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Scorsese's "The Departed" and Chomsky on US attacks on Iraq

by Ted Welch Tue Apr 10th, 2007 at 06:12:10 AM EST

Recently we went to see "The Departed" ("Les Infiltres" here), which is based on the Hong Kong series of three movies "Infernal Affairs".

We saw it at The Mercury in Garibaldi Square, Nice, close to an appropriately bohemian cafe where people play chess (many of them Russian emigres from nearby posters about Russian cultural events). The cinema shows an impressive number of films in VO, i.e.Version Original. In fact in another example of the beneficent, culturally-aware French state, the cinema was recently purchased by the local authority to preserve its role as a local bastion of film culture: "...un espace privilégé pour le cinema d'art et d'essai".

From the diaries - afew

"The Departed" is directed by the revered auteur and film buff Martin Scorsese and finally won him a much-deserved Oscar as best director and an Oscar for best film, and various other prizes:

    "...The Departed was highly anticipated when it was released on October 6, 2006 to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The film is currently one of the highest-rated wide release films of 2006 on Rotten Tomatoes at 93%, the sixth highest on Metacritic, and the twelfth highest on Yahoo! All-Time Top Movies (as determined by users).


 It is set, rather unusually, in Boston, though predictably it's about cops and gangsters, and "identity", which obviously fascinates actors, and, arguably lots of Americans as they ask themselves: "Why are we so hated when we're the good guys just trying to spread freedom and democracy?"

 Matt Damon becomes a cop but works for gangster boss Jack Nicholson,  while Lionardo DiCaprio comes from a family with criminal members, but really wants to be a cop, and is persuaded to infiltrate Costello's's gang.

FBI informer

While the film has made a lot of money, as well as winning four Oscars and had a great deal of critical success, some audience views on the internet were more critical: e.g. Jack Nicholson is just a caricature of Jack; holes in the plot and implausibilities - e.g. one person thinking it almost impossible Jack's chracter would be an FBI informer. However the latter critical comment is wrong - at least about the character that Nicholson's Costello is based on, cf.:  

    "When Howie Winter and most of his organization's leadership were sentenced for fixing horse races in 1979, the FBI persuaded Federal prosecutors to drop all charges against Bulger and Flemmi. Bulger and Flemmi then took over the remnants of the Winter Hill Gang and used their status as informants to eliminate competition.
    The information they supplied to the FBI in subsequent years was responsible for the imprisonment of several Bulger associates whom Bulger viewed as a threat. But the main victim of their relationship with the Federal Government was the Italian-American Patriarca crime family, which was based in the North End, Boston and in Federal Hill, Providence.


 The two leads were happy that it offered more complexity than the average big budget Hollywood film:

    Damon : "The script is really well-written and you don't really find... Leo and I read everything that comes around and you don't find characters that are this interesting and complex in movies where the budget is this high."

While Damon is from Boston, he is from a middle-class family, in fact his mother was:

    ..." a professor of early childhood. She specializes in nonviolent conflict resolutions, so I hear about the portrayal of violence in cinema all the time, particularly gratuitous violence, so I'm careful not to do any of that."

So I guess all that stuff in the Bourne films is not gratuitous at all. Damon also has a positive view about the message of this film:

Post 9/11 Nihilism

Scorsese see it in a rather more nihilistic way, and makes specific links with the wider political context:

"Don't ask me - I'm just the director"

    "As we were making it I'm realizing that we're in a moral Ground Zero in a way. Almost none of the characters really, maybe Billy [DiCaprio's character], maybe the doctor [played by Vera Farmiga], she feels a certain way about morality, but she makes mistakes. She learns about herself; she's duplicitous too, in a way.
    It's a world where morality no longer exists. Costello knows this. I think he's almost above it. He knows that God doesn't exist anymore in the world that they're in. It's the old story: in order to know you have a problem first you have to know you have a problem. You really do, and this is my own take. Bill [the scriptwriter], I'm sure, has his own. But I felt kind of despair that's reflected in the story in the characters, and how they all interact with each other. ... I think for me it just is a sadness and a sense of despair since we've been in this situation since September 11th. Somehow this all came together and that's what kept me going in depicting this world sort of like a moral Ground Zero."


