Earlier today Donald Trump tweeted that Boeing was spending $4 billion dollars to renovate Air Force One. He was off the facts by orders of magnitude but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know knew exactly what he was doing. It’s time we stop trying to read his tweets as exercises in truth finding. It doesn’t matter if Trump didn’t know or didn’t care about his numbers: With authoritarians, we must follow the effects, not the logic.
Trump’s tweet came less than half an hour after the Chicago Tribune posted a few short quotes from the Boeing CEO saying they were concerned about the implications of trade with China under a Trump Administration. It was relatively tame stuff and of course a multinational with billions of dollars in China is going to be concerned. About a quarter of their aircrafts are built for the Chinese market.
But follow not the logic but the effect: if you criticize this president in public he will destroy your shareholder value. Boeing lost half a billion dollars in value following Trump’s 140 characters. Every CEO in America will now have to think twice before speaking to the press. It would be fiscally irresponsible to do otherwise. A few quotes in a paper isn’t worth that amount of shareholder value.
Free speech isn’t just court cases or a few lines in the Constitution. Even the CEOs of the largest corporations in America need to watch their tongues. Silencing has begun.
“What do you think of this?” It was probably the twentieth time my brother or I had asked this question in the last hour. Our mother had downsized to a one-bedroom apartment in an Alzheimer’s unit just six days earlier. Visiting her there she admitted she couldn’t even remember her old apartment. We were cleaning it out.
The object of the question this time was an antique teapot. White china with a blue design. It wasn’t in great shape. The top was cracked and missing that handle that lets you take the lid off without burning your fingers. It had a folksy charm, but as a teapot it was neither practical nor astonishingly attractive, and neither of us really wanted it. It was headed for the oversized trash bin outside her room.
I turned it over in my hands. There, on the bottom, was a strip of dried-out and cracked masking tape. On it, barely legible and in the kind of cursive script that is no longer taught, were the words “Recovered from ruins of fire 6/29/23 at 7. 1067 Hazard Rd.”
We scratched our heads. We didn’t know where Hazard Road might be (Google later revealed it’s in the blink-and-you-miss-it railroad stop of Hazard, Pennsylvania, a crossroads only technically within the boundary of our mother’s home town of Palmerton). The date would place the fire seven years before her birth.
We can only guess to fill in the details. A catastrophic fire must have taken out the family home. Imagine the grim solace of pulling out a family heirloom. Perhaps some grandparent had brought it carefully packed in a small suitcase on the journey to America. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it had no sentimental value and it had landed with our mother because no one else cared. We’ll never know. No amount of research could tell us more than that masking tape. Our mother wasn’t the only one losing her memory. We were too. We were losing the family memory of a generation that had lived, loved, and made it through a tragedy one mid-summer day.
I stood there and looked at the teapot once again. It had survived a fire ninety years ago. I would give it a reprieve from our snap judgement and the dump. Stripped of all meaning save three inches of masking tape, it now sits on a top shelf of my cupboard. It will rest there, gathering back the dust I just cleaned off, until some spring afternoon forty years from now, when one of my kids will turn to another. “What do you think of this?”
Update March 2017
Beyond all odds, there’s actually more information. Someone has put up obituaries from the Morning Call newspaper. It includes the May 1922 notice for Alvin H. Noll, my mother’s great grandfather.
Alvin H. Noll, a well known resident of Palmerton, died at his home, at that place, on Sunday morning, aged 66 years. He was a member of St. John’s church, Towamensing, and also a prominent member of Lodge, No. 440, I.O. of A., Bowmanstown. He is survived by two daughters, Mrs. Lewis Sauerwine, Slatington, and Mrs. Fred Parry, this city; three sons, Purietta Noll, Samuel Noll and Thomas Noll, Palmerton. Two sisters, Mrs. Mary Schultz, Lehighton; Miss Amanda Noll, Bowmanstown; two brothers, Aaron Noll, Bowmanstown, and William Noll, Lehighton. Ten grandchildren also survive. Funeral services will be held at the home of his son, Purietta (sic) Noll, 1067 Hazard Road, Palmerton, on Wednesday at 1.30 p.m., daylight saving time. Further services will be held in St. John’s church, Towamensing. Interment will be made in Towamensing cemetery.
And there it is: 1067 Hazard Road, home of my mother’s grandfather Puriette Franklin Noll one year before the fire. So I’ll add a picture of Puriette and his wife Elizabeth with my Mom eighter years after the fire, at what the photo says is their Columbia Avenue home. Wow!
Yesterday North Korea claimed that it has processed enough plutonium to make six nuclear weapons. I’ve often argued that wars don’t begin when the shooting actually begins, that we need to look at the militaristic decisions made years before to see how they planted the seeds for war. After the First World War, the victorious allies constructed a peace treaty designed to humiliate Germany and keep its economy stagnant. With the onslaught of the Great Depression, the country was ripe for a mad demagogue like Hitler to take over with talk of a Greater Germany.
In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush’s team added North Korea to the “axis of evil” that needed to be challenged. By all accounts it was a last minute addition. The speechwriting team never bothered to consult with the State Department’s east Asia experts. In all likelihood North Korea was added so that the evil three countries wouldn’t all be Muslim (the other two were Iraq and Iran) and the “War on Terror” wouldn’t be seen as a war against Islam.
North Korea saw a bulldog president in the White House and judged that its best chance to stay safe was to make a U.S. attack too dangerous to contemplate. It’s a sound strategy, really only a variation on the Cold War’s “Mutually Assured Destruction” doctrine. When faced with a hostile and militaristically-strong country that wants to overthrow your government, you make yourself too dangerous to take on. Let’s call it the Rattlesnake Defense.
