Friday, September 29, 2023

Sex, Watergate, Eyes Wide Shut

Sex, Watergate, Eyes Wide Shut

Peter Schultz 


When just finishing up John O’Connor’s book on Watergate, Postgate, and thinking about how he, like others, doesn’t speculate that Watergate and its different cover-ups were about hiding sexual activities and the CIA’s operations regarding them, it occurred to me that the phrases “sexual perversion” and “sex perverts” have consequences that deter such speculations. “Perversions” and “perverts” imply that the sexual activities involved weren’t normal or common in American society. That is, these phrases imply activities that aren’t common, that don’t occur except among the psychologically defective, and are not thought of and engaged in by the participants as legitimate. 

Characterizing sexual activities as perversions is like characterizing groups who participate in such activities as, e.,g., “Satanic cults.” Such characterizations make such activities seem extraordinary rather than ordinary, as beyond the bounds of normal American society. Hence, there is a tendency to dismiss explanations based on such activities as outlandish, as wild conspiracy theories. Therefore, decent commentators tend to overlook or minimize the role sex played in scandals like Watergate, and in the covert ops of the likes of the CIA.  (A proper English gentleman, Barker, who translated Aristotle’s Politics, consigned to appendices Aristotle’s references to political events, upheavals and tyrannies, that Aristotle traced to sex, either of the homo- or heterosexual variety. Such explanations were not “proper!” How English! How proper!)  

This is the cutting edge of Eyes Wide Shut, which from the outset locates intense, allegedly socially unacceptable sex among elites as obviously acceptable, even praiseworthy behavior. The elites glory in their lasciviousness; it is a mark of and confirms their elite status, their superiority. Pedophilia, e.g., and being proud of it, marks one as truly elite. After all, it is about dominance, which is how elites confirm their superiority. 

The story of the real cover-up regarding Watergate is still to be written.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Hougan"s Secret Agenda


Hougan’s Secret Agenda

Peter Schultz


         Here is Jim Hougan’s summation on the Watergate scandal as it came to be seen:


“For the affair to be seen in black-and-white terms…there was room for only one victim and one villain. Accordingly, it was politically expedient for both the press and the prosecutors to gloss over or ignore any contradictions that arose. The case was to be treated as a moral fable: an open-and-shut case of political espionage carried out by the bad guys in the White House against the good guys in the Democratic Party.” [206]


         But, as Hougan makes clear, James McCord sabotaged the burglary, and the question arises as to why he would do that. Obviously, Hougan dismisses the possibility that McCord was out to get Richard Nixon, for the simple reason that he, McCord, could not have known that the ensuring events would affect Nixon so dramatically.


         But as Hougan argues, sabotaging the burglary “would put an end to any further assaults on the DNC.” McCord was, Hougan argues, “concerned that Magruder’s operation would jeopardize the DNC’s relationship to the Columbia Plaza [call girl operation]. [McCord’s] actions … had one common denominator: they preserved the Democrats’ secrets for the CIA’s exclusive consumption.”


         As Hougan noted: “the DNC contained an explosive secret: its relationship to prostitutes at the Columbia Plaza Apartments. And … McCord was determined to preserve the monopoly that his secret principals held on that relationship. Neither he nor the agency wanted the Columbia Plaza operation exposed, and neither were they willing to share everything with the Nixon administration…. The conclusion is inescapable that McCord sabotaged the June 16 break-in to protect an ongoing CIA operation. In doing so, he cannot have acted spontaneously; sabotaging a break-in was a desperate action.” [211-212]


         Of course, it’s obvious that the Democrats didn’t want the Columbia Plaza operation and its call girl ring exposed. But then neither did the Nixon administration because it couldn’t be certain of the revelations that might be forthcoming. As Hougan put is, the call girl ring was definitely “explosive.” So, not surprisingly, “the White House itself became a collaborator, acquiescing [that] the burglars [were] ‘bunglers’” and that the break in was “’a third-rate burglary’ unworthy of serious investigation.” [206] So, contra Hougan’s argument, while the White House’s response “discouraged scrutiny of the burglars’ own motives, and buried evidence that was at least mitigating,” that response wasn’t, as Hougan put it, a “reflexive pursuit of [a] cover-up.”


         The White House collaborated in the construction of the “moral fable” that this as “an open-and-shut case of political espionage carried out by…bad guys…against…good guys” in order to conceal the sexual corruption of America’s elites. They didn’t realize or suspect that that collaboration would eventually lead to Nixon’s resignation. Portraying the burglars as bunglers wasn’t enough to save Nixon; it was just too easy to portray him as a real bad guy.


         And it is important to understand the CIA, in overseeing and even perhaps creating operations like the one at the Columbia Plaza Apartments, didn’t create the sexually perverse character of America’s elites; rather, it was merely using the sexual proclivities of the elites for its own purposes. That is, if America’s elites did not have certain sexual proclivities or perversions, the CIA’s operations would not have borne fruit, so to speak. As with con men so often, the “conned” collaborate with the con men in order to profit in some way. Eliot Spitzer’s enemies, for example, brought him down, but it was Spitzer’s sexual proclivities that made this possible. Spitzer collaborated in his own downfall.


