Tag Archive: North Korea

Six Myths About U.S. – North Korea Relations by Joseph Essertier

north korea

Republished with permission from the author

Not even a year has passed since Donald Trump’s election victory. Yet already, his over-the-top, pugnacious rhetoric and actions have exacerbated Washington’s conflict with North Korea to the point where some observers are comparing it to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.1 But how are people being educated and informed about this crisis in the mass media? We are shown bountiful coverage of North Korean problems, such as Kim Jong-un’s own over-the top rhetoric, his government’s human rights violations, rapid development of nuclear missiles, and soldiers goose stepping, but hardly any coverage of American problems, such as our history of aggression on the Korean Peninsula, the “Military-Industrial Complex” that President Eisenhower warned about in 1961, and the ways in which Washington has been intimidating Pyongyang. Below is an outline of some myths that must be dispelled if Americans are to gain some basic understanding U.S.-North Korea relations today and if they are to feel motivated to pressure their government to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Myth Number 1: North Korea is the aggressor, not us; they are the problem

No. Most serious international relations experts would say that Washington’s past actions have been a major cause of the present crisis, if not the main cause. Yet the impression that many people are naturally left with after watching the news on TV is that North Korea is the problem; their belligerent behavior, especially their constantly conducting missile and nuclear bomb tests, has brought this crisis about. While Washington might not always be portrayed as completely innocent, North Korea is viewed as the main one doing the provoking and escalating the tensions. Let us dispel this myth first.

Undeniably the corporate mass media tend to portray the United States as a cautious and responsible member of the “international community,” and the government of North Korea as the one doing the provoking. But before and during the Korean War that ended in 1953, during the 64 years that have passed since the fighting was temporarily halted, and even during the rising tension during the last year between the United States and North Korea, the U.S. has always been the aggressor. As Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, the U.S. is the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” That was true in his time and it is now. In the case of North Korea, the importance of its governments’ focus on violence is given recognition with the term “garrison state.” This is how Bruce Cumings, the most prominent historian of modern Korea, categorizes it. This term recognizes the fact that the people of North Korea spend a lot of their time preparing for war. That is true. And none of us wish we could live there. But no one calls North Korea the “greatest purveyor of violence.”

Guess which country has engaged in the most overseas wars and invaded the most countries since the Korean War ended: the United States. Guess how many overseas military bases North Korea has: Zero. Guess how many the United States has: Hundreds. Guess how many aircraft carriers North Korea has: Zero. Guess how many nuclear weapons the United States has: Thousands. With just a little thought and study, anyone with Internet or library access can figure out for themselves that there is no question that the U.S. is more powerful, both economically and militarily.

As we seek to understand this reclusive state, let us keep in mind that violence is a weapon of the strong against the weak. It is not a first-choice option for weak states against strong states, just as it is not for women and children trying to solve conflicts with big, strong men. This is not to say that the weaker party never resorts to violence, just that he/she/it will first attempt to solve conflicts non-violently with the stronger party before taking a huge gamble on a probably unsuccessful attempt to physically overpower them.

Let us compare the acts of aggression on the part of Pyongyang with those of Washington. First, I list 10 examples of Washington’s aggression below. Many American readers will be surprised to learn of this violence, both real and symbolic, that has been committed in our name:

1. Contrary to his image as a peace-loving politician, former president Barack Obama promoted nuclear weapons development in a way that has threatened and will continue to threaten all rivals of the U.S., including North Korea, by building America’s “first precision-guided atom bomb,” i.e., a smaller type of nuclear missile that can hit its target extra accurately. Gen. James E. Cartwright, one of Obama’s “most influential nuclear strategists,” favored this investment in American nuclear weapons technology, but even he admitted that “going smaller” makes use of the weapon “more thinkable.” (My italics).

Another investment in a new, dangerous, and geopolitically de-stabilizing nuclear weapons technology, one that few journalists have paid attention to, is a new “super-fuze” device that is being used to upgrade old W76-1/Mk4A thermonuclear warheads and is now probably deployed on all US ballistic missile submarines. It apparently greatly increases the destructive power of nuclear missiles by allowing warheads to detonate above targets at just the right moment. This is outlined in an article that came out earlier this year by the nuclear weapons policy researcher Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council Matthew McKinzie, and the physicist and nuclear weapons systems expert at M.I.T. Theodore Postol: “The US submarine force today is much more capable than it was previously against hardened targets such as Russian ICBM silos. A decade ago, only about 20 percent of US submarine warheads had hard-target kill capability; today they all do.” The “nuclear forces modernization program” sponsored by Obama “implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing—boosting the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” (My italics). This threatens Russia since all their ICBMs could be destroyed, and indirectly it threatens North Korea, since Russia is one country that could conceivably come to its aid in the event of a U.S. invasion.

This is the result of Obama’s spending American tax dollars on a “plan to ‘modernize’ our nuclear arsenal at the unfathomable cost of about $1 trillion over the next 30 years.” During a time when many Americans were tightening their belts, Obama dedicated $1 trillion to technologies that increase the likelihood of nuclear war in general and threaten North Korea and other countries instead of spending that money on relief, education, health care, and other benefits to such Americans. (This will be Obama’s legacy—committing Washington and our economy to nuclear weapons in the years to come. No wonder President Trump is jealous—that his predecessor could do that and come off as a liberal humanitarian). Of course, Russian generals will be aware of these U.S. weapons capabilities, and they will be more likely to keep their “finger on the trigger,” knowing that a U.S. first strike could be so deadly.

2. Last year during the election, even before Donald Trump became president, he made the shocking suggestion that maybe Japan and South Korea should build their own nuclear weapons. Once Donald Trump had won the election, it became more likely that a nuclear arms race would ensue, or be accelerated (unless Obama had already accelerated it). It was not the first time that North Korea would have been concerned about South Korean nuclear weapons development. Under the American-backed dictator Park Chung Hee (1917-1979), Seoul began developing them in the mid- 1970s. The project was supposedly stopped, but South Korea already has conventional long-range missiles today that can hit anywhere in North Korea’s territory, and the conventional warheads on those missiles could easily be refitted with nuclear warheads.

3. In April of this year Washington deployed the THAAD (terminal high area altitude defense) system in spite of intense opposition from South Korean citizens. It is only supposed to intercept North Korean incoming ballistic missiles on their downward descent, but Chinese officials in Beijing worry that the real purpose of THAAD is to “track missiles launched from China” since THAAD has surveillance capabilities. One can say, therefore, that THAAD threatens North Korea directly and indirectly, by threatening an ally of North Korea.

4. Also in April, Washington sent a submarine equipped with nuclear missiles close to the Korean Peninsula on the very day of the celebration of the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.

