2002 Has Been A Grim Year

by Edward S. Herman

December 16, 2002


The year 2002 has been a grim one, in large measure because the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft administration has been able to strengthen its grip and advance its regressive agenda, which runs counter to the public interest on every important issue. Furthermore, the year is not yet over: the DC Axis of Evil has all its war forces in place in the Middle East and is anxious to get a major attack on Iraq underway -- I say "major attack" because it has already started the war by accelerated bombings of Iraq to soften it up, all illegal but hardly noticed by the poodles and "international community" at home and abroad.

The DC Axis has found that war is a very serviceable device for covering over a regressive agenda. This was pointed out back in 1904 by Thorstein Veblen in his classic The Theory of Business Enterprise, where he noted ironically that "The modern warlike policies are entered for the sake of peace, with a view to the orderly pursuit of business." They not only make for a conservative animus on the part of the populace, during wars "civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance... At the same stroke, they direct the popular interest to other, nobler, institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comforts."

The Reagan administration, another right wing business administration, also recognized that war was useful for shifting attention to "institutionally less hazardous matters" and it also declared a "war on terror" immediately upon entering office. The U.S. mainstream media never mention this interesting analogue, partly because it is awkward to admit that such wars are entered into so opportunistically. But they stay away from this also because it is now so clear that Reagan's Axis of Evil (run by some of the same men who operate the Bush Axis wars) supported a string of really ugly state terrorists like the Argentinean military regime, the South African apartheid government, and the murderous Central American governments of El Salvador and Guatemala. A good propaganda system blacks out such inconvenient history, which suggests that the earlier "war on terrorism" was a "war OF terrorism."

The populace can get tired of war, as the patriotic impulses and propaganda run up against war's human and material costs. There is some basis for optimism in the fairly rapid growth of an antiwar movement. On the other hand, however, wars are over quickly when an overarmed superpower is beating up a series of tiny victims, and the prowar forces are extremely well entrenched in the U.S. media and have thus far been able to maintain a huge propaganda campaign. There is also the grim possibility that the rightwing forces in power in the United States will welcome, or at least be pleased to take advantage of, antiwar actions to pass and enforce a series of "patriot" acts, and gradually move the country toward full-fledged authoritarianism. This is made more likely by the fact that the Bush gang's program for dealing with "terror" -- that is, using more state terror to kill retail terrorists -- is guaranteed to produce more terror. A vicious circle of wars, terrorism and advancing repression is possibly in store for us.

If we list the really urgent problems of the world, we can see that the Bush triumph and consolidation of power in 2002 bodes badly for human welfare and even survival. First, the world needs peace so as to reduce the waste of resources in methods of death and destruction. The Bush gang is spending far more on death-dealing and it is forcing others to do the same, as it presses for domination and service to the military-industrial complex and other prowar lobbies. Second, the world needs peace in order to develop a global sense of community that will reduce strife and make possible a collective agenda. The Bush administration's projection of power and war on terror is moving the world in the exact opposite direction, institutionalizing war and exacerbating strife.

Third, the world needs policies that will reduce poverty and inequality, as these are the bases on which intra-mural and international strife is built. The Bush administration is pushing exclusively the short-term interests of its home based transnational corporations, with its support for open doors, "free trade," selective protection of domestic interests, special deals and bilateral arrangements, and minimal aid -- with that small aid linked to political tests.

Finally, the world needs to deal with the environmental and ecological threats that have come with the overwhelming global human presence and technological advance. It is clear that here the Bush administration, siding uncompromisingly with its business community, and especially with polluting industries like oil, electric power, and automobiles, will provide a major obstacle to any global efforts to deal with these important problems.

So, a rotten year, and prospects not looking too good for the future. But history is so unpredictable, and we may take some hope from the growing antiwar movement and global opposition, as well recollection of Bush-1's rapid fall from grace after sky-high poll ratings during and immediately after the Persian Gulf War.

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Edward S. Herman is a Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to Z Magazine since its founding in 1988 and to ZNet. Herman is the author of numerous books, including a number of corporate and media studies. These include Corporate Control, Corporate Power (1981), the two-volume Political Economy of Human Rights (1979) and Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), both of which he co-authored with Noam Chomsky, as well as The "Terrorism" Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror (1989), which he co-authored with Gerry O'Sullivan. Herman occasionally contributes a column to Swans.

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Published December 16, 2002
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