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Terrorizing the Vulnerable

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America’s Wars of Self-Destruction

Posted on Nov 17, 2008
AP photo / Morry Gash

Troops training for and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are firing more than a billion bullets a year.

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

There are groups and people who seek to do us harm. The attacks of Sept. 11 will not be the last acts of terrorism on American soil. But the only way to defeat terrorism is to isolate terrorists within their own societies, to mount cultural and propaganda wars, to discredit their ideas, to seek concurrence even with those defined as our enemies. Force, while a part of this battle, is rarely necessary. The 2001 attacks that roused our fury and unleashed the “war on terror” also unleashed a worldwide revulsion against al-Qaida and Islamic terrorism, including throughout the Muslim world, where I was working as a reporter at the time. If we had had the courage to be vulnerable, to build on this empathy rather than drop explosive ordinance all over the Middle East, we would be far safer and more secure today. If we had reached out for allies and partners instead of arrogantly assuming that American military power would restore our sense of invulnerability and mitigate our collective humiliation, we would have done much to defeat al-Qaida. But we did not. We demanded that all kneel before us. And in our ruthless and indiscriminate use of violence and illegal wars of occupation, we resurrected the very forces that we could, under astute leadership, have marginalized. We forgot that fighting terrorism is a war of shadows, an intelligence war, not a conventional war. We forgot that, as strong as we may be militarily, no nation, including us, can survive isolated and alone. 

The American empire, along with our wanton self-indulgence and gluttonous consumption, has come to an end. We are undergoing a period of profound economic, political and military decline. We can continue to dance to the tunes of self-delusion, circling the fire as we chant ridiculous mantras about our greatness, virtue and power, or we can face the painful reality that has engulfed us. We cannot reverse this decline. It will happen no matter what we do. But we can, if we break free from our self-delusion, dismantle our crumbling empire and the national security state with a minimum of damage to ourselves and others. If we refuse to accept our limitations, if do not face the changes forced upon us by a bankrupt elite that has grossly mismanaged our economy, our military and our government, we will barrel forward toward internal and external collapse. Our self-delusion constitutes our greatest danger. We will either confront reality or plunge headlong into the minefields that lie before us.

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. His column appears Mondays on Truthdig.


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By dr. blah blah, November 17, 2008 at 6:21 pm Link to this comment
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While most of us are still gloating or bemoaning the fact that the President-elect is not as progressive as we had hoped, I put my ear to the ground and, lo and behold, I could hear the murmurings of the next insane narrative the neo-cons will inflict on the gullible American public.

1.  The Bush regime was not a criminal, war-mongering cabal but a hapless victim of circumstances:

The first and biggest mistake: after the 2000 election, they tried to be uniters with bad consequences.  Because the dems were so partisan instead of grateful, they wound up being just as partisan.  But worse, yet, they kept on part of the Clinton team that had totally failed on terrorism (yes, the likes of the other Dick Clarke) and thus were caught unprepared on 9/11.  Afterwards the American people demanded action, so they were forced to act.  [If facts prevent this from working, the nefarious influence of old Henry Kissinger will be invoked, which may be useful anyhow (see below)].  All other mistakes followed from this first mistake, perhaps admit to some incompetence.

The upshot:  The innocent Bush regime unwittingly seriously weakened the military instead of overseeing the most massive build-up ever that was so desperately needed.

2.  Instead, while we were sleeping, the real enemy engaged in a massive military build-up and soon will be ready to kick our butts.  This enemy is not a medieval Middle Eastern country, but has nuclear weapons and one and a quarter billion of Asian hordes just waiting to invade the American prairies.  Yes, while the People’s Republic of China has been laying relatively low on the world scene, they secretly have considered the United States for a long time as their #1 enemy (at least we are #1 somewhere) and stealthily prepared for the inevitable military confrontation.  So people of the United States: Be very afraid and make sure all your treasure in the future will be spent on the military or else
(here Kissinger’s China connections could be ominously invoked to make this more credible).

