RANDOMLY FROM THE RADICAL MARGIN : MEMORiZING BODY COUNTS, NORMALIZING INSANITY
2020 has ended swiftly, but there was no magical porthole through which we could saunter into this “new age of Aquarius”—into a land of sustenance without suffering, as the bell tolled ushering January 1, 2021. Many of us were fortunate to view the crossing of Saturn and Jupiter as they continued around the sun on their designated paths, unconcerned about our global destiny as we face this curse of a nature that is alive in its bounty but equally so in its cruelty. But, as a part of that nature what WE do to OUR species and to those others disappearing fast, is altogether a different matter.
As one from the generation of Bob Dylan and company, I have been thinking of the lyrics to his 1962 composition—“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. More poignantly so, because I still hold close to my heart the feeling I had when I heard Dylan singing that song live—back in 1965. Here we are again, facing 2021 with those words uncanny.
“…I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in the front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall…”
And again, “I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it” and “…guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,” and “I met a young woman whose body was burning”, but also, “… a young girl, she gave me a rainbow. Men “wounded in hatred”, also “wounded in love.” Well, listen to the whole song. There was something prophetic in there as the Vietnam War escalated back in our youth, and something prophetic now for the youth of today— growing up in the shadow of a fierce pandemic.
So, with that in mind, as examples of impermanence and uncertainty, once again I’ll note a few numbers that will keep us vigilant about what may or may not change in 2021. The good news is that notwithstanding blunders here and elsewhere, vaccines for Covid-19 are “rolling out” across the world. Pfizer, Moderna, and now Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines have been joined by those produced in China and Russia. (Other types originating in different countries are being tested too, speaking to unity against the pandemic.) The vaccinating process is getting progressively easier, and supervision by WHO and COVAX is critical in getting vaccines to the “poorer” population—--the global South—sooner than later. At the same time, vaccine hoarding continues blatantly and unfortunately for all of us. Reminder: NO ONE IS SAFE UNLESS EVERYONE IS SAFE.
The more immediate and tragic reminder is the unruly trajectory of the virus with its unpredictable virulence. As of this writing, the Johns Hopkins comparison numbers look this way. Fatality to case ratio: UK 3.0%, US 1.7%, India 1.4%. Deaths per 100,000 of population: UK 109.28, US 104.63, India 11.00. Covid-19 infections recorded in the US: 19,906,569. Deaths from Covid-19: 344,525. There’s absolutely no room for complacency, only an urgent need for informed defense—parallel to any solace brought by the vaccines. With this kind of numbers and no end in sight, Congress continues to remain desensitized to the needs of the American people. Bargaining with a coronavirus relief package, juggling with the $2000 stimulus check which McConnell calls “Socialism for the rich!” This from the head of the millionaires’ club—also known as the US Senate. And the inane, morbid, other-worldly denial of the November election continues, urged on by some of those rich Socialists! I’m waiting to see how they fare after January 20. And Oh yes, in case you missed it, our (and the rest of the world’s) billionaire class continues to accumulate wealth and capital while we continue live inside the existential threat of this Covid-19.
Then, there are those others who proclaim justice has been served as they return to uncivil society after being rescued by this POTUS. Pardons and clemencies constitute another example of our "exceptionalism" by which Vietnam era draft resisters and many two-bit hoods unfairly locked up forever, have found legal forgiveness via US Presidents. But so too nefarious mobsters, corrupt cronies, habitual warmongers, uncommon crooks and assassins. They may all sing together, “Pardon me! I’m no common criminal.” (Language is a mile marker in the Trump era.)
Of all the outlaws he has sprung in 2020, no one else compares with the Blackwater Four: Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. These four “security guards” were serving long sentences—after protracted, hit or miss hearings and trial—for killing 14 civilians, including two children in Baghdad in 2007, a massacre that sparked an international outcry over the use of mercenaries in war. These four bandits were part of an armored convoy that opened fire indiscriminately with machine-guns, grenade launchers and a sniper on a crowd of unarmed people in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. Slatten, who was the first to start shooting, was eventually convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life, while the other three were convicted of manslaughter and given sentences of 12 to 15 years.
Mohammad Kinani, whose nine-year old son Ali was the youngest to die in that massacre, describes how couldn’t believe at first that these pardons had been given by Trump. He could never rid himself of memories from that terrible event. He said, “Today he broke my life again. I lost my son and I feel I’m nothing.”
In this context, it is important to reflect on the development of a war machinery without the discernible, visible role of our military in combat. Toward the end of 2020, the US Navy decided to add hundreds of new warrant officer billets over the next decade to fly a carrier-based drone that can refuel other aircraft mid-flight.
Navy Recruiting Command will begin accepting applications in October for warrant officer candidates who want to fly the MQ-25 Stingray, the service's first aircraft carrier-based UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLE. Officials say there will be 450 new warrant officer billets established over the next six to 10 years. THE WARRANT OFFICERS WILL BE TRAINED AS AERIAL VEHICLE OPERATORS, and will be awarded aerial vehicle operator wings once they complete their flight training, LIKE THOSE WORN BY PILOTS AND FLIGHT OFFICERS.
With this trend in mind, what will J’Biden do? Will our citizenry figure out that we are moving away from “messy” encounters where real humans may be accountable, to a clinical use of weapons where no one will peer into those billets?
A couple of reminders about 2020. That was the centenary year for American women getting the vote, and now we can talk about “suburban women” and “soccer moms” come election time. More importantly, about countless working women, often heads of households, very much in the news right now as frontline combatants against Covid-19, and also food and shelter givers. In all capacities, they remain victims of patriarchy, misogyny, economic disparity, but also champions all the way.
