The pageantry of Joe Bageantry, or, we
gotta get America straightened out

by G.S.  <george.salzman@umb.edu>
July 16, 2005

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2005-07-16.htm

      We’re in deep shit, and we better face it. Mindless flag-waving and patriotic Fourth-of-July hoopla just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to getting a grip on what we damn well better do if we really want our children’s grandchildren to have any possibility of a decent life. Figuring out what to do, and then just plain doing it – turning the rudder wheel of history 180° around from Armageddon towards global survival – needs a gigantic effort.[1] Joe Bageant is one American guy who’s put his big shoulder to the wheel and is pushing hard to get the wake-up call out. There are lots of us pushing, but not yet enough. Opposing us and holding as steady a course as they can – maintaining the status quo – are all the forces of titanic capitalism, foremost among them the U.S. government and its corporate media allies, each of which promotes ignorance of the terrible doomsday reality in which we are living, and especially of the damage the U.S. inflicts on the rest of humanity.

      Of course no one of us really knows the answers to: What to do? We all have ideas, and those of us who can, try to get other people to listen and think about the problems. With his string of short essays, Joe Bageant tells it like he sees it, from his working class vantage point in Winchester, Virginia, way up in the northwesternmost tip of the state, northeast of the Shenandoah Valley, almost but not quite in the Appalachian Mountains. His recent “Carpooling with Adolph Eichmann” [2] ought to be a wake-up alarm to scare us into action. He’s got me reading Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem,[3] a searching report on the obscenity of mass casual acceptance of the dehumanization of “other” people and their destruction. Then, as the Third Reich defined them, the “other” people: first among them the disabled, then Gypsies, Jews and other undesirables; now, as the U.S. and Israeli governments single them out, they’re Arabs, Muslims, Islamic extremists.

      Before turning to Bageant and Arendt, I want to mention a bit of what I think and am actually doing to try to spur the reversal of our historical trajectory.

First, part of what I’m doing.
      I'm diverting as much wealth as I can away from the U.S. government and into socially constructive efforts. Last year I paid $6,506 in income taxes to the Federal government, and contributed $63,550 [4] towards building the grassroots infrastructure, primarily for the purposes indicated in 3. and 4. below. The ratio is 63,550 ÷ 6,506 = 9.7, i.e. almost 10 times as much towards building the world I want as for the largely destructive activities of the U.S. government.

Then, some thoughts.[5]
      1. Until a large majority of Americans realize how we’re being screwed, the dominant social forces will continue imposing military and economic wars on the world, and economic war on the poor and the dwindling group of middle-class Americans.
      2. Our major initial task is to overcome widespread ignorance due mainly to corporate ownership of nearly all the media – radio, television, movies, and print (newspapers, magazines and book publishers).
      3. We need a vast, truly independent grassroots communications and news infrastructure that will include all forms of media, in order to effectively displace corporate media.
      4. To build that infrastructure we must have resources of all kinds, including material wealth, which is absolutely essential.
      5. The major, and probably only source of that wealth is the part of the population which is neither very rich nor in dire economic conditions, essentially what in the U.S. we loosely call the middle class.

      And now to Joe Bageant and Hannah Arendt.

Adolph Eichmann as icon for today

      As usual, Otto Adolph Eichmann left work at the Mercedes-Benz factory in the Suarez suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina on May 11, 1960.[6] A few months earlier that year he “and his elder sons finished building a primitive brick house in one of the poor suburbs of Buenos Aires – no electricity, no running water – where he, his wife and their four children settled down. They must have been very poor, and Eichmann must have led a dreary life, for which not even the children could compensate, for they showed ‘absolutely no interest in being educated and did not even try to develop their so-called talents.’”

      As he got off the bus that evening on his way home, at 6:30, Eichmann “was seized by three men and, in less than a minute, bundled into a waiting car, which took him to a previously rented house in a remote suburb of Buenos Aires.” He “immediately recognized that this was professional work, as no unnecessary violence had been applied; he was not hurt. Asked who he was, he instantly said: ‘Ich bin Adolf Eichmann,’ and, surprisingly, added: ‘I know I am in the hands of the Israelis.’ (He later explained that he had read in some newspaper of Ben-Gurion’s order that he be found and caught.” [7]

      Nine days after his kidnapping by agents of the Israeli government, during eight of which, Arendt says, Eichmann was tied to a bed, he was smuggled onto an El-Al airplane and flown to Israel. On May 22 (11 days after his kidnapping) he arrived in Jerusalem. (Chronology all from Arendt)

