Edited by Sam Thielman
I REMEMBER GETTING a tranche of photographs from Pakistan depicting the aftermath of U.S. drone strikes. I saw buildings collapsed by Hellfire missiles. The ruins of someone's dead, muddied hand held up by a loved one. The face, garlanded by flowers, of a child, peaceful in death, except for a blemish on the side of his nose that appears to be a shrapnel wound. The boy's name is Maezol Khan. He was eight years old when a U.S. drone strike ended his life on February 14, 2009.
I don't look at those photographs very often, because I'm a human being and seeing images of dead children is unbearable. I got the pictures from someone who thought it was important that I publish them, so I published them, told their story and then put them away. I don't think I even used them as research material for REIGN OF TERROR. But I think you see where I'm going with this.
Before the angelic faces of those murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tx.—murder materially supported by the arms industry; the political system that considers guns sacred and people profane; and the savage currents of American history undergirding and dialectically advancing those things—there were the angelic faces of those murdered in Pakistan—a murder materially supported by the arms industry; the political system that considers Americans' violence sacred and foreigners' violence profane; and the savage currents of American history that undergird and dialectically advance those things.
I've had the occasion to spend informal time with people who design and implement U.S. foreign policy. Over the years, when a slaughter happens in a school somewhere like Sandy Hook or Parkland, I've heard some of these people remark that they don't understand this country anymore. Those with deployment experience occasionally observe that they're reminded of what they saw over there. They understand over there to be a place of intractable hatreds and casual violence that a reluctant America must sort out. They understand this country to be the only fit candidate to perform the sorting.
But there is only one United States of America. What America does abroad is what America does at home. Only the scale of it changes.
America's default positions are of dominance, extraction, exploitation and justification. America is used to these templates. That's why America reaches for them in times of crisis. The CIA, after 9/11, kidnapped people and contorted their bodies in stress positions because that's America's muscle memory from doing it to enslaved Africans and conquered native nations. One of the torturers at Guantanamo Bay learned his craft—the production of evidence through violence—by torturing Black people in Chicago. The SEALs' Red Squadron used specially-made hatchets to mutilate Afghan and Iraqi corpses, a pantomime of how they understood someone else's savagery to manifest. They viewed it as a borrowed technique, not a legacy one, even though they were saying something as old as settler colonialism itself: we will out-savage you, for we are the civilized. In this fashion America came to dominate the global arms market.
John Ganz writes:
It seems worth reflecting today that so many myths of American individualism—the non-conformist, the self-made man, the moral striver—have frayed or faded, except perhaps for one: the armed citizen, the frontiersman, ready to defend himself, his family and his property. But that too has turned into something perverse, not just ailing but : a solipsistic and paranoid ideology of unalloyed self-assertion. Massacres, then, are not really pathological, so much as a necessary outcome: if you are armed and you are a social atom with even your own sense of reality, then what binds you to others at all?
History is not destiny. There is no such thing as destiny. Destiny is an alibi to license injustice under the guise of inevitability. The only destiny we stan is Irene Adler.
That said, there are certain historical trajectories along which, absent a countervailing force, we can expect to continue. Uncle Sam, in his resting state, is a frontiersman, not a constitutionalist. The frontier birthed the Constitution, so the Constitution licenses the frontiersman. When the frontiersman feels inhibited by the Constitution he rails against the restraints of a document he otherwise holds sacred, or he escapes it, or he seeks to suborn it to his will. The constitutionalist, fearing that he may lose everything in a clash with the frontiersman, accommodates him, for the constitutionalist needs the frontiersman. The frontiersman clears, the Army holds, the capitalist builds—he plunders, really, but we're using the language of counterinsurgency here—and the constitutionalist justifies. Only through such justification can this savagery posture as the noble advance of progress.
