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Project Syndicate – Avatar and Empire

Avatar and Empire

Naomi Wolf

NEW YORK – Do nations have psychological processes – even Freudian processes, such as collective egos that can be injured, and repressed guilt feelings that can well up from the collective unconscious – just as individuals do? I believe that they do.

I also believe that just as an individual’s dreams and slips of the tongue reveal his or her repressed knowledge, so a culture’s “dreamwork” – its films, pop music, visual arts, and even in the resonant jokes, cartoons and advertising images – reveal the signs of this collective unconscious. Moreover, a nation’s “irrational dreamwork” often reflects its actual condition more truthfully than its “ego” – its official pronouncements, diplomatic statements, and propaganda.

So take this theory with you when you see James Cameron’s Avatar , and watch for two revealing themes: the raw, guilty template of the American unconscious in the context of the “war on terror” and late-stage corporate imperialism, and a critical portrayal of America – for the first time ever in a Hollywood blockbuster – from the point of view of the rest of the world.

In the Hollywood tradition, of course, the American hero fighting an indigenous enemy is innocent and moral, a reluctant warrior bringing democracy, or at least justice, to feral savages. In Avatar , the core themes highlight everything that has gone wrong with Americans’ view of themselves in relation to their country’s foreign policy.

The hero, Jake Sully, is crippled from combat in a previous American conflict, but is not well cared for by his own country; if he does his job of genocide properly, “the corporation” will reward him with proper medical treatment. He signs on, essentially, as a corporate contractor – shades of Blackwater’s massacre of civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

The enterprise is a “mission” in which the soldiers fight not “for freedom” but “for a paycheck.” They take their direction from corporate bureaucrats in waging war against the indigenous people, whose sacred land is sited on vast reserves of “unobtainium,” which the corporation wishes to secure at all costs.

The soldiers are portrayed as being manipulated by their leaders – through vicious racism and religious derision – into brutal action against the non-aggressive “hostiles.” When the villain, the American military leader of the attack, plans to bomb flat the indigenous people’s sacred tree, he boasts that he will blow such a massive hole in their “racial memory” that they won’t come “within a thousand clicks” of the place again.

Even the machinery of US military combat is portrayed non-heroically. Instead of the classic images of the US Cavalry courageously sweeping down on the savages, or of decent American doughboys bravely clearing out nests of Nazis, bored technocrats, insulated by immense layers of technology, firebomb green valleys, slaughtering enemy warriors and defenseless women and babies while sipping coffee and casually fiddling with touch screens.

The characters’ lines (all quotes are approximate) are those that never pierce the bubble of American self-regard with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan. “You should not be here!” exclaims the indigenous heroine, and eventual love interest, Neytiri, as if she is speaking of the entire US enterprise overseas. “You are like a baby.” Gesturing at the mayhem caused by the destructive but self-regarding hero, before he “goes native,” she says, “This is your fault. They should never have had to die.”

Later, as Sully starts to become sympathetic towards those whom he has been sent to betray, he tells the bureaucrats: “If people are sitting on something you want, you call them the enemy.” When he has fully identified himself with their cause, he joins a movement that is essentially a counterinsurgency, even a jihad (“Let’s show the Sky People [the US] whose land this is!”). He and his small band of Americans are even locked in a small Guantánamo-style cell and called “traitors.”

The indigenous people are an amalgam of echoes from all the great wars of empire that have troubled the recent American conscience. Although they are physically a fantasy sci-fi mix of blue skin and cat-like movement, they are culturally a mix of Native Americans and Vietnamese, with Arabic accents thrown in.

They have qualities that Americans would do well to emulate. They respect their environment, whereas the Americans must “return to a dying planet,” because, as the indigenous people put it, “they have killed their own mother.”

Sully’s journey is not one of conquest but of awakening to his and his people’s true relationship to others: “What am I, the bad guy?” he laughs at first, as if that were impossible. In the end, however, he tries to warn his own imperialist team of the futility of their brutal approach: “What do we have to offer them? Light beer? Blue Jeans? They will never leave the Hometree [their sacred land]. We have nothing that they want.”

Ironically, Avatar will probably do more to exhume Americans’ suppressed knowledge about the shallowness of their national mythology in the face of their oppressive presence in the rest of the world than any amount of editorializing, college courses, or even protest from outside America’s borders. But I am not complaining about this. Hollywood is that powerful. But, in the case of Avatar , the power of American filmmaking has for once been directed toward American self-knowledge rather than American escapism.

Wanted: Tony Blair for war crimes. Arrest him and claim your reward | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

Wanted: Tony Blair for war crimes. Arrest him and claim your reward

Chilcot and the courts won’t do it, so it is up to us to show that we won’t let an illegal act of mass murder go unpunished

The only question that counts is the one that the Chilcot inquiry won’t address: was the war with Iraq illegal? If the answer is yes, everything changes. The war is no longer a political matter, but a criminal one, and those who commissioned it should be committed for trial for what the Nuremberg tribunal called “the supreme international crime”: the crime of aggression.

