Down with America! Continued!

I wondered whether yesterday's rant might win me some angry accusations of being anti-American. It hasn't really, yet. But do allow me to clarify just the same.

I don't have a problem with Americans.

image source: Flickr user ronsaunders47

I don't have a problem with this...

Large hamburger
image source: Flickr user Cali2Okie (April)

...or this...

Huge Kermit balloon
image source: Flickr user Ben+Sam

...or this...

Tailgating champions
image source: Flickr user {algo+rhythm} Labs

...or this, though I'm not entirely sure what it is.

I did have a problem with this...

Shuttle launch

...but only because we, by which I mean the human race, could have done so very much more with that much money.

What I do have a problem with is, well...

One Nation Under God, possibly the worst painting ever

...sort of this.

Which, clearly, is far from being what all Americans believe...

One Nation Under Cthulhu

...but which, like certain other works, does exemplify what many of us foreigners find objectionable about the USA.

More specifically, I have a problem with many of the USA's domestic and foreign policies and actions, because they do a lot of harm to both American people and the rest of the world. These policies do not, of course, all grow out of the above-depicted conviction that the USA really is God's own country. A stronger factor is that the USA is powerful enough to do terrible things outside its borders, and the USA's government/corporate rulers are powerful enough to do terrible things inside its borders, which I'm sure any number of other countries would also do, given the chance.

The most important part of my objection, which is particularly brought to mind by that incredibly jingoistic movie, is based around the horrifying fact that an awful lot of the world's leaders - certainly not just the American ones - are clearly guilty of war crimes, most notably crimes against peace. Many of these leaders have gone on national television to boast of their war-making achievements, after previously going on TV to persuade the populace to support a new war in the time-honoured fashion.

Major war crimes, of which crimes against peace are the very worst, are the only offenses which I think actually should carry the death penalty. Preferably with those sentencing the offender to death putting their own lives on the line - if the offender turns out to have been innocent, the judge and/or jury are executed. (This'd pretty much solve the USA's own death-penalty problems, don't you think?)

Anybody who drapes a patriotic flag over war crimes is an enemy of humanity, and the higher you go in various nations' governments, the more this happens, and the less forgivably. Random yahoos who believe God sent George W. Bush are one thing; if you honestly think Saddam was responsible for 9/11 then you sadden me, but I don't think you should be punished for being ignorant and/or gullible. But people like Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara knew exactly what they were doing.

(It has long been my opinion that we should offer John Howard lifetime imprisonment instead of execution in exchange for his testimony against Cheney and Bush. I also find it difficult to argue against just assassinating a bunch of these guys. Everybody knows they're never going to see the inside of a courtroom, and they made speeches and published books proudly declaring their guilt, so I think it's pretty cut and dried, don't you?)

Movies about tank crews and fighter pilots and Special Forces badasses can be horrifying and entertaining, both at the same time in the very best examples. But I find it unnerving that the USA now gets in wars so interminable that books, movies and video games about those wars exist while the war's still going on. We've now given up on waiting a few years after the end of the war before turning it into entertainment products, for the sake of common human decency. Nowadays the wars are on abstract concepts or things everybody likes, and there's no particular prospect of matters improving until all of the USA's arable land blows away into the ocean and the US dollar falls to about one jiao.

On a marginally happier note, here are some more good-war-movie recommendations, all about events that happened a decorously long time ago.

Clint Eastwood's sibling films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima are extraordinary. The second is a brutal war movie about the Japanese soldiers trying to hold Iwo Jima in 1945; the first is about the American side of the story, with a heavy emphasis on the patriotic-bullshit factory a few American Iwo Jima heroes find themselves working in.

See also The Pacific, which isn't as good as the inevitable comparison Band of Brothers, but is a magnificently horrible depiction of the utter ghastliness of the island-hopping advance on Japan.

Why are crimes against peace the worst crimes in the world? Because they make it possible for the rest of this shit to happen.

23 Responses to “Down with America! Continued!”

  1. michaelshewitt Says:

    "It has long been my opinion that we should offer John Howard lifetime imprisonment instead of execution in exchange for his testimony against Cheney and Bush."

    Hear fucking hear.

  2. rcousine Says:

    Movies about wars that come out while the war is still on?

    Dude. "Casablanca."

  3. cfuse Says:

    Is any of this really so new?

    I think the problem is that we have this push to 'politically correct' the narrative - our nations are behaving the way they are to get the spoils of war, the way nations always have, it's just that life is so much more complex these days (ie. we aren't fighting over territory anymore, or contesting resources - not in the historical sense anyway). If nations are to go to war, there must be a reason, and I'd argue that the reason these days is profits. War is profitable, it has become an end in itself.

