Saturday, December 10, 2016

Upsetting the Apple Cart You Built

Ruminations on the effects of Fortress America Attitudes and "making it great again."

You can't step into an American movie theater these days without seeing a movie poster for yet another film about some sort apocalyptic future that is either already showing or soon to arrive. The same can be said of books as well since doomsday thrillers and their contractually required sequels regularly occupy the best sellers lists. Yeah, everyone should already understand Americans are on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown—if not a psychotic break with reality which manifests itself in the violence and despair in our movies, books, television and unfortunately, our civic discourse and society itself. The reasons for such a national mental health crisis are both numerous and so intertwined that if human civilization ever does mature to the point societies are stable for the long term but retain the ability to be creative, open, and dynamic, I am sure academic careers will be made on how our times are rationally explained.

For me one of the most curious apocalyptic futures to be examined in movies, books, and to a limited extent in television shows are the ones that portray a lone United States fighting off some determined and superior enemy on its own soil. The absolute best example of this is the 1984 version of the movie Red Dawn where a group of Colorado high school kids flee into the Rocky Mountains after a Soviet-lead invasion of the continental United States. From their hidden mountain camp, these teenagers observe events in occupied towns that eventually force them to become resistance fighters.

What caused this horrific invasion of the United States was stated at the beginning of the movie in that all the vital alliances the West had created after the Second World War fell utterly apart. Western Europe, except the Brits, decided to sit out the conflict essentially becoming “neutral” from internal political pressures. Also playing a part in this nightmare were every Central American nation, including Mexico, falling to communism which allowed Cuban and Nicaraguan forces to amass just south of the Rio Grande. Once the attack was launched from there the Soviets jumped across the Bering Sea into Alaska and drove south.

As paranoid nightmare fantasies go, Red Dawn was at least entertaining even though its premise was so absurd I remember several military historians laughing at the idea it could ever happen. The key word that real experts expressed to say why such an invasion was impossible was logistics. It has been said many times, anyone with enough training can be a tactician, but it takes a genius to figure out how to effectively move, feed, and equip a fighting force.

Of course, this movie came out during the Reagan years when they annually published dubious but colorful reports showing numerous near science fiction-like weapons systems the Soviets were developing. Later years would show most of these systems were high end prototypes built to test concepts or outright fantasies created by military analysts determined to maintain job security. Truth be told, the United States pursued its own similar high end research back then and still does despite shrill claims from political propagandists that certain American leaders are not looking after the defense of the country.

It does not take an expert to realize Red Dawn was just playing on the latent fears of a public who had been told since the 1950's that the commie boogeyman was hiding underneath their beds. Unfortunately, fear readily sells to bored, stagnate suburbanites who, while living in the relative lap of luxury, when compared to the rest of the world, see the world changing and their vaulted position at the top of the societal heap eroding underneath their feet.

No, I am most certainly not saying the Soviet Union was a big peaceful teddy bear, it was a true threat to the United States and its allies. What I am saying is that succumbing to paranoid fears leads to overreaction and/or betraying your own principles, which only plays into the hand's of your enemy.

As the 80's unfolded with Reagan playing geopolitical hardball with the Soviets, some Americans worried about the massive protests in European countries over the basing of nuclear weapons on their territory. The truth of the matter was that despite the appearances of Western disunited, these free and open political displays showed the post-WW2 alliances were healthy and protecting the values that made us better than the communist nations. More to the point, with NATO standing strong and its member nations staying true to basic human rights, it was only a few years later the Soviet Union fell giving the world a short rest in the eternal global power struggles which are governments one true interest.

With the Soviet Union essentially neutered by 1990, it didn't take long for it to be replaced with another devious menace out to undermine the free world. In 1992 the author Ralph Peter published a book entitled, War in 2020 which had the United States more or less alone and aiding a decaying Soviet Union mired in a civil war with the opposition forces being armed by a resurgent imperialistic Japan. Yes, this was the period everyone was fearing the economic might of Japan whose businesses seemed to be overtaking the entire world. The famous author Tom Clancy even played out one of these paranoid plots about Japan in one of his own books whose name escapes me right now. In fairness, I did enjoy reading War in 2020, thinking of it as decent speculative science fiction. As for the Clancy's fictional creation of Jack Ryan, his meteoric rise in power and influence seemed so ridiculous to me that it made his later works, including the one involving Japan, more a cartoon than a serious techo-thiller. Honestly, I half expected Clancy to eventually write a novel where Jack Ryan not only saved the planet from an alien invasion but was elected president of Earth for life by a grateful humanity.

