I’ve long had a sense that the story of the Twentieth Century is hidden behind the stories the Twentieth Century’s inhabitants told about themselves.
Let’s get right to the point. World Wars, I and II, were not what they appeared. Actually, they were more what they appear and less what was so shrilly repeated about them and their place in history.
By 1914 the writing was on the wall. The most obvious scribble was that European Empire-building and Colonialism was eating itself alive. What was beneath these scrawls was a wider story. Civilization was reaching endgame.
I’ve written about the Moment of Cubism. This was a crossroads. The last off-ramp from our present condition and potential fate might have been a landslide defeat of “Morning in America” in 1980, but by then things were much too far along. Enormity has tremendous momentum. Such a Juggernaut can’t stop on a dime. 1914 was different.
In 1914 things were bad. They were 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. It 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 was left to slide away without issue, another movement gained force. Under the guise of incompetence and bumbling old-age the military high commands and their commercial and governmental – counterparts? or is it servants? – stumbled on a great technique. Total War. The lessons of the U.S. Civil War, sharpened in the Crimea, The Philippines, Boer South Africa, and elsewhere were put into play on an unprecedented scale. Too many workers? No problem. Feed them to the machine gun. Not enough markets? Concentrate on munitions. They conveniently destroy themselves in use 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.
They were right. 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 practiced. Only a return to Total War brought “prosperity” back to the owners.
World War II was to be another round. It was expected to be fought within the gentleman’s agreement. Not some chivalry of noble champions, but a tacit agreement to keep the fighting from getting in the way of making a killing.
But 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 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.
In 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 Washington as 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. We had to get to the manufacture of Ronald Reagan to even approach it again. Of course this time history repeated itself as farce. Reagan, a modern Caligula – at least in his blindness to any reality outside his own Narcissism, 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” to be gotten through.
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 practitioners 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 portion of this story in which the concentrations of “wealth,” relative lack of visible impoverishment, seems to be increasing for those within the circles of the destroyers. Such have been the last say, four thousand years? Then, eventually – soon, or now if you’re an average human and not a practicing kleptocrat yourself, the point is reached where 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. Even though it was shrouded for so long and there are great pockets of resistance to a cleansing awareness of its horrors 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 when the Nazis did it, 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 from almost everyone involved.
Even so, look at the poor health and 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.