All they need is a great communicator to sell this new narrative.  It looks as if the auditioning has already started.

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By Fadel Abdallah, November 17, 2008 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment

Painfully true and truthfully sad, Chris Hedges! However, because I internalize every word of your diagnosis, as if were the one who wrote them, yet, I don’t know what solution to prescribe short of a revolution, which I know will not happen, I have to admit that I feel like I am becoming sadistic, directing my sadism against my own-self because there aren’t enough comrades who are willing to join with me in a revolution to remove the yoke of perpetual ignorance, evil and fear-mongering practiced by heartless politicians who are part of the problem, and not the solution! That includes our latest edition of our first president of color! For the early signs indicate that everything will be business as usual in the White House.

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By Noah, November 17, 2008 at 5:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The irony of this whole warmongering by the American body politic is that anyone who promotes the idea that they have the right to impose their “virtues” on people through killing, brutality and violence has no virtue in himself whatsoever.

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By thebeerdoctor, November 17, 2008 at 5:00 pm Link to this comment

A great piece from Mr. Hedges.

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By KDelphi, November 17, 2008 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment

spiritgirl—Here here! I would like to associate myself with your comments..if I may.

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By Anarcissie, November 17, 2008 at 4:14 pm Link to this comment

I don’t think there is anything particularly American about war, fondness for war, preparation for war, celebration of war, paying for war, feeling sorry about war, mourning the dead of the war, sighing about one’s desire for peace and getting ready for the next war, and so on and so on.  Hateful war, says Homer, while kicking off Western Lit with a long, top-of-the-line poem about it.

Here’s some humor:

Earth might be fair, and all men good and wise.
Age after age their tragic empires rise,
Build while they dream, and in that dreaming weep;
Would man but wake from out his haunted sleep,
Earth might be fair and all men good and wise.

Learned that at an elite school.  If I had stuck with it I could be planning the next draft with Mr. Emanuel.

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By KDelphi, November 17, 2008 at 4:03 pm Link to this comment

I really like reading Hedges. I do not care that he is a christian—he has great insight.

When I read him , for the most part, I find myself going, “True, very true…how true!”

Like a couple of others here, I take issue with the use of the term “evil”-I would submit that , as a pure concept, or action it does not exist.People act and react. I cant explain all actions, but that dosent mean that I can assume that a person with a completely different moral makeup than myself exists behind them.

I am, as they say, not in their shoes—not lack thereof.

He is correct about what we have done, what we shoudl have done, but, doesnt really say what we should “DO”.

I do not know, but, may I suggest that chasing a possibly dead Osama bin Laden al over Afghanistan while carpet bombing civilians , is probably not the correct “response” to an intl war crime—

It is another war crime.

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By cann4ing, November 17, 2008 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment

Hedges’ observations echo those provided by Martin Luther King in his April, 1, 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam.”

“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…we will find ourselves organizing ‘clergy and laymen concerned’ committees for the next generation.  They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru.  They will be concerned Thailand and Cambodia…We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy….

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly begin…the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.


“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values.  There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

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By Spiritgirl, November 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm Link to this comment

Bravo, some of us have seen this brewing for awhile, unfortunately far too many have gotten trapped in an ideological fog and still there they remain.  Yes there has been a complicit pact(quid pro quo) made between the large corporate interests, and both parties that now needs to end!

As progressives, we are the ideas we want!  We must utilize debate and discourse to bear fruit to the ideas that will rebirth this nation!  And if we have learned nothing else over these last 8 years, it is that we need to bring everyone to the table and let them be heard!

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By skulz fontaine, November 17, 2008 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment

War is good. For the profiteers and other members of Congress. Thus it shall EVER be.

