Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why There is No Such Thing as a "Humanitarian" War

President Barack Obama became the fourth president in a row to authorize military action in Iraq, on Thursday. Obama ordered airstrikes over the region in retaliation to increased aggression by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS, a newly-formed branch of al-Qaeda. The president hinted over the weekend of further U.S. actions to come.

But fear not: This is strictly a "humanitarian" mission. We know this because, in addition to the countless Hellfire missiles the U.S. is raining down over Iraq, we are also dropping food packages for the Iraqi people. Hence, the New York Times headline the following day (Fri, 08/08/2014) reads, "U.S. Drops Food Aid to Iraqi Refugees; Militants Bombed." (The headline to the online version of the article differs from the print edition.)

This is what reporters typically refer to as "Burying the lead."

Indeed, given the similarity of Obama's actions to those of George H. W. Bush in the 1991 Gulf War, combined with the fact that the top-grossing movie in the country is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Americans may be forgiven for thinking they may have stumbled into some sort of time-warp. Relax: It's merely a glitch in the Matrix.

Just to review: The hostage situation in Iraq is a "humanitarian crisis," which "necessitates" a U.S. response. Yet, when Israel slaughters close to 2,000 Palestinian women, children, and civilians, well, that is just Israel exercising its "right to defend itself." It is a curious hypocrisy, worth reflecting on.

While many progressive commentators now lament Obama's sudden "shift in strategy" over Iraq, the truth is he never really was the anti-war champion the press has made him out to be. Candidate-Obama said himself, "I don't oppose all wars... What I am opposed to is a dumb war."

In fact, that one vaunted speech essentially constitutes the extent of Obama's supposed "criticism" of the Iraq War. And even despite his misgivings about the war, as a U.S. Senator, Obama dutifully voted for every single supplemental war-funding bill that came up during his term.

Likewise, the media narrative that Obama ended George W. Bush's war in Iraq is also an outright lie. Sure, he pulled some--but certainly not all--of the military forces out of Iraq. But the remaining 30,000 "non-combat troops" as well as private mercenary operatives like Blackwater/Xe, have allowed the brutal U.S. occupation of Iraq to continue all along. 

In fact, it is likely our initial 2003 invasion of Iraq, as well as our unwavering support for U.S. puppet Nouri al-Maliki, led to the creation of ISIS in the first place. Our latest terrorist bogeymen--just like al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden--are born out of our own imperialist overreach and shortsighted alliances. In our insatiable quest for global empire and corporate profits we, like Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, unwittingly sow the seeds of our own destruction.

The CIA has a term for these sorts of unintended consequences: "Blowback." 

To be certain, the situation in Iraq is dire. ISIS's takeover of the Mosul Dam in the town of Sinjar has sent tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees fleeing the area.

And so the inevitable question arises: "What should we do?" The goal of "humanitarian intervention" is a longstanding "go-to" rationale for waging war. (Comparing the enemy to Hitler is also popular with war-makers.) And it is one traditionally embraced and supported by supposedly "anti-war" progressives. Indeed, Bill Clinton's bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 was sold to the public as just this type of "humanitarian" intervention.

Yet, even when these sorts of humanitarian interventions are launched out of a genuine desire to stop violence, end human rights abuses, and save lives, they rarely achieve any of these goals. If anything, bombing civilians in an effort to save them tends to make matters worse.

As blogger and anti-war activist, David Swanson writes of the Iraq War in his 2010 self-published book, War is a Lie, 
Rather than "spreading freedom" with bombs and guns, what would have been wrong with spreading knowledge? If learning leads to the development of democracy, why not spread education? Why not provide funding for children's health and schools, instead of melting the skin off children with white phosphorous? (96)

Glenn Greenwald, writing at The Intercept.org ("U.S. 'Humanitarian' Bombing of Iraq: A Redundant Presidential Ritual," 08/08/14) concurs, pointing out the historical repetition of the so-called "humanitarian" war. He writes:

"Humanitarianism" is the pretty packaging in which all wars...are wrapped, but it is almost never the actual purpose. There are often numerous steps the U.S. could take to advance actually [sic] humanitarian goals, but those take persistence and resources, and entail little means of control, and are thus usually ignored in favor of blowing things and people up with Freedom Bombs.

Finally, the utter hypocrisy implicit in the very concept of a "humanitarian intervention" is, again, worth noting. Quite simply, if the United States truly desires to be the exalted "Cop of the World," then we cannot pick and choose which victims we save. We cannot, within the span of the same week, bankroll Israel's latest horrific onslaught of the Palestinians, but claim the Kurds are somehow more worthy of our help.

Is the crisis in Gaza not deserving of "humanitarian intervention"? Where are the "targeted airstrikes" and "precision bombings" over Israel? (Cue anti-Semitism accusations in five, four, three...)

The rank hypocrisy of the American military empire--wherein we strategically pick and choose which atrocities to condemn and which to condone as if the globe is one giant chessboard--reminds me of my favorite line in Stanley Kubrick's classic film, Dr. Strangelove. "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here!" declares Peter Sellers's U.S. President. "This is the war room!"

In the end, as Kubrick as well as Catch-22 author, Joseph Heller observed, all war amounts to little more than such contradictory absurdities.

