Two Suns in the Sunset

Part 2: Mom, Is It War Yet?

As a fifth-grader my history teacher gave me and one of my classmates an extra task, one might say a riddle. I believe the reason was that there was a certain kind of rivalry between us as to who “knew more” in class. In any case in the days before the Internet, anything we thought we knew came from class or books– remember them? The question was “what does ‘e = mc2‘ mean? A couple of days later he asked us for our answers. My classmate, Richard, said he could not complete the task because he could not find the Roman numeral “e”. (Of course, there is none but a fifth-grader might be forgiven for not knowing that.) For reasons I cannot explain today this never occurred to me. I came back to class with the answer that this was an equation attributed to Albert Einstein. It was at that point that my fascination with theoretical physics began.

A year later at another school in the sixth grade, I was still interested in physics and because of my enhanced interest was permitted to attend science classes in the 7th grade instead. That year there was a science fair at our school. Since I was (and still am) more of the historical-theoretical bent, I did not submit any engineering or chemistry experiments or guinea pigs. I received honourable mention for a carefully constructed plaster of Paris model of an atomic explosion and a brief description of the principles of nuclear fission. What I most remember was the cumbersome rolling of old newspapers and the difficulty with which I attempted to cover a fist-sized ball of newsprint with enough plaster to stand as a mushroom cloud but not so much that it would collapse from the weight. Perhaps it was this feat that earned me the certificate. Perhaps it was the implication that I had absorbed the official message of the atomic age, despite regular (ultimately senseless) air raid drills. I certainly did not know anything about the magnitude of the Western, especially US, atomic threat to the world. In sixth grade I knew nothing about the Soviet Union either.

I must confess that throughout the so-called Cold War I was not particularly afraid of atomic weapons. I was more afraid of dying in a jungle in Southeast Asia at least until 1975. By the time I had reached high school I was convinced that the Soviet threat was an absurdity– although I had not yet realised the enormity of the NATO threat.

We were taught that the Soviet Union had threatened the US by stationing missiles in Cuba and that the brave scions of merchant slavers and Indian-givers had saved us from atomic war. We were taught that everywhere the US sent its mercenaries or Marines we were being saved from the “really big war” that would engulf the world. In short, by enforcing the “Monroe Doctrine” or the “Truman Doctrine” with saturation bombing, death squads, military golpes de estado, the odd kidnapping and assassination the US was assuring that atomic warheads would not explode in New York, London, or Frankfurt. ((Spanish/Portuguese equivalent of coup d’etat or the German Putsch: overthrow of established government usually by force of military conspiracy. Since the military almost always is the mere executive action arm of the corporate and/or landowning elite, a golpe is distinguished from a “revolution” which implies popular and base support. In fact, many military power seizures have called themselves “revolutions” in order to suggest that the military acted as an engine of the “national/popular will” instead of the elite they usually serve. Nasser (Egypt) and Qaddafi (Libya) were both leaders of anti-colonial factions in their respective militaries that led popular revolutions. However, these revolutions were denied that status, while the 1964 US-initiated/sponsored overthrow of Joao Goulart by the Brazilian military was hailed as a revolution in the West, as was the overthrow of Sukarno in Indonesia.)) In short, it was worth killing or torturing between 10 and 20 per cent of another weaker country’s population to prevent my home turning into a science project, with less than honourable mention.

The end of the “Cold War” was supposed to mean– by what literary scholars call “the willing suspension of disbelief” that these threats were gone– because the threat number one, the Soviet Union, was now gone, too. ((An expression attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria (1817), “so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” Today the operative process is “semblance of truth sufficient to procure that willing suspension of disbelief” permanently.)) Hence since 1989 it has been possible to use saturation bombing, death squads, military golpes de estado, enhanced kidnapping and interrogation and remote assassination in the certainty that neither the Soviet Union nor anyone else could retaliate with thermonuclear weapons. In the face of this consolation war in Europe has become routine along with its side and after effects. The difference, however, is that the ordnance is exported from Europe and delivered to its borders and beyond.

I watched Operation Desert Storm (21 January – 28 February 1991), the first “branded” war of the post-Soviet era, from the television lounge of the Johannesburg YMCA. The first season of what the US now calls the Global War on Terror could also be called CNN’s first mini-series. ((Cable News Network (CNN) had obtained the exclusive rights to broadcast the war.)) For little more than a month, the US corporate equivalent of the BBC broadcast the slaughter of retreating Iraqi soldiers and the decimation of one of the world’s most ancient cities to cheers by fans shouting “U-S-A” in tones scarcely different from the “Sieg Heil” shouted at Hitler’s Nuremberg party rallies. No one seemed then (or now) to notice the similarities to Orwell’s “five minutes of hate”, although Goldstein and Hussein both even bore names considered “Semitic”. What also escaped, and apparently still escapes, popular attention was that this was the overture to the long-feared age of constant atomic war. Under the pretext of liberating the Kuwaiti dictatorship from Iraqi occupation, US “coalition” forces attacked conventional military targets and civilian infrastructure with company grade tactical nuclear munitions. ((Kuwait is a statelet created by the British Empire in the course of its withdrawal from Mesopotamia (the League of Nations mandate portion of the Ottoman Empire acquired after the Great War) after World War II in order to secure its access to oil reserves in the region. Iraq had been lured into a conflict with Kuwait because every “coalition” government knew that Kuwait was illegally drilling under its border with Iraq to deplete Iraq’s oil reserves. It had been “assured” by those “coalition” diplomats that no action would follow a punitive occupation of Kuwait: Surprise, surprise!))

