Category Archives: History

Why the White House Is Reading Greek History

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

Image result for ThucydidesThe Trump White House isn’t known as a hot spot for Ivy League intellectuals. But last month, a Harvard academic slipped into the White House complex for an unusual meeting. Graham Allison, an avuncular foreign policy thinker who served under Reagan and Clinton, was paying a visit to the National Security Council, where he briefed a group of staffers on one of history’s most studied conflicts—a brutal war waged nearly 2,500 years ago, one whose lessons still resonate, even in the administration of a president who doesn’t like to read.

The subject was America’s rivalry with China, cast through the lens of ancient Greece. The 77-year-old Allison is the author of a recent book based on the writings of Thucydides, the ancient historian famous for his epic chronicle of the Peloponnesian War between the Greek states of Athens and Sparta. Allison cites the Greek scholar’s summation of why the two powers fought: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” He warns that the same dynamic could drive this century’s rising empire, China, and the United States into a war neither wants. Allison calls this the “Thucydides Trap,” and it’s a question haunting some very important people in the Trump administration, particularly as Chinese officials arrive Wednesday for “diplomatic and security dialogue” talks between Washington and Beijing designed, in large part, to avoid conflict between the world’s two strongest nations.

It might seem curious that an ancient Greek would cast a shadow over a meeting between a group of diplomats and generals from America and Asia. Most Americans probably don’t know Thucydides from Mephistopheles. But the Greek writer is a kind of demigod to international relations theorists and military historians, revered for his elegant chronicle of one of history’s most consequential wars, and his timeless insights into the nature of politics and warfare. The Yale University historian Donald Kagan calls Thucydides’ account “a source of wisdom about the behavior of human beings under the enormous pressures imposed by war, plague, and civil strife.”

Thucydides is especially beloved by the two most influential figures on Trump’s foreign policy team. National security adviser H.R. McMaster has called Thucydides’ work an “essential” military text, taught it to students and quoted from it in speeches and op-eds. Defense Secretary James Mattis is also fluent in Thucydides’ work: “If you say to him, ‘OK, how about the Melian Dialogue?’ he could tell you exactly what it is,” Allison says—referring to one particularly famous passage. When former Defense Secretary William Cohen introduced him at his confirmation hearing, Cohen said Mattis was likely the only person present “who can hear the words ‘Thucydides Trap’ and not have to go to Wikipedia to find out what it means.”

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It’s the Russians Wot Done It

Mark Galeotti writes for The Moscow Times:

Last week the online media company BuzzFeed released “From Russia With Blood,” part of a series alleging that 14 people have been assassinated in Britain — a “ring of death” that British authorities reportedly ignored or covered up.

Dramatic stuff. 

Whether or not it is all true (and I have my doubts), it speaks to the current East-West atmosphere, in which Russia can safely be blamed for anything.

The BuzzFeed account is certainly an exciting read. There are cases which definitely ought to have been considered more closely (suicide by slashing oneself repeatedly with two knives? Really?) There are cases where understandably-grieving friends are trotted out to affirm that their loved ones would never commit suicide (as is common in such cases).

Then there are the shockers. Stories airily assuming that suicides could be induced by psychotropic drugs, or cunning Russian agents could mask every sign of murder. Accompanying is a large, anonymous cast of sources casting doubt on official accounts, coroners’ reports, and the government line. Many, incidentally, are apparently U.S. intelligence officers eager to present the Brits as feckless and foolish.

Perhaps the article’s crowning glory is the passage in which “a current senior national security advisor to the British government” is willing to tell BuzzFeed that the government is too scared to act “because the Kremlin could inflict massive harm on Britain by unleashing cyberattacks, destabilising the economy, or mobilising elements of Britain’s large Russian population to ‘cause disruption.’” Somehow a “general war with Russia” crops up in the same paragraph, as if Putin would somehow leapfrog NATO’s European members and drop paratroopers in Milton Keynes if Boris Johnson says something else nasty about him.

