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Peace and War


Study Finds People Assume War Is Only Last Resort

A scholarly study has found that the U.S. public believes that whenever the U.S. government proposes a war, it has already exhausted all other possibilities. When a sample group was asked if they supported a particular war, and a second group was asked if they supported that particular war after being told that all alternatives were no good, and a third group was asked if they supported that war even though there were good alternatives, the first two groups registered the same level of support, while support for war dropped off significantly in the third group. This led the researchers to the conclusion that if alternatives are not mentioned, people don’t assume they exist — rather, people assume they’ve already been tried.

The evidence is, of course, extensive that the U.S. government, among others, often uses war as a first, second, or third resort, not a last resort. Congress is busily sabotaging diplomacy with Iran, while James Sterling is on trial in Alexandria for exposing a CIA scheme to gin up supposed grounds for a war with Iran. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney once pondered the option of having U.S. troops shoot at U.S. troops dressed up as Iranians. Moments before a White House press conference at which then-President George W. Bush and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed they were trying to avoid war in Iraq, Bush had proposed to Blair that they paint planes with UN colors and fly them low trying to get them shot at. Hussein was willing to walk away with $1 billion. The Taliban was willing to put bin Laden on trial in a third country. Gadaffi didn’t really threaten a slaughter, but Libya’s seen one now. The stories of chemical weapons attacks by Syria, invasions by Russia into Ukraine, and so forth, that fade away when a war fails to begin — these are not efforts to avoid war, to hold war off as a last resort. These are what Eisenhower warned would happen, and what he had already seen happen, when huge financial interests are stacked up behind the need for more wars.

But try telling the U.S. public. The Journal of Conflict Resolution has just published an article titled “Norms, Diplomatic Alternatives, and the Social Psychology of War Support,” by Aaron M. Hoffman, Christopher R. Agnew, Laura E. VanderDrift, and Robert Kulzick. The authors discuss various factors in public support for or opposition to wars, including the prominent place held by the question of “success” — now generally believed to matter more than body counts (meaning U.S. body counts, the massively larger foreign body counts never even coming into consideration in any study I’ve heard of). “Success” is a bizarre factor because of its lack of a hard definition and because by any definition the United States military just doesn’t have successes once it moves beyond destroying things to attempts at occupation, control, and long-term exploitation — er, excuse me, democracy promotion.

The authors’ own research finds that even when “success” is believed likely, even the muddle-headed people holding that belief tend to prefer diplomatic options (unless, of course, they are members of the United States Congress). The journal article offers some recent examples beyond the new research to back up its idea: “In 2002–2003, for instance, 60 percent of Americans believed that a US military victory in Iraq was likely (CNN/Time poll, November 13–14, 2002). Nevertheless, 63 percent of the public said they preferred a diplomatic solution to the crisis over a military one (CBS News poll, January 4–6, 2003).”

But if nobody mentions nonviolent alternatives, people aren’t uninterested in them or dismissive of them or opposed to them. No, in large numbers people actually believe that all diplomatic solutions have already been attempted. What a fantastic fact! Of course, it’s not that shocking given that war supporters habitually claim to be pursuing war as a last resort and to be fighting war reluctantly in the name of peace. But it’s an insane belief to hold if you’re living in the real world in which the State Department has become a minor unpaid intern to the Pentagon master. Diplomacy with some countries, like Iran, has actually been forbidden during periods in in which the U.S. public apparently thought it was being thoroughly pursued. And what in the world would it mean for ALL nonviolent solutions to have been tried? Could one not always think of another? Or try the same one again? Unless a looming emergency like the fictional threat to Benghazi can impose a deadline, the mad rush to war is unjustified by anything rational at all.

The role that the researchers attribute to a belief that diplomacy has already been tried could also be played by a belief that diplomacy is impossible with irrational subhuman monsters like ________ (fill in the government or residents of a targeted nation or region). The difference made by informing someone that alternatives exist would then include in it the transformation of monsters into people capable of speech.

