“They cling to guns or religion”
by Ed Felien
In the 2008 Presidential Campaign, Obama committed what was thought to be a gaffe that the Republicans were quick to jump on. He said, in April, viewing the poverty in rural Pennsylvania:
“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Republicans said it was an attack on religion and an attack on the right to bear arms. And, of course, on some level, it was. It was an attack on ultra conservative religions that regard women as property and second class citizens. It was an attack on religions that are intolerant of other faiths. And it was an attack on the bullying swagger of violence as a way of settling frustration.
It was a good way to explain how reactionary Christianity becomes the bedrock of conservatism in America, but the analysis also could have been a good way to explain reactionary Islam, reactionary Zionism and reactionary nationalism. In many ways the statement was probably the most profound analysis to come out of that or any other Presidential campaign. Certainly nothing this year comes close to it.
It’s a shame Obama didn’t bring up that idea in the foreign policy debate that happened Oct. 22. It would go a long way toward explaining our enemies. Nations, like people, when they are frightened and feel weakened, cling to their guns and religion. Al Qaeda does. So do the Pashtoon in Afghanistan, the mullahs in Iran, and the Zionist settlers in the West Bank in Palestine. The religions won’t explain the conditions of oppression, but they offer a cultural reaffirmation and a justification for violence.
The current situation in Greece offers the best contemporary example of reactionary nationalism. A Washington Post article by Anthony Faiola published on Saturday, Oct. 20, said:
“As deeply indebted European nations undergo waves of harsh government cuts in exchange for European Union-backed bailouts, observers warn that the fabric of society in some countries is being stretched to its breaking point. As countries trim spending, the elderly and disabled are enduring deep reductions in aid and pensions. Workers are losing their jobs or facing sharp salary cuts. Taxes are increased in the middle of steep recessions.
“One in every four Greeks is without work. Youth unemployment is above 50 percent. The suicide rate is climbing.
“The collapsed economy is fertile ground for the Golden Dawn. (T)he party won its first-ever seats in Parliament in May with 7 percent of the vote. A recent poll showed that 22 percent of Greeks view the party favorably.
“In 1987, the magazine of the party — headed by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, a former commando in the Greek special forces — published an issue hailing Hitler as ‘the great man of the 20th century.’ On a recent visit to the help bureau, a poster heralding the Third Reich’s 1936 Berlin Games hung on a wall.
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“Since the Golden Dawn’s rise to office this year, immigrant communities across Greece are reporting what they describe as a reign of terror. In the America Square neighborhood of Athens, for instance, immigrants have begun organizing night watches after shopkeepers had their storefronts vandalized and immigrant men were assaulted. Earlier this month, residents say, a group of Greek men dressed in black stripped and humiliated an Ethiopian woman.”
Most Americans don’t know the role that the CIA played in setting up the first Greek government after World War II. The partisans who had been fighting the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists were mainly made up of communists, socialists and progressives. Churchill and the CIA wanted to support the reinstatement of the monarchy. They armed traditional elements in the Greek military, and after the Allied victory they re-armed the fascist collaborators. In 1947 the Truman Doctrine supported authoritarian regimes in Turkey, Iran and Greece and suppressed leftist democratic movements. By 1949 the communists in Greece had been defeated and fled the country.
Neo-Fascist elements in the Greek military supported by the CIA had a heavy influence in the continuing Greek governments, and The Regime of the Colonels, from 1967 to 1974, was a period of overt military dictatorship sponsored by the CIA. These elements nurtured by the CIA are still active in the military and police. One of the leaders of Golden Dawn said recently that 40 to 50% of the police supported them, and, from the Washington Post: “Greek Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis said he is concerned about the party’s alleged ties to the police and military.” Is the U. S. preparing for another military dictatorship in Greece?
In the debate Romney criticized Obama for an “Apology Tour.” And Obama insisted he never apologized for America.
Well, that’s too bad because there are apologies due.
We could start by apologizing to Greece.