But there’s a problem with official inquiries in the United Kingdom: the government appoints their members and sets their terms of reference. It’s the equivalent of a criminal suspect being allowed to choose what the charges should be, who should judge his case and who should sit on the jury. As a senior judge told the Guardian in November: “Looking into the legality of the war is the last thing the government wants. And actually, it’s the last thing the opposition wants either because they voted for the war. There simply is not the political pressure to explore the question of legality – they have not asked because they don’t want the answer.”

Others have explored it, however. Two weeks ago a Dutch inquiry, led by a former supreme court judge, found that the invasion had “no sound mandate in international law”. Last month Lord Steyn, a former law lord, said that “in the absence of a second UN resolution authorising invasion, it was illegal“. In November Lord Bingham, the former lord chief justice, stated that, without the blessing of the UN, the Iraq war was “a serious violation of international law and the rule of law“.

Under the United Nations charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN security council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (article 51). Neither of these conditions applied. The US and UK governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate. At one point the US state department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection (all references are on my website). Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation.

We also know that the UK government was aware that the war it intended to launch was illegal. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that “a legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers’ advice, none currently exists.” In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, told the prime minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war – “self-defence, ­humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [security council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.” Bush and Blair later failed to obtain security council authorisation.

As the resignation letter on the eve of the war from Elizabeth Wilmshurst, then deputy legal adviser to the ­Foreign Office, revealed, her office had ­”consistently” advised that an ­invasion would be unlawful without a new UN resolution. She explained that “an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression”. Both Wilmshurst and her former boss, Sir Michael Wood, will testify before the Chilcot inquiry tomorrow. Expect fireworks.

Without legal justification, the war with Iraq was an act of mass murder: those who died were unlawfully killed by the people who commissioned it. Crimes of aggression (also known as crimes against peace) are defined by the Nuremberg principles as “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties”. They have been recognised in international law since 1945. The Rome statute, which established the international criminal court (ICC) and which was ratified by Blair’s government in 2001, provides for the court to “exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression”, once it has decided how the crime should be defined and prosecuted.

There are two problems. The first is that neither the government nor the opposition has any interest in pursuing these crimes, for the obvious reason that in doing so they would expose themselves to prosecution. The second is that the required legal mechanisms don’t yet exist. The governments that ratified the Rome statute have been filibustering furiously to delay the point at which the crime can be prosecuted by the ICC: after eight years of discussions, the necessary provision still has not been adopted.

Some countries, mostly in eastern Europe and central Asia, have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws, though it is not yet clear which of them would be willing to try a foreign national for acts committed abroad. In the UK, where it remains ­illegal to wear an offensive T-shirt, you cannot yet be prosecuted for mass ­murder commissioned overseas.

All those who believe in justice should campaign for their governments to stop messing about and allow the international criminal court to start prosecuting the crime of aggression. We should also press for its adoption into national law. But I believe that the people of this nation, who re-elected a government that had launched an illegal war, have a duty to do more than that. We must show that we have not, as Blair requested, “moved on” from Iraq, that we are not prepared to allow his crime to remain unpunished, or to allow future leaders to believe that they can safely repeat it.

But how? As I found when I tried to apprehend John Bolton, one of the architects of the war in George Bush’s government, at the Hay festival in 2008, and as Peter Tatchell found when he tried to detain Robert Mugabe, nothing focuses attention on these issues more than an attempted citizen’s arrest. In October I mooted the idea of a bounty to which the public could contribute, ­payable to anyone who tried to arrest Tony Blair if he became president of the European Union. He didn’t of course, but I asked those who had pledged money whether we should go ahead anyway. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

So today I am launching a website – www.arrestblair.org – whose purpose is to raise money as a reward for people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister. I have put up the first £100, and I encourage you to match it. Anyone meeting the rules I’ve laid down will be entitled to one quarter of the total pot: the bounties will remain available until Blair faces a court of law. The higher the ­reward, the greater the number of ­people who are likely to try.

At this stage the arrests will be largely symbolic, though they are likely to have great political resonance. But I hope that as pressure builds up and the crime of aggression is adopted by the courts, these attempts will help to press ­governments to prosecute. There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace. No ­civilised country can allow mass ­murderers to move on.

Remembering Howard Zinn | The Progressive

Remembering Howard Zinn

By Elizabeth DiNovella, January 27, 2010

I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of Howard Zinn. He was a longtime columnist for The Progressive, and his most recent piece, “The Nobel’s Feeble Gesture,” expressed his dismay about President Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I think some progressives have forgotten the history of the Democratic Party, to which people have turned again and again in desperate search for saviors, later to be disappointed. Our political history shows us that only great popular movements, carrying out bold actions that awakened the nation and threatened the Establishment, as in the Thirties and the Sixties, have been able to shake that pyramid of corporate and military power and at least temporarily changed course.”