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Oliver Stone Interviews Putin on U.S.-Russia Relations, 2016 Election, Snowden and NATO

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with award winning filmmaker Oliver Stone about his new Showtime TV special, The Putin Interviews. The series is based on more than 20 hours of interviews Stone conducted with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the past two years. (Democracy Now!)

The Kissinger Backchannel to Moscow

Gareth Porter writes for Consortium News:

[…] The Brennan-Clapper line insinuating that the Kushner request for contacts with the Russians was potentially treasonous collapses in light of the well-documented story of how President-elect Richard Nixon’s national security adviser-designate Henry Kissinger established his own personal backchannel to the Soviet leadership in 1968 using a known KGB operative with whom he had been meeting for years as his contact.

Historian Richard A. Moss of the Naval War College recently published an authoritative book-length study of the Kissinger backchannel showing that that Kissinger began setting up his backchannel to the Soviet government leadership through his Soviet contact in December 1968 soon after being named Nixon’s choice for national security adviser.

And it shows that Kissinger seized on the one Soviet government contact he already had to establish the backchannel. That was Boris Sedov, whom Kissinger knew to be a KGB operative. Kissinger had been acquainted with Sedov from the latter’s visits to Harvard. The two continued the contacts after Nixon’s election in 1968.

Moss’s book recounts how Kissinger used the Sedov channel to introduce the concept of “linkage” of different policy issues into negotiations with the Soviets. Sedov gave Kissinger a Soviet government paper on Middle East policy, according to Moss’s account. Only after Nixon’s inauguration did Kissinger and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin agree that all further communication would be through Dobrynin.

Both the Kissinger-Sedov and Kissinger-Dobrynin channels were kept secret from the rest of the Nixon administration’s national security apparatus, as recounted by Moss. Nixon agreed to set up a secure phone line in the White House linking him directly to Dobrynin. The U.S. intelligence agencies, the National Security Council staff and the Pentagon were kept in the dark about these conversations.

And to complete the parallels between the Kissinger backchannel episode and the Flynn and Kushner contacts with the Russians, Moss reveals that Sedov later bragged to a Lebanese-American about his contact with Kissinger –- a boast that was immediately picked up by FBI surveillance of Sedov.

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On Tyranny: Yale Historian Timothy Snyder on How the U.S. Can Avoid Sliding Into Authoritarianism

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder about his new book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, which draws on his decades of experience writing about war and genocide in European history in order to find 20 key lessons that can help the United States avoid descending into authoritarianism. (Democracy Now!)

The Biggest Bills for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Are Yet to Come

Linda J. Blimes reports for Defense One:

An Afghan National Army Humvee in the Paktika province, Afghanistan in 2011.Each Memorial Day, we pay respects to the fallen from past wars – including the more than one million American soldiers killed in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.

Yet the nation’s longest and most expensive war is the one that is still going on. In addition to nearly 7,000 troops killed, the 16-year conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost an estimated US$6 trillion due to its prolonged length, rapidly increasing veterans health care and disability costs and interest on war borrowing. On this Memorial Day, we should begin to confront the staggering cost and the challenge of paying for this war.

The enormous figure reflects not just the cost of fighting – like guns, trucks and fuel – but also the long-term cost of providing medical care and disability compensation for decades beyond the end of the conflict. Consider the fact that benefits for World War I veterans didn’t peak until 1969. For World War II veterans, the peak came in 1986. Payments for Vietnam-era vets are still climbing.

The high rates of injuries and increased survival rates in Iraq and Afghanistan mean that over half the 2.5 million who served there suffered some degree of disability. Their health care and disability benefits alone will easily cost $1 trillion in coming decades.

But instead of facing up to these huge costs, we have charged them to the national credit card. This means that our children will be forced to pay the bill for the wars started by our generation. Unless we set aside money today, it is likely that young people now fighting in Afghanistan will be shortchanged in the future just when they most need medical care and benefits.

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The Death of Manuel Noriega, and U.S Intervention in Latin America

David A. Graham writes for The Atlantic:

General Manuel Noriega speaks to Panamanian reporters in May 1989.Old soldiers do die, it turns out, but there’s something incongruous about watching ruthless, formerly swashbuckling military dictators end their lives quietly as frail old men in hospital beds.