    We've always been like this. I just wish they'd all drop the pretense.

    • Popup Says:

      War is profitable, it has become an end in itself.
      I'm not so sure that that's true at a macroeconomic level. Sure, it's true for the generals as well as for the 'military industrial complex', but for the nation it's ruinous. Depending on how you count, it's possible to rack up costs of several trillion USD for the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.

      The benefits are more difficult to assess, however. While there's a lot of oil in Iraq, those benefits will not go directly to the US. The Iraqi regime will recoup USD1.40/barrel, and the only benefit to the US will be the lowered international oil prices brought on by a sudden glut of oil on the international markets, as well as increased profits for the (predominantly US) oil companies awarded the contracts.

      Some may argue that lowered oil prices would result in an own-goal as it further retards alternative fuel development and strengthens the power of the oil-rich 'evil' mid-east countries that the US inevitably see as foes.

  4. Itsacon Says:

    On the subject of war movies, I still think this was a pretty accurate portrayal of the future (present?) of wars.

  5. Romberry Says:

    Why are crimes against peace the worst crimes in the world? Because they make it possible for the rest of this shit to happen.

    Hear! Hear! Great post, Dan. Your view from afar is a needed one.

  6. JsD Says:

    I'm somewhat ambivalent about this. On the one hand, the US bringing some rough approximation of freedom and democracy to more systematically unpleasant parts would probably be a net good in the long run, if only it weren't so damn bad at doing so. On the other - I think we can safely say at this point that it really is spectacularly awful at it.

    • Stark Says:

      While I'm certainly not about to argue that the US' results in bringing democracy and some modicum of freedom to other locales has been great (it most certainly has NOT been) I still have to ask : Compared to what other influence in modern history is the US 'bad' at spreading the ideas of democracy, and as a corollary, freedom (whilst not engaging in active colonialism).

      Great Britain did a good job in retrospect, but only after their previous territories threw them out. I would argue that the often pluralistic and democratic societies that rose after the ouster of British rule are more of a backlash than a desired result brought about by any sort of conscious plan.

    • Itsacon Says:

      "Fighting for Peace" is like "Fucking for Virginity"

      • Stark Says:

        Nobody said anything about peace. Democracy and freedom do not, clearly, equate to peace. In fact no socio-political system ever devised has resulted in peace. Nor are they likely too - like it or not we are, as a species, violent. Individually we can be quite nice, as a group we're complete bastards. Don't see that changing anytime soon.

        That being said, peace is no more a baseline state for humanity than virginity is. Neither lasts for long.

    • dan Says:

      On the subject of bringing democracy to the Middle East...

  7. twoflower Says:

    Very well said, and all very necessarily said. I don't expect the UN or the Hague to do anything, but it was (and is) very definitely a case of war crimes.

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

  8. Popup Says:

    While the 'American Way' certainly has its advantages, the way they're trying to bring it about doesn't have a very good track record.

    My father was travelling around Vietnam a couple of years ago, and marvelled at all the high-tech companies along the Mekong river.

    It looks like the Americans lost the war, but are winning the peace, whereas in Iraq (and even more so in Afghanistan) they've won the war but are losing the peace.

    What they should have done after the first Gulf war was something like what happened in China after the second Opium war. There the Chinese had to pay a huge fine, but it was stipulated that they could use some of that money to finance education at US (and UK & FR) universities. This resulted in a small but educated upper middle class imbued with 'western values', such as exemplified by Sun Yat-Sen (or rather his brother) and eventually led to the overturn of the Qing dynasty.

    What would have happened if Bush Sr would have invited thousands of bright Iraqis to study in the US? If they had gone home to Iraq, would they have accepted the rule of the Bath party, or would they have instigated regime change from within?

    • dan Says:

      What would have happened if Bush Sr would have invited thousands of bright Iraqis to study in the US?

      I think, in the interest of suicide prevention, it's best not to dwell on what the USA could have done with the money it's spent in Iraq over the years.

  9. Stark Says:

    Funny, I'm an American (gun owning, generally patriotic, an Army brat) and I agree exactly with those things Dan finds objectionable about the US.

    Especially that jesus presenting the Constitution crap. That sort of thinking will only lead to Very Bad Things. Unfortunately that sort of religiosity is growing in influence at a frightening rate. Never in human history has massive power + religious fervor ever equaled anything other than Very Bad Things.