The last years of the 1990's had the irrational fears of Americans refocus on a rising China. Poor Japan was by then beset with economic problems that made those fears of the United States falling under its influence look as silly as the idea that the Soviets could launch a D-Day like invasion of North America. In 2000 the author Eric L. Harry published a book called, Invasion which was about Red China pulling a Red Dawn on the continental United States but instead of launching this attack from the Mexican border, good old Cuba stood in as the anti-Britain allowing it to be used as the home base of the massive amphibious assault heading for the American Gulf Coast. Once again, Invasion lets it be known that the U.S. faced this particular nemesis completely alone.

Contrary to my tone, Invasion was actually quite good, as techno-thrillers go, and I finished it hoping the author would return with a sequel since while it ended on an upbeat note for the United States, the war was a long way from being over. The basic scenario in the novel is that due to the threat of the Chinese military machine that had already conquered a good chunk of the world, the United States government institutes a draft so encompassing that even the daughter of the President is forced to serve. Making matters more delicate for the book's fictional American president, his daughter scored so high on the mental and physical evaluations that she volunteered to serve in the infantry. Yeah, the situation in the novel is so dire females were not only drafted but ended up fighting in the trenches all through the southeastern United States. While the main story involves president's daughter combat on the front lines, the subplot was how the United States was rushing to build arsenal ships, a new type of naval vessel designed to overwhelm the defenses of the Chinese Navy which controlled the oceans.

As I stated, the one common thread in these stories was that the United States was fighting alone. While the reasons for the United States not having any allies varied slightly, they all revolved around a general lack of resolve and courage by nations who Americans either defended or liberated in the past. A dubious conceit, but when you are the military and economic superpower for the free world, it's one that should have been eventually expected by all involved. Remember, even ancient Athens, who played the biggest role in saving Western civilization from Persian domination fell prey to its own monumental hubris.

The huge problem I and many others had with the premise of America fighting to the death with a superior foe on its own soil is that enlighten men all through the West after WW2 established a network of alliances that said point blank, you screw with one of us then you will face all of us. The basic assumption most Americans had during those tense Cold War years was that if there was a weak leak in the members it was with the European countries who naturally weren't keen on fighting the Third World War on their soil. I hazard a guess and say they hoped the defensive alliances would act as deterrence preventing any aggression in the first place.

These alliances, supported by every American president and congress since WW2 allowed the West to face down the Soviet Empire and for a brief moment after communism fell, suggested ever so briefly the eternal global struggle of rival powers might be finally over. So, while these alliances are far from perfect, it seems a no-brainer that no sane person would screw with a global system that has kept the peace in a large part of the world since the late 1940's.

Enter Donald Trump who from the beginning of his campaign has clearly stated he thinks the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the alliance setup to defend European democracies, is obsolete. Furthermore, Trump went on to say he isn't sure he would commit troops to defend our European allies if Russia did attacked them, a mind-boggling statement that in saner times would have eliminated him from consideration from any political office.

While the fictional nightmare scenario of the United States facing an invasion of its own soil is still something that lives in the realm of total fantasy, Trump based his political run and now his upcoming presidency on destroying the establishment. Nothing would destroy the current global security establishment that abandoning our allies because he “doesn't feel they are pulling their weight.” Allowing Russia to reabsorb the Baltic states, then pull the central European countries of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and others back under its control would throw economic markets around the world into turmoil.

And on that same note, if Trump lets China to continue to build artificial islands throughout the South China Sea for military purposes they could on a mire whim bottle up critical shipping lanes where a majority of international trade flows. Most rational economist say Trump's claim that he will bring back old fashioned factory jobs is bogus. There is simply no way that American workers could be paid enough to make washing machines and televisions without passing the huge raise in price down to the consumer, thus ending cheap products causing the economy to stall. But forty million Americans do have jobs directly related to international trade, disrupt those jobs through trade wars or by allowing military adventurism by our adversaries and we would once again be talking about another Great Depression.

Well, Republicans allege none of FDR's New Deal programs really pulled the country out of the depression, that it was the military buildup leading into WW2 that put people back to work and the economy back on track. Maybe that piece of gold-plated filth will inadvertently do the same thing as his successor is forced to mobilize the economy and military on a similar scale as FDR did to once again reestablish the conditions that existed after the last world war.