         Hougan’s conclusions regarding McCord’s secret agenda put John Dean’s actions in an interesting light as well. Dean had to know of the Columbia Plaza call girl ring and of its connection with Phillip Bailley because his then girlfriend, Mo Biner, was close friends with the woman who oversaw that call girl operation. And, of course, even Dean does not deny that he knew Phillip Bailley or Heidi/Cathy of the call girl ring. Mo Biner, now, Mo Dean even has a picture of herself and Heidi/Cathy in her memoir. So, it might be fair to say that Dean got Magruder to get Hunt, et. al., to go back into the Watergate in June not to bug phones – and no bugs were found there - but to get documentary evidence of the call girl ring and its connection to the DNC. Hence, the key to Maxie Wells desk and the camera equipment on her desk, found when the burglars were arrested.


         Dean might have been unaware of the ring’s connection to the CIA, as Bailley was unaware. That is, he might have been unaware as were Magruder and Liddy of the CIA’s involvement with the Columbia Plaza operation and its connection to the DNC. But however, that might be, Dean was after what he had been after in New York City when he sent functionaries to New York to gather intell on the “Happy Hooker’s” operation and her clientele, intell he couldn’t use because the sexual perversion was pervasive enough to encompass Republicans as well Democrats. Perhaps Dean thought the intell he could gather from the DNC would be more usable because it would be limited to Democrats.


But, of course, once the burglars had been arrested, Dean had to do all he could to cover-up his role in the burglaries. And in that regard, he had as his allies, some perhaps unknown to himself, like the CIA. Nixon, on the other hand, didn’t have allies and, in fact, unbeknownst to himself, had enemies like John Dean. It’s ironic: Nixon had an “enemies list” and it was eventually his enemies that took him out, with his collaboration of course. So it goes!

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Insider Accounts: Mazzetti, Mayer, Valentine


Insider Accounts: Mazzetti, Mayer, Valentine

Peter Schultz


            In his excellent book, The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazzetti is concerned to give an insider’s account of the CIA and its transition from an intelligence gathering agency to a kill or capture agency. Among other items, he writes about such battles as to who would be in charge of Pakistan drone strikes, the ambassador or the CIA. The CIA won.


            But because this is an inside account it hides the more important agreement between the ambassador and the CIA, viz., there would be drone strikes, i.e., indiscriminate killings, in Pakistan because those killed were most often unknown to the American killers except as displaying alleged age and behavioral characteristics. No one was contesting this program of indiscriminate killings of Pakistanis, a nation the US wasn’t at war with.


            As Mazzetti’s insider account concludes: “Obama’s CIA had won another battle.” But this covers over the fact the Pakistanis had lost and were to be subjected to a campaign of indiscriminate killings by the United States, which wasn’t even at war with Pakistan. According to the insider account, what was being done to the Pakistanis disappeared, while American politics took center stage.


            Of course, the killing of bin Laden also hid the American program of indiscriminately killing Pakistanis. That killing hid the savagery of US policies by making the “targeted assassinations” seem “surgical” “precise,” even “pinpoint.”  And even Seymour Hersh’s account of the bin Laden assassination, although quite controversial, being another insider’s account, has the same result, not exposing the actual character of the US “war” in Pakistan. Insider accounts fortify the status quo because they are superficial, focused on “the mistakes” being made. Hence, Mazzetti asserts that “the CIA was being reckless.” But, more importantly, the CIA was being savage by indiscriminately killing Pakistanis.


            From insider accounts, a picture emerges of US elites trying to get things right. But there is another, more accurate picture: US elites are engaged in savagery, which some might say makes them savages. You tell me: Does the arc of history bend toward justice, peace, and freedom? Given US policies, this assertion would seem to be quite comical, in a sick way, as is the saying that the US is waging “a War on Terrorism.” In fact, the US is engaged in waging a terroristic war world-wide. But this possibility disappears in Mazzetti’s and Hersh’s insider accounts.


            Jane Mayer, who has praised Mazzetti’s book, has written her own book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terrorism Turned Into a War on American Ideals.  Written as an “inside story,” Mayer doesn’t consider the possibility that the war on terror was based on and thereby fortified America’s ideals. As an insider account, Mayer’s book makes this possibility magically disappear. Poof! American savagery, repeated over and over, is replaced by “mistakes.” That’s the trick performed by insider accounts, confirming America’s ideals amidst a host of mistakes.


            In a way, Douglas Valentine in his book The CIA as Organized Crime performs the same trick when he labels the CIA “’organized crime.” “Crime” is understood to consist of violations of American ideals, e.g., like being law abiding, not robbing, nor murdering, nor raping. So, if the CIA is “organized crime,” it should be thought of as violating America’s ideals. But what if the CIA is the result of those ideals? This is not a question that Valentine’s, Mazzetti’s, Hersh’s, or Mayer’s insider accounts raise. In fact, by looking inside, these accounts make that question disappear. What the CIA looks like inside hides or disappears what it looks like outside, viz., a savage killing machine compatible with America’s ideals.


