Management Insurance and Carlin’s Challenge

Obama will represent only a minor change in American political affairs, even compared to G.W. Bush, because the same capitalist interests still hold all the power and will continue to arrange government policy to suit their interests.

My negative expectations were confirmed with the news that Obama has ruled out any prosecution of Bush Administration officials for violations of federal and international laws, that is to say for war crimes. This is a matter of policy, which extends far beyond government, and can be called “management insurance.”

Managers insure each other of immunity from responsibility, and safeguard their futures to act with impunity, by never acting in any way to bring another manager to accounts for violations committed against their employees and the general population. A manager only contributes to the prosecution of another manager when it is a matter of personal career survival, or revenge promising career advancement. (For you lawyer-types, I mean “prosecute” in the general sense of both legal and administrative proceedings, and “violations” as both statutory and policy violations).

A particularly egregious example of management insurance is described in a riveting article in the Nation magazine by Nick Turse, A My Lai A Month. Turse describes the case of Maj. Gen. Julian Ewell, commander of the US Army’s Ninth Infantry Division in Vietnam (from February 1968 to April 1969) and his deputy, Col. Ira “Jim” Hunt, who served as a brigade commander and as Ewell’s chief of staff. These officers implemented Operation Speedy Express in the Mekong Delta, whose purpose was

to pacify huge swaths of the Delta and bring the population under the control of the South Vietnamese government in Saigon. To this end, from December 1968 through May 1969, a large-scale operation was carried out by the Ninth Infantry Division, with support from nondivision assets ranging from helicopter gunships to B-52 bombers. The offensive…claimed an enemy body count of 10,899 at a cost of only 267 American lives. Although guerrillas were known to be well armed, the division captured only 748 weapons.

This was equivalent to a My Lai massacre a month for over a year.

Ewell and Hunt were obsessive about achieving high “body counts,” and directed their troops to essentially kill any living being, human or animal, that could be detected; and every such kill, including babies and water buffalos, was logged as a “Vietcong”. These officers saw high body counts as their avenue to promotions. The sheer horror of this policy and its careerist motivation was noted and even opposed by others in the Army, but none of these critics went outside of their management structure with their concerns, as a matter of career survival.

The results:

— The Army quashed its own investigation, burying the story from public and even Congressional view;

— a 1970 Newsweek magazine exposé was gutted to insignificance: “Buckley and Shimkin’s nearly 5,000-word investigation, including a compelling sidebar of eyewitness testimony from Vietnamese survivors, was nixed by Newsweek’s top editors, who expressed concern that such a piece would constitute a ‘gratuitous’ attack on the Nixon administration”; and

— “Ewell retired from the Army in 1973 as a lieutenant general…Ira Hunt retired from active duty in 1978 as a major general…Army records indicate that no Ninth Infantry Division troops, let alone commanders, were ever court-martialed for killing civilians during the operation.”

Pretty nice insurance for mere army generals; and some of you actually believed a new US president would support war crimes trials of a previous US president and his cabinet?! War crimes tribunals are always victor’s justice, they are imposed by the superior force of a successful invader or a successful revolution. It requires a “hostile takeover” to dump the previous management. US elections are not hostile takeovers.

Why was My Lai exposed and some limited justice dispensed? Because Ron Ridenhour (1946-1998), a soldier on active duty in Vietnam, heard about the massacre and gathered eyewitness information, and on returning to the United States sent thirty letters detailing his investigation to members of Congress and to Pentagon officials. This drew Seymour Hersh to investigate. Ridenhour had ensured the My Lai story was public, his great contribution. Operation Speedy Express had no Ron Ridenhour.

Needless to say, Ridenhour did not have a long Army career, nor achieve high rank nor gain a rich pension. But, was not his national service of far greater value? Yes, but he had punctured rather than maintained the US military’s and the Nixon Administration’s management insurance. Such maintenance is what high pay is awarded for.

You may think management insurance is corruption, and ask “why is our political class corrupt?” Why aren’t people like Ridenhour the rule rather than the exception? I think George Carlin gave the clearest (and most unsparing) answer, in 1996:

If you have selfish ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish ignorant leaders…Maybe it’s not the politicians who suck, maybe something else sucks around here, like the public…There’s a nice campaign slogan for somebody: The public sucks, fuck hope.

