Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wargasms on the Potomac: U.S. Weapons Good, Syrian Weapons Bad

By Fred Drumlevitch

cross-posted from (Progressive Food for Thought)

The sound of war drums rose over the Potomac. As did also certain other items. The tumescent political “leadership” and their rent boys of the mainstream media alternated between stroking each other to the point of wargasm and oh-so-seriously rationalizing to the public why they must let loose their dogs of war. Fortunately, many ordinary Americans have begun to realize just how tired they themselves are of getting screwed by the imperial overreach of what is supposed to be their government. Ostensibly elected by public vote, supposedly beholden to the people and meant to serve them, “our” government has over the past 30+ years transformed into one dedicated to delivering benefits to the rich, the banks, the corporations, and the military-industrial-surveillance-security complex — and that perpetuates its malfeasance through lies, manipulation, the marginalization and repression of protest, and the distraction of never-ending war.

Never-ending war? Well, nearly so. And this refers to far more than the duration of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or our ongoing assassinations via drones in several sovereign foreign nations including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Time dulls the memory, especially for those who weren’t active participants, but a recent Associated Press story summarized major U.S. military actions over the past three decades: Beirut (1982-83), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), Iraq (1991), Somalia (1992), Iraq (1993), Somalia (1993), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1994-96), Iraq (1996), Sudan and Afghanistan (1998), Iraq (1998), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011), and Osama bin Laden (2011). 

It doesn’t end there. The United States probably maintains at least 500 military bases in at least 100 foreign countries, and it is likely that actual numbers are considerably higher. (The exact numbers are hard to know for a variety of reasons including deliberate obfuscation by the U.S. government. See here, here, here, here, and here). We spend more on our military than the next highest-spending fifteen to twenty nations combined. Is our country destined to forever undertake foreign military actions with the compulsion of a salmon swimming upstream to spawn? What will our unending pursuit of worldwide military domination beget?

And I haven’t even yet referenced our covert operations, which, since WWII, have been instrumental in the overthrow of several legitimate foreign governments (and significantly subverted many more). The overthrows of Mohammed Mossadegh (Iran, 1953), Jacobo Árbenz (Guatemala, 1954), Patrice Lumumba (Congo, 1961), and Salvador Allende (Chile, 1973), stand as but the most prominent examples in a long and sordid history of covert U.S. actions.

The covert operations and smaller military interventions may seem (by our imperial-capitalist metrics) to be fabulously successful, but are in fact profoundly dangerous, for they set the stage for later blowback, plus overreach elsewhere and spectacular failures. Our frequent foreign interventions, whether large or small, overtly military or instead covert, are part of a highly-dangerous feedback system of U.S. action and arrogance, a runaway self-righteousness that puts our entire foundational national purpose at profound risk. Do we exist to be the world’s policeman? The preamble to the United States Constitution does state that it was established "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity", but these refer to this nation. Nowhere in our founding national documents do I recall any mention of world policeman.

As important as are the issues of imperial overreach, media failure, and perversion of the purposes of a democratic republic, they and their psychological underpinnings have been thoroughly examined countless times, and I will not further pursue them here (beyond including these links to recent posts by Andrew Bacevich, Ira Chernus, and George Lakoff). Instead, my focus in what follows will be on something else: a brief look at U.S. governmental hypocrisy in its current characterization of chemical weapons as so abhorrent as to necessitate U.S. military action in Syria.

To understand the scope of this hypocrisy, we might examine any of a wide variety of weapon systems that have been deployed, used, and, in many cases, provided to others by the United States: napalm and other incendiaries, Agent Orange, cluster munitions, land mines, thermobaric bombs, and nuclear weapons. President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Senator McCain, and all others so eager to militarily strike Syria — surely you are aware of the massive death and suffering these American weapons have inflicted on civilian populations. Please spare us your outraged denunciations of Bashar al-Assad and your insistence that we must act — unless you are also willing to denounce and adequately hold accountable American soldiers (and allies) who have caused the deaths of foreign civilians using the aforementioned weapons. Ah… I thought not.

(The United States is not even willing to properly hold accountable those soldiers who have murdered with more conventional weapons; while Major Nidal Malik Hasan was quite deservedly sentenced to death for his murder of thirteen U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood, Army staff sergeant Robert Bales was allowed to plead guilty and thereby escape the death penalty for his brutal murder of sixteen Afghan civilians. And most American war criminals are never properly punished. For example, in 2012 a U.S. military court would release with absolutely no prison time the leader of a U.S. Marine squad that in 2005 massacred 24 civilian men, women, and children in Haditha, Iraq — a war crime within the even broader war crime of a war of choice by the U.S. against a country that posed no threat to us.)

