So I’m reading a Christian Science Monitor article recommended by a friend as “wonderful writing” — A day of reckoning for Bush’s ‘torture’ lawyers, by Ronald Sokol — and I think, Yup, clean, clear, an excellent summary of all that’s been said before many times in many places. But when he writes, “To regain its moral legitimacy, America must formally recognize that some of its official post-9/11 practices were unlawful,” I have to ask what moral legitimacy is he talking about? America doan haf no moral legitimacy.
Seems to me el Senor Sokol subscribes to a notion of America the beautiful that went away long, long ago, if it ever was anything more than a myth, and it ain’t comin’ back. Uh … Vietnam, anyone? Iran-Contra? Remember the Maine? Westward ho!? The belief that America has moral legitimacy was buried next to the WMDs we never found. Drowned in the claim that water boarding wasn’t torture.
We live in a world of delusions. I’m no historian, and certainly not an authority on the subject, but long story short: one of those delusions began with the defeat of Shay’s Rebellion in 1786. The U.S. Constitution, its virtues aside, was then written to serve the interests of a slave-owning financial elite.
Now click to David Bromwich’s HuffPo article on America’s addiction to “serial war,” a useful term. He reminds us that the national security state as we know it requires “an enemy at all times that exceeds the citable evidence of danger at any given time.” And Obama ain’t gonna change that.
It is not only the vast extent and power of our standing army that stares down every motion toward reform. Nor is the cause entirely traceable to our pursuit of refined weapons and lethal technology, or the military bases with which the U.S. has encircled the globe, or the financial interests, the Halliburtons and Raytheons, the DynCorps and Blackwaters that combine against peace with demands in excess of the British East India Company at the height of its influence. There is a deeper puzzle in the relationship of the military itself to the rest of American society. For the American military now encompasses an officer class with the character and privileges of a native aristocracy, and a rank-and-file for whom the best possibilities of socialism have been realized.
The worst, too: See Kathryn Bigelow’s prize-winning indie flick The Hurt Locker, which has just gone wide, and read today’s New York Times frontpage feature on soldier suicides. Oh, and let’s not forget all those dead Iraqis.
Remember in December, 2005, when we were talking about potential genocide in Iraq? How it could well be a part of U.S. strategy, or as one Pentagon proposal put it, the Salvador option? Here’s Juan Cole writing of the death toll about a year later, in October 2006: “A careful Johns Hopkins study has estimated that between 420,000 and 790,000 Iraqis have died as a result of war and political violence since the beginning of the US invasion in March, 2003.” He warned that due to conditions we created the number could reach a million “à la Cambodia or Afghanistan.” Is anyone still counting?
PS: A reader writes:
Moral legitimacy… Sounds like a Bush invention along the lines of Office of Homeland Security… Office of Moral Legitimacy. “Here to keep America on the right track…” Sarah Palin would be its first secretary. “I don’t want my physically disabled child to grow up in a morally disabled America,” she proclaims to an audience of white people (travel expenses sponsored by Wal-Mart)…. After her first big success — the suppression of free speech (“If it’s free, you get what you pay for”) — she renames her branch the National Office of Religion, Morality, and Legitimacy — NORMAL…