An Evangelical man named Hober Sanovitch — likely a fake name and email address — sent me the following email (all spelling and grammar in the original):
Bruce – I’ve read your denials of Christ and, as a military vet defending our U.S. values, and I applaud your using your God-Given rights to do so.
There is no wall of separation of church & state. We do not have to agree with people but we need to defend against speech that espouses destruction of what America has stood for since 1776. Example: Congress House of Rep censure of Tlib & Omar (Islam Reps (D-Michigan).
It’s entertaining watching people & governments trying to outwit God … and to what end?
What are U.S. values? Who decides which values are American? Hober says he is a military vet who defends these unnamed values. Does anyone seriously believe that the military defends U.S. values, whatever they might be? I am sixty-six years old. From my chair on my front lawn, I see a well-trained military whose primary objective is to advance and protect America’s political agenda and protect the properties and profits of U.S. corporations. It seems to me that the powers that be use the military to “protect” America’s colonial and imperial ambitions. The United States has over 1,000 military installations across the globe. Why so many military bases? What “values” are these bases protecting?
The only “values” all Americans should hold in common are those found in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Military personnel swear under oath to protect and defend the Constitution, as do our politicians and law enforcement professionals. When is the last time our military has been called on to actually defend and protect the Constitution?
Hober says that I have God-given rights. I assume he is talking about the rights delineated in the Bill of Rights. However, whatever rights I may have were not given to me by the Christian God. The rights granted by the Bill of Rights do not come from God, they come from amendments enshrined into law (and later interpreted) by American men and women. God is not mentioned one time in the U.S. Constitution. Not one time. So enough of this nonsense about the United States being a Christian nation with laws given to them by Jesus (who is God). Wealthy white men wrote the Constitution — not God.
Hober goes on to say that “there is no wall of separation of church & state.” This is, of course, patently untrue. Are Republicans trying to topple the Wall? Absolutely. They cannot reach their theocratic goals as long as there is a wall between church and state. That’s why we must fight back every time theocrats even think about taking a brick out of the Wall.
Hober is not a believer in free speech. He supports freedom of some speech — that which aligns with his peculiar worldview. While there’s no such thing as absolute free speech, generally people should be free to say whatever they want (and to suffer the consequences of said speech). I despise street preachers, but I defend their right to stand on a public sidewalk and scream at passersby about sin and getting saved. I defend Donald Trump’s right to spew bullshit every time he opens his mouth. I defend the right of Palestinian-American congresspeople to show their support for the Palestinian people. We live in a pluralistic country. The U.S. is a secular state. We are a free people, although I suspect we are not as “free” as we think we are. The Bill of Rights guarantees the right to free speech. Hober evidently interprets that to mean “only speech that conforms to my white, heterosexual, Christian worldview.”
I would love to ask Hober what, exactly, “America has stood for since 1776.” Personally, I don’t care what our founding fathers “stood for.” Surely, we should know and reflect upon our nation’s 260-year history, but we live in a different day and time, so we must, with one eye on the past, forge our own way.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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.
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.
Threats of nuclear annihilation have only increased now that Joe Biden is president. During his first two years in office, North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China have all warned the United States to stop their military expansionism and threats — or else.
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 humanist 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. The fact 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 White House.
Like it or not, the Bible still matters, and how Evangelicals interpret it matters even more. We can augh 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” presidents 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 about carbon emissions and rising temperatures. 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. There is not much we can do about it except working to remove theocrats from office and flushing from Congress anyone who puts God, the Bible, and theology over the safety and welfare of the American people. As of today, the theocrats are winning and Jesus is the speaker of the House.
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.
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…
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 the President, 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 and charts detailing the likely outcomes of nuking a foreign adversary. There are 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.
Listen closely in the days ahead as our political leaders and Evangelical preachers turn language and decency on its head in their justifications of annihilating Russia, China, 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 rain 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.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
If Iran had spent the last few decades lying about and threatening the United States, and had attacked and built military bases in Canada and Mexico, and had imposed sanctions on the United States that were creating great suffering, and then a lying scheming war-crazed Iranian official announced that he believed the United States had put some missiles on some fishing boats in the Chesapeake Bay, would you believe that . . .
a) The United States was a dangerous rogue state threatening Iran with imminent destruction?
b) Whether or not to bomb U.S. cities really depended on exactly what kind of missiles were on those fishing boats?
c) The sanctions were clearly not severe enough?
d) All of the above?
Of course not. You’re not a lunatic.
But U.S. culture is a lunatic. And you and I live in it.
The case against Iraqing Iran includes the following points:
Threatening war is a violation of the U.N. Charter.
Waging war is a violation of the U.N. Charter and of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
Waging war without Congress is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Have you seen Iraq lately?
Have you seen the entire region?
Have you seen Afghanistan? Libya? Syria? Yemen? Pakistan? Somalia?
War supporters said the U.S. urgently needed to attack Iran in 2007. It did not attack. The claims turned out to be lies. Even a National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 pushed back and admitted that Iran had no nuclear weapons program.
Having a nuclear weapons program is not a justification for war, legally, morally, or practically. The United States has nuclear weapons and no one would be justified in attacking the United States.
Dick and Liz Cheney’s book, Exceptional, tell us we must see a “moral difference between an Iranian nuclear weapon and an American one.” Must we, really? Either risks further proliferation, accidental use, use by a crazed leader, mass death and destruction, environmental disaster, retaliatory escalation, and apocalypse. One of those two nations has nuclear weapons, has used nuclear weapons, has provided the other with plans for nuclear weapons, has a policy of first-use of nuclear weapons, has leadership that sanctions the possession of nuclear weapons, and has frequently threated to use nuclear weapons. I don’t think those facts would make a nuclear weapon in the hands of the other country the least bit moral, but also not the least bit more immoral. Let’s focus on seeing an empirical difference between an Iranian nuclear weapon and an American one. One exists. The other doesn’t.
If you’re wondering, U.S. presidents who have made specific public or secret nuclear threats to other nations, that we know of, as documented in Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, have included Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump, while others, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump have frequently said things like “All options are on the table” in relation to Iran or another country.
War supporters said the U.S. urgently needed to attack Iran in 2015. It did not attack. The claims turned out to be lies. Even the claims of supporters of the nuclear agreement reinforced the lie that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in need of containment. There is no evidence that Iran has ever had a nuclear weapons program.
The long history of the United States lying about Iranian nuclear weapons is chronicled by Gareth Porter’s book Manufactured Crisis.
Proponents of war or steps toward war (sanctions was a step toward war on Iraq) say we urgently need a war now, but they have no argument for urgency, and their claims are thus far transparent lies.
None of this is new.
