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Nederlog

 March 23, 2016

Crisis: Brussels *2, America's Military, American Fascism (?), Terror
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Introduction

1.
As Twin Attacks Kill At Least 34 in Brussels, How Should
     Belgium and Europe Respond?
 
2. At Least 31 Dead, 187 Wounded as Blasts Rock Brussels
     Airport and Subway

3.
America's Post-Democratic Military
4. Fascism, American Style
5. Terror in Brussels: A Wounded City Searches for
     Answers

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, March 23, 2016.


This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links. Since today is the day after the attacks in Belgium, I have to pay some attention to these, and indeed I do: Item 1 is about the Brussels attack on Democracy Now! and seems more or less reasonable; item 2 is also about the Brussels attack and is as the ordinary media report it: mostly as propaganda from heads of state; item 3 is about a good article on the U.S.'s military; item 4 is about a bad article about American fascism (which is undefined or falsely defined); and item 5 is again about Brussels, and says what is known about it: Very little indeed, so far.

Also, as an aside: I forgot it yesterday, although I had thought of it on March 21: March 22 was the day the student protests in France of 1968 effectively started (which led to something close to a revolution in early May of the same year). I wonder how many realized the same. I suppose not very many. I did pay attention to France in 1968 in 2008, when it was 40 years ago (and I was in Paris in 1968, in May and in June) but this is in Dutch. I suppose in 2018 the 50 years will also be remembered, but then it probably will be the last time.

Anyway, this really was an aside. Back to today (and yesterday):

1. As Twin Attacks Kill At Least 34 in Brussels, How Should Belgium and Europe Respond?

The first item is
by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

This starts as follows:

In the Belgian capital of Brussels, explosions have hit the international airport and a city metro station, reportedly killing more than two dozen people and wounding scores. Belgium’s federal prosecutor said the two blasts at the airport were carried out by a suicide bomber. There were also reports of shots fired before the explosions at the airport, which occurred at about 8 a.m. this morning. About an hour later, another explosion hit the Maelbeek metro station. "These really are two very central targets," says Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch and a native of Belgium. "The Schuman and Maelbeek stations are where most of the European bureaucrats get out of the metro to go to work, and these attacks took place just after 9:00, just as people were getting to the office, including my own colleagues at Human Rights Watch. They left the metro just minutes before these explosions took place. It certainly has shook Belgium to the core."

This is from yesterday, March 22. Today, in the morning of March 23, it still is uncertain how many were killed: Between 31 and 36 it seems, with 230 or more people injured, in various degrees, some quite seriously.

Also, there is this by Peter Bouckaert, who - as the previous quotation states - is Belgian and the emergencies director for Human Rights Watch:

PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I think we need to understand that there’s actually two crises taking place in Europe. One is the crisis of many young radicalized men and women heading from Europe to fight in Syria and now returning to carry out some of these attacks. And then there’s the refugee crisis of hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing from the exact same terror that these radicalized youth are bringing to Europe now. And it’s unfortunate that in many European minds and minds across the world, the two crises have become conflated, and refugees themselves have become to be seen as a security threat.

Hm. I do not know, for this involves at least three claims: (1) there are two crises namely (i) young European muslims heading towards Syria to help Isis, and (ii) many hundreds of thousands of Syrians and others who flee Syria (and other places) to Europe; and (2) these two crisis have gotten mixed up "in many European minds" - and I disagree with two out of three of these claims. Here are my reasons:

First I agree with (ii). But I disagree with the claim that the many hundreds of thousands who flee from war, and the possibly thousands (but no more) of European muslims who try to go to Syria or Iraq and who wish to support Isis, are a crisis in the same or an approximately same sense: The sizes of the people affected differ a lot, as do their motives. (And I take the motives of the refugees seriously, but don't take the motives of young Europeans who want to fight for Isis very seriously since, for one thing, most did not experience war, and for another, most are quite young.)

Second, if these two crisis are falsely entwined "in many European minds" (which I doubt to start with, but suppose so) then that is the problem of these extremely easily confused "European minds": Syrian refugees towards Europe are not at all the same (in great majority) as young European supporters of Isis who want to go to Syria (etc.)

