Mom, Is it War Yet?

Part 1: The Trojan War

For me 2015 began with a suicide. I was on my way to Berlin with an early train just after midnight on 1 January. About 8 am our connecting train from Hamburg stopped approximately 25 kilometres down the line because someone had apparently gotten up early that morning and travelled to a point in the middle of nowhere to jump in front of it. Since our train was approximately 45 minutes late, this person not only had to contemplate his way to the tracks but wait perhaps impatiently for the wheeled engine of his demise to do its work.

Later, in June of this year persistent analyst and critic of US Empire, William (Bill) Blum wrote to his subscribers that he was taking a break from the Anti-Empire Report. Age and health were certainly relevant but Blum also wrote that he was:

Burnt out: After more than a dozen years of putting out the report, because US foreign policy keeps repeating itself, with the same lies, I too often find myself repeating the same ideas I’ve expressed before, often in more or less the same words.

I also feel the effect of day after day, year after year, intensively reading and seeing images of the human horrors; not just the horrors, but also the lies and the stupidity.

A month ago I learned quite by accident that one of the most precious people in my youth had already been dead three years. She had just turned 59. We had had no contact for thirty years. A year before she died I had managed to find her but the contact could not be restored before her death.

Yesterday I learned of another suicide, a former colleague from a place where I too had tried to teach in the autumn term of 2014.

All of these incidents though unrelated amplified my examination of present conditions. Those who retain some residual memory will recall that 2008, the year in which the first non-white male was appointed to the Presidency of the United States, was also the official start of what has been euphemistically called “a financial crisis” or “the sub-prime crisis”. The immediate publicly visible consequence of this was that the representatives of Goldman Sachs (both in and out of government) agreed—together with the rest of the Anglo-American banking and insurance cartel—to demand and receive trillions of dollars from the US government by consensus of the outgoing POTUS and the incoming mystery brand OBAMA. Since then the US regime has overthrown governments in Honduras, Libya, Egypt, and Ukraine while escalating hostilities against Syria, Russia, China and PDR Korea—at least those are the obvious actions. The covert action against Venezuela and to suppress any nationalist tendencies in the Western Hemisphere continues unabated—despite the distraction of overtures to the Republic of Cuba.

The situation among the European vassal states, led by Germany, has been no cause for optimism. Since 1989, Deutsche Bank has adopted the role of the Teutonic Knights by promoting the re-colonisation of Eastern Europe up to the Russian border. It is certainly no accident that the bank reputedly has the world’s largest derivative book. (A thousand years ago it would have been trading in papal indulgences.) Derivative contracts have certainly been one of the most lucrative instruments for plunder invented since the Crusades. Having returned Prussia and the Baltic to the control of the German financial elite, one could be forgiven for another moment of nostalgia.

Although the names and faces change, one of the characteristics of a class, or a ruling caste, is the manner in which it perpetuates its worldview from generation to generation. A century ago world war began ostensibly in the Balkans with the assassination of the heir-apparent to the Austro-Hungarian imperial throne. The schoolbook version of this story has been told often enough (e.g. see The Sleepwalkers, also reviewed by this author). However, the significant factors which made the subsequent four years of slaughter attractive included the consideration of Germany’s elite that the only way to compete with the British Empire was to circumvent the Suez Canal by land. That meant a rail link. The best possible route for a link between Germany and the Indian Ocean was through the Balkans. The Great War put an end to this ambition and to this day the Berlin-Baghdad line only extends between Turkey and Iraq.

Fast-forward to 1989, the re-absorption of the East Elbian provinces into an enlarged German State seems inevitable. (To remove any doubts the US regime sends its veteran putsch-master Vernon Walters as ambassador to Bonn.) The liquidation of the GDR opens opportunities for the German steel and mining industries to make a significant European acquisition—Yugoslavia. Drawing on old comrades in Croatia, the German foreign minister gives Belgrade a yellow card, recognising the independence of Croatia under veteran fascist Tudjman. Having ratified the dismantling of the Yugoslav Federation, the red card comes when the US and UK regimes begin to bomb Serbia. By the time Phoenix veteran Richard Holbrooke arrives to pacify Yugoslavia most of its infrastructure has been destroyed by NATO bombing and the civil war incited by Germany’s “yellow card”. Holbrooke, who has been “neutralising” opponents of the US regime since his youth in the Mekong delta, helped eliminate Serbia’s political leadership (probably in Holbrooke’s terms, “the Yugoslav/Serbian infrastructure”) and prepared the foundation for the US regime’s central contraband distribution point in Kosovo. Of course, Camp Bondsteel also serves to control the Balkan route between Central Asia and Europe. Germany regained its privileged access to the Balkans but the interface with the Middle East is in US hands.

