Durbin, Daley, Democrats, and
the New American Militarism
by Paul Street
ZNet, June 24, 2005
United States Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois)
should resign - for backing down to ignorant and authoritarian
militarists like Richard M. Daley, the longtime "Democratic"
Mayor of Chicago.
Durbin, as most ZNet readers surely know,
recently faced a barrage of criticism from the White House, Fox
News, and other hyper-militarist outposts of the in-power American
right. The reason? He dared to tell a small part of the terrible
truth about how Uncle Sam is conducting its terrorist "war
Durbin's Unforgivable Sin: A Modest and
The passage for which Durbin has been
vilified is quite mild. In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate,
he quoted from an FBI agent's description of what he observed
"Let me read to you what one FBI
agent saw. And I quote from his report: 'On a couple of occasions,
I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and
foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or
water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and
had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion,
the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature
was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking
with cold. ..... On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had
been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room
well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on
the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently
been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another
occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely
loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since
the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the
fetal position on the tile floor.'"
Then came Durbin's damning 76 words: "If
I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent
describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control,
you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis,
Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others--
that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case.
This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
There you have Durbin's great sin. He
reproduced -- and commented moderately on -- one tiny story in
the overall record of American atrocity in the conduct of its
current "War on Terrorism." There was nothing in his
comments about Abu Ghraib or the U.S. murder of prisoners in Afghanistan
or the estimated 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians or the list goes
on. There was nothing about the long U.S. history of torturing
foreign detainees and conducting, funding, and otherwise supporting
horrible atrocities during illegal and immoral operations in places
like Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Nicaragua (to name just
a few locations). Leaving all that out, Durbin simply noted that
the specific "interrogation" and torture described by
an FBI officer - denial of food and water and toilets, chaining,
temperature torture, sleep deprivation, etc. - are like those
conducted by state terrorist regimes of previous eras and in other
parts of the world. It was a modest and eminently reasonable observation.
The New American Militarism - A Bipartisan
But, of course, we Americans are not living
in a land of modesty and reason. We live under the rule of what
former West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran Andrew J. Bacevich
calls "the New American Militarism." According to Bacevich,
who is Director for the Center for International Relations at
Boston University, "a new and dangerous obsession" has
"taken hold of many Americans, conservatives and liberals
alike. It is the marriage of militarism to utopian ideology -
of unprecedented military power wed to blind faith in the universality
of American values." For Bacevich, "various groups in
American society - soldiers, politicians on the make, intellectuals,
strategists, Christian evangelicals, even purveyors of pop culture"
- have come "to see the revival of military power and celebration
of military values as the antidote to all the ills besetting the
country...In public life, today," Bacevich adds, "paying
homage to the those in uniform has become obligatory and the one
unforgivable sin is to be found guilty of failing to 'support
As part of that revival, political and
cultural authorities now exhibit what Bacevich calls "a tendency
to elevate the soldier to the status of national icon, the apotheosis
of all that is great and good about contemporary America"
(Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are
Seduced By War [New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005] pp.
In the partisan political world, Bacevich
notes, "the political Right has shown considerable skill
in exploiting this dynamic, shamelessly pandering to the military
itself and by extension to those members of the public laboring
under the misconception, a residue from Vietnam, that the armed
service are under siege from a rabidly anti-military Left."
But, Bacevich hastens to add, the New
American Militarism is a richly bipartisan affair. By his account,
"the Democratic mainstream - if only to save itself from
extinction - has long purged itself of any dovish inclinations.
When it comes to advocating the use of force," Bacevich notes,
"Democrats can be positively gung-ho. Moreover, in comparison
to their Republican counterparts, they are at least as deferential
military leaders and probably more reluctant to questions claims
of expertise "(Bacevich, p. 24).
This was clearly displayed in Kerry's
2004 campaign, which "did not question the wisdom of styling
the U.S. response to the events of 9/11 as a generation-long 'global
war on terror.' It was not the prospect of open-ended war that
drew Kerry's ire. It was simply that the war had been 'extraordinarily
mismanaged and ineptly prosecuted" (Bacevich, p. 15). As
I argue in a forthcoming ZNet Sustainer Commentary, the Democratic
'opposition" candidate did not seriously oppose George W.
Bush's illegal and immoral and occupation of Iraq or the culture
of messianic militarism that Bush has advanced. John "Reporting
for Duty" Kerry ran on the claim that he was more qualified
to properly finish the Iraqi mission. "I," Kerry proclaimed
(to crudely paraphrase), "am the better, more sophisticated
man of empire. I am also," he added, "the only presidential
candidate with direct service in the American military assault
Soldiers: "They're The Best"
How perfect for this dark era of rampant
bi-partisan proto-fascist American hyper-militarism (see Henry
A. Giroux, The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the
Eclipse of Democracy [Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004],
pp. 1-54),then, that "an emotional" Durbin was compelled
two days ago to apologize on the Senator floor "for comparing
American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay prison camp to Nazis
and other infamous figures. At times," Chicago corporate
media reported, "the senator choked up as he publicly told
all U.S. soldiers that he never intended to insult or disrespect
them." Durbin "called his remarks a poor choice of words
when he compared conditions at Guantanamo Bay to a repressive
regime. Senator Durbin said he didn't want anything in his public
life to affect the men and women in the armed forces, so he says
this recent episode has pained him a great deal" (http://abclocal.go.com/wls/news/062105_ns_durbin.html).