But OK - these are the early days after an attack, and the above was a more or less reasonable reaction.

Here is a less reasonable one:

2. At Least 31 Dead, 187 Wounded as Blasts Rock Brussels Airport and Subway

The second item is by Agence France Presse on AlterNet:

This is also from yesterday, which explains the fewer deaths, and contains the following:

“A lot of people lost limbs. One man had lost both legs and there was a policeman with a totally mangled leg.”

The explosions triggered a transport shutdown in the city that is home to the headquarters of both the EU and NATO. Flights were halted with metro, tram and bus services all suspended.

The bloodshed comes days after the dramatic arrest in Brussels on Friday of Salah Abdeslam — the prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State group — after four months on the run.

European leaders reacted with shock and solidarity, urging cooperation in the fight against terrorism on a continent that has been on high alert for months.

“The whole of Europe has been hit,” said French President Francois Hollande, whose country is still reeling from jihadist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people in November.

I say - and I make a distinction: If a member from your family has been killed or seriously hurt, I will accept a certain amount of hysteria or irrationalism from you; if none of your family has been killed or seriously hurt, and especially if you are a political leader with a large police and military force protecting you, I will not accept it.

And the - in my eyes anyway utterly incompetent - French president is wildly and hysterically exaggerating.

The same, albeit in different degrees, holds for the following heads of state:

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven branded the blasts an “attack against democratic Europe”.

British premier David Cameron tweeted that his country would do “everything we can to help,” and announced that Britain’s COBRA security committee would meet Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the blasts “show once more that terrorism knows no borders and threatens people all over the world”, according to a Kremlin statement.

I am sorry, but all of these were more propaganda statements than sane and rational reactions, although none was as exteme as Hollande's.

3. America's Post-Democratic Military

The third item is b
y Wlliam Astore on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

In the decades since the draft ended in 1973, a strange new military has emerged in the United States. Think of it, if you will, as a post-democratic force that prides itself on its warrior ethos rather than the old-fashioned citizen-soldier ideal. As such, it’s a military increasingly divorced from the people, with a way of life ever more foreign to most Americans (adulatoryas they may feel toward its troops).  Abroad, it’s now regularly put to purposes foreign to any traditional idea of national defense.  In Washington, it has become a force unto itself, following its own priorities, pursuing its own agendas, increasingly unaccountable to either the president or Congress.

Yes, indeed. And the basic differences are that (i) until 1973 the U.S. army was based on drafted citizen-soldiers (which meant that anyone of the appropriate age could be drafted), and from 1973 onwards the U.S. army was based on professional soldiers who volunteered; that (ii) since 9/11 the U.S. army takes over 50% of the disposable taxes (which suggests the U.S. exists to pay its armies, rather than that its armies exist to protect the nation); and that (iii) since 9/11 the U.S.A. has been in continuous war in or with the Middle East, at least.

You may reject the parenthetical addition to (ii), but the other changes hold and made very large differences.

Here are some of the differences:

Three areas highlight the post-democratic transformation of this military with striking clarity: the blending of military professionals with privatized mercenaries in prosecuting unending “limited” wars; the way senior military commanders are cashing in on retirement; and finally the emergence of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) as a quasi-missionary imperial force with a presence in at least 135 countries a year (and counting).

There is more, but first a sketch of why these changes came about:

I’m a product of the all-volunteer military.  In 1973, the Nixon administration ended the draft, which also marked the end of a citizen-soldier tradition that had served the nation for two centuries.  At the time, neither the top brass nor the president wanted to face a future in which, in the style of the Vietnam era just then winding up, a force of citizen-soldiers could vote with their feet and their mouths in the kinds of protest that had only recently left the Army in significant disarray.  The new military was to be all volunteers and a thoroughly professional force.  (Think: no dissenters, no protesters, no antiwar sentiments; in short, no repeats of what had just happened.)  And so it has remained for more than 40 years.

I think "the professional U.S. Army" was already in 1973 (when I was 23) mostly motivated by "no dissenters, no protesters, no antiwar sentiments" (at least not in the military) and I also thought so then, but I am not American and I was a Vietnam-protestor, so this may be regarded as my personal reaction.