War--whether it takes the traditional form of ground-soldiers and tanks, or that of modern high-tech weaponry like drones and "precision" bombings--is never a force for good. It does not save or "liberate" citizens, no matter how oppressed they may be.

This is not to suggest we do nothing to squelch the very real and deadly violence carried out by ISIS. But to insist, as so many do, that our only conceivable options are one of two polar extremes--War and Passivity-- constitutes an abysmal failure of imagination. Indeed, it is a damning indictment of civilized man--and so-called human "progress"--when war and mass killing are deemed our only acceptable means of resolving international conflicts.

Albert Einstein put it best. "War cannot be humanized," he said. "It can only be abolished."

Monday, August 4, 2014

Striking Market Basket Workers Rally Behind CEO

The actions of Market Basket workers in the last two weeks have been nothing short of remarkable. They have single-handedly--without any union support--shutdown the Massachusetts-based grocery store chain. Like last year's fast-food worker strikes, and the growing "Fight for $15" campaign, the Market Basket walkout is another encouraging sign that low-wage workers have finally reached their limit.

Employees at Market Basket stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Biddeford, Maine are striking in protest of CEO and family heir, Arthur T. Demoulas's ouster. In the latest escalation of a decades-long family feud between Demoulas and his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas over company ownership, Arthur T. ("Artie T." as Market Basket employees affectionately refer to him) was forced out of the family business in a corporate ouster last month.

The Demoulas brothers are heirs to the Market Basket franchise, which originally opened in Lowell, Mass., as Demoulas Super Market in 1917. Market Basket is known throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire for its low prices.

The Biddeford store, which opened last summer, was originally intended to be the first of many in Maine. However, the strike has put any plans for additional stores on hold, indefinitely. Striking workers at all 71 Market Basket locations are encouraging customers to boycott the stores until the situation is resolved.

(Given the lack of union involvement, the protest at Market Basket cannot, technically, be considered an actual "strike." Regardless, many employees are refusing to work until their demands are met--which is essentially the same concept as a labor strike. As such, I use the word "strike" here loosely.)

Market Basket associates now worry their worker benefits--which include profit-sharing options, regular bonuses, and generous sick leave/vacation time--may be in danger. These benefits--which are highly uncommon in the retail industry--are not limited to full-time employees. Part-time workers are eligible for them, as well.

But beyond what some may perceive as motivations of purely personal self-interest, Market Basket workers want to retain their boss because he is, by all accounts, a really great guy.

"Artie T. is a man of integrity," Pat Berry, one of the striking workers at the Biddeford store, told me. "He is a humble leader who takes care of his employees."

Berry is clearly not the only one who thinks so. In fact, nobody seems to have anything bad to say about Demoulas.

Instead, I heard repeated stories of him visiting sick workers in the hospital, of attending funerals for employees or their families, and, on happier occasions, watching associates graduate from high school or college. During the Biddeford store's grand opening about a year ago, Berry recalled, it took Demoulas a full hour to walk from the outside ceremony to the inside of the store because he wanted to personally shake hands with every single person present.

Many of the striking workers held signs that read, "Bring back our 'Daddy,'" referring to Demoulas. Another stated, "Arthur T. is for MB & you and me." A number of workers talked of Market Basket as a "family."

To be certain, Demoulas seems like a relic from a bygone era: A sincere, compassionate boss who actually cares about his employees. Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests most professional managers today are, quite literally, psychopaths. At a time when the average corporate CEO makes 330 times the average worker, according to a 2013 study by the AFL-CIO's Executive Paywatch, it is not hard to see why Demoulas is so loved.

As recent story in the Boston Globe (07/31/2014) notes:

The employee rallies on behalf of Arthur T. constitute an extraordinary show of support for a multimillionaire chief executive in an era when most corporate workers barely know their CEOs and would be loath to risk their jobs on behalf of top executives.

But here is what the corporate media won't tell you: The workers are winning.

Last week, Market Basket's co-chief executives warned it would start laying off striking employees who do not return to work by Monday, Aug. 4. The store is hemorrhaging millions of dollars a day, especially in wasted food. Threats of job-losses--however real--aside, this means the walkouts are having an effect. The Market Basket workers have successfully disrupted business as usual. The corporate chieftains are, predictably, angry.

"On their side the workers had only the Constitution," Mother Jones wrote. "The other side had bayonets."

While I would personally like to see the rallying workers take their demands even further--like pushing for worker ownership of the Market Basket stores, for instance--the protests are nonetheless interesting to watch unfold. Taken alongside the "Fight for $15" campaign, they represent yet another sign Americans are fed-up with low-pay, increased hours for decreased benefits, hyper-corporatization, and even, in some cases, capitalism itself.

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle remains the ultimate muckraking expose of the soul-crushing plight of the immigrant working-class in the unsanitary Chicago slaughterhouses. While the book became best known for its revealing, insider account of the lax health regulations rampant in turn-of-the-century industrial America, The Jungle is first and foremost a searing expose of the social injustice inherent in capitalism.

Sinclair writes of the plight of the meat factory workers:

Here is a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers; under such circumstances, immorality is exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it is under the system of chattel slavery.

Solidarity forever!

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