Just as the US regime used Japan as a testing ground for atomic bombs as “weapons of mass destruction” (since non-whites are always the preferred targets of weapons testing), Iraq was the first opportunity for the regime to test its depleted uranium munitions. In the Great War the chemical cartel introduced chlorine gas weaponry as a profitable way to dispose of enormous volumes of toxic waste from alkali manufacture. The massive atomic weapons industry (dominated by the chemical cartel too; e.g., DuPont) recycled its spent uranium fuel in the form of new armour-piercing shells. The health effects of uranium dust disseminated by the explosions are still subject to quasi-official denial. On the contrary their use increased to the point that large sections of Iraq (and no doubt Afghanistan and the Yemen) have become open-air atomic waste dumps. The astronomical rise in cancer rates (e.g. in Fallujah) notwithstanding this ordnance is not prohibited by any current convention governing the international law of land war.

In the early 1980s there were massive protests in Germany against the introduction of the Pershing II medium-range missiles by US occupying forces. The logical argument that even persuaded people on the right end of the political spectrum was that medium-range missiles would defend US interests but a Soviet retaliation would only desolate Germany. The protests had little impact on policy but they did raise the consciousness of most Germans that the US regime was perfectly willing to wage atomic war in “Old Europe”. By the time the GDR and Soviet Union collapsed, this threat seemed to have lapsed. NATO (Washington) then proceeded to expand to the Russian border (leaving the former GDR nominally free of NATO bases). In the euphoria that followed the supposed end of the Cold War the rearming of right wing governments east of the River Oder was virtually ignored. World War II had temporarily interrupted the deep economic crisis in the West that began in the wake of the Great War. The ruling class, really the Anglo-American elite, recognised that this crisis of profitability would return after 1945 if a way to avoid peace were not found. ((This is the core of George F. Kennan’s work (e.g. his 1947 “X” article in Foreign Affairs) and the subsequent National Security Council reports and resolutions leading to the war against Korea. See also I.F. Stone, The Hidden History of the Korean War (1952) reviewed by this author, and Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War (2 vols.) 1981, 1990.))

Germany’s industrial cartels and some of its Mittelstand found that their profits recovered as privatised state assets and cheap labour permitted renewed competitiveness abroad and a flow of cheap products to a German population that had been deprived of real wage increases for nearly two decades. ((The German Mittelstand comprises the relatively large number of business enterprises not integrated into the country’s industrial and financial cartels. This includes a large number of family businesses and roughly approximates the sector “small and medium-sized enterprises” (SME). Quantitatively the majority of German businesses are classified as Mittelstand. However, this does not mean that they are a qualitatively dominant sector in the economy or politics.)) Not only was Germany itself further de-industrialised (as Britain had been under Thatcher), agricultural production was moved to the East too. That left only farmers subsidised either by EU CAP funds or the new “biofuel” tax favours. ((Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the system of agribusiness subsidies inherited from the EEC (introduced in 1962) similar to the system of subsidies introduced during the US New Deal (Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938). On the one hand both programs improved the income of farmers by paying to reduce farm production and stabilise domestic farm income. On the other, however, the surplus production was (and is) dumped in the Third World thus destroying local farming and clearing markets for agribusiness.)) The replacement of food-stuff production in Germany with biofuel farming (e.g. maize) is one of the factors contributing to Germany’s strategic interest in the Ukraine. ((Ukraine is also known as Europe’s breadbasket. It is a major exporter of grain to Russia and now to Germany. Western Europe’s attempts to control Ukraine’s grain production were a major campaign against the Soviet Union prior to World War II and have regained their significance in the economic war against Russia.)) As in all export-led economies, Germany’s “growth” has been driven by suppressed domestic consumption (through wage stagnation) and importation of cheap food—from abroad. This cheap food can only be obtained in Europe by exploiting the largely agricultural economies on the periphery, Greece, Spain and Portugal, Italy (south of the Arno) and, of course, Ukraine (together with the rest of Eastern Europe). ((The German regime’s current policy toward Greece reflects the historical attitude toward Southern Europe (and Eastern Europe) that has prevailed since the German Empire was proclaimed in 1871.)) The US regime, in particular, has pursued this policy in Asia since 1945 mainly through its vassal state, Japan. Domination of cheap food supplies and labour remains something worth killing to preserve.

