Uncle Volodya says, “That’s the thing you learn about values: they’re what people make up to justify what they did.”
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.
– John F. Kennedy, 20th Anniversary of The Voice Of America, February 26th, 1962
A nation that is afraid of its people. Once there would have been no doubt about who that was not, as witnessed by the statement above. And once upon a time, “western values” was an honest-to-goodness aspiration, not a punch line. But that was a long time before the boyish President spoke that probably-heartfelt confidence to young postwar America – a country that was growing so fast, both in its economy and its foreign influence, that you could almost feel the ground tremble beneath your feet.
How far do you want to go back? As the newborn Soviet Union began to think urgently about restarting production in a country ravaged by World War I and then three years of brutal and destructive civil war, it urgently needed western equipment and machinery to rebuild its shattered factories and to modernize, to move forward. The Soviet Union was on the gold standard, producing a gold coin called the Chervonets. It would pay in gold for modern machinery.
Except the west wouldn’t take it. Why not? Because a competing currency backed by gold reserves threatened the reach of an emerging financial empire dominated by the American dollar and the British pound sterling. The Chervonets disappeared, to be replaced by a rouble which was not backed by gold. The Soviet Union was then recognized by the west, and shortly thereafter, in 1925, it announced again its wish to accelerate industrialization, and to purchase western equipment and machinery. The west refused again to accept gold, and agreed the only mediums of exchange could be oil, timber and grain. In 1933 the west introduced the Russian Goods Import Prohibition Act. The only means of payment entertained – Soviet grain.
Stalin’s government was faced with a choice: either to give up restoring industry, so capitulating to the West, or continue industrialising, leading to a dreadful internal crisis. If the Bolsheviks took grain away from the peasants, there was the very great probability of a famine which, in turn, might lead to internal unrest and removal from power. So no matter what Stalin chose, the West would remain victorious. Stalin and his entourage decided to force their way through and stop at nothing.
You know what happened. The Holodomor, which Ukraine frequently refers to as a deliberate genocide of Ukrainians, although Ukraine was heavily agrarian – the breadbasket of the Soviet Union – and it stands to reason it was hardest hit.
1939-1945: another war. The Soviet Union was allied with the west against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers. As it ground to a bloody close, America was presented with an almost unbelievable set of circumstances, not long after The Voice of America celebrated in the quote above was just getting started. The war was over. Europe was devastated; much of its youth sleeping forever in the earth where they fell, its cities smashed and ruined, its factories and production facilities charred rectangular craters in the lunatic moonscape signature of relentless bombing. A weary and soul-shocked people turned their faces to rebuilding. But how?
America!!! Although the young United States had paid its dues in casualties and war dead, the country itself was untouched. Moreover, its factories and plants and manufacturing facilities were revved up and running at full-bore, accustomed to providing for a world at war. If America played its cards right, it could become the dominant world power for as far as the eye could see, and its allies would be beholden to it for their very existence.
And Germany. What should be done about Germany, the host of the Nazi cancer that had clearly intended to spread and spread if it had not been ripped out and stamped upon by the allies? That was a matter of no small concern to Stalin, because the USSR had borne the brunt of the crushing juggernaut of German metal and artillery and hate. Had mad Hitler not elected to open a second front, he might well have prevailed in Europe and been able to negotiate from a position of strength. But the USSR had paid a terrible price; more than 25 million dead, more than any country in the war, and some of its cities little more than smoldering piles of tumbled bricks. Obviously, the Soviets had not invited this. So who was going to pay for it?
The obvious answer was Germany, and the Potsdam Agreement gave the Soviet Union claim to 25% of German assets. The western allies were to get 75% to divide between them, and Germany was obviously going to get nothing. But somewhere along the line, the plan changed. As the reference points out, “the important point was that the absolute amount of that theoretical asset was within the discretion of the Allied Control Council to determine. Given the de facto acceptance of Soviet and Western spheres of influences, the Western Occupation Powers had the ultimate decision-making power in dividing up Germany industrial assets.” And the United States decided that the Soviet Union was trying to increase its own power at the expense of Germany; and, dash it, that just wasn’t fair. Unaccountably, Stalin declined an American offer to participate in The Marshall Plan, and contribute resources to rebuild Europe before the Soviet Union – incredibly unreasonable man. American leaders put it down to Stalin being reluctant to disclose just how much wealth the Soviet Union had.
