Bill Totten's Weblog

Monday, January 31, 2005

Peak oil primer and links

1. Peak oil primer

What is Peak Oil?

Peak Oil is the simplest label for the problem of energy resource depletion, or more specifically, the peak in global oil production. Oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, one that has powered phenomenal economic and population growth over the last century and a half. The rate of oil 'production', meaning extraction and refining (currently about 83 million barrels per day), has grown in most years over the last century, but once we go through the halfway point of all reserves, production becomes ever more likely to decline, hence 'peak'. Peak Oil means not 'running out of oil', but 'running out of cheap oil'. For societies leveraged on ever increasing amounts of cheap oil, the consequences may be dire. Without significant successful cultural reform, economic and social decline seems inevitable.

Why does oil peak? Why doesn't it suddenly run out?

For obvious reasons, people have extracted the easy-to-reach, cheap oil first. The oil pumped first was on land, near the surface, under pressure and light and 'sweet' and easy to refine into gasoline. The remaining oil, sometimes off shore, far from markets, in smaller fields, or of lesser quality, will take ever more money and energy to extract and refine. The rate of extraction will drop. Furthermore, all oil fields eventually reach a point where they become economically, and energetically no longer viable. If it takes the energy of a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil, then further extraction is pointless.

M King Hubbert - the first to predict an oil peak

In the 1950s a US geologist working for Shell, M King Hubbert, noticed that oil discoveries graphed over time, tended to follow a bell shape curve. He posited that the rate of oil production would follow a similar curve, now known as the Hubbert Curve. In 1956 Hubbert predicted that production from the US lower 48 states would peak in 1970. <1> Shell ordered Hubbert not to make his studies public, but the notoriously stubborn Hubbert went ahead and did it anyway. As it turned out, most people inside and outside the industry dismissed Hubbert's predictions. In 1970 US oil producers had never produced as much, and Hubbert's predictions were a fading memory. But Hubbert was right, US continental oil production did peak in 1970/71, although it was not widely recognized for several years and only with the benefit of hindsight.

See first chart at

No oil producing region neatly fits bell shaped curve exactly because production is dependent on various geological, economic and political factors, but the Hubbert Curve remains a powerful predictive tool.

So when will oil peak globally?

For about thirty years the world has been finding less oil than it has been consuming. Discovery of new oil fields peaked in the 1960s. <2> Around fifty oil producing countries have already peaked and now produce less and less oil each year, including the USA and the North Sea. <3> Hubbert's methods, and variations of them, and other methods entirely, have been used to make various projections about the global oil peak, with results ranging from 'already peaked', to the very optimistic 2035. Many of the official figures used to model oil peak such as OPEC figures, oil company data, and the USGS discovery projections can be shown to be very unreliable. <4,> Several notable scientists have attempted independent studies, most notably Colin Campbell and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO). <6>

See second chart at

ASPO's latest 2004 model suggests a peak of 'conventional' oil in 2005, and all oil and gas liquids in 2008. Others such as Kenneth Deffeyes <7> and A M Samsam Bakhtiari <8> have made similar or even earlier predictions, although precise predictions are difficult as much secrecy shrouds important oil and gas data.

Globally, natural gas <9> is also expected by some to peak within decades, although its affects are more localized due to the added expense of transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). Both British and North American natural gas may have peaked already. <10>

What does this mean?

Our industrial societies and our financial systems were built on the assumption of constant growth, growth based on ever more readily available cheap fossil fuels. Oil in particular is the most convenient and multi-purposed of these fossil fuels. Oil currently accounts for about 40% of the world's commercial energy, <11> and about 90% of transportation energy. <12> Oil is so important that the peak will have vast implications across the realms of geopolitics, lifestyle, agriculture and economic stability.

But it's just oil - there are other fossil fuels, other energy sources, right?

To evaluate other energy sources it's important to understand the concepts of embodied energy <13> and Net Energy or ERoEI - Energy Return on Energy Invested <14>. One of the reasons our economies use ever increasing quantities of oil is precisely because oil has a comparatively high ERoEI. Historically, for every barrel of oil used for exploration and drilling of oil, 100 barrels were found. This was an unprecedentedly high ratio, although these days the ratio is far lower. Certain alternative energy 'sources' actually have ERoEI ratios of less than one, such as photovoltaics (arguably) and most methods of industrially producing biodiesel and ethanol. That is, when all factors are considered, you probably need to invest more energy into the process than you get back. Hydrogen <15>, touted by many as a seamless solution, is actually an energy carrier, but not an energy source - it must be produced using an energy source such as nuclear, so while it may or may not be a convenient store of energy, it's Net Energy will be negative. Some alternatives such as wind and hydro have better ERoEI, however their potential expansion may be limited by physical factors. Even in combination it may not be possible to gather from renewable sources of energy anything like the amount of energy we are used to. For certain tasks, such as air travel, no other energy source can readily be substituted for oil. Alternative energy infrastructures require long periods of investment, on the scale of decades, to be widely implemented. We may be already leaving the period of cheap energy before we have begun seriously embarking on this task.

2. Links

Where can I get more information?

Several articles already published on this site provide good introductions to this topic:

"The coming global energy crunch". A great introductory article by Aaron Naparstek

"Plan War and the Hubbert Oil Curve", an interview with Richard Heinberg

"The Petroleum Plateau" by Richard Heinberg on the current plateau in world oil production.

"Debunking the mainstream media's lies about oil" by Dale Allen Pfeiffer

"The oil we eat" by Richard Manning looks at modern agricultures' dependence on fossil fuels

There are some great introductory websites like:

Wolf at the Door: A Beginner's Guide to Oil Depletion - available in French, Polish and English.

Life After The Oil Crash - a question and answer style introduction.

Peak Oil Center - a very concise introduction.

Some excellent original media about peak oil is being generated at:

Global Public Media

From The Wilderness Publications

Research and reference articles can be found at:

ASPO - original research from The Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas - an alarming but scholarly collection of research

More energy news:

Crisis Energetica - in Spanish

More links, and books to read: An excellent list of links is maintained at

3. What can be done?

Many people are working on partial solutions at various different levels, but there probably is no cluster of solutions which do not involve some major changes in lifestyles for the global affluent. Peak Oil presents the potential for quite catastrophic upheavals, but also some more hopeful possibilities, such as a return to simpler and more community orientated lifestyles.

Peak Oil Action is a grass roots awareness raising network helping people meet up and discuss peak oil. Join or start a meet-up in your neighborhood.

The Post Carbon Institute Outposts. The PCI is a think tank devoted to exploring the implications of energy descent. They write, "the most important initiative of the Post Carbon Institute is working with groups of concerned citizens to prepare their community for the Post Carbon Age. These groups are Outposts in the sense that they are community-based extensions of the Post Carbon Institute; they operate autonomously yet receive guidance and electronic infrastructure from the Institute. Outposts work cooperatively in their local community to put theory about living with less hydrocarbons into practice while sharing knowledge and experiences with the global network of outposts."

The Community Solution to Peak Oil. "The Community Solution is a program of Community Service, Inc. Community Service is dedicated to the development, growth and enhancement of small local communities. We envision a country where the population is distributed in small communities that are sustainable, diverse and culturally sophisticated."

Permaculture: David Holmgren, one of the co-originators of the permaculture concept has written a book called Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability which deals explicitly with the peak oil problem. Permaculture principles work towards re-designing cultural and agricultural practices for an energy descent world. By doing a course locally or with a bit of study, you can start applying permaculture principles on a suburban or rural plot.

Local Currencies and Steady State Economics:
Local Currencies: Richard Douthwaite, a 'reformed economist', has proposed a number of alternative monetary systems to deal with energy decline and the associated monetary crises which might arise post-peak. Local currencies like LETS are in operation around the planet already (although LETS itself is somewhat problematic). Experiment now with local currencies to help survive economic crises.

Steady State Economics: The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) promote alternatives to the ecological insanity of growth based economics. Read their position paper at

Intentional Communities: Intentional Community (IC) is an inclusive term for ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, urban housing cooperatives and other related projects and dreams ... ICs represent one of the sanest ways of dealing with energy peak.

The Uppsala Protocol is an ethical global political framework for sharing the world's remaining oil reserves more equitably than free market forces would allow, to avoid resource wars and profiteering. Help promote it:

Lobbying: Lobby governments to spend now on renewable energy and improving agricultural practices. Many facts are summarized in the following 'convince sheet' by Bruce Thomson:,convince_sheet.html

Online Discussions:

Got questions? Want to talk with like-minded people? See these links: - online news and forum - meet people on and offline - original peak oil focused email list - a more solutions focused list - a group emphasizing discussion

There are numerous local mailing lists too, many on yahoo can be found at this link:


<1> "The Coming Global Energy Crunch: A $2 gallon of gas is just the beginning" by Aaron Naparstek, New York Press (June 01 2004)

<2> "Facts & Data", Peak Oil Center

<3> "Oil experts warn global crude supplies could peak by 2010" by Bruce Stanley, The Detroit News (May 25 2002)

<4> Presentation at the Technical University of Clausthal by C J Campbell (December 2000)

<5> A Reply by C J Campbell to "Global Petroleum Reserves - A View to the Future" by Thomas S Ahlbrandt and J McCabe, United States Geological Survey, SolarQuestR iNet News Service
(December 01 2002)


<7> "A Geologist Looks at the Coming Crisis"


<9> "The Coming Natural Gas Crisis"







Your feedback is welcome.

