The Father of Violence

The logic of the militarist is this. The only way to stop the enemy from committing violence against us is to threaten to retaliate as swiftly and surely as possible. The proof for the militarist is this: immediately after we have retaliated, the enemy, applying the same logic, will commit more violence, justifying further decisive and immediate retaliation.

Inevitably, there will be peace talks in the Middle East because even mule-headed politicians like Ariel Sharon eventually get it through their thick skulls that this is not a war he can win.

Arafat is a different problem. Arafat had led a war against Israel for thirty years. Confronted with the real prospect of peace at Camp David in 2000, he demurred. Why? Possibly because he was afraid that the entire structure and culture of his power, the on-going struggle against the imperialist west, would be washed away into a complex labyrinth of regulation and policy. Without administrative skills, his power would be diminished and hemmed in by the demands of constructive engagement.

Is Sharon all that different? His reputation is built upon his military successes. Without Arafat to bash around, he would have to develop real economic and social policies that would benefit the voters. Anger and threats don’t settle strikes, reduce inflation, or generate jobs or tourism.  But the country rallies, usually, around a war-time leader.


The Kabuki Theatre of Putin and the Ukraine

[I am publishing this because I was wrong.  I want to acknowledge it, because that’s the only way we learn to be better and more astute in judging these issues.  I really thought Putin would not go this far, but it is clear he is a madman–madder than we thought–who is dangerous to all of Europe.]  Gwynne Dyer courageously acknowledging that he was wrong about Russia’s intentions on the Ukraine.  The odd thing is, he was actually right.  He thought Russia would not invade Ukraine because Ukraine had a far more formidable army than most commentators thought.  He was right about that– most commentators also thought Russia would overwhelm Ukraine within a matter of weeks.

Still leaning towards the idea that all this blather about Ukraine is just so much self-perpetuating frenzy: everyone is reporting it so it must be true. And who is supplying all the networks with the lustrous video of tanks and missiles and armored personnel carriers racing around? The Russians of course.

Gwynne Dyer thinks Putin has no intention of invading and he’s right more often than most pundits. Every TV newscast starts out with “INCREASING tension today… ” but tension can’t increase every day without reaching 100% at which point it’s either the same or it decreases. North Korea had it’s time; then Iran. Now it’s Putin.

Strikingly, nobody ever mentions the size of the Ukrainian army, which is actually the largest in Europe at 250,000.

If you hypothesize that this is all just theatre and watch the news in that context, nothing seems jarringly out of place. The White House wants to look tough and determined; Putin wants to look like he’s big and powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with Biden (he’s not: Russia is really not that big or powerful), the media thrives on a perpetual state of crisis.

It’s like Republicans and the crime the rate: it’s always going up. It’s now at 26,000 percent.

The Circuitous Life of Johnson’s Folly

If President Johnson had decided in January 1964 that the U.S. would not win the war in Viet Nam and should withdraw it’s troops and let the chips fall where they may, what would have been different?

About 45,000 American men would be alive today instead of buried in graveyards all over America. Most of them would have married. They would have had children– another 100,000 citizens– who would, by now, be having children of their own.

Johnson would have run again in 1968 and he probably would have won, being the incumbent, and credited with the Civil Rights Act, and his anti-poverty programs and the general prosperity of the expanding consumer society. The war protests, of course, would have ended. The younger generation would have lost their identity. No Chicago riots, no Kent State. One great song “Ohio” by Neil Young, would not have been written or sung. We would have never learned who Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin were, or cared. Nixon would probably never have been elected and U.S. relations with China might today be a lot worse.

Who knows– maybe Reagan would have won in 1972. Maybe Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Bobby Kennedy would not have been assassinated, because he would not have run in 1968, because Eugene McCarthy would not have run (proving that an antiwar candidate could win), because there would have been no war.

There are threads that can never be traced because everything else would have been different.