For the past months Europeans, especially Germans, have been obsessed with the situation just past the Balkans—in Greece. Ostensibly the Greek government has qualified as a “failed state” within Europe itself. According to the various official stories Greece is a country maintained in luxury at EU (mainly German) expense. It entered the Euro Zone using fraudulent data in order to profit from the enormous largesse that the authorities in Brussels distribute to any country that requests it. Greeks were tricky (remember the Trojan War) and the bureaucrats in Brussels were gullible. Now that the European Central Bank and the largely German (Deutsche Bank) “lenders” have found hollow horses parked illegally in the rue de la Loi and the Sonnemann Strasse, they are all shocked. ((Rue de la Loi is the address of the European Commission in Brussels. Sonnemann Strasse is the address of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.)) The official story of Greece’s economic misery compares with the US regime’s Iraq War pretext for sheer mendacity.

In fact, the entire Euro narrative is largely fraudulent—like the conditions under which hands are violently wrung in Frankfurt, Brussels, London, and elsewhere. If there were any reason to doubt that the Media is little more than a mouthpiece for the financial oligarchy, then the fanaticism with which virtually all of them condemn Greeks and Russians ought to suffice.

For those who have forgotten, prior to the formal introduction of the Euro all EU members had to submit to the Commission extensive expert opinions inter alia as to their inflation rate, level of public debt, budget deficits, and exchange rate stability within Europe. Never mind for the moment why and for whom these criteria were adopted. These opinions were all prepared by private companies, especially investment banks and audit firms. In other words, every European government issued a call for tenders and awarded a firm or firms the contract to prepare the extensive documentation to be submitted to the European Commission (e.g. to Eurostat) for review and approval. ((Should one be inclined to trust this agency charged with statistical integrity (perhaps a contradiction in terms) one might recall that about the same time as Greece was being reviewed for admission to the monetary union Eurostat was the focus of corruption scandal.)) There are two things to be considered immediately in this process, which apply to all such contracts: First is the fiction of objectivity in the private auditing firm. Second is the fiction of independence in the state or European bureaucracy. The same, it must be added, applies to the US regime’s “rating agencies”.

Once it had been decided that there would be a Euro Zone, it would have been politically impossible for any audit firm or investment bank to render an opinion that the regime signing the accession instrument was incapable of membership in the monetary union. Secondly, the decision in Brussels to accept any regime’s claims for eligibility is equally political. By that I mean an “economic rationale” is nothing more than an excuse for a decision that has already been made. It is a truism of big business practice that when management calls in a consultant; e.g., McKinsey, it is simply hiring a hit man. Since the Washington Consensus ((Washington Consensus is the name given to the grand strategy of economic warfare launched by the US in 1989. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and COMECON, the last ideological and political barriers to “rollback” were removed. On one hand NATO expansion removed the last military barriers to US global domination. On the other hand, the Institute for International Economics (founded in 1981 under Reagan’s pontificate), part of the vast US national security apparatus, launched a ten-point programme for political warfare to be managed by the international and multilateral banking institutions.)) to which Europe’s elite also subscribes—means that political and “economic” decisions are made solely according to the criteria adopted by the Business elite, no one should be surprised at the prevailing decision-making processes.

Part of those processes is the Old Boy system. In Britain this means the network of alumni, so-called “old boys”, from the major independent schools, especially the historic public schools like Eton and Harrow. In the business professions, especially law, accounting, banking, and consulting, this means the alumni of the great firms who subsequently occupy senior posts in corporations or government. These informal networks provide incentives and rewards among brothers and very occasionally sisters as they climb the spiral staircases of their careers. The corporate “old boy” system operates parallel to the hereditary power elite although there is often enough a “personal union” between members of one system and the other.

