I recently got a chance to discuss American militarism and antiwar politics with Ralph Nader. The Center for Study of Responsive Law created this video in affiliation with the Amherst Political Union.
It is interesting that Americans do not invoke Malcolm X the way they invoke other civil rights leaders. Where ideas about American militarism go, X’s contributions were piercingly insightful but lamentably overlooked when the man lived. For that they deserve greater attention today.
But first a word on X’s sporadic anti-Semitism and anti-white fulminations, both of which lead some people to ignore everything else X had to say. If we believe it fair to judge historical figures on the basis of their most contemptible sympathies alone, then X is indeed irredeemable. But then, so too are Gandhi, Plato, and Aristotle irredeemable for some of their nefarious beliefs. For that matter, the ideas of four of the United States’ first five presidents are worthless, and for much greater reason than X’s are; after all, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe all owned human beings, whereas X did nothing so barbaric.
If we instead opt to examine X in his nuanced totality, we find not a kook but a winsome human rights activist with a lot of wisdom to share. As a black nationalist during the Cold War, he took no stock whatever in American militarists’ humanitarian pretensions. When many others did not, X questioned the “integrity” and “sincerity” of leaders who tackled problems that were not theirs to solve. Even “liberal” interventionists who genuinely desired progress in foreign lands were not heroes in X’s book. The American meddlers “minding somebody else’s business way over in South Vietnam,” X declaimed, were unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.
Malcolm saved his admiration for Africans vying to “establish their own independent nations” and working to “create a future for their people” without the involvement of intruders. He noted positively that when “the people in Africa and Asia get some power of their own, they get a mind of their own. They start seeing with their own eyes and listening with their own ears and speaking with their own mouth.” He admired leaders like Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, a CIA target whose anti-colonial disposition disturbed the departing Belgians in 1960. X went so far as to call Lumumba “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent,” for Lumumba “didn’t fear anybody. He had those people so scared they had to kill him.” X also commended members of the Organization of African Unity for trying to extinguish colonial “vestiges of oppression and exploitation being suffered by African people.”
If the onsite horrors of the war and embargo against Yemen are not reason enough for us to advocate an American withdrawal from that foreign conflagration, hopefully this is: our government’s support for the Saudi war in Yemen entails aggression in the United States.
I am not here referring to anti-American blowback from bereaved Yemenis, although that sort of aggression could very well materialize in the future. I am instead talking about the ongoing and presently verifiable aggression against all American taxpayers forced to subsidize our government’s adventurism in the Arabian Peninsula. As common sense tells us, every bomb, every missile, and every tracer that the United States sends to the Saudi coalition is a bomb, a missile, and a tracer for which somebody somewhere will be compelled to pay. That "somebody" will probably be an American taxpayer who, given the nature of taxation, will risk imprisonment or property seizures should she ever decide not to genuflect to the unshackled military apparatus.
The American war in Yemen therefore extends all the way back home, albeit in a substantially diluted form. Pursuant to its military objectives, the American government threatens to aggress against any of its taxpaying citizens who refuse to aggress against Yemeni civilians. In what world is this not an abomination?
American-aligned leaders keen to wage war for "humanitarianism" now have a prime opportunity to prove their humanitarian bona fides. Let them withdraw their support for the Saudi suffocation of Yemen, a country starving from months of debilitating airstrikes and a lethally tight embargo.
If there exist true humanitarians in their ranks, they will understand why generations of bereaved Yemenis simply cannot wait any longer for freedom. Under Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose soldiers received American military training and $300 million worth of American-supplied weaponry between 2006 and 2011, Yemeni civilians for years abided a congeries of indiscriminate military bombardments, extrajudicial executions, and heinous government crackdowns on journalists. Saleh’s ouster during the Arab Spring and the disturbingly easy ascent of Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi yielded only a fleeting respite, after which San’a’s gridlock and aimlessness thrust the country back into mayhem. Amidst the commotion, the Shiite Houthis consolidated power in the north and lunged for Yemen’s capital in September 2014. Encircled and enfeebled, Hadi left for Aden in February 2015 and named it Yemen’s provisional capital, after which the rebels stormed the country’s southern territory and prompted Hadi’s departure from Yemen.
At that point, the Saudis, with assistance from Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the United States, initiated Operation Decisive Storm to reinstall Hadi’s government. The March campaign ushered in a slew of Saudi airstrikes and a severe blockade devised to restore peace by preventing the Houthis’ acquisition of Iranian weapons. The theory belies the reality, however, as the nominally "peaceful" blockade continues to take a calamitous toll on innocent Yemenis who need foreign imports to survive. By the onset of July, Yemen’s water sources were faltering en masse, and by the end of that month, approximately 2.3 million Yemenis were struggling to eat due to Saudi-induced food shortages and a consonant rise in food prices. Yemen’s paltry access to foreign fuel shipments, down to nearly a tenth of what it was before the Saudi intervention, has also impelled the closure of Yemeni health centers previously tasked with feeding over 400,000 destitute youngsters and providing medical assistance to almost 500,000 others.
Now that NATO officially supports Turkey’s revitalized war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Turks might soon request American weapons, intelligence and diplomatic assistance for their onslaught. When that time comes, we should say no.
Those who would again have us commit American resources to Turkish authoritarians ought to examine the past repercussions of their longstanding policy. From 1985 to 1995, the US government granted $5.3 billion worth of military "protection" to the Turkish government, endowments that at one point accounted for more than three-quarters of Turkey’s imported weaponry. In reality, this "protective" assistance facilitated the brutal repression of innocent Kurds in a state that prohibited the use of Kurdish languages in public spaces and accosted Kurdish civilians for their involvement in dissident political parties. In its effort to eradicate the PKK, the Turkish government incinerated Kurdish homes and wielded Western weapons to extirpate communities, to torture people wantonly, and to assassinate political opponents without trial.
The Turkish government’s illiberal streak still exists today. Over the past couple of weeks, the authorities have attacked antiwar protesters with water cannons and have detained hundreds of Kurdish activists upon the resurgence of Turkey’s war with the PKK. As people who often use Kurdish suffering to justify Western attacks in the Middle East, American statesmen should find this situation appalling.