It happened to Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean strongman, who returned home and died under house arrest in 2006, at 91. Fidel Castro slowly faded from view, becoming even less coherent, before dying at home in November, as his brother slowly rolled back their revolution. And now Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian leader, has died at 83 following complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor. He had been imprisoned in his home country.

Like nearly every Latin American leader of the late 20thcentury, but more intensely than most of them, the three men had complicated histories with the United States, the dominant power in the hemisphere: Pinochet as American ally, Castro as nemesis, and Noriega, ultimately, as both. The tale of American involvement with Noriega, and what came afterward, suggests humbling lessons about U.S. ability to change the course of history in its southern neighbors.

For most of his career, Noriega was an exemplar of a certain kind of American intervention in Latin America: The lawless, vicious leader whom the U.S. cultivated and propped up despite clear and serious flaws. Noriega got involved with the U.S. at a young age, volunteering to inform on leftist students during the Eisenhower administration. He later attend the U.S Army School of the Americas, a training center in Panama that was run by the American military that produced an impressive dishonor roll of despots and murderers across Latin America, as part of a U.S. effort to train domestic resistance to leftist politics in the region. Noriega began receiving payments from the CIA in 1971.

A coup in 1968 brought the military to power in Panama, and Noriega rose to become intelligence chief under General Omar Torrijos, a fellow School of the Americas alumnus who signed the agreement conveying the Panama Canal Zone over from American to Panamanian control. In 1981, Torrijos died in a mysterious plane crash, which an estranged Noriega aide later claimed was Noriega’s doing. By 1983, Noriega effectively controlled Panama.

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John F. Kennedy Had a Russian Back Channel

Tim Naftali reports for Slate:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy On a day in early December, one of Moscow’s agents in the United States, working undercover as a journalist for Izvestia, reported a private meeting with the president-elect’s “closest adviser.” The adviser, who met privately with the Russian spy, was frank and hopeful about a significant improvement in relations from the previous administration. He “stressed that was not merely expressing his personal opinion but the position of the future president.” The two men met alone, and there was no American record made of the encounter.

This is not a report about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whose activities during the transition are now being investigated. Nor it is about Jared Kushner, who, the Washington Post reported on Friday, approached Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last December to propose a secret communications channel. The meeting described above took place in 1960, and the “close adviser” was the incoming president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy. It is not unusual for the Russians to want to establish contacts with an incoming presidential administration, especially when there is tension between the two countries. It is also not unusual for an American administration to use back channels to probe the intentions of adversarial powers. But December 1960 was not December 2016. The RFK meeting likely came at the request of the Russians, not the Americans. It was not held in secret—it was noted on RFK’s telephone log. And Robert Kennedy, despite general encouraging words, made no promises, suggested no follow-up, and was in no way working against the outgoing Eisenhower administration. The Russians were smart in focusing attention on the president-elect’s brother. He would eventually be involved in historic back channel activity, but well after the inauguration. And all these years later, such communications have been revealed as a canny and patriotic initiative by the Kennedy administration.

This Monday John F. Kennedy would have turned 100, and it has taken nearly this long to develop a full picture of his presidency: The more we learn about it, the more impressive he becomes. Much of the biographical work until recently has been filling in the gaps created by censors—mainly close allies and family members—who did not want the public image of the fallen leader to be tarnished by his addiction to sex and his physical frailties. But what should most dramatically change how we view his presidency is the flood of new information (and some of it not new but underappreciated from Russian records) about how he did his job. JFK had a taping system installed in the White House a decade before Nixon, and these recordings have only been fully opened since late 2012. Unlike the technophobic Nixon, whose taping system would turn on at the literal drop of a hat, Kennedy’s was controlled by a button usually pressed by him alone. The Kennedy tapes, and the increasing release of that era’s national security documents, are revising the picture of a very creative moment in U.S. foreign policy.

