Tom Engelhardt should be well known to anyone who’s looked online for information on U.S. militarism during the past several years. His website, TomDispatch.com, has been invaluable, publishing new articles every few days, either edited by Tom (I’ve written a few of those myself) or written by Tom. And it’s Tom’s own writing, I’m sure, that brings people back.
If a person could approach you on the street, gently caress your cheek, and walk away leaving you with the feeling of having been violently slapped and dowsed with a bucket of ice water, they would approximate Tom Engelhardt’s writing, including that in his newest book “The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s.” And it’s all perfectly composed, edited, and triple-proof-read. So, here today is our unique chance to read Tom Engelhardt unscripted by asking him about just about anything related to our wars, our empire, our media, or probably any other topic. I can’t imagine Tom Engelhardt lacking for an insightful and informative opinion on anything.
But much of what he writes in his latest book, or at least what most strikes me, is his insistence on showing us things we ought to have already seen and really haven’t. He asks us to quietly pause and marvel in silence, or to ponder along with him, the perverse and unnatural wonder that is our war-based society and our war-based economy, beginning perhaps with the wonder that we live in these things unknowingly. Engelhardt’s writing in this new book puts into historical context, and into the context of possible alternatives some of our more bizarre/mundane phenomena, including, among much else:
–The crimes of 9-11, how our culture was prepared for such a thing, how differently we might have taken it had the buildings not fallen, and how readily and outrageously we transformed a crime into a war. Engelhardt reminds us of a White House press conference at which a reporter asked President Bush whether he really was considering declaring war on an individual. (The concern for this reporter, of course, was not with presidents declaring wars, but with the nature of the proposed enemy.)
–The insanity of the response to 9-11 that has been building for almost nine years in what we never before would have tolerated anyone calling “the homeland.”
–The empire of military bases the United States has spread around the globe, which occupy (pun intended) such a central position in the motivations of everything our government does and in the understanding that most of humanity has of us, but of which we are almost entirely unaware.
–The empire of 17 competing and catastrophically bad “intelligence” agencies in the U.S. government. If we can’t pause and wonder at this world of public but unaccountable crime, we are probably beyond the point of recovery.
–The nature of aerial bombing, the horrific murdering and torturing done by the bombs, and the sick spell that has convinced people that dropping bombs is moral and right, while retail scale killing and torturing is barbarous and evil.
–The exaggerated attention paid to certain dangers, like terrorism, as compared to much greater dangers, like illnesses and preventable accidents. If you wonder about this one too much you may begin to suspect that the libertarian denunciation of government may only ever be strong enough to defund workplace safety, environmental protection, and healthcare, whereas the funding of wars rises or falls based on acceptance or rejection of much more grandiose myths of good-and-evil created specifically to counter our usual distaste for unnecessary deaths.
Engelhardt draws out what is new, and what is identical to the claims and myths produced during previous wars and empires. And he goes after the degradation of our language. “Terrorism” has been reshaped to mean anti-U.S. activity. (Which explains why the media compares peace activists attacked by the Israeli military to al Qaeda.) Well known and openly discussed wars like our current war in Pakistan are consistently labeled “covert.” And so forth.
Towards the end of the book, we read a truly brilliant speech that Engelhardt tells us President Obama should give but never will. Maybe we could open this discussion by asking Tom to tell us about that speech and why we’ll never hear it.