            In fact, that the CIA is a principled killing machine, makes it more deadly, more dangerous than criminal organizations like the “Mafia.” Why? Because its kills are not only necessary; they are considered justified and even honorable. The CIA’s killers are honored by society whereas criminal killers, “hit men,” are dishonored, even at times punished, capitally or otherwise. So, when the CIA contracts with “hit men,” the magic recurs: Hit men killing for the CIA become honorable. “Honor killings,” often thought of by Americans as the practice of primitive societies, are engaged in by US elites as well. And, so, it is little wonder that persons seeking to be honorable are attracted to, seduced by war, patriotic wars especially. The distance between the Boy Scouts and the Marines, for example, isn’t all that far. [Watch the movie, Hearts and Minds as it captures this dynamic in reference to the Vietnam War.]

Monday, September 4, 2023

Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife


Mark Mazzetti’s The Way of the Knife

Peter Schultz


            Why is it that proposals to do away with the CIA are met with disbelief, while keeping the CIA, even fortifying it, is treated as utterly rational? In other words, what makes American elites, and the American people just assume the CIA is rational, acceptable, legitimate to an extent that the question of its existence is never or rarely raised? And if raised, why is it treated as an utterly irrational question?


            Mark Mazzetti’s book, The Way of the Knife raises lots of questions about the CIA and how it has operated and how it operates, but he doesn’t raise “the why” question. The result is that Mazzetti blurs or even disappears the deeper issues about the CIA while delving into more superficial ones. For example: Mazzetti takes note of the disagreements over the issue “Whether the CIA or the JSOC would be in charge of secret operations” in particular countries. But this debate assumes (a) that one of them should be in charge and (b) that such secret operations, that is, those in countries the US is not at war with, are legitimate. The assumption that such secret operations are legitimate is never questioned. And, of course, as “the special ops” conducted by al Qaeda on 9/11 illustrated, such special operations should be considered controversial, even illegitimate or evil.


            Mazzetti also focuses on the transition made in how the CIA functions, noting that “Armed drones and targeted killing in general, offered a new direction for a spy agency” away from “the detention-and-interrogation business.” But, again, his analysis skates on the surface of things, lacking the depth that would have been available had he raised the question of the legitimacy of armed drones and targeted killings generally. As enlightening as Mazzetti’s analysis is, it is as superficial as analyses that revolved around the question, What mistakes led the US to make war in Vietnam or Iraq. Analyzing those “mistakes” will not get to the roots of US policies; in fact, such analyses often obscure the deepest assumptions that underlie US policies.


            US foreign policies cannot be understood unless we uncover the deepest assumptions held by American elites and non-elites. Because Mazzetti’s book doesn’t attempt to lay bare those assumptions, despite its insightful analysis of the shortcomings of the CIA as a killing machine, and they are many, the book’s analysis is in the service of the status quo. Some of those shortcomings may be corrected, but fundamental flaws of the CIA and our national security state will continue to corrupt US policies, with dangerous consequences.  

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Comments On Gore Vidal's Lincoln


Comments on Gore Vidal’s Lincoln

Peter Schultz


            At end of his book, Lincoln, Gore Vidal has John Hay, once Lincoln’s secretary, redeeming both the Civil War and Lincoln, ranking Lincoln even higher that Washington as president.


            “Mr. Lincoln had a far greater and more difficult task than Washington. You see, the Southern states had every Constitutional right to go out of the Union. But Lincoln said, no. Lincoln said, this Union can never be broken. Now that was a terrible responsibility for one man to take. But he took it, knowing he would be obliged to fight the greatest war in human history, which he did, and which he won. So, he not only put the Union back together again, but he made an entirely new country, and all of it in his own image.” [656]


            And then again: “… Hay, who was now more than ever convinced that Lincoln, in some mysterious way, had willed his own murder as a form of atonement for the great and terrible thing he had done by giving so bloody and absolute a rebirth to his nation.” [657]


            Here’s the thing. Lincoln had once spoken about those men who “hunger and thirst for distinction” and disdain any beaten path in seeking political greatness, either by enslaving freemen or freeing slaves, in their pursuit of fame or the only kind of immortality humans can be sure of. Such men were the “founding fathers.” So, one may wonder if Hay’s take on Lincoln’s death being “a form of atonement for the great and terrible thing he had done” is the whole story. Perhaps, Lincoln, “in some mysterious way,” willed his own murder in order to ensure that he would achieve fame and, therewith, a kind of immortality. Like the deaths of Socrates and Christ, Lincoln’s death via assassination would seal his sanctification.


            Moreover, given how American history played out after the Civil War, with the eventual reintroduction of slavery in the form of peonage for southern blacks and the long history of racial apartheid, one may also wonder about Hay’s assertion that Lincoln had succeeded in making “an entirely new country…. all of it his own image.” And even if he did succeed in that task for a while, it may be said that this “new country” disappeared after the presidential election of 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes was awarded the presidency by agreeing to allow the South to recreate both a kind of slavery and racial apartheid.


