(2 of 2) Chris Hedges, What makes for successful revolution? Excerpts from “Wages of Rebellion” (Political prisoners, Rebels.)
Chris Hedges, “Wages of Rebellion” (excerpts from end of book)
… Manning’s sentence (35 years in prison) once again confirmed the inversion of our moral and legal order, the capitulation of the press, and the misuse of the law to prevent any oversight or investigation of official abuses of power, including war crimes.
The sentencing of Manning marked the day when the state formally declared that all who name and expose its crimes will become political
prisoners or will be forced, like Snowden, to free into exile. State power, the sentence showed us, will be unaccountable. And those who do not accept unlimited state power – – always the road to tyranny – – will be persecuted. . . .
Manning, if we had a functioning judiciary, would have been a witness for the prosecution against the war criminals she helped expose. She would not have been headed, bound and shackled, to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
But the Government effectively shut down Manning’s defense team. The Army private was not permitted to argue that she had a moral and legal obligation under international law to defy military orders and to make public the war crimes she had uncovered. Because the documents that detailed the crimes, torture, and killing that Manning revealed were classified, they were barred from discussion in court, and so the fundamental issue of war crimes was effectively removed from the trial. . . . (INSERT: there is more in the book)
These restrictions (many more – I didn’t type them up) prevented Manning from appealing to the Nuremberg principles, a set of guidelines created by the International Law Commission of the United Nations after World War II to determine what constitutes a war crime. The principles make political leaders, commanders, and combatants responsible for war crimes, even if domestic or internal laws allow such actions. The Nuremberg principles are designed to protect those, like Manning, who expose these crimes. Under the Nuremberg principles, military orders do not offer an excuse for committing war crimes. And the Nuremberg principles would clearly exonerate Manning and condemn the pilots, shown in the “Collateral Murder” video, who fired on unarmed civilians in Baghdad, leaving twelve dead, including the two Reuters journalists. . . (INSERT: more in the book)
(Manning’s lawyer, Coombs, speaking) “He was young (22 years old). He was a little naïve in believing that the information that he selected could actually mnke a difference. But he was good-intentioned in that he was selecting information that he hoped would make a difference.
. . . He was selecting information because he believed that this information needed to be public.
“I believed if the public, particularly the American public, could see this, it could spark a debate on the military and our foreign policy in general as it applied to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Manning said . . . she had hoped the release of the information to WikiLeaks “might cause society to reconsider the need to engage in counterterrorism while ignoring the situation of the people we engaged with every day.”
But it has not. Our mechanical drones still circle the skies delivering death. Our attack jets still blast civilians. Our soldiers and Marines still pump bullets into mud-walled villages. Our artillery and missiles still raze homes. Our torturers still torture. Our politicians and generals still lie. And the soldier, who tried to stop it all is serving a thirty-five-year prison sentence. (INSERT: January 2017. Before leaving office, President Obama issued an order to reduce Manning’s sentence from 35 years to just over seven years, the majority of which Manning has already served.
The Afghans, the Iraqis, the Yemenis, the Pakistanis, and the Somalis know what American military forces do. They do not need to read WikiLeaks.
It is we who remain ignorant. Our terror is delivered daily to the wretched of the earth with industrial weapons. But to us, it is invisible. We do not stand over the decapitated and eviscerated bodies left behind on city and village streets by our missiles, drones, and fighter jets. We do not listen to the wails and shrieks of parents embracing the shattered bodies of their children. (more in the book)
. . . We do not see the boiling anger that war and injustice turn into a cauldron of hate over time. We are not aware of the very natural lust for revenge against those who carry out or symbolize this oppression. . . . And wilfully uninformed, we do not understand our own complicity. We self-righteously condemn the killers as subhuman savages who deserve more of the violence that created them. This is a recipe for endless terror.
P. 188 (Words of Chelsea Manning)
I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. . . .
When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.
In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.
Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically based dissension, it is usually the American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived mission.
Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy – the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps – – to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.
As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.
