Sunday, March 16, 2008

US Army Major Colin Powell

Forty years ago this week, on March 16, 1968, a company of US Army combat soldiers from the Americal Division swept into the South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai, rounded up the 500+ unarmed, non-combatant residents, all women, children, babies and a few old men, and executed them in cold blood, Nazi-style. No weapons were found in the village, and the whole operation took only 4 hours.


Although there was a serious attempt to cover-up this operation (which involved a young up-and-coming US Army Major named Colin Powell), those who orchestrated or participated in this “business-as-usual” war zone atrocity did not deny the details of the slaughter when the case came to trial several years later. But the story had filtered back to the Western news media, thanks to a couple of courageous eye-witnesses whose consciences were still intact. An Army court-marital trial eventually convened against a handful of the soldiers, including Lt. William Calley and Company C commanding officer, Ernest Medina.

Lt. William Calley

According to many of the soldiers in Company C, Medina ordered the killing of “every living thing in My Lai,” including, obviously, innocent noncombatants - men, women, children and even farm animals. Lt. Calley was charged with the murder of 109 civilians. In his defense statement he stated that he had been taught to hate all Vietnamese, even children, who, he had been told, “were very good at planting mines.”

That a massacre had occurred was confirmed by many of Medina’s soldiers and recorded by photographers, but the Army still tried to cover it up. The cases were tried in military courts with juries of Army officers, who eventually either dropped the charges against all of the defendants (except Calley) or acquitted them. Medina and all the others who were among the killing soldiers that day went free, and only Calley was convicted of the murders of “at least 20 civilians.” He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his war crime, but, under pressure from patriotic pro-war Americans, President Nixon pardoned him within weeks of the verdict.

The trial stimulated a lot of interest because it occurred during the rising outcry of millions of Americans against the infamous undeclared war that was acknowledged by many observers as an “overwhelming atrocity.” Ethical Americans were sick of the killing. However, 79% of those that were polled strenuously objected to Calley’s conviction, some veteran’s groups even voicing the opinion that instead of condemnation, he and his comrades should have received medals of honor for killing “Commie Gooks.”

Just like the extermination camp atrocities of World War II, the realities of My Lai deserve to be revisited so that it will happen “never again.” The Vietnam War was an excruciating time for conscientious Americans because of the numerous moral issues surrounding the mass slaughter in a war that uselessly killed 58,000 American soldiers, caused the spiritual deaths of millions more, killed 3 million Vietnamese (mostly civilians) and psychologically traumatized countless others on both sides of the conflict.

Of course the Vietnam War was a thousand times worse for the innocent people of that doomed land than it was for the soldiers. The Vietnamese people were victims of an army of brutal young men from a foreign land who were taught that the “little yellow people” were pitiful sub-humans and deserved to be killed - with some GIs preferring to inflict torture first. “Kill-or-be-killed” is a reality that is standard operating procedure for military combat units of every nation of every era and of every ideology.

Vietnam veterans tell me that there were scores, maybe hundreds, of “My Lai-type massacres “ during that war. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon refuses to acknowledge that truth. Execution-style killings of “potential” Viet Cong sympathizers (i.e., anybody that wasn’t a US military supporter) were common. Many combat units “took no prisoners” (a euphemism for murdering captives, rather than having to follow the nuisance Geneva Conventions which requires humane treatment for prisoners of war). The only unusual thing about the My Lai Massacre was that it was eventually found out. The attempted Pentagon cover-up failed but justice was still not done.

Very few soldiers or their commanding officers have ever been punished for the many war crimes that occurred during that war because those in charge knew that killing (and torturing) of innocent civilians during war-time is simply the norm – excused as “collateral damage.” After all, as US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld later infamously proclaimed, “stuff happens.”

The torture was enjoyable for some - for awhile (witness Auschwitz yesterday and Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay today). And wars are profitable for many - and still are (witness the Krupp family of Nazi-era infamy and Halliburton, the Blackwater mercenaries, et al. today).

The whole issue of the justification of war, with its inherent atrocities, never seems to be thoroughly examined in an atmosphere of openness and historical honesty. Full understanding of the realities of war and its spiritual, psychological and economic consequences for the victims is rarely attempted. If we who are non-soldiers ever truly experienced the horrors of combat, the effort to abolish war would suddenly be a top priority (perhaps even for the current crop of “Chicken Hawk” warmongers in the Bush Administration).

If we actually knew the gruesome realities of war (or even understood the immorality of spending trillions of dollars on war preparation while hundreds of millions of people are homeless and starving) we would refuse to cooperate with the things that make for war. But that wouldn’t be good for the war profiteers. So those “merchants of death” must hide the gruesome truths and try instead to make war seem patriotic and honorable, with flag-waving sloganeering like “Be All That You Can Be.” Or they might try to convince the soon-to-be-childless mothers of doomed, dead or dying soldiers that their child had died fighting for God, Country and Honor instead of domination of the Middle East’s oil reserves.

