Episode 30: Liberal Media’s Myopic Military Worship

Citations Needed | March 14, 2018 | Transcript

Citations Needed
45 min readMar 14, 2018


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I’m Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: You can follow us on Facebook at Citations Needed, Twitter @citationspod and of course you can support the show through Patreon.com. Look for ‘Citations Needed Podcast’ with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson, that way you get our show notes and additional resources, a weekly newsletter, you can help us churn out transcriptions of each episode, help us do more research and so much more. All your help is greatly appreciated.

Adam: We do appreciate it. It’s been able to keep the podcast going so far and hopefully can continue for much, much longer.

Nima: Today we’re going to talk about violence. Namely, who is allowed to be violent, who is allowed to be a victim of that violence, and obviously who is not. To do this we’re going to talk about certain reactions to the ever-increasing horror of mass shootings in the United States and how that illuminates the larger issue of liberal jingoism and the worshiping of all things military.

Adam: And it makes sense, right? The temptation to co-op these notions of patriotism to kind of outflank the right with the kind of woke or quasi-liberal patriotism is a very tremendous impulse because it’s sort of a shortcut, right? It’s like, “No. Actually, you are the one who is un-American.” I think fighting these far right forces that we see that you know control basically all three branches of government. Yes, I understand. The Supreme Court is not technically partisan, but it’s a very right-wing Supreme Court. The white supremacist aligned forces with Donald Trump that the instinct to kind of use their own language against them as a very tempting one, but we need to ask ourselves, what is the collateral damage to this approach? What is the long-term downside to a lifting up vaguely liberal troops in vaguely liberal military brass as a counter to the more vulgar strain of Trumpian nationalism? And can the left, including liberals, and this is, I think, the real question here, can they embrace a more holistic and anti imperialist moral grammar that avoids these cheap shortcuts and rejects the idea of jingoism altogether?

Nima: So we’re going to talk about this for a little bit and then later in the show we will speak with Maggie Martin, Co-Director of About Face, the group that was formerly known as Iraq Veterans Against the War.

[Begin Clip]

Maggie Martin: People really equate supporting the troops with supporting the war effort. And that’s something we don’t want to enforce with how we work too. And you know, so we think of it as ‘veteran privilege’ or it’s also called ‘the veteran mystique’. One of our longtime members, our former ED, Jose Vasquez, who’s done his Ph.D. work around exploring that concept and how it looks in our society and you’re absolutely right. That’s like where we get our basis of having a platform or like a reason that we should be sharing a public political opinion. Um, but at the same time we don’t want to reinforce that people in the military deserve a higher status because we’re somehow doing something noble when we know the reality is not that. It’s much more complicated than that.

[End Clip]

Adam: We’re talking about liberal jingoism. We have to start with the most quintessential moment of liberal jingoism and this was a few years ago on MSNBC, the home of most liberal jingoism. Where host Martin Bashir, who had his own show back then, he no longer does, they had a right winger on who questioned the political motives of General Martin Dempsey, who was a top commander under then President Obama. Now he worked for President Obama. So questioning his motives for why he would not talk shit about his president, especially right after general McChrystal was fired for the same offense, is like a totally reasonable thing. But Martin Bashir was so outraged at the suggestion. Here’s what he said. It’s, it’s, it’s pretty hilarious.

Nima: It’s a gem.

Adam: It’s a gem.

[Begin Clip]

Martin Bashir: Trey. That’s a man, no less than General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking on Fox News, the top US military commander. So if these groups don’t pass muster with him, why should voters listen to them?

Trey Hardin: Well, first of all, he serves President Obama right now so it’s not a surprising comment on his, but additionally I know that you’re a, I know you’re a big-

Martin Bashir: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry Trey, I, I cannot allow you to cast such a contemptuous aspersion against a senior military officer by, by demeaning his service to this country. Will you please take that comment back?

Trey Hardin: I did not demean his service to his country at all-

Martin Bashir: You did by suggesting that the only reason he said that was because he serves the president.

Trey Hardin: Let me, let me answer your question.

Martin Bashir: Would you please take that comment back?

Trey Hardin: Let me answer your question.

Martin Bashir: Will you please take that comment back?

Trey Hardin: I know that you’re a, that you respect democracy and people’s freedom of speech. These, retired military

Martin Bashir: He serves the United States of America.

Trey Hardin: These retired military, these retired military-

Martin Bashir: Okay Trey you’re not going to take the comment back. Thank you very much.

Trey Hardin: (Laughing)

Martin Bashir: Now, thanks to Ken Vogel, Brendan Daly and Trey Hardin.

[End Clip]

Adam: That is amazing.

Nima: ‘How dare you, sir!?’

Adam: That is amazing.

Nima: ‘Impugn the motives of a military man!’

Adam: I mean, it’s shockingly sycophantic. It’s, it really just shows you that the core, you know, we joke about ‘Dear Leader’ and this and that, but my gosh, I mean, this kind of sycophancy towards the military is not uncommon. Um, this is obviously a more extreme version of it, but this kind of, you know, ‘How dare you question the troops or the generals?’ is a trope one hears quite a bit and it’s something that liberals have largely embraced and they, they did even more so under President Obama. Now there’s sort of, another quintessence of this was of course when, then nominee John Kerry, in 2004, this was the height of Iraq, major Democrats who wanted to run for president all supported the war.

Nima: Shhh. (Whispering) You’re not allowed to say that.

Adam: Um, except for, except for, except for Bernard Sanders. Of course, he was in the Congress at the time, not the Senate. John Kerry, the Democrats had this brilliant idea to try to out with patriotism Bush because Bush of course was a glorified draft dodger. He basically was a draft dodger. And then John Kerry did the famous salute at the DNC. And I want to listen to that real quick, because that was classic liberal patriotism here.

Nima: That’s a beaut.

[Begin Clip]

John Kerry: I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty.

[End Clip]

Nima: Listen to that cheer.

Adam: He does the little salute, and then of course that didn’t work because the media…media and then later trickled into sort of mainstream media.

Nima: Right, there was that whole Swift Boat and-

Adam: And they painted him as a limp-wristed like ‘Northeast Liberal’ and there was no way they were going to undo that.

Nima: Right.

Adam: So this is a trope we see time and time again.

Nima: And this, you know Kerry was someone who was part of the Winter Soldier hearings, uh, during Vietnam and then really kind of calling out certain things that I think a lot of people then we’re not doing and to hear that it obviously gave a platform to veterans and active duty service men and women to kind of talk about these taboo subjects, especially in the halls of Congress. And then decades later when he’s running for president, when all of his bona fides days are on totally pro military always, he goes out at the DNC and like pulls that bullshit.