In fact it ends (don't read on if you want to see it) with justice finally being done - but by a guy who has had to become a rogue cop to do it (a bit like like Dirty Harry). It's the usual - the good little guy is obstructed and overruled by the corrupt/incompetent bosses, but does the right thing - with a gun - this is the American way.

Nicholson was concerned that his character might not seem frightening enough, after all he can only maintain his control if he is feared by those he exploits and offers "protection":


    DiCaprio: "For me, there were a number of different scenes [with Nicholoson] where I had no idea what was going to happen. One scene in particular, the prop guy sort of... We did the scene one way and I remember Jack speaking to Marty because he said he didn't feel that he was intimidating enough."


The credibility of irrational violence

The next day there was one of those wonderful bits of serendipity, something on the internet led me to an interview with Chomsky - which included his non-standard view about the first Gulf War. It wasn't really about oil, he said, but about something different. Many know that Chomsky sees American corporations and the governments which largely represent their interests as little more than gangsters, and I've read a lot of Chomsky, but never seen him make the link between governments and someone like Costello (Nicholson) so clearly:

    HG: What is that something different?

    NC: It's what they call credibility. Credibility means people have to understand
    that you don't disobey the master. Since we're the world's dominant power,
    it's extremely important that we run the world the way any Mafia boss runs
    his own territory. Let's take the Mafia analogy: Suppose you're in charge, and
    some storekeeper doesn't pay the protection money. You don't just go in and
    take the money. You make an example of him. You send people in to smash
    him to pieces so that everybody else understands that's not the right kind of
    behaviour. That's called credibility. In effect, the whole nuclear system is
    about this - about credibility. How do you make people properly afraid of
    us? Because nuclear weapons are always hanging in the background. Therefore,
    we have to have a posture that's 'irrational and vindictive'. People have
    to understand that some elements are 'out of control' and then they'll be
    afraid. And that makes perfect sense. Why do we need credibility? Well, there
    you get into other things. But the immediate policies are mostly just making
    sure that people don't do the wrong thing.


The new credibility of Pax Americana through "a horrible example"

To most people, especially in the US, this will sound like a typically bizarre leftist theory and they instinctively react: "WE wouldn't act like that !" Even  on the Left it's usually explained in terms of Iraqi oil, and control of the Middle East reserves in general (which are important factors).

But the same sort of explanation as that given by Chomsky was offered for the more recent attack on Iraq, by Gwynne Dyer, a military historian who was a lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England (which doesn't tend to employ leftists) and later freelance writer on international relations. In "Future:Tense, The Coming World Order", he too says that oil was not the primary motivation (though it was obviously a significant factor):

    "The end of the Cold War destroyed the basis for the existing version of Pax Americana, but at the same time it seemed to enhance America's relative military power to the point where no other country in the world could defy it.
    ... the task was therefore to find a new rationale for America's immense military effort and its worldwide military presence. The 'rogue states with WMD' might work with the US domestic audience, but it just wouldn't fly with other governments. In fact, there was no cover story that they would swallow: they would just have to be shown who was in charge.
    ... So how could the neo-conservatives let the world know in a dramatic but economical way that the rules have just changed ...  One good way would be to pick some country that that has repeatedly defied the United States in the past - but isn't actually attacking it just now, for we don't want this to look like mere retaliation - and to whack it very hard. Create a horrible example of what happens to those who get out of line ...
    ... Iraq practically nominated itself."

    pp. 119-121

Authenticity not reality

The actors were impressed by Scorsese's concern with authenticity; but this is rather like naturalism; concerned with surface appearances, the streets of Boston, using real policemen, etc. But, for example, Costello was based on a real gangster boss, James "Whitey" Bulger", who was very different from the character played by Nicholson, with his constant grinning, over-the-top behaviour:

    "He watched very little television besides the History Channel and was fond of reading books, especially true crime and military history. He did not drink, smoke, or use drugs."