The inflation of the 1970’s would have been stopped dead in it’s tracks because, don’t you know, the Viet Nam war ate up a HUGE chunk of American government spending and purchasing. Maybe there would not have been a budget deficit. Or– even better– perhaps that deficit would have been run up by spending on social programs and infrastructure instead, which would actually have improved the economy even more.

U.S. credibility abroad would have been immeasurably higher. Except for the fact that they had engineered coups in other Third World countries like The Congo and Iran and El Salvador. Well, imagine, if you will, that they hadn’t. Imagine the U.S. as an emblem of freedom and democracy and justice, in the 1970’s, instead of a cynical, manipulative, oil-mad behemoth?

Viet Nam would still have gone communist, of course, just as the Republicans feared, and just as they did anyway, but with a less extreme leadership. (The moderates were all driven out by the war.)  Significantly, Cambodia would not have been destabilized by U.S. bombing likely sparing the world one of the great atrocities of the 20th Century committed by the Khmer Rouge, which came to power as a result of the illegal U.S. bombing in the border regions with Viet Nam.

I’m saying all this because, in 40 years, we may be asking ourselves what would have happened if the U.S. had just walked away from Iraq in 2014.

The Insomniac

Philip K. Dick first came up with the idea for his novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ in 1962, when researching ‘The Man in the High Castle’ which deals with the Nazis conquering the planet in the 1940s. Dick had been granted access to archived World War II Gestapo documents in the University of California at Berkley, and had come across diaries written by S.S. men stationed in Poland, which he found almost unreadable in their casual cruelty and lack of human empathy. One sentence in particular troubled him: “We are kept awake at night by the cries of starving children.” Dick was so horrified by this sentence that he reasoned there was obviously something wrong with the man who wrote it. This led him to hypothesize that Nazism in general was a defective group mind, a mind so emotionally flawed that the word human could not be applied to them; their lack of empathy was so pronounced that Dick reasoned they couldn’t be referred to as human beings, even though their outward appearance seemed to indicate that they were human. The novel sprang from this. [From the IMDB “trivia” on “Blade Runner”.]

Remember– Arendt believed Eichmann when he claimed he did not personally intend to send tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths. He was, infamously, just following orders.

As were these SS men in Poland. Disturbed from their beauty rest by the cries of starving children.

Arendt would, I believe, declare that these men were not “evil” in the sense we usually think of it. They were just following orders. They were parts of a system that produced an evil result.

And again, I think she is right in the sense that these men are average. They are human. They behave the way most people behave. The difference is, Arendt doesn’t think that this character should be thought of as “evil”. It’s a deficiency in character. They haven’t self-actualized. They don’t experience empathy.

They obviously can’t see things from the perspective of the starving children.

Von Trotta Diminishes Hannah Arendt: the Banality of Banality

Margarethe Von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” is an odd, diffuse film. I never quite got what it thought it was bringing us: Hannah Arendt as martyr? Hannah Arendt as the that beautiful, desirable, intelligent philosopher? Hannah Arendt the victim? Hannah Arendt cheered on by her students as she slaps those insolent leftists silly with her ruthless dissection of the morals of the bourgeoisie?

Hannah Arendt travels to Jerusalem on behalf of New Yorker Magazine to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann. For the life of me, I don’t understand why the movie goes on at length about how much the New Yorker wanted her to finish her articles (and her book), except, perhaps, because someone wanted us to know more about William Shawn and Mary McCarthy.

There is a practical dimension to Arendt’s theory: the evil of the Holocaust derives from a system of colluding parts, of inauthentic people unable to see the world through any perspective but their own, and desiring power and control. So, to prevent evil in the future, we need to make sure we don’t recreate that kind of system. And, jeez, yeah, it does sound a lot more lame now than it did in the movie. Because it’s hard to apply this kind of analysis to, say, Syria, or the Japanese in Shanghai, or Kosovo, or Srebrenica. It just seems… lame.

At the same time, she is right. The solution to suicide bombers is not to find some way to communicate to the potential suicide bomber that what he is thinking of doing is wrong. The solution is to attack the system that produces young men willing to kill themselves for this cause.