Last updated 21 December 2004

Bill Totten

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Oil firms fund climate change 'denial'

by David Adam, science correspondent

The Guardian (January 27 2005)

Lobby groups funded by the US oil industry are targeting Britain in a bid to play down the threat of climate change and derail action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, leading scientists have warned.

Bob May, president of the Royal Society, says that "a lobby of professional sceptics who opposed action to tackle climate change" is turning its attention to Britain because of its high profile in the debate.

Writing in the Life section of today's Guardian, Professor May says the government's decision to make global warming a focus of its G8 presidency has made it a target. So has the high profile of its chief scientific adviser, David King, who described climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism.

Prof May's warning coincides with a meeting of climate change sceptics today at the Royal Institution in London organised by a British group, the Scientific Alliance, which has links to US oil company ExxonMobil through a collaboration with a US institute.

Last month the Scientific Alliance published a joint report with the George C Marshall Institute in Washington that claimed to "undermine" climate change claims. The Marshall institute received GBP 51,000 from ExxonMobil for its "global climate change programme" in 2003 and an undisclosed sum this month.

Prof May's warning comes as British scientists, in the journal Nature, show that emissions of carbon dioxide could have a more dramatic effect on climate than thought. They say the average temperature could rise 11 degrees celsius, even if atmospheric carbon dioxide were limited to the levels expected in 2050.

David Frame, who coordinated the climate prediction experiment, said: "If the real world response were anywhere near the upper end of our range, even today's levels of greenhouse gases could already be dangerously high".

Emission limits such as those in the Kyoto protocol would hit oil firms because the bulk of greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuel products.

Prof May writes that during the 1990s, parts of the US oil industry funded sceptics who opposed action to tackle climate change. A Scientific Alliance spokesman said today's meeting was sponsored but funders did not influence policies. ExxonMobil said it was not involved.

One adviser is Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Centre, who is linked to the Marshall Institute. In 1998 Dr Baliunas co-wrote an article that argued for the release of more carbon dioxide. It was mass-mailed to US scientists with a petition asking them to reject Kyoto.

<> Tony Blair yesterday attempted to urge George Bush to sign a climate change accord. At the World Economic Forum he said climate change was "not universally accepted", but evidence of its danger had been "clearly and persuasively advocated" by a very large number of "independent voices".

Guardian Unlimited. Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005,3858,5112967-103681,00.html

Under-informed, over here

The climate change denial lobby - funded by the US oil industry - has now moved to the UK

by Bob May

The Guardian (January 27 2005)

During the 1990s, parts of the US oil industry funded - through the so-called Global Climate Coalition (GCC) - a lobby of professional sceptics who opposed action to tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The GCC was "deactivated" in 2001, once President Bush made it clear he intended to reject the Kyoto protocol. But the denial lobby is still active, and today it arrives in London.

The UK has become a target because the government has made climate change a focus of its G8 presidency this year. A key player in this decision is chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who became public enemy number one for the denial lobby when he described climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism.

In December, a UK-based group, the Scientific Alliance, teamed up with the George C Marshall Institute, a body headed by the chairman emeritus of the GCC, William O'Keefe, to publish a document with the innocuous title Climate Issues & Questions. It plays up the uncertainties surrounding climate change science, playing down the likely impact that it will have.

It contrasts starkly with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's most reliable source of information on the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. In its last major report in 2001, the IPCC adopted an evidence-based approach to climate change and considered uncertainties on impact. It concluded that "overall, climate change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries", and that "the projected rate and magnitude of warming and sea-level rise can be lessened by reducing greenhouse gas emissions". More than 2,000 of the world's leading climate experts were involved in compiling the report - the most authoritative scientific assessment to date.

But today, the Scientific Alliance is holding a forum for members of the US and UK denial lobby to challenge the case for acting on the findings of the IPCC. The intention appears to be to get its retaliation in first before a meeting of climate change experts next week at the Hadley Centre, at which Sir David King will take part.

Possibly more worrying is how much prominence their views are receiving in the UK media. The Daily Telegraph bizarrely used an anonymous leader on the tsunami in Asia to question the value of cutting emissions: "Whether or not this would have the effects claimed by ecologists - and the science is inconclusive - any gain would be insignificant next to the changes in temperature caused by forces outside our control".

But the Daily Mail seems keenest to board the well-oiled bandwagon. Fresh from its now discredited campaign against MMR, it has run six opinion pieces over the last year questioning the science of climate change. David Bellamy and columnist Melanie Phillips have perhaps predictably joined in, but more surprising has been the conversion of Michael Hanlon, the paper's science editor.

Last week, Hanlon cited Michael Crichton's research for his new novel as a further indication that climate change science is a con. The theme of Crichton's story is that environmentalists exaggerate the threat from climate change and eventually trigger its extreme effects themselves.

It demonstrates the flakiness of the Hanlon case that he should need to rely on a sci-fi writer who has previously warned of the dangers of bringing dinosaurs back to life and of nano-robots turning the world into grey goo. All entertaining scare stories, all complete nonsense.

So there we have it. On one hand we have the IPCC, the rest of the world's major scientific organisations, and the government's chief scientific adviser, all pointing to the need to cut emissions. On the other we have a small band of sceptics, including lobbyists funded by the US oil industry, a sci-fi writer, and the Daily Mail, who deny the scientists are right. It is reminiscent of the tobacco lobby's attempts to persuade us that smoking does not cause lung cancer. There is no danger this lobby will influence the scientists. But they don't need to. It is the influence on the media that is so poisonous.

In a lecture at the Royal Society last week, Jared Diamond drew attention to populations, such as those on Easter Island, who denied they were having a catastrophic impact on the environment and were eventually wiped out, a phenomenon he called "ecocide". It's time for those living in denial of the evidence about the impacts of climate change to take note.

<> Lord May of Oxford is president of the Royal Society and was chief scientific adviser to the government 1995-2000

Guardian Unlimited. Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005,3858,5112319-111428,00.html

Bill Totten

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Manuel and Saddam, Benito and Adolf

We often hear today about the Anglo-American empire waging war on tyrants that it had earlier put in power or otherwise sponsored. Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, and the Taliban of bin Laden are prominent examples. In his book, A Century Of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order (revised edition, Pluto Press, 2004), F William Engdahl says we also should include Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in the list of tyrants who rose under the sporsorship of the Anglo-American empire and later fell (along with millions of innocent bystanders) to its military.

The following is from the section entitled "Deterding, Montagu Norman, and Schacht's Hitler Project from Chapter Six of that book. Engdahl's notes are identified by <>. I have inserted supplementary information from earlier parts of the book in curly brackets, {}, just before the last paragraph below.
Bill Totten

The unstable international monetary order imposed after Versailles by London and New York bankers on a defeated central Europe came to an abrupt, if predictable, end in 1929. Montagu Norman, then the world's most influential central banker as governor of the Bank of England, precipitated the crash of the Wall Street stock market in October 1929. Norman had asked the governor of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, George Harrison, to raise US interest rate levels. Harrison complied, and the most dramatic financial and economic collapse in US history ensued in the following months.

By early 1931, Montagu Norman and a small circle in the British establishment had plans to shift the political dynamic in central Europe in a most astonishing manner. At the time, Austria's largest banking institution was the Creditanstalt of Vienna. Closely tied to the Austrian branch of the house of Rothschild, the Creditanstalt had grown during the 1920s through an unhealthy process of merging smaller troubled banks. The largest such merger was forced onto Creditanstalt during the month of the October 1929 stock market crash, when it was asked by the authorities to take over the Vienna Bodenkreditanstalt, a real estate lender which itself had swallowed several other unhealthy banks in the previous years.

At the beginning of 1931, Creditanstalt appeared to the world to be one of the mightiest of world banks. In reality, it was one of the sickest. The draconian Versailles conditions imposed by Britain, France and the United States had dismantled the Austro-Hungarian Empire, isolating Austria's economy from the valuable economic ties and raw materials of Hungary and the lands of eastern Europe. Austria's industrial economy had never recovered from the devastation of the First World War. Industry had run-down plants, outmoded equipment and huge unredeemable war loans. The political circumstances in Austria in the 1920s had led major parts of insolvent Austrian industry to pass into the hands of the ever-larger Creditanstalt.

Thus, by early 1931, Austria in general, and the Vienna Creditanstalt in particular, were the weak links of an international credit chain which had been built under the unhealthy foundation set by the New York banking firm of J P Morgan, in concert with the Bank of England and the London banks. Creditanstalt was unable to generate sufficient capital for its activities from the depressed Austrian economy and had become largely dependent on very short-term borrowings from London and New York to finance its activities. The Bank of England itself was actually a significant lender to Creditanstalt.

In March 1931, the French government and French Foreign Minister Briand declared themselves in determined opposition to announced negotiations between Berlin and Vienna for the forming of an Austro-German trade and customs union, a belated attempt to counter a growing world economic depression that had begun in America some months earlier. France reportedly ordered its banks to cut short-term credit lines to Creditanstalt, in a bid to bring pressure to bear on the Austrian government. What ensued that May, as rumors of a run on the deposits of Creditanstalt broke in the Vienna press, was a credit crisis which shook all of Europe. The Austrian National Bank, and ultimately the Austrian state, were forced to come to the rescue of the Creditanstalt, in what became the largest bank failure in history. Subsequent examination revealed that the crisis need never have reached such dramatic dimensions. It was intended to do so by certain powerful London and New York financiers who were preparing a dramatic shift in European geopolitics. <12> By the end of the 1920s, influential circles in Britain and the United States had decided to back a radical course for Germany.