    "Bulger and his associates were looked up to and revered by several generations of South Boston youth. Those who have worked for him describe him as a benevolent but ruthless father figure who took very few steps without carefully considering all possible consequences [unlike Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al].
    One former associate has described him as follows, "The more work I did for Whitey, the better I liked it. If I received a [NB] rare smile from the man, an extra bonus for a job well done, that could keep me going for days. I loved to listen to his theories about the great military strategists of the world - like Caesar, Maximus, Patton, MacArthur - and how they moved deliberately, evaluating every possible move before acting.

    ...Costello differs from Bulger in his lack of political connections, apart from his FBI deal."


Given his TV and reading preferences he might well have read Machiavelli, and known about this passage (which echoes the views of Chomsky and Dyer on US neo-cons):

    "...Among the wonderful deeds of Hannibal this one is enumerated: that having led an enormous army, composed of many various races of men, to fight in foreign lands, no dissensions arose either among them or against the prince, whether in his bad or in his good fortune. This arose from nothing else than his inhuman cruelty, which, with his boundless valour, made him revered and terrible in the sight of his soldiers, but without that cruelty, his other virtues were not sufficient to produce this effect. And shortsighted writers admire his deeds from one point of view and from another condemn the principal cause of them..."

But, he added:

Of  course the US government is now much more widely hated and has a lot more to fear in future.

By a remarkable coincidence, Chomsky actually works (at MIT) only about 5 miles from the centre of activity of the gang, which went on for decades. Luckily for Chomsky he was more interested in the media in general rather than doing journalism, and in the gangsters in Washington rather than the much smaller fry a short drive from him, who threatened local reporters, resulting in little investigation by journalists.

Freedom to be largely ignored

One might say that this just proves what a wonderfully open democracy the US has, if Chomsky can relentlessly attack the government and remain unmolested. But as Chomsky also points out, the US is quite ready to to do or pay for the bloodiest attacks on its enemies abroad, but at home the system just happens to work in a way which almost filters out such dissent, not by conspiracy, as Chomsky himself stresses, but just because of the nature of the system - in education, journalism, TV, etc.

Concision as exclusion

For example, its need for "concision": Thus Chomsky would need time to explain and provide evidence for such a view as the above, but, as he points out, that's just what the US media, TV in particular, don't offer; they want concision, opinions which will fit easily between the adverts, such as mainstream views which will be readily understood and accepted by most Americans.

http://www.postmodernhaircut.com/archive_page.php?id=5  (a very funny site)

 As a result the fellow MIT academic who did the interview with Chomsky, introduced it by saying something which was almost exactly what an American here in Nice had told me:

    Hugh Gusterson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

     "I am struck that, when I travel abroad, foreign academics and activists often
    ask me about my MIT colleague Noam Chomsky, whom they recognize as
    one of the pre-eminent intellectuals, and critics of social injustice, alive in the
    world today. On the other hand, when I mention him in my classes at MIT,
    over half the students have never heard of him, although he is unarguably the
    most distinguished faculty member at our university. Famed both as the
    originator of structural linguistics and as a formidably knowledgeable and
    intense critic of US military and economic intervention abroad, of the mainstream
    media and of Israeli repression of the Palestinians, he enjoys a strange
    mixture of local obscurity and global celebrity as a left-wing intellectual."


America is now more civilized

Despite the jokes on the www.postmodernhaircut.com site, where Chomsky is portrayed as a miserable pessimist, in fact he remains very optimistic - about people in general if not US governments and corporations. But, being a realist, he reminds us of uncomfortable truths about the recent past of the US, even in liberal Boston, before giving reasons for remaining optimistic:

     "... I was here [during the Vietnam War]. Boston, the most liberal city in the
    country. We could not have a public demonstration against the war without
    it being physically broken up, often by students, until late 1966. Literally. At
    that time there were a couple of hundred thousand American troops rampaging
    around South Vietnam. The war had been around for five years. And
    there were hundreds of thousands of people who had already been killed. And
    at that time if we tried to have a meeting on Boston Common it would be
    broken up violently.
    HG: Not by the police . . .
    NC: Not by the police; the police were protecting us. If it hadn't been for the hundreds
    of State Troopers, we probably would have been killed. They didn't
    protect us because they liked us, but because they didn't want to see people
    murdered on the Boston Common. In fact, even when we tried to do it in a
    church, the Arlington Street Church, it was attacked, in April of '66.