            So, one may wonder, despite Hay’s attempt at redeeming both Lincoln and the Civil War, whether the war and Lincoln are redeemable. Does the arc of history bend toward justice or does it bend toward madness? It is hard to say.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Elitism and Politics


Elitism and Politics

Peter Schultz


            Why is conflict so central to political life? To convince us that politics is real. Political life tends toward conflict, and then the conflict makes politics seem real. The bloodier politics becomes, the more real it seems. There must be real differences between Jews and Palestinians given the blood they shed fighting each other. Right? Otherwise, their conflicts would seem like madness, shedding all that blood for what are non-existent, unreal differences.


            The point is: Elitism is built into our lives in ways we don’t recognize. For example, by the concept of “politics.” We take it for granted that politics is something real. And, so, as a result of this assumption, elitism seems real because politics, whatever it might be, is elitist. So, because we take politics as real, we take elitism as also real. And, therefore, we also assume that there must be elites!


            Caitlin Johnstone, for example, does a marvelous job of reminding us of how propagandized our political lives are. And she is correct. But she doesn’t quite go deep enough because she doesn’t see that at the root of our problems is elitism. Her take on propaganda is somewhat superficial as a result. That elitism is problematic helps us to see that the illusions upon which we build our lives are pervasive, extending far beyond the “public diplomacy,” as it’s called, conducted by politicians and governmental agencies. Elitism is built into our lives in ways that we are, for the most part, unaware of, e.g., the concept of “politics.” Or the concept of “philosophy,” which is taken by many to be the pinnacle of human wisdom. If philosophy is real, then philosophers must be real too and, not surprisingly perhaps, those who are most wise are taken to be the best political rulers.


            But what if there are no elites? That is, what if elites are actually social constructs, i.e., groups of persons societies have endowed with special status so that societies are orderly, but who possess no special qualities whether moral or intellectual? And, if there are no elites, then elitism is an illusion. And although it might be taken to be a necessary illusion, still as an illusion it lies at the roots of our political conflicts. And this might be something to think about.  



Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Phoenix Program and Counterterrorism as Politics


The Phoenix Program and Counterterrorism as Politics

Peter Schultz


            The Phoenix program that was instituted during the Vietnam War represented the culmination of elitist politics. That is, it represented a politics composed of potentially deadly groups who were considered and consider themselves to be elites. So, too, this may be said of counterterrorism generally, which is why counterterrorism was so readily embraced by US elites, by both political and bureaucratic elites, as the way to wage the War on Terror.


            Elitism is seductive because (a) elites are composed of allegedly superior human beings; (b) because elite organizations concentrate and convey great power on their members; and (c) because that power is meant to be and will be wielded energetically, with “secrecy and dispatch,” as Alexander Hamilton put it in the Federalist. What reason could there be for granting significant, even great powers to allegedly superior human beings other to have those powers be used with gusto?


            Elite arrangements are difficult for human beings, who are political animals, to resist, especially when confronting what are alleged to be “existential threats.” The seductions of sex cannot hold a candle to the seductions of elitism and elitist power. The seductions are so great that even elite savagery will be celebrated. As Hillary Clinton guiltlessly put it regarding the assassination and anal rape of Omar Qaddafi, “we came, we saw, he died.” Or as Barack Obama put it regarding his drone warfare: “Turns out I am pretty good at this killing thing.” Or as Madeleine Albright put it: the deaths of half a million young Iraqi children were worth the imposition of economic sanctions on Iraq. Whereas once decent people admired sexual prowess, now such people admire the savage prowess of our elites. It is an interesting state of affairs.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Ulysses S. Grant's Magic Show


Ulysses S. Grant’s Magic Show

Peter Schultz


            Grant turned the unspeakable savagery of the Civil War into (a) progress – “We are better off now than we would have been without it and have made more rapid progress than we otherwise should have made” – and (b) into military exceptionalism – “our people have proven themselves to be the most formidable in war of any nationality.” So, we should celebrate the savagery that was the Civil War. Decent folks, morally virtuous persons celebrating savagery. How many times has this happened during the course of American history? How many times has this happened during the course of human history?


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Ulysses Grant on the Civil War


Ulysses Grant on the Civil War

Peter Schultz


            As reported in Ron Chernow’s long and excellent biography, Grant, Grant is quoted as saying of the Civil War that it was “a punishment for national sins….” Thus, for Grant the war illustrated God’s justice, a justice being enacted in the United States, with the North and Grant serving the divine will. Thus, in a strange way, the war, so understood, should be something to celebrate.


            And that is what Grant did. For example, he said: “We are better off now than we would have been without it and have made more rapid progress than we otherwise should have made.” As Chernow expresses Grant’s views: “The war had validated the basic soundness of American institutions.” So, apparently those “national sins” Grant mentioned were aberrations; they were not indicative of a sinfulness that suffused the United States and corrupted its institutions. And, as Grant put it: “…our people have proven themselves to be the most formidable in war of any nationality.”