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A Murderous History of Korea

Bruce Cumings, the author of several books on the Korean Peninsula, writes for the London Review of Books:

Image result for A Murderous History of KoreaMore than four decades ago I went to lunch with a diplomatic historian who, like me, was going through Korea-related documents at the National Archives in Washington. He happened to remark that he sometimes wondered whether the Korean Demilitarised Zone might be ground zero for the end of the world. This April, Kim In-ryong, a North Korean diplomat at the UN, warned of ‘a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment’. A few days later, President Trump told Reuters that ‘we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.’ American atmospheric scientists have shown that even a relatively contained nuclear war would throw up enough soot and debris to threaten the global population: ‘A regional war between India and Pakistan, for instance, has the potential to dramatically damage Europe, the US and other regions through global ozone loss and climate change.’ How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea.

North Korea celebrated the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army on 25 April, amid round-the-clock television coverage of parades in Pyongyang and enormous global tension. No journalist seemed interested in asking why it was the 85th anniversary when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was only founded in 1948. What was really being celebrated was the beginning of the Korean guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in north-east China, officially dated to 25 April 1932. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, many Koreans fled across the border, among them the parents of Kim Il-sung, but it wasn’t until Japan established its puppet state of Manchukuo in March 1932 that the independence movement turned to armed resistance. Kim and his comrades launched a campaign that lasted 13 difficult years, until Japan finally relinquished control of Korea as part of the 1945 terms of surrender. This is the source of the North Korean leadership’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people: they are revolutionary nationalists who resisted their country’s coloniser; they resisted again when a massive onslaught by the US air force during the Korean War razed all their cities, driving the population to live, work and study in subterranean shelters; they have continued to resist the US ever since; and they even resisted the collapse of Western communism – as of this September, the DPRK will have been in existence for as long as the Soviet Union. But it is less a communist country than a garrison state, unlike any the world has seen. Drawn from a population of just 25 million, the North Korean army is the fourth largest in the world, with 1.3 million soldiers – just behind the third largest army, with 1.4 million soldiers, which happens to be the American one. Most of the adult Korean population, men and women, have spent many years in this army: its reserves are limited only by the size of the population.

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Eurovision! What a Song Contest Says About a Continent

Stephen Moore writes in his review of Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest by Chris West for The Guardian:

Image result for Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contesthave always been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, the 62nd instalment of which takes place in Kiev on 13 May. At least I hope it takes place – this has been one of the more troubled stagings, with the hostility between Ukraine and Russia spilling over into a competition that is supposed to be an expression of European solidarity.

There is one qualification to my fandom: I don’t think I have ever managed to sit through the contest’s entirety, which these days runs to more than three hours. The bit I like is the judging, which usually occupies the last quarter of the show. That’s when the amities and enmities between the nations of Europe – the centuries-old frictions that have always tended to undermine the grand ambitions of the Eurovision project – come to the fore. Cyprus and Greece vote for each other; Belarus backs Russia; the Scandinavian and Balkan countries vote as a bloc; and over the last 20 years, as the UK has increasingly become the odd one out in the EU, no one has voted for us. It was all too much for Terry Wogan, whose mordant commentaries kept the contest afloat in the UK. He quit in 2008, complaining that the event was now about politics rather than music.

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Germany Searches All Army Barracks For Nazi Material

BBC News reports:

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (C) walks with General Joerg Vollmer, General Inspector of the German Land Army (L), and General Volker Wieker, Inspector General of Germany' Armed Forces in Bundeswehr, during her visit to the 291st fighter squadron in Illkirch on 3 May, 2017.Inspections have been ordered at every German army barracks, after Nazi-era memorabilia was found at two of them.

The defence ministry said the command came from the inspector general of the Bundeswehr (Germany’s armed forces).

All barracks will be searched for material linked to the Wehrmacht, the army which served Adolf Hitler.

The move follows a growing scandal over far-right extremism within the army, with an officer accused of plotting an attack disguised as a Syrian refugee.

The army lieutenant, who had expressed far-right views, was arrested in late April.