    HG: I was here during the Gulf War . . .

    NC: See, but notice the difference. The Gulf War was probably the first war in
    history where the protests, massive protests, took place before the war started.
    Not six years later. That reflects the change in the attitude of the population.

    HG: Do you feel the chill of the '50s returning? In a different way because orthodoxy
    is mediated through money and funding?

    NC: It's nothing like the '50s. The whole mood of the country has shifted
    And attitudes have changed on all sorts of things. Feminist issues didn't exist,
    environmental issues didn't exist. The rights of Native Americans didn't exist.
    The opposition to repression didn't exist. The whole tenor of the culture has
    changed. It's become a much more civilized place. And that leads to all kinds
    of possibilities..."


How different from the pessimistic nihilism of Scorsese. But then the kind of work Scorsese wants to do requires lots of money, i.e. working within the system and that tends to set limits (see the example of "concision" above) - until the power elite decide that Iraq is a lost cause (as many of them have done already) and a new set of politicians gets into power. Then we might get a spate of films about Iraq as happened about a decade after the end of the Vietnam War, e.g. Oliver Stone's "Platoon":

Ironically what was needed in both cases was someone more like Whitey Bulger, "who took very few steps without carefully considering all possible consequences" and would have looked beyond the macho gesture of "Shock and Awe" and probably have decided attacking Iraq would only add to his problems, not solve them. If he'd made mistakes like this he'd have known he would have ended up in prison, or on the run (as he is now apparently).

Recently Chomsky gave a lecture at MIT, Boston: The Current Crises in the Middle East (September 21, 2006) where he said about Iraq:

    "What should the US do at this point? There are some principles. One principle is that invading armies have no rights whatsoever: they have only obligations and responsibilities. The first obligation is to pay massive reparations for the crime of aggression, the supreme international crime, according to the Nuremberg judgment, which encompasses all evil that follows. The second obligation would be to put on trial the people responsible for the supreme international crime. That's the first. (applause) ... "

    http://readingchomsky.blogspot.com/ ( video of talk at http://mitworld.mit.edu/play/401/ )

Whitey Bulger probably wouldn't have joined in the applause, he might well have given one of his rare smiles and called it a "supreme piece of stupidity" and returned to the History Channel.

Need to know

In fact while the system leads to most Americans being ignorant of Chomsky's political work, those who run the system need to know what's going on in the world and seek the best analysis - hence Chomsky's point that one can often find useful information in the elite papers (while the tabloids keep the masses distracted and purvey the dominant ideology). This "need to know" extends to the senior ranks of the military; thus Chomsky has even given a lecture: On Just War Theory and the Invasion of Iraq - at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point ! He concluded:

    "... the codification of laws of war has over time had a notable civilizing effect, but the gap between professed ideals and actual practice is much too large to be tolerated in my opinion. Thanks."

    http://readingchomsky.blogspot.com/    (Saturday, September 30, 2006)

Two links to help with html:

  1. how to centre pictures;

  2. how to embed Youtube vids.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 8th, 2007 at 04:37:12 PM EST
Thanks for the links, I'll fix it. It had taken a lot of time and it was working on blogger (and gave the link in the Sun open thread), so I just pasted in the code. I saw the "center" problem but was too tired to try to fix it at about 1 am here. Today packing for a move to another part of Nice tomorrow. Nerves a bit frayed ;-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 01:29:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No sweat, these are just ET html particularities (especially, unfortunately, that <center> doesn't work in diaries and comments, and, fortunately, that there's a simple macro for embedding Youtube vids).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 04:08:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Now fixed - back to moving home.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Apr 10th, 2007 at 08:49:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Congrats for your first diary, Ted!