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By prole, November 17, 2008 at 2:39 pm Link to this comment

A wonderful sermon by a former “serious seminarian”. Unfortunately, it may be just another fine case of ‘preaching to the choir’.This is all true enough - and familiar enough, even if it does bear reiteration - but like many perspicacious critiques, it leaves off at the most important point, what is to be done? Page 3, with the the seeds of a solution is absent, maybe it is to be continued in future installments. Perhaps part of the solution, or at least a prelude to one, is to limn the problem(s), to dispel misplaced hopes about false messiahs like Obama, or to put to rest any lingering belief in the Democratic Party. Maybe it will still take a while for many self-styled ‘progressives’ to make it even that far, and it can perhaps be a useful nudge to those still laboring under such delusions especially in the manufactured euphoria surrounding the Obama parousia. If, as seems likely, “the corporate forces that control the state will never permit real reform”, what then? What tactics will overcome these obdurate “corporate forces”? What other forces or level of force are necessary, and where is it likely to come from? Or if “the American empire ...has come to an end” (three cheers!) and “We cannot reverse this decline. It will happen no matter what we do”, then can we sit tight content to watch it unfold in inevitable historical determinacy? Perhaps part of the confusion in understanding thenature and extent of the cluster of interrelated problems and pitfalls here is the loose use of the personal pronoun, “we”. Not all, of course, “embrace the dangerous self-delusion that we are on a providential mission to save the rest of the world from itself”; and for many of those that do it’s not a “self-delusion”, it’s a coldly calculated policy designed to further the interests of some despite the costs to others, domestically as well as internationally. In short, “we” are not all in this together equally, nor do we share in the outcomes equally - good or bad. And even though there are better ways “to defeat terrorism”, maintaining a climate of fear and using force may serve some ruling interests better than “the courage to be vulnerable”. While it might be comforting to believe that, “Our self-delusion constitutes our greatest danger”, great as that may be, it’s perhaps still not as great as that posed by certain more sinister elements of this amorphous “we” in America, elements in both the Republican and Democratic parties that are under no “delusions” about the intended consequences of these policies in serving their interests, not “we”. And sadly, many among the ubiquitous middle class in conformist America may actually prefer to cling to a “gluttonous” way of life, no matter the cost to others. So, “If we refuse to accept our limitations, if do not face the changes forced upon us by a bankrupt elite” in principle, what are “we” going to do about it in practice?

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By G.Anderson, November 17, 2008 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment

As always when I read these kinds of articles it is clear to me that man is the problem.

Until the consciousness of mankind changes, man will be forever doomed to a downward spiral, that drags us back from all our hopefull attempts to reach a higher ground.  War is a symptom of mans delusions, and his unconsciousness.

But mankind is also the solution.

When mankind as a whole no longer accepts the violent as sane, and can see beyond the vanity, the narcissim of their acts, and those symbols that clothe them in acceptability, then no one will fight in a war.

When people no longer give themselves unconsciously over to violence, then we will be free of it. Just like we are free of Polio, Small Pox and all the rest of our plagues.

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By Mark, November 17, 2008 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“As a consequence, the absence of self-awareness that forms such an enduring element of the American character persists”

Bacevich very nearly hits the nail on the head. He’s touched upon the main shortcoming of Americans, and the whole human race.

To wit:
Self-awareness requires the individual to engage in introspection.

Introspection (if honestly performed) will oftentimes lead the individual to conclude that, to some extent, but not always, he may have had a hand in creating the persons and circumstances which now “afflict” him.

Putting it another way, that the subject individual is not blameless, but culpable, on some level for the mess he finds himself in.

Accepting that conclusion is beyond the ability of most people, especially when the subject individual perceives that his “antagonist” will not similarly afford him the benefit of the doubt.
The subject thinks:“Imagine my embarassment if I’m the one who is the first to appear conciliatory and offer understanding, and my opponent rejects it?My opponent (and any third party onlookers)will perceive me as weak?”

Fear then begins to dictate the path.