Carlin was a comic genius, but let me state his conclusion in a different way.

In 1846 a wagon train of emigrants from the Eastern U.S., the Donner Party, traveled to California but became trapped high in the Sierra Nevada mountains by deep snows (22 ft, 6.7 m) for four months, and suffered heavy losses due to starvation despite resorting to cannibalism. The members of the Donner Party were “pioneers”, “rugged individuals” intent to make their fortunes, whose only social tie was family, and for whom American Indians were obstacles (shooting Indians was not murder), and nature was for exploitation. The sad accounts of their family feuds, bickering, abandonments, thefts and murders could be taken as extreme examples of similar behaviors, and certainly similar anti-socialist attitudes we might witness among Americans in coming years as we descend deeper and deeper in the possible (probable?, inevitable?) economic depression awaiting us.

I just don’t see Americans pulling together indiscriminately during a real crisis of survival. Again, maybe I’m off, but I think our basic problem is a profound lack of character, which our political class honestly reflects; rather than that we are generally a virtuous population betrayed by a corrupt political class. It’s not “them”, it’s “us.”

The “people are good” viewpoint is orthodox leftism, as I was scolded once by an orthodox leftist who said the “people are bad” bias was a fascist tendency (the hint was clear). Obviously, from the point of view of organizing (e.g., a union) it is much easier to sell the idea and also be motivated by it, if your bias is that most people are “good”. My attitude reflects what I’ve learned from Buddhism, which is that most people are “unenlightened”, simply ignorant. Buddhism counsels compassion. It is the insistence on staying ignorant that I lose all patience with.

So, yes, it is maddening that Bush et al. will never get impeached (there is still time), tried by the Senate, or prosecuted for war crimes by the Obama Administration, or before any international tribunal. But, is this primarily a failure of Obama’s, or ours? Who elects these criminals and allows them to smirk their way through years of carnage and to reap very rich rewards? Who pays their management insurance policy? We have no innocence, and our stubborn ignorance is a worthless substitute for it. The rot comes straight out of us. Gandhi had a compassionate way of phrasing this: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The leftist hope, and one I share illogically, is that it is physically possible for most people to become that desirable change — and call it what it is, socialism. Amazingly, it only requires a change of mind.

Manuel Garcia, Jr. is an occasional writer who is always independent. His e-mail address is: mangogarcia@att.net. Read other articles by Manuel, or visit Manuel's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rosemarie jackowski said on November 21st, 2008 at 11:32am #

    This is a great article. Maybe I like it a lot because it says what I have been saying all along. The people get the kind of government they deserve. The voters had a chance during this last election to vote for prosecutors who would prosecute Bush. The voters chose NOT to do that. In Vermont, 2 out of the 4 candidates for Attorney General were ready to Indict Bush. Those 2 candidates came in last on election day. Neither was a dem/repub.

    The mass of voters in the USA has spoken. The voters like war crimes, a failing economy, and justice only for the wealthy. The big tragedy is that the votes in the US have have shown a condonation of war and many outside the USA never had a vote in their own survival.

    Manuel says, “…I just don’t see Americans pulling together indiscriminately during a real crisis of survival. Again, maybe I’m off, but I think our basic problem is a profound lack of character, which our political class honestly reflects; rather than that we are generally a virtuous population betrayed by a corrupt political class. It’s not “them”, it’s “us.”…” I’ll second that!

  2. Max Shields said on November 21st, 2008 at 11:59am #

    I agree that Manual has touch a poignant nerve, and Carlin before him. There is something either in the American DNA, figuratively (let us hope) or literally (doomed).

    This nation was conceived in a vile cynicism. The colonialism that gave it birth was meaner, cruder and as elitist as anything that had come from the empires of the West. A sense of mean spiritness was perpetuated on the shores of what we call America. The people who came here were not looking for diverse freedom of any sort, but a way to land grab, get rich and to create the kind of theocracy that we see pokes its head in various forms, informing us of the dominance and fear that drove Western Europeans to these shores.

