Tom Engelhardt – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 21 Nov 2022 03:50:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Political Super-Storm: When Will Climate Change Become the Crucial Issue in American Elections? Mon, 21 Nov 2022 05:02:15 +0000 ( ) – Believe me, it’s strange to be an old man and feel like you’re living on a new planet. On November 7th, the day before the midterm elections, I took my usual afternoon walk in New York City and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt! That was a first for me. And no wonder, since it was 76 degrees out — beautiful, but eerie. After all, that’s just not November weather.

By then, in fact, a distinctly unseasonal heat wave that, the previous week, had hit the country from the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast was spreading across the Eastern U.S. from Tallahassee, Florida (a record-tying 88 degrees) to Burlington, Vermont (a record 76 degrees). Temperatures ranged from 15 to 25 degrees above normal. And yet, in a sense, this was nothing new. The worst megadrought in 1,200 years has held the West and Southwest in its grip for what seems like eons now and has evidently been moving toward the middle of the country (with the Mississippi River becoming an increasingly dried-up mud puddle).

Meanwhile, Nicole, a rare November hurricane that formed in the Caribbean, would, sadly enough, spare Mar-a-Lago. However, a distraught Donald Trump, riding it out there (despite state evacuation orders), would react angrily to the political hurricane that clobbered Florida on November 8th when Ron DeSantis swept to a resounding victory amid chants of “two more years!” Meanwhile, thanks in part to already rising sea levels, Nicole would further erode Florida’s coastline in a telling fashion.

I know, I know, the real story last week was the changing political weather in this country: the angry Donald, Ron De-Sanctimonious, the Red Wave that proved barely a trickle; the surprising importance of abortion to the election campaign; the losses of so many Trumpian election deniers; those endless vote counts that left the Senate miraculously still in the hands of the Democrats and the House barely in those of… well, god knows who the Republicans really are anymore — all of it grabbed our attention big time and, given what’s at stake, why shouldn’t it have?

In a way, Nicole was nothing compared to the tropical storm of political news that swamped us during an election season in which so many Trumpists, including “Doc” Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, suffered losses that shocked the former president. They also left some Republicans lambasting him for the first time — Liz Cheney aside — in years, even as he announced his next presidential run.

How our political world does change every now and then (even if only sort of) to the surprise of pollsters and political commentators alike. I mean who, in recent years, would have dared predict that, in the wake of the 2022 midterm elections, the Murdoch-owned tabloid, the New York Post, would mock Donald Trump on its front page? It featured him as an egg-shaped “Trumpty Dumpty” teetering at the edge of a wall with the headline “Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a great fall — can all the GOP’s men put the party back together again?”

And yet, sadly enough, you could also say that, for all the hoopla, in certain ways our political system doesn’t change. At least, not faintly fast enough. In case you hadn’t noticed, for example, there was one issue that couldn’t loom more ominously in this all-American world of ours, that couldn’t be more crucial to our future lives, and that was missing in action during this election season. I’m thinking, of course, about climate change, the ominous overheating of this planet thanks to the greenhouse gasses that continue to spew into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. This very year, it looks as if fossil-fuel emissions will once again rise to record levels. By the end of 2022, an estimated 36.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide (or more) will have headed for that atmosphere on a planet already feeling the heat, literally and figuratively, in a historic (or, under the circumstances, perhaps I mean a-historic) way.

Missing in Action in Election 2022

Honestly, how strange this election truly was, don’t you think? And not simply because of Donald Trump and the election-denying candidates he backed. When I consider this planet, the only one we humans have (at least as yet), I find it all too unnerving that climate change didn’t make it into the midterms in any significant, or even discernible, fashion.

I’m talking about the very planet on which the heat is increasing in an ever more striking way. Ice is melting from alpine heights to polar glaciers; rising sea levels are imperiling ever more coastal areas; previously unimaginable kinds of flooding are occurring from Pakistan to Nigeria; and record droughts have settled in across much of the northern hemisphere, while famine — actual starvation — is becoming a part of life in an increasingly parched horn of Africa. Meanwhile, more people are probably being driven from their homes and lives, not just by us humans but by nature itself, and are on the move than at any recent moment in our history.

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Worse yet, we know enough — or perhaps I mean should know enough — to realize that life as we once experienced it (note the past tense!) is heading for the history books. In the worst sense imaginable, whether we care to notice or not, we all now find ourselves on a new planet. The scientists who follow this closely have been informing us of just that for years now, as has António Guterres, the head of the United Nations. Here’s the news in a nutshell: it’s only going to get precipitously (as in going off the edge of a cliff) worse, especially if humanity doesn’t take collective action in the coming years to bring the burning of fossil fuels under far greater control, while increasing the use of renewable energy sources significantly.

And all of that should help explain why, when it comes to those midterm elections, I’m left with a giant question mark that has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Given how obvious and ominous our global situation already is, why did climate change not grip American voters the way abortion did? (After all, there was a Supreme Court ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency regulating the release of greenhouse gasses, just as there was one against Roe v. Wade.)

Why was the possibility of our planet becoming ever less livable not at the top of the list of issues in the 2022 midterms? Why weren’t politicians spending their time discussing the subject? Why wasn’t it part of every stump speech, at least for the candidates who weren’t Trumpublicans?

It should be the issue of the moment, the week, the month, the year, the decade, the century, shouldn’t it? Admittedly, post-election, Nancy Pelosi did take out after Trump and crew on the issue of climate-change denial, as well she should have, but that was a rare moment indeed. And, to give him credit, Joe Biden has worked hard to pass significant climate legislation (even if, thanks in part to the war in Ukraine, his administration has also allowed fossil-fuel extraction to ramp up).

You want an election “issue”? Honestly, when you think about how an ever more overheated planet is going to affect our children and grandchildren, shouldn’t global warming have been right at the top of any list? And why wasn’t its absence considered the mystery of our times, perhaps of all times?

One much-commented-upon surprise of the midterm election season was the turnout of Generation Z voters in a non-presidential year and how significantly their votes skewed Democratic. And yes, we know from polling that Gen-Z voters did indeed have climate change on their minds in a way their elders evidently didn’t. We know that, for them, it was right up there with (or just behind) abortion, protecting democracy, and inflation. And that’s not nothing.

In fact, as Juan Cole wrote at his Informed Comment website, “According to a recent Blue Shield poll, some 75% of youth in America report that they have had panic attacks, depression, anxiety, stress, and/or feelings of being overwhelmed when considering the issue of climate change. Globally, many of these young people are even afraid to bring children into the world that is being produced by our high-carbon styles of life.”

Personally, I’m with them when it comes to anxiety. When I think about the world my children and grandchildren are now likely to inherit, it leaves me distinctly depressed, stressed, and — yes — overwhelmed. And when I think that, in 2022, global warming wasn’t a significant issue, not even for Trumpublicans to attack, those feelings only multiply.

Left in the Dust of History

I mean, forget the melting Alps in Switzerland or the melting glaciers in the Himalayas; forget the missing water supplies in parched, overheated Jordan, or the spring temperatures that soared to 120 degrees and above in India and Pakistan; ignore the 500-year record drought that engulfed Europe, drying up the Rhine and other rivers, and the soaring temperatures that, last summer, turned even China’s mighty Yangtze Riverinto a giant mudflat; ignore the record melt of Greenland’s ice sheet this September or the coming total disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic (with an accompanying rise in global sea levels), and just think about a few basics in our own country, which has reportedly warmed 68% faster than the planet as a whole over the last half century. Approximately four decades ago, extreme weather disasters causing at least $1 billion in damage occurred in the United States on average once every four months. Now, it’s once every three weeks. Doesn’t that tell you something?

And what, I wonder, will it be like four decades from now when the Gen-Zers are at least somewhat closer to my age? Meanwhile, that western mega-drought continues, wildfires grow increasingly severe, coastal areas are battered ever more fiercely by storms that, crossing overheated waters, only grow ever stronger, seasons become hotter, and… but let me just stop there.

I mean, you get the idea, right? And count on one thing: someday, perhaps even in 2024, America’s elections are finally going to heat up, too — and I’m not just thinking about Humpty Trumpty or Ron DeSantis. Count on this, too: climate change on its present course ever upwards is going to become the true inflation of the future, as well as an issue, possibly the issue, in any election season. Republican weaponizing of it will end and how politicians respond to it will matter in their vote count (assuming, of course, that some version of American democracy is still in place in that perilous future of ours).

If you once rejected the very idea of climate change — yes, you Donald Trump and you Ron DeSantis! — you’ll be an object of bitter mockery and ridicule. If you supported billionaires who, flying on their own private jets, put striking amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, you’ll pay for it politically. If you urge that more coal, oil, or natural gas be produced, you won’t have a chance in any election season.

Whether we truly know it or not, whether we accept it or not, whether we paid the slightest attention to COP27, the recent U.N. climate meeting in Egypt, or not, trust me on one thing: the perilous heating of this planet is the topic that will, sooner or later, leave all others in the dust. New cold wars and hot wars will make no sense whatsoever in such a future. After all, we’re now on a tipping-point planet. Or rather, let me put it this way: either attention to climate change will leave all else in the dust or climate change itself will leave us all in the dust, and how truly sad that would be!

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: A final reminder that, for a $100 donation ($150 if you live outside the U.S.), you can still get a signed, personalized copy of Andrew Bacevich’s memorable new Dispatch Book, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century, and, in the process, help keep this website rolling for awhile longer. At the very least, make sure you get your hands on his book, but trust me, your donations to TD make all the difference in the world! Tom]

The Planet Earth We Grew up With, R.I.P. Wed, 02 Nov 2022 04:02:03 +0000 ( ) – Oddly enough, I’ve read obituaries with fascination from the time I was quite young. And yet, in all these years, I’ve never really reflected on that fact. I don’t know whether it was out of some indirect fascination with death and the end of it all or curiosity about the wholeness (or half-ness or brokenness) of an individual life in full. But here’s the odd thing: in all that time — put it down to the charm of youth or, later, perhaps a lingering sense of youthfulness or, at least, agelessness — I never really thought about my own obituary. Like so many of us when younger, I simply couldn’t imagine my own death. Against all reason, it seemed strangely inconceivable.

Now, at 78, I find that obituaries are again on my mind — and not just because people I knew are being featured in them all too often these days or for that other all-too-obvious reason, which I hardly need to spell out here. As a matter of fact, if you put my last name or yours into a search engine, you may be surprised at how many obituaries come up. It turns out, in fact, that Engelhardts have been dying for centuries now.

After all, the one obituary you can’t really have is your own; at least, not unless you decide to write it yourself or you’re so well known that a newspaper obit writer interviews you as one of the “pre-dead” while you’re still kicking. Of course, for the best known among us, such pieces, as at the New York Times, are prepared and written well in advance because the one thing we do know, whether we think about it or not, accept it or not, is that we all will indeed die.