"When you look into the eyes"
of American soldiers, Durbin tearfully reflected, "you see
your son, you see your daughter. They're the best. I never, ever
intended any disrespect for them."
Never mind that very few among the nation's
political class and economic elite actually have children in the
nation's predominantly working-class armed forces. Under the rules
of the New American Militarism, people who have not "served"
and would never put their children into the armies of Empire are
expected to claim that they think that the troops are "the
best" America has to offer.
Harsh Criticism from "a History Buff"
How fitting for Bacevich's argument that
one of Durbin's leading critics as has been leading Democratic
icon Richard M. Daley. Last Tuesday, Daley said that his fellow
Democrat "should apologize for comments comparing the actions
of American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay to Nazis, Soviet gulags
and Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot." "I think it's a disgrace
to say that any man or woman in the military act like that,"
Daley, who recently enlisted his son
in the U.S. Army, claims to be "a history buff." His
historical musings show, he told reporters, "that Durbin
was wrong to evoke comparisons to the horrors of the Holocaust
or the millions of people killed in Russia under Stalin and in
Cambodia under Pol Pot."
Daley became upset when a reporter dared
to make the accurate observation that he thought Durbin's remarks
were being mischaracterized. "If you really believe that
those men and women in Guantanamo Bay are Nazis, you better rethink
what America is all about," Daley lectured the reporter,
"you go and talk to some victims of the Holocaust and they
will tell you horror stories. And there are not horror stories
like that at Guantanamo Bay" (see http://www.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/print.cgi)
The Mayor should have had one of his
staffers read and tell him what Durbin actually said. The Senator
did not claim that the U.S. was conducting a Holocaust ala Hitler
or Pol Pot. He did not deny the supreme horror or the Nazi Holocaust,
or Pol Pot and Stalin's crimes or - to mention two crimes that
never seem to get much attention from Democratic or Republican
"politicians on the make" - of the Native American or
Durbin simply and correctly observed
that American military personnel in Guantanamo Bay happened to
have behaved in illegal ways that happen to be similar to the
practices of state-terrorist actors in other places and times.
He was careful to a patriotic fault, denying that such conduct
was rooted in specifically "American" traditions. He
could have said a lot more regarding the extent of such practices
in the American "war on terror" and the culpability
of top policymakers. He never called military personnel in Guantanamo
"Rethink[ing] What America (and
Chicago) is All About"
For what it's worth, people who want
to "rethink what America is all about" ought to visit
the celebrated Mayor's celebrated city beyond and between its
affluent lakefront and suburbs. As I noted in a comprehensive
civil rights and social (in-)justice report issued on the same
day that Durbin was tearfully eating New-Militarist crow, there
are 77 official community areas in Chicago. Seventy-four percent
of the city's black residents live in just 22 neighborhoods that
are 90 percent or more African-American.
Racial separatism correlates richly, of
course, with racial inequality and extreme human misery in Daley's
Chicago. Of the city's 15 richest among those 77 neighborhoods,
all but two are disproportionately white. Of its 15 poorest communities,
with average household incomes ranging from $11 to 28,000, all
but 12 are very disproportionately black and none are disproportionately
white. Of the 22 neighborhoods where 19 percent or more of rental
households are spending 50 percent or more of their income on
housing, all are 90 percent or more black.
Of the city's 15 highest unemployment
neighborhoods, with official jobless rates ranging from 18 to
34 percent (and real unemployment rates that are much higher),
all are disproportionately black. Of the city's top 20 neighborhoods
ranked for loss of manufacturing jobs between 1980 and 2000, all
are disproportionately black and the great majority are more than
90 percent black.
Of the 15 neighborhoods ranked by the
Boston Consulting Group as the most "economically vital"
neighborhoods in the city, all are disproportionately white. Fourteen
of the bottom 16 neighborhoods for "economic vitality"
are disproportionately black. Those disadvantaged neighborhoods
get the short end not just of economic health but also of private
and public economic development (including job-training) funding
Of the city's 15 poorest neighborhoods,
with poverty measures ranging from 32 to 56 percent, 14 are disproportionately
black. Of the city's top 15 neighborhoods for child poverty, with
rates ranging from 55 to 71 percent, 10 are disproportionately
black and none are disproportionately white, the rest being disproportionately
Latino. In 15 of the city's 77 officially designated Community
Areas at the relatively prosperous time of the last census, more
than 25 percent of the kids were growing up in "deep poverty"
- at less than half the poverty level- at the peak of the Clinton
boom. There are six neighborhoods - Oakland, North Lawndale, Washington
Park, Grand Boulevard, Douglass, and Riverdale - where more than
40 percent of the children are deeply poor and in the last one
(Riverdale) it is actually more than half.