      Hannah Arendt’s fascinating reportage (she went on behalf of The New Yorker magazine) is rich in detail, not only with an account of the facts that provide the context for this famous show trial (for that is what it was) but with her speculations about the truth of much of the testimony. Like all of us, she’s an amateur psychiatrist trying to dope out other people’s psyches, and probably as good at it as professionally-credentialed psychiatrists, about whose ‘findings’ I also have plenty of reservations. But at least she presents her conjectures honestly, not as ‘found facts’. The most striking and deeply troubling ‘fact’ that emerges from her book, on which she and everyone in close contact with Eichmann during and after the trial agreed, is that he was absolutely sane. As she writes,[8]
Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him as “normal” ― “More normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him,” one of them was said to have exclaimed, while another had found that his whole psychological outlook, his attitude toward his wife and children, mother and father, brothers, sister, and friends, was “not only normal but most desirable” ― and finally the minister who had paid regular visits to him in prison after the Supreme Court had finished hearing his appeal reassured everybody by declaring Eichmann to be “a man with very positive ideas.” Behind the comedy of the soul experts lay the hard fact that his was obviously no case of moral let alone legal insanity.”

      It was of course that realization which gave Joe Bageant the idea for titling his own explorations on contemporary life in America “Carpooling with Adolph Eichmann: Dark mutterings from the sidelines on Michelle Malkin's tush, Prozac cookies and our disturbing sort of sanity.” He prefaces his powerful essay with a quote from Raids on the Unspeakable by Thomas Merton, the French-born American Trappist monk and prolific writer:

Adolf Eichmann was thoughtful, orderly, and unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system, for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great state. He served his government very well. 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, and destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.

Bageant begins his own “dark mutterings” as follows:

One of the most unsettling things about this country is that the following people are considered perfectly sane by American standards: Dick Cheney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Deepak Chopra, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Pat Robertson, Grover Nordquist, and Michelle Malkin. See anybody in that list even remotely normal? Every one of them lives in an egomaniacal la-la-land of his or her imagination and manages to get paid to do it. Believe me when I say that just about any face you see on your television or in the newspaper is a nutjob. I used to interview such freaks for a living. Of course, given that American journalists and interviewers have become mindless suck-asses, I understand that I may have a credibility problem here. But onward!

Any culture that spends as much money as we do on ugly cars, fast food and liposuction cannot possibly be sane.

Sizing ourselves up: Are we all “little Eichmans”?

      I’m pretty damn sure that if you’ve read this far, your reaction to that question is most likely an angry “Hell no, I’m not!” None of us would welcome the stigma that attaches to Eichmann’s name. Of course, the job he had, arranging for railroad cars and scheduling the transportation so that millions of people could be efficiently taken from their communities in many parts of Europe to the concentration and extermination camps of Nazi Germany, doesn’t exist in America today, and hopefully never will.

      The searing truth, however, is that the United States today is a vast killing machine, practically all of whose victims live and die outside the national borders, as Eichmann said about the camps in Poland, in dem Ausland. At the moment much of the killing with military weapons goes on in Iraq and Afghanistan, but client regimes, for example those in Haiti and Colombia, and paramilitary groups such as those in Mexico, working in many cases with support by government agencies, police and military, continue with their policies of repression and murder, making the world safe for American corporate exploitation. Nor is this a recent development. In his study, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II,[9] William Blum documents over a half century of overt and covert U.S. military-type agression.

U.S. economic aggression

      Moreover, the military prowess of the United States protects economic aggression, directly in cases of economic embargoes such as those against Cuba and Iraq, the latter until recently, but also indirectly by monetary and market manipulations of third world countries through “reforms” forced on them by the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund. John Perkins, whose book Confessions of an Economic Hitman: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions,[10] was interviewed by David Brancaccio on the PBS NOW program on March 4, 2005.[11] In explaining why Osama bin Laden is regarded as a hero in much of Latin America, as a David standing up against a Goliath, Perkins said,

Twenty-four thousand people die every day from lack of nutrition. Thirty thousand children die every single day from – diseases for which we have cures. For which we have medicines. And that shouldn't be happening. It doesn't need to happen. That's over 50,000 people every single day dying terrible, painful, awful, needless deaths. So 3,000 at the World Trade Center was atrocious, terrible; 200,000 or whatever [from] the tsunami is atrocious and terrible. And they make the news. But these 50,000 plus that die every single day needlessly, don't ever make the news. And their families and the people in those countries are very angry. Because we could prevent that. And in fact, our policies and especially many of our corporate policies, foster those kinds of conditions that create situations where those people are dying of lack of nutrition and lack of medicines.