The same transformation might be played by the revelation that, for example, people accused of building nuclear weapons aren’t actually doing so. The authors note that: “average support for the use of force by the U.S. military against Iran between 2003 and 2012 appears to be sensitive to information about the quality of available alternative courses of action. Although the use of force was never sup- ported by a majority of Americans during George W. Bush’s presidency (2001– 2009), it is notable that a significant drop in support for military action against Iran occurs in 2007. At that time, the Bush administration was seen as committed to war with Iran and pursuing diplomatic action half-heartedly. Seymour M. Hersh’s article in The New Yorker (2006) reporting that the administration was devising an aerial bombing campaign of suspected nuclear sites in Iran helped confirm this sense. Yet, a release of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because of international pressure, undercut the argument for war. As an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney told The Wall Street Journal, the authors of the NIE ‘knew how to pull the rug out from under us’.”

But the lesson learned never seems to be that the government wants war and will lie to get it. “While public support for military operations against Iran declined during the Bush administration, it generally increased during President Barack Obama’s first term (2009–2012). Obama came to office more optimistic than his predecessor about the ability of diplomacy to get Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. [You notice that even these scholars simply assume such pursuit was underway, despite their inclusion of the above NIE in the article.] Obama, for example, opened the door to direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program ‘without preconditions,’ a position George Bush rejected. Nevertheless, the inefficacy of diplomacy during Obama’s first term appears to be associated with gradual acceptance that military action might be the last viable option capable of getting Iran to change course. Paraphrasing former CIA director Michael Hayden, military action against Iran is an increasingly attractive option because ‘no matter what the U.S. does diplomatically, Tehran keeps pushing ahead with its suspected nuclear program’ (Haaretz, July 25, 2010).”

Now how does one keep pushing ahead with something that a foreign government persists in wrongly suspecting or pretending that one is doing? That’s never made clear. The point is that if you declare, Bushlike, that you have no use for diplomacy, people will oppose your war initiative. If, on the other hand, you claim, Obamalike, to be pursuing diplomacy, yet you persist, also Obamalike, in promoting the lies about what the targeted nation is up to, then people will apparently feel that they can support mass murder with a clear conscience.

The lesson for opponents of war seems to be this: point out the alternatives. Name the 86 good ideas you have for what to do about ISIS. Hammer away at what should be done. And some people, though generally accepting of war, will withhold their approval.

*Thanks to Patrick Hiller for letting me know about this article.

CIA on Trial in Virginia for Planting Nuke Evidence in Iran

Since Tuesday and continuing for the coming three weeks, an amazing trial is happening in U.S. District Court at 401 Courthouse Square in Alexandria, Va. The trial is open to the public, and among the upcoming witnesses is Condoleezza Rice, but -- unlike the Chelsea Manning trial -- most of the seats at this somewhat similar event are empty.

The media is mostly MIA, and during lunch break the two tables at the cafe across the street are occupied, one by the defendant and his lawyers, the other by a small group of activists, including former CIA officer Ray McGovern, blogger Marcy Wheeler (follow her report of every detail at ExposeFacts.org), and Norman Solomon who has organized a petition at DropTheCharges.org -- the name of which speaks for itself.

Why Gareth Porter (and others who are focused on the decades-long Western effort to frame Iran with having or pursuing nuclear weapons) are not here, I do not know. Why the public is not here, I do not know. Except that Jeffrey Sterling has not been even so much as demonized in the major media.

Jeffrey who?

Some people have heard of James Risen, a New York Times reporter who refused to name his source for a story. Damn right. Good for him. But what was the story and whom did the government want named as a source? Ah. Those questions might seem obvious, but the reporting on James Risen has avoided them like the plague for years and years now. And the independent media is not always as good at creating a story as it is at improving on stories in the corporate press.

Jeffrey Sterling went to Congress with his story. He was a CIA case officer. He is accused of having taken his story to James Risen. The prosecution is quite clearly establishing, against its own interest, during the course of this trial already, that numerous people were in on the story and could have taken it to Risen. If Sterling is to be proved guilty of the non-crime of blowing the whistle on a crime, the prosecution has yet to hint at how that will be done.