5. North Korea is constantly under threat from the militaries of the U.S., South Korea, and increasingly Japan, through frequent military exercises such as the annual “massive sea, land and air exercises” in South Korea called “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” involving tens of thousands of troops. Not wasting an opportunity to intimidate Pyongyang, these were carried out in 21-31 August 2017 in spite of the rising tension. “Continual economic, propaganda, and psychological warfare” is also conducted against them.

6. In early September 2017 “a provocative idea at a dangerous time,” a new way to threaten North Korea was discussed with the government of South Korea: putting nukes back in South Korea, where Washington had once stockpiled them during the Cold War. Although Washington was not supposed to introduce any qualitatively new weaponry to the Korean Peninsula according to the armistice that Washington signed on 27 July 1953, in 1958 it went ahead and introduced nuclear missiles to the Peninsula. A year later it “permanently stationed a squadron of nuclear- tipped Matador cruise missiles” there. These were aimed not only at North Korea but also at China and the USSR, who were North Korean allies. These and other later-installed nuclear weapons were removed in 1991 because they were obsolete, not because they violated the agreement that Washington had signed. 70 nuclear artillery shells, large numbers of “ADMs” (atomic demolition mines, which were designed to contaminate areas of South Korea in order to stop an armored attack from North Korean forces) and 60 nuclear gravity bombs were among the obsolete weapons that were replaced with more effective, high-yield, conventional weapons.

7. On 11 September 2017 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2375. This increase in the severity of the ongoing economic sanctions will cause many innocent civilians to freeze to death this winter, without contributing to changes in Pyongyang’s policies and without doing anything to prevent the restart of the Korean War. Washington and Tokyo have tried similar tactics before, such as tying their food aid to politics. Tokyo ended their food aid to “famine-stricken North Korea” in the late 1990s. Between 1995 and 1997 there was a famine in which 2 to 3 million people, out of a population of 23 million, died as a result of food shortages. North Korea is mainly mountainous; there is little quality farmland, so during famines it is difficult to increase food production. The U.S. basically did the same thing. As Bruce Cumings wrote in 1997, “Kim Jong Il’s failed Utopia contains 23 million innocent people who need to be fed” but even American food aid to North Korea was “much too little.” That is the kind of strategy pursued by Washington and Tokyo for helping North Koreans struggle against the dictatorship and build a democratic government. But widespread starvation is not really a common feature of effective democratic movements.

As South Korea’s chief negotiator to the Six Party Talks Chun Youngwoo wrote, “Pressure and sanctions tend to reinforce the regime rather than weaken it.” This is because under pressure and sanctions, North Korea is “besieged, squeezed, strangled and cornered by hostile powers,” and it is precisely under such conditions that militarism thrives and democracy wanes. Try normalizing Pyongyang, and what you will get is the present government being put under the spotlight, where they will be forced to respond to the “demands of their people for improved living conditions and greater freedoms.”

But if improved living conditions and freedom led to democracy in North Korea, such a change would endanger the nineteenth-century-style, imperialist, “Open Door” fantasy that guides Washington’s international relations policies in East Asia. That fantasy, according to Paul Atwood, has been to gain “untrammeled right of entry into the marketplaces of all nations and territories and access to their resources and cheaper labor power on American terms, sometimes diplomatically, often by armed violence.” He provides a very brief and useful summary of the history of American geopolitical maneuvering in East Asia as it relates to Korea. This should have been on page 1 of the “Modern Korea” section in our high school history textbooks. U.S. policy towards Korea has always been about China and, as he explains, for the last two centuries there has been an “obsession” among the American elite business class with “opening” China. Faced with two possible paths in East Asia, either continuing to pursue the Open Door fantasy, or building through diplomacy a non-nuclear future in which homo sapiens might survive, Washington is once more taking the former path. A nuclear-free Korean Peninsula would give Americans more safety and security, too, but that is also a lower priority for Washington than profits for stockholders, CEOs, and the like.

8. Washington frequently sends its bombers to fly by North Korean airspace and scare North Koreans, such as on 24 September.

The above eight types of acts of provocation are very recent developments. The final two in this list below were done long ago, but they are surely remembered in North Korea, and thus continue to have an effect today.

9. Invading the DMZ. In 1976 a group of American and South Korean soldiers entered the “DMZ” (Demilitarized Zone), the forbidden buffer zone dividing the two countries, in order to cut down one poplar tree that was blocking their view of the North. This almost got the war going again.

10. Last but not least, there was the Korean War. This civil war did not end with a peace treaty and a process of reconciliation but only an armistice in 1953. The armistice left open the possibility of the War being restarted at any time. This fact, that the war did not result in a peaceful resolution of the civil conflict, is only one of its tragedies. It must be considered one of the most brutal wars in modern times. With the armistice, Koreans both north and south have been able to enjoy some peace, but their peace has been temporary and uncertain.

America killed millions of civilians on the Korean Peninsula, north and south, largely through aerial bombing. These attacks “hardly left a modern building standing.” Many villages were “washed downstream” by dams that were bombed in Kusong and Toksan (a recognized war crime), and even the capital city of Pyongyang, 27 miles away, was badly flooded. The “barbaric air war” destroyed “huge irrigation dams that provided water for 75 percent of the North’s food production.”

This near obliteration of infrastructure in Korea and the resultant suffering must remain deeply entrenched in the memories of North Koreans. As a result of the War, Koreans in the north have had to live continuously under the military hierarchy and oppression of a “garrison state.” Cumings employs the following definition: one in which the “specialists on violence are the most powerful group in society.”

Now as to the list of Pyongyang’s provocative actions, I lied. I am not going to bother writing about those because, well, most readers will already be familiar with them. Just do a search on the term “North Korea” on the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. We are well- informed about the wrongs done to us by other states, but have been kept in the dark about our own government’s wrongs. Such wrongs are “ours” in the sense that they have been committed in our name by Washington, even if we did not know about them.

What does Pyongyang want? Here are some of the key changes in the international relations of that government that it has demanded in the past:
1. A peace treaty with the U.S., the natural next step after the armistice that ended the Korean War
2. An end to threats from Washington
3. Recognition of its government

Myth Number 2: Beijing holds the key to resolving the present crisis

No. Washington does. Washington is the powerful aggressor on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is a problem of Washington’s making. In fact, it should be referred to as the “American problem” rather than the “Korean problem,” as Gavan McCormack has pointed out. The term “the North Korean problem,” he writes, “commonly assumes North Korean aggression, irrationality, nuclear obsession and repression, and contrasts it with the United States’ rational, human rights based, globally responsible character. To thus shrink the framework of the problem, however, is to ignore the matrix of a century’s history—colonialism, division, ideological conflict, half a century of Korean War, Cold War as well as nuclear proliferation and intimidation, and to ignore what I have referred to as the U.S.’s aggressive, militarist hegemonism and contempt for international law.” McCormack rightly questions the way that the whole country has been “denounced in fundamentalist terms as ‘evil.’” Former president George W. Bush created the cartoonish category “the Axis of Evil,” and portrayed North Korea this way, along with Iraq and Iran. Without a critical investigation into this claim, many people who lack a basic understanding of modern Korean history readily buy into this easy simplification of the problem, as McCormack’s article demonstrates.

