Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour?

Summary:  Tom Hayden’s post The Syrian dominos sparked some fascinating threads in the comments. One discussed what might be a formative moment in world history, one of events which set 21st century history on a very different track than that dreamed by the victors of WWII.  A path that means that their generation’s great sacrifice and hopes were in vain.

The Kindly Ones


The NAZI plan to conquer Eastern Europe for re-settlement by Aryans was the last large instance of a dynamic that dominated history.  One of the great goals of the Allies — led by America — after the war was to make this illegitimate and impossible. And so it was for a generation.

The world experienced wars in first and second world, but of political expansion. Regimes which to forcibly reunite their people under a single political system — Korea, Vietnam.  Countless internal wars, revolutions and civil wars. But no major attempts to displace peoples, then re-settle on their land. Until Israel began to expand into the East West Bank.  IMO this was a key moment after WWII.  {per a comment, I’ve tweaked this for clarity}

The outcome of the Cold War was, probably, inevitable.  The communist experiments in the Soviet Union and China were doomed.  People’s rational drive for self-preservation prevented atomic war (although USAF generals were gung ho for the a nuclear holocaust).  The real challenge would be from within, our ability to discipline ourselves, and avoid the temptations of power.  We did so after WWII.  Instead of reparations, we gave aid. Instead of puppet governments, we created democracies — and got allies.  We showed wisdom with few or no historical precedents.


The next test came in 1967, with Israel’s conquests of Gaza and the West Bank. Israel slowly succumbed to this temptation — slowly developing a policy of displacing the Palestinians. Steal their land, assassinate any hostile leaders, suppress as needed. I asked a brilliant and wise Israeli of that generation why they did this, instead of following the post-WWII model (in which Israel could have built itself into the political and economic center of the region, a project which the US would gladly have financed).  He replied “We were stupid.”  This might be Israel’s epitaph (see The Fate of Israel)

The Allies could have quickly and easily stopped this; there were repeated motions in the United Nations to end this gross violation of the rules for the new world we hoped to create. But we failed the test, quashing these appeals to the laws we created.  This

foreshadowed greater failures to follow. Clinton’s foolish, almost random interventions (“What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”). Followed by Bush Jr’s wars to crush rivals and expand the US footprint in the Middle East, driven by his programs of  almost arbitrary indefinite imprisonment and assassination. Followed by Obama’s institutionalization and expansion of these policies.

American exceptionalism was born amidst the ashes of WWII.  it died in the ashes of the World Trade Center.  Now it exists only in our delusions, and as empty evoked by US politicians.

To the rest of the world we’re increasingly becoming The Furies (see Wikipedia), infernal engines of irrational vengeance and destruction.  Exceptional in every way.

For More Information

Posts about the post-9/11 world:

  1. Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?, 11 June 2008
  2. Bin Laden wins by using the “Tactics of Mistake” against America, 6 February 2011

Posts about Israel:

  1. The Fate of Israel, 28 July 2006
  2. The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be, 22 January 2009
  3. Are Israel’s leaders insane?  Jeffrey Goldberg thinks so., 15 August 2010
  4. We can only watch as the nation of Israel slowly commits suicide, 30 November 2011
  5. Israel leads America on a march to war.  A march to folly., 16 February 2012


44 thoughts on “Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour?”

  1. So it sounds like you’re saying that because Israelis were “stupid” on June 5, 1967, it led to a whole chain of events that brought the United States to the political point we’ve reached today. That might be a good starting point to pin down on our blame-game timeline, but maybe we should look even farther back. The Israelis escalated a conflict that had been ongoing since their nation’s formation, which was largely because of the holocaust and the Nazis. So then let’s say it’s all the Nazi’s fault. It’s easy to blame Nazis.

    The ancient Hebrews had a law based on the concept of “an eye for an eye.” In more modern times, we should realize that such a system of values eventually leaves everyone blind. After WWII, the Allies tried to stop the cycle of revenge. It almost worked.

    1. (1) “So it sounds like you’re saying that because Israelis were “stupid” on June 5, 1967, it led to a whole chain of events that brought the United States to the political point we’ve reached today.”
      In a logical language the expression “brought the US to the political point we’ve reached” could not be said. It’s nuts. We are actors, not puppets “brought” to anything.

      (2) “That might be a good starting point to pin down on our blame-game timeline”
      However unfashionable, people take actions. Actions have consequences, and the actors have responsibility for their actions. Fancy language can hide this simple relationship, but the results remain despite the big words.