But what is the story? What is the crime that Sterling exposed for that tiny sliver of the population that's interested enough to have listened? (Sure, Risen's book was a "best seller" but that's a low hurdle; not a single prospective juror in Alexandria had read the book; even a witness involved in the case testified Wednesday that he'd only read the one relevant chapter.)

The story is this. The CIA drew up plans for a key part of a nuclear bomb (what a CIA officer on Wednesday described in his testimony as "the crown jewels" of a nuclear weapons program), inserted flaws in the plans, and then had a Russian give those flawed plans to Iran.

During the trial on Wednesday morning, the prosecution's witnesses made clear both that aiding Iran in developing a part of a bomb would be illegal under U.S. export control laws, and that they were aware at the time that there was the possibility of what they were doing constituting just such aid.

So, why do it?

And why is this trial going on for hours and hours without the slightest relevance to prosecuting Jeffrey Sterling, sounding for all intents and purposes like a defense of the CIA?

Well, the stated reason for this operation, known as Operation Merlin, was to slow down Iran's nuclear weapons program by causing Iranian scientists to spend time and resources on a doomed plan that would never work.

A very young, very very white jury is hearing the case made thusly. The U.S. government lacked evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program and not long after came out with an assessment that such a program did not exist and had not existed for some time. Nonetheless, years of effort and millions of dollars went into trying to slow the program down by a period of months. The CIA created a design, drawing, and parts list for a Russian nuclear fire set (the nuclear bomb component). They intentionally made it incomplete because supposedly no actual Russian scientist would credibly have complete knowledge of it. Then they told their designated Russian to tell the Iranians that it was incomplete because he wanted money, after which he would gladly produce what he couldn't credibly have.

According to one cable read aloud in court, the CIA would have liked to give Iran the actual device already constructed for them, but didn't because it wouldn't have been credible for their Russian to have it.

Before getting their Russian to spend years (anything shorter would not have been credible, they say) getting in touch with the Iranians, the U.S. scientists spent 9 months building the device from the plans and then proceeded to test it in a lab. Then they introduced multiple "flaws" into the plans and tested each flaw. Then they gave their flawed plans to their own team of scientists who weren't in on their cockamamie scheme. In five months, those scientists spotted and fixed enough of the flaws to build a fire set and get it to work in a lab. This was considered a success, we're told, because the Iranians would take a lot longer than five months, and because getting something to work outside of a lab is much harder.

To their credit, the defense lawyers' cross-examining of witnesses suggests that they find much of this ludicrous. "Have you ever seen a Russian parts list in English?" was one question asked on Wednesday. Another question: "You say you had people experienced in detecting flaws in fire set plans. Is that because there is a market in such things?" The judge sustained an objection to that last question.

The stated motivation for Operation Merlin is patent nonsense that cannot be explained by any level of incompetence or bureaucratic dysfunction or groupthink.

Here's another explanation of both Operation Merlin and of the defensiveness of the prosecution and its witnesses (in particular "Bob S.") at the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling which is thus far failing to prosecute Jeffrey Sterling. This was an effort to plant nuke plans on Iran, part of the pattern described in Gareth Porter's latest book.

Marcy Wheeler reminds me of related efforts to plant English-language nuke plans around the same period of time or not long after. There was the laptop of death, later reprised for another war marketing effort. There were nuke plans and parts buried in a backyard as well.

Why give Iran flawed plans for a key part of a nuclear weapon? Why fantasize about giving Iran the thing already built (which wouldn't delay Iran's non-existent program much). Because then you can point out that Iran has them. And you won't even be lying, as with forged documents claiming Iraq is buying uranium or hired subcontractors pretending aluminum tubes are for nuclear weapons. With Operation Merlin you can work some real dark magic: You can tell the truth about Iran having what you so desperately want Iran to appear to have.

Why go to such efforts? Why do Operation Merlin, whatever the motivation(s) may have been?

Democracy!

Of course.