  10. gremlinmt Says:

    War has nothing to do with Religion or any other 'higher cause'. It's always about the resources. Anybody who thinks differently is deluding themselves.

    At the same time, anybody who thinks that war is a crime belongs in the same category as animals that are going extinct because they can't compete in their environment. Don't worry, you'll be overrun by something soon enough.

    It's hard to sell the populous on the idea that we we should go to Iraq (twice!) to secure oil/territory/favorable trade relations because it sounds selfish. It's pretty easy to sell the populous on the idea that Saddam is a bad guy that has weapons of mass destruction and is BBF with a certain terrorist because it sounds noble.

    It makes me sad that we aren't more honest with ourselves about our motivations.

  11. MikeLip Says:

    Well, Dan, lets do a little thought experiment. Lets take the military and economic power of the US and give it to, let's say, Australia. Now, do you think that the outcome would be any different? Do you think the Australian religious nutjobs would then be getting less attention? Do you think that the lowlifes in your government would be getting any less power-mad? Do you think your government would somehow be on the side of the angels? Based on what I've seen of some of your internal politics, I'd have to say no.

    I guess what bothers me is not the accusation that our government has and continues to misbehave on the world stage. The criticism is well founded and well deserved and any US official who condones activity like that should be flogged then shot. What bugs the SHIT out of me is the holier than thou attitude always seems to comes with it. "WE'D never do that!" is implied, often by people (like the Brits, French or other group with a lovely, bloody past, just as a for-instance) or who (Australia - looking at you) in large part come from that group.

    • dan Says:

      I think it would be different, and maybe a bit better, but you're quite right that power corrupts, et cetera.

      I think the immediate result of waving the magic wand would be better for the world than American hegemony, because Australian society is not presently influenced anywhere near as strongly by "faith" as the USA's, and the "mainstream" of our political scene is only moderately conservative, unlike the current US system where even the "liberals" are seriously conservative by almost anybody else's standards and the actual "left wing" isn't even allowed into debates. Australia does not have that super-conservative bloc that, famously, says government doesn't work and then gets elected and proves it.

      Give it a while, though, and people desiring the immense power on offer could end up screwing up Australia as badly as they've screwed up the USA. As Jon Stewart often says, normal people have stuff to do, and tend therefore to be beaten by fanatics who work 20 hours a day to achieve their goals.

      I still doubt we'd end up with as strong a religious-conservative leaning as the USA, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if ASIO, which is largely laughable today, took to doing things every bit as horrible (and counterproductive...) as the CIA does.

      But we could do a lot better, and outside magic-wand situations, so can the USA, China and the European Union. I don't think the human race has a single problem that can't be improved by higher standards of education, and I don't think it's at all naive to expect global standards of education to rise quite sharply in the near future. The incredibly fast advance of technology is already doing this.

      A huge part of the world's problems stem from authoritarianism. Education is the cure for that.

      (Note that when I say "education", I don't mean "bleeding-heart hippie dolphin-hugging postmodern et cetera". I also don't mean "rote learning and corporal punishment". Mainly, I mean critical thinking. Everything stems from that.)

      • MikeLip Says:

        Now we are on the same page. I've done my best to teach my daughter to think, and I think it's paid off - she's on her PhD track and doesn't seem to have too many irrationalities other than those endemic to 22 year olds. Rational thought seems to be looked on as weird behavior in the US. Maybe when we crash and burn we will realize that whoever or however we got our brains, they are what will get us out of the messes we get ourselves into. Not some invisible bearded guy with an odd fondness for Americans for some reason.

        • MikeLip Says:

          I guess I'd also like to point out a couple of other possible factors. I have never been to Australia - I'd dearly love to visit, despite the teeming red eyed murder-critters Cracked says lurk behind every pebble and leaf. Talking about the people of another country without having been there and gotten to know them is like reading a tabloid magazine and thinking you know Tom Cruise. But it does seem to me that not that long ago, the USA was not quite as god-struck as it is today, and possibly more rational. I don't know what swung the scales, and neither do you. Here we are, up to our necks in technology that could not have been imagined 15 years ago, and there are more people it seems who are utterly ignorant of it than ever. So I suggest that perhaps thinking Australia is immune or even particularly resistant to rampant irrationality is a somewhat blinkered view of humanity. After all, superstition and gullibility are very human. Ask your good folks at Austrade - I'd really think they'd know better.

  12. wpu1668 Says:

    There is a neat, academic flavored book, "Unintended Consequences, The United States at War," that goes into detail about how far the consequences of (America's) wars diverge from the motivations, purported or otherwise.

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