A review of Paul Craig Roberts’ How America Was Lost: from 9/11 to the Police/Warfare State
“Americans need to understand that they have lost their country. The rest of the world needs to recognize that Washington is not merely the most complete police state since Stalinism, but also a threat to the entire world. The hubris and arrogance of Washington, combined with Washington’s huge supply of weapons of mass destruction, make Washington the greatest threat that has ever existed to all life on the planet. Washington is the enemy of all humanity.”—Paul Craig Roberts
Roberts’ newest book (463 pages, from Clarity Press, 2014) is a compendium of 135 columns (bracketed by an intro and conclusion), written between August, 2008 and December 31, 2013. Roberts himself should require no intro to anyone a little hip to the alternative news media (where many of these columns were posted), or, for that matter, to any older codger aware of Roberts’ work as an associate editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal—or, to even-older codgers who may recall his role as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during the Reagan years. (During those years, Roberts helped shape “supply-side-economics”—for which “the Left” has still not forgiven him; and about which Roberts writes persuasively in his 2013 book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism.)
This is one busy guy! And smart! Being somewhat hip, and accelerating towards codgerdom, I must declare that PCR is simply one of America’s best chroniclers of this sad, brutal era of imperial overreach and moral decline. Anyone who wants to understand where we’ve been recently, where we are now, and where we’re heading, had better read this book pronto!
These hundred-plus columns hammer home some basic themes: Our Constitution has become little more than “a scrap of paper” (quote attributed to G. W. Bush—and sure does sound like something that moron would say!). Also, the official narrative of 9/11 is a “hoax.” That preposterous narrative has been used to justify our Nuremberg-Standard “war crimes” against Muslims (killing, wounding, traumatizing and displacing millions) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria. Our “unitary executive” is an excuse for “Cesarism.” Our Legislative and Judicial branches have surrendered their powers to our dictatorial Cesar—Obama (and his advisors!) and the quondam triumvirate of Cheny-Bush-Rummy—with barely a whimper. Our once vigorous middle class has been pummeled to a pulp thanks to jobs-offshoring, Supreme-Court maleficent decisions like “Citizens United,” and a rigged electoral system controlled by multi-billionaire oligarchs like the Koch Bros and Sheldon Adelson.
Matters look none-too-sanguine for our future, of course, what with our “presstitute” media (a PCR neologism) lulling us with non-news or patent lies. Then, of course, there’s NATO. In case you’ve been too lulled, you may have missed the fact that NATO—originally a defensive alliance—has been transmogrified (since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991) into America’s imperial army, with “puppet,” bought-out governments in France, England, etc. (27 countries at last count) fighting America’s “War on Terror,” and everything else, and pushing nukes right up to Russia’s borders, itching for a fracas (possibly nuclear!) with the Bear his selfdom! And if that isn’t madness enough—let’s “Pivot to Asia,” challenge China in the South China Sea and see if we can’t chop-suey the planet!
Personally, I think our descent into the lower circles of the Inferno began long ago, but for Roberts we at least made obeisance to a system of Laws. They may have been imperfectly observed–what with slavery and Tribal People’s genocide, but nobody had ever thought to codify our vileness (before Bush special counsel, John Yoo!). The die was cast for that codification when the invincible Soviet Union proved less than invincible and, cosmeticized with hubris, we proclaimed ourselves, in the spellbinding words of Madeleine Albright, “the indispensable people.” Such a people certainly had a “right” to override UN mandates against bombing the hell out of Serbia (to wrest Croatia into our orbit), or, later, to turn “no-fly zones” in Libya into free-fire zones. The Executive branch of such a people, supported by a wimp, campaign-financed Congress, could pooh-pooh Constitutional protections against unlimited detentions and advance to torturing suspected “terrorists” (under Bush). “Cesar” could then order the killing of American citizens, without trials or convictions, in foreign countries—call it trial-by-drones–under Obama! (And our grinning, change-we-can-believe-in Prez could kibitz about his “kill-list” skills!)
One other sad theme: we good ole American, Bible-thumping, burger-chomping, coke-drinking (and snorting), true-blue, sports-o-manic folks and jokesters have let it happen! So, Roberts writes columns/chapters like, “Americans Submit to Tyranny,” and “Insouciant Americans,” and “Does America Have a Culture?”…you get the picture! (“Insouciant,” like “presstitutes,” is one of PCR’s favorite words!).
We just don’t seem to give a damn anymore! Maybe we’re just too worn out, the kaleidoscope of our changing world whirls too fast, and, let’s face it, our educational standards have been declining for decades!) America seems to be dying the way fish die—from the head down. With NATO spending some 70% of the world’s war-making budget (and comprising 15% of the number of countries in the world—and less than that in terms of population), we have enough weaponry/wizardry to blow up the whole lollapalooza many times over. But, we’re led by dead-head fish like Bush, Cheney, Obama, SC “Justice” (sic) John Roberts, warmongering jerk-offs like McCain and his lollypop side-kick Lindsey Graham, and misled by “Pussy-Riot” celebrants like Madonna, Bill (hate the Muslims!) Mahr, and even the admittedly witty Colbert. If Mahr and Colbert and the rest really want to interview and support progressive, humanist, dissident, small-“d” democratic feminists—why not talk to Americans Kathy Kelly, Cynthia McKinney, Cindy Sheehan, Medea Benjamin?
Perhaps it was inevitable? How could we poor saps keep track of our government and corporate power with anything approaching the surveillance powers of our NSA state? No-punches-pulled Roberts calls it our “Stasi” police state—with a nod to East Germany’s infamous Cold War apparatus (kids’-play to what’s happening in the US now!). Thanks to the more recent revelations of Snowden, Manning, Assange, Greenwald (and, earlier whistle-blower, Binney)—to all of whom Roberts has dedicated his book—the author devotes much of the latter part of How America Was Lost to this all-encompassing surveillance net.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” Jefferson wrote. And, I recall as a teen, seeing billboards of a charismatic presidential candidate named John F. Kennedy, with that quote on those billboards. But, now we must ask, even as the sardonic Roman poet Juvenal asked, Cuis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Towards the end of this book, probably melancholic about our “insouciance,” Roberts writes, “I sometimes wonder whether Americans like being spied upon, because it makes them feel important.” We are overwhelmed with ennui, anomie, and existential meaninglessness. Again, Roberts propounds: “Being spied upon is the latest craze of people devoid of any future—but desperate for attention.”
There are tenuous tendrils of hope…. Germany, the effective, virtual leader of the EU, could shake loose from NATO, reach for rapprochement with Russia. And, our trodden masses may finally awaken! (Chris Hedges, in his recent work, has also expressed hope for a revolutionary awakening!) And then there is the tendril that could strangle the world: Our “New World Order” very much depends on compacts/understandings/contracts/treaties established during World War II—like Bretton Woods, etc. Today, America’s fundamental strength as the dominant superpower lies not in our military prowess nor alliances, certainly not in our cultural values, nor our now off-shored manufacturing. Principally, it lies in the fact that the dollar is the world’s reserve currency. As the BRICS and other nations begin to realize they are better off without that system, our flimsy superstructure can crash upon our heads.
Roberts cites Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s book, The Untold History of the United States and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as two essential books for understanding the true, unembellished story of America. I saw the Stone-Kuznick 10-hour Showtime documentary based on their book, and I devoured Zinn’s book over a decade ago, and I agree with Roberts. I would add—to better understand our 46-year Cold War mania (now being revived!)—William Blum’s Killing Hope. And, for hammer-blow account of where we are now, add How America Was Lost.