      (3) “but maybe we should look even farther back.”

      (4) “The Israelis escalated a conflict that had been ongoing since their nation’s formation, which was largely because of the holocaust and the Nazis.”
      And Cain killed Abel. So what?

      (5) “So then let’s say it’s all the Nazi’s fault. It’s easy to blame Nazis.”
      You’ve watched too many movies.

      (6) “The ancient Hebrews had a law based on the concept of “an eye for an eye.” In more modern times, we should realize that such a system of values eventually leaves everyone blind. After WWII, the Allies tried to stop the cycle of revenge. It almost worked.”
      It failed because we abandoned the project. Actions => outcome => responsibility.

    2. Modern middle eastern (ME) politics were originally a function of european colonialist policies. The ME was a “buffer” stopping Russian southern expansion into the trade routes of western eruopean powers (Silk, Opium, Tea, Spices, Coffee, etc.).

      Israel was created out of the British rule of Palestine under the “Mandates” put in place after the Ottoman Turks sided with Germany in WWI, and lost their historical control over Palestine.

      Watch “Laurence of Arabia” to get a clue as to the disgusting and vile treachery of the Brits toward “natives” such as the Arabs during the colonial era. That is the legacy that the USA inherited in the Middle East. A disaster waiting to happen.

  2. My point, and I think yours as well to some extent, is that it doesn’t matter a whole lot what stupid, evil, or otherwise wrong things might have been done in the past.
    It matters what we do now. Like you say, responsibility.

    1. I agree, in a sense.

      Unfortunately we are America, and we are responsible for the deeds of our generation and those before them. The people of the past are dead, but the echos of our past deeds remain our responsibility.

  3. Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour?

    Napoleon trying to carve out a new world empire in Europe after the Brits, dominated the seas was tragedy. The US post war dream for a new world order was/is farce.
    Nothing but, a butt fuXXXXXX farce. In spite of your herculean efforts….

  4. Israel (like Iran, a corrupt country run by religious extremists) becoming a colonial pawn of post-WWII USA geopolitics was perhaps a trigger. The gun and bullets were long in the making. For instance, at the end of the Spanish-American War (Cuba, Philippines, etc. 1898) a Spanish leader told the USA that in defeating the Spanish empire, the USA had itself become imperialistic.

    Wallace Stegner’s research on ARAMCO in the 50s, locked up for 50 years, show USA national security agencies “secretly” supporting attacks on oil worker rebellions in Saudi Arabia. Operations were conducted from Jordan. USA attack helicopters were unloaded from ships in Jordan, USA military markings were painted over, and then the gun ships were deployed as needed to suppress Saudi worker’s protests. That story seems to reveal far more about the realities of USA foreign policy, and is probably not inconsistent with the USA’s later disgusting stance on the west bank.

    The mass of history is one in which western powers act as ruthless exploiters. Some anti-imperialistic and “isolationist” sentiments were present before WWII (as far back as Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”), but not so much afterwards.

    1. It is interesting that the Wikipedia article on the Spanish-American war discusses the uniting of the remnants of the confederate military with the northern military during the Spanish-American war. A possible interpretation of that is that it represented a final, sad capitulation by the north to the pre-Civil War imperialistic tendencies of the confederate military (e.g., invasion of Mexico).

      Clearly there has long been a tension between anti-imperialistic and imperialistic tendencies in american culture. The roots of that tension are probably in the 1600s (English Civil War), or earlier reform movements toward representative institutions (Town Charters, Cortes, Fueros, etc.).

  5. Israeli film ‘The Gatekeepers’ brings truths about occupation that Palestinians are vilified for saying by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 15 October 2012 — Opening:

    Last week I saw a riveting new Israeli film about moral corruption in the government. The Gatekeepers features lengthy interviews with six former heads of the security service, Shin Bet, who repudiate the security policy they carried out. The men say that Palestinians committed acts of terror due to political causes Israeli leaders refuse to address, that the Israeli methods of attacking the symptoms are themselves a form of terrorism, and Israel should be talking to Hamas.

    In the takeaway moment of the movie, Avraham Shalom, a ruthless former official now old and reflective, tells filmmaker Dror Moreh that the Israelis are really no different from the Nazis in their occupations of Belgium, France and Czechoslovakia.

