The Unthought Known:
Consolidating Corporate Hegemony through Perpetual War on Terror
The legacy of death, disability, grief, terror, trauma, and debasement resulting from and inherent in the aggressive and misattuned American and European handling of the economies and cultures of the Middle East are well known and readily discoverable. However, they are all but unmentioned through the narrative that we consume at home, in occasional shock and awe, of the repeated sudden and violent incursions of the United States of America [US], Israel, and their occasional allies against Muslim and Arab peoples and their governments, who are expected to remain subservient and submissive to decisions rationalized to the advantage of the dominant military powers.
US policies in relations with the Middle East reflect two underlying formulations, neither of which is made explicit in the narrative of this front:
a) an instrumental single-mindedness to promote and insure dominance and control, which are developed through decisive responses to the sporadic and disconnected local and regional movements that resist, defy or repudiate encroachments on the rights of the indigenous peoples and their states, and (b) the dissociative force of prior engagements in collective trauma, in both the US and the Middle East, that afford compelling influence to an “unthought known” that supports the US and its allies in staging reprisals of traumas of national development inflicted and suffered over the course of recent history.
Observers can only wonder over why the US would repeatedly spur the growth of anti-US terrorism through its own terrorist assaults on human rights, infrastructures, and states, which may be most evident recently in the Middle East. The US’s motives for engineering and implementing these incentives to collective hatred and increasingly effective recruitment go unmentioned, aside from its paradoxical insistence on this as a means to stabilize and secure the Middle East for its native people, thereby securing American security as well. The US appears to undermine this objective relentlessly through its hostile and aggressive incursions and usually high-handed diplomacy. To persistently aggravate the incitement to recruitment into anti-US insurgencies and terrorist movements seems perplexing and counterproductive, unless it is instrumental to the powers behind the US military. Who is calling the shots? And why?
Noam Chomsky, among other analysts of world affairs and US policy, clearly identifies the wide scale of implementation of terrorist interventions and programs by the US, NATO, Israel, and allied states. In an interview broadcast on Democracy Now! on March 02-03 2015, he points out various ways the US undermines elected governments, plans or performs assassinations, and makes unmandated wholesale attacks on such nation states as Libya, Cuba, and Iraq in operations that respected international observers understandably consider acts of virtual genocide and flagrant or reckless precipitation of civil wars abroad. I quote Chomsky, from a transcript published on the Democracy Now! website:
- You’ll recall, when the Snowden revelations came out, the immediate reaction from the government, the highest level—Keith Alexander, others—was that these NSA programs had stopped, I think they said, 54 or so acts of terror. Gradually, when the press started asking questions, it was whittled down to about 12. Finally, it came down to one. And that act of terror was a man who had sent, I think, $8,500 to Somalia. That’s the yield of this massive program.
And it is not intended to stop terrorism. It’s intended to control the population. That’s quite different. You have to be very cautious in accepting claims by power systems. They have no reason to tell you the truth. And you have to look and ask, "Well, what is the truth?" And this system is not a system for protecting terrorism.
Actually, you can say the same about the drone assassination program. That’s a global assassination program, far and away the worst act of terror in the world. It’s also a terror-generating program. And they know it, from high places. You can find quotation after quotation where they know it. Take this one case that I mentioned before, this child who was murdered in a drone strike after having watched his family burnt to death by drone strikes.
AMY GOODMAN: In Yemen.
NOAM CHOMSKY: What’s the effect of this on people? Well, it’s to create terror. The close analyses have shown that that’s exactly what happens. There’s a very important book by Akbar Ahmed, who’s an important anthropologist, who is a Pakistani, who studies tribal systems and worked in the North-West territories and so on, and it’s called The Thistle and the Drone. And he goes through, in some detail, the effect on tribal societies of simply murdering—from their point of view, just murdering people at random. The drone attacks, remember, are aimed at people who are suspected of maybe someday wanting to harm us. I mean, suppose, say, that Iran was killing people in the United States and Israel who they thought would—might someday want to harm them. They could find plenty of people. Would we consider that legitimate? It’s again, we have the right to carry out mass murder of suspects who we think might harm us someday. How does the world look at this? How do the people look at this in this village where this child was who said that they’re terrorized by constant drone strikes all over North-West Pakistan? That’s true. Now it’s over most of the world. The U.S. war—so-called war against terror—has been a smashing success. There was a small group up in the tribal areas of mostly Pakistan and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, and we have succeeded in spreading it over the whole world. Now they’re all everywhere—you know, West Africa, Southeast Asia—simply generating more and more terror. And I think it’s—you know, it’s not that the U.S. is trying to generate terror. It’s simply that it doesn’t care.