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sun Apr 8th, 2007 at 04:53:31 PM EST
Thanks M. I'll try to get the coding right for here next time. Evidently you're not the miserable person who gave my reference to the blog version a 1 in the Sunday open thread. All that work and I'm just a troll ? ! :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 01:33:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
AFAIK, nobody gave you a 1 in the Sunday open thread. Only one person rated your comment and that person gave you a 4.

You can always know who rated your comment by clicking on the rating result which appears between parenthesis: (4.00/3)

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 02:00:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My mistake (this packing is a tiring business) - and my thanks for the lonely 4 there - to another Brit :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 03:02:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw (the first film) "Infernal Affairs" earlier, and it was great. Then I saw "The Departed" in an airplane, and I did not want to watch it till the end. Anything good there is a rip off from the Hong Kong film. I was surprised how closely Scorsese followed the same script, and copied so many details. Any changes (like a single female character, instead of separate two) were flat, making the narrative less credible. To people that saw "Infernal Affairs", "The Departed" is obsolete. The Chinese film includes superb acting as well, while Nicholson's over-the-top psyche was too much. The Hong-Kong film did not need a ton of expletives, or even  overwhelming shootings actions to keep you focused.

Anyway, the two films do differ in philosophies. Scorsese's film says nothing new, but emphatically reinforces the "imperialist" myth of importance of violence. You-have-no-choice-baby-but-shoot, something like that.

The English tittle of "Infernal affairs" is awkward - it is easy to read it mistakenly as "Internal affairs", apparently intentionally. It obviously claims a morality perspective. The film starts with a Buddhist quotation, that the most terrible hell is the eternal hell. The quote probably applies to the bad undecover guy, who stays alive at the end, becomes good presumably, and has to live with the things he caused and experienced still for a long life. Or it is a consolation for the good undercover guy, that he won't have to suffer more. Either way, the sadness of good-vs-evil clash is pretty intensive. But it is not hopelessness. The evil will not be gone, but one bad devil is defeated again. The good guy is gone, but there is something more good than before. The evolution of good and evil continues.

Yes, the Hollywood understanding of evil and prosperity rules the world for now. But how long will it take till this understanding will eat itself alive?

by das monde on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 12:10:24 AM EST
I haven't seen Infernal Affairs. I plan to do so as a lot of people seem to agree with you. But I was less interested in the quality of the film, than in how it connected with the Chomsky's views and the more general issues raised.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 01:37:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Chomsky is a constant breath of fresh air while the rest of the world's left goes about its usual sky-is-falling fatalism. Weren't we supposed to start bombing Iran this weekend? I guess the week is still young.

I should finish up Failed States. His writing is dark, but well grounded. The world could use a lot more of that.

As I have noted here before, my political consciousness was born about 10 years ago now when I randomly picked up Deterring Democracy at the local Barnes and Noble along with a few other political themed books. I had never heard of him.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 12:26:00 AM EST
Now, now, read the optimistic qoutations from Chomsky at the end of the diary (maybe you didn't get that far, it is long :-)) He wouldn't be so dismissive about "the rest of the world's left".

But yes, he is "a constant breath of fresh air". My political consciousness was born a lot earlier, but also by reading Chomsky, and he still comes up with stuff which surprises me. That you'd never even heard of him is another example of his relative obscurity in the US (see the cartoon) and fame elsewhere, as mentioned in the diary.  

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 01:52:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He is pretty well known on college campuses. I was 19 when I found that book, and found it on my own mostly because I was in an engineering school which are almost apolitical in comparison to liberal arts schools (and to the extent that the students are political, they lean to the right).

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 01:58:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My political consciousness was born when, while walking down the street at college in the evening, I saw a bunch of people going into an auditorium. I was curious about what the event was, so I followed them. It turned out to be a talk by Chomsky. I knew about his work in linguistics at that point, but not about his politics.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 02:43:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First, I'm not sure that the power and credibility of violence is a myth. It seems to me that this is laregly how the world operates geopolitically. So far, we haven't found good ways to counter this insidious reality.

