Note to Jeremy Scahill (third or fourth attempt)


I have long been impressed with your integrity, your writing and your ability to place the matters you report on in historical context.   Dirty Wars was a book that, in a more rational world, should have shaped a large public discussion about American foreign policy.  (I have a question about the extra-judicial shredding of Anwar al-Awlaki that I have put in a separate note).

Of course, sadly, the influence of even the most profound book is limited and the audience for a given volume is often already on board to receive what is laid out in the book.   I think of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side and Dark Money,  Jon Krakauer’s book on the Pat Tillman hoax, Nancy McLean’s Democracy in Chains and many others that should have, in a reasonable and literate world, wielded a huge influence on beliefs and outcomes.  Instead they are considered of equal weight, in the public mind (for lack of a better noun), with any one of President Shitbird’s incoherent twitterings.

I’m writing to suggest that The Intercept offer readers links to the succinct historical context of stories relating to things like Bill Barr’s shameful, shameless conduct, the Supreme Court’s equation of money and speech, the sickening history of the 14th amendment’s 90 year judicially-induced coma and so on.   It would be helpful, I think, to have an archive of historical context, links to which could be dropped into reporting to provide a full historical backstory for interested readers.   This archive could include short abstracts of the books mentioned above and others that shed light where there is only darkness.

I read this just now, in Amy and David Goodman’s 2006 Static:

There is a war on, but it’s not just in Iraq.   The Bush administration has launched a full-scale assault on independent journalism.  This regime has bribed journalists, manufactured news, blocked reporters’ access to battlefronts and disasters, punished reporters who ask uncomfortable questions, helped ever bigger corporations consolidate control over the airwaves, and have been complicit in the killings of more reporters in Iraq than have died in any other U.S. conflict.           (p.100)

The war, as always when homo sapiens engage in political struggles,  is for hearts and minds, the visceral emotions that are being stimulated, harvested, processed and exploited by surveillance capitalists (another deep and horrifying book, Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism).   (Eerily, as I wrote the previous sentence, Google Chrome, as if mortally offended by one of my micro expressions, or perhaps it was the mere mention of Ms. Zuboff, locked up and shut down.)

Anyway, Jeremy, this is about the fourth iteration of this letter over the last year or so.   It’s all hands on deck at this moment when science’s best guess is that we have about a decade before the climate catastrophe-driven zombie apocalypse begins in earnest.   I am offering my services as an old student with a lifelong fascination with history.   (I attach Howard Zinn’s beautiful remarks, for inspiration)

 The project of imagining and portraying a future worth fighting for (and hats off to the great Naomi Klein and her creative partners in the recent post card from the future narrated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wonderful!) starts with ideas that connect people to each other.  Humanity, if we are  to survive with some form of communal empathy and personal autonomy, must mobilize against ruthless forces that would control and own everything, no matter what the cost.

We saw the monstrousness of these forces in action in 2016 with the craftily engineered, surgically targeted 78,000 vote  Electoral College victory of President Fuckface (I say that will all due respect to the Orange Turd).   Shoshana Zuboff uses the image of the Taino reception for the Conquistadors as a parallel of how ill-prepared we are to imagine the relentless, completely unregulated data-driven control machines we are up against, a regime that comes offering us a new (and illusory) kind of freedom.  

Fight we must.  My sleeves are rolled up and I’d like to do my part.   Listen to Howard Zinn’s short remarks (which I’m sure you’ve heard, but listen again), look over my question about al-Awlaki’s execution, and let me know what I can do, if anything,  to advance the history project I mentioned above (assuming the project is of interest to you).

Here’s Howard:

(hear him deliver his short speech, cued up here):

I wanted, in writing this book, to awaken a consciousness in my readers, of class conflict, of racial injustice, of sexual inequality and of national arrogance, and I also wanted to bring into light the hidden resistance of the People against the power of the establishment.   

I thought that to omit these acts of resistance, to omit these victories, however limited, by the people of the United States, was to create the idea that power rests only with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth.  I wanted to point out that people who seem to have no power — working people, people of color, women– once they organize and protest and create national movements, they have a power that no government can suppress.

I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements, but to think that history writing must simply recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat.  And if history is to be creative, if it’s to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I think, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win.

I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in the solid centuries of warfare.

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