In 2017, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations claimed that Iranian weapons had been used in a war that the U.S.., Saudi Arabia, and allies were and still are illegally and disastrously waging in Yemen. While that’s a problem that should be corrected, it is hard to find a war anywhere on the planet without U.S. weapons in it. In fact, a report that made news the same day as the ambassador’s claims, pointed to the long-known fact that many of the weapons used by ISIS had once belonged to the United States, many of them having been given by the U.S. to non-state fighters (aka terrorists) in Syria.
Fighting wars and arming others to fight wars/terrorism is a justification for indictment and prosecution, but not for war, legally, morally, or practically. The United States fights and arms wars, and no one would be justified in attacking the United States.
If Iran is guilty of a crime, and there is evidence to support that claim, the United States and the world should seek its prosecution. Instead, the United States is isolating itself by tearing down the rule of law. It is destroying its credibility by abandoning a multi-nation agreement. In a Gallup poll in 2013, the majority of nations polled had the United States receive the most votes as the greatest threat to peace on earth. In the Gallup poll, people within the U.S. chose Iran as the top threat to peace on earth — Iran which had not attacked another nation in centuries and spent less than 1% of what the U.S. spent on militarism. These views are clearly a function of what people are told through news media.
The history of U.S./Iranian relations matters here. The U.S. overthrew Iran’s democracy in 1953 and installed a brutal dictator / weapons customer.
The U.S. gave Iran nuclear energy technology in the 1970s.
In 2000, the CIA gave Iran nuclear bomb plans in an effort to frame it. This was reported by James Risen, and Jeffrey Sterling went to prison for allegedly being Risen’s source.
The Trump White House early on openly expressed a desire to claim that Iran had violated the 2015 nuclear agreement, but produced no evidence. It didn’t matter. Trump left the agreement anyway and now uses his own shredding of the agreement as grounds for nuclear fearmongering about Iran.
The push to attack Iran has been on for so long that entire categories of arguments for it (such as that the Iranians are fueling the Iraqi resistance) and demonized leaders of Iran have come and gone.
What’s changed that gives the question more importance than ever is that the United States now has a president who seeks the approval of people who want to bring about the end of the world in the Middle East for religious reasons, and who have praised President Trump’s announcement of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem for just those reasons.
While Iran has not attacked any other country in centuries, the United States has not done so well by Iran.
The United States aided Iraq in the 1980s in attacking Iran, providing Iraq with some of the weapons (including chemical weapons) that were used on Iranians and that would be used in 2002-2003 (when they no longer existed) as an excuse for attacking Iraq.
For many years, the United States has labeled Iran an evil nation, attacked and destroyed the other non-nuclear nation on the list of evil nations, designated part of Iran’s military a terrorist organization, falsely accused Iran of crimes including the attacks of 9-11, murdered Iranian scientists, funded opposition groups in Iran (including some the U.S. also designates as terrorist), flown drones over Iran, openly and illegally threatened to attack Iran, and built up military forces all around Iran’s borders, while imposing cruel sanctions on the country.
The roots of a Washington push for a new war on Iran can be found in the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, the 1996 paper called A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, the 2000 Rebuilding America’s Defenses, and in a 2001 Pentagon memo described by Wesley Clark as listing these nations for attack: Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.
It’s worth noting that Bush Jr. overthrew Iraq, and Obama Libya, while the others remain works in progress.
In 2010, Tony Blair included Iran on a similar list of countries that he said Dick Cheney had aimed to overthrow. The line among the powerful in Washington in 2003 was that Iraq would be a cakewalk but that real men go to Tehran. The arguments in these old forgotten memos were not what the war makers tell the public, but much closer to what they tell each other. The concerns here are those of dominating regions rich in resources, intimidating others, and establishing bases from which to maintain control of puppet governments.
Of course the reason why “real men go to Tehran” is that Iran is not the impoverished disarmed nation that one might find in, say, Afghanistan or Iraq, or even the disarmed nation found in Libya in 2011. Iran is much bigger and much better armed. Whether the United States launches a major assault on Iran or Israel does, Iran will retaliate against U.S. troops and probably Israel and possibly the United States itself as well. And the United States will without any doubt re-retaliate for that. Iran cannot be unaware that the U.S. government’s pressure on the Israeli government not to attack Iran consists of reassuring the Israelis that the United States will attack when needed, and does not include even threatening to stop funding Israel’s military or to stop vetoing measures of accountability for Israeli crimes at the United Nations. (President Obama’s ambassador refrained from one veto on illegal settlements, while President-Elect Trump lobbied foreign governments to block the resolution, colluding with the foreign nation of Israel — if anybody gives a damn about that sort of thing.)
In other words, any U.S. pretense of having seriously wanted to prevent an Israeli attack is not credible. Of course, many in the U.S. government and military oppose attacking Iran, although key figures like Admiral William Fallon have been moved out of the way. Much of the Israeli military is opposed as well, not to mention the Israeli and U.S. people. But war is not clean or precise. If the people we allow to run our nations attack another, we are all put at risk.
Most at risk, of course, are the people of Iran, people as peaceful as any other, or perhaps more so. As in any country, no matter what its government, the people of Iran are fundamentally good, decent, peaceful, just, and fundamentally like you and me. I’ve met people from Iran. You may have met people from Iran. They look like this. They’re not a different species. They’re not evil. A “surgical strike” against a “facility” in their country would cause a great many of them to die very painful and horrible deaths. Even if you imagine that Iran would not retaliate for such attacks, this is what the attacks would in themselves consist of: mass murder.
And what would that accomplish? It would unite the people of Iran and much of the world against the United States. It would justify in the eyes of much of the world an underground Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons, a program that probably does not exist at present, except to the extent that legal nuclear energy programs move a country closer to weapons development. The environmental damage would be tremendous, the precedent set incredibly dangerous, all talk of cutting the U.S. military budget would be buried in a wave of war frenzy, civil liberties and representative government would be flushed down the Potomac, a nuclear arms race would spread to additional countries, and any momentary sadistic glee would be outweighed by accelerating home foreclosures, mounting student debt, and accumulating layers of cultural stupidity.
Strategically, legally, and morally weapons possession is not grounds for war, and neither is pursuit of weapons possession. And neither, I might add, with Iraq in mind, is theoretically possible pursuit of weapons never acted upon. Israel has nuclear weapons. The United States has more nuclear weapons than any other country but Russia (the two of them together have 90% of the world’s nukes). There can be no justification for attacking the United States, Israel, or any other country. The pretense that Iran has or will soon have nuclear weapons is, in any case, just a pretense, one that has been revived, debunked, and revived again like a zombie for years and years. But that’s not the really absurd part of this false claim for something that amounts to no justification for war whatsoever. The really absurd part is that it was the United States in 1976 that pushed nuclear energy on Iran. In 2000 the CIA gave the Iranian government (slightly flawed) plans to build a nuclear bomb. In 2003, Iran proposed negotiations with the United States with everything on the table, including its nuclear technology, and the United States refused. Shortly thereafter, the United States started angling for a war. Meanwhile, U.S.-led sanctions prevent Iran from developing wind energy, while the Koch brothers are allowed to trade with Iran without penalty.
