With the United States facing a daunting array of problems at home and abroad, leading historians courteously reminded the nation Thursday that when making tough choices, it never hurts to stop a moment, take a look at similar situations from the past, and then think about whether the decisions people made back then were good or bad.
According to the historians, by looking at things that have already happened, Americans can learn a lot about which actions made things better versus which actions made things worse, and can then plan their own actions accordingly.
"In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues," Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. "And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not."
"It’s actually pretty simple: We just have to ask ourselves if people doing the same thing in the past caused something bad to happen," Collins continued. "Did the thing we’re thinking of doing make people upset? Did it start a war? If it did, then we might want to think about not doing it."
Repeat: "Cruise missiles always seemed to me to be nothing more than car bombs of US imperialism."
Deputy Clare Daly: It is important to take this opportunity to bring some balance into the discussion surrounding the visit of the US President and his wife, given the almost unprecedented slobbering over the Obama family to which the nation has been exposed in recent days. It is difficult to decide which is worse, the outpourings of President Obama and his wife or the sycophantic fawning over them by the political establishment and sections of the media. While we had separate and special news bulletins by the State broadcaster to tell us what Michelle Obama and her daughters had for lunch in Dublin, there was very little questioning of the fact that they were having lunch with “Mr. Tax Exile” himself [reference to Bono of U2]. The statement that Mrs. Obama was glad to be home was barely challenged even though “home” is a country she has been in for less than one week and to which her husband has only tenuous links.
The greatest irony of the visit was the protestations of President Obama in his speech about peace to children in Northern Ireland, in which he stated the following:
To those who choose the path of peace, I promise you, the United States of America will support you every step of the way. We will always be a wind at your back.
Is the US President seeking the hypocrite of the century award? We must call things by their right names. The reality is that by any serious examination, this man is a war criminal. He has just announced his decision to supply arms to the Syrian opposition, including jihadists, which will fuel the destabilisation of the region, continue to undermine secularism and set back conditions for women. President Obama is, in essence, stalling the Geneva peace talks by trying to broker enhanced leverage for the Syrian opposition by supplying it with arms and to hell with the thousands more Syrians who will lose their lives and the tens of thousands who will be displaced as the war continues. This is the man who facilitated a 200% increase in the use of drones which have killed thousands, including hundreds of children.
The Taoiseach [Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny] has turned a blind eye to these activities. He spoke of the G8 summit being an opportunity to showcase Ireland. Is it not the case that he has showcased us a nation of pimps prostituting ourselves in return for a pat on the head? We were speculating this morning about whether the Taoiseach would deck out the Cabinet in leprechaun hats decorated with stars and stripes to mark our abject humiliation.
What steps will the Taoiseach take to follow the correct decision made by his colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, to vote against a proposal to lift the arms embargo on Syria? What steps will he take to ensure no weapons destined for Syria will be transported through Shannon Airport in breach of our international duties as a neutral State? What steps will he take to showcase this country, not as a lapdog of US imperialism but as an independent nation with an independent foreign policy, one which takes a lead in international diplomacy to outlaw the use of drones, the favourite method of extermination of the Taoiseach’s friend, President Obama?
I did not say anything about the Northern Ireland peace process. While everyone supports the peace process, that does not give one a licence to do whatever one likes anywhere else around the globe. There is not much peace in Iraq where 26 people lost their lives yesterday, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria. My position on Syria is one of agreement with Oxfam, which issued the following statement on the issue:
Sending arms to the Syrian opposition won’t create a level playing field. Instead, it risks further fuelling an arms free-for-all where the victims are the civilians of Syria. Our experience from other conflict zones tells us that this crisis will only drag on for far longer if more and more arms are poured into the country.
This is essentially what the Americans have done in Syria. I can only assume from the Taoiseach’s failure to answer my question that he will not take steps to ensure arms are not sent through Shannon Airport in breach of our neutrality.
He said here last week that no arms ever came through Shannon Airport. How does he know that given that no investigations take place? In 2012, 548 US planes landed in Shannon Airport. How does he know what was on them if they were never examined? In reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport revealed that 239 civilian planes that landed in Shannon Airport sought permission because they were carrying munitions of war or dangerous goods on civilian aircraft. What steps will the Taoiseach take to intervene in this situation?
People in this country are very fond of our American brothers and sisters. We stand far more shoulder to shoulder with them by making valid criticisms of their President who has broken his election promises rather than just pimping this nation as a tax haven for their corporations. I am sure the Americans would far prefer their multinationals to pay their taxes at home rather than offshore here so that they could develop their health care and would not be wasting money on arms being sent to slaughter people in other countries.
The recent revelations in the Washington Post and UK Guardian concerning the US Government’s ‘Prism’ program raise the question, when is a conspiracy theory not a conspiracy theory?