Take someone like Mario Draghi, educated by Jesuits, he was then sent to one of the US regime’s equivalence of a pontifical seminary—to be taught capitalist theology (aka economics) by inter alia one of its cardinal-deacons, Paul Samuelson. Whereupon he then spends time as a missionary at various university faculties in Italy, being elevated to a prefecture in the World Bank in 1984. Then he became general-director of the Italian finance ministry. In 2002, he joined Goldman Sachs (GS). In 2006 he became governor of the Banca d’Italia (Draghi’s father had also been a high-ranking official in the Italian central bank.) In this capacity he also joined the board of the (privately held) Bank for International Settlements. Since 2011, the GS alumnus has been president of the European Central Bank. In other words we have in Mario Draghi not only a consummate “insider”, but also a Goldman Sachs “old boy”. When Draghi became head of the Italian central bank he sold his shares in Goldman Sachs. Thus he formally had no interest conflict were Blankfein’s locusts to swarm over Italy or anywhere else in Europe. The disposal of shares only avoids a formal conflict of interest. In fact, conflict of interest is a misnomer: the entire central banking system is managed by professional bankers and the capitalist clergy (economists) who attend the same schools, universities and work for the same firms in the private sector when they are not being paid directly by the State. This is more so in Britain and the US where the central banks have been privately owned and/or managed entities operating under legislative protection/monopoly. ((The Aldrich Plan, upon which the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was based, was written by the representatives of J P Morgan banks and Kuhn, Loeb & Co. J P Morgan Chase is now one of the largest banks in the world. The Bank of England was nationalised in 1946 but interestingly enough it is assigned to the Treasury Solicitor (Government Legal Department) and not to the Exchequer (UK finance ministry). Both institutions were constituted—in contrast to continental central banks—to operate directly in the interest of private banking rather than indirectly through government control (especially democratically exercised).))

Return Now to Greece

The Greece we think we know—except perhaps if one has spent some vacation days there– is a mythical country in Europe, a mythical continent that is actually a peninsula of the Eurasian land mass—comparable to India with a fraction of the population. At the beginning of European colonial expansion, Greece was proclaimed to be the cradle of European culture. 18th and 19th century scholars—located mainly at the British universities of Oxford and Cambridge and Gottingen—began promoting Greece as the birthplace of the European races and the fountain of its cultural institutions. ((See Martin Bernal, Black Athena (1987). Bernal argues, for example, that the new discipline of Classics, which became the core curriculum of the British ancient universities and hence also the central doctrinal foundation for Britain’s imperial civil service was motivated more by the necessity of a European “identity” distinct from the non-white (African) culture of the Mediterranean than by any genuine appreciation of Greek subculture. Although Bernal criticised Edward Said’s “Orientalism” thesis, both scholars demonstrated the imperative within the imperial elites of France and Great Britain to create what has become a massive ideological structure for developing and maintaining the doctrine of European distinctiveness and superiority that prevails today throughout the West.)) Perhaps it was this imagined Greece that Byron felt compelled to die defending. In 1832, however, the Hellenic Republic was dissolved and the German Wittelsbach dynasty supplied the royal house. Otto I remained king of Greece until overthrown in 1862. At this point the forefathers of the British Prince-Consort were offered the Greek crown, which they declined in favour of the Danish branch of the family. The country touted as the cradle of democracy has seen precious little of it in the past. Thanks to the so-called Truman Doctrine even the defeat of Nazism did not deliver anything resembling popular or representative democracy for another thirty years.

After combined US and UK forces defeated the Greek anti-fascists, destroying much of the country and killing thousands in the resulting civil war, Greece, together with Turkey, were sucked into the NATO vortex (1952). This helped the Greek regime to top the league tables in European military expenditure as a proportion of GDP—but somehow could not prevent it from warring with Turkey over the island of Cyprus. ((Cyprus has been a strategic base for Christian control of the Eastern Mediterranean since the Crusades. It had been under from British rule from 1898 until 1960, although Britain retains two sovereign bases (like Gibraltar) on the island.)) As in other European dictatorships belonging to NATO, Anglo-American imperial interests have not only taken precedence over local popular will they have also assured that military budgets remain sacrosanct—even after those dictatorships yielded to parliamentary government.

It is within this context that Greek fiscal policy has to be understood. No military budget can ever be financed without either a repressive tax system or a thoroughly corrupt state bureaucracy. “Corrupt” means that the inherently corrupt system of military appropriations and expenditure has to be controlled by those who dominate the global weapons market: international weapons manufacturers and banks.

