Tyranny Or Terror?
Educators Can Choose Reason Over Fascism
A nation which tutored a generation in the doctrine of pure self-absorption now begins to feel the results of that tenet: citizens can only be motivated, collectively, by sheer hysteria; jingoism, a desperate search for authoritarian command. Once the hysteria climaxes, and collides with selfishness, things begin to fall apart: New York firemen brawling with New York cops (not about lost buddies but overtime); California Governor Gray Davis seizes the podium to steal the thunder from the FBI’s suspension bridge warning, reciprocal finger-pointing between the sham Northern Alliance and the US military bosses. Every nation’s military is left with a singular motivator for front line troops: kill whoever is out there or you and your buddies will be killed—useful for any locale. Tyranny against Terror. The twin towers of opportunism engage in full battle. Such is the apparent choice for citizens and educators, a deadly shell game.
These are the times when the outside appears to be in; not just inverted times, not upside-down, but outside-in, when all that is air is presented as solid, when every appearance is presented as essence. Five weeks into the Perpetual Oil War and counting. Two thousand years of religious mysticism and superstition, three hundred years of capitalism, and what society has to offer its children is endless war, militarization, fear, all underlined by calls to remain greedy and consumptive as the glittering freeway out of the morass.
The task of educators is not to construct techno-widgets for unremitting warfare. We must not be positioned to choose between tyranny or terror. Those who struggle for reason over irrationalism, the philosophy of fascism, have no stake in promoting the international war of the rich on the poor. Let us see what is, so we can hunt for clues of what ought to be, a movement from despotism to democracy and community: freedom.
In early January 2001 it was easy to foresee a worldwide recession, teetering on the brink of full economic collapse. Rising international unemployment (massive layoffs in Maquiladoras) , skyrocketing inequality, serious problems of industrial overproduction (as in auto, with more than a 180 day backlog of cars), brush-fire wars spreading across boundaries (Colombia, Chechnya, etc.), millions of peasants driven off ancestral lands entering the cities as homeless (estimates of 200 million in China), a collapsing technology sector and the energy robbery in California ($12 billion shifted from the state budget to the energy cartels in the world’s sixth largest economy); all this meant profound economic and social instability. It was easy to see this coming, if not this in particular.
The terrorist attack of September 11, an assault inspired by billionaire Bin Laden if the circumstantial evidence plays out, turned a series of quantitative shifts into a qualitative leap. Unemployment in the US quickly topped 5.5% (and is really around 9% if we count those working part-time, the 2 million in jail and forced to work at gulag wages, those drafted by the economy into the military) with no ceiling in sight.
Only those economies which retained some form of state dominated capitalism (Russia, China, parts of Eastern Europe) are not in deep recession already. Japan is near collapse. Argentina is about to default on its debts. The world’s middle class and small business people, believers in the promise of capital, are under assault everywhere, especially in the technology sector. Those who owned little operations with minimal backup capital and those who were simply paid to watch others, or who sought to profit from fabricating desire, advertisers, are joining the army of the unemployed as well. The third world, including many urban areas of the US, is being devastated, as it already was.
A war based economy is customarily inflationary, money is simply printed to pay for the bombs and money becomes worth less. But this economy is more and more deflationary; people simply have no money— the tendency that dominated the last world-wide depression. Mainstream economists are saying this is an international crisis with no end in sight. Eternal war, economic collapse, witless nationalism, racism, religious fervor, the corporate state (government solely as a weapon of the rich); there is nothing untoward about pointing at this and saying: Fascist. Let us turn to specific indicators.
In the US, masses of citizens abandoned their communities on Halloween and took their precious children to private shopping malls, where they would be safe from their neighbors. Church attendance is booming. Hate crimes directed against swarthy people continue apace.
Teachers in the US are conducting daily Pledge of Allegiance drills, in schools where the same teachers have no rights, and in communities where whatever rights existed before September 11 have been stripped away, under the cover of the Patriot Bill, a 98-1 vote in the Senate. The Pledge drills come at the exclusive sponsorship of Scholastic Incorporated, the company that set out to control all publications within schools, by their statement, by 2003. Scholastic sent free Pledge of Allegiance books to several classrooms, complete with teacher instructions. Documents that critique tyranny, like the Declaration of Independence, were buried under the deluge.
My top prize of the current era has to be considered a near tie: a red ribbon pinned to the chest of every child in the local school district that says, “Working to Keep Kids Off Drugs, sponsored by Long’s Drugs.” The chief competition is my New York Times Magazine from Sunday October 21, which boasts a series of articles debating whether or not citizens should be panicked—and a ten page advertising section for anti-depressants.
