Capitol Hill, Wednesday June 23. At a Senate Armed Services budget hearing, General Mark Milley – Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by that fact the highest ranking officer in the US Military – gave what Washington Post calls “a fiery response” to criticism from Trump ally and Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz that the forces under his command have gone too far down the road of ‘woke’ politics.
Truth be told, my header is a tease. It’s stretching things to claim the general is pro critical race theory. He just made the case for his country – which flouts international law in pursuit of Full Spectrum Dominance; brings death, terror and sanctioned starvation to state after insufficiently compliant state in the global south; and ratchets up nuclear tensions as its transparent bid to prevent the economic rise of Eurasia is sold to the credulous in the name of every worthy cause under the sun – having an “open minded” and “widely read” military.
“I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx and read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist! I want to understand what is happening to my country.”
I came across the Milley clip on Friday night, with social media comments mostly welcoming his remarks.
As it happens I’d that afternoon watched a Sky documentary on the case of Sandra Bland … 1
… and by a slightly bigger coincidence was digesting the news, also on Friday night, that Derek Chauvin – the Minneapolis cop who murdered George Floyd – has been handed a sentence of twenty-two and a half years.
But back to General Mark Milley, and that clip of him speaking on Capitol Hill at Wednesday’s hearing. I described social media comment as “mostly welcoming” but one remark sneaked in a line from The Godfather:
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
What did he mean?
Pretty much what I meant when, in a footnote to a post on a different subject, I wrote …
a word to the good hearted ingenues who cheered Twitter’s banning of Donald Trump. Has it never occurred to you that tyranny may come by stealth, starting with the low hanging fruit? First they came for the unlovable …
… and pretty much what Michael Rosen was trying to tell us with his magnificent poem:
In light of such thoughts I recommend a piece on Wednesday, the day Milley spoke on Capitol Hill. Writing on the Common Dreams site, Kenny Stancil begins:
‘Disturbing’: US Military Document Puts Socialists in Same Category as Neo-Nazis
June 23, 2021. The Navy’s new counterterrorism training guide says socialists are “political terrorists,” just like neo-nazis.
A new U.S. military training document obtained exclusively by The Intercept places socialists in the same “terrorist ideological category” as neo-nazis, worsening longstanding progressive fears that a federal crackdown on “domestic terrorism” would just as likely be used to target leftists who want a truly democratic society as to thwart far-right extremists who favor racist authoritarianism.
Journalist Ken Klippenstein, the recipient of the leaked counterterrorism training material, reported Tuesday that the Navy’s new guide includes the following question: “Anarchists, socialists, and neo-nazis represent which terrorist ideological category?”
“The correct answer is ‘political terrorists,'” according to Klippenstein, who was informed on the matter by an unnamed military source familiar with the training.
More nuanced, more demanding of close reading, is a piece by Jonathan Cook. Writing on his Blog from Nazareth site on June 22, the day before Milley’s Capitol Hill remarks, he examines attacks on Glenn Greenwald, the principled man who left the Guardian as it ran for cover under fire from MI5 in the wake of the Snowden revelations. Glenn subsequently left The Intercept, a purportedly radical source, over an issue I too have lost friends over.
Greenwald, unlike his Intercept colleague Naomi Klein, 2 objected to Intercept downplaying of corruption in the Democrat Party – Biden and Clintons in particular – in the name of fighting the Greater Evil of Trump by getting a Democrat in the Oval Office.
Challenging the reductivism of anti Biden = pro Trump, Cook takes the side of Greenwald in a spat with Nathan Robinson, editor of the independent socialist magazine, Current Affairs:
The problem with characterising Trump as supremely evil is the authoritarian conclusions that flow from it … conclusions we have seen parts of the left adopting. Robinson may not expressly share these conclusions but, unlike Greenwald, he has largely ignored or downplayed the threat they present.
If Trump poses a unique danger to democracy, then to avoid any recurrence:
- We are obligated to rally uncritically, or at least very much less critically, behind whoever was selected to be his opponent. Following Trump’s defeat, we are dutybound to restrain our criticisms of the winner, Joe Biden, however poor his performance, in case it opens the door to Trump, or someone like Trump, standing for the presidency in four years’ time.
- We must curb free speech and limit the free-for-all of social media in case it contributed to the original surge of support for Trump, or created the more febrile political environment in which Trump flourished.
- We must eradicate all signs of populism, whether on the right or the left, because we cannot be sure that in a battle of populisms the left will defeat the right, or that leftwing populism cannot be easily flipped into rightwing populism.