    If a member of Congress or a mainstream columnist said any of this, he or she would be run out of town on a rail. Palestinians have said as much for years and been vilified. Israelis are allowed.

    Of course it is great news that this stark and stylish film was featured in the New York Film Festival and that it has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. The film’s prominence, following the earlier success of The Law in These Parts and 5 Broken Cameras, signals a new discourse in the United States: Our prestige media are going to start talking about the vicious cruelty of the occupation.

  6. I would place the moment where the US went wrong earlier in history. The great American advantage in WWII was production. Big production was most easily managed by government partnering with big corporations and, of necessity, giving them big guaranteed profit contracts. Once the war was over the big corporations did everything they could to keep those contracts.

    Harry Truman was winning the fight against them until the Korean War popped up and made them necessary again. Eisenhower warned against the MIC, Johnson tried to use it to his political gain, Reagan fertilized it, Bush Jr. made the critical mistake of taking us to go to a permanent war economy.

    The big question is whether we will some day abandon the war-is-stimulus-spending meme or whether we will let it finish choking the life out of us in the name of protecting us. At the moment, I lean towards the latter.

  7. Some nit-picking is in order — I contend that the picture has a darker hue of gray than what you write.

    “But no major attempts to displace and re-settle peoples. Until Israel began to expand into the East Bank.”

    1) Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s (pitting two NATO countries against each other in a forced reunification attempt with attendant ethnic cleansing). Later there was Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and earlier the partition of India/Pakistan of course.

    2) 1st world powers did not shy away from deporting entire populations whenever they found it militarily expedient. Cases in point: deportation by the USA of populations from the Marshall Islands (in the 1950s) and by the UK of the Chagos population from Diego Garcia (late 1960s) to make way for military installations.

    3) In war, forced population transfers were widely applied by the UK in Malaysia and Kenya, by the French in Algeria, and by the USA in Vietnam. These were by no means small-scale endeavours: 0.5 M in Malaysia (about 7% of the population then), 1.0 M in Algeria (10%), 8.5 M in Vietnam (20%) — figures from Wikipedia.

    In that sense, what happened with Israel and the Palestinian territories does not mark a rupture with a new order established after WWII, but rather a (blatant) resurgence of a practice that had never left the toolkit of the USA and its allies. With respect to this specific aspect, the USA was perhaps no that much exceptional after all.

    1. About “major forced displacement and re-settlement of people: I meant that (which was poorly expressed) in the sense of “take their land and settle on it” — not just movement of peoples.

      The massive movement of people’s during the partition of India-Pakistan isn’t an instance of this, IMO — althought horrific in its own right. I don’t know much about Cyprus, but I don’t believe it qualifies either.

      The explusion of people from the Marshall Islamnds and Diego Garcia are examples (stealing land, putting it to other use) — which is why I used the qualifier “major”.

      The war-time displacements of people in Malaysia, Algeria, and Vietnam were not for the purpose of stealing their land (Algeria was about keeping land already taken; no land was sought in the other two). That is the essence of my point, war as a way to gain land — the age old driver of war and conquest.

      Thanks for flagging this poor wording! I’ve added a note of clarification to the text. Also, “nit-picking” is always in order here!

  8. Typical American myth-making. The US inherited the colonialist mentality of Europe. The US, from the very outset, is a predatory nation. It stole from the Indians and from Mexico. It stole Hawaii, and tried to steal the Philippines. It is an imperialist nation (no, I am not a communist), as is shown by the way it bullies its way into countries to establish its bases and thus “protect” them; by its continual invasions of weaker, less materially developed lands to steal their resources and coop their governments. It does everything out of calculation and for profit. Smedley Butler had it right, but instead of this being a definitive understanding, Americans keep producing mountains of material trying to convince themselves and others of their essential goodness and positive uniqueness. The truth is, it is a raptor. Does it have some positive features? Yes, everything that exists necessarily can be found to possess in varying degree some positive features–to repeat: in varying degree and proportion. The American people hardly represent a cultural summit, let alone a human norm, and US “culture” is a monstrosity of triviality and shallowness that has overrun and perverted countless minds. The US is essentially a prolongation of the European deviation but, as they say, “on steroids.”

    1. I always find it difficult to reply to comments that don’t reference the post. Did Brendan read more than the title? No sign of it in this comment.

