Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Fuck the Troops

"A real soldier, whatever his country may be, is hardly a citizen."
--Marquis de Custine, 1843

"...the worst outgrowth of life [is] the military system. I feel only contempt for those who take pleasure marching in rank and file to the strains of a band. Heroism on command, senseless violence and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism...how I despise them all!"
--Albert Einstein, 1922

Soldiers, throughout history, have earned their poor reputations. Whether the war in question is a dynastic meatgrinder like the Thirty Years' War, a struggle for liberation like the American Revolution, or a secret war like the ones the US fought in Laos and Cambodia during the 1960's, one consistent attribute of these conflicts is the occasionally appalling behavior of the troops towards each other and towards the surrounding civilian populations. Even in the best of circumstances, soldiers can be large marauding forces, devastating landscapes with their appetites just as readily as they can with artillery. The Civil War of 1861-65 was the most recent example in American history of vicious, protracted war fought on our soil. When compared to the vicissitudes of history suffered by nations like Poland or Vietnam it seems that the US has gotten off rather lightly in the register of historical horrors. All of the conflicts indulged in by the US since the Civil War have been of the overseas variety, which has minimized the US population's contact with that most frightening of humans, the hungry and heavily armed soldier in full bloody fury, remorseless and full of hate.

Soldiers are not heroes to anyone except other soldiers. The longstanding view of the happy and motivated soldier sacrificing all to save his or her country's freedom from nasty people and nastier ideologies is a deceitful cartoon that leaves out much of the reality of life as a soldier. Whether they are being sent thousands of miles away to murder people at the behest of their superiors or being asked to defend their homeland to the death against invaders, many soldiers cannot rationalize the suspension of the laws of humanity that occurs during warfare with their tightly-controlled upbringing in societies that base themselves on strict laws and customs. Youth and inexperience make them susceptible to propaganda, which then blocks their remaining humanity from ever developing. The resulting disconnection between their military reality and their moral, human self is often too large to successfully navigate, and this disconnection can manifest itself in explosive and amoral episodes of violence. The terrible experiences of combat never leave the psyche of the soldier who lives through it; oftentimes the intensity of combat drives the soldier insane. This insanity can show up immediately or years down the road; countries ranging from Britain after WW I, the US after Vietnam, or the USSR after Afghanistan have all had substantial problems with their veterans' readjustment to so-called "normal" society after the guns of war went silent. All the more reason to keep US veterans away from the political arena, despite our country's disturbing penchant for equating military service with the ability to govern a diverse and complex society.

Much is made in the US of how we must try to sympathize with our military brethren overseas, fighting a war to protect our freedom. The word "hero" is tossed about like a five-dollar chip at a casino. Yet the recent conduct of our soldiers in Haditha, combined with the recent arrest of 5 US soldiers for rape and murder, shows that the same moral impulses that resulted in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib are still directing the conduct of US troops in the field. These people are not heroes--they are assholes; they are murdering, sadistic fucking scum who would not be out of place in a medieval army. They are living examples of the depths that human beings lower themselves to when they feel unencumbered by the restraints of everyday morality. I know all the arguments made on their behalf--the military consists of lower-class kids who needed an opportunity, it's not their fault that they have a job that requires them to kill people, etc., etc.--but I ask people to consider that the current edition of the US military is a volunteer force. Nobody drafted these unfortunate people; they chose to pick up guns and risk their lives for their country, right or wrong. This act in itself does not constitue heroism, not by a fucking long shot.

It's also worth remembering that governmental oppression is always enacted by a government's military. The rapists and murderers of the Sudan, Israel, Serbia, and Iraq are not lawyers or preachers or cab drivers--they are soldiers. The ethnic cleansers of the American West were not working in accord with America's manifest destiny--they were soldiers. The killers at Tiananmen Square in 1989 or in Prague in 1968 were not actors or musicians--they were soldiers. Fuck them all. They are the basest form of predatory human existence. Shooting someone with a rifle is a crime. To pretend that it is a glorious act of national heroism is a grotesque lie--and the power of this lie to deform the human mind is constantly on display.

Say it with me now--FUCK THE TROOPS! No more killing for peace!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Slow Month....Enlivened by a Guest Appearance

I have not been posting much this month; health issues have once again reared their ugly head, counterbalanced by happy thoughts and last-minute preparations for the imminent birth of our first child. I did manage to get around to posting once this month, however, at the request of fellow lefty blogger Blue Gal. She is on vacation this week, and has petitioned several different firebrands this week to guest-post at her fine blog. Our topic was to examine some of the potential candidates for the 2008 Presidential election. I chose the disturbing, vicious, philandering, and self-righteous Rudolph Giuliani as my target, and you can read it here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

the Triumph of Doom

Last night I went to a reconverted church to see a coronation. Japan's crushingly heavy Boris was playing with the earthshaking SunnO))) at the Avalon in Manhattan, along with avant-guitarist Oren Ambarchi. I was surprised to see the size and the fervour of the crowd. I knew Boris had become a very popular underground draw but was unprepared for the amount of goodwill they engendered in their audience. Although the club Avalon is merely another incarnation of the zipperhead standby dance club the Limelight, the room was a good place to see a show. The high ceilings of the room muddied up the sound of Boris, but SunnO))) sounded amazing. The crowd was pretty diverse for an indie rock show, with everyone from t-shirted hipsters from Williamsburg to dressed-down thrash metallers from Queens, and what was most surprising to me was the patience of the crowd as the drones unfolded from the stage.