As if there were any doubt that as New York Times scrivener Thomas Friedman infamously wrote, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15,“ German Business’ Reconquista in Eastern Europe has been supported tacitly by NATO expansion and the introduction of medium-range armaments into the territory of the former Warsaw Pact, manned together with soldiers of anti-Russian regimes. ((Thomas Friedman, “A Manifesto for the Fast World”, New York Times, 28 March 1999.)) Anyone who asserts publicly reservations about this policy, who dares to recall the Second World War and Russia’s economic or political security interests, is openly attacked in the US-dominated German media with Newspeak as a “Putin-Versteher” (someone who understands Putin, which in Newspeak is the same as uncritically supporting everything the Russian government and its leadership may say or do). Naturally there is no equivalent term for NATO sycophants. Meanwhile the escalation of NATO militarisation of Eastern Europe continues from the Black Sea to the Baltic unabated.

If one allows one’s eyes and ears to wander even further eastward to the “land of the rising sun”, the “Hermit Kingdom” and the “Middle Kingdom”, it is impossible to ignore political and economic developments there. European and US industrial cartels began the arduous process of recapturing the fantastic masses of cheap labour on the Chinese mainland before 1989. However, this invasion accelerated phenomenally once the Soviet Union was dissolved. While European Business pushed toward the Urals, the US resumed its pre-war Asia policy—interrupted only briefly by failure to conquer all of Korea and Vietnam—and transferred as much of its industrial production as possible to the territory ruled by the regime in Beijing.

Whenever the process seemed to stagnate political pressure was applied. In 1989 while the West was forcing the dissolution of the so-called Eastern Bloc, massive demonstrations erupted in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Reliable reports as to the course of events are scarce and contradictory but the Chinese government ultimately dissolved the assembly of demonstrators, killing an unverified number. The ensuing debate in the West was focused on the official Chinese human rights policies. Discussion of its economic development policies drew significantly less attention. This has been the primary cudgel with which Western China policy has been fought. The right to demonstrate or use the Internet (the descendant of the US military’s ARPANET, ultimately part of the regime’s atomic warfare infrastructure, expanded for business profit) has continued to serve as a cross-party weapon against China, while labour conditions in factories run by Western cartels enjoy no particular attention. This should surprise no one who prefers the entertainment offered by Facebook and What’s app to regular employment at a living wage.

Unlike the defunct Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China has retained its centralised state and the loyalty of its population. This is probably less due to the benevolence of a regime that abolished Mao’s “iron rice bowl” in favour of something more akin to Louis Philippe’s “citizen monarchy” and more due to the Chinese nationalism instilled under Mao and a sense of sovereignty that transcends the Communist Party. For most Europeans—and US Americans—China is just a huge mass of rice-eaters, known for their ubiquitous restaurants and the labels on imported mass products. Few are aware that the Middle Kingdom was, in fact, the centre of the civilised global economy before 1492, with a trade surplus based on exports to Europe that was only reversed after Britain waged the two Opium Wars (1839, 1856). While US and European politicians complain about Chinese respect for patents, they freely forget the centuries of technology that the West adopted or even stole from China—needless to say before patents protected industrial monopolies. In short most of what is said or written about China is laced with, if not based on, ignorance and distortion. The opacity of the Chinese language to most Westerners inadvertently fuels the bonfire of idiocy, especially in an election campaign like the one beginning in the US.

Meanwhile the US atomic arsenal in South Korea, Japan, and very possibly Taiwan is positioned to remind those in Beijing of Thomas Friedman’s maxim. That is not all. Regular and intensified naval exercises by the US Pacific Fleet (US Navy’s 3rd and 7th Fleets) from the South and East China Seas to the Yellow Sea assure, at the least, that China has to invest in a larger navy. Since much of the country’s imported fuel and other primary commodities have to pass through the Malacca Strait—effectively controlled by the US Seventh Fleet—the freedom of the seas is a crucial issue. Given some fairly successful efforts of the US regime in expelling Chinese investment from Africa; e.g., through the creation of Southern Sudan, the last decade of “piracy” problems may well include privateering against China’s merchant marine activity. (After all the roots of the Royal Navy lie in raids on Spanish gold and silver transports from the Americas.) These conditions are aggravated by the US regime’s endless wars in the Horn of Africa and the recent Saudi invasion of the Yemen.

There has been continuous “war with interruptions” to fuel the gullets of Western banks and arms manufacturers while preserving the flow of the world’s resources to Europe and North America. Yet until recently there has been little challenge to this rapaciousness dressed as “growth”. Although an intended consequence of capitalism, a foundation of the faith so to speak, the maintenance of an endless flow of plunder is horrendously expensive. The military-industrial-banking complex has thus far successfully imposed this cost on the working and unemployed taxpayer. Yet this source is approaching exhaustion. Hence in 2008, a massive “system crash” was induced. It has been called a crisis while “experts” try to apologise for the supposed misbehaviour or mistakes of the banking cartel. Of course, there were mistakes and misbehaviour but these were nothing more than routine business practice. The system crash was the public trigger for an economic warfare weapon that has been in capitalism’s arsenal from the very beginning. In order to “reset” the system—to end a kind of temporary pseudo-peacetime economy in the US and Europe—it was inevitable that major manipulation of the financial transaction network be performed.

