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I know, it’s not big news.
But Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and Anonymous bring us fresh examples everyday—governments lie casually, gratuitously, aimlessly, and viciously.
All governments lie some of the time; some governments lie all of the time. The role of any honest or self-respecting journalist (thank you Amy Goodman!) is to find out what the lies are, who’s telling them and why. Journalists who fail to start there are simply stenographers for power, no matter how they pump up their image.
President Vladimir Putin managed to unite the entire chattering class from Fox News to MS-NBC, as well as politicians from the most liberal Democrats to the farthest right Republicans in their outrage and unanimous condemnation of the Russian head of state, by uttering a simple truth on the op-ed page of the New York Times:
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.
He’s right of course.
“American Exceptionalism,” in common with reactionary nationalism everywhere, insists on seeing similar sets of facts in dramatically different ways: torture, rendition, imprisonment without trial, nuclear threat, manufacturing or storing chemical weapons, extrajudicial killings, assassinations, drone strikes and the bombing of civilians—all of this and more is condemned as evil or embraced as good by the governing class and its “amen chorus” of nationalist/patriots depending on only one item: who did the deed?
“American Exceptionalism” insists that our cause is always just, the American heart always pure, and “our” side always righteous. We won’t hold ourselves to the standards others must follow because we are the chosen ones, the superior group, above the law and common norms of behavior. We’re exceptional!
That’s nonsense; it’s the way of lawlessness, permanent war, crimes against humanity, and a breakdown of any hope for a world at peace and in balance.
The US should spend time practicing how to be a people among peoples, a nation among nations. We can start by agreeing with that short bit Putin wrote above. And we can then work toward discovering our own deepest humanity by fully embracing the humanity of all others.
Since Syria has signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC) bringing the number of states who are party to the CWC to 189, what state in the region has failed to ratify the Convention?
OK, hint one: some hidden agreement or secret informal censor assures that you will hear no mention of this in the corporate media.
OK, hint two: it shares a border with Syria.
OK, hint three: beyond manufacturing and storing banned chemical weapons, it has a huge stockpile (officially unacknowledged) of banned nuclear weapons.
Right : it’s Israel.
Unless you embrace the perverse and racist idea of Israeli Exceptionalism—little cousin to American Exceptionalism—it’s time to push for a comprehensive ban.
Mindless, reactionary nationalism includes the manufactured and sometimes imposed capacity to see similar sets of facts in dramatically different ways. Torture, rendition, imprisonment without trial, nuclear threat, manufacturing or storing of chemical weapons, extrajudicial killings, assassinations, drone strikes and the bombing of civilians—all of this and more is condemned as evil or embraced as good by the governing class and its “amen chorus” of nationalist/patriots depending on only one item: who did the deed.
“Israeli Exceptionalism” like “American Exceptionalism” is the magic potion nationalist/patriots drink in order to justify these specific atrocities and other human rights violations when carried out by the Israeli or US states: the Israeli moves are always defensive and necessary, we are assured, the American cause is always just, the American heart always pure, and “our” side always righteous.
A decade of protests paved the way for Americans to say ‘no’ to Syrian strikes.
This moment of popular resistance to the military option as the only option shows that what we do does make a difference. Not immediately. Not obviously. Not in a straight line.
Bernardine Dohrn is a social justice activist, children’s rights and international human rights law professor, writer and speaker. She lives in Chicago and has three sons and three grandchildren.
Here are some comments earned by my last memoir, Fugitive Days. I’m girding myself for the coming barrage when Public Enemy hits the streets in October, sharing these with you now:
Bill Ayers is a total genius; he writes like Ernest Hemingway…Brilliant. Donald Trump, newsmaker
I’m just a curious American…I’m curious to know how Bill Ayers wrote this book. Sarah Palin, curious American and serious troublemaker
A serious student of literature, Ayers has written thoughtfully on the role of the first person narrator in the construction of a memoir…To be sure, there are other postmodernists in Chicago, but few who write as stylishly and as intelligibly as Ayers. Jack Cashill, author, Deconstructing Obama
[W]allows in familiar Marxist incitement. David Horowitz, poster boy for New Left apostasy
[Ayers committed] absolutely, I mean literally, incoherent and reckless acts in the name of nonsensical beliefs. Todd Gitlin, self-appointed CEO of the Sixties, Inc.
