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Engelhardt, I.F. Stone and the Urge to Serve

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[Note for TomDispatch readers: On this weekend I’m taking off to, if not celebrate, then at least live through my 80th birthday, I’m posting what I consider a 2015 “best of” from Tom Engelhardt (something I’ve seldom done). In that nine-year-old piece, I focused on a figure I then considered (and still consider) heroic: I.F. Stone, who, from the early Cold War moment of 1953 deep into the Vietnam War era, put out his own “weekly” newsletter. By 2015, I already thought of myself (as I wrote in this piece) as “I.F. Pebble.” As I made clear then, however, in the years of the American global war on terror, I found myself, unlike Stone in the Vietnam years, dealing with a populace that, when it came to protesting our disastrous conflicts abroad, had been effectively demobilized (and some of whom in recent times have, horrifically enough, been remobilized by one Donald Trump).

As I wrote then, both sadly and, when it came to a crucial right-wing movement The Donald would later supersede, tellingly enough, “The American national security state has succeeded strikingly at only one thing (other than turning itself into a growth industry): it freed itself of us and of Congress. In the years following the Vietnam War, the American people were effectively demobilized… Since then, in a host of ways, our leaders have managed to sideline the citizenry, replacing the urge to serve with a sense of cynicism about government (which has morphed into many things, including, on the right, the Tea Party movement).”

So, on this weekend when I’m off duty, check out the Tom Engelhardt of 2015 and the I.F. Stone of the 1960s and 1970s. And while you’re at it, if you feel the urge, visit the TomDispatch donation page and consider offering I.F. Pebble a chance to keep on, if all goes well, until his 81st birthday (and thanks so much in advance!). 

Oh, and one final thing: I thought I might recommend two new books. The first is a just-published novel, Ravens on a Wire, about the grim legacy of the Vietnam War (I’ve already ordered it myself!) by that superb TD writer and Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich. The second is Joe Conason’s The Longest Con: How Grifters, Swindlers, and Frauds Hijacked American Conservatism, which focuses on how Donald Trump’s path to power was blazed by a motley crew of swindlers and frauds who made up the conservative movement from the last century to this one, a book that I read in galleys and found all too painfully relevant. Tom]

Remembrance of Wars Past

Why There Is No Massive Antiwar Movement in America 

There was the old American lefty paper, the Guardian, and the Village Voice, which beat the Sixties into the world, and its later imitators like the Boston Phoenix. There was Liberation News Service, the Rat in New York, the Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta, the Old Mole in Boston, the distinctly psychedelic Chicago SeedLeviathanViet-Report, and the L.A. Free Press, as well as that Texas paper whose name I long ago forgot that was partial to armadillo cartoons. And they existed, in the 1960s and early 1970s, amid a jostling crowd of hundreds of “underground” newspapers -- all quite above ground but the word sounded so romantic in that political moment.  There were G.I. antiwar papers by the score and high school rags by the hundreds in an “alternate” universe of opposition that somehow made the rounds by mail or got passed on hand-to-hand in a now almost unimaginable world of interpersonal social networking that preceded the Internet by decades. And then, of course, there was I.F. Stone’s Weekly (1953-1971): one dedicated journalist, 19 years, every word his own (except, of course, for the endless foolishness he mined from the reams of official documentation produced in Washington, Vietnam, and elsewhere).

I can remember the arrival of that newsletter, though I no longer know whether I subscribed myself or simply shared someone else’s copy. In a time when being young was supposed to be glorious, Stone was old -- my parents’ age -- but still we waited on his words. It helped to have someone from a previous generation confirm in nuts and bolts ways that the issue that swept so many of us away, the Vietnam War, was indeed an American atrocity.

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Engelhardt, Where Did the American Century Go?

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[Note for TomDispatch readers: Consider me a broken record, but with my 80th birthday just a couple of days from now, I want to urge all of you TD readers to consider visiting our donation page and lending me a hand, while I do my aging best to head into the future. Tom]

The Decline and Fall of Presidential America

Are We Now Living in a Defeat Culture?

It's not a happenstance or some sad mistake that, barring a surprise, Americans will go to the polls in November to vote for one of two distinctly ancient men, now 77 and 81, both of whom have clearly exhibited language and thought problems for a significant period of time. To put this in perspective, remember for a moment that, until Ronald Reagan entered his second term in office in 1985 (during which he would get dementia before leaving the White House at age 77), the oldest president was Dwight D. Eisenhower and he was 70 (yes, 70!) not on entering the Oval Office but on leaving it after his second term in 1961. 

Of course, that was another America in another age -- and my apologies for using that word in a piece about Donald Trump and Joe Biden! It was one in which it seemed all too natural to have the youngest president ever, John F. Kennedy, who was only 46 years old when he was assassinated. 

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Nan Levinson, Assessing the Flames of Protest

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From Gaza to the West Bank to the Israeli-Lebanese borderlands, it’s been a genuine nightmare. The devastation in Gaza remains surreal and almost impossible to take in. Housing, hospitals, schools, religious institutions, you name it — they’re all now a “maze of rubble” while the fighting just goes on (and on and on) with Palestinians (and far smaller numbers of Israelis) still dying daily. The normally cited death toll of Gazans now sits at 38,000 (with untold thousands more buried under the rubble or in mass graves); the death toll of Israeli soldiers is far more modest. It’s been nine months of intense war on a stretch of land that, unimaginably enough, is just 25 miles long with — despite some negotiations now underway — no end yet in sight. Having fought their way in a devastating fashion from the northern reaches of Gaza to its southern border, Israeli forces are now returning to areas they’ve already largely destroyed to do yet more damage, even as the possibility of another war on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon seems to be revving up, and conditions on the West Bank are growing far worse.

It’s all hard to take in. Had you been told that such a set of events would happen before they began, my guess is that you wouldn’t have believed it possible. Yet here we are while, in our world, the very idea of supporting a “cease fire” in Gaza, once a major focus of attention at the United Nations, seems to have more or less disappeared. And this was the world in which, as TomDispatch regular Nan Levinson explains today, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Aaron Bushnell set himself afire in protest (having made out a will leaving what money he had to the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund). It’s hard to imagine a more extreme act — the decision to quite literally obliterate yourself to make a point, destroy your own life to emphasize the nightmarish acts of others while trying to end a horror beyond compare.

Let Levinson take you into just such a world (which also happens to be ours) and make some sense of it. Sigh. Tom

When Too Much Is Not Enough

Moral Passion and the Extremes of Protest

It began with Aaron Bushnell and a visceral response of mine: Why would anyone do such a thing?

Bushnell was the 25-year-old active-duty airman who set himself ablaze on February 25th in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., to protest that country's brutal war in Gaza. The first question was tough enough, but his dramatic and deadly action also brought to mind other questions that have occupied my thinking, research, and writing in these last several years: What spurs someone to such an unyielding, ultimate commitment to a cause? What kind of political action is actually effective?

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