      A quick summary for those of you who didn’t read the post: the US has many dark elements in its past. The treatment of native Americans. Slavery, ended only by an insanely bloody war (unlike the more or less peaceful resolution in most lands) and then oppression & segregation for another century. The naked lust for land in the Mexican-American War. The colonial era — Spain, Hawaii, etc.

      But for a brief period we rose above that dark side of our history, which is all that a people can do (we cannot change our past). While not saints (they’re only in Heaven; you must die to get there), we operated on a high standard during much of the post-WW2 era.

      Then we fell. That rise and fall is the subject of this post.

    2. It’s pretty clear that Brendan did read the post and seems to be referring to this passage:

      “The real challenge would be from within, our ability to discipline ourselves, and avoid the temptations of power. We did so after WWII. Instead of reparations, we gave aid. Instead of puppet governments, we created democracies — and got allies. We showed wisdom with few or no historical precedents.”

      Inserting the word ‘immediately’ after ‘WWII’ might have helped, as would adding the rider ‘except in central and south America’ where there was little if any lag between the end of the war and anti-democratic interventions by the US in various countries there.

      History is made in the present. America’s dark and light sides operate as yin and yang, not in alternating time slots – which is how the quoted paragraph is likely to come across to many people outside the US.

      From a UK perspective, the manner in which America took over our country after the war was indeed quite kind and generous to us, despite the US’s instinctive as well as strategic preference for Germany.

      1. Perhaps so. I don’t see it.

        (2) “Inserting the word ‘immediately’ after ‘WWII’ might have helped,”

        (3) “adding the rider ‘except in central and south America’ where there was little if any lag between the end of the war and anti-democratic interventions by the US in various countries there.”

        Examples? The first was Guatemala in 1954. Next the Dominican Republic in 1964. There were realatively few US interventions in C & S America in the post-war era compared to 1890-1930 (see this list).

        Lots of support for tyrannical governments, of course — a staple of our Cold War policy. Historians will judge if that was on balance good or bad. The relative fate of South Korea vs. North Korea will be the defenders’ Exhibit A.

  9. “Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour?”

    In a recent talk ( http://chomsky.info/talks/20121026.htm ) Noam Chomsky suggests almost immediately:

    Roosevelt’s planners were meeting right through the Second World War, designing the post-war world. They were quite sophisticated about it, and their plans were pretty much implemented. They wanted to make sure that the United States would control what they called a “grand area,” which would include, routinely, the entire Western Hemisphere, the entire Far East, the former British Empire, which the U.S. would be taking over, and as much of Eurasia as possible — crucially, its commercial and industrial centers in Western Europe. And within this region, they said, the United States should hold unquestioned power with military and economic supremacy, while ensuring the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by states that might interfere with these global designs.
    The decline is real, but it’s not new. It’s been going on since 1945. In fact, it happened very quickly. In the late 1940s, there’s an event that’s known here as “the loss of China.” China became independent. That’s a loss of a huge piece of the grand area of Asia. And it became a major issue in American domestic policy. Who’s responsible for the loss of China? A lot of recriminations and so on. Actually, the phrase is kind of interesting. Like, I can’t lose your computer, right? Because I don’t own it. I can lose my computer. Well, the phrase “loss of China” kind of presupposes a deeply held principle of kind of American elite consciousness: we own the world, and if some piece of it becomes independent, we’ve lost it. And that’s a terrible loss; we’ve got to do something about it. It’s never questioned, which is interesting in itself.

    I think Professor Chomsky’s contention (and probably that of Brendan, above) must be that these notions:

    “The real challenge would be from within, our ability to discipline ourselves, and avoid the temptations of power. We did so after WWII. Instead of reparations, we gave aid. Instead of puppet governments, we created democracies — and got allies. We showed wisdom with few or no historical precedents.”

    “But for a brief period we rose above that dark side of our history, which is all that a people can do (we cannot change our past). While not saints (they’re only in Heaven; you must die to get there), we operated on a high standard during much of the post-WW2 era.”

    are mostly myths, mistaking power and a fortunate set of circumstances for a virtue we never did possess.

    1. How nice that Noam hates America (as seen in his long rambling ants), but his hand-waving hardly offsets the specific deeds I mention. Deeds of greatness, a magnanimity seldom seen in history.

      The usual rebuttal to this, trotted out by Noam, is that we had self-interest at work in building this structure. And so we did. But that didn’t lead past nations victorious in war to similar deeds. It didn’t lead Israel to copy our example. I doubt it will lead future nations to do so.