An unrepentant New Leftist. Alan Wolfe, scholar
[Ayers was] play-acting with violence. New York Times, newspaper of record.
And more of what people are saying about me:
He’s that unrepentant domestic terrorist…Bill O’Reilly,
You are a despicable, sordid sack of elitist shit. Anon. Houston, Texas
I’m coming to get you and when I do, I’ll water-board you. firstname.lastname@example.org
The poster boy for un-Americanism…Sean Hannity
Resign all and leave the country or you will be whacked. Joe Americo, Boca Raton, Florida
May you die a long slow and painful death. I’d kill you with my bare hands given the opportunity. Anon. Fresno, California
Please come to South Mississippi and speak…Keep staying public. I would love to give you what you deserve. AND I WOULD NOT BE STOPPED. (email@example.com)
My friends and I will pay a visit shortly. We’ve got the address. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
With incisive humor, Bill Ayers’ captivating memoir reveals that behind the fearsome “public enemy” lies a deeply dedicated parent, compassionate teacher, and principled revolutionary activist, representing this country’s best hopes for a democratic future.
[A] witty and spirited follow-up to Fugitive Days. . . . Among the book’s many edifying elements, including insight into the inner life and deep humanity of a man portrayed as a “cartoon character,” are the author’s conversational style and whimsical sense of humor. . . Through humor and self-reflection, the book offers a complex portrait of Ayers, including his experiences as an early education specialist, professor, husband (to former Weather Underground leader Bernardine Dohrn), father of three, author, and activist. . .Often times riotously funny, yet also plainspoken and serious, this is a memoir of impressive range.
Amy Goodman host/executive producer Democracy Now! :
In Public Enemy Bill Ayers writes eloquently of the profound challenges, the joys, and the toll of embracing a deep, lifelong commitment to social change. He has confronted power for more than half a century, in the civil rights movement, against the Vietnam War, living underground for over a decade, and during his long career as a respected educator. This deeply personal memoir spans the gap from the ’60s to the present day, framing the current, so-called ‘war on terror’ in a critical, urgent light.
The legendary Ayers is at his spellbinding best in Public Enemy—a brilliant, spirited document of a revolutionary life in our not-so-revolutionary age. One of the most compelling insightful memoirs of the year.
Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident is an inspiring, ripping read. Apart from being a committed activist, engaging thinker, brilliant parent, Bill Ayers is a great storyteller. If only our true enemies were anything like that!
Bill Ayers is a master teacher, a master storyteller, and a clarion-clear voice of conscience and commitment. Here he is, standing calmly at the center of the never-ending maelstrom, a Public Enemy trying to make meaning and change and sense of it all.
BOOKLIST (June Sawyers):
This compelling sequel to Ayers’ Fugitive Days—published on September 11, 2001—describes the author’s chaotic life after he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, became the topic and target of conversation during Barack Obama’s first run for the presidency. Accused of being a domestic terrorist, Ayers, a popular professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, learned to navigate his new role as the nation’s “public enemy.”
He begins his story in April 2008, when he was watching the presidential primary debate between Hillary Clinton and Obama with a dozen of his graduate students, and one of the debate moderators, George Stephanopoulos, asked Obama to explain his “friendship” with Ayers, a member of the radical 1960s Weather Underground. Ayers describes the nightmares that ensued: hate mail, death threats, cancelled lectures, being denied entry into Canada. He owns up to his activities as an “unrepentant terrorist” with the Underground but points out no one was killed or harmed: “Our notoriety, then and now, outstripped our activity.” Demonized and blacklisted, Ayers maintains not only his sanity but also his humor. When a reporter notes that he doesn’t look like a real Weatherman, Ayers laughs and asks her what a real Weatherman looks like.