Let’s consider napalm and other incendiary weapons. (Open in front of me is the book Napalm: An American Biography, by Robert M. Neer, published in 2013 by Harvard University Press. Extensive in scope and supporting references, it should be required reading for those wishing to learn how weapons come to be developed, used — and misused. It and Wikipedia are my main sources for what follows).

British RAF bombers using magnesium weapons incinerated eight square miles of Hamburg in July 1943; the death toll from the Hamburg attack was an estimated 44,600 persons. A German doctor wrote “Bodies were frequently found lying in a thick, greasy black mass, which was without doubt melted fat tissue… All were shrunken so that clothes appeared to be too large.” (Neer, p.62-63). The RAF aided by the United States Army Air Forces incinerated fifteen square miles of Dresden in four raids in mid-February 1945, with a death toll estimated at around 25,000 (Wikipedia).

These attacks would be dwarfed by the aggregate of later U.S. incendiary attacks on Japanese cities. The night of March 9-10, 1945, U.S. Air Force general Curtis LeMay dispatched over 300 B-29s to wage an incendiary attack on Tokyo using napalm, magnesium, and white phosphorus, creating a firestorm, incinerating 16 square miles of the city, and producing approximately 100,000 deaths and tens of thousands of injured. But that was just the beginning. “After Tokyo, American bombers attacked Japan’s largest cities with napalm for ten days, […] until supplies ran out on March 19, 1945. After a three week pause to restock, incendiary bombardments started again on April 13, and continued again until the end of the war. […] During the five months until the end of the war over 33 million pounds of napalm in about 13 million M-69 bombs, along with napalm in other bombshells, explosives, and other incendiaries, laid waste to 106 square miles in Japan’s six largest cities, and destroyed or damaged 169 square miles in sixty of its largest metropolises” (Neer, p.83-84).

Of course, the above statistics do not convey any of the specifics of the human suffering experienced. “‘In the dense smoke, where the wind was so hot it seared the lungs, people struggled, then burst into flames where they stood’. … Jammed bridges became funeral pyres. Civil guard commander Kinosuke Wakabayashi and his daughter, shielded by a concrete warehouse, saw thousands ‘streaming towards the Sumida River bridges, and leaping into the river, clothes and even their bodies aflame. Soon both banks of the river were clogged with bodies. The bridges were so hot that anyone who touched a bit of iron or steel was seared like bacon on a grill.’ On the Kototoi Bridge, another recalled, ‘The steel grew white-hot and people who touched the metal were seared like steaks on a barbeque’. ‘[I]n some of the smaller canals the water was actually boiling from the intense heat’ recounted a U.S. government after-action report. Pools and ponds vaporized.” (Neer, p.79). “‘The updrafts brought with them a sickening odor, an odor that I will never be able to get completely out of my nostrils — the smell of roasting human flesh. I later learned that some pilots and crewmen gagged and vomited in reaction to this stench, and that a few had passed out,’ [ace pilot Robert] Morgan wrote.” (Neer, p.81). … “Dr. Shigenori Kubota […] described his travels in freezing temperatures through the devastated area just before dawn on March 10: ‘There was no one to rescue. If you touched one of the roasted bodies, the flesh would crumble in your hand. Humanity was reduced to its chemical properties, turned into carbon.’” (Neer, p.82).

"Charred remains of Japanese civilians after the firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9–10 March 1945" (Wikipedia/Wikimedia)
photographer: Kōyō Ishikawa 1904-1989

Charred bodies of woman and child, firebombing of Tokyo
photo taken March 10, 1945 (Wikipedia/Wikimedia)
photographer: Kōyō Ishikawa 1904-1989

Such barbarism was not unique to World War II. I could continue with similar details from U.S. use of incendiary weapons and strategic bombing in Korea and Vietnam. I could describe the birth defect and cancer effects on the Vietnamese (and on U.S. veterans) produced by Agent Orange, the contamination of which during manufacture by a[n at that time unidentified] toxic substance was known to the U.S. government as early as 1952, long prior to U.S. involvement in Vietnam. I could document the continuing deaths and maimings (including of children) produced by anti-personnel land mines — an international treaty on which the U.S. has refused to sign. But I believe that I have made my point. War is indeed hell, and any attempt to characterize chemical weapons as somehow worse than other weapons that have been widely used by the United States is not just disingenuous, it is a bald-faced lie, and cannot be used to justify military strikes. It is in fact just one of many bald-faced lies that have come to dominate the U.S. political stage and been used to manipulate us during the past several decades. Those lies must end. The manipulations must end.