            So, the Civil War wasn’t a savage madness that resulted from deeply flawed, even sinful institutions, including of course the institution of slavery. If one were to take such a view, it would be difficult, even impossible to celebrate the war and those persons, like Grant, who were deemed its “heroes.” Their “heroism” only makes sense if the war makes sense. If the war was madness, then these heroes were madmen, you know, acting like terrorists. But this makes it all the more necessary to celebrate Grant and others as heroes because in that way the war’s savage madness disappears, just as seeing the war as “a punishment for national sins” makes the war’s madness disappear. And thusly the war becomes another glorious chapter in America’s history.



Elitism and American Politics


Elitism and American Politics

Peter Schultz


            Douglas Valentine, in his very fine book, The CIA as Organized Crime, asserts that “some of America’s top leaders…evil intentions.”


            Wrong. That is not the problem. They have good intentions but because they are elitists their good intentions end up being imperialistic, meaning ultimately cruel and savage. Thus, people with good intentions, decent people, insofar as they embrace elitist policies and or operate within elitist organizations, will end up being imperialists and doing cruel and savage things, like the Phoenix assassination program in Vietnam.


            Our top leaders do such things, and most people accept them, not because thoe leaders and those people have “evil intentions.” Both the leaders and the people have good intentions, but being elitists, they end up being imperialists and committed to cruel and savage policies.


            Valentine is asserting that America’s top leaders have evil intentions wants to distinguish himself from Seymour Hersh, who, Valentine says, “exonerated his American sources for any mistakes that were made.” Yet Valentine here misses a key point, viz., that Hersh – and many others – exonerate Americans by calling their actions “mistakes.” By calling those actions “mistakes,” Hersh et. al. hides the fact that those actions stemmed from American imperialism, an imperialism like all imperialisms derived from America’s elitism. Calling the US war in Vietnam or Iraq or anywhere a “mistake” exonerates the US of any charge that it was and is imperialistic. And it does so to an extent that an intelligent person like Robert McNamara cannot even entertain the thought that he and the United States were imperialistic. He had “good intentions” so, in his mind, he couldn’t be an imperialist. But clearly, he was imperialistic, and he was because his intentions, however good they might have been, were irrelevant once he had embraced elitism.


            Embracing elitism led McNamara, as it has led others, into imperialism, i.e., led him into the cruelty and savagery that always accompanies imperialism. So, without a critique and rejection of elitism, the human condition will remain dire. Great empires might arise on an imperialistic or elitist foundation, presided over by allegedly noble or royal members of highly esteemed elites, but those empires and their elites will be characterized by cruelty and savagery.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Going to the Roots: Elitism


Going to the Roots: Elitism

Peter Schultz


            Proposition: Political life is flawed, defective, unhealthy insofar as it elitist. Those who blame, e.g., capitalism, communism, socialism, the CIA, racism, sexism, the military-industrial complex, etc., don’t go deeply enough, aren’t radical enough, don’t get to the roots of political troubles. These phenomena are manifestations of elitism and, therefore, it is elitism that lies at the roots of political life and its deficiencies.


            Why might this be so? First, because every elite deems itself superior to the un-elite and, therefore, thinks it is entitled to dominate the other(s) and seeks to do so because doing so demonstrates or proves their superiority. In the minds of elitists, might and right go together. Of course, seeking dominance will, inevitably, create conflicts and the elites will be forced to coerce or repress the un-elites.


            Persuasion will not be sufficient to reconcile the un-elite to the dominance of the ruling elites because – and here is a second reason elitism lies at the roots of political troubles – every manifestation of elitism is based on lies. That is, the justifications offered by elites, any elite, are fabrications, illusions, noble lies that are without foundation in reality. Persuasion or consent based on lies will fail because, eventually, the truth will out; viz., the truth that the ruling elites cannot govern or rule the un-elite better than those others can govern or rule themselves. Elites, any elite, being human, will always look to their own welfare before or instead of looking after the welfare of others, especially of others thought to be inferiors. It isn’t only self-interest that leads them to do this; they do it because, thinking of themselves as superior, they are entitled to do it. Their superiority justifies their injustices towards others. They are superior beings, either in being god-like or in being the handmaidens of the gods or of God. And, so, all forms of elitism end up being unjust, repressive, or even oppressive.


            This is true of capitalism, communism, socialism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It’s true of any ordered human society. It wouldn’t be true in a society of friends because in genuine friendships there are no superiors or inferiors. But then political life has very little in common with friendships.


            Because most Americans are convinced America is a or even the superior nation, they are among the most elitist people on the planet. And it is this elitism that makes the United States so dangerous, so deadly. It makes the United States, as MLK. Jr. put it, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He had come to see that what he had called “an American dream” was actually a nightmare that rained destruction and death throughout the world. And changing the elites that control the government in the US will not make the US less dangerous, less deadly. What’s needed is a critique of elitism in all its forms.