Let’s face it. The US military standing army system has been bankrupting America at $500+ billion year after year after year – even in times of so-called “peace.” The warmongering legacy of the Pentagon is still with us, particularly among those “patriots” including GOP presidential candidate John McCain, who wanted to “nuke the gooks” in Vietnam. A multitude of un-elected policy-makers of that ilk are still in charge of US foreign policy today, and they have been solidifying their power to continue America’s misbegotten, unaffordable and unsustainable militarism with the huge profits made off the deaths, screams, blood, guts and permanent disabilities of those hood-winked soldiers who were told that they were ”saving the world for democracy” when in fact they were making the world safe for exploitive capitalism and obscene profits for the few. And the politicians entrenched in both major political parties, who are all-too-often paid lapdogs for the war profiteers, don’t want the gravy train to be derailed.

Things haven’t changed much even from the World War II mentality that conveniently overlooked the monstrous evil that was perpetrated on tens of thousands of unarmed, innocent civilians at Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, a war crime so heinous that the psychological consequences, immune deficiency disorders and cancers from that nuclear holocaust are still being experienced in unimaginable suffering 6 decades later.

Things haven’t really changed when one witnesses the political mentality that allows the 500,000 deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians in the aftermath of the first Gulf War or the 1,000,000 civilian deaths in the current fiasco in Iraq.

So it appears that our military and political leaders haven’t learned anything since My Lai. The people sitting next to you at work are, like most unaware Americans, almost totally ignorant of the hellish realities of the war-zone, so they may continue to be blindly patriotic and indifferent to the plight of the “others” who suffer so much in war. They may think that some people are less than human, and, therefore, if necessary, can be justifiably killed “for Volk, Fuhrer und Vaterland.”

As long as most American citizens continue to glorify war and militarism and ignore or denigrate the peacemakers; as long as the American public endorses the current spirit of nationalism and ruthless global capitalism; and as long as the America’s political leadership remains prudently silent (and therefore consenting to the homicidal violence of war) we will not be able to effect a change away from the influence of conscienceless war-mongers and war profiteers. The prophets and peacemakers are never valued in militarized nations, especially in times of war; indeed, they are always marginalized, demeaned and even imprisoned as traitors. And one of the reasons is that there are no profits to be made in peacemaking, whereas there are trillions to be made in the biggest business going: the preparation for war, the execution of war and the highly profitable “re-building” efforts (“blow it up/build it up” economics), all the while ignoring the “inconvenient” but inevitable collateral damage to the creation and its creatures.

As long as we continue to be led by unapologetic and merciless war-makers and their wealthy business cronies and as long as the ethical infants in Washington, DC continue to be corrupted by the big money bribes, there is no chance America will ever obtain true peace.

And unless America stops the carnage, fully repents and offers compensation for the damage it has done, its turn as a recipient of retaliatory violence will surely come, and it will come from those foreign and domestic victims that our nation’s leaders have treated so shamefully over the past half-century.

March 2008 - Gary G. Kohls, MD, Duluth, MN

ZNet Commentary
The mis-education of the coordinator class March 13, 2008
By Mandisi Majavu

Chomsky (2004) points out that Harvard trains the people that rule the world, while MIT trains those who make it work. I cannot think of a more succinct way of describing the goals of an educational process that creates and maintains the coordinator class.

Chomsky argues that schools are, by and large, designed to support the interests of the dominant segment of society, those people who have wealth and power - in short the capitalists. I interpret this as saying, schools are, by and large, designed to produce a subservient coordinator class that supports and takes care of the interests of the capitalists.

As Albert (2003) argues, it is important to describe the viewpoints and behaviours of the three primary classes; i.e. capitalists, coordinators and workers. In keeping with that spirit, this article aims to analyse the socialisation of the coordinator class.

The Coordinator Class

According to Albert, within capitalism, the coordinator class is between labour and capital, and fundamentally different from both. This class relates to the capitalists as intellectual workers. The notion of a coordinator class is based on the assumption that the kind of work we do can separate us into classes.

What gave rise to this class is the change in the economic conditions required to make profits.

"Historically, reproductions of the conditions for profit-making required the capitalists to often employ the power of the state (police, courts, troops) or private armies of Pinkertons - but as monopoly capitalism has advanced, the contours of control have matured in kind (Albert & Hahnel, 1978, p. 204).

Furthermore, there has been a steady effort to erode the intellectual and coordinative abilities of the workers over their work, and to then vest these skills in an intermediary layer of expert intellectual coordinators, argue Albert and Hahnel. Consequently, this layer of expert intellectual coordinators came to constitute a coordinator class of 'workers above the workers'. "Thus we have a 'middle element' who have certain antagonistic relations with both capitalists and workers and thus certain tendencies toward oppressing, oppressed, and rebellious relations toward each of these classes (ibid)."

Because this sector of economic actors has a relatively large monopoly over empowering work, it has greater bargaining power and status than the workers below (Albert, 2003). Owing to this relative monopoly over empowering work, members of the coordinator class have much higher incomes than working class people, and more status than working class people. Albert explains that the members of the coordinator class gain considerable status, prestige and power from the positions they occupy in their respective industries; attracting and holding for themselves critically important knowledge, skills and levers of daily decision making influence.

