Week In Review August 22
I’m a bit late with this WIR which is my third rewrite. I had planned to focus on recent reports by climate scientists but events took me in different directions—first the revival of neofascism and then even more ominous threats of war, both new and escalated old.
Alternating Current Crises
Since the Week In Review became a regular feature of the KC Labor site in 2003, much of the content has been about the two overarching threats to the very survival of human civilization—nuclear war and climate change.
The first could eradicate most human accomplishments—along with most of humanity—within days, perhaps even hours. Nearly all residents of our planet are aware of this danger even as most try to bury it deep in their psyche. The socialist psychiatrist and peace activist Erich Fromm explored this unhealthy situation in his 1955 book, The Sane Society. He argued that the inherent madness of the nuclear arms race by the world’s great, and now even lesser powers, made it difficult for individuals to maintain our sanity. He prescribed confronting this reality–and work to change it by disarming the social psychopaths.
The fear factor of nuclear annihilation declined considerably after a mutual reduction of weapons, and agreement to stop targeting one another’s cities, was negotiated between the U.S. and USSR in the 1980s. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union its nuclear arsenal was transferred to the now capitalist Russia.
But over the past couple of weeks the danger of nuclear war again took center stage. Some compared the Korean confrontation to the 1962 Cuba Missile Crisis. I was a young adult during that showdown between the USA and the Soviet Union and it had a profound impact on my life. For several days, as Soviet ships loaded with missiles resolutely headed toward a U.S. Navy blockade of Cuba, it appeared a doomsday war was inevitable. But both Kennedy and Khrushchev were careful to leave options for face-saving compromise and that’s why we’re around to talk about it today.
In one important way the current crisis is more dangerous than the one 55 years ago. The insults and dire threats exchanged between Trump and Kim reveal far different and less predictable character traits than those of the 1962 protagonists. There is legitimate concern about such behavior going from push to a nuclear-backed shove.
For a while, it appeared more rational elements of the American ruling class had reigned in the blustering Trump. Nuclear powers China and Russia—who have the closest relationship, as well as common borders with North Korea–got Kim to stand down from his targeting of Guam. There was hope that at least for now, that particular crisis had subsided.
The Sunday New York Times raises doubts about this wishful thinking in an article entitled Talk of ‘Preventive War’ Rises in White House Over North Korea. Some younger readers may not immediately recognize this eerie reminder of when Bush and Blair invented their bogus excuse for invading Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from deploying “weapons of mass destruction.”
Saddam, of course, had no such weapons–and no protection from nuclear allies. Overthrowing him was relatively easy through “conventional” warfare. But despite that “mission accomplished” the Iraq war continues, sparking the rise of the so-called “Islamic State,” expanding the scope of war in to Syria and Kurdistan, and through terrorist attacks in “western” countries.
It is believed North Korea actually has at least some crude nuclear devises and missiles capable of reaching the American homeland. There is no confidence, however, in knowing their precise locations. China and Russia almost certainly would actively oppose any American war on North Korea.
When the 1950 UN “Police Action,” that most call the Korean War, intervened in an attempt to forcefully reunify Korea, and started pushing in to the North, China considered that a threat to them. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers joined the North to push back the U.S.-led UN forces. The Soviet Union provided advanced jet fighters, and trained North pilots to challenge U.S. air superiority in the North.
The Chinese wariness was well-founded. General Douglas MacArthur who had Presidential, if not dictatorial ambitions, wanted to expand the war in to an all out assault on the still consolidating Chinese revolution–including using atomic bombs. When MacArthur started lobbying not only American politicians but even foreign governments to support what could have led to World War III, his Commander-in-Chief fired him. Truman later said,
“I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”
That bloody war dragged on for three years before ending in a stalemate with little change in borders. The armistice was negotiated when another General was elected President on the promise of bringing the troops home. But tens of thousands of GIs remain on duty in Korea to this day.
There is no evidence that a final decision has yet been made to pursue a preemptive attack on North Korea. The Pentagon has many contingency plans to offer the President when needed. Some of the generals in the Trump administration are reputed to be historians, at least one with teaching credentials at West Point. But we can’t rely on them being among the quarter who aren’t “dumb s-o-bs,” who might counsel against ignoring past mistakes.
Many pundits believe Trump’s generals will protect him from doing anything truly dangerous even if it means rejecting suicidal orders. Even if this dubious expectation was valid it is hardly comforting. It would signify a defacto military coup. There were several popular novels and films along this theme in the 1960s.
There is no doubt about the influence of the generals on Trump’s announcement of a “new strategy” for the 16-year war on Afghanistan. The only thing really new in his nationally televised address to the nation, delivered at Ft Myer, Virginia, was renunciation of his long stated position that it was time to pull out. He signed on to the chain of custody for America’s longest war, initiated by Bush II, once escalated by Obama.
While he declined to give any details that would be “helpful to the enemy,” it is expected that 4-5,000 additional GIs—some the third generation in their families—will continue this futile attempt to subdue a country that has resisted foreign occupiers from Genghis Khan, through the British Royal Lancers, down to the Soviet Army. It is an ongoing crime against the Afghan peoples and an unpardonable waste of American blood and treasure.
A once mighty antiwar movement during Bush II started pulling its punches during the eight year reign of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. It is the one once major movement that remains to be heard from under Trump. We need a mass movement in the streets opposing any “preventive wars,” and threats of intervention in Venezuela. And we must renew demands to bring all the GIs home from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and everywhere else where they are killing and dying.
* The Hill reports a potential significant ruling–“An appeals court on Tuesday rejected the federal government’s approval of a natural gas pipeline project in the southeastern U.S., citing concerns about its impact on climate change. In a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas that the project would deliver to power plants.”
* The Guardian did a special piece in their Inequality and Opportunity Series featuring worker leaders of the Fight for 15 movement in Kansas City.
* The Missouri labor movement collected 310,000 signatures on a petition to put repeal of the Right-to-Work law passed by the legislature earlier this year on the ballot in 2018. That’s three times the minimum number needed.
* Trump’s Interior Department has ordered a halt to a study requested by West Virginia state officials on the public health impact of mountain top removal coal mining.
That’s all for this week.
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