Sunday, March 27, 2016

March 27: Three topics today.

Today will be a mixed bag of where I get my news, a broad look at why the U.S. cannot make a real democracy out of Iran or any other part of the middle east, and a look at why the history we know makes it impossible for us to understand anything.

First, my main sources. I'm still catching up on recording my list. But this  gives a pretty good idea.

1. The Guardian (uk). Once the best English newspaper in the world, I find it to be on the decline in recent months. I suspect (but don't know) it has become vulnerable because it has the problem of most newspapers these days - declining revenue. It may also be connected to a recent change in the chief editor.

2. Al Jazeera - Now, quite possibly the best paper available in the English language.

3. The Brunswick News  (Irving). It is actually worse that the New China News Agency of Mao's time. It exists to keep its readers in a stupor.

4. Information Clearing House. This has to be used with some caution. But it is far superior to most conventional news sources.

5. Haaretz, an Israeli paper inferior to Al Jazeera only in its more limited coverage.

6. The Saker. Can be very good, but also terribly ponderous and even incomprehensible in its style.

7. Off-Guardian. A sort of anti-Guardian. It has to be used carefully because its style is sometimes over-the-top as well as being ponderous.

8. Huffington Post - especially Ralph Nader. Sometimes, its general quality can be quite mixed.

9. - Like The Saker, it can be excellent but, also like the Saker, the style can be ponderous and more than a little overdone.

10. - A group of Canadian journalists of the old school, people who worked in a world in which more journalists told the the truth and the whole truth. It's very good, expecially on the Ottawa scene.

11. RT (Russia Times). It's certainly limited in what it can say, and you're not likely to find criticism of Russia in it. That means it sometimes hides the whole truth - but what it does say is usually reliable.

There are others. I'm still prodding myself to remember to complete the list of what I use.
Now, let's take a broad coverage of US plans for the world.

Briefly, the plan is for the U.S. to us its military power to control the whole world. It would, moreover, excercise that power without regard for the rule of law. The U.S. government would, itself, become the law. The U.S. would bring democracy to the whole world. All this is why it has something like a thousand military bases all over the world.

The U.S. intends to become the world police - a police entitled to make up the law as they go along.

 This is, in part, what the invasion of Iraq was about. The U.S. would make Iraq a democracy, and it would become the base from which the U.S. could dominate the middle east. With that domination, it could deal with the world's real problems, Russia and China.

Consider a few problems in this.
1. The 'police' would enforce law on the whole world. But the law would be whatever the bosses of the police said it was. That's a strange form of law and order.
2. And such a 'legal' system would be hopelessly out of step with any form of democracy. (Not to mention the reality that the U.S. has a strong history of crushing democracies, and a very limited one of creating them.)

But that was the plan. With Iraq under control, the U.S. would have a base from which to attack Iran and Syria - which would really be an attack on Russia and China since both Russia and China were dependent on oil from Iran and Syria. Afghanistan could play a similar role since it was inserted between Russia and China.

In both cases, the US could rely on its puppets in Britain who had become what Churchill most feared. Churchill well understood that as the British Empire fell, the U.S. was determined to take it for the American empire. And the U.S. did get a major part of the British empire - but it missed the two, greatest prizes, India and China. Now, Britain could only hold on to the coattails of the U.S., and become its puppet to help in the further expansion of the American empire. That's why Britain sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan - and why Canada sent them to Afghanistan.

But none of it worked. The most powerful and expensive military in history failed to conquer much smaller countries which depended on citizen warriors with inferior weaponry. The U.S. got Saddam Hussein. But he really didn't matter.  The important thing was to build a huge government/military complex in Iraq as their base to attack Iran. But it has been empty and falling into ruin for years.

As for democracy, they established an elected government - with all its members under the thumbs of the U.S. - just like the 'democracies' they established in Haiti and Guatemala and Egypt and Afghanistan. Really, they were much like the democracy of the U.S., itself, which is under the thumbs of billionaires.
In the end, the U.S. has destroyed Syria and Iraq. It has murdered millions, and destroyed the lives of many millions more. It has created a Europe so swamped with refugees it cannot deal with them. And we're going to see a lot more destabilization in Europe as a result of that.

The U.S. also ignored a fundamental issue in the middle east and Afghanistan. The 'nations' in those places were not really nations at all. The middle east, in particular, was made up of 'nations' simply by drawing lines on a map. There really were no Syrians or Lebanese or Iraqis.

