Let me just offer you my brief introduction as an explanation for this one: In December 2002, finishing the introduction to his as yet unpublished book The Unconquerable World, Jonathan Schell wrote that the twentieth century was the era in which violence outgrew the war system that had once housed it and became “dysfunctional as a political instrument.  Increasingly, it destroys the ends for which it is employed, killing the user as well as his victim.  It has become the path to hell on earth and the end of the earth.  This is the lesson of the Somme and Verdun, of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, of Vorkuta and Kolyma; and it is the lesson, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
More than a decade later, that remains a crucial, if barely noticed, lesson of our moment.  Jonathan Schell died this March, but he left behind a legacy of reporting and thinking — from The Real War and The Fate of the Earth to The Unconquerable World — about just how, as the power to destroy ratcheted up, war left its traditional boundaries, and what that has meant for us — as well, potentially, as for worlds to come.  In The Unconquerable World, published just before the Bush invasion of Iraq, he went in search of other paths of change, including the nonviolent one, and in doing so he essentially imagined the Arab Spring and caught the essence of both the horrors and possibilities available to us in hard-headed ways that were both prophetic and moving.
Today, partly in honor of his memory (and my memory of him) and partly because I believe his sense of how our world worked then and still works was so acute, this website offers a selection from that book.  Consider it a grim walk down post-9/11 Memory Lane, a moment when Washington chose force as its path to… well, we now know (as Schell foresaw then) that it was indeed a path to hell.

Don’t miss Tom’s birthday post on aging and imperial America today at TomDispatch. Here’s just a snippet:

"Let me put my cards on the table. I’m the guy who started two of his book titles with the phrases ‘the end of’ and ‘the last days of,’ so think of me as apocalyptic by nature. I don’t believe in God or gods, or for that matter an afterlife. In all these years, I’ve never discovered a spiritual bone in my body. Still, I do care in some way that I can’t begin to understand what happens to us after I’m dead, what in particular happens to my children and my grandson, and his children and theirs, too. Go figure.”
TomDispatch regular Dahr Jamail begins his dramatic account of recent events in Iraq, including the collapse of the Iraqi army, the rise of ISIS, the Sunni revolt, and so on, this way:
“For Americans, it was like the news from nowhere.  Years had passed since reporters bothered to head for the country we invaded and blew a hole through back in 2003, the country once known as Iraq that our occupation drove into a never-ending sectarian nightmare.  In 2011, the last U.S. combat troops slipped out of the country, their heads ‘held high,’ as President Obama proclaimed at the time, and Iraq ceased to be news for Americans. 
“So the headlines of recent weeks — Iraq Army collapses! Iraq’s second largest city falls to insurgents! Terrorist Caliphate established in Middle East! — couldn’t have seemed more shockingly out of the blue.  Suddenly, reporters flooded back in, the Bush-era neocons who had planned and supported the invasion and occupation were writing op-eds as if it were yesterday, and Iraq was again the story of the moment as the post-post-mortems began to appear and commentators began asking: How in the world could this be happening? 
“Iraqis, of course, lacked the luxury of ignoring what had been going on in their land since 2011. For them, whether Sunnis or Shiites, the recent unraveling of the army, the spread of a series of revolts across the Sunni parts of Iraq, the advance of an extremist insurgency on the country’s capital, Baghdad, and the embattled nature of the autocratic government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were, if not predictable, at least expectable. And as the killings ratcheted up, caught in the middle were the vast majority of Iraqis, people who were neither fighters nor directly involved in the corrupt politics of their country, but found themselves, as always, caught in the vice grip of the violence again engulfing it.”
In typical Dahr Jamail fashion, the rest of his report offers insight into the devastation that was American policy in Iraq and the devastation that, as a result, is Iraq today.  His account of folly, horror, and devastation in Iraq couldn’t be more riveting and his final sentence says it all:
“Today, Washington’s policies continue in the same mindless way as more fuel is rushed to the bonfire that is incinerating Iraq.”
In his analysis of the loss of rights for American citizens in our expanding “borderlands,” TomDispatch regular begins his account with the dramatic tale of a U.S. activist on those rights stopped at the border:
“Shena Gutierrez was already cuffed and in an inspection room in Nogales, Arizona, when the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent grabbed her purse, opened it, and dumped its contents onto the floor right in front of her. There couldn’t be a sharper image of the Bill of Rights rollback we are experiencing in the U.S. borderlands in the post-9/11 era. 
“Tumbling out of that purse came Gutierrez’s life: photos of her kids, business cards, credit cards, and other papers, all now open to the official scrutiny of the Department of Homeland Security. There were also photographs of her husband, Jose Gutierrez Guzman, whom CBP agents beat so badly in 2011 that he suffered permanent brain damage. The supervisory agent, whose name badge on his blue uniform read ‘Gomez,’ now began to trample on her life, quite literally, with his black boots.
“’Please stop stepping on the pictures,’ Shena asked him.”