J P Morgan bankers had already proved to themselves the usefulness of radical top-down political solutions to ensure repayment of bank loans, when they gave foreign credit to the fascist regime of Italian strongman Benito Mussolini. In November 1925, Italian Finance Minister Volpi di Misurata announced that the Mussolini government had reached an agreement on repaying the Versailles war debts of Italy to Britain and the United States. One week later, J P Morgan & Company, financial agents of the Mussolini government in the United
States, announced a crucial $100 million loan to Italy to 'stabilize the lira'.

In reality, Morgan had decided to stabilize Mussolini's fascist regime. On the urging of J P Morgan & Company and Montagu Norman, governor of the Bank of England, Volpi di Misurata established in 1926 a single Italian central bank, the Bank of Italy, to control national monetary policy and further ensure repayment of foreign debts. Mussolini had shown himself to be the ideal strongman to discipline Italian labor unions, drive down wages and enforce sufficient austerity to guarantee foreign bank lending, or so thought Morgan's people in New York.

The man who controlled US monetary policy at the time, former Morgan banker Benjamin Strong, an intimate personal friend and collaborator of Britain's Montagu Norman, met with Volpi and the Bank of Italy governor, Bonaldo Stringher, to confirm the final details of the Italian 'stabilization' program. From Poland to Romania during the 1920s, the same combination of powerful persons - J P Morgan & Company, Montagu Norman and the New York Federal Reserve - organized effective economic control over most countries of Continental Europe, under the pretext of the establishment of 'creditworthy' national policies - an informal precursor of the role of the International Monetary Fund in the 1980s. The New York banks were the source of the significant short-term capital for this lending, and the Bank of England, together with the British Foreign Office establishment, provided the political experience to impose the policy. <13>

The most concentrated efforts of this Anglo-Saxon circle were focused on Germany during the 1920s. Following the successful imposition of Hjalmar Schacht as president of the Reichsbank in 1923, and Schacht's implementation of the draconian Dawes Plan of war reparations repayment, drafted by Morgan & Company, the German economy during the 1920s became dependent on short-term loans from London and New York banks and their collaborators in Paris. For the banks, these German short-term credits were the most lucrative in the entire world financial markets of the day. For many of Germany's banks, including the fourth-largest, Darmstadter und Nationalbank Kommandit-Gesellschaft (Danat), dependence on short-term New York and London capital borrowings had become substantial, and at punitively high interest rates. The Weimar hyperinflation had largely destroyed the capital and reserves of major German banks during the early part of the decade. Thus the expansion of German bank lending during the late 1920s was by banks with a precariously small capital base in the event of loan default or other crises. Germany stood unique among major European industrial countries by the time of the 1929-30 New York stock market collapse. She owed international bank creditors an estimated sixteen billion Reichsmarks in such short-term debts.

This unsound banking structure required only a small push to topple it in its entirety. The push came from the New York Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, which, in a series of moves in 1929, raised their interest rates following more than two years of unprecedented stock market speculation as they pursued ever lower interest rates. The predictable crash in the New York stock market and the London market led to a massive withdrawal of US and British banking funds from Germany and Austria. By May 13 1931, the fuse was ready for the torch.

On that day, the large Vienna Creditanstalt collapsed. The French had decided to 'punish' Austria for entering into customs union talks with Germany by imposing currency sanctions. Creditanstalt was a Rothschild bank with heavy ties to French banking. As French funds were recalled from Austria, this toppled the fragile Creditanstalt the largest Austrian bank, which had large interests in some seventy per cent of Austria's industry. To attempt to stop the run on the Creditanstalt, Austrian banks called in all funds they had in German banks. Creditanstalt was the weak link which started the domino collapse of banking throughout central Europe.

The ensuing banking crisis, economic depression and the related tragic developments in Austria and Germany were dictated virtually to the letter by Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, the governor of the New York Federal Reserve, George Harrison, and the house of Morgan and friends in Wall Street. A decision had been made to cut all credits to Germany, though even a minimal roll-over of nominally small sums would probably have stopped the crisis from erupting out of control at this early stage.

Instead, capital began to flow out of Germany in ever greater amounts. On the demand of Montagu Norman and George Harrison a new Reichsbank President, Hans Luther, dutifully abstained from doing anything to stop the collapse of the large German banks. The immediate consequence of the Creditanstalt collapse in Vienna was the related failure of the Danat-Bank of Germany. The Danat-Bank, heavily dependent on foreign credits, lost almost 100 million Reichsmarks of deposits that May. The next month, Danat lost 848 million Reichsmarks, or forty per cent of all the deposits it held while Dresdner Bank lost ten per cent and even Deutsche Bank lost eight per cent of its deposits. By late June, Bankers Trust, a Morgan bank, cut the credit line to Deutsche Bank.

Harrison demanded that Reichsbank head Hans Luther impose rigorous credit austerity and tightening in the German capital markets claiming that this was the only way to stop the flight of foreign capital. What it ensured was the overall collapse of the German banking system and industry into the worst depression imaginable.

Montagu Norman backed Harrison, and the governor of the Bank of France joined them in blaming Germany for the crisis. Desperate last-minute efforts by the Bruning government to persuade Luther to seek an emergency stabilization credit from other central banks to contain the national banking crisis were, as a result, refused by Luther. When he finally capitulated and asked Montagu Norman for help, Norman slammed the door in his face. Germany as a consequence no longer effectively had any lender of last resort.

By July 1931, some two months after the collapse of the Vienna Creditanstalt had initiated the flight of capital out of Germany, the Basle Nationalzeitung reported that the Danat-Bank was 'in difficulties', which was sufficient in the electric climate to trigger a full panic run on that bank. The bank's chairman, Goldschmidt, later charged that the Reichsbank had selectively precipitated his bank's failure with discriminatory credit rationing. The ensuing banking crisis and collapse of industry created in Germany in the winter of 1931-32 what was said to be 'the hardest winter in one hundred years'. It was the breeding ground for radical political alternatives.

In March 1930, some months before the credit cutoff against Germany was imposed by the Anglo-American bankers, Reichsbank president Hjalmar Schacht surprised the government by handing in his resignation. The actual issue he resigned over was the offer of an emergency stabilization credit of 500 million Reichsmarks, which the Berlin government had been offered by the Swedish industrialist and financier, Ivar Kreuger, the famous Swedish 'match
king'. Kreuger and his American bankers, Lee Higginson & Company, were major lenders to Germany and other countries that had been cut off by the London and New York banks. But Kreuger's loan offer of early 1930 had explosive and unacceptable political consequences for the long-term strategy of Montagu Norman's friends. German Finance Minister Rudolf Hilferding urged Schacht, who, under the terms of the Dawes reparations plan, had to approve all foreign loans, to accept the Kreuger loan. Schacht refused and on March 6 handed Reichspresident von Hindenburg his resignation. Schacht had other duties to tend to.

Kreuger himself was found dead some months later, in early 1932 in his Paris hotel room. Official autopsy registered the death as suicide, but detailed inquiry by Swedish researchers decades later made a conclusive case that Kreuger had been murdered. The persons who stood to gain most from Kreuger's death were in London and New York, though the actual details will likely remain buried along with Kreuger. With Kreuger's death ended also Germany's hope for relief. She was totally cut off from international credit. <14>

For his part, Schacht was anything but idle after his resignation from the Reichsbank. He devoted his full energies to organizing financial support for the man he and his close friend, Bank of England governor Norman, agreed was the man for Germany's crisis.

Since 1926 Schacht had secretly been a backer of the radical National Socialist German workers' Party (NSDAP) or Nazi party of Adolf Hitler. After resigning his Reichsbank post, Schacht acted as a key liaison between powerful, but skeptical, German industrial leaders, the so-called 'Schlotbarone' of the Ruhr, and foreign financial leaders, especially Britain's Lord Norman.

British policy at this juncture was to create the 'Hitler Project', knowing fully what its ultimate geopolitical and military direction would be. As Colonel David Stirling, the founder of Britain's elite Special Air Services, related in a private discussion almost half a century later, 'The greatest mistake we British did was to think we could play the German Empire against the Russian Empire, and have them bleed one another to death'.

The British support for the Hitler option reached to the very highest levels. It included Britain's prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, the man infamous for the 1938 Munich appeasement which set Hitler's armies marching to Sudetenland in the east. Philip Kerr (later Lord Lothian), of the Cecil Rhodes Round Table group which we met earlier, was a close adviser to Neville Chamberlain. Lothian backed the Hitler project as part of the infamous Cliveden set in British circles, as did Lord Beaverbrook, the most influential British press magnate of the day, who controlled the mass-circulation Daily Express and Evening Standard. But perhaps the most influential backer of Hitler's movement at this time in Britain was the Prince of Wales, who became Edward VIII in early 1936, until his abdication at the end of the same year.