This was done in concert although the evidence for this campaign has been as fragmented as the ruins of the World Trade Center. In the US the key institution in triggering this campaign was not, as popularly argued, Lehman Brothers. It was AIG, an insurance conglomerate founded by old members of the China Lobby—the US Americans who ran the equivalent of the British hongs in Shanghai until Mao drove them and their stooge, Chiang Kai-Shek, out of the country in 1949. ((The “hongs” were the original British “trading houses” established in Hong Kong as a result of the Opium Wars. They controlled the opium trade and banking on behalf of British capital in China and British India. Some of the surviving hongs include Jardine Matheson, Hutchison Whampoa, Swire, Wheelock Marden. The Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation was born out of the opium trade through Hong Kong and the other “treaty ports”. Russell & Co., contributed to the Russell fortune from which the notorious Skull & Bones Society derived its seed money. In 1919, AIG was founded in Shanghai by Cornelius Vander Starr. In 1962 Maurice Greenberg, a US-American businessman, with deep relationships to the US national security apparatus, was selected by Vander Starr as his successor. He remained CEO until 2005.)) Whatever catastrophes were visited upon mortgagors, working and unemployed labour, and others exploited by the utterly rigged system of legally sanctioned usury were treated by the State—especially its elected and appointed officers in the US government—with the same equanimity with which thousands of Black Americans were evicted from Greater New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. ((At the same time as the monstrous derivative markets were collapsing, it was revealed that the major US and UK clearing banks were colluding to fix the LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Offer Rate), the interest benchmark upon which virtually all loans, including mortgages and consumer credit, are ultimately based. Presented as a scandal at the inter-bank level, the State and Media have judiciously avoided explaining the implications for ordinary loans and credit.)) Serious action was taken to refund those who ostensibly had to refinance AIG, whose risk and debt exposure remained obscured from any public scrutiny. No questions of any significance were asked where all this money could possibly have gone. The charades before Congressional committees added more confusion than clarity—as intended. Officially all this was unintended but the results of all the decisions taken from 2008 until today are clearly intended to arm the Euro-American imperial ruling class in the war against its Asian competitors.

Gregor Gysi, the leader of the German parliamentary party, Die Linke (The Left), observed that China holds about 26 per cent of European government bonds issued. China is by far the largest single holder of US Treasury securities (USD 1271.2 billion as of June 2015). ((Gregor Gysi, Speech to Deutsche Unternehmertag, 16 April 2015; US Department of Treasury/Federal Reserve, 17 August 2015)) In 2013, China reported that it built the world’s fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-2. ((Obama signs executive order to build world’s fastest supercomputer, CNNMoney (New York), July 30, 2015)) Together with Russia—which the US has endeavoured to keep away from China for decades—China is establishing at least the basics of a parallel multilateral financing and development bank. While that does not mean that the infamous Bretton Woods institutions are dead, this will be the first time since the end of World War II that a major alternative multilateral financing structure could emerge in which the US is not the principal and controlling shareholder. The New Development Bank has already issued loans denominated in Chinese currency. ((Timopei Borisov, New Development Bank to issue first loan in Chinese currency, July 29, 2015, Special to RBTH)) With major economies of the South, like Brazil, joining a bank whose charter deliberately abandoned the corporate governing principles the US dictates for the IMF and World Bank, there will also be some concern among those on the international Bretton Woods “gravy train” who stand to lose billions when countries are not forced to enrich contractors and privateers enforcing structural adjustment programmes. In other words, China—for all its robber capitalist pretensions at home—is becoming a genuine threat to the imperial status quo. For the first time since 1492 it may be that André Gunder Frank’s prediction in ReOrient is not the fantasy of a marginalised academic. ((Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient – Global Economy in the Asian Age, 1998.))

Will the Empire take all this sitting down—or strike back? Can it?

Our grandparents or great-grandparents were told a century ago that the war upon which they were to embark would be over in a matter of months. By 1915 sufficient doubt began to arise as to the accuracy of those predictions. By 1917 millions were already dead and the heir apparent to Britain’s crown imperial was telling its subjects that they would be fighting the “war to end war”. Alone public knowledge of Morgan and DuPont profits would have exposed this carefully crafted propaganda for the lie it was. Those un-fooled like Eugene V. Debs spent the rest of the war in prison. When the war ended the German and Russian empires collapsed, while the British and French empires survived only by the grace of US capital. While Britain and the US did their best to crush the German and Russian Revolutions, succeeding in the former and failing with the latter, the US war economy rolled on into crisis. Enormous productive capacity created for war lay still. Consumers—other than perhaps lynch mobs, strike breakers and hunters—had no use for the output of Springfield rifles or defective DuPont munitions. In fact there were no consumers in today’s sense of the word. Hence the war propaganda machine was turned into public relations and marketing—the consumer was invented to buy with his or her still meagre wages all the rubbish that these government-funded factories could produce. As Edward Bernays argued after Versailles why not do for industry in peacetime what he had been doing for them during the war? ((Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, published his first book called Propaganda but after the Great War coined the term “public relations” because German war information/advertising—called “propaganda” in German—had given the word a negative connotation. Interview with Edward Bernays in Century of the Self, Episode 1. Bernays became wealthy advising corporate and government clients on how to manipulate public opinion. He was actively involved in the campaign that led to the 1954 CIA-sponsored golpe in Guatemala for the benefit of United Fruit Company—and the Dulles brothers.))