Ambitions for Germany was the issue at which their paths divided. The Soviet Union wanted the rich industrial assets of the Ruhr, and considered itself entitled to them. The United States had other plans. Already, despite its wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, the USA was pondering how it could become the preeminent world power, and those plans did not include a potential rival. The USA had already determined that Germany – the former enemy whose Nazi ideology was denounced at Nuremberg – should be rebuilt as a counterweight to America’s erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union.
Even at this early juncture, the odd western reluctance to fully condemn Naziism – as if an ideology that could so powerfully motivate a nation could not be completely bad, and might even have its uses – was noticeable if you were looking for it. America had a prominent place at the Nuremberg Trials. Thomas Dodd – father of the present-day Chris Dodd, thirty-year United States Senator from Connecticut, who retired from politics only in 2011 – was a prosecutor at Nuremberg. His notes recount that Winston Churchill was opposed to the condemned Nazis even getting a trial, and favoured summary execution, and that the Soviets concurred. But at the opposite end of the spectrum was the senior American judge, Francis Biddle, the former U.S. Attorney-General whose resignation had been demanded by Truman earlier that year. Biddle, while still Attorney-General, had been publicly opposed to prosecution of the Nazis for crimes committed before the war. The two most famous quotes attributed to Biddle are, “I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps“, and, prophetically indeed, “The Constitution has not greatly bothered any wartime president“. That curious reluctance to condemn Naziism would bear bitter fruit just this year, when the United States, accompanied only by Canada and Ukraine, opposed a Russian-sponsored UN resolution to ban glorification of Naziism. Indeed, some suggest the United States entered the war against the Nazis only to preserve and exploit an historic opportunity to dominate the world. United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes supported eugenics before the Nazi ideology did, finding in a 1927 decision, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The Nazis actually quoted Holmes at Nuremberg, in their defense.
Whatever the case, the USA unilaterally called a halt to wartime reparations in 1949. In 1953, the London Debt Agreement forgave Germany half its debt.
1990. The west, and especially Washington, wants a unified Germany under a single flag, and for a reunited Germany to join NATO. Such a reunited country, strategically situated and a major industrial power, will become the driving force of a new Europe. The Soviets were understandably nervous about NATO expansion. Did the west ever promise there would be no further NATO expansion eastward? Previously classified British and German documentation examined by Der Spiegel suggests “the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.” Moreover, German Foreign Minister (in 1990) Hans-Dietrich Genscher reassured the Soviet Union that the west “intended to cooperate with the Soviet Union in bringing about change, not act as its adversary.”
In the decade or so that followed, NATO added another 12 nations to its membership. “So what?” is the western attitude – we didn’t sign anything. In a re-election campaign speech in 1996, Bill Clinton announced, “NATO defended the West by deterring aggression. Even more, through NATO, Western Europe became a source of stability instead of hostility. France and Germany moved from conflict to cooperation. Democracy took permanent root in countries where fascism once ruled. I came to office convinced that NATO can do for Europe’s East what it did for Europe’s West: prevent a return to local rivalries, strengthen democracy against future threats, and create the conditions for prosperity to flourish. That’s why the United States has taken the lead in a three part effort to build a new NATO for a new era. First, by adapting NATO with new capabilities for new missions. Second, by opening its doors to Europe’s emerging democracies. Third, by building a strong and cooperative relationship between NATO and Russia.”
How’d that effort pan out? Adapting NATO with new capabilities for new missions? Check. Opening its doors to “Europe’s emerging democracies”? Check. Building a strong and cooperative relationship between NATO and Russia? Are you kidding? Who believed that?
Russia, heir to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact – at least inasmuch as it inherited all the Soviet Union’s debt – is the raison d’etre for NATO. No bogeyman to scare the kiddies with, and people will begin to ask, “Ummm….why do we spend so much on defense if we are surrounded by friends?”
Russia was finally admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), in 2012, after trying for 19 years, and had to endure the humiliation of being lectured by the likes of U.S. Senator Bill Frist on Russia’s “disregard for human rights and the rule of law” just two months after the photographs of hapless and innocent prisoners tortured in Abu Ghraib by American servicemen and CIA contractors hit the papers. But Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Mali and Burkina Faso – the world’s five poorest countries – were members of the WTO since the mid 90’s. Not to mention Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most repressive countries, where women are not allowed to do anything public without the attendance of a male relative. But Russia needed to crawl and beg for another seven years after Saudi Arabia was a member in good standing.