      Of course the United States is not responsible for all 50,000 needless daily deaths, but because of its pre-eminent dominance in the global capitalist system, it is responsible for by far the major part of the “non-military slaughter.” All of us who live in the U.S. and who indulge indiscriminately, unconsciously, in the incredible consumption of the world’s wealth that characterizes the U.S. (and other “first world” nations) are participating, by our actions and our inactions, in support of the system. To that extent, we are complicit. Our complicity is not as blatant as that of the money manipulators, the technicians of global capitalism who, with clean fingers and well-trimmed fingernails, sitting at electronic keyboards in air-conditioned offices in the World Trade Center, met their gruesome, dramatic deaths that September 11th in 2001.

      Robert Fisk, the mideast correspondent of The Independent, wrote on June 18, 2005 on “our complicity.” Although he focussed on torture, which is “only” part of the total aggression, and did so from the perspective of Britons rather than Americans, the issue of complicity is the same, the complicity of the multitude of “little Eichmanns” who keep the wheels lubricated and turning. His article, titled “We are all complicit in these vile acts of torture – but what can we do about it?” [12], begins, “If our government uses information drained out of these creatures, it is we who are holding the whips.”

      Fisk asks the most crucially important question: What can we do about it? That is, How can we stop being a nation of “little Eichmanns”? As I see it, the answer is in three more or less distinct parts. First, we need to end our widespread ignorance. Second, we must figure out what actions to take to change U.S. policy. Third, once we understand the truth, and have figured out appropriate actions, we have to act.

      Many dedicated people, for example, Robert Fisk, William Blum, Tom Englehart, Mark Bruzonsky, Noam Chomsky, Alberto Giordano, Jeffrey Blankfort, Bill Templer, James Herod, Howard Zinn, Uri Avnery, Immanuel Wallerstein, Jeffrey St Clair, Alexander Cockburn, Ignacio Chapela, Daniel Feder, James Petras, Mustafa Barghouti, Juan Cole, Anuradha Roy, Mazin Qumsiyeh and John Pilger, to mention but a tiny handful, devote themselves to the enormous first task, ending the ignorance. This effort has made great progress in the last thirty or so years with the development of grassroots-based communication infrastructure, and especially rapidly with the growing widespread availability of the global internet system.

      Among those who have a fundamental understanding of the reason for today’s reality, i.e. why the world is so fucked-up, the individual whose efforts to formulate a way to actually make changes, and whose influence on me has been greatest, is James Herod. His major essay, “Getting Free: A sketch of an association of democratic, autonomous neighborhoods and how to create it”,[13] is well worth taking as a starting point for initiating constructive changes.

      We have a mighty struggle facing us, and we haven’t yet even completed the first task, becoming, as Chomsky would likely say it, thoroughly disillusioned, that is, free of all illusions about the reality in which we live, illusions assiduously promoted by the professional liars in government and the corporate media. William Blum, in his Anti-Empire report of July 14, 2005 considers the psychological impact of these lies: [14]

…what is the excuse for the fantasies of present-day Republicans?

Like Vice President Dick Cheney, revealing unsuspected gifts as a humorist by declaring in June that prisoners at the US detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba are well treated. "They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want."{5}

Not to be outdone, Congressman Duncan Hunter of California held a news conference a few days later concerning Guantánamo. Displaying some yummy traditional meals, he said the government spends $12 a day for food for each person. "So the point is that the inmates in Guantánamo have never eaten better, they've never been treated better, and they've never been more comfortable in their lives than in this situation.{6}

Normally, I don't bother commenting on the tales told by the dial-a-lie Bushpeople; such stuff is as surprising and newsworthy as Paris Hilton posing in scanty attire. But what I find interesting is how well the Bushpeople have grasped a fundamental truth, first given great currency by a certain Mr. A. Hitler, originally of Austria. This individual, though often castigated, actually arrived at a number of very perceptive insights into how the world worked. One of them was this:

"The great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil ... therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big."{7}

Can it be doubted that many Americans who heard or read the remarks of Cheney or Hunter found it very difficult to believe that they were out-and-out lies? And the next time these good citizens encounter charges of abuse at Guantánamo, they will be skeptical. It works.