The Great War and its consequences not only created vast income inequality in Europe it exacerbated income inequality in the US. Mass consumption was seen by Business as the way to restore the wartime profit levels but refusal to increase wages meant that the only way to finance this consumption was to increase credit. Hence a condition arose in which the newly created mass consumption system was to be financed not by wages but by loans; e.g., instalment plans, margin purchases (esp. of stocks and similar assets). The failure of the major economies in Europe caused by the reparations demanded from Germany and its inability to pay, led the usual suspects—the Morgan banks and their allies—to demand changes in the post-war scheme. If Germany did not pay France and Britain, then France and Britain would not pay Morgan et al. Readjustment followed readjustment. None of the European belligerents could recover on the basis of their domestic markets alone. Hence tariffs on all sides were raised creating havoc among capitalists trying to dump their surplus on each other’s doorsteps. By 1922 the British and US had withdrawn most of the troops from the Soviet Union. Britain recognised the new government in 1924; the US withholding recognition until 1933. By then both Britain and the US were in the midst of a deep depression.

Critics of capitalist orthodoxy like John Maynard Keynes insisted that the economy could not recover profitability or employment on its own. He argued that employment was key to profitability—because without it there could be no consumption to drive the supply of goods and services, which constitute the fuel for capitalist expansion. Keynes stated this in a format like that of political economists before him, as a problem of 18th century moral philosophy, but rather than confining himself to the eugenics model which prevailed in the Malthusian wing of capitalist morality, he added mathematical theory to show that there was no natural incentive for private capital to act in any way whatsoever without the guarantee of obscene profit. Probably his primary concern was the potential rebelliousness of badly fed, as opposed to unfed, masses. Hence he cautioned, even urged, governments to support creating money to fund projects that would continue to allow the rich to get richer—on the condition that they employ more people and that they tolerate paying the poor and unemployed money to spend in consuming all the junk that industry produced.

Although some segments of the ruling class accepted this argument, the traditional ruling class majority stubbornly insisted that there was nothing in the working class menace that could not be handled with the sword or truncheon—or machine gun. However, soon the apparent success of the Soviet Union and its inspirational impact even on US American workers began to change minds among the ruling elite. Mussolini’s combination of syndicalism and Business-dominated dictatorship seemed like an attractive alternative. Attempts to settle this internal conflict led to the Business Plot to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, exposed by former Marine Corps general Smedley Butler. An alliance between Roosevelt and Southern segregationists, helped by massive public works projects, was able to partially subdue any revolutionary tendencies. However, the recovery of Europe and the preparations for war against the Soviet Union and Japan gave the real impetus necessary to start the capitalist profit machine again. By 1941 full employment was nearly reached by producing weapons for nearly everyone who needed or wanted them. The mass profit machine was expanding again, keeping wages down, policing political dissent, and conquering new markets (peoples).

1945 ended with large portions of the Soviet Union, China, Japan, and Germany destroyed. In the Soviet Union practically everything west of the Urals was flattened or rendered useless and more than 20 million people were dead—many of whom were slaughtered gratuitously by the Nazi forces funded by Western cartels and manned by fascist collaborators from all over Europe, especially the East. China suffered a similar fate at the hands of Japan—although it had nowhere near the industrial infrastructure destroyed by Germany. The US was entirely unscathed. Now the greatest exercise in supernaturalism since Coleridge defined it was initiated. Two countries that had lost some 20 per cent of their population and whose economic and political infrastructure was in ruins were converted—by those very same forces that organised the “torches of freedom” in the 1929 New York Easter Parade—into the ultimate threats to planetary life. China and the Soviet Union (Russia), both of which would spend the subsequent twenty years recovering from Western-sponsored decimation of their countries and inhabitants, were somehow bent on world domination. And it was this new war against imaginary enemies that would continue the super-profits that had begun in the West.

In August of 1945, the Soviet Union had been given notice that any attempt to interfere with US succession to the throne imperial would be met with merciless annihilation—without the least chance of defence or retribution. The US went on a rampage. Under the pretext of an Open Door policy, US imperial diplomacy (overt and covert) as well as military power was applied to make de-colonisation as foreseen under the UN Charter a dead letter. ((Open Door Policy describes the attitude of the US Empire towards its competitors in target markets (populations). Attributed to US Secretary of State John Hay (1898 – 1905), the statement of principal was that rather than challenging other imperial powers directly it demanded equal treatment with all other imperial powers in matters of trade and access. The policy was (and is) still the keystone to US demands upon China. This approach was extended to other countries as a challenge to Britain’s imperial preference system. As a result of cumulative war debt and lend-lease obligations Britain was forced to yield the imperial preference in favour of US demands.)) With the Soviet Union and Japan out of the way, the US ruling class felt so certain of its capacity to dominate that it seized Korea. Unfortunately both Koreans and Chinese combined to demonstrate that the US did not have the conventional capability, let alone the capacity, to defeat land armies in Asia. Although it is still only possible to speculate, for some reason it was ultimately agreed not to pursue the war in Korea with nuclear weapons. Yet there is no doubt that the US maintains atomic capability in Japan and the Korean peninsula today, ultimately directed at you know whom.