Then again, around the same time the Dutch army was also "professionalized". I was against that as well, and mostly on "democratic grounds": it seemed to me that if anyone could be drafted (if male), then the military might be subject to some democratic control. I don't know whether that ever was true [1], but in any case the Dutch army also was "professionalized" then and has remained so ever since.

Here is a prescient quote from Joseph Ellis, who wrote in 1982 the following about the dangers of a U.S. professional - "all-volunteer" - army:

“[V]irtually all studies of the all-volunteer army have indicated that it is likely to be less representative of and responsive to popular opinion, more expensive, more jealous of its own prerogatives, more xenophobic -- in other words, more likely to repeat some of the most grievous mistakes of Vietnam … Perhaps the most worrisome feature of the all-volunteer army is that it encourages soldiers to insulate themselves from civilian society and allows them to cling tenaciously to outmoded visions of the profession of arms.  It certainly puts an increased burden of responsibility on civilian officials to impose restraints on military operations, restraints which the soldiers will surely perceive as unjustified.”

That seems wholly correct. And so does the following:

As Nick Turse has documented at TomDispatch, post-9/11 America has seen the rapid growth of U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, a secretive military within the military that now numbers almost 70,000 operatives.  The scholar and former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson used to refer to that Agency as the president’s private army.  Now, the commander-in-chief quite literally has such an army (as, in a sense, he also now has a private robotic air force of drone assassins dispatchable more or less anywhere).  The expansion of SOCOM from a modest number of elite military units (like the Green Berets or SEAL Team 6) into a force larger than significant numbers of national armies is an underreported and under-considered development of our post-democratic military moment.  It has now become the regular go-to force in the war on terror from Iraq to Afghanistan, Syria to Cameroon, Libya to Somalia

As Gregory Foster, a Vietnam veteran and professor at the National Defense University noted recently, this now-massive force “provides an almost infinite amount of potential space for meddling and ‘mission creep’ abroad and at home due, in part, to the increasingly blurred lines between military, intelligence, police, and internal security functions… [T]he very nature of [special ops] missions fosters a military culture that is particularly destructive to accountability and proper lines of responsibility… the temptation to employ forces that can circumvent oversight without objection is almost irresistible.”

Yes, indeed. Incidentally (and by the way): Since I have decided that 9/11 was definitely not what the U.S. government said it was, and that mostly because the three buildings that collapsed seem to have been blown up by internal explosives, an outfit like SOCOM may be responsible for it, although this is a mere guess on my part, for which it is highly unlikely there will be proof.

Anyway, this is a good article that is recommended.

4. Fascism, American Style 

The fourth item today is by John Whitehead on Washington's Blog, and originally on the Rutherford Institute:

This starts as follows:

“If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States.” ― Henry A. Wallace, 33rd Vice President of the United States

This is an indictment of every politician who has ever sold us out for the sake of money and power, it is a condemnation of every politician who has ever lied to us in order to advance their careers, and it is a denunciation of every political shill who has sacrificed our freedoms on the altar of Corporate America.

They’re all fascists.

No, not really.

For one thing, while fascists would probably put "money and power ahead of human beings" in case of a conflict, not everybody who does so is a fascist (and quite possibly much more than half (!!) would first think of their own power and their own wealth, before thinking of the lives, healths, wealths and powers of others).

For another thing, "fascism" and "fascists" are both strongly emotional words and words that are not easy to define well. (And in fact this article will cause me to write on the 21 definitions of fascism I've meanwhile found: it probably will not help much, but it may give some clarity to some.)

One reason to pay some attention to the definition of "fascism" is the almost complete liberty one awards oneself if one does not define it well or at all: Then everyone who is disliked may be scolded for "being a fascist", like so [2]:

If Donald Trump is a fascist—as nearly half of Americans
surveyed believe
— then so is every other politician in office
or running for office in America who has ever prioritized money and power over human beings.

Truly, apart from Trump’s virulently bombastic comments and his metaphorical willingness to spit in the wind in order to garner media coverage and notoriety, how is he any more of a fascist than Hillary Clinton and the millions she has amassed from the financial sector?

How is Trump any more of a fascist than Barack Obama, whose willingness to march in lockstep with the military industrial complex has resulted in endless wars, covert drone strikes that have killed hundreds of civilians abroad, and militarized police who have killed thousands of American citizens here at home?