    But, we keep telling ourselves, there’s this “unalienable right” thing and “all men are created equal” thing…etc. Is is just a goal? I think not. I think it is the poison of cynicism; never intended to be real, but to serve as a means to bait and switch. And it has worked for over 200 years. But Americans are a strange breed; a kind of in bred bunch who have always disdained intellect, culture and the notion of critical thinking. Thinking always starts with “what’s in it for me”. The me is always tuned to a very limited world view. There is no greater good in the hearts and minds of Americans. We have occasional exceptions, but they are barely a drop in the great ocean of the north American continent.

    Our elections display this deep antagonism. “Progressives” seem willing to assume a place for Hillary Clinton and the Clinton lot who are being placed in key positions, the kind of positions that determine the neoliberal doctrine (no need to put the name of a particular president in front of the doctrine; it is the doctrine of American Empire); and the war machine that rules the world in the name of corporate elitism.

    Yes, it is that deep cynicism which created all the Orwellian words and phrases to create apathy, war, and conformity. Obama is the ultimate display of this cynicism, on the one hand a black man, whose American heritage is white and whose black heritage is from Kenya. Who speaks of peace as a 5 year old speech while promising invasion; who talks universal health care while drafting a plan to assure the status quo privatized healthcare system with its underinsured and many uninsured.

    He talks change and brings back Clinton Act II. This is cynicism beyond the pale. It’s a handshake and a kick in the ass.

  3. louisa said on November 21st, 2008 at 1:48pm #

    ….it is our apathy towards the suffering of others that makes Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan into a single narrative of Western collective indifference…The same Ideology that brought carnage on Iraq and Palestine is the same ideology that makes you lose your home tomorrow. –Gilad Atzmon, British saxophonist

  4. George Salzman said on November 21st, 2008 at 2:14pm #

    Oaxaca Friday 21 November 2008
    Friends,
    Instead of recomposing my reaction to Manuel’s incisive observations I’m going to give his original letter (whih some of you, along with me) received, and my response, all unaltered. Possibly I’ll add a few words at the end. Here goes.
    ————————————————————————————
    Subject: Renew The Social Contract
    From: Manuel Garcia, Jr.
    Date: Wed, 19 Nov 2008 00:12:25 -0800
    To: Garcia Jr.

    Hello,

    Hope you are all well. I’ve been somewhat unfocused because of some personal matters. Also, I was not swept up in the Obama hysteria of recent months. In brief, I think Obama will represent only a minor change in American political affairs (as compared to Bush); the same capitalist interests will still hold all the power, and will continue to arrange the conduct of government policy to suit their interests. My expectations are low. Also, though I’ve been told the new generation of youth swept up into something approaching political consciousness because of Obama’s “cool” will reinvigorate all efforts to transform society (for the better), I remain skeptical. I guess I am now, officially, a grumpy old man; I have no confidence in today’s youth (nor most of the general population). I would be happy to be wrong.

    As one effort to refocus my thinking, I set about writing on current events, in particular musing about what possible theme the Obama Administration might (or should) adopt as its guiding principle. The resulting article has now appeared.

    Renew The Social Contract
    18 November 2008
    https://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/11/renew-the-social-contract/

    I used a bit of novel-writing, or perhaps poetry, near the end to evoke what I would consider an interesting beginning of an Obama Administration.

    Today, I had my negative expectations confirmed with the news that Obama has ruled out any effort to prosecute Bush Administration officials for any possible violations of laws — war crimes. I may write about this, a phenomenon I learned about during my weapons physics career as “management insurance.” Managers insure each other of immunity from responsibility, and safeguard their futures to act with impunity, by never acting in any way to bring another manager to accounts for crimes committed against the population at large. A manager only contributes to the prosecution of another manager when it is a matter of personal career survival, or revenge promising career advancement. (For you lawyer-types, I mean “prosecute” in the general sense of both legal and administrative proceedings, and “crimes” as both statutory and policy violations).