That’s just the beginning of a powerful account of life on our “borders” and of the activists trying to preserve American rights in an expanse of “borderlands” that has moved 100 miles inland and now takes in the full states of Florida and Maine and much of Michigan, among other places.  He particularly focuses on the creation of what, in essence, is a standing military, a huge Border Patrol, with its own drones and surplus military weaponry and the self-proclaimed right to stop, search, and question anyone just about anywhere.  It’s a remarkable tale of the new post-9/11 era (with an introduction by State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren). 
Miller ends his eye-opening anatomy of our border wars and Shena Gutierrez’s account this way: “‘I told them that I had not given my consent to be touched.’ They nonetheless made her take off her wedding ring ‘for safety.’ When she resisted, they said that they ‘would force it off her.’ Again, the handcuffs cut into her wrists.  This time, an agent kicked her in the ankle from behind. A female agent searched her thoroughly, from head to toe and in her private parts, because she ‘might have drugs or contraband or documents.’
“As the agent groped her, she told me, she began to think yet again about what her husband had gone through. If this can happen to a U.S. citizen, she told me, ‘Imagine what happens to a person without documents.’
“Imagine what can happen to anyone in a realm where, increasingly, anything goes, including the Constitution.”
In my latest post, I describe the strange nature of the present triumphalist moment in the U.S.  Here’s the relevant passage:
“Two great power centers have been engorging themselves in twenty-first-century America: there was an ever-expanding national security state, ever less accountable to anyone, ever less overseen by anyone, ever more deeply enveloped in secrecy, ever more able to see others and less transparent itself, ever more empowered by a secret court system and a body of secret law whose judgments no one else could be privy to; and there was an increasingly militarized corporate state, ever less accountable to anyone, ever less overseen by outside forces, ever more sure that the law was its possession.  These two power centers are now triumphant in our world.  They command the landscape against what may be less effective opposition than at any moment in our history.
"In both cases, no matter how you tote it up, it’s been an era of triumphalism.  Measure it any way you want: by the rising Dow Jones Industrial Average or the expanding low-wage economy, by the power of “dark money” to determine American politics in 1% elections or the rising wages of CEOs and the stagnating wages of their workers, by the power of billionaires and the growth of poverty, by the penumbra of secrecy and classification spreading across government operations and the lessening ability of the citizen to know what’s going on, or by the growing power of both the national security state and the corporation to turn your life into an open book.  Look anywhere and some version of the same story presents itself — of ascendant power in the boardrooms and the backrooms, and of a sense of impunity that accompanies it.”
And yet the strange thing is that none of this power has translated into American power, either domestically or abroad.  In the rest of the piece, I explore that curious and largely unnoted phenomenon.  And I conclude this way: “All in all, the situation is puzzling indeed.  Despite much talk about the rise of a multi-polar world, this still remains in many ways a unipolar one, which perhaps means that the wounds Washington has suffered on numerous fronts in these last years are self-inflicted.
“Just what kind of decline this represents remains to be seen.  What does seem clearer today is that the rise of the national security state and the triumphalism of the corporate sector (along with the much publicized growth of great wealth and striking inequality in the country) has been accompanied by a decided diminution in the power of the government to function domestically and of the imperial state to impose its will anywhere on Earth.”
Here’s how Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture, begins her TomDispatch post:
“Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.”
This is a torture piece that remembers everything about American torture since 9/11, but looks to the future and explains just how and why torture is still in play and so a powerful, if disastrous option for some future presidency.  Gordon makes and elaborates on three basic points: torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office; we have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror”; and not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.
As a result, torture remains an option in our world, its structure and potential personnel in place, trained, and ready to go.  She concludes this way: “In these years, ‘safety’ and ‘security’ have become primary national concerns. It’s almost as if we believe that if enough data is collected, enough ‘really bad guys’ are tortured into giving up ‘actionable intelligence,’ we ourselves will never die. There is a word for people whose first concern is always for their own safety and who will therefore permit anything to be done in their name as long as it keeps them secure. Such people are sometimes called cowards.
“If this terrified new worldview holds, and if the structure for a torture system remains in place and unpunished, the next time fear rises, the torture will begin anew.”
In his latest striking post, Michael Klare begins his survey of a world floating on a flaming sea of oil this way: “Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, the East and South China Seas: wherever you look, the world is aflame with new or intensifying conflicts.  At first glance, these upheavals appear to be independent events, driven by their own unique and idiosyncratic circumstances.  But look more closely and they share several key characteristics — notably, a witch’s brew of ethnic, religious, and national antagonisms that have been stirred to the boiling point by a fixation on energy.
“In each of these conflicts, the fighting is driven in large part by the eruption of long-standing historic antagonisms among neighboring (often intermingled) tribes, sects, and peoples.  In Iraq and Syria, it is a clash among Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, and others; in Nigeria, among Muslims, Christians, and assorted tribal groupings; in South Sudan, between the Dinka and Nuer; in Ukraine, between Ukrainian loyalists and Russian-speakers aligned with Moscow; in the East and South China Sea, among the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and others.  It would be easy to attribute all this to age-old hatreds, as suggested by many analysts; but while such hostilities do help drive these conflicts, they are fueled by a most modern impulse as well: the desire to control valuable oil and natural gas assets.  Make no mistake about it, these are twenty-first-century energy wars.”