Anyone can see that the government based in Pyongyang violates the rights of its citizens in terrible ways, but people who sincerely seek peace on the Korean Peninsula and who wish to avoid a nuclear conflict and a possible World War III, must study a little history and acquire an adult view of the country, especially one that distinguishes between the actions of the military dictatorship that rules the country and the actions of ordinary citizens.

China certainly has a role to play but this is the “America problem” of the Korean Peninsula, and it is fair to point the finger at Washington. The American election system produced a winner and installed Donald Trump as president. He ramped up the tension with Pyongyang instead of talking to them as he said he would. And so here we are. The people of other nations have some role to play, but no matter how much we would like to ignore this crisis, it is we Americans who have to rise to the occasion, and stop this saber rattling in East Asia before it gets out of hand. As we know from Asia- Pacific War history, once the mad genie Mr. War is out of the bottle, it is very hard to put him back in.

Myth Number 3: Washington keeps its promises

No. Pyongyang has been better about keeping its promises than Washington. Making deals with Washington is frustrating for other states because it so often does not keep its promises. Just ask Native Americans. Ask their opinion of Washington’s trustworthiness when it comes to treaties. Washington violated virtually every treaty signed with Native Americans.

For a recent example of not honoring international agreements, consider the Trump’s about face on the Paris Climate Accord that was signed under the Obama administration.

Specifically, with respect to North Korea in recent decades, Washington repeatedly violated one important agreement. In line with a deal made under the Clinton administration, Pyongyang suspended its plutonium production from 1994 to 2002. Under this deal Pyongyang and Washington had also promised to not bear “hostile intent” toward each other. Pyongyang kept up its side of the bargain, but when George Bush lumped North Korea in with the “Axis of Evil” and announced a new policy of using preemptive strikes as a defense against an immediate threat to the security of the United States, the deal was off. Bush not only verbally threatened North Korea in this way, he demonstrated his resolve by invading Iraq, in violation of international law. Iraq was not an immediate threat to the U.S. Up until that point, i.e., that violation of the agreement with North Korea, a non-nuclear North Korea had been possible, if not a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. And this stands up to common sense—that the weaker state would have an interest in upholding promises than the stronger state. Why wouldn’t Pyongyang hold on to the possibility of peace with Washington for as long as possible? Again, violence is a weapon of the powerful.

Myth Number 4: War on the Korean Peninsula is thinkable

No. It is unthinkable. National security adviser H.R. McMaster said on 15 September, “For those who have said…commenting about the lack of a military option, there is a military option.” (His emphasis). McMaster may say so, and the Trump administration may be laying plans in the hopes of implementing a military solution, which is usually the U.S.’s ace card, but war on the Korean Peninsula is simply unthinkable. Many experts have emphasized that even with just the conventional weapons, an unacceptable number of South Koreans and Americans would die, and an unacceptable level of destruction would occur. If such a war spread to Japan or China or other countries, their citizens also would die in large numbers. There would be a high chance of nuclear weapons being employed. That could cause irreparable harm to our planet’s environment, causing suffering for many generations in the future, not only our generation.

Myth Number 5: The UN Security Council represents the will of the “international community”

No. They do not even represent the governments of the world, let alone the governed of the world—you and me. In other words, even if all the governments of the world were perfectly democratic, the Council would not represent the “international community.” Only states with nukes have veto power on the Council. It is obviously biased in favor of governments with nukes. The “Nuke Haves” want to hold onto theirs, and keep others from getting them. It is the “Nuke Have-nots” who want to purge the world of them, as we saw in the recent treaty banning nukes, known as the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” Even Tokyo, representing the only country to be attacked with nukes, did not support the Treaty. The fact that Japan enjoys the protection of Nuke Have Number One and has a military that is increasingly integrated with their military, and that Japan’s government is currently headed by an ultranationalist prime minister, are a few reasons one might imagine as to why Tokyo did not support it. The UN Security Council is the exclusive Club of imperial Nuke Haves. What it is doing is clamping crippling sanctions on North Korea, a newcomer knocking on the Club’s door. The Club does not wish to share its privileges with any other states. It is not a coincidence that none of the Nuke Haves signed on to the treaty to ban nukes, and almost all the Nuke Have-nots who also have no state sheltering them with a nuclear umbrella, did approve of it.

Myth Number 6: Americans understand how terrible a nuclear war would be

No. Americans as well as people in many other countries know little to nothing about what happens when a nuclear bomb is dropped on a city. Naturally, Japanese are much better informed about the effects of the atomic bombing of the major cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki than Americans. Many Americans who visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum speak of feeling great shock and emotional stress when they first go to the Museum and learn about the victims of the nuclear bombs that their government mercilessly dropped on civilians in August 1945. We were taught in school that these two bombings were humanitarian acts that ended the War quickly, saving the lives of both Japanese and Americans. But there is no question that the Nagasaki bombing was morally indefensible and unnecessary since it was committed only three days after the first bombing. Even the bombing of Hiroshima was arguably a war crime. One of the primary requests of the survivors is encapsulated in the anti-nuke chant, “No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis!” The A-bomb victims (hibakusha in Japanese) themselves and people close to them generally express the hope that there will never be a full-blown nuclear war.

Imagine if the hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians killed in the initial bombing and aftermath were able to speak to the living today. What would they say now, at a point in history when we homo sapiens are at the “brink of global catastrophe,” i.e., a tragedy of unprecedented scale in which Washington’s greed and bullying on one side and Pyongyang’s resorting to the “nuclear deterrent” on the other lead to a nuclear war? One can only imagine their shock and anger that in 2017 such a catastrophe was still in the cards. They would certainly agree wholeheartedly with the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” and would urge us to work hard to ban nukes. They would be overjoyed to see that 122 countries, the majority of the world’s countries, just banned nukes, even if the countries with nukes did not participate and still do not show any inclination to relinquish them. They would see the Treaty as a first step towards complete abolition. They would urge us to keep pushing until all the world’s countries had signed it and it was implemented. They also would support the bold initiative of World Beyond War to ban not only nuclear weapons but war in general.