But when "Bob S." is asked who authorized this madness he doesn't say. He clearly suggests that it initiated within the CIA, but avoids specifics. When Jeffrey Sterling told Congress, Congress didn't tell the public. And when somebody told James Risen, the U.S. government -- so outraged over assaults on freedom of the press in Paris -- started hauling people into court.

And the public doesn't even show up to watch the trial.

Attend this trial, people. Report on it. Report the truth. You'll have no competition. The big media are not in the room.


Talk Nation Radio: Alice Slater on Nuclear Abolition, Nuclear Peril

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-alice-slater-on-nuclear-abolition-nuclear-peril

Alice Slater is New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000 and on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War. Her blog is at http://globalhousework.org She discusses the growing movement to abolish nuclear weapons, the nations that are developing nuclear energy in order to be close to having the weapons, the offer that North Korea has made to the United States, and the history of resentments -- and the ignorance of that history -- that are leading toward potential nuclear conflict and apocalypse.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Protesting Torturers

Code-Pink-CIA-Cheney-Protest-10Jan2015-Katie-Frates-Daily-Caller-64-620x413

Lots of photos here.

We protested with CodePink, Witness Against Torture, et alia, at John Brennan's house, Dick Cheney's house, and the CIA.

Talk Nation Radio: Kristin Christman on the Taxonomy of Peace

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-kristin-christman-on-the-taxonomy-of-peace

Kristin Y. Christman is author of The Taxonomy of Peace, a work that analyzes the aggressive and defensive roots of violence in the Middle East and the United States, as well as mental, legal, and physical escalators of violence, and solutions to violence.  She discusses the significance of her work to foreign policy, as well as recent op-ed writings pertaining to U.S. attitudes towards Russia, the Middle East, and police violence in Ferguson and New York City.  Her work is online at  http://sites.google.com/site/paradigmforpeace

Also read these articles by Christman:
The Religion of War
The Atom of Peace
Excessive Force With a Clean Conscience
Iceberg
Practical Problem-Solving

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

The Atlantic Can't Figure Out Why U.S. Loses Wars

The cover of the January-February 2015 The Atlantic asks "Why Do The Best Soldiers in the World Keep Losing?" which leads to this article, which fails to answer the question.

The main focus of the article is the by now endlessly familiar discovery that most U.S.-Americans are not in the military. The article is accompanied by another advocating a draft. The claim in the main article is that because most people are disconnected from the military they are more willing to send it off into unwinnable wars.

Nowhere does the author, James Fallows, attempt to so much as hint at what makes the wars unwinnable. He does claim that the last war that was in any way victorious for the United States was the Gulf War. But he can't mean that it resolved a crisis. It was a war followed by bombings and sanctions and, in fact, the repeated revival of the war, ongoing and escalating even now.

What Fallows must mean is that once the U.S. military had done what it can do -- namely, blow stuff up -- in the Gulf War, it more or less stopped. The early days in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq 2003 saw very similar "victories," as did Libya 2011 and numerous other U.S. wars. Why Fallows ignores Libya I don't know, but Iraq and Afghanistan go down as losses in his book, I think, not because there's no draft or because the military and Congress are corrupt and build the wrong weapons, but because after blowing everything up, the military stuck around for years trying to make people like it by murdering their friends and family members. Such occupations are virtually unwinnable, as in Vietnam and numerous other places, because people will not accept them, and because military attempts to create acceptance are counterproductive. A better military with more self-criticism, a draft, and an audited budget would not alter this fact in the slightest.

Fallows' contention that nobody pays any attention to wars and militarism misses the point, but it is also overstated. "I'm not aware," he writes, "of any midterm race for the House or Senate in which matters of war and peace . . . were first-tier campaign issues." He's forgotten 2006 when exit polls showed ending the war on Iraq as the number one motivator of voters after numerous candidates opposed the war they would escalate as soon as they were in office.

Fallows also overstates the impact of public separation from the military. He believes it was possible to make fun of the military in popular culture when, and because, more of the public was closer to the military through family and friends. But this avoids the general downward slide of the U.S. media and the militarization of U.S. culture which he has not shown to be completely attributable to disconnection.