Adam: It’s something pervasive in what we call sort of Aaron Sorkin liberalism, which is this idea that we can co-op notions of patriotism to kind of suit the Democratic Party. This of course comes with lots of pitfalls, in that, one of the major pitfalls, and this is what incited the episode, is the fetishization of veterans who support gun control. And there was a very common trope that we saw time and time again where people were using the specter of the military to serve as a kind of counter argument to why we shouldn’t have guns. But in doing so, they propped up the idea that guns belong in Afghanistan or Iraq. Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, who a few days after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, tweeted out a picture of him with an assault rifle in Iraq saying, quote, “I know assault rifles. I carried one in Iraq. They have no place on American streets.” Uh, and then after the Parkland shooting a few weeks ago, Salon published an article with the headline, “How about you join the Army if you want to shoot guns”. And then the article went on to explain why if you love blood lust and weapons, you should join the Army.

Nima: Well, exactly. So you know, we’ve seen this #VetsForGunReform really have this surge of attention in the wake of the Parkland shooting, you know, and so now basically all of these veterans are taking to Twitter and Facebook and having these exact same messages, you know, photos of soldiers when they were in Iraq, Afghanistan, even Bosnia, you know, there’s one soldier with a machine gun. “I do not live in Bosnia anymore. As a civilian I no longer need the killing power of a weapon of war. None of us do.” And this has been repeated again and again. One tweet in mid February was addressed to Americans. And then said, “If you feel that you absolutely cannot live without firing one of these weapons,” it’s a picture of an AR-15, “get your fat asses in shape and join the military like I did #VetsForGunReform #MomsDemand #EveryTown”. You know, these are pro gun reform messages obviously, but framed in a way that completely normalizes the extreme violence that the US military carries out overseas and completely ignores, completely eliminates, makes invisible the victims of that violence.

Adam: Yeah, and you can talk, right-

Nima: Who are they pointing these AR-15s at? Whose bodies are they shredding with them? They know the killing power of these weapons. They have been trained to use them. That’s saying how these weapons are made to take out multiple people at long range. They don’t belong on American streets and yeah, the last part is correct, but they also don’t belong on Iraqi streets.

Adam: Right. Which is, which is a third option that’s just not registered.

Nima: It’s never never talked about.

Adam: Because liberalism is sort of defined by moral myopia. It’s, it’s the idea that we have to win the news cycle. We have to win the next election, so lets not build any kind of long-term moral approaches to the world and I think that’s, I think that’s very damaging because again, there’s two things that work here. The first idea, and I wrote about this for an article in In These Times where basically what I was trying to do was show two things, number one, that I actually think it’s better in the long term for gun control, as a pragmatic argument, if you make broader arguments against weaponry and selling in general. So you had, for example, Claire McCaskill, the, the senator from Missouri, um, who went on TV and you know, hand wrung and talked about how we need to pass gun control. This is one of a handful of democratic senators who opposed the selling of weapons to Saudi Arabia last year. In what was almost a partisan vote with exception of five Democrats who opposed it. Um, you know, Saudi Arabia’s killed about 10,000 to 20,000 civilians in the last three years with the bombs that US sells them.

Nima: In Yemen.

Adam: In Yemen, how people don’t see the connection between the exportation of violence and violence at home. How the number one exporter of weapons, we’re the number one seller of weapons, the number one seller of military weapons, we have the largest military in the world, we have more than the next ten countries combined, or eight countries depending how you define it. The DoD budget increased this year $80 billion dollars which is roughly $30 billion more than the entire military budget of Russia. That’s just the increase over the regular normal baseline of $640 billion. So you have a country that exports massive amounts of weaponry, massive amounts of violence, funds, in arms, dodgy sectarian groups in Libya and in Syria. Again, those that always quote unquote ‘end up in the hands of jihadists’. This happens time and time again and yet we act shocked at this kind of violence is is brought home and of course the second thing is that there is actually a correlation between mass shootings and people who fetishize the military and veterans. The veterans of a certain age and demographic when you correct for that are roughly 13 to 14 percent of the general population, but they make up a third of mass shootings. If any other phenomenon correlated with that, we would sort of draw parallels between our military culture and our violent culture, but we don’t because we we, we hold up veterans on a platform and if I mean to suggest that, and I did on Twitter, it’s, ‘Oh my gosh, how dare you?’

Nima: ‘How dare you impugn-’

Adam: ‘How dare you impugn the veterans?’

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Of course, not all veterans are fucking mass murderers, but there is a correlation. That’s the correlation we have to talk about.

Nima: Right, because all Muslims are jihadists, but all veterans are not mass murderers.

Adam: Right. All pure and good.

Nima: To dig into this a little bit, you know, we can unpack a lot of these gun control arguments as well and see what they are focused on and what they obfuscate. What is normal? What do we think of as normal in this country? So normal is massive, multi-billion dollar weapons sales. Normal is invading and occupying other countries.

Adam: Right.

Nima: Normal is killing quote-unquote ‘the enemy’, and also probably thousands if not hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Adam: Sure.

Nima: That is all normal.

Adam: Collateral damage.

Nima: What is not normal are random mass shootings of civilians in this country, right? So that’s deemed abnormal and therefore that needs to be addressed. The other stuff does not need to be addressed, and so one of the primary issues with this #VetsForGunControl is that it ignores, certainly the, the ritual, racialized violence committed by the United States and in the United States, so just as like myriad black led groups have long advocated for gun control, they’re always cast as, you know, race war radicals by the NRA, by conservative organizations and politicians. Gun Control and the issue of who gets to buy and use American weapons is often seen only as an issue when it’s related to mass shootings. Never, never anything else.

Adam: Which you know, makes sense because, you know, nothing really moves politically unless there’s, you know, suburban white-

Nima: And incite people generally-

Adam: And I don’t want to sound glib about that, obviously these things are devastating and obviously there’s also the suddenness of it and this sort of seeming senseless of it, right? If someone kills someone in a gang drug dealer or something, we say, okay, well there’s some sort of logic to that, but these are so senseless and so sort of gratuitous and just cruel and there’s no meaning to them whatsoever. You know, they’re seemingly out of left field. They’re, you know, there’s no sort of motivation. There’s no financial motivation. That that has a kind of unique vulgarity to us, but yes, generally speaking, the issue of gun control is deeply racialized as of course, the NRA deeply racializes it.