Another area of ongoing lie debunking, one that almost exactly parallels the buildup to the 2003 attack on Iraq, is the relentless false claim, including by candidates in 2012 for U.S. President, that Iran has not allowed inspectors into its country or given them access to its sites. Iran had, in fact, prior to the agreement voluntarily accepted stricter standards than the IAEA requires. And of course a separate line of propaganda, albeit a contradictory one, holds that the IAEA has discovered a nuclear weapons program in Iran. Under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), Iran was not required to declare all of its installations, and early last decade it chose not to, as the United States violated that same treaty by blocking Germany, China, and others from providing nuclear energy equipment to Iran. While Iran remains in compliance with the NPT, India and Pakistan and Israel have not signed it and North Korea has withdrawn from it, while the United States and other nuclear powers continuously violate it by failing to reduce arms, by providing arms to other countries such as India, and by developing new nuclear weapons.
This is what the empire of U.S. military bases looks like to Iran. Try to imagine if you lived there, what you would think of this. Who is threatening whom? Who is the greater danger to whom? The point is not that Iran should be free to attack the United States or anyone else because its military is smaller. The point is that doing so would be national suicide. It would also be something Iran has not done for centuries. But it would be typical U.S. behavior.
Are you ready for an even more absurd twist? This is on the same scale as Bush’s comment about not really giving much thought to Osama bin Laden. Are you ready? The proponents of attacking Iran themselves admit that if Iran had nukes it would not use them. This is from the American Enterprise Institute:
“The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, ‘See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately.’ … And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem.”
Is that clear? Iran using a nuclear weapon would be bad: environmental damage, loss of human life, hideous pain and suffering, yada, yada, yada. But what would be really bad would be Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and doing what every other nation with them has done since Nagasaki: nothing. That would be really bad because it would damage an argument for war and make war more difficult, thus allowing Iran to run its country as it, rather than the United States, sees fit. Of course it might run it very badly (although we’re hardly establishing a model for the world over here either), but it would run it without U.S. approval, and that would be worse than nuclear destruction.
Inspections were allowed in Iraq and they worked. They found no weapons and there were no weapons. Inspections are being allowed in Iran and they are working. However, the IAEA has come under the corrupting influence of the U.S. government. And yet, the bluster from war proponents about IAEA claims over the years is not backed up by any actual claims from the IAEA. And what little material the IAEA has provided for the cause of war has been widely rejected when not being laughed at.
Another year, another lie. No longer do we hear that North Korea is helping Iran build nukes. Lies about Iranian backing of Iraqi resisters have faded. (Didn’t the United States back French resistance to Germans at one point?) The latest concoction is the “Iran did 911” lie. Revenge, like the rest of these attempted grounds for war, is actually not a legal or moral justification for war. But this latest fiction has already been put to rest by the indespensable Gareth Porter, among others. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which did play a role in 911 as well as in the Iraqi resistance, is being sold record quantities of that good old leading U.S. export of which we’re all so proud: weapons of mass destruction.
Oh, I almost forgot another lie that hasn’t quite entirely faded yet. Iran did not try to blow up a Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., an action which President Obama would have considered perfectly praiseworthy if the roles were reversed, but a lie that even Fox News had a hard time stomaching. And that’s saying something.
And then there’s that old standby: Ahmadinejad said “Israel should be wiped off the map.” While this does not, perhaps, rise to the level of John McCain singing about bombing Iran or Bush and Obama swearing that all options including nuclear attack are on the table, it sounds extremely disturbing: “wiped off the map”! However, the translation is a bad one. A more accurate translation was “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” The government of Israel, not the nation of Israel. Not even the government of Israel, but the current regime. Hell, Americans say that about their own regimes all the time, alternating every four to eight years depending on political party (some of us even say it all the time, without immunity for either party). Iran has made clear it would approve of a two-state solution if Palestinians approved of it. If the U.S. launched missile strikes every time somebody said something stupid, even if accurately translated, how safe would it be to live near Newt Gingrich’s or Joe Biden’s house?
The real danger may not actually be the lies. The Iraq experience has built up quite a mental resistance to these sorts of lies in many U.S. residents. The real danger may be the slow start of a war that gains momentum on its own without any formal announcement of its initiation. Israel and the United States have not just been talking tough or crazy. They’ve been murdering Iranians. And they seem to have no shame about it. The day after a Republican presidential primary debate at which candidates declared their desire to kill Iranians, the CIA apparently made certain the news was public that it was in fact already murdering Iranians, not to mention blowing up buildings. Some would say and have said that the war has already begun. Those who cannot see this because they do not want to see it will also miss the deadly humor in the United States asking Iran to return its brave drone.
Perhaps what’s needed to snap war supporters out of their stupor is a bit of slapstick. Try this on for size. From Seymour Hersh describing a meeting held in Vice President Cheney’s office:
“There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives. And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That’s the kind of — that’s the level of stuff we’re talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected.”
Now, Dick Cheney is not your typical American. Nobody in the U.S. government is your typical American. Your typical American is struggling, disapproves of the U.S. government, wishes billionaires were taxed, favors green energy and education and jobs over military boondoggles, thinks corporations should be barred from buying elections, and would not be inclined to apologize for getting shot in the face by the Vice President. Back in the 1930s, the Ludlow Amendment nearly made it a Constitutional requirement that the public vote in a referendum before the United States could go to war. President Franklin Roosevelt blocked that proposal. Yet the Constitution already required and still requires that Congress declare war before a war is fought. That has not been done in almost 80 years, while wars have raged on almost incessantly. In the past decade and right up through President Obama’s signing of the outrageous National Defense Authorization Act on New Years Eve 2011-2012, the power to make war has been handed over to presidents. Here is one more reason to oppose a presidential war on Iran: once you allow presidents to make wars, you will never stop them. Another reason, in so far as anybody any longer gives a damn, is that war is a crime. Iran and the United States are parties to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which bans war. One of those two nations is not complying.
But we won’t have a referendum. The U.S. House of Misrepresentatives won’t step in. Only through widespread public pressure and nonviolent action will we intervene in this slow-motion catastrophe. Already the United States and the United Kingdom are preparing for war with Iran. This war, if it happens, will be fought by an institution called the United States Department of Defense, but it will endanger rather than defending us. As the war progresses, we will be told that the Iranian people want to be bombed for their own good, for freedom, for democracy. But nobody wants to be bombed for that. Iran does not want U.S.-style democracy. Even the United States does not want U.S.-style democracy. We will be told that those noble goals are guiding the actions of our brave troops and our brave drones on the battlefield. Yet there will be no battlefield. There will be no front lines. There will be no trenches. There will simply be cities and towns where people live, and where people die. There will be no victory. There will be no progress accomplished through a “surge.” On January 5, 2012, then-Secretary of “Defense” Leon Panetta was asked at a press conference about the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he replied simply that those were successes. That is the kind of success that could be expected in Iran were Iran a destitute and disarmed state.