            But so long as presidents live in the White House – originally called “the President’s palace” – so long as Supreme Court Justices serve for good behavior, so long as congresspersons have no term limits, and so long as the wealthy and the powerful are lionized, no such critique, even if offered, would undermine America’s elitism. The American political order is elitist through and through. Therefore, so too is most thinking in the United States. As we are politically, so too are we intellectually. It’s the nature of we humans, who are political animals.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Helms, LBJ, the Kennedys, and American Politics


Helms, LBJ, the Kennedys, and American Politics

Peter Schultz


            The following passage is from Jefferson Morley’s book, Scorpions’ Dance: The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate: “As antiwar demonstrations grew and race riots spread in the summer of 1967, Johnson demanded to know who was behind it all. ‘LBJ simply could not believe that American youth would on their own be moved to riot in protest against US foreign policy,’ Helms recalled [in his memoirs].” [88-89]


            To understand what was going on, it’s necessary to realize that LBJ wasn’t demanding information to support a suspicion he had. He made his demands and made them known so these phenomena would appear as he wanted them to appear. He was “managing perceptions,” not seeking “intell.” He wanted people to perceive these events as inspired conspiracies, inspired by foreign or outside agitators, to which he was forced to respond. He was not acting against “American youth,” but against “foreigners” and “agitators.” He was, therefore, actually trying to protect American youth, not infiltrate their activities in order to control them. The result in the CIA was Operation Chaos, created by Helms, allegedly to hunt for the “intell” LBJ wanted. But actually it was a way to manage perceptions, to make it appear such intelligence existed.


            It is often the case that the CIA creates the intelligence it claims to have discovered. So, too, does the White House and other governmental agencies. It even has a name, “public diplomacy.” This serves to create the fear(s) which the government then says it must combat, often via plausibly deniable covert activities, all in the service of “national security.”


            To take another example from Scorpions’ Dance: “Johnson skimmed the [CIA] report” about the alleged Kennedys’ anti-Castro activities, including assassination plans. “He [Johnson] came away thinking Kennedy had run ‘a goddamn Murder Incorporated in the Caribbean.” [87-88] Unsurprisingly, LBJ concluded that – because that is why the report was written, to allow LBJ to make such a pronouncement. And, of course, Johnson made sure his pronouncement was made known. Of course, the unrest wasn’t created by Helms, LBJ, et. al. But how it was made to appear was, just as the CIA report was used to construct a narrative about the Kennedys’ alleged “Murder Incorporated” in the Caribbean. As Morley says, with considerable understatement: “The spymaster [Helms] not only knew how to steal and keep secrets. He also knew how to manage perceptions.” [86] Indeed, he did as do presidents and other “public servants.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Valentine, the CIA, and Political Life


Valentine, the CIA, and Political Life

Peter Schultz


            Douglas Valentine, in his book The CIA as Organized Crime, argues that “America has been in an ideological state of siege since 9/11…[after which] all moral and psychological prohibitions…were lifted forever. All the anger and frustration…nurtured during the Vietnam War and the Carter and Clinton administrations was unleashed in a torrent of war mongering.” [293]


            Valentine’s argument, which is quite common, was that US war mongering was (1) reactionary and (2) not the default position of the United States. But what if he is wrong? What if the anger and frustration felt stemmed not from alleged “moral and psychological prohibitions,” but rather from political life generally? That is, anger and frustration are parts of political life as normally lived and, hence, aren’t reactionary at all. Political life is in its normal state not characterized by moral and psychological prohibitions, but tends toward conflict, violence, war. And if that is the case, then the political task is or should be leashing and not unleashing governments to minimize such conflicts, violence, and war mongering.


            Valentine’s view is more conventional: “ideological states of siege” aren’t normally part of political life, at least not in the United States. They are created by acts such as the attacks of 9/11. By this view, the US wasn’t acting ideologically prior to 9/11, which is an interesting argument given that the US did wage war in Vietnam, while both the Carter and the Clinton administrations also waged war, Carter in Afghanistan and Clinton in Iraq. Given these wars and other US actions, is it plausible to think that the US was not acting ideologically prior to 9/11, as Valentine suggests? But because Valentine assumes that US politics isn’t, normally, ideologically oriented, the CIA appears to him as “organized crime,” as a criminal enterprise. Viewed ideologically, of course, the CIA is just another bureaucratic institution dedicated to ensuring national security.


            Two views of political life have become evident. By one, political life is ordinarily ideological, and for that reason is inherently tending toward conflict, violence, and war. By this view, the political task should be minimizing or offsetting these tendencies, pacifying political life as much as possible. Maybe, ala’ Socrates, this could be done by showing up the authorities, or by dissent based on critiques of political life that reveal the limitations of all ideologies and the ignorance of their proponents. Laughing at the ideologically oriented would be useful.


            By the other view of political life, while human life does tend toward conflict, violence, and war, these attributes are the result of the anarchical tendencies of human beings. Thus, the political task is to offset these anarchical tendencies by means of well-developed political programs and powerful governments. Such policies and institutions will necessarily rely on ideological appeals if they are to be successful. While problematic, ideological politics holds great promise for ameliorating the human condition.


            So, in one view, it is the ideological character of political life that is problematic, to say the least. By the other view, it is the ideological character of political life that holds the promise of redeeming or ameliorating the human condition. It is difficult to see how these differing and conflicting views can be reconciled.