I do question Chomsky’s final assertion, above. He seems to say that the US doesn’t care about whether it generates terror or not. He does not say that the US purposefully generates terrorism among the civilian populations of the world who find themselves pitted against chronic and fatal incursions. However, he might be hard put to deny it, if pressed to justify his dismissal of intentionality.
The disclosure of the photographs of humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib a decade ago incited a virulent and comprehensible fury around the world at America’s evident attitudes toward unindicted citizens of Arab states. That US armed forces and intelligence agents have tended to flaunt disregard and contempt for Muslim beliefs and Arab customs is not due to mere ignorance of the information gathered about their culture. Indeed, this information has been suppressed, ignored or utilized in developing and exercising means of humiliating and traumatizing people of the region, inciting a predictable hatred and counter-aggressive will.[i]
Following a highly destructive, demoralizing, and fatal “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad, although Iraq had shown the US and its allies neither threat nor aggression, there followed an occupation of indefinite degree and legitimacy, marked by failures of reconstruction, laxness of legal protections, and high-handed rearrangements of governmental authority under a nominal show of democracy unconvincing to its citizens. The elastically prolonged period of regime change was marked by an epidemic of abrupt nocturnal incursions into households to arrest residents by force, without charges or other information made available even to their families. An atmosphere of increasing mutual violence and paranoia sparked increasingly common incidents of random and reactive aggression from occupation forces and insurgencies. Deaths, injuries, illnesses, injustices, trauma, grief, economic collapse, and failures of essential infrastructure systems increased, as did internal conflicts among the population. US policy, privileging one portion of the population over another, led a once-harmonious cultural community toward venomous internal ethnic conflicts and civil war. The toll of depleted plutonium in the environment on the population, stemming from the two US incursions over the past quarter century, has never been assessed by the invading forces.
Chomsky points out lucidly how effective American’s militaristic foreign policy has become at establishing the grounds for terrorist movements such as ISIS, as a more traditional colonial and imperialist methodology of world domination yields to a pre-emptive first-strike mentality. This pre-emptive orientation leads logically to targeting suspected insurgents and those who associate with suspect groups and persons – an enormous and growing category of the world’s population—for incarceration, aggressive interrogation, and termination. Diplomatic negotiation inevitably yields to reactive and reflexive behavior, under the pressure of repeated humiliation and trauma.
It follows, then, that as our military’s efforts to contain and expunge groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban progress to increasingly desperate and ruthless measures, American citizens, at home or abroad, will be targeted for counter-aggressive terrorist actions, in reaction to assaults large and small on the security of the populations of weaker states. As a result, US policy makers will predictably conceive brutal and devastating measures against a growing enemy as increasingly imperative. The powers that be in the US establishment have not indicated how they will destroy such forces abroad without finally destroying the peoples from whom they spring and among whom they live.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case opened regulatory floodgates to money from wealthy super-corporations to fund election campaigns and thereby influence not only who is elected but how they will make key decisions of policy and legislation. Consequently, the presumptive authority of large multinational corporations is clearly identified with that of the US government. Today, decisions in the name of defense and counter-terrorism cannot be made without consideration for the demands and expectations of such dominant international commercial forces.
Why might such interests allow the build-up of international terrorism, that of our targets as well as our own? Why isn’t this mess bad for business? How can the development of mutual counter-terrorism and endless war pave the way for growth and security in the commercial sector?