Just as there is some truth to the story that “democracy” has an ancient tradition in Greece, it was the same kind of democracy naively espoused as “Jeffersonian” in the US—namely, rule by a small, collegial elite over a disenfranchised slave majority. (It is therefore no accident that the US slavocracy has always loved the clichés of Greek architecture and elite leisure.) However, that democracy is a sentimentality promoted by the massive ideological structure created in the 18th century and maintained to this day. It only makes sense if the entire world is seen as an economy—in the microeconomic sense of dominated by private firms. Democratic governance means in effect the shareholder control based on votes proportional to ownership of private property.

In 1981 the people of Greece were again permitted to elect a parliamentary government. However, this did not end the indebtedness incurred by over thirty years of military domination, not to mention the debt forced upon Greece under Nazi occupation (money extorted by Germany). It did not end the de facto privilege of the military-industrial-banking complex in Greece which even when the most recent debt crisis arose was able to force the purchase of two German submarines.

Under these “third world” conditions, Greece was admitted to the EU and then into the Euro Zone. Only wilful ignorance and/or deceit could have persuaded the officials in Brussels that Greece met the financial and fiscal criteria for admission to the Euro Zone—corrupt reporting to corrupt Eurostat notwithstanding.

The Greece we have to examine to make any sense out of the events since 2008 is a third world country whose link to Europe was established for racial and military reasons and whose economy has been deliberately structured as a tax haven and money-laundering outpost within the EU. What is labelled casually “corruption” is nothing more or less than the outward and visible form of the covert financial operations found in Luxemburg, Belgium, Netherlands and Great Britain. By default it has become Germany’s largest offshore business location. All of this has little to do with the Greek working class or its rank and file civil servants (e.g. teachers, health and municipal workers). In short, the word “corruption” can only refer to damage to something healthy. There is nothing healthy in capitalism and nothing healthy in the places where this religion is most fanatically practiced.

So what is the real story about Greece—the one not discussed by anyone beyond the lunatic fringe?

To understand this story we have to return to the real purpose of the European Community/Union, the imperial objectives of Christendom—now ruled from the US—and the competing and complementary interests of Germany.

Winston Churchill in his infamous “Iron Curtain” speech (May 1946) helped cement the great lie that the concessions made to the Soviet Union at Yalta regarding Eastern Europe and reparations (omitted) were, in fact, a Soviet invasion of Europe that had to be reversed. In 1948 the core of the Western European Union was formed. This was designed to bind all the newly “liberated” Western European countries into an anti-Soviet alliance. At that time Germany was excluded. Then the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, signed in Washington, created NATO. In 1950 Konrad Adenauer used parliamentary tricks to force unpopular rearmament of West Germany. Then US invasion of Korea in 1950 offered the FRG the chance for profit from enormous procurement contracts and to join NATO five years later. It could then participate in the pan-European arms industry again.

However, soon after the war had ended it became clear that control over European militaries meant control over their economies too. Hence the European Recovery Program (aka Marshall Plan), a business-based bureaucratic instrument, was formed to restructure Europe’s economy, first by reorganising its heavy industry. ((This bureaucratic instrument survives today in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).)) This led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. By placing European industrial cartels under a central bureaucratic umbrella, capacity was created for a “trickle down” effect. US occupation of Western Germany gave its corporations carte blanche to buy into those cartels and controlled corporations using cash funnelled through the Marshall Plan. ((It must be remembered that Standard Oil, Ford, GM/DuPont already had substantial interests in the main German cartels throughout WWII. The Marshall Plan—which comprised loans mainly—opened the rest of the economy to the major US banks, especially the consumer goods sector.)) NATO was created in 1949. Subsequently Adenauer proclaimed the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in the US-controlled Western zone, provoking the creation of the German Democratic Republic in the Soviet occupied zone. All this made economic cooperation and reparations agreements with the Soviet Union a dead letter.