How is Trump any more of a fascist than Congress, the majority of whom are millionaires and who are more inclined to do the bidding of their corporate sponsors and benefactors, all the while remaining deaf to their less affluent constituents?

For that matter, how is Trump any more of a fascist than the Supreme Court whose decisions in recent years have been characterized most often by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests?

To be sure, I like none of the above persons, but it seems odd to me to declare Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, arbitrary members of Congress, and (all of?) the Supreme Court to be as much fascists as Trump is (supposed to be, by "nearly half of Americans").

One has to be more subtle than that, it seems to me.

The following seems to me also an exaggeration:

The United States of America, that dream of what a democratic republic ought to be, has become the Fascist States of America. We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age. You can call it the age of authoritarianism. Or fascism. Or oligarchy. Or the American police state.

Whatever label you want to put on it, the end result is the same.

No, definitely not. There are large differences between authoritarians and fascists, between fascists and oligarchists, and between a police state and fascism, and to throw all of them on one big heap of people one dislikes and therefore calls "fascists" simply is to refuse being rational.

Somewhat oddly, the last bit I quote seems a bit more reasonable. I split it in two parts:

Driven by our fears, we have entered into a corporate-controlled, militaristic state where all citizens are suspects, security trumps freedom, and the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens but instead is ruled by the rich and powerful.

For this seems simply true, and the next bit, that continues it at least seems plausible:

Any semblance of constitutional government that we might still enjoy today is a mere shadow, a mockery of what the founders envisioned. Constitutional government today—much like the farcical circus that purports to be the presidential election—is a sham, a hoax, an elaborate ruse maintained by the powers-that-be to mollify us into believing that we still have a say in the workings of our government. We do not.

Quite possibly so, but then this does not by itself imply one has reached fascism.

In any case, as I said, I will probably soon write a "Crisis: On 21 definitions of the term "fascism"", and I also will link it here when I have done this.

It seems some clarifications are necessary.

5. Terror in Brussels: A Wounded City Searches for Answers

The fifth and last item today is b
y Jörg Diehl on Spiegel International:
This starts as follows (and is the only bit I will quote from this article):

"What we feared has happened," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Tuesday in response to the terrorist attacks in Brussels. More than two dozen people were killed and many more injured. Police are now searching for the perpetrators, who may still be at large in the Belgian capital.

Who could be responsible for the attacks?

At the moment, there isn't conclusive information about who is behind the attack. In an English-language text released on Tuesday afternoon, the Islamic State terrorist militia claimed responsibility for the attack, but it did not provide any specific details or names that might help to verify the authenticity of the claim. That, though, is not unusual.
This has the merit of being correct (and of not answering the rather hysterical question its title asks). There is more in the article, which is less reasonable, but I will leave that to your interests.

--------------------------
Notes
[1] My father said so and pointed to protests during the 1948 war that the Dutch drafted navy then made (together with the army, for the Dutch state) against the emergent Indonesia. This was both correct and a bit misleading: A few communist draftees did protest, quite courageously also, but that seems to have been all, and since then there had been very few real protests by draftees against the army in Holland.

In other words, my own expectations about the draftees were probably correct: The vast majority would conform to whatever they were ordered to do.

Then again, I do agree with the general point that, at least for the population as a whole, I think a drafted army constitutes a far lesser danger than a professional army.

[2] I may help my readers remember that I was called (often screamed at) "a (dirty) fascist" in the University of Amsterdam from 1977-1989, while in fact I had the most anti-fascist, communist and anarchist family-background that anyone who studied there had, namely with a communist grandfather murdered by the Nazis, and a communist father who had to spend 3 years 9 months and 15 days in four German concentration camps as a "political terrorist", and a communist mother in the resistance.

This name calling was all done to harm me, and was not based on any knowledge about me, and was completely derived from the prejudices of the
students (who were politically active, and mostly as communists, and most of whom these days are rich - compared to me - neoconservatives: "And so it goes").

I did not say anything in reply, because both of my communist parents still were alive when this started, and I wanted to save them the hassle of dealing with a bunch of anyway very stupid and quite incredible fanatics.

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