Nima: Of course, and so talking about what gun control really, really means and then we can kind of step back and look at the broader implications of everything we’re talking about, but I did want to quote something written last year by an excellent writer and organizer, Jesse Myerson, who in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting noted that “gun control is normally spoken of as though it should primarily happen through laws enforced on individual gun owners. A stricter licensure regime, prohibitions on certain types of people acquiring certain types of weaponry, a confiscatory apparatus that aims to disarm certain portions of the populist or perhaps the entire populace of certain guns. These are what people mean in the main by gun control.” When there’s a focus on laws what is often missed is that the kind of next step after you enhance law enforcement powers is that it’s a recipe for increased surveillance, suspicion, search, harassment, arrests and imprisonment of oftentimes not only poor people, but specifically Black and brown people.

Adam: And this is something that abolitionists and activists have seen in certain contexts that especially in cities like Chicago, the laws prohibiting automatic weapons are used to tack on five, ten, 15 years. That’s like any law, right? It starts in good faith, the outrage is justified, but invariably it trickles down to hit African Americans. Now I want to qualify this by saying this is not like a carte blanche argument against gun control.

Nima: Far from it.

Adam: Right. I know that a lot of African American communities do call for gun control. It is true. It’s a little bit divided, but generally I think it’s popular amongst African Americans.

Nima: Yes. I would call for gun control myself.

Adam: Right. I know you and I have some some differences on that, but, but generally speaking, you know, in the, in the interest of good faith yeah the way in which the gun control is reacted is the shit rolls downhill and it is used to kind of put African Americans in jail for petty crimes. I know in certain jurisdictions, for example, police can just say they saw what looked like an automatic weapon and suddenly the person is looking at an extra ten years in jail.

Nima: A kind of perfect case in point is one of the leading advocates for gun control in the United States is billionaire, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Puts big money, millions and millions of dollars behind gun control advocacy, but Bloomberg’s version of gun control also includes things like stop-and-frisk. You know, like that’s part of his idea of how you tamp down on this epidemic and so how is that going to actually help things when it really just winds up reinforcing the structures that are already in place?

Adam: When Michael Bloomberg was at the Aspen Institute in 2015 he said, this is a quote from the, uh, The Aspen Times, quote “Bloomberg claimed that 95 percent of murders fall into a specific category: male, minority between the ages of 15 and 25. Cities need to get guns out of this group’s hands and keep them alive, he said.” So obviously there’s, there’s a sort of very fine line between patronizing white liberalism and what is kind of a racist determinism. Um, but yeah, I mean look, the reason why gun control is permitted as part of a debate is something we can have. That these teenagers can go on seeing it and roast Mark Rubio its because it’s sort of like abortion. That’s actually a policy debate that’s split along class lines. It’s actually not a rich person, a poor person. It’s actually about 50/50 both ways. And you see this again with the paradox of abortion because abortion is actually serves poor people way more than rich people. If you actually look at the stats, but it’s also one of those issues on the left where there’s a direct correlation between people’s income and their support for abortion, which is to say the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to support legalizing it. And the inverse is true and that’s true across race lines as well. Um, gun control is one of those things where it is such a, it is not a class issue, it is a broadly cultural issue that does not meet these kinds of neat little, you know, points here. So on the issue of like how we talk about violence holistically, which is sort of what we keep going back to.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: And when I say that some people online will be like, “Okay, well, you know, we only do one thing at a time. Like why are, you know, you’re kind of concern trolling here and you’re talking about…” And I, and again, I a) actually do think pragmatically it in the long-term, it makes more sense to make a broader argument against violence and weapons globally. I think it’s a more, I think people can kind of read hypocrisy even if they don’t intellectually recognize it. People read when people are, when Democrats are on the floor of Congress trying to create a watch list which is racist and, you know, using the watch list as a proxy to control guns, which by the way is the only time they’ve ever gone to bat that much, right? This really stupid kind of pseudo solution. Even Slate and Vox said it was dumb. If you’re on the terror watch list, this polls well, but it’s sort of morally bankrupt. People can read that as seeming false. When Hillary Clinton who, you know, tweeted out several times after the Orlando shooting that we need to keep the guns out of the hands of terrorists oversaw a rat line from Libya, Syria, where weapons quote-unquote ‘ended up in the hands of jihadists.’

Nima: No, exactly.

Adam: You know over time these things read false that when you export weapons, when you export violence, when you bomb people, when you run guns to dodgy sectarian groups in the Middle East, that when you talk about how evil they are, state side, it starts to ring false. It rings like something that is a talking point because that’s precisely what it is.

Nima: The whole ‘no fly list’ metric-

Adam: That was gross.

Nima: -as, like, the way to deal I guess in part with gun control and then everything is always a subsumed by the idea of oh well, you know, keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental problems, keeping them out of the hands of people who have funny Middle Eastern sounding names.

Adam: Right.

Nima: It really just winds up being an exercise in profiling. Obviously like a ‘no fly list’ is just a racial profiling database.

Adam: The ‘no fly list’ is racist bullshit. I mean things like okay, private domestic abuse. Totally. Right.

Nima: Like, that’s the best metric and that’s the one that’s not even on the table.

Adam: Right and that’s, that’s not a protected class. You know, being an abuser of women, it’s, it’s a totally logical metric with which you would prohibit people from buying weapons.

Nima: For which there is evidence to follow.

Adam: For which there is tons of evidence. I mean, the most predictive things about being a mass shooter in general is to be a man to have issues with women. It’s probably the single biggest or prior domestic abuse, um, arrest. It’s a, it’s, I think other than being a man that’s the single biggest metric with having relationships with the military or being in, you know, things like that as being a sort of distant third.

Nima: But obviously that’s never going to be discussed because that doesn’t fit the way that we have been taught to think about this.

Adam: So when we talk about issues like liberal jingoism, which is to say creating this artificial, arbitrary, moral cutoff to where American lives are very important and they’re precious, but, “Isn’t it really rad how I carried around an M-16 in Iraq and use it to terrify Iraqis uh, because that’s sort of the natural order of things.” And the irony is that when you say that, right, when I say that, people say, “Okay, you know, that’s never going to happen, that empire is just factored in.” And that liberals’ job is to manage and mitigate empire. It’s not to sort of fight it. But the irony is of course that’s the exact same argument, the right uses for why we should never pass gun control because it’s just factored in.

Nima: It’s just normal, exactly.

Adam: So you’re already capitulating.

