I’ve been listening to Gil Scott Heron again recently. ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ still rings as true today as when it was released, even though the pop culture references won’t make much sense to anyone born after 1980 or read any history…
Reading history does help give one a sense of perspective. I remember buying a copy of The Penguin History of the World as a high school student, simply because I though it was ridiculous that a small, brick-shaped book simply couldn’t hold the required information to adequately describe the entire history of the world thus far. So it sat on my shelf, gathering dust for a few years, until one day I thought, “You know, I should actually read this and see what it has to say”. And read it I did, from cover to cover, from the first emergence of humanoid like creatures in our pre-historic past to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, where the writers of the book chose to conclude their essay.
I learned a few interesting things from ploughing through chapter after chapter. To a late-teenager who had never read history they were revelations, which strike my late-thirties self as self evident truths. Nonetheless I keep coming back to them. The first was that history moves in cycles; boom and bust, rise and fall, come and go, nothing is forever, like Ozymandias in that poem by Shelley. The second is that power will always be sought and held onto by the rich and powerful. There will always be the rich and powerful who lord over the poor and weak. The third one is that no person is greater than history. People can try to create their own legacy, but once history has got a hold of you, then you are just along for the ride.
It’s nearly the 47th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, so the Hostory Channel here in Japan are running a series of documentaries about the events of that day in history. Tonight’s doco looked at the transfer of power that had to occur after the president was killed. History has taken a fairly dim view of Lyndon Johnson and the way he seemed to pressure the Kennedys into taking over the reins of power. However the documentary showed (as documentaries often can, thanks to the power of the medium – my reservations are being aired) that it was the Kennedy cap in their grief and devastated state (not to mention the alcohol consumed on the plane back from Dallas to Washington) as well as having bought into the cult of personality that JFK had brought to the presidency, that perhaps played a bigger stake in what came to define Johnson’s presidency, as well as history’s view of him.
History is written by the winners, and the tendency to mythologise is not confined to the ancients.
I chose LBJ quite deliberately to open this post, because the way that he dealt with his own feelings and shock and grief on the day simply had to take a back seat to the continuation of power, to maintian stable and effective leadership in a time when the world had recently teetered on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. LBJ was a thoughtful, concerned and sensitive man. He was also a liberal in the true sense of the word and also a Texan. He stands in proud defieance of the stereotype that has come to be dominated by his more recent Texan political archetypes, the Bush family, in particular, one George W. Bush.
George is in the process of defining his legacy. He is attempting to do this by releasing a biography. I say ‘biography’ since there is doubt that he actually wrote it himself. He has joked about this, but as we know, dear reader, humour often masks a more uncomfortable truth. The timing is also important, coming at a time when his successor is staring down the barrel of becoming a lame duck and Bush’s Republican cronies are circling the mortally wounded carcass of another Democratic presidency, waiting for it to fall for the last time.
The critics are rightly taking a hatchet to the more spurious elements of the book. The revelations within it reveal the arrogance of the man, as well as his callousness and disregard for humanity that we saw glimpses of before and during his presidency. The former president has admitted, through the account in his biography, to authorising the use of waterboarding on an American citizen – that is, ordered one of his own countrymen to be tortured. He has also lied about being “shocked”, “angry” and having a “sickening feeling every time I thought about it” over the fact that weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq. You won’t find it in his biography, but during a media dinner in 2004 (well recounted here), Bush made light of the search for weapons in Iraq, playing it for laughs. As it has been noted before, Bush displays some classic psychopathic tendencies, including not being able to realise that he lies to himself, as well as everyone around him. The recent Wikileaks release of thousands of diplomatic cables go a long way to refute the claims and narratives claimed in Bush’s biography. That Bush is seeking to invent his own legacy is par for the course. I wonder if he will take his book tour abroad?
The increasing tension between the two Koreas, the USA and China is continuing. Japan is sitting awfully close to the sidelines and hoping the taunting doesn’t boil over into full-on conflict. The situation is threatening to unwind US / China relations. It’s also highlighting the bias against North Korea, given that everyone assumed the North fired first, when reports are now stating the South has admitted using its artillery in a war games exercise before the North responded, thinking it was under attack. It is well known that the North barely has the resources to feed its own army, let alone its people, which have been largely abandoned by the state. If the war fires up again, the North has a vast amount of weaponry it can call upon, and could wreak havoc on the South, as well as cause econimc chaos throughout the region, but in the end it would be a suicidal move, one China and the South – and Japan – would not want to have to deal with.
The global economic woes continue to be reported daily. The European theatre is seeing Ireland, Spain, Portugal added to Greece as hotspots for a torrent of activity to shore up the euro and keep the economies there alive and ticking. There are alternatives, but since they would involve actually helping people and not protecting the rich and powerful, they won’t be done.
In the USA, the situation is not getting any better. The housing situation continues to worsen under corrupt and illegal exploitation of the system. Hunger and poverty are becoming commonplace. Despite calls by some of the mega-rich to end Bush’s tax cuts, the degree of inequality of income between the rich and the poor continues its relentless march. Any serious steps to revitalise the economy, such as engaging in a massive public works and infrastructure project, or set reasonable levels of taxation to fund welfare, are not happening, lest the cry of “Socialism!” from the right-wing lunatic faction becomes too loud. (How giving unlimited funds to the rich and powerful became socialist is a masterpiece of linguistic trickery)
The US has passed the record for the amount of time spent in Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, with no effective timeline on the horizon for ever leaving – unless it loses. (Australia’s Prime Minister, Gillian Gillard, told Karzai to halt corruption. The peals of laughter must have chased her out of the room.)
Human Rights abuses continue to undermine everything Obama ever promised to do, such as close Guantanamo for a start. The Obama administration recently granted waivers from the Child Soldiers Preventaion Act to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Yemen – effectively legalising the use of child soldiers to fight ‘terrorism.
The surveillance state continues to unfold, with law enforcement looking to use 1984-esque technologies, along with taking iris scans to create a database of potential enemies of the state. The US continues to appease Israel, while Israel continues to exploit the situation in America to its own advantage.
The Sarah Palin juggernaut continues unchecked. At least if she becomes president, the end will come swiftly and perhaps the pain will not be so long-lived.
In other countries, the response to this continued screwing of the middle and working classes is open hostility. In American it seems to be a collective ho-hum. It’s a very dangerous ho-hum, as it’s providing a space for the extreme right to make inroads, as we have seen in the recent elections. As the universities become enslaved to money, at the expense of being sanctuaries of knowledge, the intellectual response to this situation has become a meek acceptance to the status quo. There will be no sixties uprising led by the professors (such as the great Howard Zinn) as they’ll all be afraid of losing their jobs.
Quietly, why is the FBI supplying bombs to Muslim teenagers and grooming them to become terrorists, just so they can arrest them and say they’re keeping America safe? The timing – just before the busiest travelling time of the year – is also impeccible.
Opt Out Day was a fizzer, mainly due to the fact that most Americans are quite happy to buy into the myth that these invasive searches are making them safer somehow. Many security experts agree that the patdowns cannot and will not work. There are viable alternatives. Anything has to be better than pulling someone off a flight because of his tattoos. Boycott non-essential travel in and around the USA until they give up.
Seriously, read The Shock Doctrine.