Monday, June 04, 2007


We are approaching the anniversary of that repeated and unprovoked attack on the United States Navy, without a declaration of war, that resulted in the deaths of a number of US sailors. It constituted an act of war.

Worse, insofar as armed relief units were deliberately and personally ordered to desist by the Secretary at the direction of the President, it constituted an act of treachery by this nation’s highest leaders unequaled in the peacetime history of this nation (up to the present, of course).

Stanley Heller writes clearly and forcefully about it on Counterpunch (“Arrest Robert McNamara”,

In broad and cloudless daylight, in international waters, displaying a large and then an even larger Stars and Stripes (the larger one run up after the first one had been shot away) flying straight out in a 12-knot breeze, on June 8, 1967, the lightly-armed USS Liberty was over the course of half an hour repeatedly attacked by a dozen Israeli aircraft, dropping napalm, shooting 30mm cannon shells and rockets. After that half an hour they broke off.

In response to the ship’s distress call, combat aircraft from the carrier USS Saratoga were launched. Before they could get to the ship, they were recalled, on the direct radio-telephoned orders of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

That gave the Israeli Navy a chance to attack with torpedo boats, most likely to see if they could sink the ‘evidence’ (they almost did). And to machine gun life rafts to ‘remove’ witnesses (they partially succeeded).

And when another set of aircraft were launched from the carrier, McNamara recalled them too.

In response to the on-scene flag-officer’s demand for confirmation from ‘higher up the chain’ for such a monstrous and reprehensible order, LBJ himself then got on the line and said that “he would not have his allies embarrassed”.

Then there was an inquiry, hastily convened. In 2004, the very elderly and retired senior legal counsel for that Inquiry swore in an affidavit that “both Admiral Kidd (the presiding officer) and I believed with certainty that this attack was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew … I know from personal conversations I had with Admiral Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of mistaken identity despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

The Israelis later claimed responsibility for their ‘mistake’ and paid some indemnity. If such a sustained attack under such conditions was a mistake on their part, then the Israelis should not be allowed to operate heavy machinery, let alone nuclear weapons.

“Embarrassed” is hardly the correct word. “Allies” is not at all the correct word: this nation did not have then and has never had and does not now have a treaty of military alliance with the State of Israel.

The commission, by the by, that followed its orders into rank untruth, included a retired Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and – wait for it – a retired chief JAG of the Navy. They were only following orders, as befits a flag-officer and a gentleman.

LBJ having gotten out of the frying pan in 1972, only Mr. McNamara remains within US jurisdiction. Heller concludes with the candid exhortation “Arrest him”. Surely, there is no statute of limitations on treason that resulted in the deaths of American servicemen. And with the Marine Corps currently seeing its way clear to prosecute Individual Ready Reservists for wearing parts of their uniforms to protest against the Iraq War (WMD! Osama and Saddam! Mushroom clouds! Slam dunk! We’ll be greeted as liberators! We don’t torture!), then surely some room might be made in a military courtroom for Mr. McNamara’s case. And the survivors and families of the deceased must be – who can deny it? – the only ignored bunch of victims in modern US history.

Let us hope and pray that it happens. It’s summertime and those few kangaroos rousted from their domicile in the courtroom for the duration of the military justice proceedings should not have too hard a time of it. Or they could always be stabled in the courtroom next door. With the cavalry horses gone, kangaroos are about the only animals left in the military stable, except for the Dobermans and the dolphins.

But I’d like to go on a bit with this Israeli matter. As was mentioned in a recent Post, it was in the late Sixties that the Holocaust really picked up steam as a historical topic of wide interest. Before that time the ‘killing of the Jews’, never denied, was just one of the many nasty results of the Nazi imperium. No disrespect to the dead was intended thereby – certainly not by schoolchildren – but there were so many millions of dead that it was hard for the mind to get too selective. And to what purpose?

I think that there is a conceptual congruence of the highest order between the Holocaust’s enthronement and the policy aims of the Israeli state. For it was precisely the awfulness of the Holocaust that has justified what that State has done and been doing since its inception.

We recall that the desire for a Jewish return to Palestine long-predated the Second World War. The Hebrew scriptures and the history of the Hebrew people were deeply entwined with that land, and it was not considered dispositive that the workings of history had ejected the Hebrew presence in the time of the Romans. What would the Dream do about the non-Hebrew inhabitants of the land, who had been there for centuries if not a millennium? They would be considered to not-exist; the land was to be seen as ‘uninhabited’.

This was – let’s face it – kinda harsh, but the Dream considered that the Hebrews themselves had been treated kind of harshly since the Romans’ time, and that in History what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Then came the Holocaust. Although immediately after the war it did not capture the world’s sustained prioritized attention, it had created – very understandably – a tremendously increased impetus for a Jewish state. ‘A’ Jewish state and a return to ‘the’ long-lost ancestral Biblical homeland fused together in the Dream.