The US military-industrial complex did not stop developing atomic weapons after the Soviet Union essentially ended World War II. In fact, this gorgeous, highly secretive and lucrative weapons programme enjoyed virtually unlimited financial resources. Strategists in the empire’s national security apparatus were actively planning and fantasising the weapons, which could obliterate the Soviet Union and even allow a second strike, if the first had not brought the Reds to their knees. A lengthy official history by the bomb makers at Sandia National Laboratories was declassified several year’s ago containing original interviews with psychopaths like Edward Teller but also lesser sociopaths in and out of science and government who participated in the planning for every conceivable manner of the post-war dream—one-sided annihilation of the Reds and thus any obstacles to US globalisation. ((The National Security Archive, U.S. Strategic Nuclear Policy: A Video History, 1945-2004)) Along with the truly awesome megaton warheads, Sandia was busy finding as many possible uses for atomic bombs in the single- and double-digit kiloton range, so-called tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). The main problem was reducing the bomb to the size appropriate to the delivery medium and the target. Samuel T. Cohen developed the concept of the enhanced radiation bomb, made popular by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, as the “neutron bomb”. The idea was to kill but not demolish. In addition to use by NATO forces wherever they might be outnumbered (by definition Russia and China) TNW are also considered for ground penetration; e.g., “bunker bombs”. In fact, there was even a proposal to detonate an atomic bomb in the middle of the Amazon to create an artificial lake connecting the vast riverine transport network used by inter alia oil companies. ((Gerald Colby, Charlotte Dennet, Thy Will Be Done: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, 1996.)) In theory a one-kiloton atomic artillery shell such as the M-28/29 “Davy Crocket” might be authorised for use by a company commander under duress—if it seemed the only way to stop the hordes. Such weapons were deployed officially until around 1968. The doctrine of tactical nuclear weapons was not to reply to the use of such weapons by an enemy but to allow numerically and otherwise inferior US forces to slaughter larger and potentially better armies in the field. In other words, it has always been a doctrine developed not because of fear of attack but, like in the old Westerns, a means to massacre savages standing in the way of empire.

For decades the essentials of US/NATO strategic doctrine and the Business; e.g., ruling class, it is intended to defend have been misrepresented and distorted (like economic policy) to sustain not only fear but also ignorance. Seventy years of war have been presented as peace won by threatening the Soviet Union and then China with atomic annihilation. Atomic annihilation was presented as the immanent fate of the West if socialism was not resisted on every front. We—or at least most of my generation—were taught that what awaited us was either the “free market” or thousands of Soviet warheads in free fall upon the schools in whose cellars we cowered. After the “Cold War” ended stories began about “terrorists” getting bombs, while the bombs dropped accidentally or lost by the US military were discretely concealed or forgotten. The bombs were no longer necessary but NATO had to keep producing and upgrading them. The bombs Israel produces do not exist while the bombs Iran refuses to produce are just around the corner. To date the only countries the US has not directly invaded have some quantity of atomic weapons. ((Israel, India and Pakistan are non-signers of the NPT. It may be a matter of definition whether the US has ever invaded Pakistan.)) Only the presumed enemies of the US seem to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. ((Treaty on Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, entered into force in 1970.))

We were taught, and are still taught, to be afraid. My generation was supposed to be afraid of the “big one”. When we were not afraid of the bomb we worried about being handsome or beautiful, healthy and employed. Now the fear is of not being watched and admired or doused in 140-character dribble at every minute of the day, waking or asleep. Every act of consumption is reduced in duration and increased in frequency. The “tele-screen” is now handheld and in every hand. The five-minutes of hate have been shortened to 140 characters or less broadcast on Facebook along with photographs of the previous night’s meal taken in real time. Everything can be photographed or filmed and yet nothing is genuinely seen.

On 12 August 2015—now that I think about it, the anniversary of my father’s death—a massive explosion occurred in the major Chinese harbour of Tianjin. Tianjin is also the location of China’s two national supercomputers. The official explanation for the explosion was the combustion/detonation of at least 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide along with stocks of calcium carbide and ammonia nitrate. The explosion left an enormous crater and produced a shock wave that registered between 2.3 and 2.9 on the Richter scale. The fireball and smoke cloud were several hundred meters high. A number of videos appeared in the various electronic editions of major media and Internet sites showing the explosions and damage from the shock wave and heat waves. At the same time criticism has been levelled against the Chinese government for reporting very little, if anything, about the course of events and any investigations. There has been speculation of all sorts as to the actual cause and nature of the explosion. But more striking is that like the reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan in 2012, it has been virtually forgotten. Its news value expired within days of the event. Interestingly enough the Chinese government ceased its progressive devaluation of the yuan after the incident. ((Phillip Inman, China Ends Three Days of Yuan Devaluation, The Guardian, August 14, 2015))