Prosecutors in Frankfurt said the 28-year-old suspect had a “xenophobic background”.

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The CIA Has a Long History of Helping to Kill Leaders Around the World

Ewen MacAskill reports for The Guardian:

Image result for CIA assassinationsSome of the most notorious of the CIA’s operations to kill world leaders were those targeting the late Cuban president, Fidel Castro. Attempts ranged from snipers to imaginative plots worthy of spy movie fantasies, such as the famous exploding cigars and a poison-lined scuba-diving suit.

But although the CIA attempts proved fruitless in the case of Castro, the US intelligence agency has since 1945 succeeded in deposing or killing a string of leaders elsewhere around the world – either directly or, more often, using sympathetic local military, locally hired criminals or pliant dissidents.

According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.

The attempt, according to the ministry, involved “the use of biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano poisonous substance” and the advantage of this was it “does not require access to the target (as) their lethal results will appear after six or 12 months”.

The person directly responsible was allegedly a North Korean working for the foreign intelligence agencies.

A CIA spokesman refused to comment on the allegations.

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Trump’s Real Sin Is Not Distinguishing Between ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Dictators

Juan Cole writes for Informed Comment:

[…] The Bad Dictators are arguably Bad, and some are war criminals. But Washington tends to deal with the pro-American dictators by just not bringing them up much, or by stressing their friendliness rather than their rapaciousness when they are brought up.

Some of those Washington sees as Bad Dictators, however, are either not dictators or not bad, or not either one. Evo Morales of Bolivia was called “Taliban” by W.’s ambassador, presumably because he represents workers and the indigenous population rather than big business. I’m not aware that anyone has suggested he hasn’t been fairly elected, and he has been a good steward of the economy for workers and the middle classes.

Then of course above all you’re not allowed to bring up that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rules millions of Palestinians by military force, keeping them occupied and stateless and stealing their land while depriving them of the most basic human and civil rights. No Palestinian was allowed to vote for or against Netanyahu even though he rules them with an iron fist.

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Reign of Idiots

Chris Hedges writes for Truthdig:

The idiots take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless, unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor, and project economic growth on the basis of myth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air, slash jobs and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. Idiot professors, “experts” and “specialists” busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttresses the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore and fantasy.

There is a familiar checklist for extinction. We are ticking off every item on it.

The idiots know only one word—“more.” They are unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers cannot make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their vanity. The Roman, Mayan, French, Habsburg, Ottoman, Romanov, Wilhelmine, Pahlavi and Soviet dynasties crumbled because the whims and obsessions of ruling idiots were law.

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Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots is Central to the U.S. Tradition, Not a Deviation From It

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Image result for Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots is Central to the U.S. Tradition, Not a Deviation From itSince at least the end of World War II, supporting the world’s worst despots has been a central plank of U.S. foreign policy, arguably its defining attribute. The list of U.S.-supported tyrants is too long to count, but the strategic rationale has been consistent: in a world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent, democracy often produces leaders who impede rather than serve U.S. interests.

Imposing or propping up dictators subservient to the U.S. has long been, and continues to be, the preferred means for U.S. policy makers to ensure that those inconvenient popular beliefs are suppressed. None of this is remotely controversial or even debatable. U.S. support for tyrants has largely been conducted out in the open, and has been expressly defended and affirmed for decades by the most mainstream and influential U.S. policy experts and media outlets.

The foreign policy guru most beloved and respected in Washington, Henry Kissinger, built his career on embracing and propping up the most savage tyrants because of their obeisance to U.S. objectives. Among the statesman’s highlights, as Greg Grandin documented, he “pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan”; “began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran”; and “supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.” Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for the mass killings it carried out, and aggressively enabled the genocide by one of the 20th Century’s worst monsters, the Indonesian dictator and close U.S. ally Suharto.

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The Korean War’s Brutality Turned the Stomachs of America’s Most Hardened Soldiers

Darien Cavanaugh writes for War Is Boring:

[…] On a per-capita basis, the Korean War was one of the deadliest wars in modern history, especially for the civilian population of North Korea. The scale of the devastation shocked and disgusted the American military personnel who witnessed it, including some who had fought in the most horrific battles of World War II.