      Much of this “rebuttal” is just the reflexive blindness towards events, saying that history is a grey blur — never changing, always the same. And that’s so if seen with closed eyes, relying instead on dogmatism.

      In fact history is a constantly changing play. With highs and lows. People and peoples come on the stage and leave, but that’s not as important as what they do while they’re in action. That’s what changes the world, and what’s remembered.

      It’s a story of slow progress in many dimensions. Material and ethical. We’ve only working this civilization gig for a few thousand years — and without a guidebook. IMO we’ve done quite well, and I have confidence that this progress will continue. Despite the chorus of doomsters that accompany us, always heckling.

  10. I did read the post. I just don’t agree with your conclusion: “but for a brief period we rose above that dark side of our history, which is all that a people can do (we cannot change our past). While not saints (they’re only in Heaven; you must die to get there), we operated on a high standard during much of the post-WW2 era.”

    This is your your myth making in function of some standard that only. This “brief period” is exactly that. It signifies nothing substantial or essential. American history is written in blood and criminality. The fact that there are good people everywhere goes without saying.

    As I said, Smedly Butler had it right; you say you face it squarely, and yet there are serious and definitive conclusions to be drawn, but you desperately want to believe.

    My point is that America does not deserve to continue in its overstuffed and predatory way; it has caused untellable damage and suffering, along with very fragmentary good, and I think it will not endure for long. It glories in its material accomplishments, which are undeniable, but paid for at a very high, even ruinous, cost and above all not nearly as high on the scale of real values as it imagines.

    1. “This ‘brief period’ is exactly that. It signifies nothing substantial or essential.”

      Being “brief” or — in your opinion — “not substantial” is NOT the same as a being a “myth”.

    2. “Myth” here might be used in the same sense as in today’s Tomgram: “Ignoring American Decline”, 30 October 2012:

      More broadly, both sides agree, as they have for decades, that Washington’s overriding foreign policy goal must be to shape history, control the world, and make it mirror American values and serve American interests. This mythic vision of American foreign policy is a rare example of long-term bipartisan consensus. When I call it myth, I don’t mean it’s a lie. I mean it’s a foundational narrative of American power that expresses our most basic assumptions about the world, a story in which every nation on the planet is, theoretically, ours to lose.

      To most Americans (though not to much of the rest of the world), this narrative does not reflect sheer hubris and intoxication with imperial power. It’s just good common sense. Throughout our history, at the heart of the dominant national mythology has been the assumption that the U.S. should be the world’s “locomotive” and all the other nations “the caboose” (as President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, once said). The reason for this was simple (at least to Americans): we were the first and greatest nation founded on the universal moral truths that are supposedly self-evident to any reasonable person.

      Sure, controlling the world would serve our self-interest in all sorts of tangible ways. However, our primary self-interest, so the myth maintains, always was and always will be the moral improvement — perhaps even perfection — of the entire world. By serving ourselves we serve all humanity.

      The only question worth debating, then, is how we can use our preponderant power and wealth most shrewdly to maintain effective control.

      Perhaps I have taken the question “Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour?” in a way you did not intend. If the question suggests that the dream has changed—that we once had a “higher” or more honorable sense of purpose, for a time rising above the usual nature of human endeavors and now falling back into the muck—then it is relevant to ask whether real policymakers’ aims ever approximated the “myth” of a nation answering to a more noble call and not just “the temptations of power.” If the question is only about how we’ve become less effective at achieving ends which have not changed, then such objections are irrelevant.

      1. Communication is using symbols in an agreed-upon manner. If I make up my own means, we cannot communicate clearly. As explained by Lewis Carroll in chapter 6 of Through the Looking Glass. You can adopt Humpty Dumpty as your role model, but expect only confusion to result.

        ‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’ {said Humpty Dumpty}

        ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

        Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

        ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

        ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

        ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

        ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

  11. Should read: “This is your myth making in function of some high standard that you impute to these events. Magnanimity and greatness is found throughout human history. American hardly have a monopoly on it. Your “American exceptionalism” shines through it all.

  12. Governance: A method or system of government or management.

    It is strange how so often we complain about the systems.

    Democracy, Plutocracy, Communist, Socialist, Feudalism, Imperialism,
    All wonderful systems, the problem arises when you put humans in charge of those systems. They all eventually fail. FM speaks of the rise after WWII, you can see similar trends in other nations ran by different systems of government. Rome had rises and falls before the big one, as too did Great Britain (however not so great today). I attribute this to the people involved with the particular system at the particular time it is either working well or not working at all.

