A recent article in the New York Times confirms Barack Obama’s personal involvement in the use of drones to assassinate persons in Pakistan and elsewhere:
“Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.”
I realize that Barack Obama’s unrelenting series of drone assassinations is an intensely inconvenient topic for many of the people who voted for him. I understand this reluctance to consider this topic because I too voted for Barack Obama. Back in 2008, I heard Obama repeatedly promise that he would quickly end American involvement in Afghanistan.
We send our soldiers out to fight and die for principles we ignore and disparage. Bill Moyer and Michael Winship suggest that we take time this Memorial day to acknowledge that our government engaged in ruthless and perverse torture in our names. Unless we do this, we will forever be locked to our immoral past:
Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth about ourselves. So Americans have been sorely pressed to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our government began to torture people, and did so in defiance of domestic and international law. Most of us haven’t come to terms with what that meant, or means today, but we must reckon with torture, the torture done in our name, allegedly for our safety.
In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin and reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reads a document during his military hearing at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Saturday, May 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Janet Hamlin)
It’s no secret such cruelty occurred; it’s just the truth we’d rather not think about. But Memorial Day is a good time to make the effort. Because if we really want to honor the Americans in uniform who gave their lives fighting for their country, we’ll redouble our efforts to make sure we’re worthy of their sacrifice; we’ll renew our commitment to the rule of law, for the rule of law is essential to any civilization worth dying for.
George Dvorsky refers to getting past the frustration, anger and name-calling as “post-Atheism”:
I’m hoping to see atheists move past the religion bashing and start thinking about more substantive issues. This is what I mean when I say post-atheism. It’s time to set aside the angst and work more productively to help those who need it, while working to develop a world view and set of guidelines for living without God. It’s unfortunate and tragic that so many humanists have equated the movement with atheism, while completely forgetting their progressive roots.
Humanism is about the betterment of all humanity and the contemplation of what it is we wish to become. It’s about taking control of our own lives in the absence of divine intervention. And it’s about taking responsibility for ourselves and doing the right thing.
This is where our energies and attention needs to be focused. Not in ridiculous Facebook timeline posts that serve no one.
I wouldn’t call it “post atheism,” because the term atheism means that one doesn’t believe in God, and that is still true of the people who aren’t religious. But I do agree entirely that it’s time for atheists to move on. I get it, that we have been subjected to bigotry, but it’s time to move from our Malcolm X phase to our Martin Luther King phase. I discuss all of this in detail in my five-part series titled “Mending Fences.”
As for a good model to use for getting past the frustration and, instead, making the world a better place, I often refer to this declaration by Paul Kurtz as my starting point.
U.S. drones kill five more kids in Afghanistan. The mainstream media keeps wondering why anyone would want to kill a U.S. soldier. Glenn Greenwald points out that these mental blockages tell us a whole lot about our warped view of the world:
To the extent these type of incidents are discussed at all — and in American establishment media venues, they are most typically ignored — there are certain unbending rules that must be observed in order to retain Seriousness credentials. No matter how many times the U.S. kills innocent people in the world, it never reflects on our national character or that of our leaders. Indeed, none of these incidents convey any meaning at all. They are mere accidents, quasi-acts of nature which contain no moral information (in fact, the NYT article on these civilian deaths, out of nowhere, weirdly mentioned that “in northern Afghanistan, 23 members of a wedding celebration drowned in severe flash flooding” — as though that’s comparable to the U.S.’s dropping bombs on innocent people). We’ve all been trained, like good little soldiers, that the phrase “collateral damage” cleanses and justifies this and washes it all way: yes, it’s quite terrible, but innocent people die in wars; that’s just how it is. It’s all grounded in America’s central religious belief that the country has the right to commit violence anywhere in the world, at any time, for any cause.