Reference notes available on the World Beyond War website

The Myth that American Democracy and Prosperity Brings Peace by David Swanson

david swanson

Opening debate remarks by David Swanson at the University of Pennsylvania on September 21, 2017, on the following proposition: “Are America’s wars in Syria and Afghanistan just and necessary or have we lost our way in the use of military force, including drone weaponry, in conducting US foreign policy?”

Wow, I’ve already gotten more applause than Trump got for his whole speech at the UN.

U.S. wars and bombings in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines, and threats to North Korea are unjust, unnecessary, immoral, illegal, extremely costly in several ways, and counterproductive on their own terms.

The idea of a just war comes down to us over some 1600 years from people whose worldview we share in almost no other way. Just war criteria come in three types: non-empirical, impossible, and amoral.

The Non-Empirical Criteria: A just war is supposed to have the right intention, a just cause, and proportionality. But these are devices of rhetoric. When your government says bombing a building where ISIS stashes money justifies killing up to 50 people, there’s no agreed upon, empirical means to reply No, only 49, or only 6, or up to 4,097 people can be justly killed. Identifying a government’s intention is far from simple, and attaching a just cause like ending slavery to a war doesn’t make that cause inherent to that war. Slavery can be ended in many ways, while no war has ever been fought for a single reason. If Myanmar had more oil we’d be hearing about genocide prevention as a just cause for invading, and no doubt worsening, the crisis.

The Impossible Criteria: A just war is supposed to be a last resort, have a reasonable prospect of success, keep noncombatants immune from attack, respect enemy soldiers as human beings, and treat prisoners of war as noncombatants. None of these things are even possible. To call something a “last resort” is in reality merely to claim it is the best idea you have, not the only idea you have. There are always other ideas that anyone can think of. Every time we urgently need to bomb Iran or we’re all going to die, and we don’t, and we don’t, the urgency of the next demand to bomb Iran loses a bit of its shine and the infinite options of other things to do become a little easier to see. If war really were the only idea you had, you wouldn’t be debating ethics, you’d be running for Congress.

What about respecting a person while trying to kill her or him? There are lots of ways to respect a person, but none of them can exist simultaneously with trying to kill that person. Remember that Just War theory began with people who believed killing someone was doing them a favor. Noncombatants are the majority of casualties in modern wars, so they cannot be kept safe, but they are not locked in cages, so prisoners cannot be treated like noncombatants while imprisoned.

The Amoral Criteria: Just wars are supposed to be publicly declared and waged by legitimate and competent authorities. These are not moral concerns. Even in a world where we had legitimate and competent authorities, they wouldn’t make a war any more or less just.

Now, we can examine any number of specific wars, and with most of them in a matter of minutes arrive at the conclusion that, well, this war isn’t just but some other war could be. The Afghan government was willing to turn Osama bin Laden over to a third country to be put on trial. The U.S. preferred a war. Most people in Afghanistan not only hadn’t had anything to do with 9/11 but still haven’t heard of it to this day. If planning 9/11 in Afghanistan was grounds for 16 years of destroying Afghanistan, why not even a little bombing of Europe? Why no bombing of Florida? Or of that hotel in Maryland near the NSA? There’s a popular myth that the UN authorized attacking Afghanistan. It didn’t. After 16 years of killing and torturing and destroying, Afghanistan is poorer and more violent, and the United States more hated.

Syria was on a list of governments to be overthrown by the U.S. for many years, and the U.S. working on that for the past decade. ISIS came out of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, which (along with wars on Yemen and Syria, and with many parties to blame) has to rank high on a list of crimes this century. ISIS allowed the U.S. to escalate its role in Syria, but on both sides of the same war. We’ve had Pentagon trained and armed troops fighting those trained and armed by the CIA. We’ve read in the New York Times that the Israeli government prefers neither side win. We’ve watched the U.S. reject numerous peace efforts over the years, preferring war. And beyond killing, injury, destruction, starvation, and disease epidemics what is there to show for it?

North Korea was willing to make agreements and abide by them 20 years ago, and, contrary to some U.S. reporting, is open to negotiations now. The people of South Korea are eager for the United States to agree to talks. One man burned himself to death on Tuesday in opposition to more U.S. weapons in South Korea. But the U.S. government has declared diplomacy impossible in order to threaten its preferred “last resort.” Trump told the UN on Tuesday that if North Korea misbehaved, “We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” — not just war but the total destruction of 25 million people. John McCain’s preferred word is “extermination.” Within 60 seconds, Trump went on to demand action against Iran on the grounds that Iran supposedly openly threatens mass murder.

Some wars won’t fit into these opening remarks. I’d like to be permitted at least 5 whole minutes on Rwanda, 10 on the American Revolution or Civil War, and 30 on World War II, which — in fairness — you have probably all consumed thousands of hours of propaganda on. Or, even better for us all, I could shut up and you could just read my books.

But once you’ve agreed that a lot of the wars are not just, once you know enough about how wars are carefully started and peace avoided at great effort so that you can laugh or perhaps cry at Ken Burns’ claim that what the Vietnamese call the American War was begun in “good faith,” it becomes harder to claim that any of the other wars are just, even the ones you start out thinking of that way. Here’s why.

War is an institution, the biggest, most costly one around. The U.S. puts about $1 trillion a year into war, roughly equal to the rest of the world combined — and most of the rest of the world is U.S. allies and weapons customers that the U.S. actively lobbies to spend more. Tens of billions could end starvation, the lack of clean water, or various diseases globally. Just the amount that Congress has just increased military spending this week could solve such global crises AND, as a bonus, make college free in the United States. Hundreds of billions could give us a fighting chance against climate change if redirected. The top way in which war kills is by diverting resources. War (and I use the term as shorthand for war and war preparations, with the latter being the most costly in many ways) is the biggest destroyer of the natural environment, the biggest cause of militarized police and eroded rights, a major generator of bigotry and justification for authoritarian and secret government. And with war spending come all the unjust wars.

So a just war, to justify the existence of the institution of war, would have to outweigh the damage of the diversion of resources away from good works, the further financial costs of lost opportunities, the trillions of dollars in property destruction resulting from wars, the unjustness of the unjust wars, the risk of nuclear apocalypse, the environmental damage, the governmental damage, and the societal damage of war culture. No war can be that just, certainly not wars fought by the war giant of the world. The United States could start a reverse arms race quite easily. By steps we could move toward a world in which people found it easier to recognize the meaning of nonviolent successes. The meaning of those successes is this: you do not need war to defend yourself. You can use the tools of nonviolent resistance, noncooperation, moral and economic and diplomatic and judicial and communication powers.