The war against Korea and former Nazi bureaucrat Ludwig Erhard’s “recovery” of masses of German capital secretly exported; e.g., to South America, in 1944 helped jump start the 60% of German industrial capacity untouched by Allied bombing. The “economic miracle”—like the miracles of medieval Catholicism—was no miracle at all. West Germany was rebuilt with massive war contracts and suppression of domestic consumption culminating in the currency reform that introduced the holy D-mark. On the one hand the FRG remained occupied by US Forces until 1989, protecting it from political and economic threats (foreign or domestic). On the other hand the recovery of the links to the Anglo-American elite—including those who had supported it covertly throughout the war—placed it in a unique position within Europe. This was aided by cancellation of much of German debt and “persuading” other countries; e.g., Greece, to forego repayment of millions extorted by the NS regime.

Just following the story this far indicates that the outrage in Germany over Greek debt is rooted in ignorance among the population and mendacity on the part of its political cadre. The German “miracle” was no more real than were all those “crying” virgins used to cheat the people ruled by the medieval Church. During the Middle Ages refusal to believe in the teachings of the Church—not the teachings of Christ, whatever they may have been—meant excommunication. After a year of unrepentant excommunication the Holy Inquisition was entitled to seize the faithless and burn him or her alive. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, is just one of American Capitalism’s grand inquisitors, his German Protestant upbringing notwithstanding.

Medieval Europe was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church—properly speaking by the Roman papacy. The foundation of Christendom can be dated from the Edict of Milan (313). This established Christianity as a tolerated religion within the empire ruled by Constantine. It is therefore alleged in Catholic history that Constantine essentially granted the emergent Christian church the status of state religion, with the result that just like all German civil servants had to satisfy Nazi qualifications (including race/religion) after 1933, the Roman bureaucracy became “Christianised”. The Christianisation of the Roman Empire is presented by the Church as a virtue because Christianity is supposed to be virtuous. However, the more striking process was not the adoption of Christian “virtue” but the creation of a bureaucracy governed by a central ideology, not just military or civil rule but political-psychological control.

The Christianisation of the Roman bureaucracy did not make it virtuous. It enhanced its control by the introduction of a psychic technology which was then developed to wage political warfare throughout Europe on behalf of the bureaucratic centre—Rome—and its autocratic head—the Roman pontiff.

Of course, Christianity existed and was preached in a variety of forms throughout the Mediterranean and the European peninsula. Any attempt to examine these or even trace the extent of Christian mission would certainly lead to challenges to my argument here—but they are. in fact, beside the point. The issue here is the combination of bureaucracy and totalitarian ideology. For decades—from 1917 until 1989 to be exact—we have had to endure all sorts of nonsensical arguments about the Soviet Union and communism most of which can be boiled down to the assertion that communism is a system of bureaucratic dictatorship. Without even beginning to test whether there is any accuracy (let alone truth) in this statement, it is clear that Roman Catholicism began in the 11th century to become a system of bureaucratic dictatorship and tyranny run from Rome, where a dictator (pope) was elected by an oligarchy (college of cardinals) that was self-perpetuating. The principal instrument of papal control became the Holy Office—the Inquisition. ((See inter alia Henry C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages (1888) and Alexandre Herculano, Historia da Origem e Estabelecimento da Inquisacao em Portugal (1852), translated by John C. Branner (1926).))

The common understanding of the Inquisition was that it was formed to enforce doctrinal conformity within Catholic Europe. However, it was really formed for two quite mundane reasons: to eliminate challenges to papal supremacy and to enrich the Church, especially the papacy. Its targets were never anyone corrupt, criminal, or violent—whether lay or clerical. In fact, the only time a common criminal was pursued by the Inquisition was if he claimed a doctrinal authority for his crime or his wealth posed an attractive target for Church avarice. The details of the Inquisition’s work for the consolidation of the papacy and capital accumulation requires more detail than can be presented here. The point is that beginning with the crusades against the Albigensians and Waldensians, the Inquisition was launched not because these Christians were not Catholic or not loyal to the pope. Quite the contrary their loyalty was acknowledged by Rome. The reason they were targeted for extermination is that they insisted on purging their clergy of those who comprised or participated in the infamously corrupt Roman bureaucracy of which the pope was the head. Since the pope could not and would not police and punish the massive abuse in the system, these two groups acted to purify the local church. Essentially the pope declared them to be “a good example”. However, he also saw that if he allowed the masses of Christians to purge the Roman bureaucracy, he would lose his power base. What we like to call corruption is actually the adhesive that maintains bureaucratic power. On one hand calling it corruption makes it sound like an exception while exercising this power within the bureaucracy gives it the colour of order, makes it seem rational.

