Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jan. 8: Why reading the news tells us nothing...

For a break, I thought Iid like to write about something broader and more useful than the Irving press. That occurred to me as I read the story about the shooting of twelve people at a Paris tabloid that had run cartoons of Mohammed. Now, that's a typical news story. It sounds sensational - but it really says nothing.

We often think we get meaning out of it when, in fact, we understand only what our biases and prejudices want us to  understand. A Muslim Jihadist might read it and say, "Allah is great."   But for a Christian reading it, the message is likely to be "Those Muslims are all evil."  Americans lead in the slaughter of 300,000 civilians in Guatemala and Canadians read it and say --well, actually they don't read it because no Canadian newspaper has ever printed that story. But even if they did read it, they probably wouldn't care. After all, Guatemalans are not people like us.

Even with honest reporting (which is rare), the news feeds us just little bites. So we usually react by understanding only what our prejudices tell us to understand. And that means we understand nothing at all from it.

I guess I first realized that (or should have) on a day early in 1942 when I heard the news about how the Japanese had captured Singapore from the British.  Well, I knew what that meant. After all, every morning in school we stood, said "I pledge allegiance to this flag" (pointing to the British flag at the front of the room) "and to the Empire for which it stands."  And we all knew that the British were the best and toughest people in the world, and the Japanese were an inferior race. So the news of the fall of Singapore excited me.

When I went to school, I walked up to the principal, Miss Simpson, and said with a big and confident grin, "The Japanese took Singapore. Now the British will get really mad, and they'll show the Japanese."

Miss Simpson stared blankly at me. She didn't say anything. She just looked at me with a stare I now realize was terror. She had already heard the news. But she didn't hear what I heard.

Miss Simpson was real old, over forty. She had grown up in a world ruled by a few western nations that were able to use quite small armies to defeat huge armies in Africa and Asia - to exploit the people and their land in order to make western billionaires even richer.

She listened to the same newscast I did. But what she heard was that the days of western empire were over, that the world was entering a change as big as the fall of the Roman Empire.

Actually, the change isn't quite over yet though it actually began 105 years ago, in 1905, when a Japanese fleet destroyed a Russian fleet in the battle of Tsushima Strait. American President Theodore Roosevelt called it  "...the greatest phenomenon the world has ever seen." So it was. For the first time in over 500 years, a non-European country had defeated a European military force. And Japan had done it with a navy that was barely thirty years old. Japan's conquest of Singapore, the greatest fortress in the British Empire, in 1942, rubbed the lesson home  Europe's days of imperialism and living off the work and resources of Asia were over.

Now, China as emerged as a world-class military and economic power, with India on the rise, too. In fact, there has been a general rise in defiance of European and North American power. Indeed, the real meaning of the shootings in Paris has little to do with Moslems being evil, and little to do with Moslems in general. The real message, the message that goes all the way back to Tsushima Strait, is that the years of world dominance by western power are over. And now not only Asia but Africa and much the Middle East will no longer accept western dominance. Coupled with the enormous destructive power of modern weapons, that means we have to change the whole way we look at the world, and deal with it.  That truth seems to be dawning for some of the European powers. Unfortunately, it has not dawned on the economic elite who are the real controllers of  American policy.

While I was still a kid, I thought we had come to grips with necessary changes by setting up the United Nations as the world authority for law and order and security. So it seemed, at least, when the US took the case of Korea to the UN, and got its approval for an international force to support the southern part of Korea from an invasion by the north.  But that was really the end of the road for the UN.

American big business had much earlier decided what it wanted out of World War Two. It wanted to replace the European empires with a vast, American empire. Indeed, the word "empire" pretty well sums up the whole history of the US.

The whole country, before and after the American revolution, was built on land stolen from the native peoples who were pushed aside or, commonly, simply murdered. What is now Texas, Nevada, Arizona, southern California were stolen from Mexico by war. Canada almost met the same fate. Then, attention turned to spreading the empire to include Latin America, a feat usually accomplished by sending invasion forces to "protect American citizens" from rumoured threats. And, commonly, the invading army would install a very brutal dictator - as  happened with, for example, Guatemala, Haiti, Cuba.... And it was understood that American investors like Dole fruit and mining companies were to have free rein to do whatever they liked. (These were later joined by the sweethearts who own Canadian mining companies).