Certain influential American establishment figures were hardly ignorant of what the Hitler movement was about. Leading Wall Street and US State Department circles had been informed from an early stage. Even before the ill-fated 1923 Munich 'beer hall putsch', a US State Department official stationed in Munich as part of the Versailles occupation of Germany, Robert Murphy, later a central figure in the postwar Bilderberg group, personally met the young Hitler through General Erich Ludendorff. Murphy, who had served under Allen Dulles in Berne during the First World War, gathering intelligence on the German Reich, was in Munich with another influential US government official, Truman Smith, assigned to US Army intelligence occupying Germany.

In his memoirs, Smith later recalled his arrival in Munich in late 1922:

I talked at length about National Socialism with the Munich Consul, Mr Robert Murphy (later a very distinguished American Ambassador), General Erich Ludendorff, Crown Prince Rupert of Bavaria and Alfred Rosenberg. The latter later became the political philosopher of the Nazi party. On this visit I also saw much of Ernst F S ('Putzi') Hanfstaengl, of the well-known Munich art family. 'Putzi' was a Harvard graduate and later became Hitler's foreign press chief ... My interview with Hitler lasted some hours. The diary I kept in Munich indicates I was deeply impressed by his personality and thought it likely that he would play an important part in German politics.

In his November 1922 report to his superiors in Washington, Smith filed the following recommendation regarding his evaluation of the tiny Hitler group. Speaking of Hitler, Smith said:

His basic aim is the overthrow of Marxism ... and the winning of labor to the nationalist ideals of state and property ... The clash of party interests has ... demonstrated the impossibility of Germany's rescue from her present difficulties through democracy. His movement aims at the establishment of a national dictatorship through non-parliamentary means. Once achieved, he demands that the reparations demands be reduced to a possible figure, but that done, the sum agreed on to be paid to the last Pfennig, as a matter of national honor. To accomplish this the dictator must introduce universal reparations service and enforce it with the whole force of the state. His power during the period of fulfillment cannot be hampered by any legislature or popular assembly ...

To ensure that his colleagues in Washington's Division of Military intelligence got the point, Smith added his personal evaluation of Hitler: 'In private conversation he disclosed himself as a forceful and logical speaker, which, when tempered with a fanatical earnestness, makes a very deep impression on a neutral listener'. <15>

In late autumn of 1931, a man arrived at London's Liverpool Street railway station from Germany. His name was Alfred Rosenberg. Rosenberg met with the editor in chief of the influential London Times, Geoffrey Dawson. The Times gave Hitler's movement invaluable positive international publicity in the coming months. But the most important meeting Rosenberg had during this first England visit in 1931 was with Montagu Norman, governor of the Bank of England, and arguably the most influential figure of the day in world finance. Norman had three hatreds, according to his trusted personal secretary - the French, the Catholics and the Jews. Norman and Rosenberg found no difficulty in their talks together. The introduction to Norman had come through Hjalmar Schacht. From their first meeting in 1924, Schacht and Norman developed a friendship which lasted until Norman's death in 1945.

Rosenberg concluded his fateful London visit with a meeting with a leading person of the London Schroeder Bank, which was affiliated with J H Schroeder Bank in New York and with the Cologne-based private bank, J H Stein of Baron Kurt von Schroeder. The man whom Rosenberg met from Schroeder Bank in London was F C Tiarks, who was also a member of the Bank of England directorate and a close friend of Montagu Norman.

As Baron von Schroeder and Hjalmar Schacht went to leading German industrial and financial figures to secure support for the NSDAP after 1931, the first question of nervous and skeptical industrialists was, 'How does international finance, and especially Montagu Norman, regard the prospect of a German government under Hitler?' Was Norman prepared to come in with financial credit for Germany in such an event? The reality is that at this critical juncture, when Hitler's NSDAP had little more than six million votes in the 1930 elections, the international backing of Montagu Norman, Tiarks and friends in London was decisive.

On January 4 1932, at the Cologne villa of Baron Kurt von Schroeder, Adolf Hitler, von Papen and the Cologne banker, von Schroeder, secretly arranged financing of Hitler's NSDAP, at that time de facto bankrupt with huge debts, until the planned seizure of power by Hitler. Another meeting between Hitler and Franz von Papen took place on January 4, 1933, at von Schroeder's Cologne villa, at which the plan was finalized to topple the weak government of Schleicher and build a right-wing coalition. On January 30 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of the Reich.

The final London visit of Alfred Rosenberg was in May 1933, this time as one of the inner figures in the new Hitler government. He went directly to the country home in Buckhurst Park in Ascot of Sir Henri Deterding, the head of Royal Dutch Shell and arguably the world's most influential businessman. According to English press accounts, the two had a warm and eventful discussion. Rosenberg had first met Deterding during his 1931 London trip. Royal Dutch Shell had intimate contact with, and provided support for the German NSDAP. Though the details were kept secret, reliable British reports of the day were that Deterding had provided substantial financial support to the Hitler project in its critical early phases.

{Engdahl says on pages 58 and 62 of the book that Royal Dutch Shell was covertly owned by the British Government, and says on page 59 that Deterding served as a trusted agent of British secret intelligence.}

While Norman and the Bank of England had adamantly refused to advance a pfennig of credit to Germany at the critical period in 1931 (thus precipitating the banking and unemployment crisis which made desperate alternatives such as Hitler even thinkable to leading circles in Germany), as soon as Hitler had consolidated power, in early 1933, the same Montagu Norman moved with indecent haste to reward the Hitler government with vital Bank of England credit. Norman made a special visit to Berlin in May 1934 to arrange further secret financial stabilization for the new regime. Hitler had responded by making Norman's dear friend Schacht his minister of economics as well as president of the Reichsbank. The latter post Schacht held until 1939. <16>


12. Dieter Stiefel. Finanzdiplomatie und Weltwirtschaftskrise: Die Krise der Creditanstalt fur Handel und Gewerbe, 1931. Frankfurt a.M.: Fritz Knapp Verlag, 1989.

13. Richard H Meyer. Bankers' Diplomacy: Monetary Stabilization in the 1920's. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970.

14. Lars-Jonas Angstrom. 'Ivar Kreuger blev mordad!' Svenska Marknaden. August 1987. Stockholm.

15. Truman Smith. Berlin Alert: The Memoirs and Reports of Truman Smith. Stanford California: Hoover Institution Press, 1984.

16. Among the more useful references for this little-discussed topic are J and S Pool. 'Hitlers Wegbereiter zur Macht: Die geheimen deutschen und internationalen Geldquellen, die Hitlers Aufsteig zur Macht ermoglichten'. Munchen: Scherz Verlag, 1979; Heinz, Pentrzlin. 'Hjalmar Schacht'. Berlin: Verlag Ullstein GmbH, 1980; Also useful is Harold James. The German Slump: Politics and Economics 1924-1936. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

Also see "Bush - Nazi Dealings Continued Until 1951 - Federal Documents" by John Buchanan and Stacey Michael, The New Hampshire Gazette, Volume 248 Number 3 (November 07 2003)

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Bill Totten

Friday, January 28, 2005

Virility and Slaughter

Battle Strategy of the First World War

by Richard Koenigsberg

In the First World War, 1914-1918, it is estimated that nine million soldiers were killed, twenty-one million wounded, and nearly eight million taken prisoner or reported missing. Thus, of sixty-five million troops mobilized, nearly thirty-eight million, or fifty-eight percent were casualties. What was the meaning of this massive episode of civilizational destruction? Why were millions of young men killed or mutilated?

In this paper, I examine what happened during the First World War from the perspective of the central strategy that guided battle, that of the "offensive at all costs". The belief that it was worthwhile to attack whenever possible derived from the idea that morale and discipline were the crucial factors determining success on the battlefield. A nation could achieve victory only if its troops had the courage and will to continue to attack in the face of heavy casualties.

The First World War As Perpetual Slaughter

When I began my research on the First World War and encountered this episode of perpetual, futile slaughter, I assumed that historians were capable of accounting for what had occurred. My assumption was unfounded. Although historians report the events, they are unable to explain the magnitude of destruction and persistence of the slaughter. One of the best and most prominent historians of the First World War, Jay Winters, concludes his six-part video series in a tone of baffled bewilderment, summing up his reflections as follows: "The war solved no problems. Its effects, both immediate and indirect, were either negative or disastrous. Morally subversive, economically destructive, socially degrading, confused in its course, futile in its result, it is the outstanding example in European history of meaningless conflict."

As one studies the battles of the First World War and learns of the prodigious number of human beings killed in each of them, the mind boggles. What was going on? What kept the war going? Why did leaders persist in sending young men to die? Why didn't Generals alter their battle strategy when it was evident that what they were doing did not work? Why did soldiers rarely rebel against their fate? Why did they continue to fight on even though death stared them in the face?

The First World War began when Germany attacked France through Belgium, expecting a quick victory that did not occur. The French counterattack also failed. Britain joined the war to honor its treaty obligation with Belgium. Soon there was stalemate. The combatants then built five hundred miles of zigzagging trenches in France and settled in on opposing lines, many less than one thousand yards from one another. Which side would give in first?