We could apologize to Iran for overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mossadegh and installing the Shah on a Peacock Throne. The CIA-trained SAVAK was probably the most brutal and lethal of all secret police in the Middle East. That could be why many Iranians still think of us as the Great Satan.
We could apologize to Guatemala for overthrowing the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. The CIA and School of Americas-trained military waged a forty-year war of extermination against the indigenous peoples that ended up costing more than 200,000 lives. Remnants of that military dictatorship still run the country.
We could apologize to Chile for overthrowing the democratically elected Allende government and installing the brutal dictatorship of Pinochet.
The list goes on.
We could apologize to Vietnam. In his book, “Mandate for Change,” Eisenhower admitted that even though we signed the peace treaty that ended the French-Indo-China War and agreed to abide by it, we unilaterally cancelled the elections that were supposed to happen re-unify the country because he believed the communists would win. Instead we fought the Vietnamese at a cost of a million Vietnamese lives and 50,000 of our own. And after all that bloodshed, what was the result? The country became unified under the communists, and just recently Vietnamese naval officers were invited to participate in a united show of force with America against China in the South China Sea.
Mitt Romney has said, “The best ally world peace has ever known is a strong America.” And in the debate he said: America is the “torch of freedom and opportunity” and the “hope of the earth.”
Unfortunately, most people in America believe that, and most people in the world know better. Americans have no understanding of the role the CIA has played in undermining democracy throughout the world. There is a dangerous disconnect between how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others.
But the major focus of the foreign policy debate was the Great Game being played in the Middle East. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the British coined the phrase, “The Great Game,” to describe the power politics between Britain and Russia for control over countries in the Middle East. The Crimean War was the bloodiest conflict, involving all of Europe against Russia, fighting over Turkey and the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. They tilted over Afghanistan—the primary source of opium for British traders to sell in China. China was forced to accept the British trade in opium after losing the Opium Wars in 1842 and 1860. The game between Russia and Britain moved eastward to Mongolia and Tibet, and all the while Britain was carefully protecting its prized possession, India, the jewel in the Empress’s crown.
The Great Game continues with the U. S. moving the chess pieces. We now control the flow of opium out of Afghanistan and heroin out of Pakistan. We control the oil out Iraq and Saudi Arabia. We do it with night raids—breaking into homes, arresting suspects without due process like the Nazis in the 1930’s arresting Jews and political undesirables. We do it with the anonymous terror of drone strikes, sometimes the uninvited guest at a wedding party, killing innocent women and children. We are duplicating the horror of 9/11 on a smaller but daily basis for small farmers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Osama bin Laden directed one strike from his cave on 9/11. Barak Obama directs strikes every day as he moves his pawns into play.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her play Aria da Capo, wrote:
Thyrsis: Oh, yes….I know a game worth two of that:
Let’s gather rocks, and build a wall between us;
And say that over there belongs to me,
And over here to you!
Corydon: Why – very well.
And say you may not come upon my side
Unless I say you may!
Thyrsis: Nor you on mine!
And if you should, ‘twould be the worse for you!
Corydon: Come, let us separate
…and lay a plot whereby
We may out do each other.
Corydon: Oh, Thyrsis, just a minute!-all of the water
Is on your side the wall, and the sheep are thirsty.
I hadn’t thought of that.
Thyrsis: Oh, hadn’t you?
Corydon: Why, what do you mean?
Thyrsis: What do I mean? – I mean
That I can play a game as well as you can.
And if the pool is on my side, it’s on
My side, that’s all.
Corydon: You mean you’d let the sheep go thirsty?
Thyrsis: …if you try
To lead them over here, you’ll wish you hadn’t![The two men grow increasingly suspicious and angry. But then they feel awful.]
Thyrsis: It is an ugly game. I hate it….How did it start?
Corydon: I do not know…I think
I am afraid of you!-you are a stranger! I never set eyes on you before!
Ed Felien is the editor of Southside Pride, a Minneapolis neighborhood newspaper.