According to Arendt– I can’t speak for her, so, to be fair, she might think otherwise– Calley too may have just been part of an inauthentic system the actions of which produced evil– the slaughter of 500 civilians in My Lai, Viet Nam in 1968. But the comments of Ron Ridenhour, among others, are very telling. When he told friends and family at home what had happened in My Lai they all, to a person, warned him to shut up about it. Not one of these people cared enough about justice to advise him to inform the authorities. Not one. Not one. Not one.

Were they all part of a machine? Were they all, individually, not responsible in part for the murders of 500 people? Yes, they were normal people. Yes, normal is permeated with something I would call “evil”. And yes, they were monsters, every one of them. And if you say that to an average person today, they will get angry at you because they know, deep down in their hearts, that they would have done the same thing. And that is about as harsh a thing as you can say about humanity but it’s true and Arendt really is on the wrong side of this question.

As good a summary as I have seen on Arendt’s views of Eichmann:

Arendt’s book is justly famous because it posed this deeply important question and offered an answer that has, over time, come to be seen as persuasively right. In short, it is the case that modern systems of administratively organized murder and criminality depend upon the collaboration and work of many people who, while they support the general goals of the regime, would not otherwise imagine themselves criminals and murderers. These people act out of conviction, but they seek to justify what they do in clichés and bureaucratic language. They take pride not only in their dutifulness, but also in their initiative and support for carrying out the goals of the regime. Ordinary in many ways and far from being cold-blooded killers, they nevertheless willingly and even enthusiastically participate in an administrative machinery of death. They are able to do so, Arendt suggested, because they close themselves off from others and come to think in an echo chamber where they hear and credit no opinions that challenge their own. This shallow thoughtlessness—Arendt elsewhere calls dumbness—is what she names the banality that allows modern regimes of evil to cause such horrifically and decidedly non-banal evil.

There’s a lot that’s right in her analysis. Where I fundamentally disagree with her is her implication that Eichmann is not really evil because he is merely part of a system (as Eichmann himself claimed). On the contrary, I believe that each member of an evil system really is evil. I believe that the majority of Americans who voted for Richard Nixon, and Johnson, and Reagan, and Bush, are culpable for the deaths of the victims of American military aggression during those years.

What Arendt points to is the fact that we have developed complex and sophisticated ways of pretending to be morally good– one of the most prominent of which is the enthusiastic condemnation of others who do what we secretly want to do: kill our enemies.

Fedor Von Bock

The ideal soldier fulfills his duty to the utmost, obeys without even thinking, thinks only when ordered to do so, and has as his only desire to die the honorable death of a soldier killed in action”. Field Marshall Fedor von Bock

Field Marshall Fedor von Bock was not a Nazi. He was, so they say, an “honorable” German, straight Bundeswehr, army, and loyal monarchist. In fact, it is said he despised Hitler, and made no secret of it. Hitler tolerated his outspokenness because he was good at his job: destroying Poland and France, annihilating their armies, so the Schutzstaffel (SS) could enter unimpeded and murder Jews. But he was not a Nazi. Understand?

But he also despised those who wanted to overthrow Hitler. He thought they were unpatriotic. So this outspokenness he is famous for did not extend to standing in the way of mass murder and genocide. He was, after all, just one of the honorable generals of the Bundeswehr.

Fedor von Bock was sent to a military academy at the age of eight, where he was “steeped” in traditional Prussian militaristic values, loyalty to the state, self-discipline, and cleanliness. He could speak passable English, and Russian, and was fluent in French, which came in handy when the nation demanded of his loyalty that he go kill a number of French men. He loved to speak to soldiers. He told them nothing was more glorious than to die in the service of me, a giant dick, who will receive medals and riches if you manage to kill some other impressionable young men whose own generals told them the same thing.

We’ll build a monument on the pile of bodies.