For a long time some persons around the world claimed the US government was monitoring all our electronic communications in a Big Brother quest for world domination. Without evidence this belief was labelled a conspiracy theory, those with such beliefs disparaged as cuckoo.
Now there is evidence the US government is involved with monitoring (or at least recording for future analysis) much of the electronic information each of us produces. Does this new evidence dissolve the conspiracy theory?
First some facts. What is a conspiracy theory? Conspiracy theories correlate to times of social anxiety. They give meaning to dramatic and vague occurrences. Providing narrative to the relations between events, individuals, and larger social institutions.
Conspiracy theories fall under the study of myths and rely on a cultural logic that says the absence of evidence is evidence. From an anthropological perspective conspiracy theories – or narratives concerning plots, hatched by a real or imaginary power and groups – are universal. Found in all cultures and stages of human history.
The cargo cults of Melanesia and the millennialist movements of colonial societies such as the Ghost Dance of Native Americans and the Xhosa cattle-killing of South Africa, are good examples to look up.
Now before anyone thinks it is only crazies or the exotic who believe in conspiracy theories it’s worth recognising that the “War on Terror” itself is a conspiracy theory produced and embraced by the US political class.
Any discussion of the long history of US atrocities, policies, and the destabilisation of elected foreign Governments during the 20th century was and is ignored. Instead Bush and his cronies fed the world a story about a singular demonised enemy – Al Qaida – out to attack American exceptionalism. First led by Saddam, and then Osama.
Under Prism the enemy could now be any of us. Even people who believe they have nothing to hide. By recording our electronic communications the US Government can now take that information, search through everything we’ve ever done, and paint any of us as villains.
Who’s crazy now? The US Government is itself lost in a conspiracy theory about the rest of the world, all potentially out to get them. That isn’t necessarily a surprise. Academics have been writing about a “paranoid style of American politics” since the 1960s.
The thing about conspiracy theories then is that they leave us with an explanation of events that is more often than not rooted in paranoia rather than hard evidence. As such, a useful way to understand conspiracy theories is as fissures to identify power struggles in society over meaning and morality.
So rather than Obama as Dr Evil, or the complete innocence of the US Government, conspiracy theories suggest we should be looking somewhere in between for truth(s).
For example, which is more likely, that the US Government believes they act in their country’s interests, or that a group of people – including everyone in the NSA, FBI, CIA etc. – is engaged in a vast conspiracy for their own benefit (or Dr Evil’s), with no one on the inside ever exposing it? Not even Edward Snowden.
The problem the US Government has and in particular its various wings like the NSA, is they cannot be the judges of their own actions. Their oversight must be transparent. Yet due to the secret nature of its business supposedly no one else can monitor them.
So the NSA grew its power, always believing, as it was the good guy, anyone seeking to restrict it needed to be opposed. All in the public interest of course. In other words the NSA drank their own Kool Aid and became both architect and purveyor of conspiracy theories.
This brings us back to the question, “when is a conspiracy theory not a conspiracy theory?” A conspiracy theory is not a conspiracy theory when it is the cultural logic directing realpolitik.
Once paranoid myth making becomes the engine of political action Governments no longer make decisions based on evidence, instead they run on evidence of things unseen, using fear and moral panic to maintain power.
Philosophically, it raises a similar analogy to that scientific story about turtles and “infinite regress”. But instead of the complexity of the cosmos resting on “turtles all the way down”; we see the complexity of the endless War on Terror rests on conspiracy theories all the way down.
Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
In large part, the shooters and arsonists who are behind many, if not most of these events in America, are white men. In large part, these men have either come of age in the shadow of September 11. They have watched the media, heard Department of Homeland Security officials, and followed as mostly white male (and some female) politicians have given the anxious go ahead to wage an enormous war against Muslims abroad (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) or at home (in the form of the War on Terror). Several of them have served in a military that follows the orders of two U.S. Presidential administrations by training their men to shoot, invade, drop rockets from helicopters, and drones controlled remotely from Syracuse, NY and other air force bases in the United States.
These white men have learned their lessons well, whether in the military or from hours of media news: the frustrations of a scared (white) America can be dealt with waging a war using guns, bombs, chemicals, and drones. They have learned that it is ok to kill those who you believe to be behind threats to your comfort. They have internalized the message that those you fear can be addressed without words, without dialogue, but with violence, with power, with coercion. They have learned that some religions are automatically evil and that those who adhere to those religions must be destroyed. And these white men reflect an ideology of violence that has permeated America in the name of the War on Terror. Sadly, that ideology, perpetuated by our white men and women in power, carried out by American soldiers, and endorsed by a lapdog media, isn’t fading away. It’s becoming bigger, stronger, and more murderous.
These men are not mad or crazy. They are the well-trained students of American foreign and domestic policies. They have learned well the United States’ message: that violence and mayhem are the answer. We need to change the scripts, and confront the fallout of a decade of the War on Terror—and other excuses for state-led violence quickly
Dwight David Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953.