For example, as a manager or a director of an NGO, the coordinator class member controls workers below. As an engineer he or she defines workers' working conditions. As a lawyer or doctor he or she adjudicates workers' lives or dramatically oversees the quality of their lives.

A class analysis that takes into consideration the existence of the coordinator class compels us to not only want to get rid of private ownership of the means of production, but also of the division of labor that apportions more empowering and more appealing tasks only to a narrow subset of the population while confining the rest of the population to rote and obedient labors (Albert, 2003).

The Social Construction of the Coordinator Class

A member of the coordinator class usually has educational credentials and daily economic circumstances that continually reinforce his or her status, prestige and power. Put another way, members of the coordinator class tend to be people who we normally refer to as 'professionals'. As a class, the coordinator class has its own lifestyles and behaviour patterns,

"its own places to congregate, its own music and preferences, its own preferred stores to shop at, its own ways of dressing, foods to eat, even linguistic mannerisms, all not homogenous within the class, of course, but still on average separate from capitalists above and workers below (Albert, 2003)."

Universities are, by and large, designed to produce people who subscribe to the values of this class; people, who basically can fit in with this class without problems. Schmidt (2001) points out that seclusion at the university allows time to study the field's technical details, while the social isolation there facilitates indoctrination into the field's culture. The field's culture includes knowing the 'right questions' to ask and the 'appropriate' time to raise those questions, acquiring the 'correct attitude' and obediently working within the assigned ideology. The goal of educational training is not only to teach people skills and facts, but to change people's ideological values in accordance with the system. To paraphrase Schmidt, ideological weeding out and ideological transformation are important mechanisms that the system uses in every step in its production of a coordinator class.

For example, in physics, about half of the students who enter PhD programmes in the U.S. leave without the degree, many due to outright expulsion, argues Schmidt.

"This massive elimination allows the political biases in the weeding out process to have a strong effect on the overall political nature of the graduating class. Adjustment works hand in glove with this elimination in forming the class politically: Many of those who survive the weeding do so by 'shaping up' under the threat of being culled, and in the process undergo attitudinal transformations that make them politically compatible with the others who are not weeded out (Schmidt, 2001, p. 123)."

Consequently, the students who graduate at the end of the day are students who are willing to serve the system without questioning the status quo or the assigned ideology that they must work within. The research I conducted on the University of Cape Town (UCT) psychology students last year (2007) does not contradict this claim.

For example, referring to the UCT graduate programme, one student explained that " times it felt like if one chose another theory it was not condoned, it felt like you would be punished if you chose something else. That was a bit disturbing." And another students echoed this sentiment: "the programme tends to be somewhat rigid. While we are told we can have our own psychological theory that we prefer, we are actually chastised when we use it." A student who did not have reservations with this process referred to it as being groomed to become a competent psychologist. And another student explained the entire by process by using an analogy.

" It feels like you are in a fish-bowl the whole time. Like everything you do, everything you say even if it's not in a formal context, everything feels like it's being assessed for your performance as a trainee psychologist. You feel like you are being watched all the time."

One of the black participants said of his experience:

"I felt extremely lost and the material felt alien. I felt that my actions, my deeds and my thoughts were not my own but were those of the course or what I was being fed. I felt I wanted to protest and say give me a chance to think this through, I'm not really sure I agree with this concept or that concept. Despite there being room to do that, we were in an academic setting and had to move along from certain experiences following the calendar year, leaving little time to sufficiently reflect on experiences."

Chomsky (2004) explains that educational institutions require people who are willing to adjust to the institution's power structure and accept the code of their discipline without asking too many questions.

Schmidt argues that it is no surprise that developing a critical view of the field is an extracurricular activity, one that the training institutions discourage not only through the test's exclusive focus on the technical details of specialised applications, but also through their coverage of a large number of such applications. He adds that the graduates who are hired by corporations or the government to do research or development work or by universities to do normal paradigm work do not need such critical ability, "and in fact will work more harmoniously without it."

Chomsky (1997) argues that the ultimate goal of institutions that do not appreciate independent thinking is to reward conformity and obedience; if you do not show these qualities, you either have 'behavioural problems' or a 'troublemaker', and therefore weeded out along the way. The coordinator class is created and maintained through this process.

This is why members of a coordinator class, are tolerant of distant social criticism, but have very little patience for anyone who tries to provoke a debate about the politics that guide their own work (Schmidt, 2003). This also explains why members of the coordinator class may be liberal on this or that question of the day, but tend to be very conservative on a long-standing issue of much greater importance - that is democratic and equal distribution of power in society, to paraphrase Schmidt.

The capitalists have always known this. Hence, employers have always scrutinised the attitudes and values of the people they employ, so as to protect themselves against unionists and other radicals whose 'bad attitude' would undermine workplace discipline (Schmidt, 2003).

And the universities also know that they exist to produce people who will staff and perpetuate the country's social and economic system. Schmidt adds that it is no accident that the same attitude and values that are key to success in universities, are also key to success in jobs that require a university degree. Jobs that the coordinator class tend to occupy.

To be continued...