As the nineteenth century closed, American business raised its horizons by getting the government to take over Hawaii, and then, in an extraordinarily brutal war including free use of torture, The Phillipines. But their eyes were really on the great prize, China.  So there, as World War Two approached, they paid and supplied a vicious gangster/warlord (and Christian) named Chiang Kai-Shek. Stalin and Mao would certainly prove to be mass murderers. But Chiang, the American capitalist hero, took a back seat to nobody as a killer.

The US government entered the World War 2 largely to stop Japan from taking control of the China that US big business wanted. (Yes, I know about Pearl Harbour and how treacherous and evil those terrible Japanese were. But have you ever wondered why they attacked Pearl Harbour? Could it have had anything to do with Roosevelt's cutting off of all oil for Japan? And is it possible Roosevelt knew, though without specifics, that Japan would have to respond with some act that would justify a declaration of war? And ever notice he did not declare war against Germany?  That was because he didn't give a damn about what happened to Britain. His war was to get Japan out of China so US business could muscle in.)

The US beat Japan - but it lost the prize, China - which went to Mao. That produced an even bigger problem because the Korean War showed that China could now do what Japan did in 1905 - fight on at least equal terms with western armies.

It came as an added blow when Cuba showed Latin America that it was possible to stand up to the US empire - and win.

But American big business did not give up on its plans for empire.The Vietnam War was fought to give the US another Asian base by grabbing an old French colony, French IndoChina.  And it lost. Another defeat of the west by an Oriental nation. The US also continued its operations to take over former European colonies in Africa and the Middle East. Thus the wars in Libya, Iraq, and the drone bombings all over that are rarely reported.

In none of those cases did the US approach our only agencies of international law and order, the UN and the international court. How could it? It had no legal justification for any of those wars. It is now possible, according to the British government, that Tony Blair who was Bush's hired hand in the Iraq war may very well face war criminal charges based on a report by a British parliamentary committee. But not to worry.

No American government can afford to allow that to happen because it would also expose criminal behaviour by Bush and Obama.

Similarly, the UN is scheduled to hear war criminal charges against Israel in its treatment of Palestine. But that ain't going to happen. Netanyahu has already said he will ignore the UN court - and any American president is sure to protect Netanyahu. Oh, and Harper will promise to support Israel no matter what. (That might cause a few giggles. The Canadian armed forces are so neglected and poorly equipped that the Israeli defence force alone could beat them, spank the survivors, and send them home. Just about any Muslim army could do the same.)

A world of law and order based on the UN  is not going to happen. It will not be allowed to happen. US big business made that clear in the mid-1990s when it released its Project for the New American Century. The US (meaning American big business) will impose its own law and order as a sort of Lone Ranger with Britain or Canada playing Tonto. It will decide what the rules are, and it will decide who gets punished. That's what they call American exceptionalism. And it's a disaster for all of us.

The world changed in 1905. The age of western empires is over. Those parts of the world that suffered centuries of imperialism are now on the rise both economically and militarily. The European imperial powers are now dead meat. The US is in relative economic decline, largely as a result of a capitalism allowed to run wild. Worse, the US, socially, is coming apart. We can't pretend that it's still 1904.

But that's exactly what US big business is doing. It is going all out for world domination, the ultimate insanity of greed and hubris. And it is doing so just as the balance of world power is clearing moving away from it. (Notice that I refer to US big business, not to the American people. They are victims of big business just as much as the rest of the world is.)

We have a choice or, rather, we don't have a choice. An old world has gone. It's not coming back. Any attempt to make it come back will result in war on a scale of  horror we have never before seen. And everyone will lose. Meanwhile, we aren't dealing with all the other problems we have to deal with soon - climate change, massive poverty, the crumbling of the values on which western democracies were founded.....

A lesson of the shootings in Paris is that most of the world has risen against the empire of American big business. (Yes, I know it was terrible to shoot those people. It was also terrible to murder millions of Vietnamese peasants, a million Iraqi civilians.... Funny how we can get so upset at the killing of a dozen, and ignore the killing of millions. But that's just the way us humans think.)

The US - and the rest of the world - desperately needs a functioning UN to bring law and order to the world, and to focus on the enormous problems that face us. The west is no longer the military god of this world. Those days are gone forever. Nor can the west any longer support keeping its own millions in poverty so that the very rich can spend trillions on wars they cannot win.

So if Harper is looking for a historical event to spend our money on in this election year, he might consider the 110th anniversary of the year the world changed at Tsushima Strait.

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