- And most importantly, we must learn to distrust “the masses” – those who elected Trump – because they have demonstrated that they are too easily swayed by emotion, prejudice and charisma. Instead, we must think in more traditional liberal terms, of rule by technocrats and “experts” who can be trusted to run our societies largely in secret but provide a stability that should keep any Trumps out of power.
Relevance to BLM, and the seeming willingness of Pentagon High Command to embrace critical race theory? First and most obviously, the context for General Milley’s remarks was the Capitol Hill Riots.
Second, and more generally, ostensibly liberal causes now frequently serve reactionary ends: Assange the Rapist … Corbyn the Anti-Semite … Putin the Homophobe … Assad the Transphobe …
Like I said: first they come for the unloved. And while many of us think we Already Know, from WW2 movies, what tyranny looks like, it takes a poet to warn us that, on reflection, maybe it won’t show up in fancy dress after all.
Third, and back to specifics, here’s Greenwald himself. Responding yesterday to the General’s remarks, he writes:
What is Behind Gen. Mark Milley’s Righteous Race Sermon? Look to the New Domestic War on Terror.
The overarching ideology of Pentagon officials is larger military budgets and ongoing permanent war posture. Their new war target, explicitly, is domestic “white rage.”
For two hundred forty years, American generals have not exactly been defined by adamant public advocacy for left-wing cultural dogma. Yet there appeared to be a great awakening at the Pentagon on Wednesday when Gen. Mark Milley, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at a House hearing. The Chairman vehemently defended the teaching of critical race theory at West Point and, referencing the January 6 Capitol riot, said, “it is important that we train and we understand … and I want to understand white rage. And I’m white.”
In response to conservative criticisms that top military officials should not be weighing in on inflammatory and polarizing cultural debates, liberals were ecstatic to have found such an empathetic, racially aware, and humanitarian general sitting atop the U.S. imperial war machine. Overnight, Gen. Milley became a new hero for U.S. liberalism, a noble military leader which — like former FBI Director Robert Mueller before him — no patriotic, decent American would question let alone mock. Some prominent liberal commentators warned that conservatives are now anti-military and even seek to defund the Pentagon.
It is, of course, possible that the top brass of the U.S. military has suddenly become supremely enlightened on questions of racial strife and racial identity in the U.S., and thus genuinely embraced theories that, until very recently, were the exclusive province of left-wing scholars at elite academic institutions. Given that all U.S. wars in the post-World War II era have been directed at predominantly non-white countries, which — like all wars — required a sustained demonization campaign of those enemy populations, having top Pentagon officials become leading anti-racism warriors would be quite a remarkable transformation indeed. But …
In just 200 years we’ve progressed from expecting our leaders to murder brown skinned people while saying racist things, to expecting our leaders to murder brown skinned people while condemning racism. Caitlin Johnstone
… the post-WW2 military posture of the U.S. has been endless war. To enable that, there must always be an existential threat, a new and fresh enemy that can scare a large enough portion of the population with sufficient intensity to make them accept, even plead for, greater military spending, surveillance powers, and continuation of permanent war footing. Starring in that war-justifying role of villain have been the Communists, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Russia, and an assortment of other fleeting foreign threats.
According to the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community, and President Joe Biden, none of those is the greatest national security threat to the United States any longer. Instead, they say explicitly and in unison, the gravest menace to American national security is now domestic in nature. Specifically, it is “domestic extremists” in general — and far-right white supremacist groups in particular — that now pose the greatest threat to the safety of the homeland and to the people who reside in it.
In other words, to justify a domestic War on Terror that has already provoked billions more in military spending and intensified domestic surveillance, the Pentagon must ratify the narrative that those they are fighting in order to defend the homeland are white supremacist domestic terrorists. That will not work if white supremacists are small in number or weak and isolated in their organizing capabilities. To serve the war machine’s agenda, they must pose a grave, pervasive and systemic threat.
A final word. I don’t fully endorse everything said in the three pieces I quote: not even that by Jonathan Cook, though he comes closest. What they do, however, is bring sharper cutting tools – and a soupcon of old style scepticism of the kind that has you look under the bonnet before buying a used car – to a discussion led for too long by the half-baked and naively simplistic.
As such, all three are to be welcomed.
* * *
- I recommend the Sandra Bland documentary. Sandra was vivacious, politically aware, highly intelligent and (like her surviving sisters) articulate. A vlogger on race and inclusion, prior to being suicided in a Texan jail cell, Sandra made this comment: “I hear folk saying all lives matter but black people already know that. It’s white people who need to learn that all lives matter!”
- Naomi Klein is another example of those who have given us works of great value – Shock Doctrine is a stunning expose of the depths of murderous cynicism in the deep state – while in other arenas falling well short of their own standards. Some criticise me for citing such sources. I deem those attacks the infantile hallmarks of sectarian purism.