Oren Ambarchi started things off with an understated half-hour long piece utilizing minimalist melodic snippets run through a variety of effects. Elongated and processed sustains collided with deep rumbling bass tones, and the elegiac feel of the piece was shattered nicely by an explosion of noise at around the 20-minute mark. I figured for sure that the crowd would despise Ambarchi's gentle pulsings and surges, but they loved it. He would return to play with SunnO))) during their set.

Boris was everything I hoped they would be. Powerful, charismatic, tight, and ecstatic, the trio ripped through a set that drew mostly from their last two full-length releases, Pink and Akuma No Uta. They were received joyously by the crowd. Their professionalism was underscored by their showmanship, led by manic white-gloved drummer Atsuo, who served as set boss and chief ringleader for the band. Whether saluting the crowd with his gong-stick, screaming into his headset microphone, or simply pounding the shit out of his drums, Atsuo got the crowd fired up with his energy and sense of fun. Their set concentrated more on shorter songs, but one or two crawling tempos snuck out from underneath. They closed with a tremendous take on Pink's amazing shoegazer/stoner rock opener after punishing the crowd with a nifty hour-plus set. All in all, they proved themselves to be one of the most creatively asskicking bands on the planet.

I had seen SunnO))) three times prior to last night, with diminishing levels of enjoyment each time. I love their records and think that they are one of the most unique bands currently active, combining tectonic sludge and awesome guitar and bass tones with noise and creepy guest-vocal weirdness. The last time I'd seen them was last year at Northsix, and I found their set that night to be forgettable. After an amazing smoke-machine/blood red spotlight intro, they devolved into boring drone that was not helped by the ridiculous and timid presence of Malefic (from Xasthur), who contributed black metal vokills to that night's efforts. Thankfully, last night's set left the corpsepaint on the sidelines--the duo of Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley were augmented by Rex Ritter on Moog, Oren Ambarchi on guitar and treatments, and the long-lost Mark Deutrom (ex-Melvins) on bass. The additional low end was great, and Atsuo from Boris contributed some gong hits and weird handheld percussion to the ritual. The first half hour of the set was excellent, with both the crowd and band totally into the performance. All six musicians were draped in black robes with cowls, and the extending of a hand or a fist from the robes was enough to solicit immediate crowd response in all the traditional forms of metallic hand signing--horns were as plentiful as fists. After the first half hour, they seemed to drift aimlessly for about ten minutes before I decided to bail. My neck was tightening up and I'd seen and heard enough for one evening. The crowd was still going strong when I took off, basking in the blackness of doom.

I grabbed a copy of the hard-to-find domestically Boris/Keiji Haino collaborative effort before I left, and it is really fucking cool. All the violence of the man from Fushitsusha's guitar work, backed up with the drones and weight of Boris' sound. Despite leaving a little early during SunnO))), this show was a blast all the way round. A great bill of music that featured several different interpretations of how to be heavy. If doom is now king, one of these bands must wear the black and filth-encrusted crown.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Good Ol' Boys Good-Time Massacree and Prayer Service

Well, it was bound to happen. You send good-hearted, decent American men and women overseas with expensive weaponry and eventually there's going to be one of those types of situations where they just have to kill everyone they see. Especially when they've been programmed to forget all of their innate human qualities and demonize large groups of people as unholy others that must be killed at any cost. The US military has been caught perpetrating the first unadulterated massacre of Iraqi civilians since the war started, and it appears that we can thank the modern communications industry for providing the evidence via a participating Marine's camera on his cellphone. The sharp minds of the military haven't just bought the rope to hang themselves, but they have constructed the slipknot as well. All of those nifty pics from Abu Ghraib must have really taught the military a lesson.

What makes me laugh in the wake of this story is the idea that this behavior is the first of its kind by US troops in Iraq. Incidents like the shooting of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena or the shelling of a hotel containing numerous members of the international media in Baghdad during the early days of the war were initial indicators of the way in which the US wished to conduct itself in this conflict. At this stage, the war has become a stalemate where US soldiers are targets rather than active participants in their own fate. Psychologically this must be a terrible burden, especially when combined with the propaganda our fighting men and women were fed in the runup to war. When words like liberty and freedom are thrown around by douchebag politicans, it is often a signal that a sizable bloodletting is on the way. The ideals of young soldiers must die as hard as their comrades on the battlefield as they see Iraqis rejecting the cheap knockoff of Western democracy being proffered by the cynics of the Bush gang. No roses strewn in their path, merely improvised explosive devices--which I like to call bombs, by the way--and no end in sight to a war that was illegal from its first days of planning. Ignorant and uneducated people under stress are liable to make very bad decisions, and these bad decisions are compounded when high-powered rifles, xenophobia, heatstroke, dehydration, and racism are factored into the equation.