The high casualty rate during this war reflected the nature of the battle strategy. "Attack" occurred when massive numbers of troops along the front line, supported by artillery fire from thousands of guns, got out of trenches and ran into "no man's land", hoping to cut the barbed wire, assault enemy trenches and break through the opposing line. Attacks were nearly always unsuccessful. Here is Modris Eksteins' description of the fundamental pattern:

The victimized crowd of attackers in no man's land has become one of the supreme images of this war. Attackers moved forward usually without seeking cover and were mowed down in rows, with the mechanical efficiency of a scythe, like so many blades of grass. "We were very surprised to see them walking", wrote a German machine gunner of his experience of a British attack at the Somme. "The officers went in front. I noticed one of them walking calmly, carrying a walking stick. When we started firing, we just had to load and reload. They went down in the hundreds. You didn't have to aim, we just fired into them."

Ecksteins describes the results of the first year of fighting on the Western front, 1914:

German and French casualties had been staggering. The Germans lost a million men in the first five months. France, in the "battle of the frontiers" of August, lost over 300,000 men in two weeks. Total French losses by the end of December were comparable with the German, roughly 300,000 killed and 600,000 wounded or missing.

What did all of this killing and dying accomplish? Eksteins writes, "For over two years the belligerents on the Western Front hammered at each other in battles that cost millions of men their lives but moved the front line at most a mile or so in either direction".

The Doctrine of the "Offensive at All Costs"

How may one account for such monumental destructiveness? How can one explain the fact that governments and military leaders persisted in employing a battle strategy that continually failed while costing millions of men their lives? We move toward understanding the slaughter by examining the battle-doctrine that guided the thinking of many British officers and military leaders of other European nations. This doctrine of the "offensive at all costs" grew out of the Russo-Japanese war, 1904-05, where the Japanese sent wave after wave of men against the Russian lines and machine-guns, eventually overwhelming them. Europeans were impressed by the "morale and discipline" of the Japanese soldiers, which allowed them to push forward relentlessly in the face of horrendous massacres.

Thus evolved a paradigm that fixed on the "psychological battlefield" as the key element of warfare, the real problem being whether troops had the courage and will to cross the fire swept zone, suffer heavy casualties in the attack and still keep going. The doctrine of the offensive was put forth as the antidote to modern firepower. Precisely because modern firepower made the offensive difficult, therefore offense must be heavily overemphasized. An offensive strategy was likely to be very costly in manpower in the face of modern weapons such as machine-guns; the doctrine of the offensive must take account of this and still remain offensive.

It even was sometimes suggested that offensive tactics must actually aim at heavy losses since this was the reliable and sure way of getting through enemy defenses. In the American movie about the First World War, Paths of Glory, the General justifies his ruthless tactic of requiring his soldiers to attack in the face of machine-guns by explaining that soldiers on the front line of the assault "absorb bullets and shrapnel and by doing so allow other men to get through".

Given a battle strategy guided by the philosophy of the offensive at all costs, British officers who did not encourage the offensive spirit often were removed. In 1918, General Sir Hubert Grough complained to his aide that his troops had "no blood lust" and his officers "no spirit of the offensive". He told his aide, "I want to shoot two officers". The aide said, "Beg your pardon, Sir, there are no officers under sentence". Grough looked at him as if to say, "You fool", and explained, "Yes, I know that, but I want to shoot two officers as an example to others". Two officers were shot.

The fear of removals gave General Headquarters considerable leverage. Faced with obviously hopeless attacks, commanding officers were reluctant to complain and felt compelled to attack regardless of circumstances. Attacks that failed with considerable casualties were given a sympathetic hearing, whereas attacks that failed with light casualties inevitably were condemned. If a Brigadier lost a position, he might be removed, not for losing the position, but for not losing enough men in trying to hold it. Haig castigated Division 49 for not holding Ancre in September 1916, complaining, "Total losses of this division are under a thousand!"

The Battle of the Somme

In 1916, the British felt that they had found a commander-in-chief with the courage and resolve to sustain the heavy losses that would be necessary to break through the German line. General Douglas Haig believed that, given an adequate supply of arms and men, victory could be achieved quickly, though not without great loss of life. The specter of massive losses did not deter him. Haig said that what was needed for victory was patriots who "knew the importance of the cause for which we were fighting".

Whereas Germans, he said, had been "impregnated from youth up with an intensely patriotic feeling so that they willingly die for their country", British men could not do this unless well led. To Haig's annoyance, this simple fact seemed to have escaped the King who, during a visit to the front seemed inclined to think that our troops are "by nature brave". The King, Haig said, is ignorant of "all the efforts which commanders must make to keep up the morale of their men and all the training necessary to enable a company to go forward as a unit in the face of almost certain death".

British strategy was set forth in a document written by General Montgomery dated April 11 1916, asserting, "The assaulting troops must push forward at a steady pace in successive lines, each line adding fresh impetus to the preceding line". Although two or three lines of attack sometimes succeed, yet four or more lines usually succeeded. "War", Lieutenant General Ian Hamilton declared, is the "triumph of one will over another weaker will". According to the theory of the offensive at all costs, victory essentially was a question of morale, belonging to the side that could cross the fire-swept zone and persist in the attack in spite of heavy casualties. Such a determined assault would unnerve the enemy, delivering a decisive moral and physical blow.

In July 1916, British forces amassed along a thirty-mile front near the Somme River, hoping to achieve a breakthrough. Haig said that if you tried for a great, decisive victory, it would be necessary to get your men killed. An extraordinary artillery shelling preceded the attack. For several weeks, 100,000 shells a day were fired. It seemed impossible that the German soldiers could survive such a barrage. Hiding themselves deep within their trenches or bunkers, most of them, however, did survive. When the British attacked, German soldiers rushed to their machine-gun posts.

The July 1 attack on the Somme was a disaster, the worst day in British military history, 20,000 dead, 40,000 wounded. This result, however, is not unlike what occurred at the Battle of Loos. Pushing through to the German line on the second day of battle, British troops crossed the road. Their numerical superiority was considerable, but several dozen German machine guns faced them. The German regimental diary describes what happened:

Ten columns of extended line could clearly be discerned. Each advancing column was estimated at more than a thousand men, offering such a target as had never been seen before, or thought possible. Never had the machine gunners such straightforward work to do nor done it so effectively. They traversed to and fro along the enemy's ranks unceasingly. The men stood and fired triumphantly into the mass of men advancing across open grassland. As the entire field of fire was covered with the enemy's infantry, the effect was devastating and they could be seen falling literally in hundreds.

These were not atypical results of the British strategy of the "offensive at all costs". Was the Somme campaign called off after the first few disastrous days? On the contrary, it continued for five months, with horrible scenes like those described above occurring again and again. During the second week, the British were losing 10,000 men, an entire division, per day, and for the remainder of the battle the daily average was 2500 men.

"Virility" and the Battle of Verdun

Another spectacle of mass-slaughter took place in 1916 at Verdun. German General von Falkenhayn - convinced that the French would defend the forts of Verdun to the last man - told Kaiser Wilhelm that whether the forts were captured or not, the French forces would "bleed to death", thus permitting Germany to emerge victorious. General von Falkenhayn's statement - that he would compel the forces of France to bleed to death - is one of the most famous (or notorious) of the First World War, crystallizing the underlying assumption of this "war of attrition": The losing side would be the one that ran out of men first. The war would end when one side or another had no more blood to give.

A French officer conceived of the Battle of Verdun as nothing less than a pure contest of French and German masculinity. "The two races", he said, have "put all their youth into the furnace, to test which is the strongest and most virile". For their initial attack at Verdun, the Germans brought up 2.5 million shells, using for the purpose some 1,300 trains. By June, the artillery had grown to about 2,000 guns. It was calculated that in just over four months of battle a million shells had been pumped into this dedicated stretch of ground, an average of 100 shells per minute.

The French action to recapture the famous Fort Douaumont employed 711 guns on a front of just over three miles. A notice in the fort today informs us that 1,000 shells were used for every square meter of the battlefield. Verdun was captured by the Germans - then recaptured by the French - so nothing changed except that there were 650,000 more dead soldiers. When added to that of the Somme, this made a death toll in 1916 of almost a million men; an average of more than 6,600 men killed every day, more than 277 every hour, nearly five men a minute.

Imagine the pathetic plight of those who were on the battlefield at Verdun, confined within a narrow space that glowed like an oven for miles because of the constant artillery bombing. During battles, most soldiers barely knew what was going on, spending most of their time hiding from the incessant shelling and bombardment of rifles and machine-gun fire rather than actually fighting. A French Lieutenant described his situation: "Nearly all of our trench has caved in. In what remains, we have scraped our niches in the walls. We huddle up in them to get at least a bit of shelter from the explosions, but we are so tightly packed that our sore limbs can't move." He notes that before attacking his men were either "drunk, howling out patriotic airs, or weeping with emotion or despair". One had the temerity to remark within earshot of the company commander: "Baa, baa, I am the sheep on the way to the slaughterhouse".

We have observed that an officer conceived of the battle of Verdun as a test to determine which of the two races - French or German - was the most virile. We now can see that "virility" amounted to the capacity to endure endless slaughter. To be virile was equivalent to being willing to die when one's nation asked one to do so. The soldier is represented as the embodiment of active masculinity. The actual stance of the soldier at the battle of Verdun, however, was one of abject passivity.