In the name of economic recovery, US national leaders urged consumers to spend, despite massive layoffs in every sector and warned of unnameable terrors just around the corner. Citizens were told not to worry about anthrax and not to overdose on antibiotics. Then the leaders shut down the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court, fled to secret underground tunnels, and ordered a force of mostly black postal workers to work despite the death of their colleagues from anthrax poisoning. The entire D.C. postal workforce was dosed with Bayer’s Cipro. Cipro is not the drug of choice to combat anthrax but Bayer has been running full-page ads in the NY Times for two weeks touting Cipro, even though they charge ten times the cost of the generic substance. Bayer is a German company that built its fortune on slave labor in the Nazi era. The international drug lobby employees nearly 700 people on capital hill, far more lobbyists than representatives, and spent almost $200 million in lobbying and campaign contributions in 2000, more than any other industry.
Then the political leaders in the House popped up from hiding and passed a bill that includes :
The bill also includes a rider that says the salaries of airline executives, who had laid off more than 20,000 workers before receiving their own multi-billion dollar bailout. could not be capped. Little companies, like Dallas Power and Light, with about 15, 000 employees (compared to GM’s 350,000) got a healthy chunk too, about $699 million, perhaps as a hope offering to entrepreneurs.
Northern Alliance members, curiously titled “fighters,” in crispy new US camouflage outfits, complained that after three weeks of heavy bombing from B-52, helicopter and fixed-wing gunships, the Taliban appears to be untouched and fires at them when the bombing stops. The top Northern Alliance leader was quoted in the New York Times of 11–4-01, “ We do not train in the rain.” Unruffled, the US leadership points out that since this is a perpetual war, it does not matter much if the targets are hit right away, as everything will probably be hit eventually.
The Washington Post, on November 2 2001, carried an article exposing an internal CNN memo demanding that reporters not focus on civilian deaths in Afghanistan and, that whenever those deaths appear, that they are to be covered with photos of the World Trade Center and reminders that there are lots of US dead who should count far more.
All war is based on the art of deception. The lying to the US public began immediately, and kept up through all the official channels. Reporters are completely banned and censored, following the lessons of Vietnam and early practice in Grenada. Sy Hersh, who exposed My Lai, has reported a firefight between Taliban and US crack Delta Forces in which the Deltas were mauled, fleeing with twelve wounded.
More than a thousand people were arrested and jailed, with no habeus corpus protections, for over a month. Attorney General Ashcroft, under mild pressure, said that three of those arrested with connections to Michigan, for sure, were guilty of something to do with the September 11 terrorist atrocity. The next day, Justice officials retracted the claim. The day following, George W. Bush crowed that 1,000 detainees was not enough, that he is still on the hunt for enemies, both outside and in the Homeland. California’s Gray Davis then quickly appointed his own Homeland Czar, unrepentantly, able to count on a population that is certain not to know that the last famous use of the word Homeland came out of the Nazi Party of Germany. That the last notable Czar was a Russian tyrant, the terror of the serfs and head of the Cossacks, a monarch slaver in the twentieth century overthrown by masses of workers and peasants during WWI.
Two famous American terrorists, renowned educator and Weathermen Billy Ayers, son of a millionaire, and his companion, Bernadine Dohrn, remained comfortable in their prestigious university positions (and trendy Hyde Park quaters) in Chicago, where they continue to assist the Dailey administration with the corporate takeover of the public schools. Ayers in his recent book, Fugitive Days, regrets that he did not do enough bombing during his days as, what many people at the time believed, an agent provocateur. Dohrn and Ayers may have been disturbed by right-wing university donors who threatened to withhold their money, but Ayers’ Dean, the postmodernist Stanley Fish who believes that one form of truth is as good as another, quickly came to their defense, citing their recent good works and the first amendment. George Schmidt, the Chicago high school teaching veteran who was fired for releasing the Chicago k-12 high-stakes test, remained fired, with no defense forthcoming from Fish.
The stifled debate about the WTC death figures sifted momentarily into the press. The New York Times suggests that the body count may be closer to two thousand than five thousand, but five thousand remains the official figure. The Bureau of Labor Statistic cites all workplace death figures for '92-'99 at an average 6,250, a median 6,217. The year 2000 was 5,915, down 5+% from that average. But this is far from the whole story. Reported deaths don't include (when delayed, sometimes 30-40 years) the thousands from cancer due to exposure to asbestos and hundreds of chemicals on the job; delayed asbestosis, mesothelioma, silicosis, asthma; alcoholism and other drug abuse, depression, and suicides connected with industrial work. De-industrialization, though, appears to have had a significant impact in the US, where industrial workers once suffered 10,000 deaths per year. Even so, world-wide, tobacco accounts for 400,000 deaths a year. There are no calls to defoliate the Carolinas and Virginia, although the failed drug war continues apace against the people of Columbia.