Nima: Just to kind of run through just a few more of these #VetsForGunReform tweets. What is amazing about them, as I read them, I keep thinking about how the non-horror that is expressed by the veterans writing these things. And they’re writing these things in favor of gun control, in favor of keeping high powered, semiautomatic weapons out of the hands of people. That is a good thing. That has an overall good thing. However, the way these are always framed is really telling because these vets know exactly what these weapons are used for. They know what they literally use them for and the consequences of that. So think about that as I read some of these. Here is one. A picture of two soldiers holding semiautomatics, full battle uniform, in a kind of desert-y setting. And here’s the tweet quote, “This pic was taken in Iraq. I needed a reliable high capacity rifle that could kill multiple humans accurately up to 500 meters away.”

Adam: Naturally.

Nima: “I do not live in Iraq anymore. As a civilian, I no longer need the killing power of a weapon of war. None of us do #VetsForGunReform.” Here’s another one quote, “As a soldier, I wielded a rifle that could hit targets out to 500 meters. Its sole purpose was/is to take as many human lives as efficiently as possible. As a civilian now, I see no need for any of my fellow citizens to have unfettered access to similar weaponry #VetsForGunReform.” Here’s another one quote, “As a former soldier, I have fired an M-1 tank, an M-3 Bradley, machine guns and semi automatic weapons at other human beings in combat. These are weapons of war and should not be owned by civilians. I support a ban on all and have informed my representatives of such many times.” And here’s one last one quote, “Assault weapons like AR and AK platforms were specifically designed and purpose built to do one thing, kill as many people as quickly and efficiently as possible. They don’t belong on our streets and shouldn’t be available for civilian purchase #VetsForGunReform.”

Adam: And of course what they’re doing here and what people who may argue with our which is that we should connect imperial and violence we export with violence at home because they’re inextricably linked, like quantitatively. This is not an assertion. You can actually trace it and track it. That there’s some moral distinction between state sanctioned and non-state sanctioned violence. But this is predicated on, and they’ll argue this, is that, when the military does it, it’s okay because the military is in theory, civilian run by an elected president. Um, and as far as that goes, okay, fine. But the reality is that 99.9 percent of the people who our military leverages violence against, did not vote in our elections.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And there’s a legitimate argument to be made and there’s a hot take to be written, and maybe I’ll do it, that like if we’re going to be permanently occupying these countries, in that there’s a strong case that at some point they should be able to vote in our elections. That if we’re going to be occupying Afghanistan for the next hundred years, but at some point the person who is commanding the military presence that dictates the course of their politics and their life, they should have some say in that. Otherwise, it’s just like any other arbitrary dictator, right? No one voted in Afghanistan or Iraq for the US military or who commands it, right?

Nima: Of course. Just like Palestinians under occupation have no vote in Israel.

Adam: Exactly. No vote. So we’re going to talk about the moral properties of, of, of state sanctioned and unsanctioned violence and state and sub state violence. The people who exercise violence overseas, they have no legitimacy. They’re not, they’re not chosen by anyone. So that violence is just as arbitrary from their perspective.

Nima: And this distinction is actually a really important one. So, um, every year an organization called the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, compiles its Top 100 list of arms producing and military services companies in the world, uh, you know, weapons manufacturers. It is perhaps not surprisingly dominated by the United States and Western Europe. Although Chinese and Russian arms manufacturers are massive as well. In its most recent list, 2016, I believe, of course, the United States remains the largest exporter of weapons around the world. Seven of the top 10 weapons companies are American. They include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and some more. The United States accounts for 33 percent of all global arms transfers. Its leading clients, of course, include Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, South Korea, and Israel. These connections are so clear.

Adam: And these are all the countries and all the weapons manufacturers that fund think tanks that tell us that war is actually deeply needed and important and urgent. I mean, that’s obviously not a question. It’s either the CSIS’s of the world. The Center for Strategic International Studies are a global NRA. Their main, they’re funded by weapons makers just as the NRA is, and their entire purpose is to sell fucking weapons. As we’ve talked about on the show before. If I wanted to look up a story about South Korea and North Korea for the year of 2017, I did a piece in Fair for this 31 out of 31 references that CSIS was in talking about Korea pushed for advanced or marketed the Thaad missile system, which is built by Lockheed Martin.

Nima: Yep.

Adam: And their biggest donor, CSIS’s biggest donor is Lockheed Martin. They’re weapons pitchman. They’re our global NRA, and yet we operate again under a total different moral grammar even though they’re doing the exact same thing.

Nima: Exactly. So as almost obvious and hackneyed as it is, I do think it’s important to play part of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s very famous, very amazing Riverside Church speech about Vietnam.

[Begin Clip]

Martin Luther King Jr.: And I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government…

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin (applause) we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered…

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, filling our nations homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields, physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. (Applause)

[End Clip]

Nima: I do also want to point out that following that speech, immediately following it, April 7, 1967, The New York Times editorial board wrote a piece, wrote an editorial obviously, headlined, “Dr. King’s Error.” It basically talks about, you know, “Hey, stay in your lane. Talk only about black people. Do not talk about war.”

Adam: Never bring up the connection between American violence in the streets and American imperialism.

Nima: Never ever, ever, ever, and actually ends with, with this line, “Linking these hard, complex problems will lead not to solutions, but to deeper confusion.”

Adam: Linking these problems will expose the hypocrisy of American imperialism because the liberals’ job, which in New York Times editorial board is the main spokesman for, is to not connect the dots, right? It’s to say, “Here’s this, here’s this sort of finite issue and there’s this other finite issue and they’re not related. And that if violence, we, you know, we perpetuate in Afghanistan has nothing to do the violence we perpetuate in the street.”

Nima: Exactly.

Adam: And African Americans are not effectively a colonized people within the United States. Um, in the same practices and the same skills and of course the weapons and crowd control tactics that are developed in, in, in Iraq, as we know from the sound cannon to different types of psychological warfare. It’s all imported here. It’s all been used on Black Lives Matter. Sound cannons are used on Black Lives Matter all the time. Those were developed in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. So again, they’re completely, inextricably linked and the liberals’ job is to say, “No, they’re not. They’re actually different.” And this is why Adam Schiff can be smug about not taking money from the NRA while literally doing fundraisers with Raytheon at a Beyoncé concert.

Nima: Right, exactly. Which is mind blowing. That sentence is mind blowing.

Adam: Right. What do people think Raytheon fucking makes? Do they think, what do they think they do? They make big ass fucking weapons.