Second, I've always loved Scorsese, but yeah this wasn't his best. Bringing out the Dead, a lightly regarded movie, was better.

Third, US politicians are mostly up front about "credibility" and inflicting pain. It's never been a secert motive. When Condi Rice testified in front of congress during the whole "Bin Laden Determined to Attack America" hearing, she laid out the principles for action in Iraq very clearly. The US needed to establish the principle of reciprocality in the Middle East, it didn't matter where. Any attack on the US would give the US the pretext and the wherewithal to extend its influence. This is the price paid, as she put it. Although i think she's an amateur and so are her cohorts, I believe the ideology she espoused is perfectly logical, if you believe in the power of violence. The scary thing is, this version of extending influence through violence will never be renounced even after the failure in Iraq. We already had Vietnam, a botched war. And now we have Iraq, a botched war. God help us if we ever get it right, because I think the possibility is there that we will one day get it right.

by Upstate NY on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 10:57:02 AM EST
One can only believe the power of violence.

What one should question is the power of violence to build anything worthy.

by Torres on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 02:15:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"First, I'm not sure that the power and credibility of violence is a myth." A reference to das monde's comment above - I agree with you.

But I don't agree with this at all: "Third, US politicians are mostly up front about 'credibility' and inflicting pain." They certainly aren't upfront with the general public - hence the constant TV appearances referring to WMD,  Colin Powell's speech, the Blair Government's dodgy dossier, etc. When WMD weren't found, the rhetoric turned to helping the Iraqis gain freedom and democracy.

As Dyer pointed out in the quotations I used, other governments weren't fooled by such claims, but they clearly did work with the general public in the US, partly because the US media, fearing accusations of being "unpatriotic", didn't treat such claims with the scepticism and contempt they deserved.

Oh well, back to packing for the move tomorrow :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 02:37:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Ted. Enjoyed your diary, and I hope you will do more of them soon.
Nice also to see Chomsky represented here on the pages of Eurotrib.
I am just finishing his "failed States", and, like so much of his work, it is hard on the heart to read, but good for the soul.
Here is a link that you may enjoy, about myth and truth, that I just discovered. Trying to decide what to do with it.

Read it after you get moved in, and have a decent bottle to calm the nerves.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 03:39:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the encouragement and the link, which I will check out after that bottle :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Apr 10th, 2007 at 08:51:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, whose fault is it for not underlining Rice's openly stated message that a proper response to terrorism is indeed intimidation and coersion through overwhelming use of force? Yes, there's a lot of noise, with Al-Qaeda plus Saddam, enriched uranium, all the bogus argument the administration has madeetc., but Rice openly stated the most logical reasons for the response (ignoring Halliburton and Black Water etc. for the moment) in a much remarked upon speech.

The problem is that we as citizens can't grasp the extent of our imperialism. Our leaders openly explain their motivations, and we can't "hear" it because we're a democracy.

by Upstate NY on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 03:45:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I enjoyed your diary entry, Ted.  Inspired connection, Chomsky and Scorsee.

When WMD weren't found, the rhetoric turned to helping the Iraqis gain freedom and democracy.

In general I agree with your thesis about resistance to acceptance of violence by the U.S. public. The public acceptance of the government's inducement of violence on foreign soil has tracked on a mostly down arc, since Vietnam.  Media control of that has been paramount.

Let me share a quick narrative of how I've put it together:  

It's also instructive to note that the president's covert army, the CIA, has done most of its work undercover and out of the most pablumized and obvious arms of the corporate media since roughly the days of the Truman Doctrine, where I would mark the beginning of this most modern phase of U.S. globalizing foreign policy, thanks to the Cold War and how handy that was for advancing the military industrial complex and its world wide network of bases.

When the CIA's work got too much exposure in the seventies, and it began to get a negative public image, Reagan created the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a NGO with a new policy to cover for the CIA called "Democracy Promotion."  It was headed by Walter Raymond Jr. who joined the CIA in 1952. He was in the CIA throughout it's period of covert operations through the point in the Seventies when it was gaining sour reputation.  This was the beginning of a new foreign policy instrument where the U.S. switched from destabilizing governments and putting strong men in place (as they did to the democratic government of Iran in 1953, because it was about to nationalize the oil industry), to putting a pseudo, neoliberal elite in place that could be dressed up by elections as a democracy.  A host of related NGO's have been devised with a bevy of elites with recognizable names involved, often back and forth through revolving doors.