    There seems to be an issues with in the human race, we are great at designing brilliant systems, just not at running them for extended periods of time.

    The second big complaint seems to be with the infamous yet ever elusive 1%. They have the money and there for the power; another very common trend through out history. The problem arises with this trend because before the 1%, when they were the 20%, 15%, 10%, 5%, there was no complaint about people being allowed to amass uncontrolled amounts of wealth. Everyone was trying to get to the top of the rather well known yet nonexistent “ladder”. This trend will end, as they always do, and a new cycle will begin and large groups of new people will run the rat race of life trying not only to get to the ladder, but to the top.

    Who in this discussion group, if given billions of dollars would not fight tax increases. Would you willingly bail out banks and people who entered into retarded agreements such as, interest only loans? Maybe you would have, if given the option, paid Americans 12 dollars an hour vs. paying the Chinese 2. I however, doubt it. It is what it is.
    The system is getting old and tired, as are the people who cared about it running well.
    The wealthy are not going to give up their wealth, nor is the government going to force them to do so. How do you suppose these people get into office?

  13. Like Pluto, I would also fix the fatal moment for America earlier in history. Specifically, 14 April 1950, when Paul Nitze authored NSC 68. This established the military-industrial-police-surveillance-torture-prison complex which has now consumed and destroyed America, and which unobtrusively controls America’s domestic and foreign policy, making presidential and congressional elections irrelevant.

    The late Chalmers Johnson wrote an excellent article about this: “Why the U.S. has really gone broke,” Le Monde Diplomatique (In English), 2008:

    “…[T]here is an enormous anomaly in the US economy above and beyond the subprime mortgage crisis, the housing bubble and the prospect of recession: 60 years of misallocation of resources, and borrowings, to the establishment and maintenance of a military-industrial complex as the basis of the nation’s economic life.”

    Once President Truman signed NSC 68, the outcome of the Cold War became inevitable. America lost the Cold War decisively, turning into the system it had sworn to defeat. There’s an example in nature of this kind of turnabout: the parasite cymothoa exigua eats a fish’s tongue and then replaces it, gobbling up the food that the fish tries to eat. Unable to free itself of the parasite that has replaced its tongue, the fish eventually starves and dies.
    Cymothoa Exigua

    1. That’s a powerful observation! I don’t know if it was an obvious error at the time, but in hindsight we took a turn down a dark path. Even the brilliant George Kennan, one of the architects of the anti-Soviet containment policy, only slowly realized the problems of the government’s implementation of his insights.

      “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”
      — Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

  14. Why oh why do we keep repeating this idea that a nation sovereign in its currency can go broke? It just makes no sense. It made sense when the dollar was convertible into specie–up until the end of Bretton Woods under Nixon. We are since functioning under a completely different system, but the public, the media, the politicians, all keep thinking in terms that no longer apply. It really is a potential disaster. There seems to be nothing more difficult for people to accomplish than to change their usual frame of reference, their inherited and conventional concepts.

    A good new attempt to disabuse people of this is the very clear and expertly conducted interview that just came out:
    Stephanie Kelton Explains Money in Harry Shearer Interview
    , 29 October 2012.

    Econintersect: Professor Stephanie Kelton, an expert in the mechanics of modern money operations, has an exceptionally informative interview from Sunday 28 October 2012 conducted by Harry Shearer on his show “Le Radio.”

    Kelton explains why the talk about the U.S. going broke and loading grandchildren up with debt is all political verbiage without economic foundation. At one point Kelton says that we will be burdening our grandchildren with a society that doesn’t function if we continue to deny the need to provide investment in things like infrastructure and education with bogus arguments about not being able to afford it.

    This interview is exceptionally well done – Kelton has a gift for logical explanation in straightforward terms. Her students are very lucky.

    1. “Why oh why do we keep repeating this idea that a nation sovereign in its currency can go broke?”

      Perhaps people keep repeating it because it is true. Sometimes default is considered a better alternative than monitization — probably because it will cause inflation or hyperinflation — with adverse domestic or international effects. Even the modern monetary theory people say that inflation and the value of the currency are limiting factors to monitization.