Nima: And so meanwhile, this notion that it’s totally normal and right for the U.S. government to use these quote, ‘weapons of war’ against the bodies of certain men, women and children, is exactly why majority black and brown neighborhoods in the United States are so often referred to in the press as war zones. There’s a Chicago Tribune headline, “Chicago is turning into a war zone”. There’s a Washington Post headline, “In Los Angeles ‘War Zone,’ Merchant Fends Off Gangs”. There’s a New York Times headline, “In The Middle of L.A.’s Gang Wars,” that talks about the war zone of Los Angeles neighborhoods. Another one, “Is This Detroit? Or Is This a War Zone?” And so obviously once you cast certain cities, certain neighborhoods, certain communities-

Adam: Yeah, it’s like what we talked about with Josmar Trujillo about how they use the military language to use the same tactics.

Nima: Exactly.

Adam: Gang raids are all just what they did in Iraq door-to-door.

Nima: Yeah exactly, exactly. You do night raids, you do gang raids.

Adam: Predawn raid.

Nima: You, uh, bring tanks into the streets of Baghdad or you bring them into the streets of fucking Detroit. And so to do this, to use that language, the weapons of war that should only be used over there and never here, well, they are being used here. They are always being used here. And that’s why once you cast something as a war zone, it’s okay to blow it to shit. It’s okay to fuck up all those people and kill all those people or arrest all those people. But those linkages are never made when it’s about gun control in response to, to something as, kind of, singularly horrific, I say singularly because it happens at a specific time. Not that it only happens once, but the kind of unique horror of a mass shooting in this country gets a far different response.

Adam: The corollary to the exporting of violence is also the, again, what we hinted at earlier with the sound cannons and Black Lives Matter is that the police departments keep getting more and more militarized and funded and armed.

Nima: And trained.

Adam: And that many of the same people who promote gun control, like Michael Bloomberg, also heavily armed, the New York City Police Department, so they’re not, again, it’s been clear, the Michael Bloomberg’s in the world, and this is not true for every, every anti gun person, but the Michael Bloomberg’s of the world are not anti-gun they are anti-you-having-a-gun or anti-people-who-aren’t-the-police-having-a-gun. And so there has to be a bit of a moral coherence there where you say, “Okay, I’m anti-gun, but let’s not unilaterally disarm one segment of the population.” Let’s talk about broadly what we mean by that, from the police departments and military to the civilian population that we need to have a situation where we disarm the whole thing. They’re not just people we don’t like or certain sections and communities we don’t like, you know, until you have that broader discussion. I think that the moral preening rings false.

Nima: Well, because it actually plays directly into, I think a common refrain that we hear from pro-gun voices is that they need these, these ridiculous arsenals to protect themselves and their families and their communities against a tyrannical government. Right? We see that and it’s like, oh, right, okay, the whole militia thing and you guys are fucking nuts or this is ridiculous. But at the same time, as we keep saying, police departments are equipped with tanks and drones and other such hardware. And so it’s not that there need to be civilian owned guns to counter that. It’s that we need to disarm at a massive nationwide scale.

Adam: Yes, and I think that really segues nicely into our guest. She has the unenviable and I think thankless task of trying to connect those dots, connecting the lives of Americans, with the lives of those that we kill overseas, with the violence at home. I’m excited to have her on.

Nima: We are going to be joined by Maggie Martin, Co-Director with About Face, that was a group formerly known as Iraq Veterans Against the War. She served in the U.S. Army from 2001 to 2006. She had three deployments to Kuwait and Iraq in 2002, 2003 and 2005 and left the army as a sergeant in 2006. We will be joined by Maggie Martin in just a moment. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Maggie Martin, Co-Director of About Face, formerly known as Iraq Veterans Against the War. Maggie, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Maggie Martin: Hey, thanks for having me.

Adam: So this episode is generally about, um, how, uh, attempts by liberals and people on the left in general, uh, in the Democratic Party to try to out flank Republicans on the issue of jingoism and patriotism in a way that we think is somewhat toxic and very myopic that in the long-term actually have damaging effects by reinforcing a kind of military fetishism in.

Maggie Martin: Mhmm.

Adam: And one of the things that’s come up recently is this, in the issue of gun control, there is a trend online of Iraq or Afghanistan veterans sort of glibly saying, “I used weapons of war when I was in Iraq. They belong there, not on America’s streets.” The implication being is that some lives are more valuable than others. As a leftist, this kind of offends you because in theory what you want to say is they don’t belong either places. As someone who is trying to push the narrative around war and talk about war and violence in a more holistic way that isn’t just limited to American shores, what do you think the long term damaging effects of that kind of language is?

Maggie Martin: Yeah, I think that it’s really common and pervasive and really normalized in our society and most people probably don’t even notice that. They just think like, yeah, weapons like that belong with our soldiers and with our police. Um, and don’t question the consequences of how they’re used in those instances either. Um, and so that’s something that’s important to us as an organization to not reinforce those kinds of narratives and to always or, or do our best to always center the people who are most impacted who were on other end of our military operations.

Adam: Yeah. Because one of the, one of the paradoxes I know at the, at the heart of leftist or veterans groups or anti war veterans groups, and this has been the case since Vietnam, is that they don’t want to act like veterans have some unique moral standing. That’s sort of the whole point that we shouldn’t, we should try to downplay military fetishism and military worship. At the same time the organization itself is centered around that. And so, you know, this is something that I spent some time with a lot of the, About Face people when I was in San Antonio recently. Um, and this is something that they, that they kind of grappled with. When you try to operate, let’s say for example, I know there’s a lot of veterans that talk out against Trump that you want to use the status to sort of talk about these issues without reinforcing the idea that veterans are these sort of sacred things that we have to sort of defer to all the time and talk about how great they are.

Maggie Martin: Exactly. And people really equate supporting the troops with supporting the war effort. And that’s something we don’t want to enforce with how we work too. And you know, so we think of it as ‘veteran privilege’ or it’s also called ‘the veteran mystique’. One of our longtime members, our former ED, Jose Vasquez, who’s done his PhD work around exploring that concept and how it looks in our society and you’re absolutely right. That’s like where we get our basis of having a platform or like a reason that we should be sharing a public political opinion. Um, but at the same time we don’t want to reinforce that people in the military deserve a higher status because we’re somehow doing something noble when we know the reality is not that. It’s much more complicated than that as actually a lot of harm that we’re doing. And I think most veterans realize that whether people want to speak publicly about that or not, but it is hard to, um, let go of that status and that privilege and that idea that we’re heroic and have done something really great. So I think, you know, some people like to be in that position in their mind and then in the story that they’re telling.

Nima: Well, yeah, I think that so often we hear people speak on behalf of veterans as if, you know, veterans are this protected class that you need to respect and admire and that are heroes bar none, above all, you know, we see this obviously with the NFL and the Colin Kaepernick protests kneeling that, you know, “Oh, well, the, the anthem and the flag are all about respecting the troops.” And I think that, you know, rarely we hear from veterans or even active service military people about that. It’s just kind of used as a bludgeon.