Far easier, and therefore “better” to chuck the whole self-awareness exercise. Come out shooting with all guns blazing, reject any possibility of my own culpability, paint myself as the victim of an unprovoked attack and actively promote my version of the “facts” to anyone within earshot.

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By writeon, November 17, 2008 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment
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War, is Hell. That sounds like a cliche, yet I don’t mean, it’s wrong or just bad. I mean it’s literally, Hell. Hell on earth. Hell as a creation of man. Creating Hell on earth. It’s a negation of everything we should be as sentient human beings. We turn ourselves willingly into little more than beasts, in a terrible ritual of blood and destruction.

We fashion a nightmare world for ourselves, an irrational world bathed in blood. Babarism, cruelty, pain and murder become not only acceptable, but praiseworthy. Killers suddenly become heroes, how does that happen? Actions, which if committed on mainstreet would see one thrown into jail for life or deathrow, are perversely changed and accepted on the battlefield, why and how?

It’s normality turned on its head. The world turned upside down. Insanity bottled and sold as sanity! It’s really time we stopped, reflected and turned our backs on this madness once and for all!

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By Virginia777, November 17, 2008 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment

and I say, stop finger-pointing at Obama and take to the streets (airwaves) with these viewpoints!!

Obama can only be as “progressive” as the Progressives in this country show themselves to be!

(and not armchair critics, either)

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By Dagwood Engelberg, November 17, 2008 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I certainly agree with the thrust of your argument—with its encapsulation of news reporting as narrative—a few things remain unsettled with me.

We often heard Bush tell us about this “new kind of war” and “asymmetrical warfare” at the same time that the Administration was going to great lengths to paint for the public (through the media) a picture precisely of a conventional conflict.

That Iraq was a mistake, I think, is now taken for granted by a great number of Americans.  That Iraq was a mistake that never even looked like it could have made sense is not so often addressed.

From what I understand about pre-invasion conditions, Saddam was pinned down every which way, and moreover, al Qaeda viewed Saddam as an enemy because Saddam ran a secular regime that even allowed women to go to college.  If dictatorships are about control, and Saddam was anywhere near possessing the alleged WMDs prior to invasion, why would he give up control of such an awesome capability—and hand it over to an enemy?  And what, in the mean time, are we to make of Osama bin Laden’s conversion from Salafism to eschetological Marxism?

Where conventional military tactics could be reasonably justified in a “war on terror”—in Afghanistan—we hear almost nothing about.  The Saudis have most of the oil and we’re already in bed with them.

Somehow, the invocation of CIA restrictions on assassinating foreign heads of state after the first Gulf War combined with our aborted support for the Kurdish uprising feels more like setting the stage for something larger.

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By Alan, November 17, 2008 at 11:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A comparison is frequently made between the condition
of Britain in 1945 and the condition of the currently
existing American empire.  The British, over the
opposition of Churchill, quit the empire business,
adopted important social programs and got on with
being a nation, and not an empire.  But we Americans
are saddled with the hubris of the huge, and a
self-righteousness complex nearly as huge as Texas.
The cold Winter wind blowing through homes
which can no longer afford gas, will not stir
the rupertoid moguls in their towers of glass.
But wait, there’s hope, the famous “hope”,
the “man from hope”, the “audacity of hope”,
“Hope, the laundry soap with that unforgettable
fragrance”, “Hope?, no, ain’t seen ‘m lately;
I seen ‘m a while back though, some time ago.”
and then there’s the rope-a-dope.  We can do
that for a while.