I don't think it was a desperate switch from WMDs to promoting democracy.  It appears, from all the evidence I've looked at, that was their goal from the beginning in Iraq, it's just they arrogantly didn't listen to the reviled liberals and realists in their institutions of higher learning like Juan Cole, and thought taking down Saddam would get them love, parades, and garlands of flowers from the Iraqis, and they could easily install Chalabi.

Unfortunately, combined with that, we had this tragic comedy team called Rumsfeld and Cheney, their history together goes back to Nixon in the seventies, who had teamed up with the neocons and developed what they thought would be a useful way of using the left-over-from-the-cold-war military industrial complex, just in case the democracy promotion strategy fell through.  

Remember too that by Gulf I, Saddam was already a dinosaur left over from the old regime change period, so his country desperately needed a political facelift to go with the new democracy strategy facelift.  However 911 happened, it gave them enough of a public stupefication factor they could weasel a way to get the military into the picture.  Of course, they've created a mess beyond their wildest dreams.

And of course, layered in all of this is the U.S. designs on the strategic ellipse, or the "arc of instability" where most of the U.S.'s fossil based energy just happens to be, under "their" sand.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 04:31:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for your positive feedback and comments - will respond when I have more time.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Apr 10th, 2007 at 08:54:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
First, I'm not sure that the power and credibility of violence is a myth. It seems to me that this is laregly how the world operates geopolitically. So far, we haven't found good ways to counter this insidious reality.

I have to respond here. Violence is powerful, now and always. Violence is important for this time being. But in the long run, violence is not so much important.

From a side perspective, who cares whether this or other king won a particular battle? Either one or other statue on a horse would be standing in a city square.

The glory comes from the ideas you are fighting for, not so much from the fighting itself. Of course, the good ideas must win; but amazingly or not, they do win sooner or later. And they set much of the future.

The sad thing about current American domination is that wars are fought for no good ideas, but merely for a larger grab of power, or marginalization of opposition This kind of violence occurs over and over again in history, but it is not sustainable. It does leave marks in history, but the pattern is repeated because better things are gradually neglected with a new innovative displacement.

The provoked sectarian violence in Iraq shows the unproductive nature of violence: it serves only the occupation by keeping up chaos. At the end, all violence serves a small purpose, with enormous wasteful bang. We may learn better ways with time.

Call me crazy, but worship of violence is one meme I wish to resist.

by das monde on Wed Apr 11th, 2007 at 06:15:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know if you've been actually in war, in the fighting.  I was rounded up by the elites we voted for over here in the US and sent off with my musket and powder to Vietnam.  The "Idea" was something to do with "Freedom" and "Democracy" which was under threat by the rabble in the arc of instability where colonialization goes on -- at the time and now.  In the process I had my own little epiphany.

The result of it was that "Ideas" are not something I would fight for now.  Ideas are sets of hypothesis we make up and throw like dice against the infinite unknown, see if they come up winning once in awhhile, ever keeping in mind that the infinite unknown is unknowable.

I think war is pretty much always about property, resources and all that makes up the capital of whoever is involved.  Those who want to control it in one way or another generally need some recruits to help them keep or get what they want.  Global capitalism is a giant Ponzi scheme, or maybe a better visual, since it's so hierarchical, a pyramid scheme, and most of us are at the bottom.  Recruiting for armies is done through various means, either a propaganda methodology where the recruits are preprogrammed to believe the hegemonic ideals of the day, or if that doesn't work, coercion.  

