On Memorial Day, remembering Muhammad Ali

It’s Memorial Day in the U.S. and I’m seeing the pathetically predictable parade of elite tweets honoring those who lost their lives fighting this country’s wars. And there have been a lot of wars. At one point I calculated that this country had been on some sort of killing expedition, when not more than one, in all but sixteen calendar years of its existence.[1] And so a lot have died, not to mention the deaths on the other side, not to mention civilians.

And it is remarkable that for the warmongers, the fact of those deaths is a rationalization for staying in the fight. We are not yet out of Afghanistan. It’s been twenty years. Too often, so goes the refrain, we must not let the deaths of those who have fallen be in vain, therefore more must die to defer such a reckoning.

But that reckoning itself, as if we ever actually conducted it, would really be a diversion.

Anthony Clark covers a lot of ground in that tweet, but perhaps most fundamentally, he reaches to a discrepancy between the Amerikkkan Dream[2] and, well, the cold reality[3] of a constitutional oligarchy.[4] He does reach Smedley Butler’s point that war is a profitable business for the wealthy.[5]

The profits come not solely from arms sales, lucrative though they most certainly are. I have come to understand war principally as a contest among elites over which of them will control which bits of territory, and the resources and people therein.[6] I mentioned Afghanistan: Empire after empire has sought to control “the graveyard of empires.” That so many, only most recently the U.S., have failed to learn from the dismal defeats of their predecessors[7] testifies to a lust for control that surely complements what Butler saw as monetary greed.

Whatever the motivation, it is the poor who die:

My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.[8]

I’m not a fan of violent sport, let alone boxing. But damn, Muhammad Ali got this one right.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “U.S. Wars,” Google Drive, n.d., https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1bdIfIobiH1A7NZItE3FUI6zy0oh-D6eCK64t__5wBO4/edit?usp=sharing
  2. [2]George Carlin is quoted as having said, “That’s why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it,” in Good Reads, n.d., https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/17908-that-s-why-they-call-it-the-american-dream-because-you
  3. [3]David Benfell, “A piper needs paying,” Not Housebroken, May 10, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/19/a-piper-needs-paying/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, May 10, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/
  5. [5]Smedley Butler, “War Is A Racket,” Ratical Earth Journal, n.d., https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html
  6. [6]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” Not Housebroken, March 19, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/2012/03/19/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/
  7. [7]Akhilesh Pillalamarri, “Why Is Afghanistan the ‘Graveyard of Empires’?” Diplomat, June 30, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/why-is-afghanistan-the-graveyard-of-empires/; Craig Whitlock, “At war with the truth,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/; Craig Whitlock, “Built to fail,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-nation-building/; Craig Whitlock, “Consumed by corruption,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-corruption-government/; Craig Whitlock, “Overwhelmed by opium,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-opium-poppy-production/; Craig Whitlock, “Stranded without a strategy,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-strategy/; Craig Whitlock, “Unguarded nation,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-army-police/
  8. [8]Muhammad Ali, quoted in DeNeen L. Brown, “‘Shoot them for what?’ How Muhammad Ali won his greatest fight,” Washington Post, June 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/06/15/shoot-them-for-what-how-muhammad-ali-won-his-greatest-fight/

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