Nuclear Winter or a Climate-Change-Induced Nuclear Summer?

Let’s not be shy. If there’s one word that comes to mind (mine anyway) at the moment, it’s madness. And no, believe it or not, I’m not even thinking about Donald Trump or the crazed crew of election deniers, QAnon conspiracy believers, and white nationalists who have become the essence of the Republican Party and may sweep to victory, at least in the House of Representatives, only days from now. And no, neither am I thinking about the Trumpist-leaning Supreme Court that might single-handedly (or perhaps hand in hand with all too many voters on November 8th) send us even further down the road to autocracy or at least to an eternally Republican-controlled mania-ocracy.

From the time we left our Neanderthal cousins in the dust, the story of humanity is tens of thousands of years old; and our history — you know, since we first began herding other creatures, raising crops, and arming ourselves to the teeth — is thousands of years old. In all those eons, we discovered so many things, both uplifting and down-thrusting. But perhaps, looking back (if, given our present circumstances, anyone’s even bothering), the most remarkable thing may be that we discovered — once quite purposely and once without at first even noticing that we’d done so — two different ways to do ourselves in. And, believe me, I’m using that word advisedly, given the Elizabethan moment that passed only recently, leaving so many of us watching a “news” spectacle that was her obituary and nothing else but that for what seemed like ever and a day. Now, of course, the former British queen is gone not just from our world but from that news cycle, too. Not a trace of her remains. Nothing, it seems, lasts long these days, Donald Trump aside. And if things continue to go ever wronger on this planet of ours — and I wouldn’t Truss (joke, joke) that they won’t — it’s possible that she could indeed prove to be the last queen.

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As I’m sure you already know, those two discoveries I’m thinking about are nuclear weapons and climate change. Each of them should be on all our minds right now for reasons almost too obvious to enumerate. Our own president recently chatted privately with Democratic Party donors about the possibility that we might indeed face “Armageddon” (his word, not mine) for the first time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. That would be thanks to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the Russian president’s threat (“this is not a bluff“) to use nuclear weapons for, as he himself pointed out, the first time since the United States ended World War II by obliterating the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In a sense, however, whether Putin ever uses those “tactical” nuclear weapons or not, he has, in his own uniquely deplorable fashion, already nuked this planet. His decision to invade Ukraine and, after an eight-month disaster (including the especially dangerous occupation of a Ukrainian nuclear power plant), only increase the level of destruction, while evidently looking for no off-ramp whatsoever, has sent energy politics in the worst possible direction. Some desperate European countries have already turned back to coal power; militaries are burning ever more fossil fuels; gas prices have been soaring globally; and what modest attention was focused on the broiling of this planet and the very idea of the major powers cooperating to do anything about it now seems like a fantasy from some past universe.

It evidently doesn’t matter that a combination of fearsome monsoons and growing glacial melt flooded one-third of Pakistan in an unparalleled fashion; that record heat and drought was last summer’s reality across much of the northern hemisphere; that Hurricane Ian only recently leveled parts of Florida in what should have been, but given where we’re heading, won’t be a once-in-500-year fashion; that a mainstream website like Politico can now refer to our country as “the United States of Megadrought“; or that rivers from the Yangtze to the Mississippi are drying up in a historic manner. Worse yet, that’s just to start down a far longer list of climate horrors. And I almost forgot to mention that the giant fossil-fuel companies continue to live on another planet from the rest of us. Call it profit heaven.

Returning to the subject of obituaries, you could, of course, have written a group one for the approximately one billion sea creatures that died last summer, thanks to a record heat wave on Canada’s Pacific coast, or another based on the recent report that, since 1970, the population of fresh-water species on this planet has fallen by a startling 83%. In fact, if you’re in an obituary-writing mood and thinking of the pre-dead, don’t forget the emperor penguin. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that classic creature is threatened with extinction by the end of this century thanks to the increasing loss of the sea ice it needs to exist on a fast-warming planet.

So, give the Vlad full credit. His invasion of Ukraine refocused the attention of the world on that other way we’ve come up with to do ourselves in, those nuclear weapons. In short, he’s helped take our minds off climate change at the worst possible moment (so far), even as his war only increases the level of greenhouse gases heading into the atmosphere. Well done, Mr. President!

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn then that, according to a recent United Nations report, of the 193 nations which, in 2021, agreed to step up their efforts to fight climate change, only 26 have followed through so far (and even some of those in an anything but impressive fashion). In other words, our future — should we ever get there — will be blistering. The Earth is now on track to warm not by the 1.5 degrees Celsius the 2015 Paris climate accord made its ultimate temperature, but a potentially broiling 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius by century’s end.

Even before the Ukraine war began, the powers that be were paying all too little attention to how we could do ourselves (and so many other species) in by overheating the planet. Worse yet, the major powers of the old Cold War were already “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals — in the case of the United States, to the tune of more than a trillion dollars over the coming decades. That will include a mere $100 billion to create a “next generation” intercontinental ballistic missile dubbed the LGM-35A Sentinel, undoubtedly because it’s meant to stand guard over hell on earth. Meanwhile, the rising power on the planet, China, is rushing to catch up. And now, with a war underway in Europe, “dirty bombs” and far worse are seemingly back on the playing fields of history.

Here, I suspect, is the strangest thing of all. We now know that we’re quite capable of doing something humanity once left to the gods — creating a genuinely apocalyptic future on this planet. With our weaponry, we already have the ability to induce a “nuclear winter” (in which up to five billion of us could starve to death) or, with greenhouse gases, to fry this planet in a long term way via, to coin a new phrase, a climate-change-induced nuclear summer.

And that — don’t you think? — should already have been game-changing information.

And yet, despite the Greta Thunbergs of this world when it comes to climate change, these days there are no significant equivalents to her or, say, or the Sunrise Movement when it comes to nukes. Worse yet, despite the growing green movement, the fact that we’re already in the process of making Earth an increasingly unlivable place seems not to have fazed so many of those in a position to run things, whether nationally or corporately. And that should stun us all.

An Ultimate Obit?

Give humanity credit. When it comes to our urge to destroy, we seem to see no limits, not even those of our own existence. I mean, if you really had the desire to write a communal obituary for us, one logical place to start might indeed be with the invasion of Ukraine at a time when the planet was already beginning to broil. Honestly, doesn’t it make you want to start writing obituaries not just for our individual selves, but for all of the pre-dead on a planet where the very idea of mass killings could, in our future, gain a new meaning?

And in that context, if you want to measure the madness of the moment, just imagine this: It’s quite possible that a political party largely taken over by that supreme narcissist, Donald Trump, the Me-Man of history, could win one or both houses of Congress in this country’s coming midterm elections and even the presidency again in 2024. Given that the U.S. is one of the planet’s two leading greenhouse gas emitters, that would, of course, help ensure a fossil-fuelized future hell. The Donald — like his authoritarian cohorts elsewhere — could be the ultimate god when it comes to our future destruction, not to speak of the future of so many other beings on this planet. Think of him and his crew as potentially the all-too-literal ultimate in (un)civilization.

After all these thousands of years — a long, long time for us but not for planet Earth — the question is: Should we aging types begin thinking not just about our own obituaries (“He was born on July 20, 1944, in New York City, on a planet engulfed in war….”) but humanity’s? (“Born in a cave with their Neanderthal and Denisovan cousins…”)

Everything, of course, ends, but it doesn’t have to end this way. Yes, my obituary is a given, but humanity’s should be so much less so. Whether that proves true or not is up to us. When it comes to all of this, the question is: Who will have the last word?

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt


The End of Progressive Book Publishing in the Age of Monopoly Capital? Wed, 28 Sep 2022 04:02:56 +0000 ( – No one listened better than Studs. For those of you old enough to remember, that’s Studs Terkel, of course. The most notable thing about him in person, though, was this: the greatest interviewer of his moment, perhaps of any moment, never stopped talking, except, of course, when he was listening to produce one of his memorable bestselling oral histories — he essentially created the form — ranging from Working and Hard Times to The Good War.

I still remember him calling my house. He was old, his hearing was going, and he couldn’t tell that my teenage son had rushed to answer the phone, hoping it was one of his friends. Instead, finding himself on with Studs talking a mile a minute, my son would begin yelling desperately, “Dad! Dad!”

With that — and a recent publishing disaster — in mind this morning, I took my little stepladder to the back of my tiny study, put it in front of my bookcase and climbed up until I could reach the second to the top shelf, the one that still has Studs’s old volumes lined up on it. Among others, I pulled down one of his later oral histories, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith. In its acknowledgments, I found this: “Were it not for Tom Engelhardt, the nonpareil of editors, who was uncanny in cutting the fat from the lean (something I found impossible to do) and who gave this work much of its form, I’d still be in the woods.”

And that still makes me so proud. But let me rush to add that, in the years of his best-known work when I was at Pantheon Books (1976 to 1990), I was never his main editor. That honor was left to the remarkable André Schiffrin who started Studs, like so many other memorable authors, on his book career; ran that publishing house in his own unique way; found me in another life; and turned me into the editor he sensed I already naturally was.

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For me, those were remarkable years. Even then, André was a genuinely rare figure in mainstream publishing — a man who wanted the world to change, a progressive who couldn’t have been a more adventurous publisher. In fact, I first met him in the midst of the Vietnam War, at a time when I was still an Asian-scholar-to-be and involved in organizing a group, the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, that had produced an antiwar book, The Indochina Story, that André had decided to publish.

In my years at Pantheon, he transformed me into a book editor and gave me the leeway to find works I thought might, in some modest fashion, help alter our world (or rather the way we thought about it) for the better. Those included, among others, the rediscovery of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s early-twentieth-century utopian masterpiece Herland; the publishing of Unforgettable Fire, Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors (not long before, in the early 1980s, an antinuclear movement in need of it would arise in this country); Nathan Huggins’s monumental Black Odyssey; Eduardo Galeano’s unique three-volume Memory of Fire history of the Americas; Eva Figes’s novel Light; John Berger’s Another Way of Telling; Orville Schell’s “Watch Out for the Foreign Guests!”: China Encounters the West; and even — my mother was a cartoonist — the Beginner’s comic book series, including Freud for Beginners, Marx for Beginners, Darwin for Beginners, and, of course, Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, to mention just a modest number of works I was responsible for ushering into existence here in America.

The Second Time Around

What a chance, in my own fashion and however modestly, to lend a hand in changing and improving our world. And then, in a flash, in 1990 it all came to an end. In those years, publishing was already in the process (still ongoing) of conglomerating into ever fewer monster operations. Si Newhouse, the owner of CondéNast and no fan of progressive publishing, had by that time taken over Random House, the larger operation in which Pantheon was lodged and he would, in the end, get rid of André essentially because of his politics and the kind of books we published.

