Neanderthal Continuities of a Bipartisan Nature

A friend recently wrote to say, “I’m so glad the Democrats won Congress.  Now everything will be fixed and okay.  We can relax and focus more on our personal lives.” 

My correspondent was kidding, of course.  As he knows all too well, the Kafka-like absurdities of American corporate-imperial “life” are still intact after the nation’s gerrymandered electoral process partially registered the wave of the American people’s revulsion towards George Bush the Second.

After all, this is a nation state on whose ubiquitous corporate telescreens one could very recently see live footage of people in a shopping mall looking down into a large sunken bowl where a middle-aged woman drove a motorcycle around and around at speeds up to sixty miles and hour. The lady on the spinning and roaring Harley would occasionally take her hands off the handlebars to say “ta-dah, look at me.” She almost flew out of the top during one of her high-speed centrifugal passes. 

After showing its viewers this strange and curious scene from the mass consumerist bowels of the carbon-spewing imperial homeland, the ABC Television Network reported that a large number of people had just been killed in Iraq and then broke for some anti-constipation advertisements. I couldn’t make this up: I saw it on a nationally broadcast show called “Good morning America.” 

We are regaining some of our senses, perhaps, but the Age of Reason is still something of a distant memory in the United States of Amnesia. 



Listening to the car radio on my way back from the store the other day, for example, I learned that the chastened Republican Party had rehabilitated the racist Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi).  Lott will hold the Senate Minority Whip position (the party’s number two job in the upper U.S. legislative body) in the new Congress next year. 

The radio station played a clip from the shameful comments that led to Lott’s resignation from the position of the Senate Majority Leader a few years back. While hosting a dinner for the former race-segregationist politician Strom Thurmond in December of 2002, Lott said the following:  “I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.” 

Thurmond was the presidential nominee of the breakaway Dixiecrat Party in 1948. He won Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and his home state of South Carolina. During the campaign, he said, “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches.” His party ran under a platform that declared in part, “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.”

The radio station also played some of what the recently defeated reactionary southern Senator George Allen (R-Virginia) had to say after Lott was forced to step down in 2003. Allen said that Lott’s resignation “sealed the grave of racial segregation and discrimination” in the U.S. Never mind the endless flow of studies, statistics, and testimony demonstrating the persistence of racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S.  Curiously enough, Allen just lost his Senate campaign partly because he made a public racist comment (his famous “Macaca” gaffe) and because reports surfaced showing that he had his own recent racist history in relation to African Americans.

Getting out of my car, I noticed an interesting story in the daily newspaper I had picked up at the store. It reported that scientists’ recent work on “DNA from humanity’s closest related species – the long-extinct and enigmatic Neanderthals” had led to an interesting discovery.  “Homo neanderthalis and Homo sapiens,” it turns out, “shared at least 99.5 percent of their DNA.  The characteristics that make humans unique are contained in the remaining 0.5 percent.” I flashed immediately to Allen and Lott – Neanderthals both!



But we would do well to remind ourselves these post-mid-term days that it isn’t just Republicans who could do better with the “remaining 0.5 percent.” When I got back into my den, I clicked on the Internet to read MSNBC’s coverage of last Tuesday’s meetings of the U.S. Senate Arms Services Committee.  At some point in the proceedings, the committee’s next chairman Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) argued for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq (in a “phased redeployment”)  “in order to force them” – the people of Iraq, that is – “to take responsibility for their own future.  We can’t save the Iraqis from themselves,” Levin told Central Command General John Abizaid. 

Like the majority of Americans, Iraqis, and world citizens, I want U.S. troops out of Iraq.  So I don’t mind hearing a key, newly emboldened U.S. Senator calling for (what now passes for) rapid troop reductions there.  But Levin’s Neanderthalist reasoning is disturbing. The main thing the Iraqis have needed to be saved from in the last three years is a monumentally illegal, mass-murderous U.S, invasion that has built on an earlier bloody U.S. military assault (Operation Dessert Storm) and a decade of deadly “economic sanctions” (which killed at least 1 million Iraqis) to murder (both directly and indirectly) something like 700,000 Iraqis.  Given Iraq’s smaller total population, an American equivalent would be more than eight million. 