World War II was by far the bloodiest war in history. Estimates of the death toll range from 60 million to more than 85 million, with some suggesting that the number is actually even higher and that 50 million civilians may have perished in China alone. Even the lower estimates would account for roughly three percent of the world’s estimated population of 2.3 billion in 1940.

These are staggering numbers, and the death rate during the Korean War was comparable to what occurred in the hardest hit countries of World War II.

Several factors contributed to the high casualty ratios. The Korean Peninsula is densely populated. Rapidly shifting front lines often left civilians trapped in combat zones. Both sides committed numerous massacres and carried out mass executions of political prisoners. Modern aircraft carried out a vast bombing campaign, dropping massive loads of napalm along with standard bombs.

In fact, by the end of the war, the United States and its allies had dropped more bombs on the Korean Peninsula, the overwhelming majority of them on North Korea, than they had in the entire Pacific Theater of World War II.

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Dutch Arms Dealer Who Fueled Liberian Civil War Convicted

Sharmini Peries speaks with Andrew Feinstein, the author of The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, who recounts the background of Guus Kouwenhoven’s involvement in arms dealing for Liberia’s civil war. (The Real News)

Alex Jones’ Ex-Wife Wins Ugly Custody Battle

Alberto Luperon reports for Law Newz:

A bitter trial ended in victory on Thursday for Kelly Jones, ex-wife to Infowars founder Alex Jones. Now she has joint custody of their three children, and the right to have their primary residence with her instead of their dad, The Austin American-Statesman reports. That means the kids will live with their mother for the time being, and then they’ll transition back into having more visitation with their father.

Mr. Jones had had primary custody of the children since the 2015 divorce. Meanwhile, this limited Ms. Jones to supervised visits.

The nine-day trial was a bit of a side-show. Most family issues like this evade media attention, but this one was different. His attorney said in a pre-trial hearing that he’s “playing a character” on his radio show, and is “a performance artist.” That’s quite the thing to say about the boisterous, over-the top Mr. Jones, who says the United States government implemented the 9/11 attacks. However, Mr. Jones maintained that he is completely sincere in what he says, but that he likes to leave his work at work, away from his children.

But Ms. Jones’s attorney Robert Hoffman said the Infowars host is like a “cult leader” who turned their kids against her, according to the Statesman. He claimed Mr. Jones was “emotionally, sexually, physically abusive” during their marriage, and used wealth to “escape detection.”

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Why the Fuck Is No One Talking About Nukes?

Alexander Zaitchik writes for VICE:

 

Image result for because it's fun t-shirt[…] Why is it so hard to talk about nuclear weapons the way we did 30 years ago?

For starters, nuclear weapons have always been synonyms for death, and people don’t like thinking about death. (This goes triple for “megadeath,” the unit-measure for every million people killed in a nuclear war.) Nuclear weapons also involve, not one, but two apparent paradoxes. The first cuts through morality and human nature: How can we be so smart, and yet so dumb? How can we barrel down a highway lined with flashing neon signs reading, “Horrific Mass Suicide, 1 mile”? The second paradox is just the physics mindfuck of it all: An atom can flatten a city. Like the vastness of our expanding universe, it doesn’t seem real. It can’t be.

Even during the Cold War, nobody wanted to think about nukes. It took Hiroshima, Nagasaki, a series of major crises, a superpower standoff, and a media focused on the gruesome details of nuclear war to spark even a modest global disarmament movement. The world of 2017 is a different place. There is no binary Cold War frame. The shared culture that could focus a conversation with something like The Day After is no more. The attention span required for sorting through our nuclear dilemma—also pretty close to gone. Nothing embodies this better than the devolution of the “peace” symbol: Born as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a group that organized mass sit-ins in downtown London, it is now hippie marketing shorthand used to sell hazy nostalgia for a nonpolitical counterculture.