We editors and most of the rest of the staff quit in protest, claiming we had been “Newhoused.” (Writers like Barbara Ehrenreich and Kurt Vonnegut would join us in that protest.) The next thing I knew, I was out on the street, both literally and figuratively, and my life as a scrambling freelancer began. Yes, Pantheon still existed in name, but not the place I had known and loved. It was a bitter moment indeed, both personally and politically, watching as something so meaningful, not just to me but to so many readers, was obliterated in that fashion. It seemed like a publishing version of capitalism run amok.

And then, luck struck a second time. A few years later, one of my co-editors and friends at Pantheon, Sara Bershtel, launched a new publishing house, Metropolitan Books, at Henry Holt Publishers. It seemed like a miracle to me then. Suddenly, I found myself back in the heartland of mainstream publishing, a “consulting editor” left to do my damnedest, thanks to Sara (herself an inspired and inspiring editor). I was, so to speak, back in business.

And as at Pantheon, it would prove an unforgettable experience. I mean, honestly, where else in mainstream publishing would Steve Fraser and I have been able to spend years producing a line-up of books in a series we called, graphically enough, The American Empire Project? (Hey, it even has a Wikipedia entry!) In that same period, Sara would publish memorable book after memorable book like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Thomas Frank’s What‘s the Matter with Kansas?, some of which made it onto bestseller lists, while I was putting out volumes by authors whose names will be familiar indeed to the readers of TomDispatch, including Andrew Bacevich, James Carroll, Noam Chomsky, Michael Klare, Chalmers Johnson, Alfred McCoy, Jonathan Schell, and Nick Turse. And it felt comforting somehow to be back in a situation where I could at least ensure that books I thought might make some modest (or even immodest) difference in an ever more disturbed and disturbing America would see the light of day.

I’ve written elsewhere about the strange moment when, for instance, I first decided that I had to publish what became Chalmers Johnson’s remarkable, deeply insightful, and influential book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire on the future nightmares my country was then seeding into the rest of the planet. Think, for instance, of Osama bin Laden who, Johnson assured his readers well before 9/11 happened, we had hardly heard the last of. (Not surprisingly, only after 9/11 did that book become a bestseller!) Or consider Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, which I published in 2003. So many years later, its very title still sums up remarkably well the dilemma we face on a planet where what’s on the mind of top foreign policy officials in Washington these days is — god save us! — a new cold war with China. We’re talking, in other words, about a place where the two major greenhouse gas emitters on Planet Earth can’t agree on a thing or work together in any way.

The Second Time Around (Part 2)

But let me not linger on ancient history when, just the other day, it happened again. And by it I mean a new version of what happened to me at Pantheon Books. It’s true that because, in my later years, TomDispatch has become my life’s work, I hadn’t done anything for Metropolitan for a while (other, of course, than read with deep fascination the books Sara published). Still, just two weeks ago I was shocked to hear that, like Pantheon, Metropolitan, a similarly progressive publishing house in the mainstream world, was consigned to the waves; its staff laid off; and the house itself left in the publishing version of hell.

Initially, that act of Holt’s, the consigning of Metropolitan to nowhere land, was reported by the trade publication Publisher’s Weekly, but count on one thing: more is sure to come as that house’s authors learn the news and respond.

After all, like Pantheon, at the moment of its demise, it was a lively, deeply progressive operation, churning out powerful new titles — until, that is, it was essentially shut down when Sara, a miraculous publisher like André, was shown the door along with her staff. Bam! What did it matter that, thanks to her, Metropolitan still occupied a space filled by no other house in mainstream publishing? Nothing obviously, not to Holt, or assumedly Macmillan, the giant American publishing conglomerate of which it was a part, or the German Holtzbrinck Publishing Group that owns Macmillan.

How strange that we’re in a world where two such publishing houses, among the best and most politically challenging around, could find that there simply was no place for them as progressive publishers in the mainstream. André, who died in 2013, responded by launching an independent publishing house, The New Press, an admirable undertaking. In terms of the Dispatch Books I still put out from time to time, I find myself in a similar world, dealing with another adventurous independent publishing outfit, Haymarket Books.

Still, what an eerie mainstream we now inhabit, don’t we?

I mean, when it comes to what capitalism is doing on this planet of ours, book publishing is distinctly small (even if increasingly mashed) potatoes. After all, we’re talking about a world where giant fossil-fuel companies with still-soaring profits are all too willing to gaslight the public while quite literally burning the place up — or perhaps I mean flooding the place out. (Don’t you wonder sometimes what the CEOs of such companies are going to tell their grandchildren?)

So the consignment of Metropolitan Books to the trash heap of history is, you might say, a small matter indeed. Still, it’s painful to see what is and isn’t valued in this society of ours (and by whom). It’s painful to see who has the ability to cancel out so much else that should truly matter.

And believe me, just speaking personally, twice is twice too much. Imagine two publishing houses that let me essentially find, edit, and publish what I most cared about, what I thought was most needed, books at least some of which might otherwise never have made it into our world. (The proposal for MAUS, for instance, had been rejected by more or less every house in town before it even made it into my hands.)

Yes, two progressive publishing houses are a small thing indeed on this increasingly unnerving planet of ours. Still, think of this as the modern capitalist version of burning books, though as with those fossil-fuel companies, it is, in reality, more like burning the future. Think of us as increasingly damaged goods on an increasingly damaged planet.

In another world, these might be considered truly terrible acts. In ours, they simply happen, it seems, without much comment or commentary even though silence is ultimately the opposite of what any decent book or book publisher stands for.

You know, it suddenly occurs to me. Somebody should write a book about all this, don’t you think?

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt


The White House Meets the Creature from the Black Lagoon: How Trump turned the American Dream into the American Scream Mon, 29 Aug 2022 04:02:32 +0000 ( – Honestly, if you had described this America to me more than half a century ago, I would have laughed in your face.

Donald Trump becoming president? You must be kidding!

If you want a bizarre image, just imagine him in the company of Abraham Lincoln. I mean, really, what’s happened to us?

Not, of course, that we haven’t had bizarre politicians in Washington before. I still remember watching the mad, red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy on our new black-and-white television set in April 1953. He was a brute and looked it (though, to my nine-year-old mind, he also seemed like every belligerent dad I knew). Still, whatever he was, he wasn’t president of the United States. At the time, that was former World War II military commander Dwight D. Eisenhower.

And whatever McCarthy might have been, he wasn’t a sign of American (or planetary) decline. The Donald? Well, he’s something else again. In some ways, he could be considered the strangest marker of decline in our history. After all, when he entered the Oval Office, he took over a country whose leaders had long considered it the greatest, most powerful, most influential nation ever.

Think of him, if you will, as the weirdest seer of our times. To put him in the context of the science fiction I was reading in the previous century, he might be considered a genuine Philip K. Dick(head).

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As I wrote in April 2016 in the midst of Trump’s initial run for the presidency, he was exceptional among our political class and not for any of the obvious reasons either. No, what caught my attention was that slogan of his, the one he had trademarked in the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012: Make America Great Again, or MAGA. The key word in it, I realized then, was that again. As I noted at the time, he was unique in a presidential race not just as a bizarre former TV personality or even a successful multiple bankruptee, but as “the first person to run openly and without apology on a platform of American decline.” In his own way, he had his eye — and what an eye it was! — on a reality no other politician in Washington even dared consider, not when it came to the “sole superpower” of planet Earth. He was, after all, insisting then that this country was no longer great.

Trump proved to be a one-of-a-kind candidate (not that he wouldn’t have been without that MAGA slogan). And as we now know, his message, which rang so few bells among the political class in Washington, rang all too many in the (white) American heartland. In other words, Donald Trump became the prexy of decline and what a decline it would be! According to one recent survey, half of all Americans, in this increasingly over-armed country of ours, have come to believe that an actual civil war is on the way in the near future.

Think of the miracle — if you don’t mind my using such a word in this context — of Donald Trump’s presidency this way: in some sense, he managed to turn not just Republicans but all of us into his apprentices. And those years of our apprenticeship occurred not just in an increasingly crazed and violent America, but on an ever stranger, more disturbed planet.

Yes, once upon a time I read sci-fi novels in a way I no longer do and felt then that I was glimpsing possible futures, however weird. But believe me, what’s happening today wouldn’t have passed as halfway believable fiction in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

So, let me say it again: honestly, Donald Trump?

Our Liz

Having lived through the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s (often enough in the streets) and the madness of the American war of destruction in Vietnam, it’s strange to spend my waning years in a country where the main protest movement, the Trumpist one, represents a nightmare of potential destruction right here at home. And by “right,” of course, I mean wrong beyond belief. It’s led, after all, by a superduper narcissist who wouldn’t qualify as a fascist only because he prefers fans to followers, apprentices to jackbooted thugs. As the events of January 6, 2021, showed, however, he wouldn’t reject them either. In an earlier moment, in fact, he urged such thugs to “stand back and stand by.”

You know that you’re in a world from hell when the heroine of this moment is the politically faithful daughter of a former vice president who, along with President George W. Bush, used the 9/11 attacks to usher us into wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as into the expansive Global War on Terror — who, that is, remains an unindicted war criminal first class. Keep in mind as well that, before she became our Liz, she voted against impeaching President Trump in 2019 and voted for his programs (if you can faintly call them that) a mere 93% of the time.

And mind you, all of this is just scratching the surface of our world from hell.

Not even in my worst nightmares of half a century ago was this the American world I imagined. Not for a day, not for an hour, not for a second did I, for instance, dream of American school guards armed with assault rifles. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

I was born, of course, into an America on the rise in which you could still imagine — it seems ridiculous to use the word today — progress toward a genuinely better world of some sort. That world is evidently now something for the history books.

Think of Donald Trump as an all-too-literal sign of the times at a moment when about 70% of Republicans consider the last election to have been stolen and Joe Biden an illegitimate president. Perhaps 40% of them also believe that violence against the government can sometimes be justified. This in a country that had long fancied itself as the greatest of all time.

And if you really want a little sci-fi madness that would, in the 1960s, have blown my mind (as we liked to say then), consider climate change. As we argue like mad about the last election, while Trumpists pursue local secretary-of-state positions (not to speak of governorships) that could give them control over future election counts, as Americans arm themselves to the teeth and democracy seems up for grabs, let’s not forget about the true nightmare of this moment: the desperate warming of this planet.

Yes, “our” Earth is burning in an all-too-literal way — and flooding, too, with “superstorms” in our future. And don’t forget that it’s melting as well at a rate far more extreme than anyone imagined once upon a time. Recent research on the Arctic suggests that instead of warming, as previously believed, at a rate two to three times faster than the rest of the planet, it’s now heating four times as fast. In some areas, in fact, make that seven times as fast! So, in the future, see ya Miami, New York, Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai, and other coastal metropolises as sea levels rise ever faster.

Kissing the Planet Goodbye?

Honestly, you’d hardly know it in parts of this country and among Republicans (even if that party’s key figures were, once upon a time, environmentalists), but this planet is literally going down — or maybe, in temperature terms, I mean up — in flames.