Fallows thinks that Obama would not have been able to make everyone "look forward" and avoid contemplating military disasters if "Americans had felt effected by the wars' outcome." No doubt, but is the answer to that problem a draft or a bit of education? It doesn't take much to point out to U.S. college students that student debt is unheard of in some nations that fight fewer wars. The U.S. has killed huge numbers of men, women, and children, made itself hated, made the world more dangerous, destroyed the environment, discarded civil liberties, and wasted trillions of dollars that could have done a world of good spent otherwise. A draft would do nothing to make people aware of that situation. And Fallows' focus only on the financial cost of a war -- and not on the 10-times-greater cost of the military justified by the wars -- encourages acceptance of what Eisenhower warned would generate more warfare.

Fallows' effort to look backwards also seems to miss the robotization of U.S. wars. No draft is going to turn us into drones, the pilots of which death machines are themselves disconnected from the wars.

Still, Fallows has a point. It is utterly bizarre that the least successful, most wasteful, most expensive, most destructive public program is largely unquestioned and generally trusted and revered by most of the public. This is the operation that coined the term SNAFU for godsake, and people are ready to believe its every wild tale. Gareth Porter explains the knowingly doomed decision to re-launch the Iraq war in 2014 as a political calculation, not as a means of pleasing profiteers, and of course not as a means of accomplishing anything. Of course, war profiteers work very hard to manufacture the sort of public that insists on or tolerates lots of wars, and the political calculation may be related to pleasing elites more than the general public. It is still worth framing as the greatest cultural crisis before us -- alongside climate denial -- that too many people are willing to cheer for wars and even more to accept the permanent war economy. Anything that shakes up that situation is to be applauded.

War Is So 2014

By Joan Brunwasser, OpEdNews

President Obama has been credited with "ending" and "drawing down" this war [in Afghanistan] not only while expanding it to triple the size but also for a longer period of time than various other major wars combined.The catch is that this war is not over or ending. This year was more deadly than any of the previous 12. War is optional, that it is not imposed on us, that we have the responsibility to scale it back or to end it.

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Talk Nation Radio: Jonathan Landay on War, Politics, and Media

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-jonathan-landay-on-war-politics-and-media

Jonathan Landay is a reporter for McClatchy. His reporting at Knight Ridder during the marketing of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was virtually the only skeptical reporting in the corporate press. He discusses current wars and politics.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Renaming Afghan War, Renaming Murder

The U.S.-led NATO war on Afghanistan has lasted so long they've decided to rename it, declare the old war over, and announce a brand new war they're just sure you're going to love.

The war thus far has lasted as long as U.S. participation in World War II plus U.S. participation in World War I, plus the Korean War, plus the Spanish American War, plus the full length of the U.S. war on the Philippines, combined with the whole duration of the Mexican American War.

Now, some of those other wars accomplished things, I will admit -- such as stealing half of Mexico. What has Operation Freedom's Sentinel, formerly known as Operation Enduring Freedom, accomplished, other than enduring and enduring and enduring to the point where we're numb enough to completely overlook a new name as Orwellian as Freedom's Sentinel (what -- was "Liberty's Enslaver" already taken)?

Well, according to President Obama, over 13 years of bombing and occupying Afghanistan has made us safer. That seems like a claim someone should request some evidence for. The U.S. government has spent nearly a trillion dollars on this war, plus roughly 13 trillion dollars in standard military spending over 13 years, a rate of spending radically increased by using this war and related wars as the justification. Tens of billions of dollars could end starvation on earth, provide the globe with clean water, etc. We could have saved millions of lives and chose to kill thousands instead. The war has been a leading destroyer of the natural environment. We've tossed our civil liberties out the window in the name of "freedom." We've produced so many weapons they've had to be shuffled off to local police departments, with predictable results. A claim that something good has come and is coming and will continue to come for many future years from this war is worth looking into.