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We Must Never Forget That Genocide Begins With Groupthink

Stella Morabito writes for The Federalist:

[…] Humans are very susceptible to groupthink, ignorance, propaganda, agitation, and psychological manipulation that weakens their resolve. People are also often all too eager to blame their own problems on convenient scapegoats. These human flaws clarify why “Never forget” is the cry associated with the Holocaust and all crimes against humanity.

This is why everybody must respect the study of history. After all, studying history is about remembering. It’s about learning from experience, which is why we must emphatically reject any attempt to water down the accurate teaching and study of history.

There is a startling déjà vu in the air. Those who study history can feel history repeating itself in the wholesale persecution and slaughter of Christians in the Middle East. We can feel it in the intensified challenges to Israel’s right to exist and in the jihadist terrorist attacks in the name of Islam that are becoming almost mundane headlines. Elements common to both genocides also seem to be re-emerging in today’s restless world: new technologies that potentially deliver greater lethality; realignments of world powers; great displacements of peoples; and, more than ever before, the pivotal role of propaganda and information warfare in inciting aggression.

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The Most Dangerous Moment in U.S.-Russian Relations Since Cuban Missile Crisis

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Sheikh speaks with Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, about U.S.-Russia relations after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent visit to Moscow. They are also joined by British journalist and author Jonathan Steele, a former Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, to discuss U.S.-Russia relations in reference to the situation in Syria. (Democracy Now!)

The Crisis of Western Civilization

David Brooks writes for The New York Times:

Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as The Story of Civilization. They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.

That series encapsulated the Western civilization narrative that people, at least in Europe and North America, used for most of the past few centuries to explain their place in the world and in time. This narrative was confidently progressive. There were certain great figures, like Socrates, Erasmus, Montesquieu and Rousseau, who helped fitfully propel the nations to higher reaches of the humanistic ideal.

This Western civ narrative came with certain values — about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated. It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals.

Starting decades ago, many people, especially in the universities, lost faith in the Western civilization narrative. They stopped teaching it, and the great cultural transmission belt broke. Now many students, if they encounter it, are taught that Western civilization is a history of oppression.

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‘Sherlock Holmes of Armenian Genocide’ Uncovers Lost Evidence

Tim Arango reports for The New York Times:

For more than a century, Turkey has denied any role in organizing the killing of Armenians in what historians have long accepted as a genocide that started in 1915, as World War I spread across continents. The Turkish narrative of denial has hinged on the argument that the original documents from postwar military tribunals that convicted the genocide’s planners were nowhere to be found.

Now, Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who has studied the genocide for decades by piecing together documents from around the world to establish state complicity in the killings, says he has unearthed an original telegram from the trials, in an archive held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“Until recently, the smoking gun was missing,” Mr. Akcam said. “This is the smoking gun.” He called his find “an earthquake in our field,” and said he hoped it would remove “the last brick in the denialist wall.”

The story begins in 1915 in an office in the Turkish city of Erzurum, when a high-level official of the Ottoman Empire punched out a telegram in secret code to a colleague in the field, asking for details about the deportations and killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia, the easternmost part of contemporary Turkey.

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How Western Civilisation Could Collapse

Rachel Nuwer writes for BBC Future:

(Credit: Getty Images)The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end. Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change. Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse. What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?

While it’s impossible to predict the future with certainty, mathematics, science and history can provide hints about the prospects of Western societies for long-term continuation.

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Gobekli Tepe: Ancient Stone Carvings Confirm Comet Struck Earth in 10,950BC

The Vulture Stone, at Gobekli TepeAncient stone carvings confirm that a comet struck the Earth around 11,000BC, a devastating event which wiped out woolly mammoths and sparked the rise of civilisations.

Experts at the University of Edinburgh analysed mysterious symbols carved onto stone pillars at Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey, to find out if they could be linked to constellations.

The markings suggest that a swarm of comet fragments hit Earth at the exact same time that a mini-ice age struck, changing the entire course of human history.

Scientists have speculated for decades that a comet could be behind the sudden fall in temperature during a period known as the Younger Dryas. But recently the theory appeared to have been debunked by new dating of meteor craters in North America where the comet is thought to have struck.