We, the people of the United States, do hereby declare that we will no longer offer blood and treasure to the gods of war. We will not replenish the coffers of the military-industrial complex. We will not sacrifice our own lives — nor will we take the lives of others — for the delusions of small men in high places. We ourselves hold no delusions about our ability to dominate the world, and we have no desire to do so. We will not be bamboozled into believing that our security is dependent on us acting militarily every two or three years in some far-off land. We will not accept being spied upon by our government, nor will we tolerate governmental repression of our dissent. We are reclaiming our country, and rededicating it to the purposes envisioned by its founding fathers. We will fight, but it will be domestically, for our Constitutional rights, opportunity for all, and social and economic justice. To the current politicians of this land we say: Understand that, accommodate yourselves to that, or vacate your offices, for you will be irrelevant to the future.

Text Copyright: Fred Drumlevitch

Fred Drumlevitch blogs irregularly at
He can be reached at FredDrumlevitch12345(at)


annenigma said...

Thanks, Fred. I'll take that pledge.

War correspondent John Pilger backs up your observations and conclusions in the Guardian.

'The Silent Military Coup That Took Over Washington'

ste-vo said...

I daresay that I would not be able to read "Napalm: An American Biography," by Robert M. Neer. I put it in the same class as Naomi Wolf's "The Shock Doctrine." I never purchased the book, always checking it out of the public library , BUT never finishing it - it made me ill, quite literally. I've always wanted to read it, have seen it referenced in so many places. My empathy and humanity are too strong. And I do thank you for posting this.

Noodge said...

The American military in its present form exists to safeguard the interests of business. Note I did not say American business, because businesses have long since abandoned any thought of being tied to a specific country. Today's multi-national coporations (MNCs) transact business on a global scale, and our government operates under the premise that protecting the ability of these companies to transact their business constitutes a vital American interest. *

Therefore keeping the Straits of Hormuz open for Exxon Mobil, for example, is a vital American interest, even though very little oil from the Middle East ever ends up in the US (mostly it goes to Europe and Asia; our oil is homegrown or from Venezuela, Canada, or Mexico).

Things all start to make sense once you realize this.

Governments that exist to help the MNCs generate profit (like the Saudis) are seen as good, regardless of how despotic. Governments that exist for some other purpose, or who support the wrong companies, are seen as bad (see: Nicaragua, Chile, etc.) Our military is on hand to preserve the helpful governments and to eliminate the unhelpful ones.

We maintain a navy to keep the world's shipping lanes open for the benefit of transnational commerce. It doesn't matter if the boat is going from Singapore to Buenos Aires. The American navy, and by extension the American taxpayer, is there to protect it.

Occasionally someone like Rand Paul comes along and makes a big noise about getting some other countries to start footing the bill for providing this police force. The MNC's, however, are not about to let this happen, as they are far too heavily invested in the American government/military, and don't want to have to pay for two entities to provide them with the same services they already get from only one.

Silly me. Did I say they don't want to have to pay? Of course they don't pay. You and I pay. The MNCs stopped paying taxes in this country a long time ago (Congressmen, senators, and presidents they still have to purchase, but they're a lot cheaper than an M-1 tank.).

Corporations are not people, my friend. Corporations can't die. Corporations have no soul. Corporations exist for no purpose other than to make money. They don't love their children, they don't grieve over a bombed-out home, they don't value aesthetics. So they don't particularly care about what happens to people who stand in their way. If an opposing force can be moved out of the way without bloodshed, fine. If it requires the use of force, fine, too. The loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives never enters the equation, because the loss of life doesn't affect the things the soulless corporation exists for.

Ambrose Bierce defined a corporation as "an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." It's long past time we put the individual responsibility back into commerce. Corporations are simply a legal device. Kill them now.

* An aside: One of the really sad things about this is that the people I know in the military (and I know a lot of them) are in the military for a very different reason. They are genuinely motivated by a sense of service. I disgusts me to see them being used so cynically.