But the belief that you do need war, and that attacking oil-rich countries has something to do with protecting people goes a long way toward endangering you instead. Gallup polling finds the U.S. government believed by majorities around the world to be the top threat to peace on earth. For another country, let’s say Canada, to generate anti-Canadian terrorist networks on a U.S. scale, it would have to bomb and kill and occupy a lot of people. But once it did, the payoff would be huge, because it could point to those enemies of Canada as justification for more and bigger weapons and campaigns to generate yet more enemies, and so on. Those enemies would be real, and their actions really immoral, but keeping the vicious cycle spinning at a proper speed would depend on exaggerating their threat dramatically.

If the U.S. were to join international treaties, engage in disarmament, provide aid on a fraction of the scale at which it provides war making, and pursue diplomatic paths toward peace, the world would not be paradise tomorrow, but our speed toward the edge of the approaching cliff would slow considerably.

One of the many significant ways in which war hurts us is by hurting the rule of law. It is a carefully kept secret, but the world banned all war in 1928 in a treaty that was used to prosecute the losers of World War II and which is still on the books. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, as recently documented by Scott Shapiro and Oona Hathaway, transformed the world. War was legal in 1927. Both sides of a war were legal. Atrocities committed during wars were almost always legal. The conquest of territory was legal. Burning and looting and pillaging were legal. War was, in fact, not just legal; it was itself understood to be law enforcement. War could be used to attempt to right any perceived injustice. The seizing of other nations as colonies was legal. The motivation for colonies to try to free themselves was weak because they were likely to be seized by some other nation if they broke free from their current oppressor. The vast majority of conquests since 1928 have been undone based on 1928 boundaries. New smaller nations unafraid of conquest have multiplied. The UN Charter of 1945 re-legalized war if it was labeled defensive or UN-authorized. Current U.S. wars are not UN-authorized, and if any wars are not defensive then wars on impoverished small countries halfway around the globe must be in that category.

But, since 1945, war has generally been considered illegal unless the United States does it. Since World War II, during what many U.S. academics call an unprecedented golden age of peace, the United States military has killed some 20 million people, overthrown at least 36 governments, interfered in at least 82 foreign elections, attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders, and dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries. With U.S. troops in 175 nations according to U.S. sports announcers, the U.S. president went to the UN on Tuesday and demanded respect for sovereign nations, blamed the UN for not achieving peace, threatened war in violation of the UN Charter, and mocked the UN for putting Saudi Arabia on its human rights council while clearly quite proud of the U.S. role in helping Saudi Arabia kill huge numbers of people in Yemen. Last year a debate moderator asked U.S. presidential candidates if they’d be willing to kill hundreds and thousands of innocent children as part of their basic duties. Other countries don’t ask that question and would be demonized if they did. So, we have a problem of double-standards, exactly what Robert Jackson claimed at Nuremberg would not be so.

No Congress or president has any power to make any war legal. A single nuclear bomb could kill us all through its climate impact, completely regardless of whether Congress authorizes it. U.S. wars violate the Peace Pact of 1928, the UN Charter, and the U.S. Constitution. A vague Authorization to Use Military Force also violates the Constitution. Yet when members of the House this year tried to vote un repealing an AUMF, the so-called leadership did not allow a vote. When the Senate held such a vote, just over a third of the Senate voted to repeal, and most of them because they wanted to create a new AUMF instead.

I haven’t said a lot about drones, because I think the essential problem of sanctioning murder is not a problem of technology. But what drones, and other technologies do, is make murder easier, easier to do in secret, easier to do quickly, easier to do in more locations. The pretense of President Obama and of military-backed propaganda films like Eye in the Sky that drones are only used to kill those who cannot be captured, those who are guilty of some kind of crime, those who are immediate threats to the US of A, those who can be killed with no risk of killing anyone else in the process — that’s all a demonstrable pack of lies. Most people targeted are not even identified by name, none of them have been charged with a crime, in no known case could they demonstrably not be captured, in many cases they could simply have been arrested quite easily, innocents have been slaughtered by the thousands, even Hollywood could not concoct a fictional immediate threat to the United States, and the drone wars are the height of counterproductive blowback creation. One does not hear Obama praising his successful drone war on Yemen very much these days.

But if we’re not going to pick men, women, and children on Tuesdays to murder with missiles from drones then what should we do instead?

NOT pick men, women, and children on Tuesdays to murder with missiles from drones.

Also, join and support international conventions on human rights, children’s rights, weapons bans, the new treaty banning the possession of nukes (only one nation that has nukes voted to start that treaty process, but you wouldn’t believe me if I named it), join the International Criminal Court, stop selling weapons to future enemies, stop selling weapons to dictatorships, stop giving weapons away, stop buying weapons that have no defensive purpose, transition to a more prosperous peaceful economy.

Examples of more peaceful approaches can be found everywhere, including in Pennsylvania. A friend of mine, John Reuwer, points to Pennsylvania as a model for others. Why? Because from 1683 to 1755 Pennsylvania’s European settlers had no major wars with the native nations, in stark contrasts with other British colonies. Pennsylvania had slavery, it had capital and other horrific punishments, it had individual violence. But it chose not to use war, not to take land without what was supposed to be just compensation, and not to push alcohol on the native people in the way that opium was later pushed on China and guns and planes are now pushed on nasty despots. In 1710, the Tuscaroras from North Carolina sent messengers to Pennsylvania asking for permission to settle there. All the money that would have been used for militias, forts, and armaments was available, for better or worse, to build Philadelphia (remember what its name means) and develop the colony. The colony had 4,000 people within 3 years, and by 1776 Philadelphia surpassed Boston and New York in size. So while the superpowers of the day were battling for control of the continent, one group of people rejected the idea that war is necessary, and prospered more rapidly than any of their neighbors who insisted it was.

Now, after 230 years of almost uninterrupted war making, and the establishment of the most expensive and widespread military ever seen, Trump tells the UN that the U.S. Constitution deserves credit for the creation of peace. Maybe if they’d let the Quakers write the thing that would have actually been true.

The Threat of Nuclear War: Why Evangelical Eschatology is so Dangerous

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“When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. I’m heartened to see that our president — contrary to what we’ve seen with past administrations who have taken, at best, a sheepish stance toward dictators and oppressors — will not tolerate any threat against the American people. When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.”