In the rest of this wide-ranging post, Klare looks in some detail at four global conflicts – Iraq/Syria, South Sudan, the Crimea/Ukraine, and the South China Sea, revealing the role of oil and natural gas in each of them.  And he concludes this way:
“In a fossil-fuel world, control over oil and gas reserves is an essential component of national power.  ‘Oil fuels more than automobiles and airplanes,’ Robert Ebel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told a State Department audience in 2002.  ‘Oil fuels military power, national treasuries, and international politics.’  Far more than an ordinary trade commodity, ‘it is a determinant of well being, of national security, and international power for those who possess this vital resource, and the converse for those who do not.’
“If anything, that’s even truer today, and as energy wars expand, the truth of this will only become more evident.  Someday, perhaps, the development of renewable sources of energy may invalidate this dictum.  But in our present world, if you see a conflict developing, look for the energy.  It’ll be there somewhere on this fossil-fueled planet of ours.”
Here’s how TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky begins his searing portrait of America’s real foreign policy and what to make of it:
“The question of how foreign policy is determined is a crucial one in world affairs.  In these comments, I can only provide a few hints as to how I think the subject can be productively explored, keeping to the United States for several reasons.  First, the U.S. is unmatched in its global significance and impact.  Second, it is an unusually open society, possibly uniquely so, which means we know more about it.  Finally, it is plainly the most important case for Americans, who are able to influence policy choices in the U.S. — and indeed for others, insofar as their actions can influence such choices.  The general principles, however, extend to the other major powers, and well beyond.
“There is a ‘received standard version,’ common to academic scholarship, government pronouncements, and public discourse.  It holds that the prime commitment of governments is to ensure security, and that the primary concern of the U.S. and its allies since 1945 was the Russian threat.
“There are a number of ways to evaluate the doctrine.  One obvious question to ask is: What happened when the Russian threat disappeared in 1989?  Answer: everything continued much as before.”
In a sweeping dissection of American foreign policy and what to make of it, ranging from the early Cold War era to late last night, Chomsky explains just how Washington protects its own power (and calls that “national security”) and how it protects the power of the corporate sector (and calls that “foreign policy”).  He explores why Washington has long been focused on destroying independent nationalism wherever it arises and why a policy of supporting the rich plundering the poor makes for hard relations with the poor everywhere.  He considers as well the “value of secrecy” (to enhancing the power of the state) under the rubric of “national security” (even though it’s not enhancing the security of Americans). 
And he concludes, in part, this way: “Let us turn to another question: What about the security of the population? It is easy to demonstrate that this is a marginal concern of policy planners.  Take two prominent current examples, global warming and nuclear weapons.  As any literate person is doubtless aware, these are dire threats to the security of the population.  Turning to state policy, we find that it is committed to accelerating each of those threats — in the interests of the primary concerns, protection of state power and of the concentrated private power that largely determines state policy.”
A must-read!
Juan Cole, author of the just-published The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East, begins his dramatic account of why the twentysomethings who made the Arab Spring shouldn’t be written off this way: “Three and a half years ago, the world was riveted by the massive crowds of youths mobilizing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand an end to Egypt’s dreary police state.  We stared in horror as, at one point, the Interior Ministry mobilized camel drivers to attack the demonstrators.  We watched transfixed as the protests spread from one part of Egypt to another and then from country to country across the region.  Before it was over, four presidents-for-life would be toppled and others besieged in their palaces.
“Some 42 months later, in most of the Middle East and North Africa, the bright hopes for more personal liberties and an end to political and economic stagnation championed by those young people have been dashed.  Instead, a number of Arab countries have seen counter-revolutions, while others are engulfed in internecine conflicts and civil wars, creating Mad Max-like scenes of post-apocalyptic horror.  But keep one thing in mind: the rebellions of the past three years were led by Arab millennials, twentysomethings who have decades left to come into their own.  Don’t count them out yet.  They have only begun the work of transforming the region.
“Given the short span of time since Tahrir Square first filled with protesters and hope, care should be taken in evaluating these massive movements.  During the Prague Spring of 1968, for instance, a young dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, took to the airwaves on Radio Free Czechoslovakia and made a name for himself as Soviet tanks approached.  After the Russian invasion, he would be forbidden to stage his plays and 42 months after the Prague Spring was crushed, he was working in a brewery.  Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 would he emerge as the first president of the Czech Republic.”
In the rest of this authoritative post, Cole explores the ways youthful Arab millennials banished presidents–for-life from Arab republics, promoted accountability, and put a new kind of multiculturalism on the map in the Arab world.  He suggests that anyone who counts them out is dead wrong; that they will be the figures to deal with in a couple of decades and their influence will make the difference. 
This is a rare hopeful piece about an increasingly grim region of the world.  It’s a must–read!