Greenhouse gases continue to pour into the atmosphere and certain heads of state, like Donald Trump in his White House days, remain remarkably dedicated to emitting yet more of them. The Mexican president is one example, the Russian president another. And you no longer have to turn to science fiction to imagine the results. An unnerving sci-fi-style future is becoming the grim present right before our eyes. This summer, for instance, Europe has seen unparalleled heat and drought, with both Germany’s Rhine River and Italy’s Po River drying up in disastrous fashion. And just to add to the mix, parts of that continent have also seen storms of a startling magnitude and staggering flooding.

Meanwhile, China has been experiencing a devastating more-than-two-month-long set of heat waves with record temperatures and significant drought, all of which has proved disastrous for its crops, economy, and people. And oh yes, like the Rhine and Po, the Yangtze, the world’s third-largest river, is drying up fast, while the heat wave there shows little sign of ending before mid-September. Meanwhile, the American southwest and west continue to experience a megadrought the likes of which hasn’t been seen on this continent in at least 1,200 years. Like the Rhine, Po, and Yangtze, the Colorado River is losing water in a potentially disastrous fashion, while the season for heat waves in the United States is now 45 days longer than in the 1960s. And that’s only to begin recording planetary weather catastrophes. After all, I haven’t even mentioned the ever-fiercer wildfires, or megafires, whether in Alaska, New Mexico, France, or elsewhere; nor have I focused on the increasingly powerful hurricanes and typhoons that have become part of everyday life (and destruction and death).

So, isn’t it a strange form of science fiction that, in response to such a world, such a crisis, one that could someday signal the end of civilization, the focus in this country is on Donald Trump and company? Don’t you find it odd that the two greatest greenhouse gas emitters and powers on the planet, the United States and China, have responded in ways that should appall us all?

Joe Biden and his top national-security officials have continually played up the dangers of the rise of China, put significant energy into developing military alliances against that country in the Indo-Pacific region, and functionally launched a new Cold War, more than 30 years after the old one went to its grave. In addition, Nancy Pelosi, a number of other congressional representatives, and even state ones have pointedly visited the island of Taiwan, purposely infuriating the Chinese leadership. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has ever more regularly sent its vessels through the Taiwan Strait and aircraft carrier task forces into the South China Sea.

For its part, China’s officialdom, while continuing to push the building of coal-fired power plants, has recently launched military demonstrations of an escalating sort against Taiwan, while preparing to join Vladimir Putin’s Russia for the second year in a row in “military exercises,” even as the war in Ukraine, a first class carbon disaster, goes on and on and on. At the same time, furious about those Taiwan visits from Washington, China’s leaders have essentially cut off all relations with the U.S., including any further discussions about how to cooperate in dealing with climate change.

So, a second cold war amid a growing climate disaster? If you had put that into your sci-fi novel in 1969, it would undoubtedly have seemed too absurd a future to be publishable. You would have been laughed out of the room.

Admittedly, the history of humanity has largely been a tale of the triumph of the unreasonable. Still, you might think that, as a species, we would, at a minimum, not actively opt for the destruction of the very planet we live on. And yet, think again.

At least the Biden administration did recently get a bill through Congress (despite the opposition of every Trumpublican) that dealt with global warming in a reasonably significant way and the president may still invoke his executive powers to do more. It’s true as well that the Chinese have been working hard to create ever less expensive alternative energy sources. Still, none of this takes us far enough. Not on this planet. Not now.

And keep in mind that, were a desperate and disparate America to elect Donald Trump again in 2024 (by hook or crook), the country that historically has put more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than any other land, might be kissing the planet we’ve known goodbye.

Believe me, it’s strange to find myself remembering a long-gone world in which the major destruction was happening thousands of miles away in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I mean, that was bad enough to get me into the streets then. Now, however, the destruction we’re significantly responsible for is happening right here, right where you and I both live, no matter where that might be.

What we’re watching is a tragedy of an unparalleled sort in the making for our children and grandchildren, which leaves me sad beyond words. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a sci-fi novel I’d rather not read and a sci-fi life I’d rather not be living.

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt


From the Greatest Generation to the Trump Generation: Can America’s Drastic Decline be Reversed? Sat, 13 Aug 2022 04:06:34 +0000 ( – I find nothing strange in Joe Biden, at 79 (going on 80), being the oldest president in our history and possibly planning to run again in 2024. After all, who wouldn’t want to end up in the record books? Were he to be nominated and then beat the also-aging Donald Trump, or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, or even Fox News’s eternally popular Tucker Carlson, he would occupy the White House until he was 86.

Honestly, wouldn’t that be perfect in its own way? I mean, what could better fit an America in decline than a president in decline, the more radically so the better?

Okay, maybe, despite the Republican National Committee’s clip on the subject, when Joe Biden had to be guided to that red carpet in Israel, it wasn’t because he was an increasingly doddering old guy. Still…

I mean, I get it. I really do. After all, I just turned 78 myself, which leaves me only a year and four months behind Joe Biden in the aging sweepstakes. And believe me, when you reach anything close to our age, whatever White House spokespeople might say, decline becomes second nature to you. In fact, I’m right with Joe on that carpet whenever someone brings up a movie I saw or book I read years ago (or was it last month?) and I can’t remember a damn thing about it. I say to any of you of a certain age, Joe included: Welcome to the club!

It’s strange, if not eerie, to be living through the decline of my country — the once “sole superpower” on Planet Earth — in the very years of my own decline (even if Fox News isn’t picking on me). Given the things I’m now forgetting, there’s something spookily familiar about the decline-and-fall script in the history I do recall. As Joe and his top officials do their best to live life to the fullest by working to recreate a three-decades-gone Cold War, even as this country begins to come apart at the seams, all I can say is: welcome to an ever lousier version of the past (just in case you’re too young to have lived it).

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Since the disappearance of the Neanderthals and the arrival of us, tell me that decline hasn’t been among the most basic stories in history. After all, every child knows that what goes up, must… I don’t even have to complete that sentence, do I, whatever your age? Thought of a certain way, decline and fall is the second oldest story around, after the rise and… whatever you want to call it.

Just ask the last emperors of China’s Han dynasty, or the once-upon-a-time rulers of Sparta, or Romulus Augustulus, the last head of the Roman Empire (thanks a lot, Nero!). But here, in the third decade of the twenty-first century, that ancient tale has a brand-new twist. After all that time when humanity, in its own bloody, brutal fashion, flourished, whether you want to talk about the loss of species, the destruction of the environment, or ever more horrific weather disasters arriving ever more quickly, it’s not just the United States (or me) going down… it’s everything. And don’t think that doesn’t include China, the supposedly rising power on Planet Earth. It also happens to be releasing far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other country right now and suffering accordingly (even if the falling power of this moment, the United States, remains safely in first place as the worst carbon emitter of all time).

So, unless we humans can alter our behavior fast, it looks like only half our story may soon be left for the telling.

The Rise and Fall of Tom Engelhardt (and So Much Else)

To speak personally, I find myself experiencing three versions of that ultimate story: that of my own fall; that of my country; and that of an increasingly overheating planet as a habitable place for us all. With that in mind, let me take you on a brief trip through those three strangely intertwined tales, starting with me.

I was born in July 1944 into an America that had been roused from a grotesque depression, the “Great” one as it was known, and was then being transformed into a first-rate military and economic powerhouse by World War II. (My father was in that war as, in her own fashion, was my mother.) That global conflict, which mobilized the nation in every way, wouldn’t end until, more than a year later, two American B-29s dropped newly invented weapons of disastrous destructive power, atomic bombs, on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more or less obliterating them. In those acts, for the first time in history, lay the promise of an ultimate end to the human story of a sort once left to the gods. In other words, V-J (or Victory over Japan) Day instantly had an underside that couldn’t have been more ominous.

I was born, then, into a newly minted imperial power already exhibiting an unparalleled global punch. Soon, it would face off in a planet-wide struggle, initially focused on the Eurasian continent, against another superpower-in-the making, the Soviet Union (and its newly communized Chinese ally). That would, of course, be the not-quite-world war (thanks to the threat of those nuclear weapons, multiplied and improved many times over) that we came to call the Cold War. In it, what was then known as the “free world” — although significant parts of it were anything but “free” and the U.S. often worked its wiles to make other parts ever less so — was set against the communized “slave” version of the same.

In the United States, despite fears of a nuclear conflict that left children like me “ducking and covering” under our school desks, Americans experienced the hottest economy imaginable. In the process, an ever wealthier society was transformed from a good one into — as President Lyndon Johnson dubbed it in 1964 — the Great Society. Despite “red scares” and the like, it was one that would indeed prove better for many Americans, including Blacks in the wake of a Civil Rights Movement that finally ended the Jim Crow system of segregation that had succeeded slavery.

In the process, the U.S. developed a global system around what was then called the “Iron Curtain,” the lands the Soviet Union controlled. It would be anchored by military bases on every continent but Antarctica and alliances of every sort from NATO in Europe to SEATO in Southeast Asia, as well as secretive CIA operations across much of the globe.

As for me, I, too, was still rising (though sometimes, as in the Vietnam years, in full-scale protest against what my country was doing in the world), first as a journalist, then as an editor in publishing. I even wrote a version of the history of my times in a book I called The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation. Little did I know then quite how disillusioning the world we were creating would turn out to be. Meanwhile, in the 1980s and ’90s, during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, during what came to be known as the neoliberal moment, another kind of rise became more evident domestically. It was of a kind of corporate wealth and power, as well as a growing inequality, previously unknown in my lifetime.

In 1991, when I was 47 years old, the Cold War suddenly ended. In 1989, the Red Army had limped home from a decade-long disastrous war in Afghanistan (from which, of course, Washington would turn out to learn absolutely nothing) and the Soviet Union soon imploded. Miracle of miracles, after nearly half a century, the United States was left alone and seemingly victorious, “the sole superpower” on Planet Earth.

The former bipolar world order was no more and, in the phrase of conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, we were now in “the unipolar moment.” Uni because there was only one power that mattered left on this planet. Admittedly, Krauthammer didn’t expect that uni-ness to last long, but too many politicians in Washington felt differently. As it turned out, the top officials in the administrations of Bush the elder and then Bush the younger had every intention of turning that moment of unparalleled global triumph into a forever reality. What followed were wars, invasions, and conflicts of every sort meant to cement the global order, starting with President George H.W. Bush’s Operation Desert Storm against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991, which (sadly enough) came to be known as the first Gulf War.

Hence, too, the missing “peace dividend” that had been promised domestically as the Cold War ended. Hence, too, after “peace” arrived came the never-ending urge to pour yet more taxpayer dollars into the Pentagon, into a “defense” budget beyond compare, and into the weapons-making corporations of the military-industrial complex, no matter what the U.S. military was actually capable of accomplishing.