Soldiers during the First World War - those of every nation - were expected to obey their officers and to do their duty without shirking; to offer no resistance when they were ordered to put their bodies onto the battlefield to face mutilation and death. The "strength" of a soldier amounted to his willingness to submit to the leadership absolutely and resign entirely to his fate. To be virile, in short, was to offer oneself up as a sacrificial victim.

The Sacred Ideal

Wayne Dyer in his book War declares, "You offer yourself to be slain: This is the essence of being a soldier. By becoming soldiers, men agree to die when we tell them to." Joanna observes Bourke in Dismembering the Male that the most important point to be made about the male body during the Great War is that it was "intended to be mutilated". She notes, "There was no limit to the danger to which the male body could be subjected. Gunfire cut bodies in half." In war, men's bodies are turned over to the state and its leaders to be used as seen fit, mutilated or destroyed in the name of the sacred ideal.

What is the nature of the sacred ideal in the name of which bodies may be mutilated and destroyed? The sacred ideal that generates killing and dying is, of course, one's nation, for example, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, et cetera. These are the objects or entities that require and justify abject submission. In a lecture that formed an important part of their training, Colonel Shirley told British officers that the words that he was about to speak would be among the most "serious you will ever hear in all your lives. Now that you have entered upon the service of your Country, you must proceed to serve her with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." He consoles his officers by telling them that if they have done their best and yet must fall, they might take comfort in the thought that "you will have suffered for a cause greater and more noble than that for which any man has ever yet sacrificed his all".

Patriotic rhetoric resonated. One million volunteers joined the British army in the first year of the war. War Office recruiting stands were inundated with men persuaded of their duty to fight. On September 9 1915, Basil Hart asked his parents not to wear mourning clothes in the event of his death. He wrote, "I do not wish you to regard my death as an occasion for grief, but of one for thanksgiving, for no man could desire a nobler end than to die for his country and the cause of civilization".

Eight months of battle did not alter these noble sentiments. On May 27 1916, he appended the following words to his will: "Also I wish to say that while I feel it an honor to die for England, I feel it an even greater honor to die as an officer of the British Regular Army - many of the finest gentlemen whom God has sent into this world". Similar expressions of commitment and devotion were common among soldiers of all nations. Shortly before his death, Frenchman Robert Dubarle wrote of the "glorious privilege of sacrificing oneself, voluntarily. Let us try, without complaining too much to offer our sacrifice to our country and to place the love of fatherland above our own grief."

Willingness to go to battle and if necessary to die, then, was the way in which one demonstrated one's devotion to one's nation, the sacred ideal. To fight for one's nation - risking bodily mutilation and death - represented the pledge of allegiance in its most radical form. A reporter described his encounter with a Canadian soldier who had been wounded in battle, but survived:

As I looked into his face and saw the look of personal victory over physical pain, I gripped him by the hand and said, "My good man, when you go back to your home, you need not tell them that you love your country - just show them your scars".

In Great Britain, Bourke observes, soldiers' mutilations were spoken of in public rhetoric as badges of courage, hallmark of their glorious service, and proof of patriotism. The wounded or disabled soldier was "not less but more of a man". According to the London Times, "Next to the loss of life, the sacrifice of a limb is the greatest sacrifice a man can make for his country". The virtue of giving over a part of one's body to one's nation was expressed in a song entitled "England's Broken Dolls" that was popular during the war:

A man and maiden met a month ago.
She said, "There's one thing I should like to know
Why aren't you in khaki or navy blue?
And fighting for your country like other men do?
The man looked up and slowly shook his head
Dear Madam, do you know what you have said.
For I gladly took my chance.
Now my right arm's out in France.

Virility and Slaughter

I've provided several accounts of how British soldiers were torn apart by machine-gun fire as they attacked. In the following report, British General Rees describes the massacre of his own brigade as they moved toward German lines.

They advanced in line after line, dressed as if on parade and not a man shirked going through the extremely heavy barrage, or facing the machine gun and rifle fire that finally wiped them out. I saw the lines, which advanced in such admirable order melting away under fire. Yet not a man wavered, broke the ranks, or attempted to come back. I have never seen, indeed could never have imagined such a magnificent display of gallantry, discipline and determination. The reports from the very few survivors of this marvelous advance bear out what I saw with my own eyes: that hardly a man of ours got to the German Front line.

It is evident that in spite of the total failure of the attack, General Rees regarded the destruction of his brigade in a positive light. He observes that not a man "shirked" in the face of the machine gun and rifle fire that wiped them out. He is proud that even though his troops were "melting away under fire", the soldiers continued to advance "in admirable order". In the face of the barrage of bullets, his men did not waver, break ranks, or attempt to come back. The General gushes that he had never seen such a magnificent display of "gallantry, discipline and determination". Although his soldiers were slaughtered and "hardly a man of ours got to the German Front line", he characterizes the advance as "marvelous".

Or perhaps is it more accurate to say that the General believed the assault was marvelous precisely because British soldiers had been slaughtered. The General does not view the battle from the perspective of success or failure. His perception is shaped, rather, by his judgment of the morale and spirit demonstrated by his troops. It is the fact that his soldiers were being riddled with bullets - yet continued to advance - that leads him to conclude that the attack had been "marvelous".

General Rees responded positively to the slaughter of his own men because he viewed their behavior as a testimonial to the depth of their devotion. By virtue of the fact that they did not shirk but continued to advance in the face of machine-gun fire, his troops showed that they were committed absolutely to the ideals of Great Britain, the British Empire and its leaders. Willingness to walk into machine-gun fire provided definitive proof that the soldiers loved their country.

Soldiers during the First World War were required to adopt a posture of absolute submission to their nation and its leaders - obedience unto death. Conscientious objectors in Britain during the First World War were disenfranchised. Some thought that soldiers who had not seen overseas service should have the right to vote taken away from them. In the First World War, the social consensus was that the body of the soldier belonged to the nation-state. The nation could use these bodies as it saw fit.

War requires that the soldier hand over his body to his country. In order to encourage men to do be willing to do this, the soldier's role is represented in terms such as honor, masculinity and virility. In the First World War, however, being honorable, masculine and virile was equivalent to entering a situation where there was substantial probability that one would be slaughtered. One demonstrated one's virility by getting out of a trench and walking into machine gun fire. Such is the strange paradox of war: That "goodness" or morality requires a posture of abject submission; that "love" requires self-destruction; that willingness to die becomes the highest form of virtue.

Copyright 2004 Richard Koenigsberg. Designed by Orion Anderson.

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Bill Totten

Thursday, January 27, 2005

They kill reporters, don't they?

Yes, as part of a system of information control
that will allow the mass killing of civilians

by Edward S Herman

Published in Z Magazine (December 2004)

It has long been a problem for the US imperial establishment that using their ever-improving arsenal of death in projecting power, from Vietnam to Iraq, kills large numbers of target state civilians, in violation of widely accepted norms of morality, international law, and in contradiction of the regular claims of good intentions toward the civilian victims supposedly being "liberated" (from Communism or rule by a bad man).

Even worse, it can upset people at home, who don't like to know about, let alone see, the mangled bodies of bombed civilians, or even a GI using a lighter to burn down the home of a Vietnamese peasant family (as in a famous Vietnam war photo). The home population may be struck by the incompatibility of these deaths and destructive acts with the alleged benevolent war aims, with the result that support for the military venture may fade and even be transformed into a political opposition.

The imperial establishment has worked hard to prevent this obstruction to their war-making power. Its leaders have no concern whatsoever over target country civilian casualties, and may even regard them as useful, except for the problem of public relations. This is a leadership and establishment that was able to positively exult over the Indonesian army and paramilitary slaughter of a million or more civilians in 1965-66, and the even greater mass killing of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese civilians by US forces and US proxies from the time of Ngo Dinh Diem, the US puppet leader of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1963, to the US exit in 1975, was of absolutely no concern to a string of US administrations - Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

It was only the killings in Cambodia by Pol Pot from 1975-78 that elicited great humanistic indignation from US leaders and mainstream media. The mass killing of East Timorese by the Indonesian military from 1975, in the same time frame as the Pol Pot killings, was, like that of the Vietnamese, of no concern to US leaders or the mainstream media, and produced neither publicity nor indignation. These victims were "unworthy", or "unpeople" in Mark Curtis's usage, the criterion shunting civilians into these classes being that these were OUR or a client state's victims. (A main theme of Curtis's valuable new book Unpeople: Britain's Secret Human Rights Abuses [Vintage: 2004] is that the British establishment's concern over civilian victims, except those of enemy states, has long been non-existent. "In the thousands of government files I have looked through for this and other books, I have barely seen reference to human rights at all. Where such concerns are invoked, they are only for public relations purposes" [page 3]).

Full-Spectrum Domination: Including Media Choices of News and Frames

A first principle of controlling information in the interest of "freedom" - to kill civilians without impediment - is that the war-makers must dominate the frames and factual evidence used by the media. This has become easier as the media have become more commercial, concentrated and dependent on the government for favors (such as rights to merge, rights to spectrum allocations, tax and labor policies, protection abroad, information access) and as the growing rightwing echo chamber has served as an enthusiastic conduit and enforcer of government propaganda. The government has also become more efficient at feeding the media suitable information, providing experts for TV commentary, embedding and coopting journalists, keeping reporters away from inconvenient scenes and sources, and bullying them and their bosses into silence on matters that put state policy in an unfavorable light (helped by the rightwing enforcers).