      Even excluding that, debt has effects within a society. We don’t “owe it to ourselves”, or that “it doesn’t matter because both the debt and associated assert (bonds) are passed onto the next generation. The citizens owe the debt to the creditor class, and that relationship is passed from generation to generation. That is the sort of error macroeconomists are prone to make (eg, before the crash looking at the aggregate HH debt load and explaining that it was not too high — forgetting that the debt was not equally spread out — Bill Gates didn’t share his wealth with unemployed workers).

      More broadly, a society under stress will seek to pretend the threat doesn’t exist — and there will always be people willing to tell a friendly tale.

    2. Also: modern monetary theory is a fringe theory among economists today. Of course that doesn’t mean that MMT is wrong, but suggests we shouldn’t bet the Republic on it being right.

      We discussed this in wearysome detail in these three posts. These also have links to more information.

      1. America’s strength is an illusion created by foolish borrowing, 10 October 2012
      2. Prof Black blasts back at yesterday’s post about the US debt, 11 October 2012
      3. Ed Dolan talks to us about modern monetary theory. Can it save us?, 12 October 2012

      If you would like to discuss MMT, go to one of those posts. It’s too off-topic here.

  15. I would say that the U.S. was in favor of the international system so long as it was subordinate to U.S. interests, (as it was in the immediate post-WWII period simply by preponderance of relative power) and as long as it helped rally the rest of the world into our sphere and way from the combloc. In those days the Soviet Union was the most common veto at the Security Council (only later to be replaced by the U.S. as the international system started becoming independent of its master).

    With Germany and Japan we did bequeath them democracies (although with a bit of kicking the corpse under the Morganthau plan first), which was either magnanimous or seen as the surest way of keeping them out of the clutches of both the Fascism we had just fought and the Communism we expected to fight (really it’s both, governments are not monolithic and neither are individuals, who hold self-interested and idealistic goals simultaneously). Certainly with countries that we didn’t fear we had no qualms about overthrowing their democracies and installing dictatorships (the usual laundry list of Iran, Guatamala, Chile, etc.)

    And certainly the post-WWII planners did think explicitly in world-dominating terms (the documentary evidence is there, whether one “hates America” or not). The U.S. did a lot of ugly things back then, as well as some magnanimous ones. Establishing the principle that the Nuremberg principles would apply to ourselves as well as our defeated enemies was one of the greatest — we pretty quickly tossed that one aside.

    All that being said, though, I do think that the creation of the international system was a very powerful ideal (whether self-interested or not). The real test was whether we would still support it when it ran counter to our wishes and I agree with you that we failed that test miserably.

    1. This is a wonderful article, a neocon’s wet dream, nicely showing why the Left in America has dwindled in numbers and even more in influence. In the author’s eyes history becomes a blur of American evil. Interventions in Latin America for American corps, fighting the NAZIs, waging the Cold War, and everything else gets tossed into the pot to serve a childlike narrative of black and white. This makes Star Wars look like something by Shakespeare.

  16. Well, FB, there is a hell of a lot of American evil. If you want to spend your days teasing out the golden strands and glossing over the evil, and pretend that stark black and white nowhere exist,go ahead. But I can tell you that a great part of the globe is pretty-and often bloody–sick and tired of the wonderful Americans and their “way of life.”

    1. I don’t know, I think it’s a matter of emphasis. I’d say the hysterical tone of the Swanson piece and similar screeds is more of a consequence of marginalization rather than a cause. Of course that’s a bit of a vicious circle as well.

      Certainly there is both good and evil in America’s history, mostly evil, or at least self-interest, in our dealings with other nations. But that’s true of every nation throughout history. The idea of leftist critiques is to provide a counterpoint to steady beat of propaganda about American exceptionalism and the Orwellian blackholes that most Americans have about their own history (and everything else, really, but that’s another story). That we’re always the guys in the white hats, never hurting a fly, and if we did it was a well-meaning blunder.

      But that’s not unique to Americans, at least qualitatively. Every powerful nation thinks of itself as unique and exceptional and on the side of God and History. The British are only now starting to come to terms with the awful things they did in Kenya in the 1950s after sweeping it under the rug for decades.

      States are not moral actors, particularly when captured by a small interconnected elite. It’s particularly important to criticize your own country the most harshly because 1. that’s where our biggest blind spots will be (just as in our own lives, man-in-the-mirror and all that), and 2. that’s where, as citizens, we have the most influence and potential to change its course, to prevent evil. And therefore we have a moral responsibility to know about all the bad shit that’s going on in our name, and try to stop it where we can.