Maggie Martin: Right. It has to happen in ceremonies or in these like very rigid set kind of a venues not where people are actually sharing their stories. Actually talking about what they feel, what they’ve experienced. It’s like it’s always the, um, the patriotic symbolism and ceremony and no talking. At least not from anybody who’s not a general or something like that.

Nima: Right. I mean, of course, you know, you’re never actually going to hear from actual soldiers.

Maggie Martin: Right.

Nima: And yet the services like the VA or anti-suicide prevention are grossly underfunded if not ignored. And yet then there’s this platform for platitudes and for military parades, you know, we’re hearing now, it just has this great militarization and kind of jingoistic effect on society. But the implications of that effect, are politics more than more than they are for the benefit of the people actually either serving in the military and then obviously what is ignored completely is what those people are actually doing overseas.

Maggie Martin: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean when it comes to veteran healthcare, you know, folks aren’t trying to hear from veterans and actually fix the VA. Um, but what is getting funded are the military contracts. Um, you know, the, the Pentagon budget is growing exponentially every year, but the VA isn’t fully funded. So I think most of us can kind of see through the lies on that. But it’s definitely not clear to the public.

Adam: Can you talk about your, how you dealt with, I assume when you got back and started to join, um, Iraq Veterans Against the War, which later became About Face, how you dealt with the tension anecdotally where you would be a veteran and then you would be opposed to war. Because again, having, having spent some time with people, it’s always awkward because people will come up and say like, they’ll see, you know, Iraq veterans or whatever. They’ll say, “Thank you for your service” and they’ll sort of see you’re against the war and they’re like, “Okay, well that’s a little weird.” But you know, it’s that, that tension within that dynamic. From your personal experience, how do people usually manage that and most people usually fairly nice about it? Or do you get some weird mixed emotions from the like thank-you-for-your-service crowd?

Maggie Martin: I think it’s totally a mixed bag. I know some people who have been almost like online stalked and really kind of attacked by people that they served with or you know just kind of right-wing military loving folks who wanted to tear them down. My personal experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Folks that I served with in the military regularly write me on social media just like thanking me for my work and telling me they appreciate it. So, Um, it’s a mixed bag. I think, you know, you’re, you’re more likely to find um, opposition in certain areas. I think like folks who came from guard units in places that were, um, very close knit, very right-wing, very white, are the kind of folks who experienced a lot of backlash when they spoke out about their service. So, mixed bag really.

Adam: I think 2–1 Trump won veterans so veterans do generally vote Republican, but paradoxically you know that in 2008 in 2012 Ron Paul, who is a Republican, and very, very right-wing in many ways, but is also very obviously anti-war, disproportionately won the donations from military active duty and veterans. It sounds strange, but is there like a anti-war streak within the military that you perceived and do you think that’s based on the, on the experiences of people, especially in 2007, 2008 when things were at their worst, where that kind of fed into that? Is that something you observed?

Maggie Martin: You know, that’s really interesting. And I actually didn’t know that figure on 2–1 people in the military voting for Trump. Um, you know, I don’t, I don’t know the answer to that of what it’s like from within the military right now. I think one of our next steps as an organization is going to be to do more outreach to active duty. We have seen more folks contacting us figuring out ways to resist, um, ways to become conscientious objectors and like feeling more conflicted about being in the military, I think under the current administration, so, um, I think that there, there’s certainly, um, waves of dissent or more left-leaning folks within the military certainly, but um if two thirds voted for Trump, I think, you know, we have our work cut out for-

Adam: But the irony with that is, I think, Trump was also very clever, at actually appealing to anti-war sentiments. You know he demagogued Bush on Iraq. He talked about what a mistake that was, so in a weird way, he tried to pander to that Ron Paul crowd and I think that may have, because he was such a wild card, some people believe, of course in retrospect they were totally wrong. That he would actually be relatively less pro anti-war. And of course he’s the exact opposite.

Nima: Right, because Hillary was cast as the hawkish candidate.

Adam: Yeah.

Maggie Martin: That’s true. That’s true because there were times during the election period where we find ourselves kind of like, oh, we just liked what Donald Trump had to say about Iraq and you know future foreign policy. Occasionally, but, um, obviously what he’s been doing has not been that.

Nima: Right, it was obviously all bullshit.

Maggie Martin: Yeah.

Nima: But it seemed to potentially work.

Maggie Martin: Yeah.

Adam: I guess the major propaganda or messaging challenges that I understand your, your group and other groups like it had is basically getting Americans to care about brown people or people in the global south and sort of humanizing them and saying the things we’re doing vis-à-vis occupation bombing, especially at the height of the war in Iraq, you know, especially when it was really, really brutal and really bad. And I know that the activism peaked. Obviously that’s a sort of major barrier for your cause right? Because the general, and you see this with this liberal patriotism thread we’re talking about where the people overseas just simply don’t factor in. They don’t matter. So you have people like Adam Schiff who goes on Twitter and says that he takes no money from the NRA, but meanwhile, one of his biggest funders is Raytheon and other weapons contractors. No one sees any contradiction there. Groups like yours, you see that there is a connection that the, that the exportation of violence and the violence at home or actually inextricably linked. Um, can you comment on how difficult it is to sort of get people to care about that? And is that something that is sort of the major barrier in the work that you do?

Maggie Martin: Yeah, I think there’s a few layers. I think there’s some folks who don’t care about brown people at all, don’t care about folks overseas. I think there’s another layer of folks who believed the lies about humanitarian intervention.

Adam: Right.

Maggie Martin: And believe that the U.S. military can go in and make situations better when, um like, ISIL is an issue. And then I think that there, there are a lot of folks who do care who just feel totally helpless in the situation and it is the power structure as it exists in the relationship between the defense industry is and the decision makers. And that’s something we’ve really been trying to call out. With our Drop the MIC campaign, MIC as in ‘military-industrial complex’, and we did a speaking tour last year. Um talking to folks in different cities about that connection and figuring out ways that we can, uh, interrupt that relationship and make it so that law makers can’t take hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from these corporations, get advice from think tanks funded by them and turn around and follow policy that they’re proposing that also happens to make them millions and billions of dollars. So we’re working to call that out and we think as veterans were especially suited to kind of break that narrative around supporting the troops being the same as supporting this outrageous military-industrial complex.