And the land was taken and the return was made and the State was erected. And whatever wildlife was found abroad on the property was subdued when it wasn’t otherwise removed.

That, one might say, was the original sin fused into the soul of that State at its founding; although it cannot be discounted that Hitler’s Holocaust was itself an almost-original sin (no government had ever tried such a thing before) that could not but galvanize any persons of good will.

America – Harry Truman had a tough election to win – was only one of the Western nations that acknowledged the State. And the State, hugely techy and spikey, immediately set about insuring its own and its people’s security, continuation and prosperity. Nothing would be allowed to interfere with that programme. Nothing.

In 1961 the State of Israel committed what was technically an act of war by going to Argentina and kidnapping one of its citizens, the former Nazi Adolf Eichmann. The Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, shrewdly, feared that a new generation of Israeli youth were coming of age having no personal experience of the Nazi era and the Holocaust. A refresher course was needed. Eichmann was grabbed by a covert government kidnapping team, smuggled out of the country in an aircraft, and brought back to Israel for a well-publicized trial that resulted – to nobody’s surprise – in his execution.

In the summer of 1963 JFK had been contemplating a bit of a tilt toward the Arabs, possibly after taking a look at the ’63 Detroit line-up and realizing that a country that was putting out cars like this would need to be pretty friendly with folks who owned a lot of oil (America’s own domestic production was already falling off and within a few years would no longer supply the majority of the nation’s oil needs). But then JFK was gone.

LBJ found himself closer to Truman’s dilemma. He and the entire Democratic Party leadership was in a state of shock when, having guaranteed themselves the loss of the entire voting South by signing the Civil Rights Act in the summer of 1965, and looking forward to the busy consolations of building up ‘the negro’ to replace the Southrons, they were instead confronted only a few days later by the Watts riots, televised as fully as Vietnam, including a large number of ‘spokesmen’ who felt that Dr. King and his ways were treason to the pain of the black people and that nothing short of revolution against whitey would assuage their situation.

A politician faced with a shock like that, on top of a Vietnam conflict burgeoning into a war, would be thinking of nailing down some solid votes. Jewish votes would have been tempting; the oil-gasoline problem would have to wait. LBJ invested the State of Israel as an ‘ally’ pretty much on his own. Democrats in Congress were not disposed to disagree.

In the later Sixties, after the incident with the USS Liberty, Hitler’s extermination of the Jews [and I do not like that slang term for ‘Jewish people’] started to morph into ‘The Holocaust’ as we know it today.

The emphasis was on the ‘outrage’ of Jewish ‘victimization’. Which was true enough and logical enough historically, but also – a neat two-fer – served to bathe the current Israeli State of the late-Sixties in the aura of victimhood. And for victims one can only feel pity, and respect, and sympathetic outrage.

And later on, but not much later on, a further corollary started to surface: ‘victimization’ justifies all. To prevent a repeat of the utterly unique horror of the Holocaust, nothing – NOTHING – must be allowed to interfere and EVERYTHING is allowable. Again, it’s very understandable. But it took a while for it to become clear just exactly how much that apparently decent sentiment allowed.

But by then, as has been discussed in other Posts, the nascent domestic American Advocacies were seeking to further the cause of assorted Identities and were being eagerly courted by the Democrats in their desperate search for replacement voters. The Advoacacies – probably through their PR folks – started to deploy the Israeli gameplan in the service of their own agendas and programmes.

Thus what has now become the classic paradigm: a) there is a unique and outrageous horror b) perpetrated by horrible and outrageous perpetrators c) that is victimizing many victims and d) that is so bad that anything can and must be done to stop it/them and e) this must be stopped and the perpetrators dealt with immediately and e) hesitation or obstruction under the rubrics of ‘deliberation’ or ‘due process’ is a second victimization of the victims and constitutes a crime in itself and f) even to question the rightness of any actions taken to address this outrage is an outrage since g) the rightness of any actions taken against the outrage is to be taken as self-evident and h) even to allow the accused to present their case constitutes a disrespect for the ‘victims’ and intolerably grants the benefit of publicity to the perpetrator(s) because i) what they have done is so horrible that they have forfeited any moral authority or rights or standing, and consequently j) only the correct attitudes are to be publicly allowed and only persons with reliably correct attitudes are to be permitted to comment in the media.

Now it doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to see that this gameplan is technically comprehensive, hugely efficient, and hell-and-gone from democratic process. It is also the direct replicant of the propaganda procedures of those massive early-20th century upheavals: Fascism and revolutionary Communism.