Had he survived the war, I suspect he would not have been tried at Nuremburg. Me might even have eventually served in the reconstructed German government after the war. Loyal. Patriotic. Generous to a fault: lucky you, young man, get to die, like an insect, a dumb animal, an insignificant flea, for the glories of the Reich!

How did Germany lose the war against Russia? With von Bock racing to Moscow in the fall of 1942, Hitler kept issuing orders for Bock to stop and join an encirclement movement, or take some other city along the way that Bock felt should be bypassed in favor of reaching Moscow before the winter– and before the Russians had the chance to fortify their defenses. These delays pushed the advance to Moscow back so that they arrived at the outskirts of the capital city in November! So first there was rain and muck and the trucks bogged down. Then came the bitter, bitter cold– the coldest winter in 50 years. Bock bitterly informed his family that the war would be lost because of interference by the high command.

Was he right?

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that he might well have been right: Russia, at the beginning of the war was weak militarily and the Bolsheviks would have been vulnerable had von Bock taken Moscow, and had von Manstein proceeded directly to Stalingrad at the same time. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume the Germans could have sustained their control of such large swaths of territory given the determination and raw numbers of the Russians and the inevitable entry of the U.S. into the war.

It is really interesting to consider how history might have unfolded had Hitler, in this instance, left the war to the generals. Would Communist Russia have been overthrown by the Germans? What kind of government would Russia have had after the war? Would Germany even have lost the war?

Any man who would trust his soul to a man like Bock, or any of the other patriots, deserves to lose it. It is because of people like you that creatures like Assad and Hussein and Pinochet and Putin and Josh Bolton thrive.

Nazi Kitsch

More on Nazi Kitsch

I thought we got beyond this after “Hogan’s Heroes” was cancelled. Why do the characters in “The Book Thief” talk English with German accents? We understand that they are not English. We get that a movie aimed at English audiences about people who speak a non-English language will usually suck up to the exhausted intellects of these audiences by having the characters speak in English, instead of having speak their native tongue and subtitling the film (like the remarkable “Downfall” did).  I get it.  Audiences do increasingly accept subtitles but the larger audience isn’t quite there yet.

But why, in heaven’s name, do they have an accent?  The accent does not correspond to an artistic rendering of foreign speech.  Do they sound quaint and funny and foreign to each other? Can’t they speak properly?

No, they don’t.  But American audiences have a ridiculous preference for foreigners who sound foreign even to each other.

This film — and the book– caters to the audience’s desire to feel good about their sympathies for a little girl who hates the Nazis, loves books, and has an endearing old German man looking after her.  And a gruff woman who– SPOILER ALERT– has a heart of gold.

All right– it’s Oscar season. Nazis– check! Little girl who loves books — check! Gruff but lovable old man — check! Glorifies reading? Oh yes, Hollywood loves seeing itself as promoting literacy.  Except when they glorify working-class thugs who make educated, cultured “elites” looks weak and vapid and always get the hot girl.

Okay, we’re missing the character with a disability, but everybody has an accent– CHECK CHECK CHECK! I smell Oscar contender! (Check back to the extremely mediocre “The Reader”— Ah! I see where it came from! And the  relatively banal “The King’s Speech”– how we love the illusion that privileged people are really quite admirable because they allow us to admire them for not being as aloof as we thought they thought we thought they were.)

This is not really a film about a little girl living in Nazi Germany. This is a film about how modern audiences feel about little girls, and Nazis, and old men (who I know would do anything– ANYTHING– for me if I were that little girl), and the faint but digestible taste of titillation, and how much you want people to know that you are smart because you just love books so much that you approve of stealing them, especially from Nazis.

Let’s leave aside the fact that the Nazis actually loved books, and art and poetry and music, but it didn’t make them better people. Please, please, please, leave that aside, because it’s almost as unbearable as this film, which the New York Times rightly called kitsch.