{5} CNN.com, June 23, 2005

{6} Scripps Howard News Service, June 28, 2005, column by Reg Henry

{7} Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1971; original version 1925), Vol. 1, chapter 10, p.231

      So Adolph Hitler was also an amateur psychologist, naturally, and not a bad one, (except for his contemptuous “view of the primitive simplicity of their minds”) and Germany was peopled in part by many “little Eichmanns”, who were complicit. As is the United states today. Thanks Joe for stimulating me to think more about these critical life-and-death issues.

Notes

[1] These ideas are explored in a series of essays, ten so far, "Building a Global Grassroots Infrastructure". They are linked to from essay No. 7, titled "Building the Global Grassroots Infrastructure, a task both local and global", which is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Infra/Infra-7.htm

[2] "Carpooling with Adolph Eichmann: Dark mutterings from the sidelines on Michelle Malkin's tush, Prozac cookies and our disturbing sort of sanity" is at http://www.coldtype.net/Assets.05/Essays/06.Joe.carpoolpdf.pdf in the most "stylish" format. If pdf files aren't readable or convenient with your computer, you can see it posted at http://www.dissidentvoice.org/May05/Bageant0523.htm and at http://www.smirkingchimp.com/article.php?sid=21187. The Smirking Chimp site posting is very interesting because Bageant's essay is followed by a raft of readers' comments (and comments on the comments).

[3] Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, by Hannah Arendt, originally published 1963, revised and enlarged edition 1964, Penguin (New York).

[4] Contributions in 2004 are posted at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Trust/2004Contributions.rtf

[5] In addition to the essays in endnote [1] there is extensive discussion elsewhere on the website, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/index.htm

[6] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, op. cit.

[7] David Ben-Gurion was the Israeli Prime Minister. Eichmann had been an important administrator in the transportation of Jews and other undesirables (as designated by the Nazi regime) from where they lived to concentration centers and extermination camps. Arendt writes, “Eichmann was caught by American soldiers [I think this was right after the end of the war] and put in a camp for S.S. [Schützstaffeln, which literally would translate, I think, to security squadron] men, where numerous interrogations failed to uncover his identity . . .
    “In November, 1945, the trials of the major war criminals opened . . . and Eichmann’s name began to appear with uncomfortable regularity. . . He escaped from the camp . . .”, and lived under an assumed name in Germany during the remainder of the Nuremberg Trials and after. The Wikipedia site page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_Trials contains the following: The Nuremberg Trials is the general name for two sets of trials of Nazis involved in World War II and the Holocaust. The trials were held in the German city of Nuremberg from 1945 to 1949 at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice . The first and most famous of these trials was the Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal or IMT, which tried twenty-four of the most important captured (or still believed to be alive) leaders of Nazi Germany. It was held from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. The second set of trials of lesser war criminals was conducted under Control Council Law No. 10 at the U.S. Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT), including the famous Doctors' Trial.
    In May 1950 Eichmann went from Germany to Austria and on to Italy, where he got a forged passport, and arrived in Buenos Aires in mid-July that year, at age 44.

[8] Arendt, pp. 25-26.

[9] William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II, updated edition, 2004, Common Courage Press, P.O.Box 702, Monroe, ME 04951.

[10] John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions. The interview is at http://www.pbs.org/now/printable/transcriptNOW109_full_print.html (I just checked this link, July 16, 2005, and the transcript is no longer there, but you can see it at http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/11/09/1526251)

[11] John Perkins eventual appearance on the PBS NOW program is explained in my earlier posting, “Telling it like it is: Amy Goodman, John Perkins, Mark Bruzonsky ? they don't soft-pedal the truth”, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Notz/2005-03-18.htm

[12] Robert Fisk’s article, “We are all complicit in these vile acts of torture – but what can we do about it?”, is at http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article226286.ece

[13] “Getting Free: A sketch of an association of democratic, autonomous neighborhoods and how to create it”, is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/GetFre/C.htm

[14] William Blum, Anti-Empire report of July 14,2005, is not yet posted (as of July 15 ) but should soon be at http://members.aol.com/bblum6/aer23.htm

--G.S.

All comments and criticisms are welcome.    <george.salzman@umb.edu>

If you want me to add or remove your name from my e-mail
distribution list, please let me know.

*      *      *
Return to the opening screen of this sub-folder, Discussion of Strategy for Revolution
Return to the opening screen of the folder Strategy for Revolution
Return to the opening screen of the Website

Last update of this page: August 6, 2005