Don't look too closely. The CIA finds that a key component of the war (targeted drone murders -- "murders" is their word) is counterproductive. Before the great opponent of war Fred Branfman died this year he collected a long list of statements by members of the U.S. government and military stating the same thing. That murdering people with drones tends to enrage their friends and families, producing more enemies than you eliminate, may become easier to understand after reading a study that recently found that when the U.S. targets a person for murder, it kills 27 additional people along the way. General Stanley McChrystal said that when you kill an innocent person you create 10 enemies. I'm not a mathematician, but I think that comes to about 270 enemies created each time someone is put on the kill list, or 280 if the person is or is widely believed to be innocent (of what it's not exactly clear).

This war is counterproductive on its own terms. But what are those terms? Usually they are a declaration of vicious revenge and a condemnation of the rule of law -- albeit dressed up to sound like something more respectable. It's worth recalling here how this all began. The United States, for three years prior to September 11, 2001, had been asking the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden. The Taliban had asked for evidence of his guilt of any crimes and a commitment to try him in a neutral third country without the death penalty. This continued right into October, 2001. (See, for example "Bush Rejects Taliban Offer to Hand Bin Laden Over" in the Guardian, October 14, 2001.) The Taliban also warned the United States that bin Laden was planning an attack on U.S. soil (this according to the BBC). Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik told the BBC that senior U.S. officials told him at a U.N.-sponsored summit in Berlin in July 2001 that the United States would take action against the Taliban in mid-October. He said it was doubtful that surrendering bin Laden would change those plans. When the United States attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the Taliban asked again to negotiate handing over bin Laden to a third country to be tried. The United States rejected the offer and continued a war on Afghanistan for many years, not halting it when bin Laden was believed to have left that country, and not even halting it after announcing bin Laden's death.

So, in opposition to the rule of law, the United States and its accomplices have conducted a record-long killing spree that could have been avoided with a trial in 2001 or by never having armed and trained bin Laden and his associates in the 1980s or by never having provoked the Soviet Union into invading or by never having launched the Cold War, etc.

If this war has not accomplished safety -- with polling around the globe finding the United States now viewed as the greatest threat to world peace -- has it accomplished something else? Maybe. Or maybe it still can -- especially if it is ended and prosecuted as a crime. What this war could still accomplish is the full removal of the distinction between war and what the CIA and the White House call what they're doing in their own reports and legal memos: murder.

A German newspaper has just published a NATO kill list -- a list similar to President Obama's -- of people targeted for murder. On the list are low-level fighters, and even non-fighting drug dealers. We really have replaced incarceration and the accompanying torture and law suits and moral crises and editorial hand-wringing with murder.

Why should murder be more acceptable than imprisonment and torture? Largely I think we're leaning on the vestiges of a long-dead tradition still alive as mythology. War -- which we absurdly imagine has always been and will always be -- didn't used to look like it does today. It did not used to be the case that 90 percent of the dead were non-combatants. We still talk about "battlefields," but they're used to actually be such things. Wars were arranged and planned for like sports matches. Ancient Greek armies could camp next to an enemy without fear of a surprise attack. Spaniards and Moors negotiated the dates for battles. California Indians used accurate arrows for hunting but arrows without feathers for ritual war. War's history is one of ritual and of respect for the "worthy opponent." George Washington could sneak up on the British, or Hessians, and kill them on Christmas night not because nobody had ever thought of crossing the Delaware before, but because that just wasn't what one did.

Well, now it is. Wars are fought in people's towns and villages and cities. Wars are murder on a massive scale. And the particular approach developed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the U.S. military and CIA has the potential advantage of looking like murder to most people. May that motivate us to end it. May we resolve not to let this go on another decade or another year or another month. May we not engage in the pretense of talking about a mass murder as having ended just because the mass murderer has given the crime a new name. Thus far it is only the dead who have seen an end to the war on Afghanistan.

