven percent of the military brass are registered Republicans, and like Lemnitzer many belong to the Doctor Strangelove wing of the party. The last two Democratic presidents experienced insubordination from the Pentagon because the military frequently prioritizes partisanship over patriotism.

There is also is the incomparable corruption of America’s self-styled super patriots. Generals and admirals routinely lobby on behalf of multi-billion dollar weapons systems, then leave the military and receive lucrative kickbacks from the manufacturers of those systems. In banana republics this illicit practice is known as “screwing the peasants”, but in the United States the peasants are discouraged from mentioning the phenomenon lest they be maligned as subversive.

In Animal Farm, George Orwell lampooned the mirage of Western egalitarianism by noting allegorically that while all animals are equal some are more equal than others. Orwell feared and despised the animals who were more equal, those beings to whom the rules do not apply. Dwight Eisenhower later dubbed these beings the “military/industrial complex”. Eisenhower feared and despised them, too. So did Abraham Lincoln, who spoke bitterly of dishonest generals and war profiteers.

Today, the power of the military/industrial complex stands at its zenith. Corporate America subsidizes both major political parties. Its mainstream media controls what most Americans learn, and therefore controls what most Americans think. Like all generals Petraeus is a functionary of the financial elite, so his critics are shouted down by the politicians and commentators who are also functionaries of the financial elite. American freedom of speech exists only as long as it does not threaten the ruling class, and the ruling class now possesses sixteen trillion dollars worth of Iraqi oil that it prefers not to relinquish. As a result, it is deemed traitorous to challenge the credibility of a transparently deceitful general who insists that national security dictates staying the corporate course.

Given the lay of the political landscape it would be vocational suicide if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama condemned soldierly mendacity. However, I am not an upwardly mobile Democratic politician and most likely neither are you, so let’s indulge in some forbidden truth.

General Petraeus committed perjury when he said that the war is going well. While he presented a dazzling array of meaningless statistics painstakingly compiled to distort reality, the relevant number remained unspoken. By the military’s own estimate, there are more terrorists in Iraq today than there were a year ago or two years ago or three years ago or before we invaded. That is a trend line slanting ominously towards defeat. There were fewer Nazis in 1945 than in 1941 because we were winning. There are more al-Qaeda now than in the past because we are losing. The Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu formalized the concept twenty-five hundred years ago: when the enemy is increasing in size, things are going badly. The teachings of Sun Tzu are West Point curriculum, so Petraeus knew that he was deceiving Congress with his upbeat testimony.

The general also lied when he said, “We have never given weapons to tribals. What we have done is applaud when they ask if they can point their guns at al-Qaeda.” This whopper represents the brazen deceit of someone who knows that being caught lying incurs no consequences. Petraeus had already acknowledged in June that he was arming Sunnis to combat al-Qaeda. Yet when testifying before Congress the general lied with supreme confidence, knowing that a huge Orwellian choir of sheep was massed to drown out anyone who challenged his deceptions.

Totalitarians consider the truth to be seditious. The truth is that the United States military lies frequently, and patriotism dictates acknowledging that truth. The alternative is to follow blindly as the progeny of Gepetto prosecute unnecessary corporate wars that damage our nation. Combating military lies with objective facts guarantees being accused of treason, but failure to do so guarantees being complicit with treason.

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