Absent the press almost entirely were the stories, initially reported in the New York Times, of the looting police and firemen did shortly after the bombing, inside enclosed police lines, in the depths of the WTC where jewelry stores and banks were located. The Swiss Bank, however, whose vaults were in the deepest depths of the Center, issued a statement saying they are sure their $20 million in gold is safely vaulted deep under the rubble, even though evidence suggests that police looters attempted to enter the vault via nearby tunnels. Non-heroes were quickly hushed by the press, like the woman who was dog-sitting for a friend who was lost in the bombing. The sitter quickly entered her friend’s apartment, found her identification and credit cards, and ran up a twenty thousand dollar bill before police finally arrested her.
Somewhat hushed is the word: Oil. Silenced altogether is: Capitalism. The Saudi oil fields, centrifugal to US foreign policy for 50 years, and to the Western Empires for nearly 100, are topped by a medieval regime which, according to Amnesty International, is built on censorship, torture, and totalitarianism. Trade unions and political parties are banned. Women are demonized, other than the prostitutes routinely recruited from all over the world to serve the royals. With 22 million people, about 2/3 the population of California, Saudi Arabia is the world’s number one purchaser of arms and weaponry. With the richest oil reserves in the world, the decadent royalty managed to outspend itself. The country is now deeply in debt. One-third of the Saudi people remain illiterate, yet the Saudi royals built a palace to literacy--- at George Washington University in D.C. The Saudi royals, themselves the product of the British and later the US, produced the wealth now available to Usama bin Laden.
The Central Intelligence Agency, key recipient of $30 billion per year of federal funding, completely bungled its mission, again. Doubly demoralizing, perhaps, was the fact that their clandestine office in 7 World Trade Center, where the CIA conducted illegal activity by posing as US businessmen to spy on both foreign and domestic commerce, burned down as collateral damage from the Twin Tower collapse. The agents fled. It is not known what intelligence data might have gone missing—perhaps to police and fire looters. Their CIA’s partner, the ultra-secret National Security Agency, is at least four times the size of the CIA. NSA, until 1989, denied its own existence. NSA, tasked with mostly electronic surveillance, did manage to break Japanese business codes which, in 1997, allowed AT&T to subvert bids on cell phone operations in Japan and to win the contract for the US-based company. It could not, however, crack the intelligence of, if allegations are true, Taliban leaders who live in caves.
Nguyen Van Thieu, the US puppet who ran the South Vietnamese government through most of the war died on September 30, 2001. His New York Times obituary outlines a corrupt neurotic life, dedicated to self over all. Installed following a CIA coup that killed the previous puppet, Thieu’s death offered no lessons to a nation disconnected from history and reason. The CIA and related intelligence agencies are now cobbling together a similar coalition in Afghanistan, presumably to be led by an 86 year old former king who, after being chased from the country 25 years ago, is being rescued from his walled villa in Italy. The projected monarchy will, presumably stand above the centuries old ethnic and political rivalries that have undermined Afghan life. Meanwhile, well out of the public eye is the pipeline Unocal would like to build from Kazakstan through Afghanistan to the sea.
Kazakstan “possesses enormous fossil fuel reserves,” according to the CIA Factbook, second only to those reserves in Saudi Arabia, and perhaps, given more exploration, second to none. The country suffered under the collapse of state-capitalism, what was called socialism, and while so-called free market capital boomed, the country, a fertile land, lost a sizeable portion of its oldest and youngest generations to starvation. Doctors Without Borders decried the bombs and food-drop campaign, noting that the bombing is aimed at the civilian infrastructure, like water supplies, and the ludicrous food drops, insufficient for even 1/20th of the population for one day, are more designed to lure people into the open than to feed them. Thousands of Afghans will soon starve again.
Afghanistan is the world’s top producer of heroin, surpassing the heroin rings started by the CIA and Guomindang in Burma. The Taliban was rewarded with more than $25 million in the spring of 2001 for their drug interdiction programs. At the same time, current US allies in the Northern Alliance were identified as the key drug dealers in the country. Given that a major drug dealer has never been captured in the US, and the longstanding relationships of US intelligence agencies and drug traffickers, it is reasonable to predict that the Afghan poppy fields will be pouring out opiates—aimed directly at US inner cities where, as the economy contracts, resistance is likely to originate.
The international coalition George Bush tossed together is every bit as unstable as the Afghan coalition government he hopes to impose. Every major player has an eye on oil reserves, and profitability, and the moment any one of them sees an opportunity to inch closer to the oil fields, to steal another imperial resource, the coalition fragments and the parties start choosing sides for WWIII. Or, in another ugly scenario, Pakistan and India become fully destabilized and begin trading nuclear attacks. Unless the US leadership stops pursuing its own rhetoric, the chances for not just eternal war (which will not happen) but world war, intensify.