In fact, information policy has become openly recognized as a weapon of war and is included among the elements of the US official strategy of "full spectrum dominance", which US military experts Jim Winters and John Giffin have indicated means both "building up and protecting friendly media and degrading information received by your adversary" (quoted in David Miller, "Information Dominance: The Philosophy of Total Propaganda Control", January 2004, ). Friendly media may be subsidized and given privileged access to information, and some friendly media may even be created by the state (for example, the Iraq Media Network, paid for by the Pentagon). Media deemed hostile may be "degraded" by harassment and even cruise missile attacks. This policy is hardly new, but reached a new peak in planning, resort to violence, and extensive usage in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

A problem for the mind control managers is the brazenness with which the United States has projected power since the fall of the Soviet Union, with three major wars of aggression, even more aggressive support for Israel's ultra-ethnic cleansing, and an openly publicized plan for global domination by force and threat of force. This has contributed to the growth of more alert dissident communities, helped along by the Internet and the rise of alternative media, of which Al Jazeera is the most important (on Iraq, it reaches far more people than CNN). Mind control works best at home, with its reliable mainstream media cooperation, but the US managers are working hard to extend its influence globally.

In frame domination a regular feature of government assaults on foreign targets is demonization of target country leaders, who, like Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, were often allies treated gently by the media prior to their fall from grace (that is, failure to take orders, not human rights abuses). This permits a steady focus on the abuses of the target country leadership rather than on the real reasons for the attack and the pains inflicted on target country civilians. It is also easier to use extreme force because the civilian population can be declared "willing executioners" who put the demon into power and/or have failed to remove him. This argument is used even against civilian populations allegedly ruled by a "dictator" against whom civilians may have limited power of removal. It goes almost without saying that the US, Indonesian and Israeli populations are never declared "willing executioners" although at least in the US and Israeli cases the populations do have the power to remove murderous regimes.

The Fraud of Allegedly Minimizing Civilian Casualties

Another part of the official arsenal is to claim a sincere effort to minimize civilian casualties, helped by "precision bombing" and "surgical strikes" aimed solely at military targets. There is absolutely no reason to believe these claims as regards either intent or result, as in each recent US war of aggression - Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq - there is evidence that non-military sites have been regularly targeted, that bombing raids often hit strictly civilian sites because of poor or no evidence of military relevance, and that sites are regularly attacked where civilian casualties are highly probable even if there is a valid military target (in violation of international law). It is a huge fraud that hundreds of bombing attacks on sites where civilians are sure to be killed, even where they are not specifically targeted, does not constitute a "deliberate" killing of civilians (for a good legal and substantive discussion, see Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder [Pluto: 2004], pages 46-56).

In Yugoslavia, the United States, under NATO cover, openly extended targets to civilian sites like power stations, factories producing only consumers goods, farms, and even hospitals, museums, churches and monasteries, with the clear and sometimes acknowledged aim of making civilians suffer to force an early surrender. In Afghanistan bombing raids were often carried out against civilian sites based on unverified rumor, and pilots regularly bombed in response to a flash that might have been the firing of a weapon (the wedding party at Krakak; the killing of four Canadian soldiers), and pilots shot at and killed numerous unidentified individuals in flight, and even a tall man with a beard who "might" have been Bin Laden, along with five other peasants (for examples, see my "'Tragic Errors' As An Integral Component of Policy", Z Magazine, September 2002.). Targets included nine mosques (with at least 120 civilians killed) and three hospitals - the latter a regular US target in Vietnam as well. Afghanistan was a "free fire zone", to use the parlance of the genocidal US operations in Vietnam.

Fallujah has also been a free fire zone, both in the April assault and that in November, with few if any restraints on targeting. As in Afghanistan, targets have included hospitals, mosques, power facilities, ambulances, and fleeing civilians - young, old, male and female. In Fallujah the phrase for the "liberal rules of engagement" is "weapons free", and reporter Kevin Sites, who spent some days with the marines in Fallujah, says that "Weapons free means the marines can shoot whatever they see - it's all considered hostile".

There are of course regular official efforts to deny civilian casualties, and lying about them is standard operating procedure, often brazen lying to the point of laughability (some samples are provided in "'Tragic Errors' As An Integral Component of Policy"). But when denial is impossible and the lies are exposed too authoritatively, there are regrets, assurances that the "tragic errors" and "collateral damage" were all sad mistakes and certainly not deliberate, and if enough publicity attaches to the sad mistake there are announcements that an "investigation" is underway. We rarely hear the results of these investigations, and sometimes there is evidence that they never took place. Thus, after British ITN journalist Terry Lloyd was killed by US marines in Iraq, Colin Powell promised an investigation, but some time later when ITN investigators spoke with the marines involved, the investigators were told that the marines had never been questioned in any investigation (see Tim Gopsill, "Target the Media", in David Miller, editor, Tell me lies [Pluto: 2004], pages 253-4). There are never any costs attached to these tragic errors and collateral damage - to the attackers - unless we include the building up of a huge reservoir of hate based on de facto murders for which there is no legal remedy in the present world order.

It was acknowledged during the war against Yugoslavia that the turn to the bombing of civilian sites was for the purpose of inflicting pain on civilians, and it has occasionally been admitted as regards both Afghanistan and Iraq that killing civilians has its merits - because the civilians were sometimes suspected of supporting the Taliban or Iraqi resistance, and because killing civilians and its threat would instill fear and help render the population quiescent as well as less willing to help insurgents. In Iraq, a "senior Bush administration official" is quoted in the New York Times saying that the bombing of Fallujah was helpful in that it would push the "citizenry" of Fallujah to deny sanctuary and assistance to the insurgents, adding "that's a good thing". A "Pentagon official" was also quoted as saying: "If there are civilians dying in connection with these attacks, and with the destruction, the locals at some point have to make a decision. Do they want to harbor the insurgents and suffer the consequences that come with that?"

Attacking civilians directly or with assured collateral damage is a war crime, as "The Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives" (Protocol 1, Article 48 of the Geneva Conventions, 1977 supplement). Attacking hospitals and deliberately depriving civilians of access to medicines and doctors are war crimes. Deliberately depriving civilian populations of food and water is a war crime. Shooting anybody that walks into the street or tries to cross a river seeking refuge is a war crime. The "wanton destruction" of a city is a war crime. These are all features of the US assaults on Fallujah, so that US authorities and their Iraqi puppet ("Saddam without a moustache") are violating these articles on a continuing and large scale.

Avoiding Body Counts of Civilians Killed

Another weapon in the public relations arsenal of the death-machine managers is negative: don't count bodies. The political and racist double standard here is staggering. In Kosovo, after the 78-day bombing war, the Clinton administration allocated $25 million to the Tribunal for a search for bodies, and of course the body searches in Bosnia have been going at it for years; whereas in the aftermath of the Indonesian massacres of East Timorese in the run-up to the 1999 East Timorese vote for independence, the justice-loving Western powers were uninterested in body-counts, and so were the mass media.

US body counts are known in detail and reported, whereas Vietnamese, Afghan and Iraqi civilian tolls are not, at least from official and mainstream media sources. During the 1991 Persian Gulf war Colin Powell stated that "Body counts don't interest me", and during the current aggression-occupation General Tommy Franks has acknowledged: "We don't count bodies". He meant Iraqi civilian bodies. The number of US personnel missing in action or prisoners of war in Vietnam was constantly harped upon in the US mainstream, but the number of Vietnamese missing in action and a count of the vast civilian toll in Vietnam were of no interest, and as Noam Chomsky has pointed out that civilian toll in Indochina is not even known within the range of millions (and estimates run up to four million). In Iraq today, the media reported at one point that 38 GIs had been killed in the November US assault on Fallujah, but no figures are given for the Iraqi civilians killed - unworthy victims, or unpeople, by rule of political-racist bias, but serving the function of protecting the US onslaught from adverse information.

Preventing Others From Counting Civilian Bodies

Equally important, and a complement of the official policy of not counting bodies, is preventing others from counting bodies (or reporting such counts). This involves buying up, intimidating, or destroying the media, journalists, and even hospitals and doctors in hospitals, who might testify to civilian casualties. Actions along these lines have been carried out on a large scale.

Most recently, the media reported that among the first actions of the US forces in Fallujah was to bomb out of existence a clinic and take over the main General Hospital. One of the stated purposes of the takeover was to "shut down what officers said was a propaganda weapon for the militants: Fallujah General Hospital, with its stream of reports of civilian casualties" (Eric Schmitt, "A Goal is Met. What's Next?", New York Times, November 15 2004). "Propaganda" is used here in the Orwellian sense of information that does not serve OUR propaganda needs. There is no suggestion in this article, or elsewhere in the paper or mainstream media, that this one of "several accomplishments" by US forces in Fallujah was immoral and a straightforward violation of international law (see further, David Peterson, ZNet Blogs, November 8 2004; ).

In Afghanistan, the Pentagon bought exclusive rights to all photos made by Denver-base Space Imaging, the only commercial operator collecting high resolution images by satellite, thereby preventing possible public access to satellite photos of some of the several hundred villages bombed by the US Air Force.

In another notorious case, a soldier even threatened to shoot Doug Struck, a Washington Post reporter who was trying to visit a just-bombed site in Afghanistan. The Pentagon didn't want anybody looking at the results of those bombings.