Robert Jeffress, Southern Baptist megachurch pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas

Jeffress holds typical Evangelical eschatological (end times) beliefs — that the rapture of Christians from the earth is imminent (any moment), as is the seven years of holy terror (The Great Tribulation) that God will rain down everyone left on earth after the rapture. Jeffress, a premillennial, pretribulational, dispensationalist Baptist believes the next must-see TV program will be when Jesus returns to earth a second time and wages war against Satan and his followers — Satanists, Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, Buddhists, Shintoists, Muslims, Roman Catholics, and anyone else who doesn’t embrace Jeffress’ soteriology (doctrine of salvation) — in the battle of Armageddon. Millions upon millions of Americans hold the same eschatological beliefs as Jeffress, and it is for this reason that Evangelical eschatology is so dangerous.

Evangelicals such as Jeffress believe that life on planet Earth will continue to spiritually and morally deteriorate until God has had enough and tells Gabriel to blow his trumpet, signaling to Jesus that it is time for him to return to earth and safely carry away all the True Christians®. For the Jeffresses of the world, the rapture will be the mother of all middle fingers, telling us God-haters that we are in for it now; that God is going to literally do to us what is recorded in the book of Revelation.trump jong un dick wagging

This kind of thinking should scare the shit out of rational people, not because Jesus is going to return to earth — he’s not — or that a mythical God is going to turn the earth into a dystopian novel of epic proportions — she’s not. What should scare us is that people who believe these things have the ear of the toddler-in-chief, Donald Trump. As anyone with an ounce of discernment knows, President Trump has no impulse control. He is megalomaniac who will go to any lengths — including destroying all life on our planet — to get his way. That the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, a man who believes he is a god, is metaphorically waving his big dick in Trump’s face is sure to cause the President to throw caution to the wind and order a large-scale military strike on North Korea. Worse yet, Trump has even threatened to use nuclear weapons, answering a question he asked during the election: what good are nuclear weapons if you can’t use them? That the Evangelicals who have the President’s ear are encouraging him — using Biblical and theological justifications — to wage war against North Korea (and Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and anyone else deemed a threat to God’s chosen nation, the United States) is truly frightening.

Atheists and other rational people dismiss Bible thumpers such as Jeffress as quaint relics from a bygone era. Silly Evangelicals. They believe the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. Don’t they know that science has thoroughly discredited much of the Bible? However, despite scientific progress and the advancement of humanistic principles, Evangelicals still hold fast to the belief that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible, never-been-proven-wrong religious text. Its word are true, and those who ignore the Bible, do so at their own peril. That millions of Americans think just like Robert Jeffress means that we cannot, at such a dangerous, perilous time as this, ignore the pronouncements of Evangelical false prophets — especially when they have regular sleep-overs at the Trump White House.

Like it or not, the Bible still matters, and how Evangelicals interpret it matters even more. Laugh all we want at their stone-age beliefs, but as long as Evangelicals have access to the highest levels of government, they are a threat that must be taken seriously. As long as we have a pussy-grabbing, lying “Christian” president and Evangelical congressmen, there is always a danger that theology will trump reason. Believing that God is on your side and will vindicate you is a sure recipe for disaster. No need to worry about consequences, right? God will take care of things. The most vocal climate change deniers in Congress are men and women who believe the Bible is the Word of God and worship at the feet of the Evangelical Jesus. In their minds, God is in control of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, so there is no need to worry. God has a divine plan —just read the Bible. According to Evangelicals, everything is going exactly going according to God’s perfect, unchanging plan, and if that plan includes nuking North Korea, so be it.

Evangelicals wrongly believe that God will protect his people — as he supposedly did when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. No need to worry about nuclear fallout. God will make sure it doesn’t affect his chosen ones. And if he doesn’t? Well, that just means that God has a better plan and Evangelicals just need to “trust” him. Lost in all their “trust” of Jehovah is the fact that the overwhelming majority of earthlings do not worship the Evangelical God. We are being dragged into a murderous drama that is not of our own making — not that there is much we can do about it except doing all we can to remove Donald Trump from office and flushing from Congress anyone who puts God, the Bible, and theology over the safety and welfare of the American people.

The late Walter Wink, a progressive Christian theologian, wrote:

In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood.

Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor perfectible world; it is theatre of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.

Long before the ascension of The Donald to the throne, Evangelicals embraced the false notion that the United States is a city on a hill overlooking the earth, ever vigilant, seeking to advance God’s kingdom on earth. Believing that the United States is “special” and has some sort of manifest destiny has led Americans to commit all sorts of atrocities — beginning with the genocidal destruction of Native Americans and reaching its zenith with the firebombings of Germany and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our elected leaders and military have shown that they will do whatever is necessary to preserve America’s capitalistic way of life. Buying into the most horrific lie ever told — that war brings peace — the United States has shown it is willing to maim, kill, and destroy to preserve the American dream.

Thomas Merton, in an essay titled A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolph Eichmann, wrote:

The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous. It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared… They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can he considered expendable in a nuclear war, I presume they do all right with the Rorschach ink blots too.

….

Ponder for a moment Merton’s words:

It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared… They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can he considered expendable in a nuclear war…

trump jong un nuclear war

We want to believe that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense will, when it comes to launching nuclear weapons, stand up to President Trump, refusing to obey his orders. Wishful thinking, as Merton makes clear. Soldiers obey. When our nation’s sovereignty and Christian way of life is threatened, history shows that the U.S. military can and will use any and every means necessary to preserve our republic.

Merton, in an essay on war that was not published until after his death, wrote:

The Romans, to speak generally, rely on force in all their enterprises and think it incumbent upon them to carry out their projects in spite of all, and that nothing is impossible when they have once decided upon it.

NOTHING is impossible when they — the powers that be — have decided to wage war. Once the United States commits to turning Iran into a parking lot or wiping North Korea off the face of the earth, NOTHING is impossible. Think that the United States would never use nuclear weapons again? Think again. There are most certainly statisticians and military “geniuses” holed up somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon working on reports detailing the likely outcomes of nuking North Korea. There are supposedly sane, rational military and government leaders who really do think that nuclear war is winnable. Lunacy, to be sure, but so is believing, as Robert Jeffress does, that Jesus is coming soon. That many of our military leaders are card-carrying Evangelicals should cause rational people to fear for their lives. Just imagine for a moment, a general or two who believe that Jesus wants them to help usher in the Great Tribulation. NO worries for us, they think. We will be raptured away.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s essay: War and the Crisis of Language. Written during the Vietnam War, Merton shows how reason and the meaning of words are turned on their heads during times of war. Merton writes:

A classic example of the contamination of reason and speech by the inherent ambiguity of war is that of the U.S. major who, on February 7, 1968 shelled the South Vietnamese town of Bentre “regardless of civilian casualties . . . to rout the Vietcong.” As he calmly explained, “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.” Here we see, again, an insatiable appetite for the tautological, the definitive, the final. It is the same kind of language and logic that Hitler used for his notorious “final solution.” The symbol of this perfect finality is the circle. An argument turns upon itself, and the beginning and end get lost: it just goes round and round its own circumference. A message comes in that someone thinks there might be some Vietcong in a certain village. Planes are sent, the village is destroyed, many of the people are killed. The destruction of the village and the killing of the people earn for them a final and official identity. The burned huts become “enemy structures”; the dead men, women, and children become “Vietcong,” thus adding to a “kill ratio” that can be interpreted as “favorable.” They were thought to be Vietcong and were therefore destroyed. By being destroyed they became Vietcong for keeps; they entered “history,” definitively as our enemies, because we wanted to be on the “safe side,” and “save American lives”–as well as Vietnam.

