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The United States: “As Menacing to Itself
and the World As Ever”

by Paul Street
November 10, 2004

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Rahul Mahajan said the following in his blog on the day after the election: “This is a time to wallow in the defeat. Let's not shrug it off too quickly. Let's acknowledge what it means in a world that is in the process of being torn apart by a new crusade. When we move on to try to find hope, let's start with a rational core, not one built out of wishful thinking, fantasies about how the world works, and self-congratulation.” (Mahajan's "Empire Notes," at


Somewhere in the same posting Mahajan said 11/2 was a victory primarily for “stupidity”, pointing out the pivotal role of the supposed great threat posed by gay marriage in determining a Buschon outcome.


I agree with Mahajan on both counts, by and large.


I also agree with following sentiments advanced by a correspondent in Japan:


I've been trying to ‘recup’ my wits after 11/2.  I had been telling friends here in Japan all last week that Bush could win re-election but that he'd to cheat to get it.  The election, I fear, has entered the realm of ‘limited access’ and national security in that we'll never know if it was fair or not, and probably from now on Americans and the world never know if our president was ever fairly elected... Elections from now on may go the way of the Warren Commission: future generations will know the true election results but not us, maybe after, say, 75 years.  Vote now, your grandchildren get the results, in more ways than one.


For all the horror of 9/11, it wasn't much on the large stage: one day, a few city blocks and a few thousand dead. Compared with a decade and a half, the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, upwards of a million dead (counting sanctions and the last 18 months), I wonder if the electoral majority who we hear kept Bush in the White House feels we're even yet.  I guess not.


Living overseas, I often wonder if I won't or haven't succumbed to the same view that Ezra Pound had.  After decades living in Europe, he believed that America should be the way Jefferson described it: relatively fair.  He related to America via its literature, the constitution and bill of rights, hence he was perceived as positively eccentric if not outright crazy.  I spent a few weeks in America this summer, in Ohio of all places, and was stunned with the absence of outrage.  No one I talked seemed to have a clue what was going on: store fronts boarded up, gone out of business, yet with Bush/Cheney stickers in the windows.  Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised.  Now I know.


Yes, are we “even” yet?  Apparently not, according to fifty-nine something million registered American voters (and probably more since John F. Kerry supported a continuing war on Iraq). According to one careful and conservative estimate, the US conquest of Iraq has led to the death of 100,000 Iraqis so far (see    


Sunday's Chicago Tribune has a top-page photograph of hundreds of battle-ready U.S. Marines “lin[ing] up for a prayer session at their base outside Fallujah.” They are among 10,000 troops who have taken positions around the famous center of heroic Iraqi resistance to the bloody and illegal American occupation. 


For a prayer session. 


Their pastors, I suppose, are giving them advance religious inspiration and/or absolution for the brutal mass murderous actions they are about to undertake on orders from the false-Christian War Pig masters in Washington, who are flush with a “mandate” to tighten the screws of empire and inequality yet further in the name of slaying the hideous specter of Gay Marriage. 


How many of these troops, I wonder --probably most of them -- were told that they were in Iraq to Avenge 9/11, an event that did not involve a single Iraqi or the Iraqi state in any way?  How many of them have been explicitly told and conditioned to relish the imminent high-powered wastage of “ragheads” and “sandniggers”…. to enjoy the pulverizing of defenseless people with the world's most advanced "battlefield" weaponry. 


Onward Christian butchers.


Up above the picture of praying soldiers on the eve of their noble imperial slaughtering operations is a story about the Bush administration's efforts to cash in the “political capital” granted by their 2 or was it 3 percentage point “mandate” by finding ingenious new ways to cut further the taxes asked of the industrialized world's wealthiest and least-taxed “national” bourgeoisie...this in a nation where tens of millions go without health insurance and millions live in “deep poverty,” beneath one-half of the nation's notoriously inadequate poverty level. 


I appreciated Howard Zinn's recent expressed post-election sentiments on behalf of “Optimism” (ZNet, November 6, 2004).  “If we see only the worst," Zinn reminds us, "it destroys our capacity to do something.”