      Of course, doing that day in and day out people lose their sense of subtlety and proportion and make it sound like it is all one big “blur of American evil” since the good bits get left out, and the evildoing of others gets the romantic gloss of hapless victimhood — where the narrative becomes unbelievable it is no longer useful . . .

      1. I agree with what you say. But we get nowhere saying that there is good and bad in US foreign policy. And every nation’s foreign policy, always and everywhere. And in every other aspect of human society. It’s becomes just a blur, encouraging us to shrug and turn to the latest reality show on TV.

        Meaningful analysis requires recognition that there are variations in magnitude and nature (qualitative and quantitative) in our foreign policy. That’s one aspect of history, and useful to help us learn from it.

        Furthermore, there is a pattern to the changes — an evolution — which we can learn from.

        IMO the charges of nothing changes: America always evil! America always good are just manifestations of our reluctance (or inability) to learn from our past. This has become, IMO, a distinguishing characteristic of The New America now being born, and one of the sadest aspects. It blocks off one avenue of reform.

      2. You know it’s funny, shortly after posting my last comment and thinking about it, I ended up critiquing it in the same way.

        I can’t stand either of those three positions (all-black, all-white or featureless muddle of gray) – those are convenient recipes for inaction (one reason for their popularity, I believe). I think I was trying to empathize with the goal of crude (counter-) propaganda. It has its uses I suppose, for the wide-eyed innocent in their freshman year of college, but quickly grows tiresome without some nuance (unfortunately CounterPunch publishes a lot of this stuff.

        A damn shame Alex is dead, his weekly column was always witty and entertaining). One the one hand, I can empathize with this author, who, seeing the world drift further away from their desired path feels the need to shout ever more loudly. But the same is surely true of religious fanatics who see the world becoming more and more ungodly.

        It goes back to the debate about the uses of propaganda. Is it better to be quiet and rational and be drowned out in the shouting match, or to sink to the level of the partisan furor? Neither seems appealing, frankly. The left’s love-hate relationship with Michael Moore is an example of this dichotomy in action, for instance.

      3. This debate echos an interesting dynamic founds on many of the threads on the FM website. As a white bread kind of guy, most of the positions in these posts are mainstream. That of America in this post is, broadly speaking, standard-issue undergraduate history viewpoint. And we have Sven etc fiercely denouncing this view.

        In the Modern Monetary Theory posts, I said that this was a fringe position among economists, but that does not imply that its error. That’s simple fact, denied in hysterical fashion by the MMT lay advocates.

        In the climate science posts, I post peer-reviewed articles from major journals to show areas of debate within the climate sciences — about subjects the media misrepresents. In response there are hysterical denouncements, mostly content-free (eg, scientists they don’t agree with are not real climate scientists).

        I said that torture was a bad thing to do. Like we told the Japanese soldiers we hung for waterboarding US troops. Plus I noted the research showing that it’s ineffective. Massive opposition.

        Next: mothers are nice apple pie tastes good.

        This means something. I don’t know what it means.

      4. I don’t quite know what animates it, or if it has always been so, but a certain reflexive contrariness seems to have crept into modern discourse. Always, always needing to be the devil’s advocate and never Heaven’s. It’s not even done in an impish fashion, just out of pure habit. The internet, of course, amplifies it but even in casual conversational debate it happens. When I first try to find common ground with someone before laying out my disagreement I find that even in echoing their own position they find instinctive need to quibble and we never get to the real matter. It really does stifle the battle if you can’t even prepare the field properly. Is it an artifact of the times or did Socrates just have a great editor?

        I used to consider myself a radical but without a consensus reality, a ground-state to depart from, what’s the point? Everyone’s out on their own fringe — which suits the well-organized just fine . . .

    2. “I used to consider myself a radical but without a consensus reality, a ground-state to depart from, what’s the point?”

      Yes. I remember a time when many of us wanted to dispel the common narrative They foisted upon us, aided and abetted by the mainstream media. We wanted everyone to stop listening to the government, the (establishment-written) history books and the (bought and paid-for) experts and think for themselves. After a fashion, we’ve gotten what we wanted… and it turns out to be just a hotter circle of Hell.

      1. Croises,

        That’s brilliant, the story of the boomers in a nutshell. The strange saga of the boomers might become a powerful theme of future literature and poetry.

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