The logic of “Red or dead” has long since urged us to identify destruction with rescue–to be “dead” is to be saved from being “Red.” In the language of melodrama, our grandparents became accustomed to the idea of a “fate worse than death.” A schematic morality concluded that if such and such is a fate worse than death, then to prefer it to death would surely be a heinous sin. The logic of war-makers has extended this not only to the preservation of one’s own moral integrity but to the fate of others, even of people on the other side of the earth, whom we do not always bother to consult personally on the subject. We weigh the arguments that they are not able to understand (perhaps they have not even heard that arguments exist!) And we decide, in their place, that it is better for them to be dead–killed by us–than Red, living under our enemies.

The Asian whose future we are about to decide is either a bad guy or a good guy. If he is a bad guy, he obviously has to be killed. If he is a good guy, he is on our side and he ought to be ready to die for freedom. We will provide an opportunity for him to do so: we will kill him to prevent him falling under the tyranny of a demonic enemy. Thus we not only defend his interests together with our own, but we protect his virtue along with our own. Think what might happen if he fell under Communist rule and liked it!

The advantages of this kind of logic are no exclusive possession of the United States. This is purely and simply the logic shared by all war-makers. It is the logic of power. Possibly American generals are naive enough to push this logic, without realizing, to absurd conclusions. But all who love power tend to think in some such way. Remember Hitler weeping over the ruins of Warsaw after it had been demolished by the Luftwaffe: “How wicked these people must have been,” he sobbed, “to make me do this to them!”

….

So much for the practical language of the battlefield. Let us now attend to the much more pompous and sinister jargon of the war mandarins in government offices and military think-tanks. Here we have a whole community of intellectuals, scholars who spend their time playing out “scenarios” and considering “acceptable levels” in megadeaths. Their language and their thought are as esoteric, as self-enclosed, as tautologous as the advertisement we have just discussed. But instead of being “coiffed” in a sweet smell, they are scientifically antiseptic, businesslike, uncontaminated with sentimental concern for life–other than their own. It is the same basic narcissism, but in a masculine, that is managerial, mode. One proves one’s realism along with one’s virility by toughness in playing statistically with global death. It is this playing with death, however, that brings into the players’ language itself the corruption of death: not physical but mental and moral extinction. And the corruption spreads from their talk, their thinking, to the words and minds of everybody. What happens then is that the political and moral values they claim to be defending are destroyed by the contempt that is more and more evident in the language in which they talk about such things. Technological strategy becomes an end in itself and leads the fascinated players into a maze where finally the very purpose strategy was supposed to serve is itself destroyed. The ambiguity of official war talk has one purpose above all: to mask this ultimate unreason and permit the game to go on.

Of special importance is the style of these nuclear mandarins. The technological puckishness of Herman Kahn is perhaps the classic of this genre. He excels in the sly understatement of the inhuman, the apocalyptic, enormity. His style is esoteric, allusive, yet confidential. The reader has the sense of being a privileged eavesdropper in the councils of the mighty. He knows enough to realize that things are going to happen about which he can do nothing, though perhaps he can save his skin in a properly equipped shelter where he may consider at leisure the rationality of survival in an unlivable world. Meanwhile, the cool tone of the author and the reassuring solemnity of his jargon seem to suggest that those in power, those who turn loose these instruments of destruction, have no intention of perishing themselves, that consequently survival must have a point. The point is not revealed, except that nuclear war is somehow implied to be good business. Nor are H-bombs necessarily a sign of cruel intentions. They enable one to enter into communication with the high priests in the enemy camp. They permit the decision-makers on both sides to engage in a ritual “test of nerves.” In any case, the language of escalation is the language of naked power, a language that is all the more persuasive because it is proud of being ethically illiterate and because it accepts, as realistic, the basic irrationality of its own tactics. The language of escalation, in its superb mixture of banality and apocalypse, science and unreason, is the expression of a massive death wish. We can only hope that this death wish is only that of a decaying Western civilization, and that it is not common to the entire race. Yet the language itself is given universal currency by the mass media. It can quickly contaminate the thinking of everybody.

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Listen closely in the days ahead as Donald Trump, Joseph Dunford, James Mattis, and the Jim Jeffresses of the world turn language and decency on its head in their justifications of annihilating North Korea, Iran, and anyone else who dares to “threaten” the mighty US of A. There will be hell to pay, Kim Jong-Un, but just remember we are killing your people because we love you and God has a wonderful plan for your life. And when hellfire and brimstone rains down on defenseless Americans, the Evangelical warmongers among us will learn — right before they are vaporized — that the God they thought was on their side is actually Korean.

Note

Here is a quote from Evangelical pastor Rick Joyner that came to my attention after this post was written.

When Trump said yesterday, you know about the fire and the fury that would be unleashed on North Korea, I don’t think that was an idle boast. I think he was sending a clear message in clear language that Kim Jung-Un and the North Koreans would understand, we’re not going to be pushed around any more. You are not going to threaten us any more. We are going to take you at your word, that if you threaten us you mean to do us harm and we are going to take you out before you can.

….

I talk to a lot to people who are close to the president and can get words to him, and he is really open to words from the Lord. I think he discerns words from the Lord better than most Christians do. I’ve been in meetings with him where I could feel the anointing on somebody speaking and I’d watch him perk up.

We have the most evangelical cabinet in U.S. history. God can get to [Trump] through all the sound Christians and godly people around him right now.

— Rick Joyner, pastor of Morningstar Ministries, August 9, 2017

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Friday Night Racing Under the Threat of Nuclear Annihilation

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Last Friday —  on a day when Christian minds were focused on the death of Jesus —  my thoughts were turned towards spending time with my family, watching cars drive around a quarter-mile dirt track at speeds nearing one hundred miles per hour.