If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal. (Manning was sentenced to 35 years.)
P. 196 The case of Jeremy Hammond. I am not going to type it up.
“In these times of secrecy and abuse of power there is only one solution – transparency,” wrote Sarah Harrison, the British journalist who accompanied Snowden to Russia and who has also gone into self-imposed exile in Berlin. “If our governments are so compromised that they will not tell us the truth, then we must step forward to grasp it. Provided with the unequivocal proof of primary source documents people can fight back. If our governments will not give this information to us, then we must take it for ourselves.
“When whistleblowers come forward we need to fight for them, so others will be encouraged,” she went on. “When they are gagged, we must be their voice. When they are hunted, we must be their shield. When they are locked away, we must free them. Giving us the truth is not a crime. This is our data, our information, our history. We must fight to own it. Courage is contagious.”
p. 200 Summarizing paragraph of chapter VII:
The world has been turned upside down. The pestilence of corporate totalitarianism is spreading over the earth. The criminals have seized power. It is not only Assange, Hammond, Abu-Jamal, Manning, and Hashmi they want. It is all who dare to defy the destructive fury of the global corporate state. The persecution of these rebels is the harbinger of what is to come: the rise of a bitter world where criminals in tailored suits and gangsters in beribboned military uniforms – – propped up by a vast internal and external security apparatus, a compliant press, and a morally bankrupt political elite – hunt down and cage all who resist.
p. 210 Chapter VIII Sublime Madness
. . . “There comes a time when we must make a stand for the future of our children, and for all life on Earth,” he (Tom Weis) said. “That time is here. That time is now.”
Niebuhr wrote that those who defy the forces of injustice and repression are possessed by “a sublime madness” in the soul . . . “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and spiritual wickedness in high places”. This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism is a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism . . . “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say, fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.
It is impossible to defy “radical evil” – a phrase originally coined by Immanuel Kant to describe those who surrender their freedom and morality to an extreme form of self-adulation and later adopted by Hannah Arendt to describe totalitarianism . . . Sublime madness demands self-sacrifice and entails the very real possibility of death. Not that the rebel possessed of sublime madness wants to die. for the fight against radical evil is the ultimate affirmation of life. The rebel understands the terrible power of the forces arrayed against all rebels, and how far these forces, once threatened, will go to silence rebels, . . .
The rebel. dismissed as impractical and zealous, is chronically misunderstood. Those cursed with timidity, fear, or blindness and those who are slaves to opportunism call for moderation and patience. They distort the language of religion, spirituality, compromise, generosity, and compassion to justify cooperation with systems of power that are bent on our destruction. The rebel is deaf to these critiques. The rebel hears only his or her inner voice, which demands steadfast defiance.
P. 212 Self-promotion, positions of influence, the adulation of the public, and the awards and prominent positions that come with bowing before authority mean nothing to the rebel, who understands that virtue is not rewarded. The rebel expects nothing and gets nothing But for the rebel, to refuse to struggle, to refuse to rebel, is to commit spiritual and moral suicide.
“You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career,” Vaclav Havel said when he stood up to the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia.
You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them, It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society . . . The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public. He offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin – – and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.
. . . The message of the rebel is disturbing because of the consequences of the truth he or she speaks. To accept that Barack Obama is, as Cornel West says, “a black mascot for Wall Street” means having to challenge some frightening monoliths of power and give up the comfortable illusion that the Democratic Party or liberal institutions or a single elected official can be instruments for genuine reform. To accept that nearly all forms of electronic communication are captured and stored by the government is to give up the illusion of freedom.
The rebel, by documenting this truth, forces us to embrace a new radicalism. The rebel shows us that there is no hope for correction or reversal by appealing to power. The rebel makes it clear that it is only by overthrowing traditional systems of power that we can be liberated.
Martin Luther King Jr’s life was marked by this Socratic paradox. Christian theology calls the Socratic defiance of radical evil “bearing the cross.” And Christian theology warns that all those who are successful in their defiance pay a bitter price. “When I took up the cross, King said less than a year before he was killed, “I recognized its meaning . . . . . The cross is something that you bear, and ultimately that you die on.” . . .