Now we begin to understand the importance of all the media suppression, blackouts, and lies about the damage done to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we understand why Obama and Panetta embraced the lies that launched the War on Iraq. The same lies must now be revived, as for every war ever fought, for a War on Iran. . . The U.S. corporate media is part of the war machine.
Planning war and funding war creates its own momentum. Sanctions become, as with Iraq, a stepping stone to war. Cutting off diplomacy leaves few options open. Electoral pissing contests take us all where most of us did not want to be.
These are the bombs most likely to launch this ugly and quite possibly terminal chapter of human history. This animation shows clearly what they would do. For an even better presentation, pair that with this audio of a misinformed caller trying hopelessly to persuade George Galloway that we should attack Iran.
On January 2, 2012, the New York Times reported concern that cuts to the U.S. military budget raised doubts as to whether the United States would “be prepared for a grinding, lengthy ground war in Asia.” At a Pentagon press conference on January 5, 2012, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reassured the press corpse (sic) that major ground wars were very much an option and that wars of one sort or another were a certainty. President Obama’s statement of military policy released at that press conference listed the missions of the U.S. military. First was fighting terrorism, next detering “aggression,” then “projecting power despite anti-access/area denial challenges,” then the good old WMDs, then conquering space and cyberspace, then nuclear weapons, and finally — after all that — there was mention of defending the Homeland Formerly Known As The United States.
The cases of Iraq and Iran are not identical in every detail, of course. But in both cases we are dealing with concerted efforts to get us into wars, wars based, as all wars are based, on lies. We may need to revive this appeal to U.S. and Israeli forces!
Additional reasons not to Iraq Iran include the numerous reasons not to maintain the institution of war at all, as laid out at WorldBeyondWar.org.
Here’s another way of looking at this:
Iran Deal Prevents Naked Muslim Ray Gun
Nukes get all the attention, but the fact is that intense inspections of Iranian facilities will also prevent Iran from developing a ray gun that causes your clothes to vanish and your brain to convert to Islam.
No, there is not the slightest scrap of evidence that Iran is trying to create such a thing, but then there’s also not the slightest scrap of evidence that Iran is trying to create a nuclear bomb.
And yet, here are a bunch of celebrities in a video that certainly cost many more dollars than the number of people who’ve watched it, urging support for the Iran deal after hyping the bogus Iranian nuclear threat, pretending that the United States gets “forced into” wars, making a bunch of sick jokes about how nuclear death can be better than other war deaths, suggesting that spies are cool, cursing, and mocking the very idea that war is a serious matter.
And here’s an otherwise intelligent guy in a video claiming that the Iran deal will prevent the “Iranian regime” (never a government, always a regime) from “gaining a nuclear weapon.” Well, I say it also prevents Iran from gaining a Naked Muslim Ray Gun!
When you question supporters of diplomacy and peace with Iran on why they focus their rhetoric on preventing Iran from getting nukes, even though at least some of them privately admit there’s no evidence Iran is trying to, they don’t come out and say that they’re cynically playing into popular beliefs, even false ones, because they have no choice. No, they tell you that their language doesn’t actually state that Iran was trying to get nukes, only that if Iran ever did decide to try to get nukes, this deal would prevent it.
Well, the same applies to the Naked Muslim Ray Gun.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Or rather, stop being afraid. Don’t listen to the pro-war propaganda even when it’s parroted by the pro-peace advocates. It doesn’t improve your thinking, your understanding, or the prospects in the long run of avoiding war.
“Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the U.S. government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state.” — Arundhati Roy
You have the world’s largest military, you’re going to use it, right? Donald Trump and his team, led by National Insecurity Advisor John Bolton, are playing rogue right now with two countries not currently under U.S. control, Iran and Venezuela.
For those who already know that war is not only hell but utterly futile, the raw question hovering over these potential new exercises in mass murder transcends the obvious question: How can they be stopped? The larger question begins with the word “why” and then breaks into a thousand pieces.
Why is war the first — and seemingly the only — resort in so many national disagreements? Why is our trillion-dollar annual military budget sacrosanct? Why do we not learn from history that wars are based on lies? Why does the corporate media always hop aboard the “next” war (whatever it is) with such enthusiasm, with so little skepticism? Why does patriotism seem to require belief in an enemy? Why do we still have nuclear weapons? Why (as journalist Colman McCarthy once asked) are we violent but not illiterate?
“National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a written statement Sunday that the U.S. is not seeking war with Iran, but was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group as well as a bomber task force to the US Central Command region in the Middle East ‘to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.’”
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, addressing the issue with disconcerting and unintentional candor, told reporters, according to CNN, “What we’ve been trying to do is to get Iran to behave like a normal nation.”
How would a “normal nation” respond to endless threats and sanctions? Sooner or later it would hit back. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, speaking recently in New York, explained it thus: “The plot is to push Iran into taking action. And then use that.”
Use it, in other words, as the excuse to go to war.
And going to war is a political game, a decision made or not made by a few important individuals — Bolton, Pompeo, Trump — while the general public looks on either in support or outrage, but either way as spectators. This phenomenon provokes an enormous, unasked “why?” Why is war a top-down directive rather than a collective, public decision? But I guess the answer to that question is obvious: We couldn’t go to war that wasn’t pre-orchestrated by a small group of powerful individuals. All the public has to do is . . . pretty much, nothing.
Elham Pourtaher, an Iranian going to school in New York state, makes this plea for heightened awareness: “U.S. civil society needs to include more global perspectives on the country’s foreign policy. U.S. citizens must become more aware that their votes have grave consequences beyond their country’s borders. . . . (Their) elected administration’s foreign policy is a matter of life and death for the citizens of the other countries, especially in the Middle East.”
She also notes that “the war has already begun. U.S. sanctions are producing a level of suffering comparable to that of wartime. Sanctions in fact are a war waged by the United States against the Iranian working- and middle-classes. These groups struggle to make ends meet as unemployment dramatically increases even as the inflation rate skyrockets. The same people that the Trump administration is pretending to want to set free are the ones that are hit hardest by current U.S. policies in the Middle East.”
And, oh yeah, the ones gaining empowerment from the U.S. war games are “the most undemocratic factions of the Iranian state.” This is how it always works. Hostile aggression begets hostile aggression. A war on terror begets terror. Why do we not know this yet?
At the very least, the provocations, including the fact that Trump is considering sending troops to the area, have “created a scenario in which everyone is now very worried that some form of an accidental war at a minimum is very likely because you have too many U.S. forces and Iranian forces into too small of an area,” Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, said in a recent interview.