Iraqis have in fact been “taking responsibility for their own future” by RESISTING the invaders in numerous ways not restricted to direct guerilla action, which is supported by more than 61 percent of the Iraqi people. Instead of proclaiming our need to promote national self-responsibility on the part of Iraqis, responsible antiwar politicians should be discussing rogue state America’s responsibility to pay reparations for the massive damage the U.S. has inflicted on Iraq over many terrible years.  The U.S. can start by advancing blood money checks of $100,000 for each of the Iraqis who have died as a result of the occupation. 



Stepping away from my computer, I dove back into my borrowed copy of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s recent and sickening book “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” (New York, 2006). It’s been a tough slog through this ponderous monographic monument to centrist “pragmatic” wisdom and related personal political ambition.  Obama’s “Audacity” is a very slippery book for a very obvious reason: it is dedicated to convincing “progressives” that the Overnight BaRockstar is one of them while simultaneously reassuring the dominant policy and political class that he will never act to challenge existing domestic and imperial hierarchies. 

I’m up to Obama’s most nauseating chapter, titled “The World Beyond Our Borders,” which apparently received critical input from his good friend the imperial humanitarian Harvard professor Samantha Power (she is effusively thanked in the acknowledgements).  At one point in this chapter, Obama, who fancies himself something of a historian, holds forth as follows about the Vietnam War – an earlier racist, imperial and illegal U.S. invasion that killed at least 2 million Indochinese (the proportional American equivalent would have run into the tens of millions):

“The disastrous consequences of that conflict – for our credibility and prestige abroad, for our armed forces (which would take a generation to recover), and most of all for those who fought – have been amply documented.  But perhaps the biggest casualty of that war was the bond of trust between the American people and their government – and between American themselves. As a consequence of a more aggressive press corps and the images of body bags flooding into the living rooms, Americans began to realize that the best and the brightest in Washington didn’t always know what they were doing – and didn’t always tell the truth.  Increasingly, many on the left voiced opposition not only to the Vietnam War but also [imagine!, P.S.] to the broader aims of American foreign policy.  In their view, President Johnson, General Westmoreland, the CIA, the ‘military industrial complex,’ and international institutions like the World Bank were all manifestations of American arrogance, jingoism, racism, capitalism and imperialism. Those on the right responded in kind, laying responsibility for the loss of Vietnam but also for the decline America’s standing in the world squarely omn the ‘blame America’ first crowd – the protestors, the hippies, Jane Fonda, the Ivy League intellectuals and liberal media… (Obama, “Audacity of Hope,” pp. 287-288)

Oh the sickening stench of National Neanderthal Narcissism, and here (and elsewhere throughout “Audacity”) so wonderfully articulated by a sudden liberal savior that some deluded “progressives” are embracing as the ultimate living _expression of homo sapiens’ noble species being – the “best and the brightest” of the early 21st century!

The “biggest casualty” of the war on Vietnam was suffered by…the PEOPLE OF VIETNAM.  The terrible U.S. GI  body count (58,000 during the war and more through suicide since) pales before the astonishing damage done to Indochinese villages, cities, infrastructure, ecology, agriculture â€“ not to mention the two million people killed in more direct fashion.  The number of South Vietnamese civilians killed just in the CIA’s Operation Phoenix assassination program was equivalent to 45 percent of the U.S. body count in Vietnam. 

As for the supposed tragedy of the frayed “bond of trust between the American people and their government,” there are many of us who think that the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome” is a very healthy thing. Its inoculation power has recently received a wonderful booster shot with massive popular repudiation of the criminal action against Iraq. It’s wonderful that the American people subject “their” foreign policy establishment to skeptical, even “distrustful” scrutiny and turned against an in-fact racist, imperialist, and illegal war in which the children of “their” selected power “elite” were deemed too precious and privileged to “serve.” It’s fantastic that some of us understood the class basis of the imperialism that Obama sees as the mythological creation of left “caricature” (pp. 288). 