Conservative Resistance to Hitler

On each occasion when senior officers plotted to resist or overthrow Hitler, it was not because they objected to his basic goals, but because they feared his tactics and pacing. They rebelled, or talked about rebelling, on prudential grounds, not principled ones. New York Review of Books June 10, 2010

I knew someone in college– and someone else much later– who was rather passionate about the “conservative resistance to Hitler”. It was clear that she felt it was very important that nobody believed that communists, socialists, or other progressives get credit for standing up to Nazism.

So she wrote a paper on the “conservative resistance to Hitler”. She argued that these stellar individuals were the real backbone of the resistance to totalitarianism and the pillars of democracy and freedom, in the abstract, if not the reality. These individuals had honor and dignity and should in no way be held responsible for the atrocities which, she asserted, were primarily committed by party members, not the Wehrmacht.

Besides, she liked to say, the Communists were worse than the Nazis anyway.

And there’s the red herring: oh, so Stalin killed millions as well. By golly, in that case, let’s cut Von Manstein and Steiner, and Franz Halder, and Model and Rundstedt some slack.

I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it today. I was more inclined to see conservatives as slightly distant members of the fraternity, not involved, perhaps, in initiating the monstrous atrocities of the Third Reich, but indispensable to it.  They were, in the most literal sense, Hitler’s enablers.

Furthermore, I don’t believe the evils of Nazism can be confined to their treatment of the Jews and the Gypsies and the “mental defectives”. The idea of war itself, of an imperial Germany, of living space– ideals shared by many of these same generals– was all a part of the same culture. Was Stalingrad any better, morally, than Dachau?

“I knew hardly anyone who so overtly rejected the regime, without any caution, without any fear,” recalled one of his friends after his death. But for all his private opposition, he was sufficiently in agreement with Hitler’s goals to fight for them—as was also true of the July 20 plotters. [On General Kurt Von Hammerstein.]

Even Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the lavishly titled leader of the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, didn’t take any action until it was apparent that Hitler had taken management of the war away from the generals and would drive Germany into the grave with his insane stratagems. Von Stauffenberg supported (and participated in) the invasion of Poland and the enslavement of Polish workers, which he believed was crucial to Germany’s prosperity.

If Von Stauffenberg had been successful, would the plotters have succeeded in negotiating a “dignified” surrender to the allies? They would have almost certainly asked for certain conditions, and they would have certainly have attempted to guarantee their own positions in the new Germany, along with a large portion of the same infrastructure that carried out the deportations and murder of the Jews. [In fact, upon further research, I found out that, if the assassination attempt had been successful, Von Stauffenberg had intended to demand that Germany be permitted to hang on to some of the territories in the East that they had captured earlier in the war, and their weapons, and their military infrastructure, and he would have insisted that only Germany could put Germans on trial for war crimes, if they felt like it!] They probably would have outlawed the Nazi party and convicted a few leading Nazi party members of atrocities.

Remember: the centrality of stopping the extermination of Jews to the perception of the war against Germany is a post war phenomenon.

So, enough about honorable Germans. Every soldier is an enabler for some dictator or corporation or ethnic group and not one of those entities ever announces to the world that they are evil and selfish and psychotic: they are always patriots.

It was the wide area of agreement on objectives between Hitler and the generals that brought them together. Having become a pillar of the Third Reich, they were disinclined to bring the edifice crashing down about their own ears.

On Von Manstein

Did they know?

The Red Line

Is it too much to ask that the U.S. point to a single success story before embarking on a new adventure in disruptive interventions in the Middle East? What is Obama’s model for this enterprise? Has anybody in this administration asked about five years from now, ten years from now, twenty years from now? Does Obama live in an echo chamber wherein his advisors seek advice from their adviser’s advisers? Does he ever hear from anyone with a genuinely dissenting view?

There is raging hypocrisy in all the blather right now coming from Obama and Hagel and Kerry on Syria: after doing nothing while 100,000 people have been killed and thousands more tortured and millions made refugees, now— now! — we cannot stand by anymore, because Assad has used chemical weapons. Now, our integrity is at stake. Now, the world wonders if we have any principles. Now, our hearts are wrung with compassion for the victims of violent, repressive governments.