Since the Reformation is always described as an attempt to purify the Church, sometimes by creating alternative ecclesiastical structures, too little attention is paid to the actual ideological-institutional processes themselves.

Two well-known studies have attempted to explain the emergence of capitalism under Protestant regimes. ((Max Weber, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) (1904) and R H Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926).)) However, both works tend to concentrate on ethical individualism and the ideological transfer of specific Christian doctrines into the economic sphere. A body of literature has also been produced which shows the conflicts between capitalism and Christianity. Yet the Church itself is rarely viewed as an economic enterprise. I believe this is because of the reluctance to contemplate the idea that something so obvious in the USA—churches that are explicitly businesses—is actually the essential rather than peripheral attribute of Christendom. In fact, the reverse is also true: Business is a church. This refusal leads us to an even graver failure: the inability to recognise capitalism as a religion and economics as its theology. Both Weber and Tawney recognise the “transfer” from religion to capitalism. However, neither can go so far as to suggest that this was not secularisation of religion but a bureaucratic-ideological transformation of human productive relations.

This, of course, is why Marx used the word “fetish” so often in Capital. ((Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 32d ed. (1988) “Der Fetischcharakter der Ware und sein Geheimnis”. The term in English “commodity fetishism” is found frequently in the primary and secondary literature.)) Marx was not referring to archaic traits in the sense Veblen described. ((Thorstein Veblen, Theory of the Leisure Class (1899).)) He meant literally that the system of capitalism itself is a religious system with a bureaucratic ideology he called “political economy”. When Marx describes the Tudor expropriation of the monasteries he was illustrating essentially a bureaucratic struggle in which relatively minor doctrinal points were applied to defend the establishment of a kind of counter-papacy in Britain. This kind of struggle was fought between the French papacy in Avignon and the Roman papacy. On the continent, and with the help of the Inquisition, the Roman pontiff ultimately prevailed.

The Reformation is incomplete without the Counter-Reformation. Probably the most central achievement of this conflict was to suppress popular movements throughout Europe until the French Revolution. Between the Council of Trent and the Peace of Westphalia, the Roman hierarchy battled against elites concentrated in Northern Europe that were challenging the economic and political domination and exploitation by the Catholic elite—Spain, Portugal, France, and the Papacy.

One of Luther’s 95 Theses was a condemnation of indulgences. Luther condemned indulgences because he asserted that salvation was based “on faith alone”—not good works. This sounds like a highly moral statement that would appeal even to most Catholics today. In fact, Luther was attacking mercantile instruments that today would be called derivatives. The trade in relics and indulgences, both “real” and “fraudulent”, was a major financing tool for the papacy and its massive bureaucracy. Notional absolution and commuted penance were packaged in documentary debt instruments—just like CDOs. The sale of an indulgence, like the sale of a CDO or a swap or any of the other devices invented by banks like GS, promised a future reward based on a risk that could be hedged by payment of a premium and/or fees.

In the religion of capitalism, wealth and salvation are virtually identical. In medieval Europe, anyone who was not obviously wealthy needed at least salvation. Since the rich are generally only more psychopathic than the rest of us, many also hedged their wealth with indulgences. This created a serious debt problem in Europe—quite aside from any doctrinal differences. Cancelling indulgences was not just an issue of faith.  It was an issue of money and wealth. The Roman Church may have proclaimed that Christ left it infinite treasure—from which it could underwrite endless indulgences—but that notional treasure was not going to pay the bills of the papacy and clergy. ((Henry C. Lea, A History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church (1896), three volumes))