    Another current through my mind of late is the story of the Donner Party; my daughter is doing a school report on a member of this group. These were 1846 emigrants from the Eastern U.S. who traveled to California, but were trapped for four months high in the Sierra Nevada mountains by heavy snows, and suffered heavy losses due to starvation despite resorting to cannibalism. The sad accounts of their family feuds, bickering, abandonments, thefts and murders could be taken as extreme examples of similar behaviors, and certainly attitudes, we might witness among Americans generally as we descend deeper and deeper in the possible (probable?, inevitable?) economic depression awaiting us. I just don’t see Americans pulling together indiscriminately during a real crisis of survival. Again, maybe I’m off, but I think our basic problem is a profound lack of character, which our political class honestly reflects; rather than that we are generally a virtuous population betrayed by a corrupt political class. It’s not “them” it’s “us.” The “people are good” viewpoint is orthodox leftism, as I was scolded once by an orthodox leftist who said the “people are bad” bias was a fascist tendency. Obviously, from the point of view of organizing (e.g., popular, union) it is much easier to sell the idea and be motivated by it, if your bias is that most people are “good.” My attitude reflects what I’ve learned from Buddhism, which is that most people are “unenlightened,” simply ignorant. Buddhism counsels compassion. It is the insistence to stay ignorant that I lose all patience with.

    So, yes, it is maddening that Bush et. al. will never get impeached (there is still time), tried by the Senate, or prosecuted for international war crimes by the Obama Administration or before any international tribunal, but is this primarily a failure of Obama’s, or ours? Who elects these criminals and allows them to smirk their way through years of carnage to reap very rich rewards? We have no innocence, and our stubborn ignorance is a worthless substitute for it. The rot comes straight out of us. Gandhi had a compassionate way of phrasing this: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

    The following story shows how “management insurance” works, and how American war criminals fare. Anything for a promotion — think about what it takes to be a “career success”, and what kind of people are.

    Nick Turse | A My Lai a Month
    http://www.truthout.org/111808T
    Nick Turse, The Nation: “In late 1969 Seymour Hersh broke the story of the 1968 My Lai massacre, during which US troops slaughtered more than 500 civilians in Quang Ngai Province, far north of the Delta. Some months later, in May 1970, a self-described ‘grunt’ who participated in Speedy Express wrote a confidential letter to William Westmoreland, then Army chief of staff, saying that the Ninth Division’s atrocities amounted to ‘a My Lay each month for over a year.'”

    What little justice followed the My Lay perpetrators came about because of the moral outrage of one or two individuals like Ron Ridenhour (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Ridenhour) and Hugh Thompson, Jr. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Thompson,_Jr.). We need individuals like this to be the rule, not the exception.

    Manuel Garcia, Jr.
    http://www.idiom.com/~garcia
    ————————————————————————————-
    Subject: You make me laugh
    From: George Salzman
    Date: 19/11/2008 04:37 a.m.
    To: Manuel Garcia

    Oaxaca, Wednesday 19 November 2008
    Dear Manuel,
    You! A grumpy old man? No Way! What you need is a different taste of reality. Dr. Salzman (P.iled H.igh and D.eep, we used to say) prescribes a visit to the state of Oaxaca, a place of fearsome fascism and wonderful ordinary people en la lucha para cambiar el mundo. Get on one of those Mexican bus lines that plies the Mexico-U.S. routes frequented por los paisanos — no fucking airplane — and enjoy a taste of what I hope will be real revolution — powered by la gente humilde. I felt recovered enough by late September to embark on what I thought would be my final trip to the U.S. of A. for a two month stay, October and November, but my stomach couldn’t take it for more than three weeks. I fled back home, where I plan to stay until the inevitable (I’m 83). Still, the American people are no different than any other peoples, though incredibly unconscious of the larger world by dint of relentless propaganda. I think there’s important work for we grumpy, hopefully wise and loving old men and women. Our task I think ought to be to corrupt the youth. Se cambindo America Latina. We need to get the U.S. boot off the Mexican neck so that more and more of Latin America stands apart from American capitalism. I visited a community in the Mixteca Alta where there’s not just hope but where communally ambitious folks are rebuilding their ancient habitat from the parched eroded mountains destroyed since the Spaniards came 500 years ago. A miracle in motion, humble hard-working happy healthy people. A friend wrote a book about his experiences living and working there. He happens to be a Maryknoll lay missioner, but he’s my kind of Catholic. If you do get here I’ll try to arrange for us to visit there. My friend’s book is The Other Game: Lessons from how life is played in Mexican villages, by Phil Dahl-Bredine and Stephen Hicken, published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0308 (2008). The community we visited lives primariy in a moneyless economy, not entirely of course, but what an inspiration! I’ll attach an essay that’s nearing completion, after months.
    Saludos, George
    ———-
    Subject: Renew The Social Contract
    From: Manuel Garcia, Jr.
    Date: Wed, 19 Nov 2008 00:12:25 -0800
    To: Garcia Jr.