The malignant subtext of death-loving cultures of Islamic Fundamentalism meeting Christian and Zionist Fundamentalism cannot be ignored. All forms of militant irrationalism, the religious fanatics control several nations, considerable firepower, and appear to be expanding into every sector of life. Each of the fundamentalist wings have pursued a murderous policy to democratic movements, women’s movements, and even trade unionism.
This year oil is the vital artery of capital, but capital demands war anyway. The imperial global gaze must settle on whatever location can best exploit nature and people, and the processes of capital care not a whit who does that best. Ever-fickle, capital shifts illuminates whoever it the most cruel, the most divisive, the most deceptive. Now it is in full heat, in a lusty search for new pals.
What of schools, students, education workers, parents, and community people? What can we say should be done? What is being done now?
Let us first dispense with the cul-de-sacs of resistance, the trade unions, and sham political parties (Democrats, Republicans, and the entire dogmatic left). The education unions, the NEA and the AFT, are wholly on board with the war, as well as all of the preparations for war that were in the works before the WTC: high-stakes tests, restricitive standards, vouchers and the privatization effort, the militarization of working class schools, and the corporate takeover of urban districts. The NEA and the AFT are simply not designed to answer the crisis.
The mainstream parties, Republicrats, are indistinguishable in their Seig Heil to the wealth and the eternal war.
The left is so set on telling poor and working class people what to do that it has no possibility of learning from the lives and wisdom that are cornered by the war and the collapsing economy. Ruined by dogmatism on one hand, and balkanized by incoherent postmodernism (whose personifications promptly supported the Perpetual War) on the other hand, the left may be able to promote considerable distrust in the government, which has never been erased since Vietnam, and offer an umbrella for some demonstrations of resistance, but it cannot offer an organization base for serious resistance. Instead, the left moves from spectacle to spectacle, lecturing itself in interminable meetings, having entirely forgotten its door-to-door patient roots in the civil rights movement, the early CIO, the battle for the eight hour day, and the interracial abolitionist movement. No idea has every preceded the life practices of working people. Should that memory be awaked, there will be some reason to rekindle hope in the left, but that appears to be unlikely.
What do radical educators have to work with? We have day to day life and the inexorable struggle for freedom and truth. Work sucks, everywhere. That is a certain advantage to those who can understand why. Official rhetoric cannot match reality, anywhere. Again, those who wonder why can be offered critical methods that can be used to test for what is true. Despite the horror in front of us, the overwhelming majority of people continue in their eager search for love, and wonder why it is so hard to find, why reason and community cannot, under the spell of capital, prevail over segregation and hate. Selfishness and hysteria will not hold the Empire together for long. While it appears the universe is inside-out; work, knowledge, and love are still the organizing factors of daily life.
The first US deaths in the Perpetual Oil War were youths from militarized schools in Wyoming, who wrote in their yearbooks that the only way out for them was to join the vaunted Rangers. The mother of one said that when his son returned home from boot camp, he was proud that he had learned to eat worms and ants to live. The reversal is likely to be quite apparent to his comrades now.
The incessant attack on urban education and urban ghettoes in the US is part of the war now. At some point, these children will be needed as fodder for the war machine. Given their profound alienation from official society, the success of that project is most unlikely.
These processes, and more that we do not now notice (probably developing in the most oppressed and officially silenced sectors of society), comprise cracks in the Empire, ways out, for reason to prevail over irrationalism, rationality to overcome fascism. But with these openings, it remains that justice demands organization.
In the Rouge Forum and the Whole Schooling Consortium, we have struggled with the question of how to organize in democratic and effective ways for the last five years. We have led the fight in research and action against the harbingers of war and fascism in schools, high-stakes tests for example, and demonstrated that there is now a clear and direct line from standards to high-stakes exams-to deepened segregation and regulated knowledge to the commodification of children and educations and then to war preparations and the draft. What was once a jagged line is now clear and distinct.
Only the Rouge Forum has said that at issue is this question: How do we get rid of capitalism and learn to live in loving communities where free people can fully exercise their creativity? How can we use what is to reach toward what ought to be; the fact that capital has not only offered us the horror we now can see, but also the technology and international connections of transportation, communication, and industry that can serve as the basis for a reasoned decision to live with this as a guide: From each according to their commitment to each according to their need.
Only the Rouge Forum was clear in demonstrating that
this war was coming. We have a considerable base of organizers, and a much
wider readership. Now, we are in the process of setting up more formal
organizational structures that are also more welcoming, more inclusive.
Those who want to be in a movement that values inclusion, anti-racism,
reason, democracy, and direct action on the job and in communities are
welcome to join us. The logic of change is the logic of freedom. We must
move with a patient sense of urgency to connect reason and power.
Return to Rouge Forum index