All of this was to be the global legacy of that sole superpower, as its leaders worked to ensure that this country would remain so until the end of time. A decade into that process, horrified by the response of Bush the younger and his top officials to the 9/11 attacks, I created TomDispatch, the website that would see me through my own years of decline.

Bankruptcy, Inc.

Keep in mind that, in those years of supposed triumph, the third decline-and-fall story was just beginning to gain momentum. We now know that climate change was first brought to the attention of an American president, Lyndon Johnson, by a science advisory committee in 1965. In 1977, Jimmy Carter, who two years later would put solar panels on the White House (only to have them removed in 1986 by Ronald Reagan), was warned by his chief science adviser of the possibility of “catastrophic climate change.” And yet, in all the years that followed, remarkably little was done by the sole superpower, though President Barack Obama did play a key role in negotiating the Paris Climate agreement (from which Donald Trump would dramatically withdraw this country).

In its own fashion, Trump’s victory in 2016 summed up the fate of the unipolar moment. His triumph represented a cry of pain and protest over a society that had gone from “great” to something far grimmer in the lifetime of so many Americans, one that would leave them as apprentices on what increasingly looked like a trip to hell.

That narcissistic billionaire, ultimate grifter, and dysfunctional human being somehow lived through bankruptcy after bankruptcy only to emerge at the top of the heap. He couldn’t have been a more appropriate symptom and symbol of troubled times, of decline — and anger over it. It wasn’t a coincidence, after all, that the candidate with the slogan Make America Great Again won that election. Unlike other politicians of that moment, he was willing to admit that, for so many Americans, this country had become anything but great.

Donald Trump would, of course, preside over both greater domestic inequality and further global decline. Worse yet, he would preside over a global power (no longer “sole” with the rise of China) that wasn’t declining on its own. By then, the planet was in descent as well. The American military would also continue to demonstrate that it was incapable of winning, that there would never again be the equivalent of V-J Day.

Meanwhile, the political elite was shattering in striking ways. One party, the Republicans, would be in almost total denial about the very nature of the world we now find ourselves in — a fate that, in ordinary times, might have proven bad news for them. In our moment, however, it only strengthened the possibility of a catastrophe for the rest of us, especially the youngest among us.

And yes, recently West Virginia coal magnate Joe Manchin finally came around (in return for a barrel full of favors for his major donors in the oil and gas industry), but the country that created the Manhattan Project that once produced those atomic bombs is now strangely unrecognizable, even to itself. During World War II, the government had poured massive sums of money into that effort, while mobilizing large numbers of top scientists to create the nuclear weapons that would destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To this day, in fact, it still puts staggering sums and effort into “modernizing” the American nuclear arsenal.

When it comes to saving the world rather than destroying it, however, few in Washington could today even imagine creating a modern version of the Manhattan Project to figure out effective new ways of dealing with climate change. Better to launch a dreadful version of the now-ancient Cold War than deal with the true decline-and-fall situation this country, no less this civilization, faces.

Admittedly, though I recently stumbled across something I wrote in the 1990s that mentioned global warming, I only became strongly aware of the phenomenon in this century as my own decline began (almost unnoticed by me). Even when, at TomDispatch, I started writing fervently about climate change, I must admit that I didn’t initially imagine myself living through it in this fashion — as so many of us have in this globally overheated summer of 2022. Nor did I imagine that such devastating fires, floods, droughts, and storms would become “normal” in my own lifetime. Nor, I must admit, did I think then that the phenomenon might lead to a future all-too-literal end point for humanity, what some scientists are starting to term a “climate endgame” — in other words, a possible extinction event.

And yet here we are, in a democratic system under unbelievable stress, in a country with a gigantic military (backed by a corporate weapons-making complex of almost imaginable size and power) that’s proven incapable of winning anything of significance, even if funded in a fashion that once might have been hard to imagine in actual wartime. In a sense, its only “success” might lie its remarkable ability to further fossil-fuelize the world. In other words, we now live in an America coming apart at the seams at a moment when the oldest story in human history might be changing, as we face the potential decline and fall of everything.

One thing is certain: as with all of us, when it comes to my personal story, there’s no turning around my own decline and fall. When it comes to our country and the world, however, the end of the story has yet to be written. The question is: Will we find some way to write it that won’t end in the fall not just of this imperial power but of humanity itself?

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars: The Untold Story.

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt


Extreme Life: Why the Climate Emergency is the Moral Equivalent of World War III Wed, 06 Jul 2022 04:02:11 +0000 ( In recent weeks, a newly emboldened right-wing Supreme Court struck down a more than century-old New York law restricting the carrying of concealed weapons and a nearly 50-year-old precedent on abortion. Meanwhile, the January 6th Committee has been laying out in graphic televised detail how our last president tried to subvert the 2021 election. Inflation, of course, continues to run riot; gas prices have soared to record levels; the brutal war in Ukraine proceeds neverendingly; the Biden administration looks increasingly hapless; and the president himself ever older and less on target. In sum, our world seems to be in headline-making disorder, while our fate here in this country — thank you, (in)justices Alito and Thomas, not to speak of The Donald and crew! — remains remarkably up for grabs by the worst of us all.

There’s so much heat, in other words, that we seem endlessly in the fires of this political moment. It’s hardly surprisingly then if, talking about heat, by far the most significant story of our time, undoubtedly of all time, is barely on our radar screens. I mean, let’s get one thing straight, if you hadn’t quite noticed: you and I are already on a different planet. And no, I’m not thinking about being in a new cold war, or Donald Trump and the last presidential election, or Ron DeSantis and the next one, or even the latest round of the never-ending Covid-19 pandemic.

I’m talking about being on a planet already overheating not just politically or militarily, but in the most literal way possible. I’m talking about climate change, of course. And don’t think I’m just focused on the future over-heating of this planet either. What I have in mind is this very palpable present. I’m talking about a country, the United States, that, with heat domes over significant parts of it recently, has been breaking seasonal heat records like mad. Phoenix (114), Tucson (111), El Paso (107), and Las Vegas (104) all set June heat records, as did Birmingham, Chicago, Little Rock, Jackson, Memphis, Shreveport, and Nashville. That’s just to start down an ever-lengthening, ever more broiling list, even as the Supreme Court just acted to ensure that ever more greenhouse gas emissions would continue to pour into our atmosphere.

Only recently, itself undoubtedly a first, the National Weather Service Prediction Center warned 100 million Americans — and that’s not a misprint — from the Gulf coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas that they should stay indoors due to a dangerous heat wave. And, lest you think I’m ignoring the Southwest and West, let me add that those regions are now in the third year of a megadrought unlike any in at least 1,200 years. Consider, for instance, the two record-setting mega-fires in New Mexico that just won’t stop burning two months later (with the main Western fire season still ahead). And don’t forget those record 500-year-floods in Yellowstone National Park similarly connected to this overheated season, sudden deluges of rain, and the melting of mountain snow.

And yes, I’m thinking about an Arctic that’s heating (and melting) seven times faster than the rest of the planet. I’m thinking about a China that’s grappling with record heat waves and devastating flooding. I’m thinking about a Japan experiencing its worst heat wave ever. I’m thinking about a spring heat wave in India that produced its warmest March since records were first kept there; broiled much of South Asia; and, according to scientists, is now 30 times more likely to recur than once would have been true. And don’t forget the extreme rainfall and record floods in that region either.

I’m also thinking about a scorched Horn of Africa that’s living (or dying) through a devastating drought. I’m thinking about a provincial capital in southeastern Iran where the temperature recently hit a record 126 degrees Farenheit. I’m thinking about heat waves in southern Europe that arrived historically early — in the case of Spain, record-breakingly so.

And that’s just to start down a longer list. And mind you, what I’ve been describing here is a nightmare of heat waves and other forms of extreme weather that’s just beginning and that, barring surprises, will only grow ever more severe in the decades to come. We’re talking about parts of this planet potentially becoming uninhabitable and undoubtedly turning hundreds of millions, possibly a billion or more of us into climate refugees on the road to… well, hell.

What If American Democracy Were History?

I’m also talking about a country where, in elections this November and in November two years from now, American voters could easily seal not just our own fate, but much of the world’s. We could ensure at least six more utterly fossil-fuelized years in which the globe’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter (and, historically, the greatest of all time) would be locked in a Trumpian embrace, similar to the one now enveloping the Supreme Court and all too many lower ones as well, thanks to the former president and Mitch McConnell. We could, in other words, guarantee that nothing — not a single thing — would be done nationally to offset the overheating of this ever more tormented planet of ours.

In addition, give the present version of the Republican Party control of Congress and the presidency and there would be other problems ahead. For one thing, consider it possible that, in a distinctly Triumpian fashion, its leadership would take a shot (and yes, it would probably be from an AR-15) at turning our former president’s mad theories about the American electoral system into a potentially autocratic reality. American democracy would, at that point, be history and then, bring on the heat!

Or rather, welcome to America, Vladimir Trump! (Or Vladimir DeSantis! Or you fill in the blank yourself!)

Hell on earth? That used to be nothing more than a phrase used for extreme situations, a first-class metaphor. Increasingly, though, it’s becoming an ever more accurate description of our lives on this planet and something we would have to get used to. Except that, for many of us in such a future, there would be no way to do so.

There’s no need to focus on present-day outliers like those 120-degree spring temperatures in India and Pakistan or that 126-degree day in Iran, since ever more extreme weather of so many kinds will simply be life on Earth. In fact, sooner or later, we’ll have to stop calling it extreme weather, wouldn’t we? Increasingly, it will just be the weather. Period.

And here’s perhaps the most unnerving thing of all: somehow, in this country, climate change has yet to become a significant part of the national debate or mainstream politics. It’s not a subject Democrats seem capable of running successfully on yet. And that couldn’t be stranger because, barring a nuclear war, it’s our very own apocalyptic future right before our eyes, written not in the stars, but in the very world we’re now living in. What could be more convincing? Except, for the fact that, explain it as you will, it isn’t.

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Yes, it was briefly part of Joe Biden’s long-sunk Build Back Better bill (thank you, coal baron Joe Manchin!), but now it’s simply gone. Worse yet, ever since Biden hit the White House, his foreign policy team has been focused on promoting a new cold war with China. Its goal: rallying allies and others against a rising China and further militarizing the relationship between the planet’s two superpowers. I mean, you might think that the two greatest greenhouse-gas emitters of the present moment, China and the United States, would feel a natural urge to work together to change the energy structure of this planet. But no such luck. (In fact, when was the last time you even heard anything about John Kerry, the Biden administration’s special presidential envoy for climate change?)

And then, of course, add in the war in Ukraine (thanks a heap, Vlad!), which is only fossil-fuelizing this planet yet more and putting off significant movement toward green and clean energy to an unknown future. In fact, in the absence of Russian natural gas and oil, some desperate European countries are even considering turning back to coal, the worst of the carbon-emitting energy sources! It seems self-evident that an end should be brokered to that war immediately and not just for the suffering Ukrainians in an increasingly rubble-strewn land, or the miserable Russian soldiers fighting the Vlad’s war, but for the rest of us, for the planet itself.