Obama cannot acknowledge that the previous supposed “bond of trust” (whose dissolution he mourns) between the people and “their” government was based largely on Establishment lies calculated to “scare the Hell of the American people” with exaggerated Soviet and international “Communist” threats.  The deceptions were meant to induce the U.S. populace to cower under the permanent authoritarian umbrella of the National Security State and the wise and benevolent managers of Empire and Inequality, Inc. at home and abroad.

Does Obama really think the sovereign nation of Vietnam was America’s to “lose” in the first place? And does he wish (as he should) to include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (whom the technically black Obama loves to quote and cite) among those “on the left” who saw the Vietnam War as an _expression of America’s broader imperialism and racism and of its related captivity to what Dwight Eisenhower identified as the “military industrial complex?”

King came to precisely those radical conclusions and went beyond them by tying it all to problems of race and class rule within the imperial homeland. As one see from reading his essential speeches and writings after 1966, the great civil rights leader saw social inequalities at home and criminal U.S. violence abroad as part of what he called “the triple evils that are interrelated:” (1) racism; (2) poverty/economic exploitation/capitalism; (3) militarism/imperialism.

The people of Iraq can be forgiven if they don’t share Obama’s sense that it was a good thing for the American armed forces to “recover” after Vietnam. The world has plenty to fear in the the specter of an Obamanation.  



After reflecting on the terrible damage that the Vietnam War did to AMERICANS and adding a few lines about his curious respect for Ronald Reagan (p. 289), Obama’s “Audacity” launches into an elegant, Harvard-certified critique of Bush II’s war on iraq  His discourse is full of standard “realist” foreign policy rhetoric along lines such as these: “I am convinced that it will almost always be in our strategic interest to act multilaterally rather than unilaterally when we use force around the world” since “nobody benefits more that we do from the observance of international ‘rules of the road’” (p. 309). 

In the 20 or so pages that he dedicates to the criminal occupation of Iraq, Obama makes it clear that he see Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) as a terrible mistake – a “dumb” strategic error of historic proportions.  What he can’t say or admit and perhaps doesn’t believe is that the invasion of Iraq was and remains a great moral and spiritual transgression – a loathesome war crime.

This is a telling silence. There were those who came to oppose the Vietnam War primarily because America’s mass-murderous “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Noam Chomsky) seemed finally not to be working for the goal of advancing U.S imperial power and there were those who opposed it because it was morally wrong (whether it was “working” or not).  The same division exists in regard to OIF. Obama is on the morally empty, “pragmatic” side of that ethical chasm, consistent with the counsel of his special foreign policy friend Samantha Power, who joined Morton Abramowtiz to say the following in an April 2006 opinion-editorial telling the Democrats to “Get Loud, Get Angry!” over the Iraq War: “In recent months, the Democrats have taken steps to push for accountability.  But few have attracted media attention and all have slammed the Bush administration’s tactical blunders – intelligence failures, contract corruption, and torture – rather than declaring Iraq and enormous strategic blunder in the ear on terror.  Few have called the war what most Americans now understand it to have been: a mistake” (Samantha Power and Morton Abramowtiz, “Democrats: Get Loud, Get Angry!,” Los Angeles Times, 10 April, 2006)

Especially after the mid-term revulsion “wave,” we will be hearing plenty of Democrats (and no tiny number of Republicans) easily admitting that the latest Iraq War was and is a horrible “strategic mistake.”  Big deal! Those of us who are not enthralled by conventional bipartisan imperial wisdom and the elite corporate-neoliberal consensus need to remind ourselves and our fellow Americans that the occupation of Iraq is – like the Vietnam War – a great imperial crime that is intimately related to savage domestic hierarchies that both of the in-power business parties are sworn to defend. 


“The Empire and Inequality Report” is a news and commentary letter produced by veteran radical historian, journalist, and activist Paul Street ([email protected]), a noted anti-centrist political commentator located in the Midwestern center of the U.S. Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005), and Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, and Policy in Chicago (Chicago, 2005) Street’s next book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York, 2007).

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