They were, like Afghanistan, moving toward being nations, and maybe even democracies. Along the way they had to shed loyalties to tribes or religious sects. But that takes time. What the U.S. did was to take that time away from them, to force them into becoming something they didn't understand. And the result of that was to destroy all the progress they had been making, and to drive them back to religious and tribal loyalties.

And the result of that was to destroy any progress those people had made to becoming modern states. Another result was to create a hatred of the U.S. so profound that it could enable peoples who were poor to defeat the world's biggest and most expensive military.

Iraq and Afghanistan will be remembered as the two, greatest foreign policy blunders of history. Obama inherited a disaster - and he managed to make it even worse.

One would think the American people would by now be fed up with the results produced by greedy capitalists and paid-for politicians. Many of them are. But the capitalists and their politicians have been largely successful in misrepresenting what has happened.

Their news media have done a good job of playing down the horror they have created, and in putting all the blame on Muslims (with some left over for Mexicans and Blacks.) That's what Trump is about. That's what Ted Cruz is about. That, most especially, is what Hillary Clinton is about.

I don't suggest by all this that the Russians and Chinese are nicer than us. What they have been, so far, is more intelligent than us. All sides have yet to realize that the nation-state as we know it has had its day.   We can no longer afford to live under a structure that has always served the rich, and has done even that with massive incompetence and corruption.
I have often referred to the effect that our concept of history has on our thinking. And that's too bad because so much of it is false. It has to be. In my first teaching job (grade seven), I was reprimanded for mentioning how long ago it was that dinosaurs roamed this earth.  Apparently, two very religious parents were angry because their Bible reading told them that the earth wasn't created yet at that time.

Since I was also required to do a Bible reading, it's a good thing I never read them Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

History is often used to teach patriotism or national pride. But that's not what history is about. It's about what actually happened. But when we read history or, more especially, when we see it on TV or in film, we usually get a false sense of it.

Last night, I watched a bit of some TV flic called Vikings. They were a scruffy bunch - unwashed, messy, brutal. In fact, Vikings were the dandies of their time. They washed almost every week - this in a Europe in which most never washed at all. They kept their hair neat.

Yes, some raided and slaughtered. But most were enterpreneurs who carried out their voyages of discovery to create trade links. Those who went to the Arctic, for example, were looking for polar bears (cubs) which found a hot market among the private zoos of European aristocrats.

Scots, many of whom have Viking in their DNA, take enormous pride in their kilts with 'ancient' family tartans. In fact, the idea of the kilt originated  with a factory owner of the mid-1700s who needed cheap clothing for his workers. As for the family Tartan, that developed out of a fancy of Queen Victoria about 1860. And the dish called the haggis doesn't come from the Scots. It's from the Roman Empire. The bagpipe was Roman, too.

My mother, a daughter of the Highlands, taught me that Scotland was the only nation in the world that had never been conquered. Um, well, the Romans certainly made mince meat out of the land we call Scotland. They gave it up only because the troops were needed elsewhere. In fairness, though, the Scots of that time weren't really Scottish. The real Scots came later. They were an Irish tribe called (seriously) Scottis.

Then I watched part of a TV western series called The Young Riders. Gunfights are a regular feature, with the boys shooting two guns at a time, and staring down opponents for the quick draw. None of that ever happened. The west was far less violent than that. Only an idiot would shoot two revolvers at a time. And the quick draw shootout never happened - until movies.

Then there are the heroes of Alamo like Davie Crockett and Jim Bowie who died patriotically and bravely defending the Alamo against the Spanish army. There are many holes in this one.

1. It wasn't much of a fight because most of the 'heroes' were drunk at the time.
2. They were in Mexican territory at the time.
3. They had entered Mexico as land speculators and slave traders. (yes, including Crockett).
4. Slavery was illegal in Mexico.
5. So they had been ordered to leave, and they refused to.
6. That's why the Mexican army attacked them.

I was very young at the time of Dunkirk. But I remember the terror of the adults around me, and then the reassuring stories of the bravery of the British troops, of the small, family boats that went out from England to save them, and of the saving of French troops, too. I still remember the movies about it, and the images of soldiers lined up patiently on the beaches, and Stuka dive bombers.
But none of that is really what happened. The British army was both large and relatively well-equipped in that episode of 1940. But it was also horribly demoralized and out of control and in a panic. That's why it was decided to evacuate them. But the decision was not told to the Belgians or the French. The British simply abandoned them, and fled to Dunkirk.

