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The Nitwits Are in Charge

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Reprinted from Consortium News


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Sometimes I wonder if today's crop of U.S. pundits and pols could ever rise to meet some truly urgent need of the American people, let alone the interests of the world. Everything, it seems, is done with a snigger and an attitude -- even as we stumble into a wholly unnecessary confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia over which batch of thieves and oligarchs gets to run Ukraine.

There's an old joke about Washington being Hollywood for ugly people, but Washington also turns out to be Comedy Central for unfunny people. We're left with a tedious column by The New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman lamenting that we're having a new "Cold War without the fun -- that is, without James Bond, Smersh, 'Get Smart' Agent 86's shoe phone, Nikita Khrushchev's shoe-banging, a race to the moon or a debate between American and Soviet leaders over whose country has the best kitchen appliances."

Yuk, yuk! So, clever! But Friedman, the ever-clueless columnist, misses the fact there was another side to the best humor and satire about the Cold War. Movies, like Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" (1964), pointed to the grim absurdity of mutual assured destruction. Even some of the goofier comedies, like "Get Smart," parodied the supposed glamour of Cold War spy-craft.

But there was really very little funny about the very real threat of annihilation of all life on the planet, nor about the vast sums of money wasted on building up super-sized nuclear arsenals, nor about the enduring influence that military contractors and their legions of apologists then had -- and still have -- on the federal budget.

In 1953, less than three months after becoming President, Dwight Eisenhower decried the diversion of so much money and talent into the pursuit of more and more deadly weapons, saying: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

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Then, in his farewell address in 1961, Eisenhower warned that the nation "must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

We now know that both the waste and the influence survived even the Cold War's end -- and they are now roaring back to life with the birth of a new Cold War. None of this, however, is funny.

Earlier this year at a New York conference on the renewed prospects for nuclear war, legendary activist Helen Caldicott had the participants watch Stanley Kramer's 1959 movie, "On the Beach," set in Caldicott's native Australia. I had not seen the movie for decades and had forgotten many of the details in the tautly written drama starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins.

Peck plays a disciplined but very human American submarine commander whose ship finds itself in Australia after a nuclear war has wiped out life over much of the world -- though the causes of the conflict remain vague throughout the movie, with the suspicion that the war might have begun as an accident involving a panicky radar man and then quickly raged out of control.

For the people in Australia, the inevitable end was coming, too, and much of the movie deals with the various characters facing not only their own mortality but that of their children and the entire human species. Despite the despairing outcome, there is a warmth and sensitivity to the film.

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"On the Beach" even had a touch of genuine comedy, including a scene of drunken Australians crowding onto a favorite fishing stream for a last carousal, singing "Waltzing Matilda," a sadly haunting song that becomes the anthem for the doomed planet.

Juvenile "Humor"

But the humor in "On the Beach" is not the hoo-hah juvenility that we now see in today's mainstream yucking it up over the fun of provoking a confrontation with Russia by supporting a coup in Ukraine, followed by ethnic cleansing of ethnic Russians and then, of course, blaming everything on Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.

Friedman can't resist the cheap poke-in-the-side of mentioning Putin "riding horses bare-chested," which Friedman deems "an apt metaphor" for the new Cold War. If anyone wants to be taken "seriously" in Official Washington, you must mention Putin riding shirtless with a smirk on your face, just as you must sagely talk about the need to "reform," i.e., slash, Social Security.

At least Friedman does acknowledge that "we fired the first shot when we expanded NATO toward the Russian border even though the Soviet Union had disappeared. Message to Moscow: You are always an enemy, no matter what system you have."

But then Friedman veers back into Official Washington's false narrative blaming the Ukraine crisis all on the diabolical Putin. Though there is not a shred of evidence that Putin wanted the Ukraine crisis, there is substantial evidence that U.S. officials and operatives were seeking to destabilize the Ukrainian government as a scheme to weaken Russia.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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