            Valentine is, so to speak, caught between these views. He sees, even feels, the problematic character of powerful political organizations like the CIA. For that, he should be praised. And yet he does not see the need to condemn the CIA, except insofar as it is a criminal enterprise. In brief, he doesn’t see that the most basic problem with the CIA isn’t that it resembles or is “organized crime,” but that it is an institution that is driven by ideology, and not by expertise as it claims. A former CIA agent told Valentine that many of the people attracted to CIA were looking for “socially acceptable ways to express their criminal tendencies.” But this is inaccurate. Many of those attracted to the CIA, like most of those attracted to “public service,” are seeking socially acceptable ways to express their ideological convictions, while impressing them on others with or without their consent, both at home and abroad.



            Machiavelli summed this up succinctly: It is safer to be feared than loved because fear, unlike love, can be instilled in human beings, thereby pacifying them and ameliorating their conditions. And as Machiavelli pointed out, instilling fear and not being hated go together very well, as is evident in these days of the widespread embrace and popularity of the CIA and other agencies that seek to instill fear in people by engaging  in both covert and overt violence, including torture, avowedly on behalf of national security. Our national security state isn’t then a criminal enterprise; it’s an ideological enterprise. And, thus, its abuses, its violence, even its savagery seem necessary, even praiseworthy as evidence of ideological or principled politics.


Sunday, August 13, 2023

Lincoln"s Second Inaugural and Moral Meaning


Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and Moral Meaning

Peter Schultz


            In reading The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, there occurs this passage that Royster cites in which Lincoln was commenting on his Second Inaugural Address, explaining why he didn’t think it would be immediately popular: “Men are not flattered by being shown that there is a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world.”


            Royster then comments: “In this comment [Lincoln] implied, as he had done in the address, that the war, viewed solely as the work of human minds and deeds, had grown incomprehensible. Because the war thwarted the designs, confuted the explanations, and absorbed rather than obeyed the efforts of those who had made it, to say that it acted out men’s purposes alone was to say human activity had no ultimate moral meaning, that there is no God, no cosmic design to events. If, instead, the course of the war were God’s doing, He could reconcile its contradictions, explain its surprises, and validate its bloodshed in some cosmic logic or divinely weighed justice whose clarity and consistency were inaccessible to human minds. There was no other way to believe that what had happened made sense.” [292]  


            How to make sense of violence, the inhumanity, the obscenity of the Civil War? Some writers, soldiers and veterans, “did not want to keep to themselves an incommunicable knowledge of the war’s moral structure. They wanted to share widely held notions of what their combat has accomplished. One of their ways of doing so was to tell others what they had done.” [276]


            But other “narratives…sought to show how combat had defied or destroyed the conventional workings of perception and thought. These writings offered…what looked like abrogations of laws that people had always trusted in – the logical connection of cause and effect, the continuous existence of matter, the validity of consciousness.” [275]


            To cover over, to hide the latter possibilities, romanticizing the war helped. “Romanticizing the war…, exalting a great general…kept the story from becoming one wherein destructiveness ruled all and destruction was the war’s all-important object and result.” [276]


            Romanticizing political life requires “heroes” and “villains,” “good guys” and “bad guys,” where the bad guys lose, because then politics “makes sense.” Of course, much of political life involves deciding who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, and elections are held to sort these things out. But such romanticizing seems to lead political life to war as well, whose outcomes are thought to determine who are the good guys, who are morally virtuous, and who aren’t. One interesting feature of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural is that he does not characterize the North as morally to superior to the South. Nor does he predict the outcome of the war. He refers, however, to the Almighty’s “justice” as something to be meted out to both North and South. To think otherwise would be “to deny that there is a God governing the world.”   


Saturday, August 12, 2023

Righteousness and War


Righteousness and War

Peter Schultz


[The following was originally sent in an email to a friend. Thought I would save it here.]


Unaccountability and righteousness go together. In “Oppenheimer” there are scenes of the American people rejoicing when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incinerated, just as they rejoiced when Tokyo or Dresden or Vietnam or Korea were incinerated. Why? Because the killing was taken as evidence of America’s moral virtuousness, of its righteousness, “As Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, The truth is marching on! Glory, glory alleluia!” The mystique of blood sacrifices, human blood sacrifices. The depth of this delusion is mind-boggling. 


One implication  of humans being political animals is the righteousness of the mankind; and as a result of this righteousness, violence and war are seen as individual and social blessings, restoring vitality to and the purifying of both individual human beings and societies. In this way, the obscenity of war disappears, replaced by illusions of human virtue, the “hero warrior.” Achilles, that is. 


[Plato and Aristotle were out to replace Homer and Achilles. Perhaps Twain sought to replace Joan of Arc through irony, not fully understanding what successfully doing that required. Huck would replace Tom, “the model boy of the town.” But perhaps only the ironic got and get it,] 


The pursuit of greatness leads to war, bloodshed, and inhumanity, which when achieved is taken as evidence of moral virtue. Trump’s MAGA should actually be "Make America Virtuous Again." And, of course, the Democrats agree with this agenda. Which explains our endless wars. They are the result of our righteousness, our pursuit of moral virtue, and not of an anti-communism or anti-Islamism created by propagandists.  