Nima: Yeah, so something that we’ve seen a lot just to kind of bring it back to this #VetsForGunReform, something that suffuses a lot of these messages from the vets, it really does seem to have very good intentions. They obviously don’t want mass shootings to keep happening and they do want there to be gun reform. They are breaking ranks with the NRA, which is vital, but something that keeps popping up is the term ‘killing power’, the ‘killing power’ of the weapons that are used overseas. And there’s almost this valor attributed to that, that these veterans are very proud of what they were able to do and a lot of that hinges on the ability to take out an enemy. How can that narrative be adjusted? How can that be addressed to these vets who really do seem to have good intentions and yet are still so beholden to this other harmful narrative?

Maggie Martin: Yeah, I mean that’s a tough call because I feel like there’s a lot of ways that you can find a positive framing about what we intended to do as veterans, but trying to put us in that frame also, um, I feel like erases the harm that we’ve caused and folks on the other end of that. So I don’t know, uh, it’s, it’s tricky for us, again, as a veterans organization trying to use that as a platform. Um, but also, um, just wanting to be honest and real and to, I think, honor the folks who have been impacted.

Adam: Let’s talk a bit about the state of the anti-war movement. This is something that’s lamented a lot about. The last sort of major anti-war protests in this country was probably ten years ago. Maybe a little, maybe over that in terms of like a mass, the Obama years, kind of put the lid on it in many ways, right? Because he added more CIA oriented, dirty war, you know, funding different groups so forth are kind of behind the scenes CIA-driven imperial policy as opposed to the Bush, which was more overt. Now we’re sort of seeing the return of Trump, but he’s basically just doing Obama on steroids. What is the degree of frustration as to like, I mean it’s almost like now that these wars are in their thirteenth, fourteenth, eighteenth year that there’s kind of a Israel/Palestine thing where it’s just sort of the way it is now. It’s a sort of permanent occupation. It’s not even really a war in any meaningful sense. On your end, what do you think that the left in general and also your group, what is your approach in terms of creating urgency to America’s wars overseas when it’s sort of something that people who are 20 years old have had their whole life.

Maggie Martin: Yeah, well I think that actually I have reason to feel hopeful I think about this year, and just kind of this period, since Trump has become a route reality, and I think part of it certainly is the shared adversary piece of it that is uniting folks. But I think that there’s more beyond just that. There’s people from movements from environmental justice, gender justice, um racial justice, economic justice, coming together under several different configurations and probably lots of configurations that you know I’m not involved in and I don’t know about. But where we’re connecting is in the Poor People’s Campaign, through Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, um through the majority that’s forming with groups from Black Lives Matter, Movement For Black Lives and Black Youth 100, other groups and so we’re really excited about connecting with all of those people with a shared vision that includes turning around the militarism that is, um, kind of dominating our society, dominating our foreign policy and really robbing all of the communities of the resources they need for the things that they want. So I think folks are seeing that as um, social programs are being cut and they’re and we’re saying we don’t have enough money for these things yet military spending is going up. I think naturally folks are going to be turning their focus to that, that issue and hopefully working together on it.

Adam: Yeah. I know the Movement For Black Lives got in a huge amount of trouble because they had an expressly anti-imperialist section of their, of their platform that even mentioned Israel/Palestine. And they had all these hand wringing letters from the, uh, American Anti-Defamation League and the Atlantic magazine was super upset. So yeah, I think when these groups start to get together and start to make coherent intersectional demands, I think that’s when people start to get agitated. So, um, that’s great y’all are doing work with them.

Nima: That’s the real challenge.

Adam: Yeah. Before we let you go, where can our listeners find y’all’s work online or on social media?

Maggie Martin: I mean, you can find us still at ivaw.org, but we do have a new website coming soon so Google ‘About Face Veterans Against The War’ and send veterans our way.

Adam: You got it. Thank you so much for for joining us today, we really appreciate it.

Nima: Maggie Martin, Co-Director of About Face. Thank you so much for talking to us today on Citations Needed.

Maggie Martin: Yeah, I appreciate it.


Nima: So that was Maggie Martin, Co-Director of About Face. I thought that was great.

Adam: Yeah, it’s again, it’s an unenviable task. I don’t know how you create urgency to these permanent occupations, how you humanize people that are so routinely dehumanized by our media. Um, you know, we’ve gone over Muslim depictions in media, we’ve gone over how people view war and it’s just, it’s a, it’s such a huge task to do. And I think people who have what she called ‘veteran privilege’ was an interesting term. They have sort of a unique moral incumbency to have that conversation because they do have-

Nima: The standing, but at the same time they’re also doing the work-

Adam: The standing and the moral purchase, right.

Nima: But they’re also amazingly doing the work to not have veterans seem like they have more agency, more ability to speak on this stuff.

Adam: Yeah. They’re using, they’re using their, again, as she put it, they’re privilege to deconstruct that privilege. Right?

Nima: Mystique, yeah. Exactly.

Adam: Which is what one can always sort of hope to do. Um, this, what is American and what is an Americanism is interesting in the age of Trump because Trump is such a cartoon jingoist that he almost moves the Jingo Overton Window so far to the right that the left has to keep up with them.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And you saw this with his when he wanted to have a military parade, which is this kind of cartoonishly, over-the-top, dumb thing that he wanted to do and that offended people, but you know, I mean, here’s a Washington Post headline from 2016 quote, “Special Operations troops assaulted downtown Tampa…all to thunderous applause.” There was a, the, a multi-national military drill, it took place in downtown Tampa Bay, that climaxed with the mayor shooting a .70 caliber gun out of the back of an amphibious assault vehicle being flanked by military personnel who were taking selfies with the local population. Now, is that worse than a military parade? I don’t know.

Nima: Or to connect that to maybe something else that recently happened in Florida is obviously something that we cannot do. That we cannot talk about.

Adam: Yeah, look, that’s conditioning the state of, of, of militarism and violence, which, which has to have a net effect on how people view these things. It would be totally absurd if it didn’t. Um, and then, you know, people, people to counter Trump routinely say that he’s un-American or something he’s doing is not essentially American. You saw this with the, um, when he announced the had the parade, um, uh, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski said that this is something that only happens in North Korea. Democratic congressman Adam Smith said, quote, “This will be a departure from the values of constitutional democracy.” The president of the NCAA’s legal defense and education fund said quote, “Why is the focus of the financial costs in the military parade as though the idea of this kind of display does not represent a huge and dangerous cultural shift and an identity changing moment for this country?” I mean, look, this country has the most military fetishization I would say other than North Korea. It is true that North Korea is a garrison state and they do have a very military culture. They would argue that’s because they’re in a sort of constant state of war against the west, which is largely justified. Nonetheless, it’s a garrison state. Other than that, I think the U.S. by far has to be the most militaristic culture. We have NFL games-

Nima: Fly-overs.