So-called embedded journalists have provided many stories about the thuggish behavior of US troops in the Iraq conflict. The massacre of Haditha is an outgrowth of the same impulse that led US soldiers to torture prisoners; but it is also an outgrowth of the stunted morality practiced by the Bush gang. Their false piety is supposed to excuse the horrific and violent crimes committed against defenseless human beings on a daily basis in Iraq. In the Haditha incident it appears that numerous crimes were committed--murder and a coverup being the most prominent among them. But these soldiers, if guilty, indict the Bush administration by their actions in much the same way that the privately contracted torturers of Abu Ghraib did. Ultimately the moral responsibility for these deaths rests on the empty head of a panicked, privileged, and overwhelmed asshole who calls himself the President of the United States.

One of the photographs taken from the soldier's cellphone in Haditha shows a mother and child bent over in prayer, stilled forever in death. Shooting unarmed human beings in the head while they are crazed with fear, begging for help from their distant and uninvolved deity--is this an example of the heroism of American soldiers? Perhaps it is the level of transgression that a soldier may attain that impresses the impressionable. After all, killing in war is morally excusable, according to all of the Big Three religious traditions; to wallow in the blood of innocent people must be the ultimate transgressive buzz. And as a soldier, after you've killed them, there are a number of even more transgressive acts that can be indulged. Just let your imagination go as wild as your soul. You are an army of one. When you've finished, don't forget to take a knee for Jesus. Your god is bigger and better than their god.

Monday, May 22, 2006

How To Be A Fucking Fascist Disgrace, by Alberto Gonzales

The Bush gang has hit a new low recently. As amazing as this tidbit may seem upon first consideration, it is true. Speaking on former Clinton chief of staff George Stephanopolous' weekly political handjob/television show, the Attorney General announced that the administration is reserving the right to prosecute journalists for violations of national security. According to the nation's chief lawyer, the Constitutional protections of freedom that were once guaranteed for the press are now subservient to the demands of "national security"--all this despite the fact that the words national security are nowhere to be found in the Bill of Rights, but the words freedom of the press are.

To ignore the Constitution while you are a working public official in any part of American government is illegal. For the Attorney General to say that "it can't be the case that that right [the right to a free press] trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity" is utterly mindblowing. Gonzales is an appointed official of a Presidential administration, yet he is claiming the right for the administration to re-interpret and completely distort the Bill of Rights. With this statement, Bush and his gang have declared publicly that they intend to ignore and possibly supersede the Supreme Court when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. Additionally, Gonzales claims that the administration's actions are derived from the will of the people, despite approval poll ratings that have been mired at roughly 33% since last July. If these underhanded misrepresentations of the Constitution were not so serious and threatening to our liberties as citizens of the US, they would be hilarious. The Bush gang is attempting to impose radical legislation from above, enshrouded in the most opaque secrecy, without the consent of the American public, and all despite the fact that they are the most unpopular administration in the last century of American history.

Ever since they allowed the events of 9-11 to occur, the Bush gang has taken a proprietary attitude (to say the least) towards national security. They are attempting to use the fear generated by that day to permanently attach war powers (or to use their trendy term, plenary powers) to the office of the Presidency. Going hand in hand with this repugnantly undemocratic conception of our highest elected office is the idea that the administration can ultimately determine exactly what constitutes a national security issue. In other words, the administration can immediately trump up charges against any citizen or journalist and accuse those individuals with violating national security statutes or directives. Since this administration believes that matters of national security should be forever hidden from any sort of oversight, even more people will soon be arrested in this country without being aware of what crimes they have committed or what crimes they are being charged with. This frightening idea is the germ of the New Christian Primitives' American police state.

These ideas are fundamentally antithetical to any concept of American government. They have their closest philosophical antecedents in such wonderfully anti-human stratagems as Stalin's Article 58 or Britain's anti-Irish Poor Laws of the 19th century. The FISA violations, the lies that built up the rush to Iraq, the Enron bankruptcy, the Katrina disaster, and the scandals surrounding the no-bid contracts given to Halliburton and Blackwater were all brought to the attention of the American public by courageous reporters who risked major retaliation against their reputations, their careers, and their families from a vindictive and vengeful administration. The sacrifices these journalists made to tell the truth will probably never be known. We cannot allow this criminal administration to withdraw protections that are nearly two hundred and thirty years old. The traditions of America are contained within the pages of the Constitution. When will we wake up to defend them?