Human society is organized in such a way that war, intentional or accidental, is inevitable on a regular basis. And in the run-up to these wars, only the smallest questions are asked by the media, centering around: Is this one justified? Never, “Is this wise? Is this the best choice?” If something sufficiently provocative is done by the enemy — North Vietnam attacks a U.S. ship in the Tonkin Gulf, Iraq purchases aluminum tubes — then “we have no choice” but to retaliate on a massive scale.
The large questions only come later, such as this cry from a Syrian woman in the wake of allied air strikes on the city of Raqqa, quoted in an Amnesty International report:
“I saw my son die, burnt in the rubble in front of me. I’ve lost everyone who was dear to me. My four children, my husband, my mother, my sister, my whole family. Wasn’t the goal to free the civilians? They were supposed to save us, to save our children.”
American soldiers droppings bombs on civilian Syrian men, women, and children — not an atrocity.
American soldiers raining drone missiles down on the heads of civilian Syrian men, women, and children — not an atrocity.
American soldiers shooting with bullets civilian Syrian men, women, and children — not an atrocity.
American allies bombing and shooting civilian Syrian men, women, and children — not an atrocity.
Leveling Syrian cities and villages with American bombs and missiles — not an atrocity.
Turning Syrian children into orphans — not an atrocity.
Two decades of maiming and killing tens of thousands of Syrian, Afghani, and Iraqi civilians — not an atrocity.
All the murderous violence perpetrated in the name of the war on terror and fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here has been deemed business as usual — regrettable collateral damage.
Americans are expected to believe that some sort of imaginary red line has been crossed with the alleged gassing of Syrian men, women, and children. What makes these dead more dead than previous deaths? What are we to make of President Trumps faux-moral outrage — as if the man has a moral compass to begin with? How is the President’s saber-rattling anything more than an attempt to distract from the Mueller investigation? What’s the one thing that brings Americans together? War. Not the endless war currently fought in the Middle East. No, what President Trump, Republicans, and some Democrats want is a good, old-fashioned, tit-for-tat, bombs-bursting-in-air war. What better way to say to the world that Trump didn’t collude with Russia to pervert justice and steal an election than to get into a shooting match with the Soviets? What better way to direct our attention away from trillion-dollar annual deficits — thanks to Republican tax cuts — than to give the military-industrial complex billions in new revenues; money that will be spent waging war against Communism and Islam? War is good for the American economy, and it sure as hell is good for the souls of people who think that the United States has been given a divine mission by the Christian God. What’s more thrilling than blood offerings to the God of war?
I wonder, where will God and Republicans be when notifications are made to families about the deaths of their loved ones? Where will God and the ruling class be when a regional war spins out of control and paves the way for an apocalyptic military confrontation between the United States and Russia or the United States and China, or even the United States and Iran or the United States and North Korea? Why not pick two and take them on? We whipped Germany and Japan, right? Surely, we are more than ready and able to use our military might to assert our will across the globe, thinks Donald Trump. Why have soldiers and weapons of mass destruction if you aren’t going to use them? (Trump asked this very question about nuclear weapons.) Now that President Trump has rid his cabinet of people who could temper his murderous ambition, who will stand in his way as he embroils the world in war? Who’s going to keep the toddler-in-chief from pushing the shiny big red button on his desk; not the one meant for ordering take-out from McDonald’s; the other red button, the one that unleashes the book of Revelation on planet Earth?
The warmongers — who never met a war they didn’t like — and the rich — who never met a war they couldn’t turn into profit — are now running the show. American soldiers are little more than tools used to advance a nationalistic, theocratic, hyper-capitalistic agenda. Men and women who deeply love their country will die, and to what end? Exactly what change will come from American blood being spilt on Middle Eastern sand? Pray tell, what will be gained by killing more Syrian civilians? What will be gained by dragging the world into a homicidal armed conflict? Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing.
There’s never been a time in history where war brought peace. Only peace begets peace, and until the United States understands this, countless civilians will continue to die. President Trump and Congress have the power to put an end to war. Every past president and congress had the same power. War will end the moment we lay down our weapons and choose a peaceful path. As long as American policy is enforced by violence and death, we can expect never-ending war and conflict. A bleak prospect indeed, but we must not avert our eyes from the reality unfolding before us.
This is about humanity, we’re talking about humanity, and it can’t be allowed to happen. We’ll be making that decision very quickly, probably by the end of today. We cannot allow atrocities like that. If it’s the Russians, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out. You don’t see things like that, as bad as the news is around that world, you just don’t see those images. (Donald Trump, April 9, 2018)
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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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.
Note: I realize this is a long post, but it was impossible for me to address the issue of racism in 1,200 words or less. I hope you will read to the end, and then share your thoughts in the comment section. I would also appreciate you sharing this post on social media.
Donald Trump. What more can be said about the orange-haired toddler currently inhabiting the White House. Fair-minded people see Trump as a narcissistic psychopath whose entire approach to policy and governing can be summed up in one word — winning. In recent weeks, mental health professionals have begun to question the president’s sanity and mental fitness. Could it be that the millions of people who voted for my dick-is-bigger-than-your-dick Trump were duped by a man who is mentally unfit for office? Or is Trump more like Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — a man who is artfully manipulating the system for his own good. Looking at the tax overhaul plan released today by Trump, I would suggest the latter. The president is asking Congress to reduce the number of tax rates, while also reducing the rate on the highest tax bracket from thirty-nine percent to thirty-five. Trump also wants Congress to do away with the estate tax, drastically reduce corporate tax rates, and fundamentally change how American corporate profits earned overseas are taxed. The big winners in the president’s plan are millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations. In other words, Trump wins big, to the tune of millions of dollars a year in reduced taxes. And when he dies his vast estate would be passed on to his heirs tax-free. Talk about winning. Trump wins on both sides of the grave.
None of the above surprises me in the least. Trump is the culmination of forty years of Republican attempts to gut the federal government, impoverish the states, and reward wealthy capitalists for their political support. Begun by Saint Ronald Reagan with what George H.W. Bush called voodoo economics, Republican economic policies are now such that there can be no doubt that their end game is the enslavement of the working class and poor and the enrichment of the corporate oligarchs who now rule (and own, bought and paid for with campaign donations) federal and state governments. And these haters of progressive values are not finished. We still have Paul Ryan and his Tea Party cohorts masturbating to a statute of Ayn Rand with Adam’s Smith invisible hand. These despisers of the poor will not rest until all the social progress gained since World War II is returned to the “hell” from whence it came. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Gun Control Act, Welfare, Food Stamps, Obamacare — gone, gone, gone! In its place is a resurgent wild west where corporations are free to misuse and abuse their employees, pollute waterways, foul the air, and donate millions to politicians who do the bidding of their business overlords (along with a military tasked to protect corporate interests across the globe).