    Hello,
    I guess I am now, officially, a grumpy old man;
    ———-
    P.S. Because of technical problems I haven’t been able to upload the version of this essay to my website yet — trouble with ftp.

    Looking for a way towards civilization, II
    by G.S.
    5th to __th of Aug 2008

    this page is temporarily at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/S2/2008-08-05Xtemp.htm

    Drowning in the blood of Armageddon, II

    An affirmation, and a suggested credo for civilization [1]
    WE Americans know that we are not born to kill — that our newborns are as beautiful and rich in potentialities for having lives of love and mutual respect as any other peoples in the world. We know they don’t have to be turned into torturers, murderers, pillagers, psychologically deformed souls. It is up to us, we mature folks, to stop the carnage of a suicidal national government bent on global dominance — a crazed government driving them to slaughter their victims and to face their own maiming and death, and killing the spirits of billions of humans. It is up to us to make of America a land of life and love and not of death and destruction. . .

    The essay, now nearing completion, is remarkably in tune with the values Manuel holds, but marked by my optimism instead of his pessimism. If you are interested in seeing the most current version just let me know, george(dot)salzman(at)umb(dot)edu and I’ll send it. The U.S. is only a part, and a terrifying part, of the larger reality. Latin America is a much more encouraging part of global society.
    Sincerely, George

  5. bozh said on November 21st, 2008 at 3:54pm #

    i’m not sure that people of a country or an empire who seldom know more than 1% of what goes on shld be blamed as much, if at all, as ab. 2% of the pop at the top of the trapeze who know much more.
    90% of amers know very litle; and 90% of which they evaluate as knowledge is false to fact.
    in short, thousands upon thousands lies embedded in their heads r accepted as the truth.
    or, indeed, 98% of amers r just evil and take pride in killing any people that stand in their way.
    if we accept that, then we accept the notion that amers r indeed exceptional; a separate race; thus perhaps devoid of anger, hatred, stupidity, love, envy, fear, hopes, etcetc.
    thus devoid of the usual panhuman emotions, amers r cool, intreipid, just, fair and unemotional as bruce willis.
    i wonder what the hell happened to me!? thnx

  6. Max Shields said on November 21st, 2008 at 6:34pm #

    There is a deeper philosophical/psychological issue here. What is human nature? Can we simply say that people are easily duped? Or is there a requisite for being duped? What creates critical thinking? Can even a certain degree of critical thinking to be limited by what’s in and out of bounds?

    These cannot be simply answered. The American empire’s history is dark and complex. But with it is a legacy that seems etched in who “we” are. There is the larger issue of humanness which transcends geography. Still there are distinctions. Jared Diamond plumbs the depths of this distinction without making the West an “evil” empire, but clearly showing the divergencies in cultures, weapons and technology and how these amplify the pitiful frailty of being human.

    So, bozh, I would not go so far as to say that Americans are simply duped, as much as this republic was born out of genocide and that legacy spills over into our culture. It sets the world view and the responses Americans have to the world; and the leadership they seem willing (more now than ever) to have their way. (A few short decades ago and there were riots and urban burnings, and assassinations, and now all that’s left is a quiet taping on a key board – but a deeper cynicism and much more sophisticated means to rule and be ruled has also emerged).

    I’m just not so quick to let the American people off the hook.

