Thursday, October 04, 2007


From Democracy Now, in a discussion about American opposition to the Bush wars, progressive writer Norman Solomon well articulates one of the main points I've been trying to make on this blog for nearly five years:

NORMAN SOLOMON: The opposition is registered in opinion polls, but largely quiescent, and if we look at the progression of the Vietnam War, year after year, from the late ’60s through the first years of the ’70s, opinion polls show that most Americans were opposed to the war, even felt it was immoral. You fast-forward to this decade, for years now most polls have shown most people are opposed. But what does that mean? Our political culture encourages us to be passive, not to get out in the streets, not to blockade the government war-making offices, not to go into the congressional offices and not leave, not to raise our voices in impolite or disruptive ways. We have to become enemies of the warfare state, not in a rhetorical way, but in a way that speaks to the American people in terms of where our humane values are and should be.


AMY GOODMAN: You take on the pundits on a regular basis. Why Thomas Friedman now?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, he’s very outspoken in terms of criticizing the Bush administration about this war now, although he supported it at the time. We’re told he’s the most influential pundit in the United States. And yet, you scratch the surface, and there is an acceptance of the enormous expenditures for military power. He has written that to have McDonald's around the world, you need McDonnell Douglas, the military contractor subsidized by the US government. Just yesterday in his New York Times column, Thomas Friedman waxed nostalgic for what he called pre-9/11. And this is part of the mythos that, well, our problems with militarism began with 9/11 or began with the George W. Bush administration.

As my book,
Made Love, Got War, goes into in detail, we have lived, we have been incubated by a warfare state for five, six decades. And the effects of that are terribly pernicious. Martin Luther King talked about the “spiritual death” -- his phrase, the “spiritual death” -- that accompanies a society which year after year spends more on military defense than on social uplift. That was forty years ago. What are the effects then of that spiritual death? And so, we have a chance to counteract those sort of dangerous, horrible trends with such terrible results, but we need to activate ourselves to do that.

Click here to read, watch, or listen to the rest.

Back in early July when I was visiting Austin, I met a soldier out of Fort Hood in Killeen who was back home from Iraq for a while. We didn't discuss the war, but at some point I told him the name of my blog.

"You write a blog about three things that don't have anything to do with each other?" he seriously asked.

"Sure," I told him, not wanting to give him an unwanted lecture about how it's all so hopelessly intertwined, "but those are the three things I like the most."

Here's an abbreviated version of what I might have said to him. We all like to think we're making rational, informed decisions about all aspects of our lives. We like to think that we know when we're deviating from rationality, for instance, "I know it's crazy, but I love her, man!" We like to think that we apply logic, not passion, to our understanding of how our civilization works, of how our political system works, of how everything works.

Not so. There is a much bigger game being played off the board that affects every move we make. That game is called "culture." And culture encompasses everything from clothing styles, church, popular music, and high art to television, sports teams, cool cars, and on and on. Culture is how we feel about things.

When we make our seemingly rational decisions about how we consider the way the world works, we almost automatically dismiss culture as part of the equation. When terrorists took down the World Trade Center and the US population very quickly agreed with the White House that war was the best way to solve the problem, virtually nobody took into account the fact that we've all been watching and digging war movies all our lives; nobody took into account that maybe our cultural glorification of violent, manly heroes might be influencing our "rational" decisions. We give lip service to peace, but there are very few peaceful heroes glorified by our culture. Peace and negotiation are not American values, not really part of our culture.

Nobody seems to consider this. Nobody seems to see the bigger off-board game.

Okay, so I say "nobody," but when I do that I'm really only referring to the general population. There are lots of Americans who are keenly aware of the the off-board culture game: political consultants, advertising agencies, evangelists, film scholars, etc. And many of them are deeply involved in the hidden game. You think Bush's now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, which included his flying a jet onto an aircraft carrier while dressed in military garb, was simply political theater? Well, it was indeed political theater, but there was nothing simple about it. The imagery tapped into the social conditioning of a thousand war movies, from Midway to Top Gun. Americans subconsciously know the myth, and, at the time, placed Bush right into the middle of it, as the warrior-leader who will protect us from evil.

As Solomon observes in the above linked interview, "we have lived, we have been incubated by a warfare state for five, six decades." One could just as easily say something similar of our "free trade" state, as well.

The bottom line is that culture matters, and is probably more important, in the long run, than politics itself. Actually, I would go so far as to say that politics is simply a massive manifestation of culture. And if you can manipulate culture, you can manipulate politics.

So what does it mean that most culture today in the US is manufactured for mass consumption by wealthy corporations that are in bed with the military-industrial complex? The answer isn't very comforting.