Underneath the anti-human policies mentioned above is a subtle, and, at times, not so subtle, racism. There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that President Trump is a racist. And white supremacists, Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame, David Duke of the KKK, and the white marchers that took to the streets of Charlottesville think so too. White America — eighty-two percent of white Evangelicals vote for Trump — overwhelmingly voted for President Winner. While this in and of itself isn’t proof that Trump is a racist — after all, the overwhelming majority of blacks for voted Barack Obama — the president’s speeches, policies, executive orders, and Tweets — despite the token blacks at his Ain’t I Wonderful pep rallies — reveal that the man is indeed someone who is, at the very least, indifferent to matters of race. While some on the left want to give the president the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that he is a non-politician learning on the job, I am not one such person. Eight months of living in the swirling vortex of a Donald Trump presidency has shown me that the man is a racist.
If I had any doubts about Trump’s racism, events that have transpired over the last week have put an end to them. He is, without a doubt a racist. First, there’s the president’s verbal and Twitter attacks of black NFL and NBA players. My counselor and I were talking about this very matter today, and he asked me if I noticed how Trump artfully moved the reference point of discussion. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, it was to protest racial injustice and police brutality against people of color. Over the weekend, hundreds of black (and white) NFL athletes refused to stand for the National Anthem. Their reasons for protesting range from racial injustice and police violence against blacks to Trump calling them sons of bitches and demanding team owners fire them. Trump moved the discussion goalpost by changing the point of reference from race to patriotism. The protests had nothing to do with race, according to the president, and everything to do with disrespecting the American flag. Trump did the same thing when he was sharply criticized for his atrocious tone-deaf comments after the white-supremacist-driven carnage in Charlottesville. The protest wasn’t about race. Oh no, the marching whites in Charlottesville were protesting the left’s attack on their Southern way of life, complete with Confederate flags and Civil War monuments. By turning these protests on their head, Trump hopes to avoid being labeled a racist. Sadly, many of his followers have followed right along with him, asserting that neither they nor President Make-America-Great-Again are racist.
Want to see how racist many people in America still are? Just turn to the comment sections on news sites and blogs, or slog through posts and comments by Herr Donald supporters on social media, and you will see George Wallace-worthy — I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever — racism. From support of Trump’s racist immigration policies and his callous indifference to the suffering of non-white Puerto Rico to their defense of his on attack black athletes and whites who oppose his policies, these dog-whistle-hearing sycophants show that we are generations away from living in a post-racial society.
If you doubt these issues are about race, let Steven Colbert of The Late Show fame,The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, and Nick Wright from ESPN put your doubts to rest.
I am sixty-years old. I grew up in a flag-waving, John Birch Society-supporting, Evangelical home where racism was never far from the surface of day-to-day life. My parents moved to California in the 1960s. It was there that they were exposed to the virulent racism at the heart of American exceptionalism, Christian nationalism, and ideologies trumpeted by Richard Welch, Jr, the founder of the John Birch Society, 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and Democratic/Independent candidate George Wallace. I have no doubt that the preaching of their pastor, Tim LaHaye, from the pulpit of Scott Memorial Baptist Church helped to stoke my parents’ rage against blacks, Mexicans, Martin Luther King, Jr, the Black Panthers, the United Nations, Vietnam War protesters, and anyone and everyone who ran afoul of their white sensibilities.
It should not be surprising, then, that their eldest son, picked up on and adopted their beliefs. As a first-grader in the San Diego public school system, I took several of my mother’s books to school, one of which was None Dare Call it Treason by John Stormer. One of the books had graphic photographs of violence perpetrated by Communist Russia. I primarily brought the book to school so I could show my fellow classmates the photos. My teacher quickly confiscated the books and sent them home with me at the end of the day with a note saying the books were to remain at home. I am sure my parents were proud of my preaching of right-wing gospel.
As a young adult, I frequently told racist jokes. While I often had to hide my racist views of blacks in public, in private conversations with fellow white restaurant managers I would lament the laziness of black employees. Even in our foster care provider days when we had a black teen girl living with us, I saw myself as a benevolent white out to help a helpless black girl. I was, without a doubt, the son of Robert and Barbara Gerencser, warriors for all things Christian and white.
My views on race began to change while this black girl lived in our home. In 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. Needing local housing, we arranged to rent a farm-house from a retired teacher. The day we called to pick up the keys for the house, this virtuous pillar of all things Christian told us that she was going to rent the house to a family member instead. This, I later learned, was a lie. The truth was that she discovered we had a black foster child living with us, and according to someone who knew her well, she “wasn’t going to have a nigger living in her house.” We moved, instead, to New Lexington, thirteen miles south of Somerset. There we enrolled our foster daughter in the local public school. She was the only student of color in the school. Needless to say, this made her a target of racist rednecks who made her short stay there a living hell. Eventually, our foster daughter was returned to the system in hopes of her being placed in a home located in a more racially diverse area.
During the almost twelve years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church, my understanding of the complexities of race and the systemic problems faced by people of color began to change. I wish I could say that I had a Damascus road experience and the racist blinders over my eyes immediately fell off, but alas I can’t. It took years and years for my racist tendencies to fade into the fabric of racial equality and inclusion. And even to this day, I am not certain that I am blind to skin color. Several weeks ago, I participated in forum discussion on the subject, Does Racism Exist in Northwest Ohio? (You can listen to the podcast here. The podcast is also available on iTunes.) My answer was, yes, and I gave several examples to bolster my point; that underneath the white Christian veneer of rural Ohioans is a latent Obama-hating, affirmative action-hating, racism waiting to be unleashed. Last November, seven out of ten voting locals voted for Donald Trump. Confederate flags were unfurled for all to see. Racism, once buried safely below rural respectability, was legitimized and encouraged to rise to the occasion. The result is there for all to see on social media and on the editorial page of the Defiance Crescent-News.
During the aforementioned forum discussion, I mentioned an example of how Mr. Progressive, Mr. Color Blind Bruce Gerencser still had deeply buried racist tendencies. Several months back, while driving by Galilee Baptist Church on Ottawa Street in Defiance, I remarked, that’s where blacks go to church. True, Galilee is primarily attended by blacks, but when I drove by the next dozen or so churches, why didn’t I say, that’s where whites go to church? This illustration might seem quaint or not worthy of mention in a discussion on racism, but to me, it revealed that I still, to some degree, saw things from a racist perspective. I suspect that I will spend the remaining days of my life continuing to root out deep-seated prejudices towards people of color.
My wife, Polly, grew up in a family where racism was multi-generational, especially on one side of her family. I don’t remember Polly’s parents making strong racist statements, but their view of blacks revealed itself when they negatively talked about “colored” people. Why was skin color germane to the stories? Does it matter whether the wino, homeless man, thief, or murderer was black? Shouldn’t the crime or behavior be the focus of discussion? Yes, that’s how it should have been, but a racial designation was always attached when the perpetrator was a person of color.
