A pivotal scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War satire, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb finds George C. Scott’s jingoistic General Buck Turgidson laying out the dire options for U.S. President Merkin Muffley, as the nation hurtles toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
“Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching the moment of truth,” General Turgidson says, “both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation.
TURGIDSON: Now truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless distinguishable, post-war environments: One where you got 20 million people killed, and the other where you got 150 million people killed.
MUFFLEY: You’re talking about mass murder, General—not war.
TURGIDSON: Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops! Uh, depending on the breaks.
It turns out Kubrick’s dark comedy was more prescient than he realized. In the narcissistic, hyper-masculine, Donald Trump, we have a real-life Dr. Strangelove sitting in the White House. And this past week, he blatantly threatened nuclear rival, North Korea with destruction not once, but twice.
Trump cautioned North Korea to cease its nuclear weapons testing or it would “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The Predator in Chief ratcheted up his warmongering threats a day later, claiming the United States is “locked and loaded”—his most overt warning of pending military action against the North Korean regime, to date. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responded to Trump’s initial warning by threatening to fire a missile at the U.S. colony—err, I mean “territory”—of Guam.
Trump’s words and tweets are not just incredibly reckless. (This is a president keep in mind, whose articulate solution to defeating ISIS is to “bomb the shit out of ‘em.”)
As U.S. Army colonel-turned-left-wing-professor-and-author, Andrew Bacevich observed on a recent episode on Democracy Now!, Trump seems to lack the ability to “use the English language with any sort of precision or finesse.”
“Many people have commented … on the narcissism which seems to be such a prominent characteristic of Trump’s personality,” said Bacevich.
And … when you watch the video of him making that “fire and fury” comment, it’s difficult to avoid thinking that the motivation of the moment is to make himself feel good, to somehow demonstrate that he’s a tough guy, that he’s standing up to what he perceives as a threat, and to, somehow or other, derive some sense of personal satisfaction … from issuing that threat—utterly oblivious as to the larger implications… And that’s … got to be very troubling.
In other words, we basically have a petulant 14-year-old sitting in the Oval Office. A petulant 14-year-old with the country’s nuclear codes.
Indeed, a Carnegie Mellon University analysis of the “readability” of the 2016 presidential candidates’ speeches compared to previous presidents, found the grammar and vocabulary Trump employs are just below a sixth-grade reading-level.
Let’s be clear: North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is—like Iran’s–a deterrent. It is in direct response to the United States’ decades of crippling economic sanctions, and its prior assault on North Korea during the Korean War—which never really ended. And recent U.S. efforts at regime change in Iraq and Libya have likely only put Kim Jong Un on further heightened alert.
None of this should be read as an apology for Kim’s repressive, authoritarian regime. North Korea, like China, is “communist” in name only. It is in no way a country the left should strive to emulate. Nor should we ignore its egregious human rights abuses.
Nonetheless, we must understand North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing is less the product of its “madman” leader, and more a legitimate form of self-defense. If Israel–whose nuclear weapons arsenal far surpasses North Korea’s–has a “right to defend itself,” then so does North Korea.
But rather than this childish—and utterly foolish—game of nuclear chicken, the West must attempt to engage the North Korean regime in peaceful negotiations. As Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin points out in a recent op-ed, “Sixty percent of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support direct negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.”
The left must stand in solidarity with oppressed people not just in our country, but throughout the world. This means opposing U.S. war and imperialism in all its depraved forms. We must understand that there is no such thing as a “humanitarian” war.
“Wars throughout history,” observed the great socialist leader, Eugene Debs, “have been waged for conquest and plunder.”
This is true even of the Second World War (the “good war”) and the ruinous carnage that was the Vietnam War (a war in which we “meant well”).
The U.S. has been locked in a nebulous “war on terror” for nearly 20 years now. This is an Orwellian war which, by design, can never be won–and thus, can never end. George W. Bush used the fear and horror of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq–occupations that continue to this day. (The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in U.S. history.)
And contrary to popular belief, Barack Obama did not scale-down the “war on terror”–he expanded it.
Though Obama dropped the use of the asinine phrase, “war on terror,” as well as Bush’s jingoistic, cowboy swagger, he nonetheless continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and launched drone-strikes in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton oversaw the overthrow and extrajudicial killing of Col. Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
Indeed, perhaps Obama’s greatest contribution to the “war on terror” was his ability to simultaneously enlarge its scope, while shifting it to the background, making it almost an afterthought in Americans’ minds. His reliance on unmanned predator drones, targeted assassinations, extrajudicial killings, and increased use of the elite Joint Special Operations Command in place of traditional “boots-on-the-ground,” effectively rendered the United States’ various military campaigns little more than white-noise.
The lack of critical media foreign policy coverage, combined with liberals’ reluctance to challenge the president when he is “their guy,” left the anti-war movement paralyzed.
Trump is now posing himself as the necessary course correction to Obama’s alleged “weakness” on fighting terrorism. His petit-bourgeois supporters relish his “tough guy” rhetoric and alpha-male braggadocio, which they believe will “put America first.”
As the remaining segments of the dwindling middle-class, Trump’s supporters view themselves as the beleaguered, “forgotten” members of the working class, even though most of them likely have more in common–economically and politically–with the upper-middle class and the rich. Forget the misleading media narrative linking Trump’s presidency to a “Rustbelt Revolution.” Trump’s base consists mostly of small-business owners who resent government, regulations, and immigrants and who dream of joining the ranks of the wealthy.
Now is the time to reconstitute the anti-war movement. The left must reconnect itself to its long history of anti-imperialist activism. Many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters, for instance, shrugged off his hawkish foreign policy positions as “secondary issues.”
This attitude is a grave mistake.
The left must rediscover the centrality of opposing war and imperialism, as well as its interconnectedness to domestic issues like racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and economic insecurity. (Fifty-four percent of our federal tax dollars go to the military “defense” budget.)
The subversive, Dr. Strangelove brilliantly illustrates the utter madness of nuclear war. Perhaps worst of all, it lays bare the complete ineptitude of the president, the military generals, foreign leaders, and the rest of the ruling class “experts” to halt the course of mass civilizational destruction, once it is initiated.
Let’s mobilize now to ensure Kubrick’s film remains a dark satire–and not an ominous premonition.
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