I would love to ask Obama if he feels the allies fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, and other Japanese cities, using M47 oil gel bombs, during World War II crossed any kind of red line?

Now we support democracy in Egypt. Now we don’t.

Now would be a good time, in fact, for the United Nations to vigorously assert that no government has the right to slaughter or repress or abuse their own peoples, whether it be Zimbabwe, North Korea, China, or Iran. But that would be a dramatic change from the prevailing doctrine, which is, what happens in your country stays in your country. Ever since the world community decided, when it formed the United Nations (from the ashes of the failed “League of Nations”), that it was more important that all states be represented and have some investment in the world order than it was to insist that all of them be democracies, we have lived with this devil’s bargain: we will not interfere when you commit atrocities within your own borders. We will only interfere if you cross the border to commit atrocities.

In fairness, one could make a cogent argument for the idea that the UN has actually been effective in reducing the number of wars on the planet.  That’s no joke.  We are all appalled at Egypt and North Korea and Syria, but at least they are not at war with Israel or each other.  That is nothing to sneeze at.  In the 1960’s, there were numerous wars at any given time, with an appalling cost in human lives and material destruction.

What is needed at the moment in Syria is not more U.S. intervention, but a cease-fire.

Thirsty Lips

Should I travel to America, and become flimsy, and ordinary, like those who are satisfied with idle talk and sleep. Or should I distinguish myself with values and spirit. Is there other than Islam that I should be steadfast to in its character and hold on to its instructions, in this life amidst deviant chaos, and the endless means of satisfying animalistic desires, pleasures, and awful sins? I wanted to be the latter man. Sayyid Qutb

You have probably never heard of Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of radical Islam. In a way, this fact is enough to understand why the U.S. repeatedly screws up in the Middle East.

Is there a single success story? Is there a single example of a U.S. policy in the Middle East that has led to peace, prosperity, economic development, and stability, among any of the Arab states, or Iran, or Africa? Is there a single American who knows who Sayyid Qutb is?

You don’t know and you don’t care? Then stay the hell out of Middle Eastern politics. You can only make things worse.

The point is not that understanding Qutb will help you understand what the solutions are to the problems in Egypt or Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria. The point is that if you don’t even know who Qutb is, you have no business even trying to understand the rest of the dynamics at play.

Sayyid Qutb is a seminal Islamic writer and theorist who briefly visited the U.S. in the 1940’s and was absolutely appalled at what he saw. Essentially, he was revolted by people enjoying prosperity and society and culture and their bodies. He found America vulgar and violent and “animalistic”. He ravishingly describes American girls as being experts in seduction.

Qutb decided that the Arab Islamic world must be spared this horrible descent into pleasure and so he returned to Egypt where he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and wrote books and edited journals and befriended a military officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser. When Nasser overthrew King Farouk in July 1952 and installed a loyalist, Muhammad Naguib, as president, Qutb thought the Islamic Republic was at hand. He and Nasser would talk and talk and talk, sometimes, up to 12 hours without interruption.

As part of an agreement with the U.S. and Britain, King Farouk was politely exiled and the monarchy abolished.

Nasser begged Qutb to join the new government, in any capacity he wished, but Qutb sensed that Nasser was not a good Islamicist and wasn’t serious about imposing an Islamic state on Egypt making sure that Arabic women lived their lives peering through slitted hoods.

In October, 1954, Qutb, bitterly disappointed that Nasser appeared to be heading towards a secular, socialist state, joined at least six other Moslem Brotherhood members in an attempted coup, which included the attempted assassination of Nasser on the 26th, while he was giving a speech in Alexandria. Mohammed Abdel Latif fired eight shots at Nasser, from less than 8 meters away, and missed with all of them. Nasser remained calm and continued speaking, and had an Evita moment: Egypt c’est moi. Then he cracked down on the opposition. Qutb was eventually hanged. But he was right about Nasser: in 1957, he extended suffrage to women, prohibited discrimination based on gender, and implemented special protections for women in the workplace.