One of the most controversial explanations for the violence of the explosion in Tianjin is the detonation of a micro-nuclear device—comparable to TNW warheads. At least one website presents analysis of the incident scene, the damage reports and the available measurement data—attaching several reports on explosions in both nuclear and non-nuclear testing. ((Ian Greenhalgh, Confirmation Tianjin was Nuked,Veterans Today, August 25, 2015.)) There is no attempt to attribute authorship to the explosion but the editors and the experts they consult are convinced that an atomic device caused the explosion. That is to say it could have been an accident with an atomic device under storage or in transit. It could have originated elsewhere. But if it was an atomic device, then one thing is certain—this kind of ammunition is in transit and susceptible to unplanned/surprise detonation. Another thing is certainly even more disturbing, however. If this explosion can occur or the putative atomic charge detonated in the Yemen (shown in film on the same website) and be forgotten in a couple of days, then there may simply be no need ever to wait in fear of “the big one”. We will find ourselves completely dazed until the wind sweeps us with the radioactive debris from the bomb down the road.

We do not notice the depleted uranium. DIME rounds do not drive through our walls, pulverising our loved ones with nano-tungsten. ((DIME refers to “dense inert metal explosive”, one of a number of highly lethal munitions, like nano-thermite, by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in the late 1990s. DIME munitions mix high explosive with tungsten in a charge which produces micro-shrapnel, killing and maiming at short range but leaving most of the physical environment undamaged. The powdered tungsten cannot be removed surgically. Heavy metal tungsten is also carcinogenic.)) We have forgotten all the atmospheric tests and the non-smokers dying of cancer after working in or near uranium mines. We think tobacco and alcohol and red meat cause cancer but don’t worry about the air we all breathe, the water we all drink and the largest atomic arsenal in the world just around the corner.

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd produced an album after the 1983 Falklands War called The Final Cut. The last song of the album, “Two Suns in the Sunset,” is worth quoting in full:

In my rear view mirror the sun is going down
Sinking behind bridges in the road
I think of all the good things
That we have left undone
And I suffer premonitions
Confirm suspicions
Of the holocaust to come.

The rusty wire that holds the cork
That keeps the anger in
Gives way
And suddenly it’s day again.
The sun is in the east
Even though the day is done.
Two suns in the sunset
Could be the human race is run.

Like the moment when the brakes lock
And you slide towards the big truck
“Oh no!”
You stretch the frozen moments with your fear.
And you’ll never hear their voices
“Daddy, Daddy!”
And you’ll never see their faces
You have no recourse to the law anymore.

And as the windshield melts
And my tears evaporate
Leaving only charcoal to defend.
Finally I understand the feelings of the few.
Ashes and diamonds
Foe and friend
We were all equal in the end.

Essentially one has to listen to The Wall (1979) and the Final Cut together. Most people I know do not understand the first album and have never heard the latter. The films, like most music videos, flatten the text with visual platitudes and clichés. Although I lived in Berlin at the time that the temporarily reconstituted Pink Floyd performed The Wall there, I did not even think of attending. ((Performed at Potsdamer Platz, Berlin on 21 July 1990.)) The rank opportunism and distortion of the original texts was nauseating — if not intentional then contextual.

Eric Blair (Orwell) was actually attacking the underlying fascism in Britain’s bourgeois political class (both Labour and Conservative imperialists) and anticipated the political culture that prevails in Britain today. Instead the book was turned into an anti-socialist tract. Blair was not particularly socialist but he understood the consequences of imperialism. In the same way Waters– who does not have a particularly sophisticated analysis of politics or the economy– had an artistic comprehension of the fascist foundations of Western society, in particular corporate culture. At a time when no one in Britain was criticising the victory in the Falklands War, Waters released this album with its scathing critique of imperialism, hypocrisy and the galleon figure of Thatcher. Today Thatcher and Reagan have been beatified even by most of the so-called Left. Since 1989, they have become latter day saints in the catholic church of capitalism triumphant.

“We don’t need no education” is probably the most popular Pink Floyd song and a typical example of something ripped from context and turned into its opposite. That is what Orwell meant by “newspeak”. ((“Newspeak” is the term Orwell gives to the official politically approved language used in 1984. The composite of “new” and “speak” implies a language innovation—renaming of things with new jargon. However, it also can be read as “news” speak—the language used to present events, either in the past or the present as “news”. Since Winston’s job in the Ministry of Truth is to correct the “news” from the past to conform to the “news” of the present, newspeak is not only jargon but also the method by which the history is controlled. E.g. “Free enterprise” was a term invented in the PR industry (propaganda) to circumvent the attacks on capitalism in the West. The post-WWII economies in the West had all been concentrated and dominated by cartels/trusts that survived almost entirely from government contracts (taxpayers). The term “command economy” was introduced as an opposite to the term to lend credibility to the fiction of “free enterprise”. Originally the term “politically correct” was a term applied by opposition movements to indicate hypocritical use of opposition language either as euphemism or for cynical purposes. This gave rise to terms like “reverse discrimination”—suggesting that any redress of substantive racial or gender discrimination could only be obtained by committing the same injustice to the privileged/ruling class. In fact, this language is used to enforce such policies as forcing slaves to compensate their former masters for “property loss” or workers to compensate their employers for the costs of improvements in wages and working conditions.)) If one listens to The Wall as an operatic work then it is clear that “education” actually means “indoctrination” and school terror practised against young people by a sadistic bureaucratic apparatus. Instead the song has been marketed and widely understood as a rebellion against any effort to learn systematically or to educate oneself. The song is presented as praise and summons to reject precisely that humanity which is needed to avoid or resist oppression.