Over the years, Polly and I heard family members tell countless jokes and stories about blacks. Sometimes, the stories were about how their white churches, in a paternalistic way, helped out this or that black family or how the white colonialist missionaries they supported were helping poor, ignorant blacks see the truth of the white Jesus gospel. Several discussions revolved around whether missionaries should require new black converts to dress and behave like Western whites. The answer, of course, was yes. Western Christianity was viewed as superior to African and Caribbean norms. Women were expected to wear bras, men ties, and everyone was to sing hymns the way they were sung at First Baptist Church. Black culture was a problem to be eradicated, not embraced, and missionaries were tasked with westernizing — in Jesus’ name, of course — their target groups.
A recent social media dust-up I had with the sixteen-year-old son of Polly’s Fundamentalist preacher cousin made me realize that the racism in her family is multi-generational. In a post titled Christmas, 1957-2014, I talked about the 2010 Christmas gathering for her immediate family. I wrote:
Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.
Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. The grandchild of one of Polly’s uncles asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us
Fast forward to 2017, the grandchild mentioned above is a Fundamentalist Christian teenager, a staunch supporter, as were the three generations before him, of right-wing extremism. Recently, the boy raged against those (blacks) who refuse to stand for the National Anthem during pre-game ceremonies at professional sporting events. The latest protests, which he perceived was dishonoring of the military, the American flag, and the Christian way of life, resulted in him attacking those who refused to stand.
Here’s what the boy posted several weeks back:
Several days ago, he posted a similar screed.
Generally, I treat Facebook as a place to hang out with like-minded family and friends. I avoid political and religious discussions, preferring to look at shared photographs and cat videos. If I happen to inadvertently befriend someone outside of our extended family who is a Trump supporter or a right-wing Christian extremist, I quickly unfriend them. Life is too short for me to spend time wading through rivers of Trumptastic bullshit. Things are, however, a bit more dicey with family members. Polly and I, by far, are more progressive and liberal than many of the people we call family. When it comes to religion, we are the only out-and-out unbelievers in the bunch. While a handful of family members voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, most of them vote Republican, and having had enough of the Kenyan-born socialist Obama, voted for Donald Trump over Clinton in 2016 (a few voted for Gary Johnson).
Knowing this about our extended family, I avoid political discussions with them, choosing to alternately laugh and cry over the lies and distortions they post on their Facebook walls. For whatever reason, yesterday I decided to respond to the aforementioned comments. Here’s what I said:
My response, predictably, brought out lit Tiki torches, resulting in this reply:
Let me summarize the boy’s argument:
There is no such thing as racism
There is no such thing as white privilege
Whites are the ones being discriminated against
I, foolishly thinking I could make a saint out of Malcom X at a KKK rally, replied:
Needless to say, the shit hit the proverbial fan and it is still, today, spraying across the social media. The boy told me I was ignorant, and the boy’s mother, with whom I have had several skirmishes over her ignorant posts about atheists, sent me a red-hot message, letting me know that my comments were out of line, that I was a bitter old man, and that their family was NOT racist — we know black people! I attempted to respond to her, but, by then, she had blocked me.
I would have asked her, if your family is not racist, where did your son get his abhorrent racist beliefs? Dad? Mom? Grandpa? Church? (I featured the racist comments of one woman who attends the church this boy’s father pastors in a post titled, Christian Fundamentalist Shares the Sweet, Sweet Love of Jesus on Facebook. This boy did not come up with these beliefs in a vacuüm. He was taught these things in word and deed.
Needless to say, this Facebook altercation destroyed what little relationship Polly or I had with this particular family. And that’s fine. Perhaps, one day this boy will have an epiphany about his views on patriotism and race, along with his views on LGBTQ people, same-sex marriage, liberalism, and socialism, and vaguely remember his curmudgeonly old “bitter” atheist cousin once removed and his attempts to show him a better way. For now, he remain a textbook example of how racism and bigotry can affect multiple generations of people — even those who, with infectious smiles, say, Jesus loves you, and he has a wonderful plan for your life.
For those of you who are still talking to your uber-patriotic, flag-waving Republican/Evangelical/Conservative/Right-Wing/Tea-Party friends and family, how have they responded to Donald Trump’s racist comments and protests by black NFL players? Please share your pithy thoughts in the comment section. If you are a supporter of dotard Donald Trump, don’t bother. I’m all Trumped out.
Christians in the Armed Forces will have their faith tested on many occasions. This is important—since Christians are commanded to examine themselves (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5) to see if their professing Christianity is true, or false and vitiated.
True Christianity produces a love for God, a hunger for His Word, fervent prayer, devotion to a local, Bible-believing church, and not a military chapel. The imputed righteousness of Christ that is credited to those who come to Him by faith alone, will enable believers to hate the things that God hates, and love the things that God loves. This does not happen because merit and favor can be earned with God, but only because of the active and passive obedience of Christ.
Counterfeit Christians in the Armed forces will appeal to the Constitution, and not Christ, and they have no local church home—which means they have no accountability for their souls (Heb. 13:17). This is why so many professing Christian service members will say: “We ‘support everyone’s right’ to practice their faith regardless if they worship a god different from ours because the Constitution protects this right.”
Christian service members who openly profess and support the rights of Muslims, Buddhists, and all other anti-Christian worldviews to practice their religions—because the language in the Constitution permits—are grossly in error, and deceived. This article will explain a few reasons why:
First, where in the Bible do the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, or Christ Himself, support or accommodate anti-Christians to give adulation to their false gods or to yield and obey anyone except the One true and living God? There is no exegetical support, and no moral justification for any Christian service member to openly profess or support the alleged rights of anti-Christians. Christian service members must share the Gospel with unbelievers so they can be saved, not support unbelievers to worship their false gods that will lead them to hell.
Second, professing Christian service members must answer this important question: “Do you appeal to the Holy Scripture, or the US Constitution as an ultimate standard to measure your conduct?”
The answer to this question will determine how the service member will conduct themselves, and what is truly the authority for their faith and practice.
If a professing Christian service member appeals to the Bible, all their thoughts, words, and deeds are to be examined and resolved with the Holy Scripture that points to Christ—not the Constitution. Why is it wrong for a professing “Christian” service member to appeal to the Constitution for their faith and practice? If the professing Christian service member appeals to the Constitution and not the Holy Scripture as their ultimate standard—they have no business calling themselves a Christian—since they would have nothing to measure their Christianity upon without the Bible.
Also, appealing to anything except the Bible as an ultimate authority would not only be anti-Christian, it would also nullify their previous argument of professing to be a Christian—since an ultimate authority does not appeal to anything except itself. It is impossible to submit to both the Bible and the Constitution as an ultimate authority—because the Laws of Logic would prohibit this—since two propositions cannot both be right and wrong at the same time. Christ made this clear in Matthew 12:30.
Third, the First Amendment of the US Constitution states that the free-exercise of religion is for all Americans to practice their faith, but does that mean a Christian service member should accommodate or support things that are contrary to their faith? Absolutely not!
Also, is it wrong for a professing Christian service member to say, “I support the rights of all Americans to practice their faith since the Constitution protects their rights?” Absolutely!