In 2013, the Kremlin proposed a meeting between representatives of the Eurasian Union and the European Union, on the possibility of Ukraine being a member – an interface, of sorts – of both. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso refused to even meet with the EAU representatives because he considered it a rival trading bloc. So instead Ukraine got Maidan and riots and a government of fascist ideologues and a cratering currency and the complete depletion of its financial reserves and a civil war, and lost Crimea.
And now Russia is in Syria, fighting alongside the Syrian government to roll back a determined and stubborn push by the west to unseat its democratically-elected leader using the vehicle of Islamic fundamentalist militias, which the United States has admitted to training, funding and arming. Over the past year the USA has also invited itself into Syria, ostensibly to conduct air strikes against the very same Islamic State which steadily advanced and continued to take more and more ground throughout the bombing campaign against it in which 75% of American planes returned from their missions without having dropped any bombs, because they could not get permission from their commands to engage. At the same time, the U.S. government provided vehicles to “moderate Syrian rebels” which were fitted with radio gear which would allow militia members to call in U.S. air strikes! A recent shamefaced admission by Washington revealed that there were only 4 or 5 militants remaining of those the USA had armed and trained at a cost of approximately $500 million; the rest had either been captured by al Nusra or had defected to it with their new weapons. Still Washington persists with the fiction that there is any such entity as the “Free Syrian Army”, although it collapsed in the spring and its remnants were absorbed into al Nusra, which is al Qaeda in Syria and a terrorist organization that tortures and executes prisoners. The west was ready to go with its activists’ casualty reports before the first Russian strike element was even wheels-up, and thus far the propaganda attempts have been clumsy.
Although Washington and its allies weep and tear their clothing with anguish over the deaths of Syrian civilians, a year ago Washington lifted the restrictions on U.S. air strikes in which civilians might be injured. Said U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger, “I did hear them say there were civilian casualties, but I didn’t get details…But nothing is perfect,” and whatever civilian deaths resulted from the U.S. strikes are “much less than the brutality of the Assad regime.”
Echoing that meme is the unbelievable statement from Human Rights Watch’s despicable Director, Kenneth Roth. He tweeted, “Kunduz attack is awful, but recall that Assad attacks hospitals deliberately all the time”. The occasion on which he was commenting was an airstrike by American coalition aircraft on the hospital of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The USA quickly shifted the blame to Afghan authorities, who were alleged to have said 10-15 Taliban fighters were hiding in the building or compound in which it was located.
First, there is no evidence that Assad’s government forces have ever attacked a hospital deliberately, not even once, never mind “all the time”. The tweet was quickly deleted, but screen caps remain so that he cannot deny he said it. And this is symptomatic of the knee-jerk excusing by western policymakers of every western atrocity perpetrated in war over the last couple of decades – unfortunate, but let’s keep our perspective, people: remember, the animals we are fighting do this ten times before breakfast. Second, what the hell kind of control is that? When Afghanistan speaks, you better jump; yuk, yuk, yessir, boss. If Afghanistan calls in an airstrike by U.S. aircraft, don’t you check to see what they asked you to bomb? Especially since the coordinates of the hospital had been transmitted several times to military authorities? If Afghan authorities called in an airstrike on the U.S. Embassy and said it was justified because a dozen terrorists were hiding in the building, would you roll in and bomb it flat?
Predictably, the best NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg – who was nearly dancing with rage just yesterday over supposed Russian violations of Turkish national airspace and flinging himself about uttering all kinds of threats – could come up with on the hospital disaster was that he was “deeply saddened“. No condemnation of the perpetrators, no fervent promises of a detailed investigation…
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” ; Martin Luther King. “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it”; Eleanor Roosevelt. “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government”; Thomas Jefferson. Somewhere along the rocky road of human progress, the west lost its way. Values still exist on an individual basis; very much so, and western citizens are among the world’s most caring and compassionate. But on a national level, both integrity and values are just words used – like “freedom” and “democracy” – to justify forcing our way of life on others for the gain of our own exclusive club. How disappointed our forbears quoted above would be, to see what we have become. If anyone saw the future of western society clearly, it was George Orwell.
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”