Just as the Inquisition was introduced to crush the opposition to papal supremacy and the enrichment of the Roman bureaucracy—in other words the business of Roman Catholicism—it was enhanced in the Reformation. In the first phase, until approximately 1300, the Church was clearing Europe of any alternative Christian structures by means of open warfare. The pope did his best to recruit ambitious, pious, and greedy princes to invade the territories inhabited by heretics and subdue them militarily. This drove dissenters underground. However, it also met with resistance from princes unwilling to lose their sovereignty to those willing to work for the pope. Since outright military conquest became more difficult and expensive, the mendicant orders appeared to offer an efficient alternative. Yet their preaching was not enough. The pope needed “hearts and minds”. This led to the establishment of the Inquisition. To use a contemporary analogy, USIA and USAID ran civic action programmes in Vietnam, while the CIA tested various approaches for “neutralising” opposition; e.g., people who considered themselves Vietnamese but not “South Vietnamese”. The result was what became known as the Phoenix Program. This has been called a highly bureaucratised system for neutralising those who cannot be integrated into the regime’s scope of control. ((For more extensive discussion of the Phoenix Program see Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program, also reviewed by this author, and further articles on the US war against Vietnam…)) In medieval Europe the Franciscans and Dominicans divided their activity between propaganda (preaching) and terror (the arrest, torture and execution of heretics). Eventually these programs became unified in the Holy Office: it basically fulfilled the same functions as the CIA, especially once the Phoenix Program had been developed. ((The Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei was originally founded as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. At the beginning of the Pope John Paul II reign, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was appointed prefect of the Inquisition, an office he held until that pope’s death. He was not the first head of the Inquisition to be elected pope. While in office Ratzinger  presided over the purging of various forms of liberation theology from the Church, ordering Catholic clergy to withhold their support of revolutionary governments in Latin America while ignoring the assassination even of a Catholic bishop by state-run death squads. Ratzinger proved that the Roman Inquisition was still capable of disciplining any interference in the business. When Ratzinger was elevated to the papacy he appointed a US cardinal to the office.))

If we take this comparison seriously, then it is necessary to give even more weight to Philip Agee’s description of the CIA as “capitalism’s invisible army”—remembering too that Agee was raised and educated in Catholic institutions. Like the medieval Dominicans and Franciscans and later the Jesuits, they are sworn defenders of the faith in the service of the pontificate on the Potomac.

I began here with some events that disturbed me. They all seem at first unrelated. In fact, I do not allege any causal connection or coincidence. There are a number of theories of how change occurs in the world—especially how change in the way we think about the world occurs. The notion of paradigm shift became popular in the past few decades. Until Thomas Kuhn’s book became a standard in the theory of knowledge, the argument I learned at school prevailed: namely, people experimented and tested until they found a test, which explained all the data they could not explain. ((Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).)) Progress meant just better, more comprehensive tests. By the time I had reached university some, if not all, professors were saying that when a critical mass (who defines that?) find that there is no more to be said within a given framework—paradigm—then they change paradigms and start asking different questions. This sounds a lot like the sarcasm—“don’t go away angry, just go away”. Scientists cease being disappointed and simply ignore the question—going away to another one (e.g. where there is more research money). People do not disprove facts; they just ignore them and look at other things. Knowledge does not speak for itself.

I was even more disturbed by two debates that continue incessantly in nearly every venue in which I occasion to listen or read: “is there a new cold war?” and “are we on the brink of another world war?” A century ago the Great War had already started. I wondered when and how did the people living at that time—by that I mean those who were not making the decisions that led to and perpetuated the war or for whose benefit it was waged—realise that their world was at war. Did they have to be told? Could they feel it? Was it necessary for a private in the trenches to catch a whiff of phosgene or see his mates decimated by machine gun fire to know that the battlefield he entered in 1914 – 15 was quite unlike anything he or his forefathers had even known? If he was an illiterate factory worker in Britain or functionally literate French peasant or a technically educated German craftsman, when did he know that the world was at war?

When I began to merely count the events of the past years, especially from 2013, I do not doubt that the world is at war—in a way that appears to defy the language of those who feel it their profession to tell us what we ought to see and feel. Of course, I could begin counting in 1989 but I already have too many pupils and students who were not even born then. So because I wish to speak in terms that reach the living, I restrict my observations to the increasingly dense and anaerobic atmosphere filling my lungs—too. Perhaps this gasping for air, reminiscent of a near-drowning experience in my childhood, signals to me that under water our sense of distance, of what is close and what is far, of safety and danger are distorted. Still we have to try to grasp what we can see—even if its value is not yet clear—if we are to recover both light and air.

Dr T.P. Wilkinson writes, teaches History and English, directs theatre and coaches cricket between the cradles of Heine and Saramago. He is also the author of Church Clothes, Land, Mission and the End of Apartheid in South Africa. Read other articles by T.P..