— Sonny Hernandez, director for Reforming America Ministries, US Air Force Reserves Chaplain, Christian Service Members: Avoid Supporting or Accommodating Evil!
Hernandez sports a doctorate from Tennessee Temple University — A Fundamentalist Baptist institution founded by the late Lee Roberson, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 2015, Tennessee Temple University merged with Piedmont University.
The U.S. war in Afghanistan is well into its 16th year. In 2014 President Obama declared it over, but it will remain a political, financial, security, legal, and moral problem unless you actually end it.
The U.S. military now has approximately 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan , plus 6,000 other NATO troops, 1,000 mercenaries, and another 26,000 contractors (of whom about 8,000 are from the United States). That’s 41,000 people engaged in a foreign occupation of a country 15 years after the accomplishment of their stated mission to overthrow the Taliban government.
During each of the past 15 years, our government in Washington has informed us that success was imminent. During each of the past 15 years, Afghanistan has continued its descent into poverty, violence, environmental degradation, and instability. The withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops would send a signal to the world, and to the people of Afghanistan, that the time has come to try a different approach, something other than more troops and weaponry.
The ambassador from the U.S.-brokered and funded Afghan Unity government has reportedly told you that maintaining U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is “as urgent as it was on Sept. 11, 2001.” There’s no reason to believe he won’t tell you that for the next four years, even though John Kerry tells us “Afghanistan now has a well-trained armed force …meeting the challenge posed by the Taliban and other terrorists groups.” But involvement need not take its current form.
The United States is spending $4 million an hour on planes, drones, bombs, guns, and over-priced contractors in a country that needs food and agricultural equipment, much of which could be provided by U.S. businesses. Thus far, the United States has spent an outrageous $783 billion with virtually nothing to show for it except the death of thousands of U.S. soldiers , and the death, injury and displacement of millions of Afghans. The Afghanistan War has been and will continue to be, as long as it lasts, a steady source of scandalous stories of fraud and waste. Even as an investment in the U.S. economy this war has been a bust.
But the war has had a substantial impact on our security: it has endangered us. Before Faisal Shahzad tried to blow up a car in Times Square, he had tried to join the war against the United States in Afghanistan. In numerous other incidents, terrorists targeting the United States have stated their motives as including revenge for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, along with other U.S. wars in the region. There is no reason to imagine this will change.
In addition, Afghanistan is the one nation where the United States is engaged in major warfare with a country that is a member of the International Criminal Court. That body has now announced that it is investigating possible prosecutions for U.S. crimes in Afghanistan. Over the past 15 years, we have been treated to an almost routine repetition of scandals: hunting children from helicopters, blowing up hospitals with drones, urinating on corpses — all fueling anti-U.S. propaganda, all brutalizing and shaming the United States.
Ordering young American men and women into a kill-or-die mission that was accomplished 15 years ago is a lot to ask. Expecting them to believe in that mission is too much. That fact may help explain this one: the top killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is suicide. The second highest killer of American military is green on blue, or the Afghan youth who the U.S. is training are turning their weapons on their trainers! You yourself recognized this, saying: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghans we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.”
The withdrawal of U.S. troops would also be good for the Afghan people, as the presence of foreign soldiers has been an obstacle to peace talks. The Afghans themselves have to determine their future, and will only be able to do so once there is an end to foreign intervention.
We urge you to turn the page on this catastrophic military intervention. Bring all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. Cease U.S. airstrikes and instead, for a fraction of the cost, help the Afghans with food, shelter, and agricultural equipment.
If you are so inclined, please add your name to the open letter here.
This is not the case. Death and dismemberment are horrific regardless of the weapon. No weapon is being used legally, morally, humanely, or practically in Syria or Iraq. U.S. bombs are no less indiscriminate, no less immoral, and no less illegal than chemical weapons — or for that matter than the depleted uranium weapons with which the United States has been poisoning the area. The fact that a weapon has not been banned does not create a legal right to go into a country and kill people with it.
2. Chemical weapons use justifies the escalated use of other weapons.
Does shoplifting justify looting? If a Hatfield poisoned a McCoy, would another McCoy be justified in shooting a bunch of Hatfields? What barbarism is this? A crime does not sanction another crime. That’s a quick trip to hell.
3. Important people we should trust know who used chemical weapons.
No, they do not. At least they do not know that the Syrian government did it. If they knew this, they would offer evidence. As on every past occasion, they have not done so.
4. The enemy is pure evil and will answer only to force.
The U.S. government and its proxies have sabotaged peace negotiations numerous times over the past several years, maintaining that Assad would have to step down or — preferably — be overthrown by violence before anything could be negotiated. This does not make the U.S. government pure inhuman evil, much less does it make the Syrian government that.
5. If you don’t want to bomb Syria with one enemy’s name on your lips, you hold the firm belief that said enemy is actually a saint.
This piece of stupidity gets people accused of loving and holding blameless the Syrian government, the Russian government, the U.S. government, ISIS, and various other parties. In fact, the reasonable thing to do is to hold all killers responsible for their killing because of the crime, not because of who commits it.
6. U.S. war-making in Syria is defensive.
This is the opposite of reality-based thinking as war-making endangers us rather than protects us. Someone should ask Donald Trump to remember the Maine. You may remember that Spain wanted the matter brought to a neutral arbiter, but the United States wanted war, regardless of any evidence. That’s been the typical move over the centuries: careful maneuvering into war, not away from it. Trump, by the way, is already up to his bloody elbows in several wars inherited from Obama — wars no less immoral and illegal slaughters because of their connection to either of those presidents. The question of who blew up the Maine is, at this point a truly dumb one. The important point is that the U.S. didn’t want to know, wanted instead to rush into a war before anyone could find out. Typically, the desire to avoid information, and not some other consideration, is the reason for the urgency in war-making.
7. Peace was tried in 2013, and it failed.
No. What happened was that Obama and his administration tried to pull off the same stunt that Trump is trying now, and the public rose up and refused to allow it. So, instead of a massive bombing campaign, Syria got more weapons, more trainers, more troops, and a medium sized bombing campaign. That’s very different from actually shifting direction and offering Syria diplomacy, aid, and disarmament.
8. The U.S. government’s goal is peace.
The long openly stated goal of powerful players in the U.S. government is to overthrow Assad.
9. Syria is as boring and unconcerning as numerous other ongoing U.S. wars.
In reality, Syria is a war that risks fighting between the United States and Russia, while each is armed with far more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy all life on earth. Creating a profitable conflict between the U.S. and Russia is a likely actual motivation of some hawks on Syria.
10. Making everything worse with yet more violence is the only option left.
That’s not an option at all. But these are: aid, reparations, negotiations, disarmament, the rule of law, truth and reconciliation.
— David Swanson, Let’s Try Democracy, Top 10 Lies, Damn Lies, and Lies About Syria, April 7, 2017