The Greatest Disaster in Human History?

Excuse me a moment, but I’d like to scream!

Honestly, don’t expect climate change to be much of an issue, if any at all, in the November election. And the six conservative justices of the Supreme Court, not going anywhere soon, are already working hard to ensure that no future American government will be capable of taking significant action to mitigate the effects of global warming.

In short, I’m talking about a planet I didn’t even expect to be living on and one I certainly don’t want to hand on to my children and grandchildren. What in the world did they do to deserve this?

And it couldn’t be stranger that we just don’t get it. Yes, there are lots of scientists and a certain number of young people who have fully grasped the problem and are trying their best to rise to meet it. But this country as a whole (no less the world), not a chance in… yes, I might as well say it yet again… hell.

Otherwise, we would be mobilizing now to deal with global warming the same way President Franklin Roosevelt mobilized us for World War II. For the truth is that, if we don’t move so much faster than we are now, the climate, the weather, could indeed prove to be our World War III (and IV and V). If so, it will put the Russian president to shame. It will be, to use Kurt Vonnegut’s old phrase for World War II, a “slaughterhouse” of a new sort. And yet, logical as it might seem, such a mobilization doesn’t yet appear to be faintly in the cards and, worse still, if American politics follows its present course, it might not be in any imaginable future.

And yet, in the end, that simply can’t be, can it? At some level, it’s just so obvious and not very complicated either. We — and that means much of the planet, not just those of us here in the United States — need to mobilize not against each other for once, but against what’s clearly becoming the greatest disaster in human history.

Stop and think about that for a moment. Given our history, that’s saying something, isn’t it?

And yet the men — and they were men — I labeled terrarists years ago because they, and the giant oil companies they ran, seemed so utterly intent on devastating the planet (something I called “terracide”) for the most immediate profits and an all-too-high-flying life for themselves still seem to be in the saddle. Yes, in this century, Washington conducted a disastrous 20-year war against terrorism, but never, whether Republicans or Democrats were in office, against this planet’s true terrarists.

As I wrote about them almost a decade ago,

“Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into funding think tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing ‘doubts’ about the science [of climate change] (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their efforts to get ever tougher and sometimes ‘dirtier’ energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.”

And, in truth, all too little has changed to date, as the giant energy companies in the Ukraine moment prosper, while the price of oil and natural gas only soars and the rest of us continue to swelter.

It’s not that there’s nothing to be done. The price of renewable energy has been falling steadily for years. Were governments to focus the sort of attention on changing our energy environment that now goes into wars, hot and cold, and the sort of money that now goes into the Pentagon and its global equivalents, don’t for a second doubt that we could move toward a genuinely renewable world.

We’ve been warned, again and again, by the leading scientists of this planet, that it’s not only getting bad but, unless humanity refocuses in a big-time way, that it’s only going to get so much worse. The question is: when will the pain of climate change become too great to ignore any longer and will it then be too late? I hope to hell not!

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt

The Ultimate Blowback Planet: Remembering Chalmers Johnson Mon, 06 Jun 2022 04:02:20 +0000 ( ) – Once upon a time, long, long ago — actually, it was early in the year 2000 — I was involved in publishing Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. It had been written by the eminent scholar of Asia, former CIA consultant, and cold warrior Chalmers Johnson. I was his editor at Metropolitan Books. In its introduction, using a word Americans were then (as now) all too uncomfortable with, he bluntly summed up his professional life by labeling himself “a spear-carrier for empire.” And he described the origins of his book’s title this way:

“Officials of the Central Intelligence Agency first invented [the term blowback] for their own internal use… [It] refers to the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people. What the daily press reports as the malign acts of ‘terrorists’ or ‘drug lords’ or ‘rogue states’ or ‘illegal arms merchants’ often turn out to be blowback from earlier American operations.”

Ominously enough, he added, “All around the world today, it is possible to see the groundwork being laid for future forms of blowback.” On page 10, he brought up — and remember he was writing this as the previous century ended — the name of “a former protege of the United States,” one Osama bin Laden. In the 1980s, that rich young Saudi had been part of Washington’s secret war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, forming a group to battle the Russians that he called al-Qaeda (“the Base”) to battle the Red Army. By the time Chalmers wrote his book, the Russian war there was long over, the Soviet Union had collapsed, and bin Laden had turned against Washington. He was then believed responsible for the bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. On page 11, Chalmers added that such “retaliation” for American acts was “undoubtedly not yet at an end in the case of bin Laden.”

He summed things up this way: “Because we live in an increasingly interconnected international system, we are all, in a sense, living in a blowback world.”

Sadly, that remains even truer today and, if Chalmers could return from the dead, I have no doubt that he would have much to say about how we now find ourselves on the ultimate blowback planet.

Blowback in a Sole-Superpower World

To use an all-too-appropriate word, given what he was writing about, his book bombed. Boy, did it! The reviewer at the New York Times dismissed it as “marred by an overriding, sweeping, and cranky one-sidedness.” And it sold next to no copies. It was dead in the water, until, 18 months later… yes, I’m sure you’ve already guessed what I’m about to write next… on September 11, 2001, those towers in New York City came down and the Pentagon was clobbered.

Suddenly, Blowback was on every bookstore bestseller table in America. As Chalmers would mention in his new introduction to the 2003 paperback, Metropolitan Books had to reprint it eight times in less than two months to keep up with demand.

Buy the Book

In that volume, he had done something deeply unpopular at the time of publication (except among fringe groups on the left). He had called our country an empire — an imperial power intent on maintaining a staggering military presence globally in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and before the rise of China. A common term used in Washington at the time was the “sole superpower” on planet Earth. And he pointed out, ominously enough, that even without official enemies of any significance, thanks in part to its global imperial presence, Washington had “hollowed out our domestic manufacturing and bred a military establishment that is today close to being beyond civilian control.” He added tellingly that it “always demands more” and was “becoming an autonomous system.” In addition, the post-Vietnam, post-draft, “all volunteer” military was, he pointed out, increasingly “an entirely mercenary force.” Worse yet, he saw the growth of American militarism at home as another form of blowback from this country’s overextension abroad. (Sound familiar in 2022?)

He warned that the collapse of the Soviet Union in the wake of the war in Afghanistan should have been a warning to Washington. Even more ominously, at a moment when this country’s foreign-policy establishment considered us the “indispensable nation” (Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s phrase), he suggested that we were already experiencing “imperial overextension” and on the long downward slope that all empires experience sooner or later.

And keep in mind that all of this was written before 9/11; before President George W. Bush and crew launched devastatingly ill-fated invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; before this country’s civilian population became — as the nightmare at Uvalde reminded us recently — armed to the teeth with military-style weaponry. It was long before Donald Trump and before the Republican Party was transformed into something unrecognizable. It was well before Congress became essentially incapable of passing anything of significance for most Americans, even as it was instantly capable of providing $54 billion in aid and arms for the Ukrainians and endless funds for the Pentagon.

President Blowback

Just last month, 22 years later, I reread Blowback. Chalmers is, of course, long gone. (He died in November 2010.) But with the news of these last years and what may be on the horizon in mind, I couldn’t help thinking about how he would have updated the book, were he still here.

As a start, I doubt he would have been particularly surprised by Donald Trump. In June 2005, reintroducing a piece he had done for TomDispatch in 2003 on the scourge of militarism, he was already writing: “The American governmental system is no longer working the way it is supposed to. Many distinguished observers think it is badly damaged in terms of Constitutional checks and balances and the structures put in place by the founders to prevent tyranny.”

And as I added in that same 2005 introduction, reflecting Chalmers:

“In September 2003, only four months after [President George W. Bush’s] ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment on the USS Abraham Lincoln, it was already evident to some of us that neocon dreams of establishing a robust Pax Americana on the planet were likely to be doomed in the sands of Iraq — but that, in the process, the American constitutional system as we’ve known it might well be destroyed.”

Yes, the possibility of our system spinning downward toward some version of tyranny wouldn’t, I suspect, have surprised him. Of course, he didn’t predict Donald Trump. (Who did?) But if anyone could have imagined this country “governed” — and I put that in quotes for obvious reasons — by a billionaire grifter and TV impresario who thought not just unbearably well of, but only of himself, it was Chalmers. Had he been here in 2016, when that bizarre figure ran for president, as he’d been dreaming about doing since at least 2011, and won, I’d put my money on his not being even slightly taken aback. Nor, I suspect, would he have been surprised when the economic inequality that helped Trump to victory only grew ever more rampant in his years in office, while billionaires began to multiply like fleas on a rabid dog.

Honestly, if you think about it for a moment, it’s hard not to imagine The Donald’s success as another version of blowback. In fact, he’s almost inconceivable without the sort of imperial mess Chalmers had in mind and that this country did such a splendiferous job of encouraging with its disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and its never-ending war on terror. If it weren’t for the mess that our military machine made of the world in this century (and the money it gobbled up in the process), his rise would be hard to imagine. He now seems like the cause of so much, but honestly, as I wrote during the election campaign of 2016 referring to the disease then in the news: “Perhaps it would be better to see Donald Trump as a symptom, not the problem itself, to think of him not as the Zika Virus but as the first infectious mosquito to hit the shores of this country.”

He certainly marked another key moment in what Chalmers would have thought of as the domestic version of imperial decline. In fact, looking back or, given his insistence that the 2020 election was “fake” or “rigged,” looking toward a country in ever-greater crisis, it seems to me that we could redub him Blowback Donald. (Of course, that “B” could also stand for Blowhard.) And given the present Republican Party, as well as the growing evidence that this country’s political system could be coming apart at the seams, it’s hard not to think that Chalmers was onto something big as the last century ended.

Of one thing I’m sure. He wouldn’t have been slightly shocked to discover that, these days, just about the only thing Congress can agree upon across party lines is the annual raising of the Pentagon budget to levels that now match the military budgets of the next 11 countries combined.

Twenty-First-Century Blowback

In the back of my mind, while rereading his book, I kept wondering how else Chalmers might have updated it in 2022. And what came to mind repeatedly was that potentially ultimate subject, climate change.

Now, Chalmers certainly had a sense of the environmental damage the American empire was already causing, but climate change was not yet on his mind. Recently, to my surprise, I came across a passing reference to it in something I wrote but never published in the 1990s and was surprised I even knew about it then. Still, in this century, as I became ever more aware of it and wrote and published ever more about it at TomDispatch, I came to believe that it would indeed be potentially devastating for humanity. For years, though, I didn’t quite grasp that it would be so in my own lifetime.