It was a “classic” Zinn piece—piercing but playful, saying in no uncertain terms what needed to be said. It’s not surprising he was a favorite columnist for many of our subscribers. He was my favorite, too.

On matters of war and peace, he was absolute. In our July 2009 issue, he wrote, “We’ve got to rethink this question of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot be accepted, no matter what. No matter what the reasons given, or the excuse: liberty, democracy; this, that. War is by definition the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people for ends that are uncertain. Think about means and ends, and apply it to war. The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain. That alone should make you hesitate. . . . We are smart in so many ways. Surely, we should be able to understand that in between war and passivity, there are a thousand possibilities.”

What I loved most about Zinn was his sense of humor, which didn’t always translate onto the page. I didn’t know how funny he was until I heard him speak at our 95th anniversary party six years ago. He was gracious enough to attend our recent 100th birthday bash, too.

When I was a just becoming politicized, I read A People’s History of the United States and it blew my mind away. Reading Zinn’s book was a rite of passage in my activist circles, and I hope it still is.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I’ve read A People’s History, and it is no small thrill to be at a magazine that regularly publishes the work of a peace mongering historian, a World War II soldier who flew bombing missions over Europe but later staunchly advocated for peace. That was thing about Zinn—when he spoke of war, he knew what he was talking about.

Back in 2003 when George W. Bush was gunning for Saddam Hussein, Zinn wrote a cover story for The Progressive called “A Chorus Against War.”

This is how it ends:

“If Bush starts a war, he will be responsible for the lives lost, the children crippled, the terrorizing of millions of ordinary people, the American GIs not returning to their families. And all of use will be responsible for bringing that to a halt.

Men who have no respect for human life or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country of ours. It will be up to the American people to take it back.”

I would have loved to read what Zinn thought about the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing even more money into our political system. Or what he would have written after hearing Obama’s first State of the Union Address. The President’s speech hasn’t even started yet tonight, but this much I do know: Zinn would have reminded us, as he did over and over, that we need to organize our neighborhoods and workplaces and schools in order to create change, and not leave it up to the politicians.

“Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war,” Zinn wrote in a piece called, “Election Madness” back in March 2008. “Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”

Howard Zinn in The Progressive

Elizabeth DiNovella is Culture Editor of The Progressive. To subscribe for just $14.97 a year, just click here.

Dissident Voice : The Holocaust Backfires

The Holocaust Backfires

Ynet reports:

Peres in Berlin, Netanyahu in Auschwitz, Lieberman in Budapest and Edelstein at the UN headquarters in New York all plan to attack the Goldstone report into the Gaza war on International Holocaust Day this Wednesday.

Israel’s political echelon will once again try to divert attention from the fact that the Israeli crime is beyond comparison.

Israeli Propaganda Minister Edelstein told Ynet before leaving for New York. “The connection between the Goldstone Report and the international Holocaust memorial day is not an easy thing”. He is indeed correct. The true interpretation of the Goldstone report is that Israelis are the Nazis of our time. “We must learn the lessons from what happened” Says Edelstein, “then too, those who yelled out were told that Hitler is a clown and that all the gloomy predictions of the 1930s were nonsense.”

Someone should advise the Israeli Propaganda man that by now no one regards mass murderer Barak, Nuclear enthusiast Peres, warmonger Livni or ultra racist Lieberman as clowns. We respect them for what they are. Yet, we prefer to see them locked behind bars.

In fact, those world leaders around the world who bowed to Jewish pressure and made the Holocaust into an international memorial day must have been convinced that the Holocaust carries a universal message against oppression and racism. They were actually correct, if the holocaust has any universal and ethical meaning, stopping the ‘Jews only state’ and bringing its criminal political and military leaders to justice is the true interpretation of the lesson of the Holocaust.

Propaganda Minister Edelstein added “on the Holocaust memorial day of all days, which also marks the battle against global anti-Semitism, we must discuss this connection, because today the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces are accused of harvesting organs and murdering children”. The Israelis better internalise that the truth of Israeli brutality is now common knowledge. IDF mass murder of children, elders and women is part of our collective memory. The Israeli institutional involvement in organ harvesting is also well documented and an accepted fact.

Minister Edelstein is wrong when he argues that “After World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, anti-Semitism is not directed at Jews but at Israel and the Israelis. The Goldstone Report, the publications in Sweden about organ harvesting and similar reports, are simply a type of anti-Semitism.” Edelstein is wrong because all the accusations against Israel are well grounded. Furthermore, the opposition to Israel, its Jewish lobbies and Jewish power in general is politically orientated rather than racially motivated.

In the wake of the ‘International Holocaust Memorial Day’ I will say it loudly and openly. To oppose the Jewish state and Jewish nationalism is the true meaning of the memory of the Holocaust. To say NO to Israel is to say NO to racism. This is what ethics and universalism are all about.

Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He lives in London and is the author of two novels: A Guide to the Perplexed and the recently released My One and Only Love. Atzmon is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. He can be reached at: atz@onetel.net.uk. Read other articles by Gilad.