No More Khirbet Khizehs

"Fields that would never be harvested, plantations that would never be irrigated, paths that would become desolate. A sense of destruction and worthlessness. An image of thistles and brambles everywhere, a desolate tawniness, a braying wilderness. And already from those fields accusing eyes peered out at you, that silent accusatory look as of a reproachful animal, staring and following you so there was no refuge." -- Yizhar Smilansky, Khirbet Khizeh

On the day in 2014 that I read the new English translation of Khirbet Khizeh, Tom Engelhardt published a blog post rewriting recent news articles on the U.S. Senate's torture report as a 2019 Senate report on drone murders. The 2019 "news" media in Tom's believable account is shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- by the rampant murder discovered to have been committed using missiles from drones of all things.

The point is that most of what's been discussed as news from the recent torture report, and certainly all of the fundamental moral points -- has been known -- or, more accurately, knowable for years. For the past several years, the U.S. establishment has been repeatedly "banning" torture. It has also been repeatedly discovering the same evidence of torture, over and over again. Leading torturers have gone on television to swear they'd do it all again, while radical activist groups have demanded "investigations."

The point is that at some point "truth and reconciliation" is lies and reconciliation -- the lies of pretending that the truth needed to be unearthed, that it was hidden for a time, that the crimes weren't committed in the broad daylight of television spotlights on a sweaty old man assuring us he was about to start working on the dark side.

Illustrated at right, from the iNakba app, are villages that were destroyed in 1948 to create Israel. Generations of Israelis have grown up not knowing, not wanting to know, pretending not to know, and knowing without confronting the Catastrophe. Israelis are discovering what happened, unburying the hidden truth, filming aging participants' distorted confessions, and hunting out the outlines of disappeared villages on GoogleEarth.

But what if the truth was always marching naked down the street with trumpets sounding?

In May 1949, Yizhar Smilansky published Khirbet Khizeh, a fictional account of the destruction of a fictional village much like many real ones. Smilansky knew or hoped that he was ahead of his time, so much so that he began the tale by framing it as a recollection from the distant future. The narrator, like the reader, was known by the author to be unable to see for years to come.

What would keep the book alive until that distant day?

Poetry.

It's not a Senate report. Khirbet Khizeh is a work of masterful insight and storytelling that grips you and compels you to enter the experience of its narrator and his companions, as they do what the author had done, as they imitate Nazis before all the ashes had fallen from the skies above the ovens in Europe.

This book was planted and grew. It's been taught in Israeli schools. It was a movie on Israeli television in 1978. And now, with a sense that perhaps sleepy eyes are stretching open at long last, the book has had itself translated into the language of the imperial homeland, English.

But how could poetry keep heresy alive?

Several ways, I think. Absolute failure to pay attention, for one. Think about how literature is taught in many U.S. schools, for example. The ability of people to hear the poetry without the meaning, for another. Think about people singing John Lennon's Imagine without having the slightest idea they've just proposed to abolish religions, nations, and private property, or how people throw around the phrase "peace on earth" in December. Perverse but predictable and perhaps predicted misinterpretation, for another. Think about how viewers of the propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty read accounts of torture, for example -- as a dirty job that needed doing for a greater cause.

It's a strain, to me at least, to read Khirbet Khizeh as a celebration of genocide or mass-eviction. And the book not only suffered but also benefitted from being ahead of its time. It pre-existed the mythologies and rhetorical defenses that grew up around the Catastrophe in the decades that followed. When the narrator makes a slight resistance to what he is engaged in, no reader can find anything but humanitarian motivation in his resistance. The idea that this soldier, questioning his fellow soldiers, is engaged in anti-Semitism would literally make no sense. He's revolted by the cruelty, no more no less -- cruelty that every adult and child has to have always known was part of any mass settlement of ancient lands in 1948.

When I was a child, in elementary school, I wrote a story about an eviction of a family from its house, complete with plenty of tear-jerking details. As a good American I wrote about British redcoats evicting patriotic U.S. revolutionaries. My teacher suggested to me that I had a talent for writing. But that wasn't writing. Had I written of the Native Americans, the Hawaiians, the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, of Diego Garcia or Vieques or the Marshall Islands or Thule or Okinawa or any of the many places about which silence was expected, that might have been writing.

Let us wish no more Khirbet Khizehs on the people of Palestine and many more Khirbet Khizehs on the world.