I’ve long had a sense that the story of the Twentieth Century is hidden behind the stories that century’s victors told about themselves.
World Wars, I and II, were not what they appeared. Actually, they were more what they appear to be and less what was so shrilly repeated about them in an attempt to hide their true place in history.
By 1914 the writing was on the wall. The most obvious scribble was that Europe’s empires and their colonial system was eating itself alive. Beneath these scrawls we can begin to make out a wider story. Civilization was reaching its endgame.
I’ve written about the Moment of Cubism. A crossroads. The last realistic off-ramp from our present condition. The moment when we last had a real chance of avoiding global collapse. By 1980, even a landslide defeat of “Morning in America” would have been too little too late. By then things were much too advanced. Enormity has a tremendous momentum. Such a Juggernaut can’t stop on a dime. 1914 was different.
In 1914 things were bad. They were even worse than they looked in some ways, but from our perspective their situation was so much less dangerous. No nukes. No GMO. No population nearing double digit billions of people. An ocean that was on the cusp of its destruction, but certainly shy of its point of no return.
Oil was still a minor fuel.
Still, Europe imploded. Its suicidal struggle brought enough of the rest of the world to the party that it was not hyperbole to call it a world war.
While the Moment of Cubism passed without issue, another movement gained force. Incompetent and bumbling senility within the various military high commands and commercial and governmental side-kicks stumbled on a new technique, breathing new life into the system by expanding its capacities to kill. Total War. Taking to heart the lessons of American Civil War, sharpened in the Crimea, The Philippines, Boer South Africa their mechanized warfare was rolled out on an unprecedented scale. Too many workers? Feed them to the machine gun. Not enough markets? Concentrate on munitions. They conveniently destroy themselves and take plenty of other old infrastructure with them. Political instability? Foment patriotic propaganda and whip the populace into a frenzy of xenophobia and hatred.
The system was breaking down. Just look at what happened when they took their eye off the ball in the Twenties. The Great Depression was the end of capitalism as it had been. Only a return to Total War brought back “prosperity” to the owners.
World War II was an inevitable second round. After all the Peace Conferences in The Twenties it was expected that it would be fought within a gentleman’s agreement. Not chivalry exercised between noble champions, but a tacit agreement to keep the fighting from getting in the way of making a killing.
By then the Soviets had replaced cousin Nikolas’ Empire with Stalin’s. These guys didn’t fight fair. Then neither did Adolf. Or Tojo. Mussolini. No one took him seriously but he was the intellectual of the group, having coined and defined the term Fascism. An alliance of capital and the state to perpetuate their interests over those of the people.
By the end, the differences between the winners and the losers were quite slim. More a difference in style than in outcome. Failing to take the full lesson of Goebbels’ revolution in “shaping public opinion” – propaganda, as they characteristically too heavy handedly called it – to heart. The Axis was just too blunt an instrument. It had to be destroyed unconditionally. Distance had to be manufactured between what they had been willing to do quite openly and the more guarded methods preferred in London and Washington.
Roosevelt died and an unassuming retired haberdasher took office. Whether Truman had any idea of what he was maneuvered into spearheading is besides the point. Like a Roman Emperor put into power by the Pretorian Guard, he was malleable. A great front too. Benevolent dictators like Roosevelt don’t grow on trees. It took until the manufacture of Ronald Reagan to approach it again. Although this time history repeated itself as farce.
Reagan was a modern Caligula. Blind to any reality outside his own Narcissism. He truly believed he had stood up to Ocean – in the guise of the hapless Gorbachev – and in crying out, “Tear down that wall!” done what Caligula failed to do in his war on Neptune at the edge of the English Channel.
Before we get to “Morning in America,” there is the “prosperity” of the “American Century.”
The civilized concept of wealth is and has always been a Ponzi-scheme. It is based on the destruction of the fabric of life on earth to create pockets of relative affluence that maintain their owners just above the increasing impoverishment of the world. X is destroyed to funnel some fraction of its value to a small cadre of kleptocrats. In so doing everyone, all of life on earth, is impoverished by some order of magnitude much greater than just what was destroyed as consequences reverberate through the living complex system.
This process is repeated. Each time the world is depleted further. There is a time in the unraveling of this story when concentration of wealth, a measure of a relative lack of visible impoverishment, seems to increase. At least for those within the circle of destroyers. This was true for, say,the last four thousand years? Eventually – soon, now, if you’re an average human and not a practicing kleptocrat, the point arrives when this illusion becomes impossible to maintain. The second half of the Twentieth Century was dominated by the actions of those battling fiercely to avoid this certain outcome, or at least deny it for as long as possible.
The violence and corruption inherent in such a systematic program of ecocidal destructiveness can be masked, but it will find ways to make itself felt. The hollow center of Modernist culture and the nightmares-of-reason it has perpetrated in the name of goodness, is now quite plain to see. Shrouded for so long there are great pockets of resistance to admit to a cleansing awareness of its horrors that persists to this day.
Seemingly endless power coupled with the ability to manipulate opinion and shape the emotional landscape through a campaign of terror against its own people intermingled with tantalizing promises of ever more depraved wish-fulfillment – a carrot and stick, good cop/bad cop approach – has done wonders to raise a crop of domesticated humans at an unprecedented scale.
The feedlot is not a necessary evil in some heroic effort to feed a growing multitude. It is a model for the raising of the real crop. Us.
As in the most humane of such structures, unlike the horrors unmitigated by any good sense perpetrated by the Nazis, the ramp gently curves as it rises to the killing floor. “We won’t know what hit us.” Each sees her own personal end as a private failure. The system behind it is hidden.
Even so, look at the poor health and the rising despair among the well-off to see that there is little psychic distance between managing Monsanto and running Treblinka.
Control does not work if what we expect to control is living.
Control works very well at managing death and destruction on an industrial scale.
Our managers are not mistaken. Their appointed task is feasible. It’s only that in their dementia they do not see that “First Class” sinks along with the rest. The only “life-boats” exist in the propaganda they themselves directed to be made.
Hitler’s power to persuade and his ultimate self-destruction had the same root. He knew how to make himself believe the very lies he spouted to control others.
What he attempted from his bunker beneath a burned out Berlin, his successors are now on the cusp of accomplishing. He wished for Gotterdammerung. A “race-appropriate” version of the ever-popular Apocalyptic orgasm of hate. He lacked the power. His successors do not.
The Twentieth Century was intended by those who ran it to be the end of history.
They have stayed true to their cause.
They may yet achieve it.
4 thoughts on “History”
Although all you speak of is true, it is all about the symptoms and typical human response to those symptoms. In some quirky way, call it humanity’s dysfunction if you wish, I believe that we accomplish in war, what nature can’t keep up with. Even our self limiting, or eliminating. This is by no way justification on my part, just an observation.
Nature, for much of history, controlled human population, by limited resource, starvation, and disease. In the 20th century, tuberculosis, cholera, typhus, numerous flu epidemics, polio and aids killed far more people than war. but the specter of these deaths was overshadowed by the human drama of warfare, and it’s machinations.
The barbaric industrial revolution, really just an economic revolution, only followed the same patterns and historical ‘loop the loops’ and repeats of history. All the savagery and collapse of the great empires, and colonizations, all of the conquistadors, the inquisitions, the great wars and the lessor wars, and even the war we wage on nature, are the result of our inane lack of compassion . Compassion for our fellow human beings, compassion for those with different beliefs, and compassion for nature, and finally compassion for the world. We don’t feel the pain in the belly till our own is empty.
Enjoyed this very much!