However, when engineers studied animal carvings made on a pillar – known as the vulture stone – at Gobekli Tepe they discovered that the creatures were actually astronomical symbols which represented constellations and the comet.

The idea had been originally put forward by author Graham Hancock in his book Magicians of the Gods.

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The Alex Jones Deception

The following documentary examines far-right radio host Alex Jones, and the affect his fear-mongering and conspiracy theories have had on the American public. Also explored is the relationship between him and Donald Trump, and the numerous contradictions of Alex Jones. (Reich Wing Watch)

 

Red Scare 2.0: Louise Mensch Has A List Of Suspected Russian Agents

Joseph Bernstein reports for BuzzFeed News:

Since last November’s election, the former British politician Louise Mensch has transformed herself into the leader of a wide-ranging internet investigation into Russian espionage and influence in American politics, media, and business. Every day, Mensch and her network of online detectives unravel what they claim is a massive conspiracy linking the Kremlin, the Republican Party, armies of internet trolls, and moneyed puppet masters around the world.

Mensch, who sometimes tweets hundreds of times a day, has claimed or implied that targets ranging from top government officials to journalists to teenagers to anonymous Twitter users are in thrall to Vladimir Putin.

Just since Inauguration Day, according to an extensive review of her tweets, the New York–based Mensch has accused at least 210 people and organizations of being under Russian government influence.

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When Humanitarianism Became Imperialism

Gregory Afinogenov writes for Jacobin:

In the 1980s Afghanistan, two world powers converged on each other, obliterating the national borders that stood in their way. The first was the Soviet state, bent on defending the precarious gains of a 1978 Communist coup d’état that it had actively tried to prevent. The second, caught in an even more painful paradox, was an uneasy alliance of foreign-funded jihadists, Western intelligence, and NGOs like Doctors Without Borders.

The way we remember the Afghan War today is as a kind of prologue. We care that the United States (along with, far more importantly, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) helped fund jihadists because those insurgents would later turn against the United States, serving as the ultimate indictment of Reaganite Cold War politics. We care that the Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan because that failure foreshadowed the Afghan quagmire of today. We care about the Afghan War because it spawned Osama bin Laden.

Timothy Nunan’s new book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan, shows how incomplete this retrospective, US-centric view is. Though he does not venture beyond the 1990s, his argument is essential for understanding the world of imperial warfare today.

Afghanistan did not create the Islamic State, but it did serve as the laboratory in which the destruction of Third World sovereignty came to be fitted with justifications rooted both in human rights and in regime security — the recipe for modern “humanitarian interventions.”

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Mark Ames on Post-Soviet Russia

Abby Martin speaks with Mark Ames, known for his work as a Moscow-based expatriate American journalist and editor. Ames founded the eXile with Matt Taibbi spent a decade reporting from Yeltsin’s and Putin’s Russia while witnessing the country’s transformation from an American “colony” to it’s “number one threat”. (The Empire Files)

The Cold War Officially Gets Renewed For a Second Season

Matt Novak writes for Gizmodo:

The US military launched a missile attack on a Syrian airbase last night, and the President of the United States announced it by uncharacteristically invoking God three times in his three-minute speech. The baby known as Cold War II was conceived long ago. But last night, President Trump helped give birth. Congratulations! It’s a war!

There are a lot of things I don’t know. I don’t know how Trump personally feels about Russia; I don’t know what the US will do now that it launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against the Assad regime in Syria; I don’t know if a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton would’ve done things any differently. But I feel pretty confident that I know one thing: The history books will mark 2017 as the official start of the Second Cold War.

Now, this isn’t altogether fair to the concept of the Cold War. As I’ve argued before, the Cold War never really ended, it just got a bit colder during the past two decades. But history books demand dates. These books need coherent stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. They need characters, big and small—some good, others bad. These history books need valor and cowardice and heartbreak and redemption and money and piles of dead bodies. So many dead bodies.

And with all of that, it looks like 2017 is going to be our mark for the beginning of Cold War II.

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