Will said...

Yeah, OK, whatever you say, Fred. Your tinfoil hat appears to be screwed on a little too tightly lately--might wanna look into making a few adjustments. I for one support my President, and I urge all Americans to put our petty differences aside & join together on this solemn day to help Obama kickstart World War 3!

Pearl said...

I find it very difficult to live in a world when I know what is really going
on. The same pattern exists in different nations, all run by a global
conglomeration and resulting in the problems of all the Middle Eastern
nations for example, especially on view these days. The United States has
had a hand in so much of this with leaders speaking in a special language of untruths. Meanwhile people are hypnotized by the propaganda and it takes
them a long time if ever to see this ever unfolding destructive pattern.

This is why the strong reactions of the majority of Americans against the
latest war plans of Obama's administration are so unusual. And along with this reaction comes their unhappiness with much more than Syria. The dots are being connected now and thanks to the Internet which covers so much information from everywhere, we and others are learning more about the basics which are shocking. Those of us who are more attuned to history than
most for many reasons, still find it difficult to watch the daily events
unfolding everywhere now it seems. I can't recall a similar situation other
than the protests against the Vietnam war when people revolted against U.S.
policies but it took many years with brave whistleblowers exposing the ugly

Although it is interesting to follow current events, it is depressing and
threatening. Sometimes I think ignorance is truly bliss but we can't close our eyes anymore.
Watching snatches of 9/11 events on TV today reminds one of how it came
about. I remember Bill Maher of PBS making a comment at the time that this
horrific event was due to U.S.foreign policy which led to such an act of
terrorism. He was roundly trounced and blacklisted for awhile.

So we have to use our knowledge to educate in the hopes that perhaps some
issues will be forced to be faced and dealt with. I sometimes feel I have to
apologize to all the incinerated, blown apart, starving people of the world for not being able to help. That is my motivation for speaking out and refusing to remain silent which I sense is what you all feel. It certainly is what motivates Karen who works her ass off speaking brilliant truths,gathering vital information to validate it all. I can't thank you enough Karen for your example of what a decent, caring, talented human being is all
about. And it is so hard to read articles like Fred's, memories of which have haunted me all my life. But thank you for having the courage to record and remind us of the brutality of the U.S to Japan. It made me distrustful of those in power in my birth country ever since.

annenigma said...

Why are we always at war? The Generals seem to be running the show. We've have had a military coup in this country. Just read the latest Snowden revelations in the Guardian:

'NSA Shares Raw Intelligence, Including Americans' Data With Israel'

The Military doesn't just control the Pentagon, they control the entire powerful Intelligence Community made up of the whole alphabet soup of agencies. They don't just steal all our secrets, including those belonging to members of our government, but they share them with the foreign government of Israel and blesses them with the freedom to use that data as they choose with NO LEGAL RESTRICTIONS per a formal Memorandum of Undertanding.

What is baffling, but possibly meant to deliberately mislead as usual, is that the NSA actually lists Israel as a target nation, aka a potential threat to our country. Go figure. They aren't even a member of the privileged Five Eyes allies, yet they get the MOST valuable information of all - secrets about every American, including officials in every level of government. WHO WORKS FOR WHOM?

What is this special relationship with Israel that our Generals have established, and how high up does authorization for this agreement go? It looks like Israel could have some important person or people by the balls.

The military Generals who run these programs should be charged with Treason, and any Presidents who agreed to that arrangement should be tried as well.

Zee said...


Thank you for a brilliant, well-researched article on the horrors of war and the weapons used therein, and for a great exposé of U.S. hypocrisy, given the horrific weapons that we, ourselves, have used.

As I have said before, I believe in a strong national defense, but we have gone beyond seeking “a strong defense” to seeking “total domination,” a fact which is reflected in the endless wars that we have waged—both large and small—through the decades and around the globe. It is time for this to end.

Like ste-vo, I think that I will not be reading Napalm: An American Biography. The picture of that young, burned Vietnamese girl, running from her incinerated village in agony and terror so many years ago, told me all I ever need to know about its horrors.

Will said...

September 11, 1973. Never forget.

Zee said...


Thanks for injecting some great humor to lighten the burden of reflecting on Fred's guest post and Noodge's sobering comment.

Zee said...


