A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Chris Hedges gave this speech September 20. 2015 at a Santa Ana, Calif., event sponsored by the Green Party of Orange County.
We live in a revolutionary moment. The disastrous economic and political experiment that attempted to organize human behavior around the dictates of the global marketplace has failed. The promised prosperity that was to have raised the living standards of workers through trickle-down economics has been exposed as a lie. A tiny global oligarchy has amassed obscene wealth, while the engine of unfettered corporate capitalism plunders resources, exploits cheap, unorganized labor and creates pliable, corrupt governments that abandon the common good to serve corporate profit. The relentless drive by the fossil fuel industry for profits is destroying the ecosystem, threatening the viability of the human species. And no mechanisms to institute genuine reform or halt the corporate assault are left within the structures of power, which have surrendered to corporate control. The citizen has become irrelevant. He or she can participate in heavily choreographed elections, but the demands of corporations and banks are paramount.
History has amply demonstrated that the seizure of power by a tiny cabal, whether a political party or a clique of oligarchs, leads to despotism. Governments that cater exclusively to a narrow interest group and redirect the machinery of state to furthering the interests of that group are no longer capable of responding rationally in times of crisis. Blindly serving their masters, they acquiesce to the looting of state treasuries to bail out corrupt financial houses and banks while ignoring chronic unemployment and underemployment, along with stagnant or declining wages, crippling debt peonage, a collapsing infrastructure, and the millions left destitute and often homeless by deceptive mortgages and foreclosures.
A bankrupt liberal class, holding up values it does nothing to defend, discredits itself as well as the purported liberal values of a civil democracy as it is swept aside, along with those values. In this moment, a political, economic or natural disaster—in short a crisis—will ignite unrest, lead to instability and see the state carry out draconian forms of repression to maintain “order.” This is what lies ahead.
We will, as Friedrich Engels wrote, make a transition to either socialism or barbarism. If we do not dismantle global capitalism we will descend into the Hobbesian chaos of failed states, mass migrations—which we are already witnessing—and endless war. Populations, especially in the global South, will endure misery and high mortality rates caused by collapsing ecosystems and infrastructures on a scale not seen since perhaps the black plague. There can be no accommodation with global capitalism. We will overthrow this system or be crushed by it. And at this moment of crisis we need to remind ourselves what being a socialist means and what it does not mean.
First and foremost, all socialists are unequivocal anti-militarists and anti-imperialists. They understand that there is no genuine social, political, economic or cultural reform as long as the militarists and their corporatist allies in the war industry continue to loot and pillage the state budget, leaving the poor to go hungry, workingmen and -women in distress, the infrastructure to collapse and social services to be slashed in the name of austerity. The psychosis of permanent war, which infected the body politic after World War I with the internal and external war on communism, and which today has mutated into the war on terror, is used by the state to strip us of civil liberties, redirect our resources to the war machine and criminalize democratic dissent. We have squandered trillions of dollars and resources in endless and futile wars, from Vietnam to the Middle East, at a time of ecological and fiscal crisis. The folly of endless war is one of the signs of a dying civilization. One F-22 Raptor fighter plane costs $350 million. We have 187 of them. One Tomahawk cruise missile costs $1.41 million. We fired 161 of them when we attacked Libya. This missile attack on Libya alone cost us a quarter of a billion dollars. We spend an estimated $1.7 trillion a year on war, far more than the official 54 percent of discretionary spending, or roughly $600 billion. If we don’t break the back of the war machine, profound change will be impossible.
We have been at war almost continuously since the first Gulf War in 1991, followed by Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, Serbia-Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, where we have now been fighting for 14 years, and Iraq in 2003. And we can toss in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Syria, along with Israel’s proxy war against the Palestinian people.
The human cost has been horrendous. Over 1 million dead in Iraq. Millions more are displaced or are refugees. Iraq will never be reconstituted as a unified state. And it was our war industry that created the mess. We attacked a country that did not threaten us, and had no intention of threatening its neighbors, and destroyed one of the most modern infrastructures in the Middle East. We brought not only terror and death—including the Shiite death squads we armed and trained—but power outages, food shortages and the collapse of basic services, from garbage collection to sewer and water treatment. We dismantled Iraq’s institutions, disbanded its security forces, threw its health service into crisis and engineered massive poverty and unemployment. And out of the chaos rose insurgents, gangsters, kidnapping rings, jihadists and rogue paramilitary groups—including our hired mercenaries, like [the current army of] Iraq. Gary Leupp in an article in Counterpunch titled “How George W. Bush Destroyed the Temple of Baal” got it when he wrote:
Bush destroyed the law and order which had permitted girls to walk to school, heads uncovered, in modern western dress. He destroyed the freedom of physicians and other professionals to go about their work and caused masses of them to exit their country. He destroyed neighborhoods whose residents were forced to flee for their lives. He destroyed the Christian community, which dropped from 1.5 million in 2001 to perhaps 200,000 a decade later. He destroyed the prevalent ideology of secularism and ushered in an era of bitterly contested sectarian rule. He destroyed the right to broadcast rock ‘n roll music, or sell liquor and DVDs.
He destroyed the stability of Anbar province by sowing the chaos that allowed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to establish—for the first time—an al-Qaeda branch in Iraq.
He destroyed the stability of Syria when “Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” (now ISIL) retreated into that neighboring country during the “surge” of 2007. By creating power vacuums and generating new chapters and spin-offs of al-Qaeda, he destroyed Yazidi communities and their freedom from genocide and slavery. By hatching the forerunner of ISIL, he destroyed the prospects for a peaceful “Arab Spring” in Syria three years after his presidency ended.
Through his actions he destroyed the border between Syria and Iraq. He destroyed the Tomb of Jonah in Mosul. He destroyed 3,300 year old monuments, the glorious art of the Assyrians, in Nimrud. On August 23 while sitting in his home artist’s studio in Crawford, Texas, he destroyed the 2,000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria.
The most complete structure in that gorgeous pearl of an ancient preserved city, a mix of Roman, Syrian and Egyptian artistic influences, is now a pile of rubble.
Foreign battlefields are laboratories for the architects of industrial slaughter. They perfect the tools of control and annihilation on the demonized and the destitute. But these tools eventually make their way back to the heart of empire. As the corporatists and the militarists disembowel the nation, rendering our manufacturing centers boarded-up wastelands and tossing our citizens into poverty and despair, the methods of subjugation familiar to those on the outer reaches migrate back to us—wholesale surveillance, indiscriminate use of lethal force in the streets of our cities against unarmed citizens, a stripping away of our civil liberties, a dysfunctional court system, drones, arbitrary arrest, detention and mass incarceration. The tyranny empire imposes on others, as Thucydides reminded us, it finally imposes on itself. Those who kill in our name abroad soon kill in our name at home. Democracy is snuffed out. As the German socialist Karl Liebknecht said during the First World War: “The main enemy is at home.” We will destroy the engines of endless war and shut down the war profiteers or we will become the next victims; indeed many in our marginal communities already are its victims. [Continue Reading]
Copyright 2015 Chris Hedges. First published in TruthDig.