Of course, this is a fundamental problem of all cultural production. While it is necessary to produce critical culture it is not enough. One has to translate culture into the rest of the society. If it remains a mere commodity– like most music– then only those people who already understand the condition will draw any of its descriptive power. One of the interesting aspects of the “punk”/”heavy metal” segment is that it still seems integrated in a socio-economic subculture. The rest of the socio-economic subculture that emerged in the 1950s-60s has been fully absorbed by right wing “identity politics”– essentially a politics of personal taste– kitsch.

In bourgeois culture, the “art perceiver’s role” has been almost entirely occluded by the “art consumer’s role”– hence the absurdity of the art market and the uniformity of so-called high culture. Instead of art perception as an exercise in confronting discontinuity or even cognitive disruption high culture is simply gratuitously expensive entertainment. Pop (mass) culture imitates this process by multiplying the number of “exclusive” entertainers who invariably become merchandisers (or are merchandisers who become entertainers).

One important means for enhancing monopoly mass culture is the legislated and regulatory elimination of the traditional venues for popular cultural production– workplaces and pubs. Under the guise of health and safety policy (strangely enough unenforceable in the workplace) popular entertainment and assembly venues have been continuously restricted: no smoking, no drinking, etc. Sexual behaviour is regulated through identity policies and promoted by celebrities so that the important point is to be a gay/lesbian businessperson or professional killer (soldier/police) and not to establish economic relationships that are just for all. Identity replaces equality as the primary human value. In this sense the salvation of the individual soul is affirmed to the detriment of the rest of humanity. The most vulgar form of this methodological individualism is what might be called the dialectic of voyeurism, manifested technologically in personal digital devices, pernicious at all ages in the popular phenomenon known as “selfies”.

Adam Curtis’ film Century of the Self offers one of the best graphic illustrations of how the Reaction absorbed the so-called counter-culture. Of course, the brutal suppression of Blacks and the crushing of national liberation movements throughout the world was complementary to this triumph of “identity politics” but that was beyond the scope both of Stuart Ewen’s books (upon which Curtis based much of his film) and Curtis’ topic. ((Stuart Ewen, PR! A Social History of Spin, 1996; See Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self, 2002, especially episodes 3 and 4.)) In Curtis’ other films, however, he captures these aspects too. ((Adam Curtis, The Mayfair Set, 1999 and Pandora’s Box, 1992 both deal with the technological and ideological machinations underlying Cold War politics in the “Atlantic Alliance”. A particular strength of Curtis’ films is the willingness to link explicitly people and corporations to policies and events.))

Returning to Waters and Orwell, the description of the post-war era as a betrayal conforms to the moral discourse with which the world wars were fought. This moral discourse mutated into what has been correctly called “military Keynesianism”. For a short period concessions were forced out of the ruling class since they needed full employment to capture the profits the war was bringing them. This era formed the backdrop of the possible worlds Waters and Orwell described. These were not future dystopias but the images of the society at the end of the atomic rainbow. They both saw very clearly the society that had emerged during their lifetimes. Orwell understood that permanent propaganda and permanent war would include permanent poverty. Waters seems to understand the tyranny exerted over youth as a foundation for the permanent state of violence as entertainment and entertainment as violence. That tyranny is sustained by cynicism and the unremitting disappointment of past generations of victims.

Thomas Friedman also wrote in the same New York Times essay:

The defining document of the cold-war system was the Treaty. The defining document of the globalization system is the Deal. While the defining measurement of the cold war was weight, the defining measurement of the globalization system is speed — in commerce, travel, communication and innovation. The cold war was about Einstein’s mass-energy equation, E=mc2. Globalization is about Moore’s Law, which states that the computing power of silicon chips will double every 18 months.

My first contact with the violence of the Cold War was the discovery of that equation in the intervals between the air raid drills in my school. Friedman’s globalisation is the continuation of imperialism—measured in computing power. It is the awareness that as I write this I am trying to compress into digital characters the volumes I have read and the experiences I have had which have only heightened my anxiety.

Elsewhere I have written, and I still believe, there are no true secrets only the inability or unwillingness to perceive and to know and to draw consequences from perception and knowledge. The most serious obstacle to perception is lack of context. Context is history, it is memory and the ability to organise it together with the phenomenon we call “here and now”. More importantly it is interested—interested in humanity, in survival and fulfillment not just for each one of us but for all. If we cannot see the atomic war in its boutique forms, used to destroy non-white populations far from Europe and North America, then we will scarcely notice more than the sunsets that save us from having to wash our cars again.

• Read Part One here

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..