What do you think of when you hear the number 1,000 in a politico-military context? After studying German military history, I immediately think of Adolf Hitler’s confident boast that his Third Reich would last a thousand years. In reality, a devastating world war overthrew this empire in just 12 years. Only recently, however, such boasting reappeared in Donald Trump’s dark dreams. If Iran dared to attack the United States, Trump tweeted and then repeated Fox & friendswould the United States with “1000 times greater force. “
Think about it for a moment. If such typical Trumpian red meat rhetoric became a reality, you would speak of a monumental war crime in its disproportionate nature. If, for example, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard shot a missile Trump, who killed 10 US military personnel on an American base in the region, said he would then attempt to kill 10,000 Iranians – an act reminiscent of Nazi reprisals in World War II, which destroyed entire villages like Lidice were killed because a prominent Nazi official had been killed. Americans knew then that such murderous behavior was evil. Why don’t so many of us shrink from such madness anymore?
If references to “evil” seem inappropriate to you, remember that I was raised Catholic and one idea that the priests and nuns have firmly planted in me was the presence of evil in our world – and in me as the microcosm of this world . It is a moral imperative – they taught me – to fight evil by denying it a place in our lives as much as possible and even turning the other cheek to avoid offending our brothers and sisters. After all, Christ did not teach us to whip someone 1,000 times for having struck you once.
When I speak of a large number, I still remember Christ’s teaching on forgiveness. How often, he asked, should we forgive those who offend us? Maybe seven times? No, 70 times seven. Of course, he didn’t mean 490 acts of forgiveness. Through this hyperbolic number, Christ said that forgiveness must be great and generous, as limitless as we imperfect humans can create.
Trump loves hyperbolic numbers, but his are clearly in the service of limitless revenge, not forgiveness. His catechism is intimidation and, if that fails, retribution. It doesn’t matter if it is mass destruction and death (including in the case of Americans, Death by Coronavirus). By being so open about such goals, he naturally makes the rest of us his accomplices. Passively or actively, if we do nothing, we accept the possibility of mass murder in the service of Trump’s dark dreams of beating those who would dare to attack his version of America.
It’s easy to reject his threats as nothing more than red meat for his base, but they are also clearly anti-Christian. The saddest part, however, is that, unfortunately, they are not un-American at all, as a quick survey of this country’s wanton destructiveness at war would show.
Although I reject all of Trump’s murderous words and empty promises, I find them strangely not extraordinary and nerve-wracking purely American. I even suspect that he has gained such an exuberant following in this country precisely because he is doing it so visibly, so thundering and so big embody his darkest dreams the destruction that all too often has become a reality when visited by stubborn peoples who refused to bow to our will.
Destruction as redemption
Today, Americans are being sold an image of war as almost antiseptic – hardly surprising in view of our distance from the “eternal wars” of this country. But as history reminds us, real war it is not like this. It was never not when colonists killed Indians in large numbers; even when we were busy killing our fellow Americans in our civil war; even when US troops ruthlessly laid down Philippine uprising in the early 20th century; even when our Air Force bombed Dresden, Tokyo and so many other cities with nuclear weapons during World War II and later Hiroshima and Nagasaki; even when North Korea was flattened by bombing in the early 1950s; even when Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were bludgeoned by bombs, napalm, and Agent Orange in the 1960s and early 1970s; even when the Iraqis were killed by the tens of thousands during the first Gulf War from 1990 to 1991.
And that, of course, is only a partial and selective representation of the wanton carnage overseen by previous presidents. In reality, Americans have never been shy of killing on a large scale in the alleged cause of justice and democracy.
In that sense, Trump is Rhetoric of mass destruction is really nothing new under the sun (except perhaps in its pure, roaring bravery); Trump, that is, just salivates more openly at the prospect of inflicting massive amounts of pain on people he doesn’t like. And even that isn’t as new as you can imagine.
During this century, Republicans were particularly keen to share their dreams of massive bombing on others. On the Campaign Trail in 2007, Senator (and former bomber pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war) sang John McCain grinning over the Beach Boys cover “Barbara Ann” bomb Iran. (“Bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran!”) Similarly, during the 2016 Republican presidential debates, Senator Ted Cruz boasted of wanting to destroy the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq through “total destruction” Carpet bombs its territory and thus the desert sand “Glow in the dark. “The implication, of course, was that as President he would like to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East. (Talk about all the options on the table!)
Alarming? Yes! Very American? USA # 1!
Consider two examples from the atomic age then and now. In the depths of the Cold War, in response to a possible Soviet nuclear attack, that country’s war plans included a simultaneous attack on the Soviet Union and China, which military planners estimated would kill in the end 600 million People. That would have been the equivalent of 100 Holocausts, notes Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsbergwho was privy to these plans.