  7. bozh said on November 22nd, 2008 at 9:46am #

    max,
    let me collate some facts that pertain to all? inhabitants of this tiny orb.
    but let’s just posit some facts that also pertain to US/canada.
    allegience to flag is demanded/expected only because the flag is a symbol that symbolizes (stands for) the oligarchic/theocratic/plutocratic rule. i evaluate this as a strategem/deception/ lie.
    privately-owned media is yet another abomination.
    waging wars that usans want and base on ‘truth’ is obviously as antihuman/devilish as wars based on lies.
    if US retains its right to wage wars based on US ‘truth’, iraq retains its right to defend self based both on ‘truths’ and lies.
    the reason that ab 98% of amers believe US is a democracy and not as it’s obviously a plutocracy/dictatorship, is beacause of both private and governmental spread of lies.
    who hasn’t been victimized by lyars? lies r powerful tools to obtain a goal. that’s why msm, clergy, politicians lie; a lie get’s u s’mthing almost every time.
    to end, once one swears allegience to a vast minority of people, one is either extremely wicked or mistaught.
    or is there more possibilities as to what amers r? r they special? or r they living under special conditions? or under the rules especially enacted for them by other specialists?
    amers r victimized. victimized just like germans, japanese, and italians have been from ’39-45.
    i never blame victims. only if s’mone shows or proves me wrong, will i change my mind. thnx

  8. Max Shields said on November 22nd, 2008 at 11:52am #

    Would seem we need, first, to determine who the victims are.

    bozh your mere critical post undermines your argument. If you were raised here in the US, taught by the public schools, pledged to the flag, and watched the ubiquitous media…how did you escape? How were you spared this “victimhood”? And what does that say to those who have followed the great drum-beats to war over and over; who think one president or another is different than the last; that the two Party system is democracy or whatever. Who are totally ignorant of nation and world geography?

    What is the great Hudini trick that allows some to escape the angst of KNOWING while others live in perpetual VICTIMHOOD?

    There are victims but I would be careful not to slide that excuse across the great American materialistic frontier.

  9. bozh said on November 22nd, 2008 at 3:11pm #

    max,
    i am not an amer nor a canadian. i, too, thought that USA was noble/democratic/just, etc.
    but even if one is born and raised in US, one can find enough educational books.
    and there may be at least 500K usans who think like i do. one can also come to some of my/our conclusions w.o. even reading enlightening material.
    eg, we all know of the Abombs, slavery, demise of indigenous pop, wars.
    just these facts alone suffices to conclude that amers r ruled by indoctrinated plutocrats.
    and do not differ an iota from other ruling classes. all decevie, lie, and thus enslave by rendering the domestic pops semantically blind.
    eg, yes we used Abombs, but the russians were ab to invade japan. or, we did that to save our soldiers.
    since i do not believe for one second that amers r the evilest people on planet, then that leaves only one other conclusion: they have been dsinformed/miseducated, which is easily provable as well.
    germans have proven this. i have been told that 90% of germans have supported hitler’s policies.
    how ab now? and why so few now? because of education. thnx

  10. Max Shields said on November 22nd, 2008 at 4:38pm #

    I cannot reconstruct the mind and motives of the German people, but we know they were utterly destroyed for a moment in time, left without a military and occupied more or less to this day. I’m not sure what kind of education “changed” their minds. I suspect it is simply the obverse side of the coin. (Afterall the victor writes the history.) But enough about Germans.

    I don’t think Americans (and yes I am one and grew up with all of the misinformation, education, whatever) are evil. One can come up with any number of adjectives but “evil” is not one that comes to my mind.

    It is the willingness or lack of willingness to appraise the validity of the information. People are not stupid. They are not merely ill-informed, or disinformed. There is a willingness to believe as the song goes and disregard the doubt. Push the doubt into oblivion. But we can’t simply call this the act of a “victim”; anymore than Germans were simply the victims of Hitler.

  11. bozh said on November 23rd, 2008 at 3:50pm #

    one of my points is that our trust is one of our greatest wealths.
    i even assert that because of our trusting one another, we survived.
    our trusting had developed over eons.
    it will remain w. us for eons. this trusting was used as recently as w. the two latest invasions.
    now, how ab. willingness to appraise politico-clerico/media people’s information for its veracity?
    in view that 99.99% of amer leaders strongly supported bush and acclaimed over and over again that what bush was saying was the truth, to whom cld they turn?
    how ab. to me? well, when i said to two amers that it might take a millennium to democratize iraq and 2K+ to democratize US, they laughed.
    they were certain US is the greatest democracy. more cld be said.
    but for some reason all nationals seem to behave the same or similarly when accepting as truth what their respective inteligentsia say. thnx