Back in the Seventeenth Century some of my relatives fled the Reformation religious wars in Bavaria, specifically the period of the bloody Thirty Years War, where some of their men had been dragged off kicking and screaming from their villages to fight for that nice passive Duke Maximillion of Bavaria, a typical turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor Catholic. From the accounts that have come down through our family, they settled in what was to become the Carolinas in hopes of finding some peace.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Wed Apr 11th, 2007 at 11:42:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ha... a Pyramid scheme... or a a Ponzi scheme.

No, I was not at war. I just grew up in Eastern Europe, saw Soviet raw films on war, and smelled a bit of Red Army boots. I have to say that although stories of Army freshmen, Afghanistan or Chernobyl stories were depressing, there was never so much craze about war and violence on TV or in newspapers as it is now in the "free" world. Somehow fear was not a big part of ideological control. Naively or not, you could believe in peace there. You were buying posters of Schwarzenegger and Stalonne as something almost illegal.

Ideas are a tricky thing. You can make people drunken with it, and use that in terrible ways. But people are looking for narratives or something to believe to anyway. If you do not provide your vision, more crazy fanatics will. There is much ugly empirical evidence regarding implementation of "good" ideas, I agree. But that does not mean that we would be better seeking no better ideas.

by das monde on Wed Apr 11th, 2007 at 08:49:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We seem to be having some sort of cross referencing dialogue, mainly because I'm new, don't know who's who yet, lol.  At least we aren't going around in circles yet, at least I don't feel dizzy.

Narrative's a big one, I feel.  I'm a proponent of developing one's own.  We all have one anyway, why not have some fun with it.  I see no value in renouncing it either.  Repression and denial always seem unhealthy when I try it.  I'm all for living as much as possible in my narrative rather than another's, though I like to share.  I Always tended towards the anarchistic in that way, and I enjoy that spirit in others.

My first diary post the other day, that included the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, was obliquely about the situational effect of cultural institutions and groups on our own narratives.  I've thought much about it, from the shock of the boot camp right of passage on.  I see possible links in those thoughts to your post you linked.  Zimbardo has thought long and hard about his experiment.  From his website, he links to this site, Hassan's Freedom of Mind Center for some inspiration on how to deal with the powerful influence other narratives can have on one's own.  I think not too far off in spirit from your own Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29.

Ideas are tricky things indeed.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 03:40:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tao Te Ching was provided by wchurchil, actually.

Discordians say, chaos has to be embraced, and everyone has to be a Pope. Many people would believe craziest narratives because they can't be confident in themselves.

by das monde on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 09:10:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I noticed when I clicked back, but there's no edit function I can find for these comments. :(

"can't be confident in themselves."  Indeed.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 09:31:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Now in the new apartment and the net connection re-estabished ! :-)

Chomsky's basic point and that of Dyer, is that even the Bush gang don't commit violence for just its own sake (only a few psychopaths do this) - their idea (reasonably well-founded) is that if they don't use violence against some (especially those overtly defying them), they will lack crediblity (the same reasoning as gangster bosses) - and credibility is a very important idea - see the quotation from Machiavelli on Hannibal.

However, as I said, they failed to even begin to think through the possible consequences of the attack on Iraq, and in this they showed themselves to less intelligent than the gangster boss "Whitey" Bluger (who apparently always did so) upon whom Costello/Nicholson was based in the  film.

The Bush gang did at least understand that if they attacked a regime like Saddam's,  other governments would understand why (the realpolitik) and not be foooled by talk of threats posed by WMDs, nor of the US's commitment to freeing the Iraqis from Saddam's oppression, etc.

But they also know that the US general public will not accept it if the neocons just said: We need to whack some easily defeated regime that has been  a nuisance to us; hence ALL the PR efforts of the Bush gang about the elevated and urgent motives for this attack (overwhelmingly more important in shaping public opinion than one statement by Rice about the US's right to defend its interests - see comments by  Upstate NY above).

Even  when the WMDs did not appear they did not say: Oh well, we needed to set an example to keep all the other countries in line. All the rhetoric was about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraqis and how noble the us was being in trying to finish the job - the same kind of bullshit as with Vietnam - see Ren's comment above.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 04:50:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.

Michael Ledeen quoted by Jonah Goldberg

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 04:13:33 PM EST

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