There may be in our government and its monetary support structure some persons who really don’t care and some who abhor this consequence of American policy, whether they consider it intentional or not. Nevertheless, the logic and efficacy of such mutual counter-aggression dominating a field first opened up by pre-emptive strikes is unquestionable. Such policy intentions are never referred to as such in corporate media. Instead, they are indefinitely suspended, as if disappeared, from the menu of ideas listeners and readers might reflect on, much as the impact of climate change on our recent spate of extreme weather conditions remains unmentioned by media meteorologists.
However, the powers that administrate the world’s economy, typically represented in the G8 summits, the Davos Forum, the International Monetary Fund, and other high-level policy boards of the world’s economy, are eminently influential in policy oversight of the US government and its intelligence and defense services. Such powers cannot afford to be ignorant of contemporary world affairs or intellectually deficient in analyzing the costs and benefits of American policy. One can only assume that the radical growth of aggressive anti-American terrorism has to be well taken into account within their grand scheme of doing business and maintaining their edge over any potential competition in the capitalist economy of the 21st century.
Increasing their market share depends on securing and dominating access to natural resources such as oil, water, and land masses. The powers that our elected officials depend on to stay in business as statespersons and legislators necessarily see their expedient access to such resources as fundamental incentives. It makes logical sense, then, to presume that aggravations of, incitements to, and proliferations of terrorist hostilities against our military and civilian populations, when generated from regions rich in such commercially useful resources, are actually intended and instrumentally depended on.
The logic may be as follows: American strategies of managing business as usual, including drone strikes to assassinate foreign citizens, enhanced interrogations to imprison and disable foreign citizens, and sanctions against whole nations of foreign populations, result in ever-expanding terrorist reactions. As a consequence, our military and Congress may claim justification for increasingly aggressive and severe forms of pacification of the domains from which counter-aggression has sprung. Dominant authority by international commercial interests over resources and policy of these states may be increasingly effective. These consequently expanding, far-reaching, and indefinitely projected policies, formerly framed under the rubric of a “war on terror” and now of a rhetorically indefinite and suspended sort of anomia, continue to generate facts on the ground that are taken to obligate American and allied forces to perpetual police state actions world-wide, binding our military and diplomacy to compel foreign states to submit to American dominance of their own military and domestic police policies and forces. Such a radical encroachment over the world’s land, people, and states provides an advantageous opening for multinational corporate control and exploitation, as well as for the imposition and enforcement of so-called “free trade agreements” designed to supersede regional and local regulations, restrictions, and policy within and among the nations of the signatories.
Our government and corporate media show no sign of readiness to reconsider policies resulting in non-negotiable incitements against foreign populations. These interventions are presented to our volunteer military forces and to our voting citizenry as moral and patriotic measures to protect us from enigmatically mushrooming threats. Generating such spite, mutual aggression, and desolation, while continually preparing for further development of crises and retaliations, is a grisly, horrific means of preparation for the eventual security and prosperity of the corporate control over a fully policed state with ample forces and wide-scale management of institutions of incarceration.
Such outcomes may not, in the long run, bode well for the US citizenry. At present, Americans are largely entranced within the corporate media’s fantastic framing of the saga of American exceptionalism, which is taken to justify patriotic consent to official policy, no matter how irrational or preposterous. Threats posed by officially targeted enemies abroad anchor the story line of good versus evil, us versus them. “Destroying” the enemy, along with others construed as somehow associated with the enemy, if only by religion or proximity, is still effectively sold as a worthy and desirable achievement in itself. To the extent that this narrative is accepted, embraced, or simply allowed to stand, Americans are lulled into affirmation of their government’s foreign policy and support its initiatives with their tacit consent, even while their own state is eviscerated of citizen benefits, turning a blind eye to their material needs and safety and bankrupting the democratic process for fire sale to the highest bidders.