It was opening night at Limaland Motorsports Park. Featuring three classes of cars — 360 sprints, modified, and street stocks – Limaland is owned and operated by the University of Northwest Ohio — a private university known for its motor sports training program. Limaland is a well-run facility, with modern spectator stands, clean restrooms, and concessions that are both tasty and affordable.

As is our custom, we stopped at Kewpee Hamburgers on Allentown Road for dinner. Kewpee is throwback to the days before McDonald’s took over America. Featuring square hamburgers, chocolate malts, French fries, and soft drinks at affordable prices, Kewpee, on this Friday night, had lines out both doors, and the drive-thru was backed up on to the road. Such lines at many fast food restaurants would have meant long wait times, but the Kewpee staff, dressed in white clothing from head to toe, made quick work of the backup and we received our food in quickly.

Polly, my wife, was off work — a paid holiday in honor of an executed criminal — so she, along with Bethany, three of my sons, one son’s girlfriend,  four grandchildren, and my best friend David Echler, gathered at Kewpee before heading to the race track. The inside seating was packed, so we decide to sit at the outdoor seating towards the back of the restaurant property.

It was a beautiful night for racing. The sun was shining through the clouds, and the temperature at race time was in the seventies. We sat where we usually sit, part way up the stands, halfway between the fourth corner and the flag stand. There is always a risk of being pelted with dirt clods thrown off sprint car tires powering off turn four, but this is where Gerencsers sit, dirt clods be damned. Sure enough, several of us were hit with hurtling clods of dirt. No one, fortunately, was hurt.

The track was too wet for a 7:30 PM start time. It took track maintenance personnel twenty or so minutes to get the race surface ready for racing. Finally, the announcer said, Iet’s go racing!  Before the first race (Modified Dash for Cash, four cars race five laps, $100 to the winner), everyone was asked to stand for the invocation and the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. Men were asked to removed their hats. As is my custom, I refused to remove my hat as the announcer read a lame prayer to a mythical deity. After the prayer, I removed my hat, placed it over my heart, as I stood for the playing of America’s national anthem. I noticed my oldest son did the same.

The first race of the year is filled with promise for race teams. With newly painted cars and new or freshened motors, this will be the year, race teams tell themselves. Sadly, for many teams, their hopes and dreams quickly went up in smoke due to motor or other equipment troubles, and more than a few drivers found themselves needing the services of tow trucks to remove their broken speed machines from the track. This is racing.

As I sat there with my family enjoying the night’s events, my eyes noticed the sun setting in the west. Another day, I said to myself. I wonder if today will be the last day of life for me and those I love. Going to the race was supposed to take my mind off the cares of this world, but try as I might, I can’t help but think of the war of words going on between the two child rulers, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Trading threats of mutual nuclear destruction, these men, by the time the racing program concluded, could have set in motion the end of the world. Stupid little boys, unzipping their pants to prove who has the bigger dick. Once red buttons are pushed, dick size won’t matter. We will all be dead, victims of American hubris and arrogance and North Korean insanity.

I looked at Polly, my best friend, my sons, one son’s girlfriend, and four of my grandchildren . . . will this be the last time I will ever see them? Am I being too cynical? Am I worrying when there is no reason to do so? Should I just kick back and enjoy life? You know, don’t worry, be happy. Doing so is probably the best course of action. What can I do about what is going on in Washington? I am a powerless member of the Proletariat. Politicians promise the world to gain my vote, and once elected, these whores for corporate America forget their promises, choosing instead to enacts laws that benefit the Inner Party (see Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell). Every two, four, and six years new promises are made, and working class Americans such as myself dutifully return to the polls and vote for the “lesser of two evils.” We vote because people supposedly smarter than we tell us, EVERY VOTE matters, but deep down we doubt whether this is true.

The 2016 Presidential election was, in some ways, the Proletariat rising up in a great swell of ignorance to elect a man who promised to be different from the oligarchy that rules America. Donald Trump, now the forty-fifth president of the United States, has quickly cast aside his promises to working class Americans, choosing instead to fill his cabinet and federal jobs with family, friends, and shills for Wall Street. Political war is looming, and it remains to been seen if President Trump will avoid impeachment before being voted out of office in 2020. Not that this will matter if war-mongering Evangelicals and hawks get their way.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, along with numerous congressional Republicans and a few congressional Democrats, see violence as the answer for everything that hampers our pursuit of the mythical (and harmful) American Dream. Wrongly thinking that the American military cannot be defeated — forgetting the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and our multiple wars in the Middle East — these bloody-handed politicians ignore the poor, collapsing infrastructures, declining wages, and out-of-control health care costs, all so they can spend over a trillion dollars for defense and national security — more than China, Russia, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany combined. Thirty-four percent of all military spending worldwide is attributed to the United States.  Yet, according to President Trump and his minions, the military needs MORE money so it can rebuild itself after eight years of decimation under President Barack Obama. Trump has asked Congress to increase military spending by almost $60 billion, while at the same time drastically reducing funding for vital social programs, along with crippling the EPA, Department of Energy, and Department of Education — to name just a few.

Several weeks ago, President Trump released his proposed federal budget. For those of us who value social progress — along with clean air, water, and environmental protection — the budget released by President Trump and his sycophants is no less than a declaration of war on the working class and poor. Even worse, the Ayn Rand/Paul Ryan/Koch Brothers/Tea Party wing of the Republican Party doesn’t think the President made enough cuts. By tanking President Trump’s destruction of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), these white-sheet Libertarians let it be known that they will not rest until their corporate masters have absolute control and working Americans are reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet — means of production meant to enrich their overlords.

Try as I might to just enjoy the race, I can’t. As an atheist and a humanist, I know that this life is the only one I have, and that once I am dead I will never see my loved ones again. I deeply love my family and friends, and I want them to have a happy and prosperous future. I want my grandchildren to have their own children without fear of being obliterated by violence, war, or terrorist attacks. I want them to have good jobs, nice homes, and all the trappings of the American way of life. I want them to be socially and environmentally conscious, believing that the whole world is their brother. Most of all, I want them to remember their father and grandfather as a man who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on the important issues of the day.

I have no idea if my words make a difference. There are days when I wonder if our world is engaged in a struggle that will ultimately lead to our extermination and I might as well turn on the TV, grab a bag of chocolates and a bottle of wine, and spend my nights mindlessly watching M*A*S*H reruns. It would be easy for me to think that the Borg of Star Trek fame have taken our world captive —  You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

The sun finally set and my mind returned to the race track. The heat and feature races were exciting, well worth the $12 price of admission. After pulling into our driveway, I told my friend David, heywe will have to do this again. He replied, sounds good. And then, as he walked away, I said, that is if Donald Trump doesn’t get us nuked.