The racially disparate concentration of
urban misery extends to health issues. Counter-intuitively for
those who identify HIV and AIDS with white gay North Side populations,
13 of the city's top 15 neighborhoods for HIV mortality are predominantly
black communities on the South and West side. Twelve of the top
15 community areas for heart disease and ten of the top 15 for
diabetes are disproportionately black. And so on.
"Defense" and Other "Afterthoughts"
The list of unmet social needs found in
Chicago and other U.S. cities is practically endless. The notion
of addressing those needs in serious and substantive ways is deeply
challenged, however, by the White House and the Republican "majority's"
determination, richly enabled by the spineless Democrats, to simultaneously
slash the taxes of the wealthy and to spend unprecedented sums
on a seemingly permanent new militarism. As Bacevich, a self described
"conservative" notes, "the present-day Pentagon
budget, adjusted for inflation, is 12 percent larger than the
average defense budget of the Cold War era...by some calculations,
the U.S. spends more on defense than all other nation in the world
But "defense" is not what Boeing
and the Pentagon's massive budget is really about. "The primary
mission of America's far-flung military establishment," Bacevich
observes, "is global power projection...defense per se figures
as little more than an afterthought" (Bacevich, p. 17).
In Daley's corporate Chicago and Bush's
militarized America, it's questionable whether the poverty of
black and other children living in the forgotten shadows of prosperity
qualifies even as "an afterthought." Daley joined George
W. Bush in a helicopter convoy that roared over some of the Chicago's
most desperately poor neighborhoods in January 2003. According
to the White House, Bush had come to sell an "economic stimulus
plan" to "the American heartland." In truth, he
had come to the ritzy Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers in the
city's affluent North Loop to sell a hyper-regressive tax cut
for the wealthy to rich people in the corporate-elitist Economic
Club of Chicago.
Insisting that "we're all in this
together," Bush accused those who claimed his tax-cut plan
was overly friendly to the rich of engaging in "class warfare."
He received support in this claim from Economic Club member Daley.
According to Daley, Dubya's speech was a winner. "I believe
he hit a home run," the Mayor told reporters, "in that
he talked to Middle America. I don't think it was good versus
evil, 'rich versus poor.'" But of course, "class warfare"
- of the unmentionable top-down variety - is exactly what Bush's
tax policy was and is all about.
Meanwhile, while the poorest Chicago
neighborhoods receive the least of the city's economic development
largesse, the Daley administration and the State of Illinois have
worked with the state of Illinois to provide the Boeing Corporation
with tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives
offered so that that Boeing would situate its headquarters in
"the city that works." Boeing is a notorious corporate
Master of War - a leading profiteer in America's lavishly expensive
obsession with "global power projection." Millions of
American children live in poverty, including the "deep"
version, o that noble America can keep Boeing and other "defense"
firms happy with massive high-tech corporate subsidies filtered
through an annual Pentagon budgets in excess of $400 billion.
For Daley and his ilk, the desires of those whose contributions
to society include the murderous B-2 Stealth Bomber and the notorious
Arab-killing Blackhawk helicopter trump the essentially invisible
needs of many thousands of black children living in the shadows
of Chicago's expanding world-connected corporate downtown and
its growing ring of gentrifying condo complexes.
As sociologist Kim Scipes noted at the
press release of our report, it's impossible to understand the
persistence and worsening of urban poverty without taking into
account the massive diversion of public resources that American
Our report on racial and social inequality
in Chicago made it into just one of the two leading corporate
newspapers in Chicago. It got a brief mention buried in the back
of the lesser of those two papers - the Chicago Sun Times. The
headlines in the Chicago Tribune and the Sun Times were dominated
by two leading stories. The first was Durbin's appeal for forgiveness
for appearing to be critical of America's glorious New Militarism.
The second was Daley's authoritarian and puritanical new campaign
to make public the names of people arrested for soliciting prostitutes.
If you want to know how the U.S. got
into its current dangerous, potentially pre-fascist state, don't
just look to "red" states and counties. You'll also
want to examine the deadly, authoritarian nature of political
and social life in "bluer," more urban and Democratic
territories like Chicago and Illinois.
Paul Street (firstname.lastname@example.org)is
the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since
9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004); Still Separate,
Unequal: Race, Place, Policy, and the State of Black Chicago"
(Chicago, IL: The Chicago Urban League, 2005); and Segregated
Schools: Class, Race, and Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil
Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005 [forthcoming]). You
can order a copy of Still Separate, Unequal by e-mailing email@example.com.
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