Also, 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of America’s use of nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9—--uranium LITTLE BOY and plutonium FAT MAN. The only two nukes to have ever been used with purpose and diligence, on live human beings.
Thinking about this at the year’s end, in a world ravaged by Covid-19, it occurs to me how detached those names were and still are from normal human discourse. After all, how much damage could a sweet little boy or a languid fat man do?
Like every other year, I had listened to the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 2020, as they made their annual plea for an end to nuclear weapons. A few things come to mind now. On this anniversary, a couple of Hibakusha (survivor) women described the horror of their experience as children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Even in the year of a pandemic, one of them shook her head in the end and whispered, “I can never feel the war has ended”.
Some years ago, I had made a pilgrimage to Hiroshima, and this sentiment about an endless war is expressed in many ways in the Peace Museum, specially by those who were children in 1945. I am one of that generation as well, and I remember map-watching with grownups as I saw Hiroshima for the first time in print on the map of Japan, on the morning of August 6, 1945, a few hours after “detonation”. The adults in my life seemed to agree about a catastrophic event which exposed America’s genocidal global undertaking. For all the hue and cry about a Japanese adversary, the war had been over a month ago. I remember my grandfather saying something like that. He was a journalist—a newspaper editor.
At the end of this genocidal year, it is specially significant to remind ourselves how the then POTUS Harry Truman championed the “Atom Bomb” afterwards:
“BUT THE GREATEST MARVEL IS NOT THE SIZE OF THE ENTERPRISE, ITS SECRECY, NOR ITS COST, BUT THE ACHIEVEMENT OF SCIENTIFIC BRAINS IN PUTTING TOGETHER INFINITELY COMPLEX PIECES OF KNOWLEDGE HELD BY MANY MEN IN DIFFERENT FIELDS OF SCIENCE INTO A WORKABLE PLAN….WHAT HAS BEEN DONE IS THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT OF ORGANIZED SCIENCE IN HISTORY.”
In fact, this is how the end game was played by “organized science”. The US military wanted advice from the scientists, and at last the final solution was presented by the all-powerful “Science Panel” headed by Robert Oppenheimer. The other members were Arthur Compton, Ernest Lawrence, and Enrico Fermi. This panel wrote on June 16, 1945 that after considering all options “WE CAN PROPOSE NO TECHNICAL DEMONSTRATION LIKELY TO BRING AN END TO THE WAR; WE SEE NO ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE TO DIRECT MILITARY USE.” After this “direct military use” Compton is reported to have observed that the success or failure of the atom bomb was A TECHNICAL QUESTION.
Well, WWII ended, and the race for nukes commenced with a bang. Eventually, the race sorted itself out mainly along the “north-south” axis. Weapons of mass destruction, like natural gas, rare coins and multigrain bread, are principally stocked by the “the haves”, with a few exceptions. Possession here is assured destruction—the politics of fear.
Real nuclear disarmament remains elusive. The US and others have never relinquished the right to a “first strike”. Trump has abrogated old treaties, championed a “Space Force” while underground testing goes unchallenged in many countries. In 2007, CANDIDATE Obama wanted “urgent new actions” to ensure a nuke free world. In 2016, before he left office, PRESIDENT Obama proposed $1 Trillion be marked for upgrading US nukes over a 30 year period. What will J’Biden do with all that money?
Reduction of the number of weapons globally and some limitation set on their delivery systems have produced false consolation and cynical predictions through staged negotiations. Rest in peace, say the negotiators, because now we can dictate global catastrophe, natural calamity and social disintegration only some 300 times over, instead of 600 times as we could before—or something like that. So, in a way skepticism, even cynicism about the legacy of the coronavirus has been set up by an appeal to the military power of nations. Anything nature can do, we can do better. This is the State speaking, not the people. Here is how, in actual terms. America’s B83, 1.2 Megaton warhead is roughly 3300 times more powerful than our old friend Little Boy. And power consists of the ground zero blast, followed by firestorms, then over time radioactive fallout, nuclear winter, nuclear famine and nuclear electromagnetic pulse. Here in the US, it is frightening again to see how a dominant, cynical, xenophobic perspective about a natural calamity brought to the surface quite quickly the bitter fruit of injustice and inequality spearheaded by the disease of Racism.
Think about it. When Harry Truman extols “the greatest achievement of organized science in history”, would we conclude immediately that he is referring to the first weapons of mass destruction? Would we think he may be predicting endless wars without victors, yet wars where slaughter can be planned without any of OUR boots on the ground? Or, would we demand of organized science developing safe and effective vaccines, remedies for yet incurable diseases, and alongside that undertaking real solutions for global hunger and climate change?
2020 also ended with a significant international transition. Namely, the departure of UK from the European Union—--the final Brexit deal. This shift requires a discussion of its own. Here, I’ll refer to the brilliant analysis by George Monbiot, columnist for the Guardian and contributor to other forums/publications. Monbiot’s piece “Caught In the Crossfire” posted in ECONOMIC JUSTICE on November 27, begins with, “Brexit isn’t about Europe, and isn’t about the UK. It’s the outcome of a civil war within capitalism.” He ends by restating the main thesis, “Brexit, treading on the heels of the pandemic, is likely to harm the lives and freedoms of millions of people in the UK. But it’s not about us. We are just caught in the crossfire of capitalism’s civil war.” You can find the full text on Monbiot’s website: www.monbiot.com
This is a special day for some of us because of that New Year’s Day “birthday boy” Satyendra Nath Bose. A great mathematician to be sure, but truly a reservoir of wisdom—where his unparalleled intellect and his profound compassion mingled.
Looking ahead from inside the stillness of today, I know there WILL be music in 2021, and forever Maradona!
January 1, 2021