It would certainly be strange if any Israeli official were to bemoan a United States public rendered hugely more sensitive to ‘victimhood’, more tolerant of any measures taken out of ‘grief’ and ‘outrage’ at ‘perpetrators’ of ‘evil’ and ‘horror’. It would certainly serve the needs and purposes of the Israeli State better than a residual old Yankee caution in foreign affairs or a blue-collar immigrant disdain for anybody who couldn’t ‘save themselves’ or a macho quit-whining-and-get-back-to-work willingness to let bygones be bygones.

And as begins to sound familiar above, the needs and purposes of one of the largest and earliest Advocacies, the feminist revolution, dovetailed nicely. A synergy was created that was later amplified and elaborated.

And even later, after various Advocacies and various victims and various ANYthings were done in the service of ‘closure’ – done to law and jurisprudence and constitutional praxis – then, when 9/11 burst into the American consciousness, it became the perfect pivot point upon which to turn traditional American governmental arrangements and foreign-policy upside down. Just as the Holocaust was a “unique” horror and outrage, so too “9/11 changed everything”. And after a while We began to find out just how much of a ‘change’ that ‘everything’ constituted. We still haven’t found out the whole story.

So a lot of what’s gone on since that June 40 years ago had its beginnings back then.

Conceptually, it’s another example of how distinct and separate forces and elements, operating in disparate circumstances, can sometimes create a synergy and if the conditions are right can sustain it.

Original sins are called that for a reason: they are blended in at the very beginning, and if not quickly and honestly addressed, will begin to deform the warp and woof of their host’s spirit and soul: be that host an individual or a nation, be that host an oppressor or an aggrieved – it makes no difference. And as time goes on, and layer upon layer of historical acts are overlaid upon it, that sin becomes part of the very fabric of the host.

Against this monstrous invasion no spirit and no soul can retain its integrity unaided. Yet no State can admit of any Power Higher than itself. We have seen here the Bushist solution to that conundrum: the adoption of a fundamentalistic identification (constituting a functional idolatry) between God and the government. Whatever an American government does is God’s will because God ‘chose’ America.

Whether the Israeli State saw the need to allow its own matters to progress to the point where the State’s relationship to God was a matter for public display is beyond my ken. Perhaps the population of Israel is so familiar with its scriptures that such a connection would be presumed; or its precise implications debated.

Over here, the Bushists had to turn the Fundys loose in the media to mobilize that ‘base’. And to familiarize the larger public with the terms and visions by which the Imperium would seek to justify itself and its actions. And overturn longstanding American arrangements as to Constitutional checks-and-balances, government respect for a broad array of the citizens’ civil rights, the waging of aggressive war, and the use of torture as a matter of policy.

God has kept His opinion – and his judgment - to Himself so far. Unless current American failings in Iraq constitute the first drops of a long and hard rain.

So much set in motion on that afternoon 40 years ago, when the US government let itself be attacked again and again and let its own servicemen be machine-gunned in their life-rafts, and then covered it all up with the help of obedient senior officers and military lawyers.

There should be a Day for them, those sailors of the Liberty. No official wreaths were laid on their graves in Arlington, I bet.

But there is more important work to be done. What they died for is now under grave threat from the very dynamics loosed upon Us that day. We must ensure that they did not die in vain. They need not be ‘avenged’; rather they must be ‘justified’, their lives and deaths given meaning by Our increased devotion to that Cause that Washington began and Lincoln preserved. The world needs no more blood. It desperately needs courage and Truth. Cowardice and untruth are killing it.

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Blogger wayne fontes said...

Thanks for posting about the Liberty incident. I was was completely ignorant of it's existence.

I think the connection you laid out between the identity politics that brought Israel to it's current favored position and feminism etc is tenuous. I don't totally disagree with it but think you may have overstated it.

The question I had for you is do you think Israel still has favored victim status among the left. My impression is that among academia and the far left the anti-Israel position predominates. I think the reason is that the pro-Israeli policies of the past forty years are being opposed simply because that has been the position of the U.S. government.

I've been reading your blog for about a month. I think the quality of the posts are excellent and plan to steal liberally from them. Why do think so few people comment here?

11:14 AM  
Blogger publion said...

To answer Wayne's last question first: I don't know. I think part of it has to do with the fact that the site uses Comment Moderation, which I presume has filtered out the quick-trigger, one-liner 'thoughts' that plague much of the Web. But I have never 'Moderated' or Not-Published a Comment.

Perhaps I am not Linking enough, although while the concept is clear enough and attractive, I may not actually be doing it properly.

My thought in the matter of the Israeli-Identity connection is this: a) There is utterly no 'conspiracy', but rather a synergy that is to large extent unintentional.