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By kloe, November 17, 2008 at 10:45 am Link to this comment

I am in complete agreement with Michael who wrote “Hedges is, in my opinion, one of the most insightful journalists around today.  He has a moral compass as steady and accurate as any ancient prophet or holy man”.  I look forward to his weekly columns that wade through all the hype coming from the Democrats about how different they will be from the Republicans in ideology and policy.  Perhaps we may see a few cosmetic changes but in the end the Democrats are equally culpable as the Republicans in taking large donations from the Corporations that run this country.  Both parties may have variations on party ideology but they are both ultimately lackeys to their corporate paymasters.  I submit we live in more of corptocracy and less a democracy and our politicians will do what the Board of Directors require of them, not what we want.  Save for a few giveaways in order to placate us and let us believe we really are getting “change”.  Hence, Chris Hedges article is dead on.  Imagine the profit loss if we really went energy independent and/or stopped pursuing the “war on terror”.  All these corporations would be hemmorraghing money to the point where we would see an economic crisis a hundred times worse than the present one.  Furthermore, their power base would be completely dismantled.  Would that be nice to see? of course, but do we really expect that happen?  Come on, Obama is already surrounding himself with the very people who are perhaps less authoritarian, more moderate and more prone to listen and adapt, yet still support America’s arrogant assertion that we continue this “folly of the war on terror”.  What difference is there really in moving troops out of Iraq and moving them over to Afghanistan?  I submit as I think Hedges does in not only this column but many others, the real question we should be asking ourselves is why are those people who hate America going to the extremes of committing terrorists acts against us in the first place?  Would it have anything to do with what our policies have done to them?  Are we ever going to take responsibility for the actions that cause whole nations and cultures to revile us so much?  Perhaps if we start there, we may have a chance of waging peace instead of continual war around the world.

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By JEP, November 17, 2008 at 10:43 am Link to this comment

One point we all need to realize is that, since the atomic bomb was invented, conventional warfare has become obsolete, and is perpetrated and perpetuated by one singular motivation;  not for our national defense, not for military power, not for respect around the world in making them fear us.  War has but one motive in this modern era; profiteering.

The sheer profanity of it all is startling; millions of innocent lives are destroyed and billions (trillions?) of hard-earned taxpayer dollars are wasted, so the politician-owning power mongers who build our war machines can continue to add to their grotesque wealth.

We learned in the Clinton years that the “peace dividend” is no liberal myth.  Hopefully, we will see some changes that begin to take us back to that dividend.

In the end, it is the “hungry demons” that inhabit our selfish wealthy class that keep our world embattled.

War may be obsolete, but greed lives on.

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By felicity, November 17, 2008 at 10:10 am Link to this comment

Outstanding, Mr. Hedges.

As an old person, I have watched this country become more and more consumed by consumerism.  When Bush told us to go shopping right on the heels of 9/11, I flashed back to Roosevelt’s words following Pearl Harbor - not a much more dramatic example of our trajectory for the past 60 plus years.

As to our foreign policy, our infinite capacity for innocence when it comes to the consequences of our actions seems to have become an immutable reality.  American exceptionalism also stops us from coming to grips with the fact - historical evidence abounds - that civilizations are as fragile as a life is, and ours will be no exception.

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By Virginia777, November 17, 2008 at 10:06 am Link to this comment

Beautifully put!!

“The most destructive evils, however, are not those that are externalized. The most destructive are those that are internal. These hidden evils, often defined as virtues, are unleashed by our hubris, self-delusion and ignorance.”

I name some of these the distractive and self-righteous, well-paid-for and celebrity filled campaigns to “Save Darfur” and also to address “Human Rights Abuses in China” (that we saw so much of around the Beijing Olympics).

While both campaigns have some truth to them, they are also literally filled with promoting “virtues, hubris and self-delusion”. Both point the finger well across our shores, and away from our own disastrous war.

Both have been intensely distracting to Liberals and Progressives, and have taken their energy (and hearts) away from addressing the Iraq war (and problems in our own country).

Both have been extremely well-financed (George Soros has given millions to these campaigns and to the human rights non-profit groups that have expended so much time and money on them). Both also, have ulterior motives. In the case of “Save Darfur”, it has been documented for years that there are a whole lot of barrels of oil sitting under Darfur’s sand that the U.S. is itching to get its hands on. In the case of China, there is a strong competitive message in saying “our human rights records are better than yours” (are they??) - also, suspicious war-mongering is going on.