Back then, I imagined it as largely a phenomenon of the future, not something for which you could find evidence in the news daily (whether identified as such or not). Yes, at some point I realized, for instance, that South Asia might be more susceptible to climate extremes than many other areas. Still, I hadn’t expected that I would live to see springtime weather with temperatures in the range of 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, or that such horrific and, without air conditioning, increasingly deathly warmth would be followed by devastating flooding. Or that such extremes would grow more common so quickly.

Nor, honestly, had I expected a wave of record July temperatures (and humidity) here in the northeast U.S. and across much of my own country this very May (it hit 95 degrees on a recent day in Philadelphia!). Nor did I imagine that the Southwest and West would be embroiled in a megadrought the likes of which hasn’t been seen on this continent in at least 1,200 years, with devastating, often record-setting fires, blazing in New Mexico and elsewhere ever earlier in the year. Or the unprecedented severe drought and record flooding in parts of Brazil and Argentina. Or the staggering burning and flooding in Australia. Or the unparalleled floods in recent years in China, Germany, and other countries.

I hadn’t imagined that every spring I’d see more or less the same spring article predicting another terrible, if not record, Atlantic hurricane season. Or that I’d hear about a May hurricane of record strength hitting the Pacific coast of Mexico.

And of course, that’s just to start down what seems like an increasingly endless list. I mean, I haven’t even mentioned those three rare tornadoes in Germany or the record May heat wave in Spain, or… but why go on? You get the idea. In fact, you or people you know are undoubtedly living that very reality, too, in some daunting fashion — and at this moment, thanks to the war in Ukraine and endless other distractions, the world is only burning yet more fossil-fuels promising so much worse to come.

To return to Chalmers Johnson, if you think about it for even 30 seconds, climate change has obviously become the greatest blowback event in human history — with almost unimaginably greater climate chaos likely to come. As he would undoubtedly have noted, if you’re living in the most significant blowback nation in human history, since no other country has put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than the United States, you’re truly facing — to cite the subtitle of his book — “the costs and consequences of American empire” and, of course, of the imperial oil companies that continue to have such a hand in (mis)shaping our world.

Worse yet, in this century, that newest of imperial powers, China, has already outstripped this country in terms of the fossil-fuelization of this planet’s atmosphere. (Yet another classic case of imperial over-stretch in the offing.)

Talk about decline! These days it almost seems to precede imperial rise. Yikes!

And so many years later, just to out-Chalmers the master himself, let me offer another prediction: if the Republicans sweep into Congress in 2022 and Blowback Donald or one of his act-alikes sweeps (or even creeps) into the White House in 2024, consider that the potential end of the American story, since it would ensure that, for years to come, nothing would be done to stop the ultimate version of blowback.

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt

Via )

Are We Approaching the most Dangerous Point in Human History? Mon, 25 Apr 2022 04:02:27 +0000 ( ) – Face it, we’re living in a world that, while anything but exceptional, is increasingly the exception to every rule. Only the other day, 93-year-old Noam Chomsky had something to say about that. Mind you, he’s seen a bit of our world since, in 1939, he wrote his first article for his elementary school newspaper on the fall of the Spanish city of Barcelona amid a “grim cloud” of advancing fascism. His comment on our present situation: “We’re approaching the most dangerous point in human history.”

And don’t try to deny it! What a mess! (And yes, I do think this moment is worth more than a few exclamation points!)

Admittedly, I’m not an active, thoughtful 93 year old. I’m a mere 77 and feel like I’m floundering in this mad world of ours. Still, like my generation, like anyone alive after August 6, 1945, when the city of Hiroshima was obliterated by a single American atomic bomb, I’m an end-of-the-worlder by nature. And that’s true whether any of us like it or not, admit it or not.

In fact, I’ve lived with that reality — or perhaps I mean the surreality of it all — both consciously (on occasion) and unconsciously (the rest of the time) since my childhood. No one my age is likely to forget the duck-and-cover drills we all performed, diving under our school desks, hands over heads, to prepare for, in my case, the Soviet Union’s attempted atomic destruction of New York City. We followed the advice, then, of the cartoon character Bert the Turtle — in a brief film I remember seeing in our school cafeteria — who “never got hurt because he knew just what we all must do: he ducked and covered.”

As the sonorous male narrator of that film then put it:

“The atomic bomb flash could burn you worse than a terrible sunburn, especially where you’re not covered. Now, you and I don’t have shells to crawl into like Bert the Turtle, so we have to cover up in our own way… Duck and cover underneath a table or a desk or anything else close by… Always remember, the flash of an atomic bomb can come at any time, wherever you may be.”

That was life in 1950s New York City. On my way to school, I would pass the S-signs for “safe places to go” (as that cartoon put it) or later the bright orange-yellow and black fallout-shelter signs (millions of which were produced and used nationally). And like so many other young people of that era, I let The Twilight Zone nuke me on TV, went to world-ending films in my high-school years, and read similar sci-fi.

I was only 18 and in my first semester of college when, on October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy went on national TV, not the norm then, to address us all (though I heard his speech on the radio). He warned us of a

“secret, swift, and extraordinary buildup of Communist missiles — in an area well known to have a special and historical relationship to the United States and the nations of the Western Hemisphere, in violation of Soviet assurances, and in defiance of American and hemispheric policy — this sudden, clandestine decision to station strategic weapons for the first time outside of Soviet soil — is a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo which cannot be accepted by this country.”

Now, mind you, I didn’t know then that the U.S. military already had a Single Integrated Operational Plan, or SIOP, to deliver more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world. That included at least 130 cities which would, if all went according to plan, cease to exist. Official estimates of casualties ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured (which probably underestimated the effects of radiation). Nor did I know then that, in the 1950s, American officials, at the highest levels, focused endlessly on what was known as the “unthinkable,” all the while preparing to plunge us into a planetary charnel house.

Military and civilian policymakers then found themselves writing obsessive sci-fi-style scenarios, not for public consumption but for one another, about a possible “global war of annihilation.” In those new combat scenarios, they found themselves and their country on the horns of an unbearable dilemma. They could either forswear meaningful victory — or strike first, taking on an uncivilized and treacherous role long reserved in our history books (if not in reality) for the enemy.

Still, as the Cuban Missile Crisis began, for Americans like me, everything for which we had long been preparing to duck-and-cover suddenly seemed to loom all too large and in a potentially unduckable fashion. And believe me, I was anything but unique when, as the U.S. Navy launched its blockade of the island of Cuba, I wondered whether the “unthinkable” was now in the cards.

Welcome to the Nuclear Age, Part 2?

And here I am so many decades later. The world, of course, didn’t end. I never actually ducked and covered to ward off a nuclear attack in what passed for real life. In those years, that SIOP remained as much a fantasy as anything on The Twilight Zone. And though neither superpower actually dismantled its nuclear arsenal when the Cold War ended in 1991 with the implosion of the Soviet Union (quite the opposite, in fact), nuclear weapons did seem to retreat into the ether, into Bert the Turtle’s fantasy world, until… well, I hesitate here, but I have to say it: the invasion of Ukraine.

Only the other day, CIA Director William Burns, once deeply convinced of the dangers of offering NATO membership to Ukraine and long warning of a Russian backlash against such a policy, publicly suggested that, sometime soon, Vladimir Putin might turn to atomic weaponry in his disastrous war there. Admittedly, he was talking about so-called tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons (each perhaps one-third the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima), not the monster nukes in both our arsenals. Still, welcome to the nuclear age, part 2.

And, of course, that’s just to start on a situation that feels as if it could implode. After all, the war in Ukraine has already reached mind-boggling levels of criminal brutality and destructiveness and you can feel that where it truly goes, no one truly knows. A recent Russian diplomatic note to Washington, for instance, warned of “unpredictable consequences” if the Biden administration kept arming the Ukrainians. Meanwhile, the Russians all-too-publicly tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile, which President Vladimir Putin said would make the country’s enemies “think twice.” Worse yet, it seems as if the global situation could burst out of control in an altogether unpredictable fashion, if Putin begins to feel that Ukraine is a lost war.

Above all, since Cold War, part 1, ended, a second world-ending possibility has been piled atop the first in almost comic fashion.

In fact, I have the urge to cry out, “Duck and cover!” and not just because of those nukes that might sooner or later be brought to bear on Ukraine, leading to who knows what and where. After all, in 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated, who would have guessed that, more than three quarters of a century after the dropping of that first atomic bomb (followed, of course, by a second one on Nagasaki and the end of the most horrific global war ever), there would once again be war in Europe? Isn’t that the oldest story of all?

And don’t expect good news soon either. In fact, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the war in Ukraine won’t even end this year, while CNN reports that “some members of Congress and their aides are quietly making comparison to the Korean War, which lasted for three years.” And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, who once thought Russian invaders could take the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in 72 hours, now evidently believes the war there could last “at least years for sure.”

Really? The Korean War? Such an old, old story (and another war where the nuclear threshold was at least approached). And once again, the world has split into two blocs in what could almost pass for a parody of the original Cold War, with each side already struggling for support from countries around the planet.

The Fate of the Earth?

If I were making all this up, let me assure you, it would be considered the worst-plotted “take two” imaginable. Oh, let’s see, those humans didn’t learn a damn thing from almost destroying the planet and each other back then! So, they decided to do the whole damn thing all over again. Only this time, they’ve thrown in an extra factor! Yep, you guessed it, another way to destroy the planet! (Duck and cover!!)

Buy the Book

Yes, indeed, this strangely old-fashioned comedy of horrors is taking place in an all-too-new context, given a factor that wasn’t in anyone’s consciousness back then. Of course, I’m talking about climate change. I’m thinking about how the planet’s top scientists have repeatedly told us that, if fossil-fuel use isn’t cut back radically and soon, this planet will all-too-literally become a hell on Earth. And keep in mind that, even before the war in Ukraine began, global carbon dioxide emissions had rebounded from pandemic drops and hit a historic high.

And it could only get worse in the chaos of the Ukraine moment as gas prices soar, panic sets in, and all-too-little attention is paid to the dangers of overheating this planet. I mean, none of this should exactly be a secret, right? If, for instance, you happen to live in the American Southwest or West, parts of which are now experiencing the worst drought in at least 1,200 years and successive fire seasons beyond compare, you should know just what I mean. The worst of it is that such new realities, including, for instance, hurricane seasons to remember, are essentially the equivalent of movie previews. (And mind you, I’ve barely even mentioned the ongoing pandemic, which has already taken an estimated 15 million lives on this planet.)

It’s sadly obvious what should be happening: the great powers, also the great fossil-fuelizers (China, the United States, and Russia), should be working together to green energize our world fast. And yet here we are, fighting a new war in Europe launched by the head of a Saudi-style petro state in Moscow playing out his version of Cold War II with Washington and Beijing — oh, and in the process, ensuring the burning of yet more fossil fuels.

Brilliant! Excuse me if I stop a second — it’s just a reflex, really — to yell: Bert, duck and cover fast!