I can easily believe that this assessment is not generally admitted into discussion by many who are instrumental in implementing and supporting militaristic interventionism. The analysis above, as a framing of the situation, may not enter into their conscious thoughts. Yet its implicit logical process proceeds unarrested, gathering force as it accelerates, currently in the momentum of opinion that ISIS can and should be eradicated. I propose that the underlying narrative of this logic constitutes an example of “the unthought known” in our everyday life.
In Forces of Destiny (Aronson, 1989), British psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas writes, paradoxically enough, that this phrase, “the unthought known,” “refers to any form of knowledge that as yet is not thought.” The knowledge in such an instance is not articulated, may not yet be accessible to language. A person may in some way know but cannot actually think what is happening, why it’s going that way, in mind or in behavior. Such an “unthought known,” stemming sometimes from preverbal formative relational influences, including repressed trauma history, may determine the course of a person’s expectations for life and persistent history of relational functioning, while remaining inaccessible to cognitive attention and memory. A mood or attitude, such as one of fear, rage, or vigilance, can be aroused by such a schema’s activation and persist to strengthen its determining power in the person’s life.
Stretching a use of this theoretical concept, I suggest that “the unthought known” may also occupy a government and culture’s behavior and framing of its actions at various levels of awareness, while evading conscious recognition and ethical assessment, particularly when the population responsible for and collusive with governmental decisions shares a primordial history corresponding to the re-enactment under inquiry. The continuing legacy of subjugation and destruction of the native North American populations and enslavement and brutally enforced degradation of African Americans and other racial minorities are among the constructive traumatic episodes that made possible the creation of this nation and the development of its economy. Unconscious re-enactment may be inferred in the US’s present assumption of dominant authority and forceful aggression in the Middle East.[ii]
[i] A history during the first world war of the subdivision by France and England of the Ottoman Empire into the several states we are familiar with is not unknown. Scholars have documented and analyzed its effects on politics, ethnic and religious tensions and conflicts, and the everyday life of its peoples (see, for instance, David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, Macmillan, 1989). The hardships and trauma suffered by Arab populations whose region was fought over by foreign powers during the war itself was severe, as documented by Leila Fawaz (A Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War, Harvard, 2014) and others. Ethnic and religious relations deteriorated following the imposed creation of Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon in 1920. As Fawaz explains, the economically based culture of the Industrial Revolution was felt throughout the region due to increased influence of European authority, “disrupting the established political, economic and social balance on a large scale, the resulting tensions could find sectarian expression. Uneven economic opportunities, greater mobility, better communications, regional or local instability, the instability of local groups, and just about any disruption of the status quo caused people to find strength in their traditional loyalties. . . . Often, the strongest loyalty was to sectarian identity.” Hatred and warfare between Sunni and Shiite and other divisions became far more frequent and virulent in the decades following the war. The establishment of the state of Israel and its subsequent wars of expansion, tacitly supported by Western powers, have further exacerbated such anger and tension.
[ii] Israel’s policies may be seen as also reflective of such an “unthought known.” Arab populations and media typically see US military and financial support for Israel as indistinguishable from US aggression into the region, each deeply implicated in the other. Israel performs its own escalating marginalization and apartheid control over the population of Palestinians under its supposed protection, along with illegal acts of encroachment and destruction on Palestinian territories. These developments are punctuated by enormously destructive and traumatizing campaigns of aggression on its population in response to relatively minor incidents of aggression against Israelis.
Israeli policies’ effects of arousing animosity, suffering, and acts of retaliation seem to contradict their explicit intentions of promoting security and community well-being. If Israel seems to take such matters one step further than the US, it may indeed be in a spirit of partnership, as a laboratory not only for newly engineered weaponry but also for a pre-emptive, state terrorist model of relations to outlying territories it may deem to have less vital interests than its own. If Israel takes matters two steps further, undermining the credibility of a two-state solution, for instance, the US may demonstrate some reservations in its support, but in a divided way that mirrors Israel’s own current internal political tensions. The grievous and traumatic history of persecution climaxing in the Holocaust may underlie Israel’s foreign policies, as well as the more recent history of trauma and aggression underlying its development over the past half-century; we can observe that neither history figures explicitly in the narrative of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
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