Adam: Fly-overs, NASCAR. This is a country that has President’s Day in February, Flag Day in June, Memorial Day in May, Independence Day in July, Veterans Day in November, Patriot’s Day in September and Constitution Day in September. I’m pretty sure the jingoism ship has sailed.

Nima: It is flying over our football games.

Adam: Yeah, it’s like, you know, we’re at this barbecue restaurant and everyone’s loading up on baby back ribs and, you know, pulled pork and then Trump comes in and just like throws down a huge like bat of beef brisket and we’re like, “Oh, eating meat is wrong!”

Nima: And everyone’s like, “Whoa, that’s a huge cultural shift!”

Adam: And it’s like, well yeah, like it’s more meat and you definitely don’t want more meat if you oppose meat, but like we’re not vegans here, guys like this is already something that’s part of our culture and I think that if you’re really serious about attacking the fundamental axioms of jingoism and nationalism, you cannot try to co-op them into liberal language or to act like what Trump is doing is some, some pro clutching deviation from what this country does. This country is defined by militarism and military worship. You can’t watch a fucking, again, in our sport, it’s totally unusual in every other culture. The only time you ever play a national anthem before a sporting event is when it’s a two countries playing each other.

Nima: Yeah, it’s an international game.

Adam: An international game, right. And in the U.S. at a baseball game, sport that I love, sport that I know that you love, they have two goddamn national anthems in one game. They have one at the beginning, one during the seventh inning.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Do you know how weird that is for people who visit and go watch a baseball game, like we’re doing this again or we didn’t we just do this?

Nima: Like why are we doing this?

Adam: I mean, jingoism is ingrained into our culture.

Nima: Yep.

Adam: Now, what some would argue is that there’s a difference between patriotism and jingoism or that some difference between patriotism and military worship, but there really isn’t.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And the attempt to kind of dissect those two to come up with some liberal patriotism, which is inclusive or woke. It’s just, it’s not a thing that exists because the, the way the us projects itself overseas is violent. It’s not. Yeah, okay, we have U.S. aid now and then, or we’ll, we’ll go to a hurricane, but people’s primary interface with the American, you know, apparatus is-

Nima: Is at the horrible end of a gun.

Adam: Or more subtle forms of neoliberal economic extortion, which of course is a separate episode, but it’s not, it’s nonetheless, it’s not, it’s not, all picnics and rainbows.

Nima: Right. And the overall idea that our military veterans should be at the forefront of gun control, both makes sense and then uses this, this truly, truly egregious and creepy frame of, “That is okay over there. That is okay for the United States to go over there to use these weapons to destroy human beings.” As the vets say themselves, these weapons are used to destroy human beings, but just not on our streets or more accurately, not on certain streets.

Adam: That’s correct. And I, you know, the general theme is that let’s have a, let’s have a coherent, in a holistic way of viewing this in the way that, again, it’s such a shortcut, right? Iraq. There’s always some liberal congressmen that’s like, “I used this machine gun in Iraq.” And it’s like, well, okay, how about, it’s always bad in like we don’t do this and it gets 55,000 fucking retweets because they love the shit, right?

Nima: That’s the thing, right? All of these #VetsForGunReform are getting, yeah, I mean tens of thousands of likes and retweets and hits and whatever.

Adam: And the problem is, is that if you accept the premise of veterans like veneration as such, right? You cannot put a leftist frame on that because you’re still buying into the premise that veterans are, how you have this unique moral standing. Like even saying that, like by saying that I don’t think veterans have unique moral standing as such, I can’t get a job at like ten places just by saying that. I can never really get hired as a staff columnist at The Washington Post, New York Times. I mean not that that was going to happen anyway. Like that ship sailed years ago. But like you cannot say that. It’s hugely, I can say a lot of outlandish things. I can be Bret Stephens and say that Arabs have the poisoned mind or that they love bloodlust. But you can’t touch that.

Nima: Right. ‘There’s no college rape. There’s no climate change’ and yet you can’t ever talk about-

Adam: Even if you accept that premise that, you know, veterans are great and they deserve our deference, fair enough. But like what about firefighters or nurses or the guy-

Nima: The people not killing people.

Adam: Yeah. The people that sacrifice every day. I mean, you know, activists, Black Lives Matter, people that show up to Grand Central Station every single Monday for People’s Monday and talk about Black Lives Matter and they come from the Bronx, they come from Brooklyn. These are teachers, these are nurses, these are working people who cannot afford to go there and protest, but they do anyway. And how come these people aren’t venerated? And again, you’re not allowed to say that because they have this unique moral standing that is the primary rhetorical bludgeon that props up empire. And yet you’re never really allowed to have an honest conversation about that.

Nima: And also makes liberal pundits and celebrities prove their worth, prove their mainstream-ness, make sure that whatever critique they may have, they still perform at the USO.

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: They still go on, um, bases that are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan or in Kuwait and perform for the troops. You see this with Jon Stewart. You see this with Stephen Colbert, so many of these kind of politically inclined hosts. They obviously say, “Eh, its just comedy, whatever.” That’s all garbage. They are politically outspoken and yet have to prove their fealty to, to the nation and to nationalism and to the troops.

Adam: It’s because we generally like to think that the troops are somehow, they’re kind of pawns in some game, right? That you can criticize, which even if you believe that, which I think is true to some extent, of course, you know, people, college education, they need a degree, like I get that, you know?

Nima: Of course.

Adam: But the idea that they had that they’re per se morally superior without any other qualification. Now the logical thing is that there are some veterans who are awesome and they’re heroes and they’re great and there’s some veterans who are fucking scumbags because they’re human beings.

Nima: Because they’re people, right.

Adam: But that’s not the way we approach this. We approach this with this kind of this rosy-eyed view and I think that it makes meaningful anti-imperialist critiques hard because liberals need to accept that premise and I think it’s incredibly dangerous and incredibly myopic.

Nima: Absolutely.

Adam: That’s my editorializing.

Nima: (Laughs)

Adam: As I do occasionally on the show.

Nima: And so with that we will wrap up this episode of Citations Needed. Thank you so much everyone for joining us. Of course, like us on the Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Help us out on Patreon, uh, that is always wonderfully appreciated. Special shout out goes to our critic level supporters. Thank you everyone. I’m Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our production consultant is Josh Kross. Our research assistant is Sophia Steinert-Evoy. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening, everyone.[Music]

This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.