But it is, I think, a significantly consequential synergy nonetheless. As I (may have insufficiently) intimated in the Post, the 'old-fashioned and stereotypical male'response to a disaster is: Sorry for your trouble, take a day off, get back to work, stuff happens. This approach is not hosptiable to the valorization of victimization that is a fundamental enabling factor in the manipulation of public emotion toward achieving political power and (necessarily) removing the prior social arbiter (the afroesaid 'male'). Thus, the Israeli government deployed the Holocaust not only tactically to distract from its actions in the Liberty affair, but also to both a) squelch opposition to and b) generate sympathy for its radically 'law-less' programme (and by that I mean that the Israeli government saw the threat facing its existence as 'existential' and thus nothing (no law, no philosophy, no ethics or morality) would be allowed to interfere with Israel doing 'whatever it takes'. Hence, the then-dominant 'male' approach of get-over-it-and-get-on-with-it was precisely not in Israel's interests since it would tend toward not-lingering over 'The Holocaust'.

The Identities (of which feminism is merely the ur-example) also needed to change the whole American cultural approach to adversity: 'suffering' and 'outrage' needed to be focused upon, at whatever cost in efficiency and productiveness in one's own life or in societal life, in order to sustain emotional investment in the Identity's 'cause' and in order to elaborate its desired agenda. The feminists, of course, were "at war" with "masculine culture" and if Reason and a certain Stoic lack of emphasis on 'emotions' was 'masculine', then that entire mindset and heartset had to go. To be replaced with Emotion and the constant fretting over matters emotional and matters painful ... and, as the 80s and 90s came, upon the 'perpetrators' of that pain, so often male: hence the pre-school sex insanity, the very constitutionally dangerous responses to the (not illegitimate) Violence-Against-Women agenda, and then the ongoing insanity of the sex-offender mania.

'Victimism', then, enhances the emotional approach at the expense of the rational. Since the calssical 'male' approach is more rational, then Victimism necessarily needs to reduce the 'male' approach and consequently serves some basic purposes or needs of feminism (broadly defined). Sustained focus upon the outrage perpetrated also serves the Israeli government's meta-strategic agenda: it enables 'The Holocaust' to replay on eternal loop, thus trumping any interference or objection to Israeli policy while maintaining the 'moral high-ground' of The Victim; and it renders the citizenry and politics of Israel's greatest cash-cow ('ally' is not quite the word) naturally more amenable to emotion and passion rather than reason and critique.

And in putting this forward I am not a) supporting a return to macho fratboy stolid immaturity nor am I b) implying that the Israeli people should be forthwith abandoned to their current circumstances. At this stage I am simply sketching what seems to me to be a significant pattern in the flow of Ideas and Concepts.

6:04 AM  
Blogger publion said...

Oh, one more thing. Steal from this blog as you see fit, with my blessings! I'm happy if the ideas get around and we'll see what sort of contribution they make to the Conversation.

6:25 AM  
Blogger David said...

The US has at least 700 military bases on foreign soil in pursuance of its imperial projects.

Objection to this state of affairs is not knee-jerk anti-Americanism but rather a preference for a republic living within its means and at peace with the world rather than an empire wearing itself out in brutal wars of conquest and in defense of its (global) 'sphere of influence' with greed as the primary motive.

This is more or less the position of Cicero at an analogous moment in Roman history. He thought of himself as a patriot as many of us do.

Subjection of America's interests to the needs of Israel is not a partisan position. Google: 'The Israel Lobby', Mearsheimer and Walt.

It was actually Jimmy Carter who was the first to articulate the 'Doctrine' that access to Middle East oil is necessary to American security and will be defended by all means necessary. Maintenance of Israel as a client state is a keystone of American Middle East policy to that end.

This has been expanded by the current Preznit into the position that we have the right to deny access to oil to any nation (China, India etc.) that might, in some undetermined future moment, compete with us for world hegemony.

No one in politics today in either American party can afford to endure the wrath of the American Jewish community as it is represented by fanatical organs like AIPAC and PNAC.

These assets maintain their grip in different ways. Against Democrats, the weapon is campaign funding. Against Republicans, sanctions are delivered by think tank and media flacks together with the large Christianist base of the party which is mobilized by Right Wing Zionists like Pastor John Hagee who look toward an imminent apocalypse in which the world will end as a result of a battle for the defense of Israeli 'biblical' claims to most of the Middle East.

In Europe, opposition to American imperial projects is weak but it is often expressed as opposition to Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

In America, there is no appreciable difference among Republicrats on this issue. Israel has achieved full spectrum dominance of public debate in the US. In fact, debate on this issue cannot even be held unless under the auspices of foreign institutions like the London Review of Books

6:23 AM  

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