At the same time, consistent with Mahajan and my overseas friend's horror at Americans without “a clue,” I am just as impressed by the need to breathe in (inhale if you like) the full extent of the dangerous beast that America has become (long before the election) and by the dangers of too quickly moving on without a full appreciation of what's (very) wrong. 


The way out of the cave is often not to chase the distant light too high to reach but to feel around for the hidden escapes in the darkness in your midst. The truth, as Antonio Gramsci used to say, is always revolutionary and the truth of American history and America's role in the world feels closer right now to Gabriel Kolko's dark take than it is to Howard Zinn's more hopeful rendition --- and this is from someone who has long assigned Zinn's inspiring People's History of the United States in both halves of the undergraduate US History survey (and will continue to do so if he ever returns to a history classroom).


This is from the preface to the 1984 edition of Kolko's Main Currents in American History:


“The United States from its inception has been a nation blind to itself -- its past, its present, and its future.  Intellectually and culturally underdeveloped, it has left it to a handful of European commentators and rare, alienated mavericks [I think of Frederick Douglass, John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, C.Wright Mills, W.E.B. DuBois, Woody Guthrie, Noam Chomsky, Paul Sweezy, Howard Zinn, and Kolko among others, P.S.] to produce some of the more penetrating assessments of American life and society. No industrialized people confronts reality so ill-prepared in terms of ideas and insights to cope with the problems before it....America yet marches into a future with its eyes turned toward the past, remaining astonishingly indulgent of its own tragedies and as menacing to itself and the world as ever...the large majority of its writers and scholars...persist in avoiding the fundamental questions of the causes of the United States’ growing, even inexhaustible, problems at home and abroad.  The consequence of this aversion to fundamentals is that there still exists, even today after the Korean and Vietnam holocausts, an only minor dissenting tradition in American thought....American scholarship has largely been immune to the dominant experiences of its age: the violence and deepening crises at home, the capacity for unlimited savagery and ruthlessness of United States foreign policy abroad, and the clear trend toward greater difficulties without resolutions for any of them.”


At the end of Main Currents, Kolko talks about the uncertain future and says that “the least certain [thing] of all” is “the role of the American people in seeking to reverse the crisis of their social order for better and worse.” It is “this reaction, perhaps above all,” Kolko noted, “that [will] determine their own fates as well as the destiny of much of mankind.  Indeed, given the increasing risks of an already dangerous world, their response might also decide the ultimate nature of the modern historical experience.”


I don't know the exact point where structural determination and “elite” manipulation leave off and ordinary peoples’ active human and moral agency steps in and I've been pointing out that the least bloody of the two of the mainstream imperial candidates (Kerry) may have actually won if there had been a fair election (without voting irregularities and felony disenfranchisement) but the fact remains that 59 or so million Americans made the nature of their response very clear last Tuesday.  It was to make things worse and to increase inequality and the risks of a world that has become much more dangerous than it was during the late Cold War era in which Kolko wrote Main Currents.  ZNet is the product and expression, I think, of some of Kolko's wonderfully “alienated mavericks” and its US-based writers and activists are doing what they can under some rather difficult circumstances that are far from new. 


To foreign readers, I can only say I'm sorry it's like this in the world's most powerful state but it is right now and for some time to come.  There are real reasons for hope and real indications that US hegemony is already well on the road to decline (something that it hopeful and supremely dangerous at one and the same time) and-furthermore (as Kolko has recently noted in Counterpunch) that Bush is accelerating that necessary decline.  I for one have not given up on internal transformation here in the nearly blind eye of the hegemonic hurricane.  But I must advise you to be prepared at all times to fight back against this dangerous nation and many of its people....their stupid, clueless, self-destructive “capacity for unlimited savagery and ruthlessness” is not to be taken lightly and will need to be resisted by any and all means necessary. 


Any limits you can set to our masters’ empire will be sincerely appreciated by those of us who remain "alienated" enough to wish and fight for democracy and equality at home as well as abroad.

It was not for nothing that Kolko dedicated Main Currents “to the Vietnamese Revolution and the heroic people who made it.”

Paul Street is a writer and researcher in Chicago, Illinois. His book Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 is now available from Paradigm Publishers. He can be reached at:

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