Oh, and lest you think that’s the worst of it, let’s turn to the globe’s second-greatest greenhouse-gas emitter of this moment (and the greatest ever, historically speaking). Right now, it looks all too much like the Democrats could go down fast and hard in the 2022 elections, and possibly in 2024 as well. After all, coal merchant Joe Manchin and the congressional Republicans have sunk the president’s Build Back Better Bill and so much else, ensuring the Democrats of all too few accomplishments as the midterm elections approach. And the polls already reflect that grim reality.

Whether you’re talking about former Gen Z supporters, Hispanics, or, well, you name it, President Biden’s approval ratings seem to be spinning toward a pollster’s version of hell as the war goes on, inflation surges, and the price of gas shoots through the roof. In fact, only the other week, his administration, which came into office singing its own climate-changing praises and promising, as the future president said on the campaign trail in 2020, “no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” just opened bidding for new leases to do just that.

Meanwhile Donald Trump, the man who pulled this country out of the Paris climate accords and the greatest party boss in memory, luxuriates at Mar-a-Lago, raising sums beyond compare and paying no price for anything he’s done. If his party takes over Congress and then the White House, it’s not complicated at all. Just light a giant match and burn this planet down, assuming Vladimir Putin hasn’t already done that.

Call it hell on Earth and you’re anything but exaggerating. The “unthinkable”? Start thinking, my friend. The fate of the Earth, once the title of a classic book on the nuclear nightmare by Jonathan Schell, could soon be little short of a post-Trumpian joke.

My advice and I mean it: duck and cover!

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt


My Grandfather Fled Ukraine 140 Years Ago, Now it is an Icon of Our long History of War Fri, 08 Apr 2022 04:02:45 +0000 ( – Excuse me if I wander a little today — and if it bothers you, don’t blame me, blame Vladimir Putin. After all, I didn’t decide to invade Ukraine, the place my grandfather fled almost 140 years ago. I suspect, in fact, that I was an adult before I even knew such a place existed. If I could be accused of anything, maybe you could say that, for most of my life, I evaded Ukraine.

All of us are, in some fashion, now living inside the shockwaves from the Russian president’s grotesque invasion and from a war taking place close to the heart of Europe. I was not quite one year old in May 1945 when World War II in Europe ended, along with years of carnage unparalleled on this planet. Millions of Russians, six million Jews, god knows how many French, British, Germans, Ukrainians, and… well, the list just goes on and on… died and how many more were wounded or displaced from their homes and lives. Given Adolf Hitler’s Germany, we’re talking about nothing short of a hell on Earth. That was Europe from the late 1930s until 1945.

In the more-than-three-quarters of a century since then, with the exception of the brief Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, a civil war (with outside intervention) in the early 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, as well as warring in marginal places like Chechnya, Europe has been the definition of peaceful. Hence, the shock of it all. Believe me, it wouldn’t have been faintly the same if Vladimir Putin had invaded Kazakhstan or Afghanistan or… well, you get the idea. In fact, in 1979, when the leaders of the Soviet Union did indeed send the Red Army into Afghanistan and again, just over two decades later, when George W. Bush and crew ordered the U.S. military to invade the same country, there were far too few cries of alarm, assumedly because it hadn’t happened in the heart of Europe and who the hell cared (other, of course, than the Afghans in the path of those two armies).

Now, the Vlad has once again turned part of Europe into a war-torn nightmare, a genuine hell on earth of fire and destruction. He’s blasted out significant parts of major cities, sent more than four million Ukrainians fleeing the country as refugees, and uprooted at least 6.5 million more in that land. Consider it a signal measure of the horror of the moment that more than half of all Ukrainian children have, in some fashion, been displaced. Since that country became the focus of staggering media attention here (in coverage terms, it’s as if every day were the day after the 9/11 attacks), since it became more or less the only story on Earth, little surprise that it also came to seem like a horror, a crime, of an essentially unparalleled sort, an intrusion beyond all measure. The shock has been staggering. You just don’t do that, right?

The Heartland of War, Historically Speaking

Strangely enough, though, the Russian president’s gross act fits all too horribly into a far larger and longer history of Europe and this planet. After all, until 1945, rather than being a citadel of global peace, order, and European-Union-style cooperation, that continent was regularly a hell of war, conflict, and slaughter.

You could, of course, go back to at least 460 BC, when the 15-year Peloponnesian War between the Greek city states of Athens and Sparta began in an era that has long been considered the “dawn of civilization.” From then on through Roman imperial times, war, or rather wars galore, lay at the heart of that developing civilization.

Once you get to the later history of Europe, whether you’re talking about Vikings raiding England or English kings like Henry V fighting it out in France (read your Shakespeare!) in what came to be known as the Hundred Years’ War; whether you’re thinking about the Thirty Years’ War in medieval Europe in which millions are believed to have perished; the bloody Napoleonic wars of the early nineteenth century, including that self-proclaimed French emperor’s invasion of Russia; or, of course, World War I, an early-twentieth-century slaughterhouse, stretching from France again deep into Russia, not to speak of civil conflicts like the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, you’re talking about a genuine heartland of global conflict. (And keep in mind that Ukraine was all too often involved.)

In the years since World War II, especially here in the United States, we’ve grown far too used to a world in which wars (often ours) take place in distant lands, thousands of miles from the heart of true power and civilization (as we like to think of it) on this planet. In the 1950s with the Korean War, as well as in the 1960s and 1970s in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, war, fought by the U.S. and its allies was a significantly Asian phenomenon. In the 1980s and 1990s, the crucial locations were South Asia and the Middle East. In this century, once again, they were in South Asia, the Greater Middle East, and also Africa.

And of course, in the history of this planet, so many of the wars fought “elsewhere” ever since the Middle Ages were sparked by European imperial powers, as well as that inheritor of the European mantle of empire, the United States. Looked at in the largest historical framework possible, you might even say that, in some fashion, modern war as we’ve known it was pioneered in Europe.

Worse yet, as soon as the Europeans were able to travel anywhere else, what’s come to be known all too inoffensively as “the age of discovery” began. With their wooden sailing ships loaded with cannons and troops, they essentially pursued wars around the world in the grimmest fashion possible, while attempting to dominate much of the planet via what came to be known as colonialism. From the genocidal destruction of native peoples in North America (a legacy the United States inherited in the “New World” from its colonial mentors in the “Old World”) to the Opium Wars in China, from the Sepoy Mutiny in India to the repression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, the Europeans functionally exported extreme violence of many kinds globally in a way that would undoubtedly have impressed the ancient Greeks and Romans.

From the Portuguese and Spanish empires of the 16th century to the English and French empires of the 19th and early 20th centuries to the more recent American empire (though never referred to that way here) and the Russian one as well, the world was, in those years, flooded with a kind of violence with which Vladimir Putin would undoubtedly have been comfortable indeed. In fact, from the Peloponnesian War on, it’s been quite a Ukrainian-style story, a veritable European (and American) feast of death and destruction on an almost unimaginable scale.

The Afterlife of War

In 2022, however, simply claiming that war in Ukraine or anywhere else is just the same old thing would be deceptive indeed. After all, we’re on a planet that neither the Greeks, the Romans, Henry V, Napoleon, or Hitler could ever have imagined. And for that, you can thank, at least in part, that runaway child of Europe, the United States, while recalling one specific day in history: August 6th, 1945. That, of course, was the day a single bomb from a B-29 Superfortress bomber transformed the Japanese city of Hiroshima into rubble, while obliterating 70,000 or more of its inhabitants.

In the decades since, the very idea of war has, sadly enough, been transformed into something potentially all-too-new, whether in Europe or anywhere else, as long as it involves any of the planet’s nine nuclear powers. Since 1945, as nuclear weapons spread across the planet, we’ve threatened to export everyday war of the sort humanity has known for so long to heaven, hell, and beyond. In some sense, we may already be living in the afterlife of war, though most of the time we don’t know it. Don’t think it’s something odd or a strange accident that, when things began to go unexpectedly poorly for them, the Vlad’s crew promptly started threatening to use nuclear weapons if the Russians, instead of conquering Ukraine, were pushed into some desperately uncomfortable corner. As the deputy chairman of Russia’s security council, Dmitry Medvedev, put it recently,

“We have a special document on nuclear deterrence. This document clearly indicates the grounds on which the Russian Federation is entitled to use nuclear weapons… [including] when an act of aggression is committed against Russia and its allies, which jeopardized the existence of the country itself, even without the use of nuclear weapons, that is, with the use of conventional weapons.”

And keep in mind that Russia today has an estimated 4,477 nuclear warheads, more than 1,500 of them deployed, including new “tactical” nukes, each of which might have “only” perhaps one-third the power of the bomb that obliterated Hiroshima and so might be considered battlefield weaponry, though of an unimaginably devastating and dangerous sort. And mind you, Vladimir Putin publicly oversaw the testing of four nuclear-capable ballistic missiles just before he launched his present war. Point made, so to speak. Such threats mean nothing less than that, whether we care to realize it or not, we’re now in a strange and threatening new world of war, given that even a nuclear exchange between regional powers like India and Pakistan could create a nuclear winter on this planet, potentially starving a billion or more of us to death.

Honestly, if you think about it, could you even imagine a stranger or more dangerous world? Consider it an irony of the first order, for instance, that the U.S. has spent years focused on trying to keep the Iranians from making a single nuclear weapon (and so becoming the 10th country to do so), but not — not for a day, not for an hour, not for a minute — on keeping this country from producing ever more of them.

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Take, for instance, the new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, that the Pentagon is planning to build to replace our current crop of land-based nukes at an estimated price tag of $264 billion (and that’s before the cost overruns even begin). And that, in turn, is just a modest part of its full-scale, three-decade-long “modernization” program for its nuclear “triad” of land, sea, and air-based weapons that could, in the end, cost $2 trillion in taxpayer funds to ensure that this country would be capable of destroying not only this planet but more like it.

And just to put that in context: in a country that can’t find a red cent to invest in so many things Americans truly need, the one thing that both parties in Congress and the president (whoever he may be) can agree on is that ever more staggering sums should be spent on a military that’s fought a series of undeclared wars around the planet in this century in a remarkably unsuccessful fashion, bringing hell and high water to places like Afghanistan and Iraq, just as Vladimir Putin so recently did to Ukraine.

So, don’t just think of the Russian president as some aberrant oddball or autocratic madman who appeared magically at the disastrous edge of history, forcing his way into our peaceful lives. Unfortunately, he’s a figure who should be familiar indeed to us, given our European past. Shakespeare would have had a ball with the Vlad. And while he’s brought hell on Earth to Europe, given the way his top officials have raised the issue of nuclear weaponry, we should imagine ourselves in both an all-too-familiar and an all-too-new world.

Historically speaking, Europe should be thought of as the heartland of the history of war, but today, sadly enough, it should also potentially be considered a springboard into eternity for all of us.

Copyright 2022 Tom Engelhardt