It is to be noted that the Media has played a HUGE part in all this and several of the Soros-funded groups (like Reporters Without Borders) are little more than dubious PR machines who churn out “dirt” on their international targets.

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By GW=MCHammered, November 17, 2008 at 9:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What was it, 1999 when Osama bin Laden said he would strike America for supporting a corrupt Saudi government? When did BushCo get warning of an al-Qaida attack using aircraft, July or August 2001? Hmm.

Coming Soon To A Global Theater Near You:
Bu$hCo’s Psycho Geriatric Wars

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By cann4ing, November 17, 2008 at 9:58 am Link to this comment

“I was not a terrorist. I never was a terrorist. And the idea that the Weather Underground carried out terrorism is nonsense. We never killed or hurt a person. We never intended to. We existed from 1970 to 1976, the last years, the last half-decade of the war in Vietnam. And by contrast, the war in Vietnam really was a terrorist undertaking. The war in Vietnam was terror on a mass scale, with thousands of people every month being murdered, mostly from the air. And we were doing everything we could to stop it.”

“I think that it’s a sad thing that we’ve never really had a truth and reconciliation process about the war in Vietnam, about the black freedom movement and what happened. And that means, among other things, that we haven’t learned the lessons of invasion and occupation. We haven’t learned the lessons of what happens when people get involved in direction action and struggle, and both the advances that can be made and also the limits of those struggles. We haven’t learned the lessons that might make for a more peaceful, more just future.”
—Bill Ayers, Nov. 14, 2008

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By octopus, November 17, 2008 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

War is an Industry.
A company produces a product(Weapons of any Description)which must be consumed in a marketplace.
The reasons for the marketplace and the consumption are always obfuscated with a flag and a faith but are at bottom very simple….GREED. Plain and simple war is big business but the justifications for it are bankrupt.
War would be impossible if young men and women did not chose to buy into the marketing campaign which highlights atavistic notions such as glory, honor, heroism and promises(more often lies) of a college education. The opportunity to go to war should be ignored, other more constructive occupations should be pursued as War is Wrong and not inevitable. There are more civilized means to resolve conflict.

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By wmmbb, November 17, 2008 at 7:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A great piece of writing, Chris, especially the first paragraph, but I have to argue with your contentions. The first movers are the “they” and not the “we”.

There are forms of power other than threats and violence, as Obama appears to recognize in his comment about restoring moral stature. Why should everybody think that the power elites are more powerful than a mobilized demos who took the election, and may well take the next?

The question is not whether the powers will push back, but whether the community organizers will keep on working. As the preacher said - you Chris should appreciate this point more than me - the question now, is the same is that posed in 1963, will America live out the true meaning of its’ creed?

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By coloradokarl, November 17, 2008 at 7:35 am Link to this comment

It’s interesting you used the word “Evil”. When Bush started using words like Evil and BEHAVIOR I knew we were in for a long ride on the “Train of Terror”. Dogs behave,children MIGHT behave , countries and their people ACT. Every “Hot Spot” in the world boils down to Employment and a hope for the future. 40% unemployment=a riot of frustration(insurrection). The Industrial Military Complex is a self fulfilling Prophecy. Eisenhower was the prophet.

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By Michael, November 17, 2008 at 7:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hedges is, in my opinion, one of the most insiteful journalists around today.  He has a moral compass as steady and accurate as any ancient prophet or holy man.  It’s tragic that like Cassandra of Virgil’s Aeneid, his wise words will probably be discarded before they can be used to avert the downfall of a once great power.

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By Richard Thompson, November 17, 2008 at 7:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We must embrace a different lifestyle if we are to survive as a people.  Throughout the years all the wealth we have purported to have, the wealth that has escalated us to the world economic leader, has been debt. Anyone should have seen this when America went from being a creditor nation to a debtor nation to begin with.

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