Personal observation: That moral virtue leads to war is confirmed by my brother Charlie’s life and death. No one more wanted to be morally virtuous than Charlie - Mr. Boy Scout, Mr. Let Us Upgrade the Environment at Metuchen High School With Coats and Ties, Mr. President of His Fraternity, and finally Mr. Marine Who Would “Serve”- and Help Save - His Country. He was “a model boy!” 


[And then there was his brother, whose ironic campaign slogan for class president Jr. and Sr. years was “I promise to do nothing.” And he won, illustrating the emptiness, the inanity of “student government” in a wholly bureaucratized institution. A lesson you learned later at Assumption. So the money you paid was justified because you did get educated! Just not in the way the bureaucrats wanted you educated! 😎]   


Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Moral Virtue and Its Role in Human Affairs


Moral Virtue and Its Role in Human Affairs

Peter Schultz


            In reading a wonderfully complex book on the American Civil War by Charles Royster entitled The Destructive War, I came across the following: Thomas Edwin Smith, a Federal officer, wrote “’I used to think war was a science, but it’s a mistake…. the great majority of battles are the result of axident. And the results are the results of axidents.’” [236]


            As Royster points out, “Smith’s conclusion would break the link between fighting and attaining [the] spiritual and political benefits war was supposed to bring,” with some significant implications. For example: “Would not accidental victory in accidental battle offer at best an ephemeral glory not only to generals but also to those who believed in them?” [ibid] In fact, if victory is the result of accidents, why glorify generals at all? Except perhaps to reward them while fortifying the myth of their genius, as well as fortifying the myth that war is not an obscenity but a noble human activity?


            And there are further implications. If military victories are essentially accidental, then they don’t confirm the virtues of the victors. Nor do those victories confirm the importance of moral virtue(s). Going further afield, if your fate is essentially accidental, then your virtues don’t and can’t explain it. And to attribute your fate to your virtue(s) is vanity. This applies to generals and even armies. It even applies to “great nations.” If greatness is essentially accidental, then achieving it doesn’t speak to a people’s virtue(s). Were a people to attribute their greatness to their virtue(s), that too would be vanity.


            By implication then, the question, “What role does “accident” or “chance” play in human affairs?”, is a key question with wide ranging implications, including understanding the role moral virtue plays in human affairs. And, it is here apparently, that Plato and Aristotle, e.g., disagreed with Machiavelli and other “modern political philosophers,” with the latter denying that chance need play a significant role in human affairs. Greatness, political and otherwise, is achievable but only if humans learn, as Machiavelli put it The Prince, “to be able not to be good.”  For Machiavelli, it’s not chance that stands in the way of greatness; it’s goodness. Now that’s something worth thinking about.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Stonewall Jackson and Moral Virtue


Stonewall Jackson and Moral Virtue

Peter Schultz


            I am currently reading a book The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, about the American Civil War. In it, he as a chapter assessing T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson, where he writes, “Thus Jackson’s demeanor [duty-bound doing God’s will] promoted his fame by a paradox aptly summarized in the Savannah News as ‘the magnificent plainness of ‘Stonewall.’” [71] And quotes a letter Jackson wrote to one of his many correspondents, saying “I have been but the unworthy instrument whom it pleased God to use in accomplishing His purpose.” [70]


            As Royster realizes, Jackson’s claim to be God’s instrument has the paradoxical consequence of magnifying Jackson, of making him seem magnificent or characterized by magnanimity. Jackson seemed to resemble what Aristotle labeled “the magnanimous man” in his Ethics; that is, the pinnacle of moral virtue.


            This phenomenon has some interesting consequences. For example, according to Royster “If [Jackson] deserved his reputation, he must ever more fully demonstrate the power of will to dominate men and events.” [71-2] Paradoxically, Jackson’s “Virtuosity let to disaster. Wielding power ended in being destroyed. The history of the Confederacy … could later sustain belief in Stonewall’s destiny only by resorting to the imaginary and the hypothetical. Confederate narrative of a larger-than-life figure dominating actual events became narrative of mythical figure … shaping fictional events.” [75-76] This led me to think of the George Bushes, I and II, and their wars in Iraq, assertions of will in the service of a completely fictional event, the New World Order they so righteously proclaimed to be creating.


            As Royster notes so compellingly: “The Confederate fantasy of Jackson the war-winner, like Jackson’s ambition, put faith in an ever more violent effort at self-creation. Jackson convinced many people, including soldiers whose lives he risked and lost, that God favored his every move.” [77] “The Confederate fantasy of Jackson” is a version of the fantasy of moral virtue and its alleged power and goodness. It’s a fantasy that leads to “ever more violent efforts at self-creation,” not only for persons but also for nations and even world orders and empires. And as a result, the morally virtuous go looking for or even creating situations where ever more violence is called for and even seems endorsed by God. As the life of Stonewall Jackson illustrates, the morally virtuous easily embrace violence in order to prove their virtuosity.