Today it was announced that authorities had foiled a plot to blow up an airplane. It was clearly stated that the plot never got off the ground, because the “attacker” was an informer working for the U.S. What dominated the news today? You guessed it. I’ll quote Glenn Greenwald once more:
Indeed, on the very same day that CNN and the other cable news networks devoted so much coverage to a failed, un-serious attempt to bring violence to the U.S. — one that never moved beyond the early planning stages and “never posed a threat to public safety” — it was revealed that the U.S. just killed multiple civilians, including a family of 5 children, in Afghanistan. But that got no mention. That event simply does not exist in the world of CNN and its viewers (I’d be shocked if it has been mentioned on MSNBC or Fox either). Nascent, failed non-threats directed at the U.S. merit all-hands-on-deck, five-alarm media coverage, but the actual extinguishing of the lives of children by the U.S. is steadfastly ignored (even though the latter is so causally related to the former).
I met 81 year old Ben Fainer two weeks ago at Grand Center Arts Academy in St. Louis. Ben had been invited by one of the social studies teachers to tell the seventh graders about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. As a parent of one of the students, I was also invited to attend. I found his presentation to be stunning and inspiring. One of the things that stood out to me was Ben’s admonition that, despite all he went through, he found hatred to be self-destructive.
On April 21, 2012, Ben (known as “Bendet Urman Fajner” when he lived in Poland as a boy) allowed me to videotape the story of how he survived six years in several Nazi concentration camps, from 1939 until he was rescued by American soldiers in 1945. He was only 9 1/2 years old when he was captured. Therefore, in this interview, you’ll hear what it was like to be a child imprisoned for the crime of being a Jew. At first, he was assigned special chores like shining shoes and cleaning offices for the regime. He grew up in these camps, though, and eventually he was put to work in factories alongside adult prisoners. In this video, you’ll hear that he would never have survived had he not lied about his age.
Glenn Greenwald has documented more CIA abuse, this time with a nod of approval by the federal courts:
In November, 2010, the Obama DOJ — consistent with its steadfast shielding of Bush-era criminals from all forms of accountability — announced that the investigation would be closed without any charges being filed. Needless to say — given how subservient federal judges are to the Executive Branch in the post-9/11 era — the federal judge who had ordered the CIA to preserve and produce any such videotapes, Alvin Hellerstein, refused even to hold the CIA in contempt for deliberately disregarding his own order. Instead, Hellerstein — who, like so many federal judges, spent his whole career before joining the bench as a partner for decades in a large corporate law firm serving institutional power — reasoned that punishment for the CIA was unnecessary because, as he put it, new rules issued by the CIA “should lead to greater accountability within the agency and prevent another episode like the videotapes’ destruction.” In other words, as I put it in a Guardian Op-Ed about Hellerstein’s CIA-protecting decision: the CIA has promised not to do this again, so they shouldn’t be punished for the crimes they committed.
The story gets much worse, as Greenwald describes how Jose Rodriguez, is now gloating about how he destroyed the these torture videos. He is doing this with the view, apparently correct, that no law enforcement authority and no court is going to do anything about any of his misconduct.
In this TED talk, primatologist Frans de Waal asserts that human morality has evolved, and that the existence of morality doesn’t depend on religion. He observes that “humans are far more cooperative and empathic than they are given credit for,” and that they are, in many ways similar to other primates.
From de Waal’s experiments, one can learn that chimpanzees (who have no religion) often reconcile with one another after fights. The principle “is that you have a valuable relationship that is damaged by conflict so you need to do something about it.”
What are the “pillars of morality,” that which morality is based on? Reciprocity (fairness) and Empathy (compassion) are two constants. He indicates that human morality includes more than these two factors, but not much more.
Check out the beautiful 1935 video of chimpanzees at the 3:35 min mark; they cooperate in synchronized fashion to pull in a heavy box of fruit. Then check out at 4:20 what happens when one of the two chimps is not hungry, thus not motivated to work hard. This is incredible footage that will remind you of a species you often see in the mirror. What makes the uninterested chimp to work at all, according to de Waal, is receipt of a past or a future favor, i.e., reciprocity.
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