And so the political system in this country tells us that children are less important than gun possession because that's how freedom works, and we can do nothing about it because of the constitutional order or the rules of politesse within the Senate or whatever. People with uteruses are not human beings, possessed of a God-given inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but vessels to replenish schools and eventually workforces with people who can, to be sure, get killed by gunmen or police or economic exploitation or policy neglect. Mental health services are luxuries that are less available than firearms, to say nothing of redress for the material conditions that so often undergird mental-health crises, which has the effect of casting psychopathy as a poor person's problem. Is it any surprise that these same custodians of the political system, the constitutional order and the rules of politesse within the Senate incline toward a violent, exploitative foreign policy? Is it any surprise that they don't recognize that foreign policy as either violent or exploitative? Violence, after all, is the domain of the savage, who should have known better than to provoke the frontiersman into defending himself.
Alex Pareene writes:
Frustration with our anti-politics is channeled into disdain for “politics.” Politicians elected to solve problems by doing politics blame “politics” for why the problems cannot be solved. In that context, what do you expect people to embrace? What solutions might they turn to, once you have taught them that this system, which excludes them from any meaningful representation of their interests, which forecloses any possibility of their preferences from being enacted, is “democracy”?
Democracy is not what we have here. We have oligarchy with electoral ratification. The United States of America occupied the concept of democracy and refashioned it in its image so as to exclude economic democracy, the guarantor of durable democracy, and fill its void with racialized capitalism.
If we are to have democracy, and personally I think that's a great idea, it will come from the multiracial working class in America acting under the banner of solidarity to replace the socio-economic foundations of the United States with socialism and entrenching its victory within the architecture of a transformed Constitution. That is also what it will take to end the American empire and the harm it inflicts worldwide. What America does abroad is what America does at home. Maezol Khan's face is Jose Flores' face.
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I KEEP FAILING TO WRITE adequately about this but the Biden administration has re-escalated the war in Somalia. Last summer, when I did interviews for REIGN, the Afghanistan withdrawal prompted a lot of questions about whether the administration was closing the page on the War on Terror. Looks like I won't be fielding similar questions for the upcoming paperback release.
CNN, WHICH ONLY ISRAEL could ever consider hostile to Israel, recognizes that Israeli forces killed the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. From CNN's piece:
"We saw around four or five military vehicles on that street with rifles sticking out of them and one of them shot Shireen. We were standing right there, we saw it. When we tried to approach her, they shot at us. I tried to cross the street to help, but I couldn't," Awad said, adding that he saw that a bullet struck Abu Akleh in the gap between her helmet and protective vest, just by her ear.
A 16-year-old, who was among the group of men and boys on the street, told CNN that there were "no shots fired, no stone throwing, nothing," before Abu Akleh was shot. He said that the journalists had told them not to follow as they walked toward Israeli forces, so he stayed back. When the gunfire broke out, he said he ducked behind a car on the road, three meters away, where he watched the moment she was killed. The teenager shared a video with CNN, filmed at 6:36 a.m., just after the journalists left the scene for the hospital, which showed the five Israeli army vehicles driving slowly past the spot where Abu Akleh died. The convoy then turns left before leaving the camp via the roundabout.
Israel, whose apartheid profanes Jewish history, is accelerating settlement in Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron, ahead of President Biden's upcoming visit. (It did something similar in Jerusalem when Biden was vice president, too.) From the Washington Post:
“I don’t think we’ll see pictures of people being put on trucks, because of the optics,” said Dror Sadot of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that has worked on the case. “What we’ll see will just be more repeated demolitions, which will force the community to leave because they can’t live there anymore.”
BREAK YOUR BRAIN on quantum positioning. From my former WIRED colleague Cade Metz:
When data travels this way, without actually traveling the distance between the nodes, it cannot be lost. “Information can be fed into one side of the connection and then appear on the other,” Dr. Hanson said.
The information also cannot be intercepted. A future quantum internet, powered by quantum teleportation, could provide a new kind of encryption that is theoretically unbreakable.