Whether China had joined the Soviet attack or even knew about it did not matter. As communists they were guilty of union and so of being wiped out anyway. Ellsberg notes that only one man who was present at the briefing that presented this “plan” objected to such senseless mass murder, David Shoup, a Navy general and medalist who later also opposed the Vietnam War would protest.
Fast forward to today and our nuclear forces, which may still end on a planetary scale, will still be “modernized” with 1.7 trillion US dollars in the coming decades. Any OhioFor example, a class SSBN nuclear submarine in the Navy’s inventory could potentially kill millions of people with its 24 Trident II ballistic missiles (each carrying as many as possible) eight nuclear warheadseach warhead with about six times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb). While such ships are officially designed to “prevent” nuclear war, they are of course ultimately built to fight you. Each is a submerged Holocaust waiting to be unleashed.
If anything, we rarely think about what these subs really represent historically. In the meantime, the Pentagon continues (as the military likes to say) to “invest” in newer generations of nuclear weapons bomber and land-based missiles that promise a holocaust of planetary proportions if ever deployed. To understand what actual nuclear war would mean, you’d have to update an old adage: death is a tragedy; several billion is a statistic.
Exacerbating this essential collective madness right now (and the president) fiery and angry Fascination with such weapons) is Trump’s recent cynical call for what could be considered the core of our story: the installation of a true one “Patriotic” education in our schools – in other words, a story that would obliterate everything but its version of American greatness. This, of course, would include not only the legacy of slavery and other dark chapters in our past, but our continued willingness to build weapons that have the instantaneous ability to finish it all in a matter of hours.
As a history professor, I can tell you that such a version of our past would be completely opposite to healthy learning in this or any other world. History, by definition, must be critical of the world we have created. It has to be persistent and grapple with our actions (and inaction), crimes and everything if we as a country or people are ever to become morally stronger.
The story, which only focuses on the supposedly good parts, however defined, is like your pesky friend’s Facebook page, which features photo after photo smiling faces, gourmet meals, exclusive parties, puppies, ice cream and rainbows of Status updates that can be reduced to “I have the time of my life”. Of course, we know very well that nobody’s life is really like that – and neither is the history of a country.
The story should of course be about understanding ourselves for who we really are, our strengths and weaknesses, triumphs, tragedies, and transgressions. There should even be an honest record of how this country got a Donald J. Trump, op failed Casino owner and prominent Pitchman as president at a time when most of its leaders still claimed it was the most extraordinary country in the history of the universe. Let me give you a hint: we got it because it represented a side of America that was indeed exceptional, just in no way, that was ever morally just or democratically reasonable.
The jingoistic story goes: “My country, right or wrong, but my country.” Trump wants to push this even further: “My country and my leader, always right.” This is fascism, not a “patriotic” story, and we have to recognize and reject that.
Learn from history without flinching
The United States has been the imperial power on this planet since World War II. Recently, the economic and moral aspects of this power have diminished, even if our military power remains paramount (but we are unable to) win everything What ever). That should tell you something about America. We are still a “SmackDown” country to borrow a term from professional wrestling, in a world that is coming under increasing pressure anyway.
Harold Pinter, the British playwright, has absorbed the imperial spirit of this country well Nobel Prize Lecture in 2005. America, he said at the time, has committed the crimes
were systematic, constant, vicious, ruthless, but very few people have actually spoken about them. You have to give it to America. It has exercised quite a clinical manipulation of power around the world, disguising itself as a force for the common good. It’s a brilliant, even funny, and extremely successful act of hypnosis.
Anyone who knows our history knows that what Pinter said 15 years ago is actually true. He noted how the leaders of this country used the language “to keep thoughts in check”. To like George Orwell Before him, Pinter tried to use simple language about the war, noting how the Americans and British had “brought and shouted torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, countless random murders, misery, humiliation and death to the Iraqi people[ed] it brings freedom and democracy to the Middle East. ”
This wasn’t just about beating America up. It should make us think about our actions in real historical terms. A decade and a half ago Pinter threw a challenge, and even if you disagreed with him, or especially if you did, you will need the intellectual tools and a mastery of the facts to face this criticism. It should never be enough to just say “USA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! ”In an increasingly louder way, in the hope that it will drown out not only critics and dissidents, but reality itself – and maybe even your own secret doubts.
And we should have such doubts. We should be ready to disagree. We should see this most clearly as America’s current attorney general Notthat those who think differently are often the truest patriots of all, even if they are often the loneliest. In particular, we should have doubts about a leader who threatens to use violence against another country that is 1,000 times greater than anything that country could bring us.
I don’t need the Catholic Church or Christ in the New Testament to tell me that such thinking is wrong in a Washington that now seems to give a carnivorous impression of what a future American autocracy might look like. I just have to remember the wise words of my Polish mother-in-law: “Have a heart when you have a heart”.
Have a heart America. Reject American slaughter in all its forms.