The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs—and she shows all this and does not hide it. Sayyid Qutb

Qutb sounds like he is mentally ravishing those American girls.

There it is, in extreme abstraction: Egypt, coups, Islam, army, protests, the whole ball of wax, Middle Eastern history to 2013. Nasser, by the way, was “incorruptible”. That explains why the Western powers and their allies wanted to assassinate him too! Seriously, think about it– why the hell were the Western powers, all through the 60’s, 70’s, and ’80’s, so eager to overthrow leftist governments and install corrupt assholes like the Shah of Iran, Somoza in Nicaragua, Pinochet in Chile? How has all that worked out?

Think about the fact that America joined the Islamic Brotherhood in wanting to assassinate Nasser!  Is the enemy of my enemy, in this case, my friend?

What nobody ever admits, of course, is that the first purpose of power everywhere, every time, is to take wealth away from people who earned it and hand it over to people who have acquired power and privilege, always– always– at the barrel of a gun. If not the titular leader, then the party that keeps him in power: the military officers, the cabinet officials, the corporate executives, the weapons makers, the killers, the oil companies, the phosphate companies, the rubber companies, the coffee companies, and so on and so on and so on.

Some notes about Nasser, Egypt, Syria, and the Whole Mess

The U.S. should study July 1956: Nasser announced that he was “nationalizing” the Suez Canal. The canal, built with Egyptian labour and British money, and owned and run by the British on Egyptian soil, was central to Egypt’s perception of it’s role in the world and it’s standing among the great powers. Nothing Nasser ever did, before or after, generated such broad, passionate support as this single act. It was so decisively supported by everyone in Egypt that even Britain could not resist.

Could not… but they did. In October 1956, together with France and Israel, they plotted to seize the canal back and occupy Egyptian territory adjacent to it. And they agreed to overthrow Nasser. This became known as the “Suez Crisis”. France, Britain and Israel quickly brushed aside the weak Egyptian army and occupied the canal zone, while Nasser ordered ships sunk in the canal to block it’s use. Some of Nasser’s own advisors were urging him to surrender to the British.

And here something remarkable happened. The United States, under President Eisenhower, and supported by the U.N., demanded that the British, French and Israelis withdraw.

And they did. By April, 1957 the canal was re-opened under Egyptian control.

After their wedding, the couple moved into a house in Manshiyat al-Bakri, a suburb of Cairo, where they would live for the rest of their lives. Nasser’s entry into the officer corps in 1937 secured him relatively well-paid employment in a society where most people lived in poverty. His social status was still well below the wealthy Egyptian elite, and his resentment of those born into wealth and power continued to grow. Wikipedia

In 1957, Egypt’s only ally was– wait for it– Syria! Syria had a leftist government which Eisenhower and other Western powers were eager to topple. King Saud of Saudi Arabia tried to have Nasser assassinated. You couldn’t make this shit up.

The first, most pertinent fact about Egypt today is that the army controls the means of production, the corporations, the infrastructure that generates wealth. All the speeches about democracy and freedom and stability and so on is just so much bullshit. The longer one is in power, the more elaborate, sophisticated, and oblique the relationship seems– Kings are crowned, monuments are erected, spectacles organized– but the fundamental is always the same: he who has the gold makes the rules and he who rules gets the gold.

Qutb did not, as some assert, lay down the groundwork for an Islamic war upon America and the West. He laid the groundwork for the real dynamic in the Middle East today: the war between Sunni and Shia, Alawite, fundamentalist, warlords, Kurds, and secularists. The war between what he saw as true Islam and the heretics. The war in Syria is not between a dictator and the democratic will of the people: it is between two, maybe three sects of Islam, and they will never, in our lifetime, learn to share power or to live in a pluralistic state.

If the U.S. arms the rebels, they will murder the Alawites and then they will turn on each other.