The moral life, celebrated only in the afterglow of history and often not celebrated at all, is lonely, frightening, and hard. The crowd condemns you. The state brands you a traitor. You struggle with your own fears and doubts. The words you speak are often not understood. And you are never certain if your words and actions, in the end, will make any difference. The rebel knows the odds. To defy radical evil does not mean to be irrational. It is to have a sober clarity about the power of evil and one’s insignificance and yet to rebel anyway. To face radical evil is to accept self-sacrifice.
Resistance to Nazism was painfully rare . . . (fear)
History has vindicated resistance groups such as the White Rose and plotters such as von dem Bussche. But they were desperately alone while they defied the law, their oaths of allegiance, and public opinion. Von dem Bussche said that even after the war he was spat upon as he walked down city streets in Germany. Rebellion, when it begins, is not legal, safe, comfortable, or popular.
“Somebody, after all, had to make a start,” one of the White Rose members, Sophie Scholl, said (1943) at her trial in a Nazi court. “What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.” (Sophie was executed at age 21. Subject of a 2005 movie.)
Von dem Bussche . . . refused to describe what he or the other plotters (INSERT: on Hitler’s life) did as heroism. He detested words like “honor” and “glory” being applied to warfare. He had no time for those who remonticized combat. He had no option as a human being but to resist, he said, and acted, as Edelman did, to save his “self-esteem”.
“There was no hero stuff involved, none at all,” he said. “I thought this was an adequate means to balance out what I had seen. I felt that this was justifiable homicide and was the only means to stop mass murder inside and outside Germany”. His was the tenth thwarted attempt on Hitler’s life. There would be one more.
He felt that as an army officer, even with his involvement in the assassination plots, he remained part of the murderous apparatus that had unleashed indefensible suffering and death. He worried that he had not done enough. The brutality and senselessness of the war haunted him. The German public’s enthusiastic collusion with the Nazi regime tormented him. And the ghosts of the dead, including those he admired, never left him. He understood, as we must, that to do nothing in a time of radical evil is to be complicit.
I should have taken off my uniform in the Ukraine,” he told me on the last afternoon of my visit, “and joined the line of Jews to be shot.”
Those with sublime madness accept the possibility of their own death as the price paid for defending life. This curious mixture of gloom and hope, of defiance and resignation, of absurdity and meaning, is born of the rebel’s awareness of the enormity of the forces that must be defeated and the remote chances for success. “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism,” Havel wrote. “It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Optimism, especially the naïve optimism fed to us by the corporate state, engenders self-delusion and passivity and is the opposite of hope. . . . When Abby Mann, who wanted to film Martin Luther Kind’s life story, asked King facetiously, “Hot does the movie end?” King responded, “It ends with me getting killed.” As Mann recalled, “I looked at him. He was smiling, but he wasn’t joking.”
Social and economic life will againt have to be rationed and shared. The lusts of capitalism will have to be curtailed or destroyed. And there will have to be a recovery of reverence for the sacred, the bedrock of premodern society, so we can see each other and the earth not as objects to exploit but as living beings to be revered and protected. This recovery will require a very different vision for human society.
(I will add excellent excerpts from P221 to 225 sometime, or you can read the book!)
P 226 Concluding paragraph of the book:
I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know that these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight that in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires that we follow those possessed by sublime madness, that we become stone catchers and find in acts of rebellion the sparks of life, in intrinsic meaning that lies outside the possibility of success. We must grasp the harshness of reality at the same time as we refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. People of all creeds and people of no creeds must make an absurd leap of faith to believe, despite all the empirical evidence around us, that the good draws to it the good. The fight for life goes somewhere – – the Buddhists call it karma – – and in these acts we make possible a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.
See also: Chris Hedges, WHAT MAKES FOR SUCCESSFUL REVOLUTION? (excerpts from beginning of Wages of Rebellion.)