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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Similarities

Manadel Al Jamadi, murdered at Abu GhraibPeople in Wisconsin are reeling in shock and disgust as details emerge about a grisly rape and murder committed last Halloween. All evidence indicates that a man wrongly convicted of rape in 1986 was the killer. The victim was a free-lance photographer who was called to take an advertisement photo of a car the suspect was trying to sell.

It is always alarming and revolting when such a crime happens in our midst. We wonder how anyone can be so cruel and vicious. In the case of the accused in this crime, Steven Avery, he apparently was a habitual criminal before and after his incarceration. But that isn’t much help in gaining an understanding of his depravity.

I have avoided reading about this case, but when the article about the involvement of Avery’s nephew appeared, I gave in. The horror that the victim, Teresa Halbach, experienced is unfathomable. It is hard to believe that people walk amongst us who commit such acts.

Hard to believe, unless, of course, you look at the pictures of Abu Ghraib. A very similar pattern emerges. People being handcuffed to beds naked, sodomized, sexually humiliated in other ways, and some of them murdered. (See some newly released pictures here and here. A word of warning: they're pretty disgusting.) And this is just what we know so far. Guantanamo, Bagram, and God knows where else where Americans are torturing, raping, and murdering mostly innocent people, though innocence should not be a criterion for decent treatment.

Why is it, we should ask, that American soldiers so easily succumbed to such sadistic and perverted behavior? The answer given by Bush and the Pentagon is that it was a few "bad apples" who committed the heinous acts. To which I must further ask how all those "bad apples" got assigned to the same tree. It’s not like we have Abu Ghraibs all over the place. Or do we? Whether we have many prisons or a few, the reason military people would behave as the "guards" at Abu Ghraib did is either because they were directly ordered to, or they were acting within broad guidelines that were given to them. The Taguba Report indicates that the responsibility lies much higher.

I know from my own military experience that soldiers do not go on a "wilding," running rampant and doing whatever they want, unless they are completely unsupervised, and even then it is highly unlikely. When in a duty status there is always someone in charge, someone who outranks everyone else and who is assigned to be the authority in the situation. On their free time, that is another story. "From Here to Eternity" is a pretty good allegory for what soldiers do when off-duty (and off-post).

What the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib scandals reveal is a dark underside to the American psyche, or more accurately the human psyche, which can manifest under certain conditions. In this case the soldiers were fed intense propaganda about the justification for the war, the Arab people, the Muslim religion, and the "official" story about the nature of the resistance to the occupation, known to Americans as the "Insurgents." How one can be an insurgent in one’s own country against an occupying force defies reason and truth, but it is good enough for the Bush crime family any time.

I can give an example from my own military experience that illustrates how easy it is to get caught up in reckless mayhem. I spent most of my time in the Army in Germany, stationed first in the town of Kaiserslautern, but mostly in Heidelberg. On July 4, 1970, black American soldiers from all over Germany came to Heidelberg at the invitation of students at the University of Heidelberg, for a rally for justice. Heidelberg was and still is the headquarters of the U.S. Army Europe. (Note: USAREUR Headquarters moved to Wiesbaden in 2013.)

According to an online forum over 1000 black GIs showed up for the rally. My unit, the 503d Transportation Company, was placed on riot alert at 6:00 a.m., or 0600 hours in military terms. We got our helmets (steel pots) and web gear, and went to the arms room to get our weapons. We had been on riot alert several times before because of student demonstrations, and were usually assigned rifles and sheathed bayonets.

Me in Heidelberg, summer 1970The difference on July 4 of 1970 was that we were told "No bayonets. Today it’s live ammo." We sat in the training room from 6 in the morning to 7:30 that night, no talking, rifle in hand, thinking of the possibility that lay ahead. Since it was July 4, normally a day off, we were pretty peeved. But somewhere in the afternoon a change took place. The energy in that room changed, and I felt a different attitude. It was not a good change. It was a readiness for the task at hand. If we had been sent out, it would very likely have been a bad scene. We were not a combat unit, and the discipline was poor. Our NCOs were mostly drunks, and the "C.O." was none too bright. Luckily, nothing happened, and we were released at 7:30. We went downtown for the fireworks and castle illumination, and saw a lot of blacks, but in groups of two and three. They knew.

The memory of this incident that is most vivid to me is that I was as ready as anyone for what our commanders would have us do. Two things have become clear as a result. One is that in the military you are conditioned to follow orders, no matter how ridiculous or insane. The other is that every human being has within him or herself the capacity to commit any act imaginable, good or evil. One should be very careful with what one gets oneself into.

This experience may be helpful in explaining how easy it is for military operations to go awry, but it is also helpful in explaining our broader malaise. We live in a predatory society. At the low end we have the crude savagery of people like Steven Avery. At the "high" end we have the crude savagery of people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and Alberto Gonzales. They construct the schemes, the lies, the propaganda and the directives that send Americans off to far away places where they are ordered to commit terrible acts of torture, murder, poisoning, and destruction. In the vast middle, most people in this country live in a relatively law-abiding manner, with gradations of predation and occasional outbursts.

Because of Global Warming, also known as Climate Change, we now have to change our priorities. The cause of this Global Warming is the vast use of petroleum based fuels for vehicles, to supply gas for heating and cooking, and for coal to drive turbines for electrical generation. The reason the use of these fuels has proliferated at such a huge scale is that we have a mass industrial world economic system, mostly "free enterprise," and partly command economies, commonly known as "socialism." Mass industrial systems, whether free enterprise – commonly known as capitalist – or socialist, all depend on growth of output to guarantee stability and viability. This means growth forever, infinite growth. The simple logic that it takes a planet of infinite resources, implying infinite size, in order to have infinite growth is completely lost on virtually everyone in positions of leadership worldwide.

There is a perverse ideology behind the pursuit of infinite growth. Roughly, it is called greed, but that is a bit too simple. Even "leftists" advocate infinite growth. Their stock answer to the idea of limits to growth is this: "What about the poor?" End of discussion, literally. End of discussion. Let’s move on, nothing to see here. More sophisticated, supposedly, was the answer by the renowned John Maynard Keynes: "In the long run, we’re all dead." In other words, don’t worry about it now, it’s too far off in the future.

The future is here. John Maynard Keynes died in 1946. His long run arrived 60 years ago. Exponential growth has a way of shortening the long run. The class of people represented by the Republican Party, and presided over by the Bush crime family, is the wealthy class. In their collective unconscious they know that the salad days are over, and that is the key to what is known as modern "Conservatism." What "Conservatism" is all about is preserving, or "conserving" the relative status and privilege of the already wealthy and powerful. Preserving their money, their control of money, their control of other people, of the status of other people, and of what is done to the planet. (I should add that the Democrats are only marginally better, representing a less endowed mass of the populace, but they don't advocate anything fundamentally different.)

This struggle will heat up day by day, as the planet heats up. Madness like the Iraq war is likely to be the norm, or even mild compared to the norm. Ridiculous regimes like the Bush crime family may even be mild compared to what might come.

Or we can change.

2 Comments:

Blogger Gar said...

hi there 503rd 70 to 71,3rd floor corner, i remember the fights and all the rest, thanks for the refresher, garry casteel

8/19/2011 3:16 AM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

Wow! I just noticed this. I remember your name. It was so long ago, like a different lifetime. I hope you are doing well.

4/05/2013 10:41 AM  

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