Militarism reinforces itself when countries beef up their militaries to stave off the militaries of other countries. With North Korea going nuclear, pressure will now build on South Korea, China and Japan to defend themselves against possible threat. We might be in for a new east Asian arms race, perhaps an east Asian Cold War. Being a pacifist means stopping not only the current war but the next one and the one after that. In the 1980s activists were speaking out against the brutal régime of Saddam Hussein, an American friend who was gassing his own people. Now we need to speak out against the cowboy politics that is feeding instability on the Korean Peninsula, to prevent the horror and mass death that a Second Korean War would unleash.
Being the home to a couple of dozen peace groups, the Nonviolence Web has published a lot of press releases calling for an end to bombing in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. They’re all very fine but also all very predictable.
But as we write, the U.S. government continues pursuing a war that has no clear realistic goals, has led to even more killing in the region, and has seriously disrupted post Cold-War relationships with Russia and China (See George Lakey’s “Cold War Returning? — A Chilling Russian Visit”).
At home, Americans just watch the pictures on TV as they go about living a glorious Spring. We laugh, cry, work and play; we make trips to the shore for Memorial Day weekend; and we obediently flock to a movie called Phantom Menace that tells the story of the start of cinema’s most famous Evil Empire.
A new empire is being shaped here. The United States has been able to claim the title of “empire” for at least a hundred years. But something new is at work here ( see my own War Time Again). We’re witnessing the birth of a new American order which is starting a new wars every three months. New kinds of wars, which barely touch American lives, even those of the bombers waging them from 20,000 feet. The Pentagon and State Department’s planners are building on lessons learned at the start of the decade in the Gulf War. They’re refined their missiles for accuracy but they’ve learned how to spin the media
Now every new villain is presented to the media as the new Hitler. Saddam Hussein. Osama bin Laden. Milosvic. Everyone calling for peace is painted as a neo-isolationist, a contemporary Chamberlain appeasing a tyrant. Afterwards it’s easy to see how overly-dramatic the propaganda was and how ineffectual all the American bombs were. But still, here we are in Kosovo, in another Nineties war and next year we’ll be in yet another. Unless we stop the zest for these Clinton wars now.
What do we have to do to end this war? And what do we need to do to stop the U.S.‘s newfound zest for cruise missiles? How can peace and antiwar activists start acting beyond the press releases and isolated vigils to think creatively about linking folks together to bring new people and ideas into the peace movement?
I don’t pretend to know what exactly we need. All I know is that I’m personally bored of the standard issue peace actions we’ve been engaging in and want to see something new. Some of it might look like clichés from the 60s and some might look like rip-offs of McDonald’s latest ad campaign. But we need to build an antiwar culture that will intrude upon a sunny spring and remind people that a war is on. The real phantom menace this summer is an American Empire that is retooling it’s military and re-conditioning its citizens to think of war as a normal course of affairs.
Why is President Clinton talking about a reprise of the 1991 Persian Gulf War?
We’re told it’s because U.N. inspectors believe that Iraq has hidden “weapons of mass destruction.” But of course so does the United States. And Britain, France, Russia, the Ukraine, China, India and Pakistan. Iraq doesn’t even hold a regional monopoly, as Israel certainly has atomic weapons atop U.S.-designed rockets aimed this very moment at Hussein’s Baghdad palaces.
Insanely-destructive weapons are a fact of life in the fin-de-Millennium. There’s already plenty of countries with atomic weapons and the missile systems to lob them into neighboring countries. Hussein probably doesn’t have them, and the weapons U.N. inspectors are worried about are chemical. This is the “poor man’s atomic bomb,” a way to play at the level of nuclear diplomacy without the expenses of a nuclear program.
Clinton seems oblivious to the irony of opposing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction with our own. The aircraft carriers and battle fleets that have been sent into the Gulf in recent weeks are loaded with tactical nuclear missiles.
If the possession of weapons of mass destruction is wrong for Iraq, then it is wrong for everyone. It is time to abolish all weapons programs and to build real world peace along lines of coöperation.
He’s our Bully
Most Americans, on hearing a call to let Hussein be, will react with disbelief. Conditioned to think of him as our modern Hitler, anyone opposing a new Gulf War must be crazy, someone unfamiliar with the history of the appeasement of Hitler prior to World War II that allowed him to build his military to the frightening levels of 1939.
But Americans have alas not been told too much of more recent history. Saddam Hussein is our creation, he’s our bully. It started with Iran. Obsessed with global military control, the U.S. government started arming regional superpowers. We gave our chosen countries weapons and money to bully around their neighbors and we looked the other way at human rights abuses. We created and strengthened dictators around the world, including the Shah of Iran. A revolution finally threw him out of power and ushered in a government understandable hostile to the United States.
Rather than take this development to mean that the regional superpower concept was a bad idea, the U.S. just chose another regional superpower: Iraq. We looked the other way when the two got into a war, and started building up Iraq’s military arsenal, giving him the planes and military equipment we had given Iran. This was a bloody, crazy war, where huge casualties would be racked up only to move the front a few miles, an advance that would be nullified when the other army attacked with the same level of casualties. The United States supported that war. International human rights activists kept publicizing the abuses within Iraq, and denouncing him for use of chemical weapons. They got little media attention because it was not in U.S. political interests to fight Hussein.
Nothing’s really changed now except U.S. political interests. Hussein is still a tyrant. He’s still stockpiling chemical weapons. Why are U.S. political interests different now? Why does Bill Clinton want U.S. media attention focused on Iraq? Look no further than Big Bill’s zipper. Stop the next war before it starts. Abolish everyone’s weapons of mass destruction and let’s get a President who doesn’t need a war to clear his name.