Once at Dunkirk they savaged the town, raping women, looting- with particular attention to the liquor. Then, thoroughly drunk, they headed down to the beach. In addition to the naval ships, some small boats did  come from Britain but, usually, the owners refused to go along. They were replaced by sailors.  And many boat owners insisted on being paid for their boats before they would hand them over.

The French soldiers who escaped with them were just those in the area who found out that the British were fleeing, and who managed to get onto the last boats.

Can you imagine how parents would have rioted it I had taught that to grade 7?
It's all in an excellent book by Nicholas Harman, Dunkirk, The Patriotic Myth.
I well remember the school play for grade 7 when I was a student. Years later, I would teach it to a grade 7. I was a story by a clerical historian, Reverend Lionel Groulx whose vision of Quebec history shaped generation. I remember the play and the story well.

Some 40, valiant men in the Montreal of New France volunteered to canoe their way up the Ottawa River to intercept an Iroquois army headinig to invade Montreal, and army that they knew would almost certainly kill all the courageous volunteers. (The Montrealers were accompanied by Huron allies. But they never figure much in the history books.)

About 60 kilometres up the Ottawa, they encountered and attacked a small group of Iroquois. But behind that small group of Iroquois was a big group of Iroquois who soon wiped out Dollard des Ormeaux and his followers.  (Wisely, none of my Decarie ancestors had volunteered for the trip.)

The hole in this history should be obvious. If a huge Iroquois army was coming to attack Montreal, why on earth send some of the Montrealers out to sure death. They would have been more effective if kept behind city walls as defenders.

Obviously, the story is a lie.

But it's still taught.

The truth is that the Iroquois traded with western tribes to get furs they could sell to the British in New York. Dollard's mission was to find a small group of Iroqois, kill them, and steal their furs. He had no idea all those other Iroquois were right behind them.

The trouble with this sort of history is that it affects how we think of ourselves and of others. It makes us see ourselves as, almost racially, brave and honourable. It creates images of us as being heroic, in the  tradition of Davey Crockett or Dollard - and always the victims but never the instigators of wars - and never brutally cruel.

When was the last time you saw a movie about mass torture by the U.S.? How much of that story gets taught in our schools? How much of it even appears in our news media? Where are the movies and books about murder and torture and mass killing that we have taken part in?

 Exactly who was our air force killing until recently in Iraq and Syria? And what Canadian purpose was this serving?

How many Canadians have even heard of our internment of Japanese Canadians in 1942? I met many of the survivors of that. They held in their anger and humiliation but, oh, I soon realized how deeply they felt it. I once had a brief conversation ( on a different subject) with David Suzuki. He was interned as a very young child. And even in a short conversation, I could feel the anger that boiled in  him. It was something I had learned to be aware of among my Japanese-Canadian friends.

Our version of history shapes how we see ourselves. It also shapes how we see others. Remember this poetic gem from the U.S.?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
 The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

It's a portrait of an America that welcomed the immigrants, and offered them a better life. It has had a powerful influence on how Americans see themselves. And it's all crap.

An industrializing America welcomed immigrants who would live and work for the cheapest rate in some of the most vile living and working conditions known to humanity. There was even a bonus for the wealthy in it. Cheap immigrant labour would force the American working class to accept lower wages, too.
And, even at that, not all immigrants were welcome. Some Jews and East Europeans made it. Irish in both Canada and the U.S. were accepted with reluctance.atBut they weren't welcome. And most orientals and Blacks had no chance whatever of getting in.

History, in its many forms, shapes the way we think of ourselves. It also shapes the way we see others. Westerners have a powerful image of Muslims as backward and primitive. They have no sense whatever that Islam was a high form of civilization when Europe was still in the dark ages.

It's worth reading some histories that break the myths. Here's a starter list.

Fogel and Engirma, Time on the Cross
John Perry, Myths and Realities of American Slavery
James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me.
James Lawrence, The Golden Warrior- Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.

The last one was a heartbreaker for me. From the age of six, I had been memorizing Rudyard Kipling without realizing the racism and worship of killing that characterized his poems. When I was eleven or twelve, I read Lawrence of Arabia, and thought he must have been the greatest thing since sliced bread.

 Then I read the truth about him.

We can't think and decide properly until we learn to spot lies all around us - in our news media, films, TV - and even in our poetry. And until we make it a habit to look for reading that is truthful.

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