Personally I do not put much stock in the recount efforts currently going in three of the Rust Belt states Trump unexpectedly won back in November. Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party presidential nominee and the person pushing these efforts, is a delusional self-serving stooge who bares a large part of the blame for Hillary losing the election. Democrats should face the facts that Trump won by way of the Electoral College and start making plans for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential run. My point being is that elections have dire consequences and through apathy, spite, and simple stupidity the imperfect but remarkably stable global order the United States helped establish after WW2 is now threatened. Not mainly by our enemies nor by the cowardice of our allies as is the case in the fictional works I mentioned, but by Americans themselves. Just as the ancient Athenians before us, our own hubris has placed us on this path and history strongly suggests that when established political and military orders are destroyed that is when blood will begin to flow.

There is a Chinese curse I've known about for years, it goes something like this: “May you live in interesting times.” Never fully appreciated its subtlety but the next four years things are going to be interesting, lets hope we all make it to the other side.

This actually fits well with the group that elected Trump.


Unknown said...

It's never been my genre in fiction. But I am concerned about the upcoming years.

I wish I had something more profound to say in response to this thoughtful post. I'm kind of numb about the next couple months right now.

Pixel Peeper said...

Yeah, what Nasreen said. I've been numb since I woke up on November 9. Once the results of this election started sinking in, all I've been hoping for is the next election.

MigratingSpirit said...

After having spent all of my life as a natural optimist, universal law of opposites was long overdue to be exposed, I find this unnatural pessimism most uncomfortable to wear yet I cannot seem to throw it off.

Ranch Chimp said...

It's alwayz the "fear card" with us, and it makes alot of money too, I've had people tell me, if I dont do this or that or fear this or that, etc ... I'll die, go to Hell and the rest all my damn life ... my response? ... "SO". As far as blaming Jill Stein for the Clinton loss ... I wont do that, but to each their own view guy. I think as well, the democrats didnt really do a good job in any of it ... they could have done much else if they concentrated and won by a landslide. You know, I was standing in line at the polls, with the intentions of voting Green/ Jill, I actually changed my mind in line, and when I got to my booth, just said "f**k it" and voted straight Dem ... and I figured even though I didnt trust Hillary, to at least give her the benefit of doubt, so I surprised myself I reckon, not intending to vote for Hillary or dem (I been voting for 41 years now guy, it gets old voting the same ole same 2 party stuff) ... I just figured that the dem's are the only ones with enough power to buck the republican agenda ... I voted for Sanders in the primaries. I'm sick of all the crap man ... I just think we all get played for fools basically ... just my opinion.

As far as invasion's of the U.S. worrying people ... we dont even need a foreign power to invade this country any more ... we've done a good job at invading ourselves and deteriorating our own democracy ... as far as this great American talk or being No#1 talk ... frankly I never gave a shit about being number 1, great or the rest ... all that has got us, is having to babysit and police places like the middle east for the oil market prosperity, and kissing tyrannical regimes asses like the Saudi's ... I'd rather be No.5 and focus on how to make things well here in our country ... how in Hell can we help others globally, when we neglect our own? Enough from me on that crap though.

Yeah ... I remember "Red Dawn" when it first came out at the movie house ... it was entertaining to me at least ... I liked it ... but didnt take it serious. Later Bum....

Marja said...

Trump will give lots of food for new fiction or maybe I must say non-fiction movies and books of how the world will fall apart. In Europe and I know in the Netherlands are also some worrying political figures who start to get more power. The world hasn't learned anything yet. Maybe the world has to fall apart and get back to the basics so people learn family values and community skills etc again

Ranch Chimp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ranch Chimp said...

***** Marja Response: Good point Marga, I think that much need to collapse myself (piece by piece or otherwise) to get things more balanced and beneficial to a wider range ... you know, you look at recorded human history, and all empires change after they fall and get replaced. Doesnt matter if you're part of this left/ right, good/ evil nonsense, what culture or creed, etc ... folks globally, even places like The Netherlands as well ... are sick and tired of everything going on, the duopoly crap to the neoliberalism too. Thank goodness my grandkids dont think like I had, or how I sucked up to this garbage for 4 decades.

The Bug said...

These are DEFINITELY interesting times - and I've always been content with peaceful ones. I guess I'll have to learn to be a rebel now...

goatman said...


WE will will out.

sage said...

Yes, we do live in interesting times. I enjoyed your take on those movies and books over the past 30 years... maybe we should go back a little further and reread "On the Beach." That may be the true ending of civilization.