When I thanked you for the humor, I was, of course, referring to the video Help kickstart World War III, not the video documenting America's role in toppling Salvador Allende's democratically elected government.

I was totally unaware of the fact that the Chilean coup d'etat was launched on Sept. 11, 1973.

What tragic irony, and what proof absolute that "what goes around, comes around."

Early this year I was taking some small-group singing lessons along with a young couple from New Mexico State University, Pat DeSimio and his partner, Leah (whose last name I can't just now remember).

Pat composed a song about Victor and Joan Jara--sung by the sweet-voiced Leah--which they sang for us, and which brought tears to my eyes then, just as it does now.

Here's the video. The sound quality is not all that good, but perhaps you all have better speakers than my laptop does. I hope so.

Zee said...


And, technological nitwit that I am, I forgot to mention that you can see the lyrics to Pat's song if you click on "Show More" at the link I provided.

Will said...


Thank you so much for sharing your friends' powerful, moving elegy for Victor Jara. Something about ending this difficult day with such a beautifully sad song just feels right, you know?

For anyone who's not going to bed just yet, here's Amy Goodman's interview with the indomitable Joan Jara on Monday. Four whole decades have passed, and yet her pain still seems so fresh. To see her persevere with such a heavy heart is truly inspiring.

Zee said...

Yes, Will...I know.

I will look at Goodman's interview with Joan Jara tomorrow.

Good night, all.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Dear Sardonicky Readers,

As you may know, I’m taking a little vacation from my duties as President of Russia and am spending time on vacation in Canada, even though Ottawa is a colder national capital than Moscow. (Did you know that? Google it to see for yourself.) Nonetheless, the warmth of the Canadian people makes up for their lousy wet weather this fall. Curiously, this hardy people in Canada pretend there is no cold and rain. They continue to spend time sitting in their outdoor cafés drinking beer in shorts. Go figure.

Prime Minister Steven Harper is waiting for instructions from Washington as to whether he should or should not receive me with ceremony. In the meantime, Jay has kindly put me up in a nearby Holiday Inn in Ottawa as we await word from the PM. Jay has also let me use his computer to send you this message of gratitude.

First of all, I am deeply humbled by your nomination of me for the Nobel Peace Prize –– well, at least a couple of you mentioned it.

Second, I appreciate your critical stance on some of the measures taken by the White House. Just look at Fred Drumlevitch’s post to see what happens when the US tries to impose its peace upon the world, with or without conventional means of killing people. Inspired by your critical approach on matters of war and peace and actions worthy of attention by the International Criminal Court of The Hague, I presumed yesterday to write a letter-to-the-editor of the New York Times, which I can see is the equivalent of Pravda in the USA.

The editors saw fit to bump up my letter to the Op-Ed page. How gracious of them. I’ll be looking for your reactions here on Sardonicky.

Greetings from the Russian people,

Vladamir Putin

Elizabeth Adams said...


I love in the last paragraph:

"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

Zee said...

Help me!

I've fallen into the Twilight Zone!

I'm thinking that I just read a New York Times Op/Ed piece in which the President of Russia offered sage and sound advice on foreign policy to Barack Obama and the American people!

"But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes." --Vladimir Putin

This can't be real. I must be losing my mind!

Fred Drumlevitch said...

First of all, a tardy thanks to you, Karen, for cross-posting at Sardonicky this post of mine. And thanks to everyone who took the time to read, and in some cases comment. In particular, thanks @annenigma, especially for the link to the John Pilger article, which I hadn't seen, and to @Noodge for reminding us that many in the military do have very substantial motivations of service, and have been exploited; at the very least, we progressives should remember this as we strive to raise consciousness on matters of U.S. militarism. (However, I also do believe that too many in the military have bought into "American exceptionalism" and a righteous-based belief that this nation should exert control quite widely beyond our borders. And at least a few servicepersons, whether from pre-existing personality disorders, the training they receive, orders from superiors or the command authority they themselves hold, peer example and standard operating procedures, or excessive deployments --- have attitudes and act in ways that are seriously at odds even with any mainstream concept of morality and humanity, let alone the stricter ones most of us on this forum probably have. That is no small matter when such persons have weapons and are empowered to use them). Thank you, @Pearl, for your observations from more years of experience than probably any other commenter on this forum brings to the table. Thanks, too, to everyone else. And like @Zee's observed, I too feel like I'm in an episode of The Twilight Zone when Putin makes more sense than the U.S. President.