The Pentagon's and other official US attacks on media entities that might disclose inconvenient information has been extensive. In Afghanistan, the Pentagon went after all known indigenous radio stations, and some that didn't exist any more, displaying their imperfect information sources: On October 8 2001, naval ships fired four cruise missiles at an unused radio mast east of downtown Kabul. The radio station, which hadn't been in operation for a decade, was hit by three missiles, but a fourth went astray and completely destroyed a United Nation's-funded de-mining agency, Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC), instantly killing four Afghan night watchmen and injuring two other UN staff persons and two other Afghans (a case described in Marc Herold's forthcoming Afghan Bodies Don't Lie: Faces of 'Collateral Damage').

It is well-known that Colin Powell pressed officials of Qatar to crack down on Al Jazeera, and Al Jazeera (and the web site were subjected to major hacker attacks that caused brief Al Jazeera web site closures and intermittent interruptions throughout the war. The level of the most serious attack suggested government involvement (Faisal Bondi, "Al Jazeera's War", in David Miller, editor, Tell me lies [Pluto: 2004], pages 248-9). The US-chosen Allawi government of Iraq raided and closed down Al Jazeera's office in Baghdad. One condition insisted on by the United States in the April negotiations for a truce fire in Fallujah was that Al Jazeera agree to move its cameras and personnel out of the city, where that broadcaster had been able to transmit hostile "propaganda" (that is, photos of and interviews with civilian victims; pictures of ambulances under fire, et cetera).

The United States bombed and destroyed the main broadcasting station in Belgrade during the 1999 bombing war (while killing sixteen people); it bombed all of the regional radio stations of Radio Shuriet in Afghanistan, and it bombed the Al Jazeera broadcasting facilities in Kabul. Shortly after the start of the Iraq invasion, on March 25 2003, US forces bombed the Iraqi TV station. On April 8, the day after their entry into Baghdad, US forces attacked Al Jazeera's broadcasting facilities there, despite the fact that Al Jazeera officials had told the US military the precise coordinates of their offices in the hope that this would make it more difficult for them to make another "tragic error". This anti-media warfare was hardly noticed by the US mainstream media.

Intimidating and Killing Reporters

The US bombing of the Al Jazeera station in Kabul in 2001 was explained by US officials as a result of detection of a satellite uplink indicating an interview with a Taliban member, and US officials have gone farther, stating publicly that any uplink from enemy territory if detected by US planes could be the basis for an attack, without differentiation between journalism and enemy communications (see Gopsill, "Target the Media", pages 251-3). This threat to bomb even "friendly" journalists and stations would be a strong deterrent to placing them in enemy territory, and the threat helped induce CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox to pull out of Baghdad before the March 2003 invasion. Gopsill notes that "This exodus was pleasing to the Pentagon", causing the US public to be "ignorant of what their forces were doing to the city."

The policy of encouraging the embedding of journalists, complemented by warnings, threats and occasional attacks on "unilaterals", had a similar affect of diminishing the likelihood of reporting outside US military control. Unilateral journalist Terry Lloyd, traveling with several others in a vehicle with huge markings of TV, was shot and killed by US marines, but a Marine general in charge of public relations had warned that "having independent journalists wandering the battlefield is fraught with lots of problems". Unilaterals were consequently sparse, leaving the reporting to the "embeds" and Arab media. Faisal Bodi points out that "From the outset of the war the news followed two tracks: the 'Embed' line laid by Centcom, and the independent line by news providers like Al Jazeera who had the courage to locate hacks in the war zone". ("Al Jazeera's War", in Miller, Tell me lies, page 245). The Embed line was not concerned with civilian casualties.

On April 8 2003, US forces not only bombed the Al Jazeera facilities in Baghdad, they also attacked Abu Dhabi TV facilities located there. On the same day a tank shelled the media facilities and personnel at the Palestine Hotel, killing two journalists and seriously injuring three others. The assault on the hotel is interesting in part because once again US officials engaged in serial lying in "explaining" the attacks - the numerous media personnel in the Hotel, and their video shots, uniformly contradict the official claims of shooting or other action or threat from the Hotel; all of them agree with Robert Fisk's statement that the US response was "a straightforward lie".

The day after this attack on the journalists in the Palestine Hotel, the US invaders, using an armoured personnel carrier, pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein right outside the hotel, passing it off as an Iraqi celebration of the victory. The journalists from the hotel filmed this charade, and as Tim Gopsill says, reported it "as the coalition's greatest moment of triumph. Such magnanimity on the part of people who had just been shot at is remarkable".

Concluding Note

This "magnanimity" flows from structure and internalized bias that causes the media to performs miracles of apologetics for state policy. They can report with great indignation false stories of Saddam's alleged removal of babies from incubators in Kuwait, but the destruction of a clinic and seizure of the main hospital in Fallujah, cutting off of the water supply to this and two other cities, leveling Fallujah with advanced weaponry, and Madeleine Albright's remark that killing 500,000 Iraqi children through the "sanctions of mass destruction" was "worth it", are treated at best with brevity and with no detectable indignation. What the US military is doing to Iraqi civilians is largely unreported in the US media, and documentary evidence collected by outsiders is kept out of sight. A tape of US soldiers badly mistreating Iraqi civilians caught by Swedish journalist Urban Hamid was not saleable here: Hamid says "It's obvious that the mainstream media exercise some kind of self-censorship in which people know this is a hot potato and don't touch it because you are going to get burned". (Quoted in Michael Massing, "Iraq, the Press, and the Election": .)

In short, the mainstream media are "willing collaborators" in imperial policies that involve the mass killing of civilians - their leaders and many of their journalists are spiritual "Embeds" who hardly need coercion and threats to see their government's view of things, but they and their associates are also under pressure from the media leaders, the government, and the private enforcers to stay away from such "controversial" matters as the killing of unworthy victims or unpeople. The media serve as an arm of the state, and do a better job of state propaganda than systems of explicit government control and crude propaganda. This is state propaganda voluntarily provided, though from parties with symbiotic connections to the state and deriving substantial benefits from this relationship.

Edward S Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

(Added and last modified on December 8 2004)

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Bill Totten

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Myth of Progress

by Kirkpatrick Sale

Earth Crash Earth Spirit (July 22 2003)

I can remember vividly sitting at the dinner table arguing with my father about progress, using upon him all the experience and wisdom I had gathered at the age of fifteen. Of course we live in an era of progress, I said, just look at cars - how clumsy and unreliable and slow they were in the old days, how sleek and efficient and speedy they are now.

He raised an eyebrow, just a little. And what has been the result of having all these wonderful new sleek and efficient and speedy cars, he asked. I was taken aback. I searched for a way to answer. He went on.

How many people die each year as a result of these speedy cars, how many are maimed and crippled? What is life like for the people who produce them, on those famous assembly lines, the same routinized job hour after hour, day after day, like Chaplin's film? How many fields and forests and even towns and villages have been paved over so that these cars can get to all the places they want to get to - and park there? Where does all the gasoline come from, and at what cost, and what happens when we burn it and exhaust it?

Before I could stammer out a response - thankfully - he went on to tell me about an article written on the subject of progress, a concept I had never really thought of, by one of his Cornell colleagues, the historian Carl Becker, a man I had never heard of, in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, a resource I had never come across. Read it, he said.

I'm afraid it was another fifteen years before I did, though in the meantime I came to learn the wisdom of my father's skepticism as the modern world repeatedly threw up other examples of invention and advancement - television, electric carving knife, microwave oven, nuclear power - that showed the same problematic nature of progress, taken in the round and negatives factored in, as did the automobile. When I finally got to Becker's masterful essay, in the course of a wholesale re-examination of modernity, it took no scholarly armament of his to convince me of the peculiar historical provenance of the concept of progress and its status not as an inevitability, a force as given as gravity as my youthful self imagined, but as a cultural construct invented for all practical purposes in the Renaissance and advancing the propaganda of capitalism. It was nothing more than a serviceable myth, a deeply held unexamined construct - like all useful cultural myths - that promoted the idea of regular and eternal improvement of the human condition, largely through the exploitation of nature and the acquisition of material goods.

Of course by now it is no longer such an arcane perception. Many fifteen-year-olds today, seeing clearly the perils with which modern technology has accompanied its progress, some of which threaten the very continuance of the human species, have already worked out for themselves what's wrong with the myth. It is hard to learn that forests are being cut down at the rate of 56 million acres a year, that desertification threatens eight billion acres of land worldwide, that all of the world's seventeen major fisheries are in decline and stand a decade away from virtual exhaustion, that 26 million tons of topsoil is lost to erosion and pollution every year, and believe that this world's economic system, whose functioning exacts this price, is headed in the right direction and that direction should be labeled "progress".

E E Cummings once called progress a "comfortable disease" of modern "manunkind", and so it has been for some. But at any time since the triumph of capitalism only a minority of the world's population could be said to be really living in comfort, and that comfort, continuously threatened, is achieved at considerable expense.

Today of the approximately six billion people in the world, it is estimated that at least a billion live in abject poverty, lives cruel, empty, and mercifully short. Another two billion eke out life on a bare subsistence level, usually sustained only by one or another starch, the majority without potable drinking water or sanitary toilets. More than two billion more live at the bottom edges of the money economy but with incomes less than $5,000 a year and no property or savings, no net worth to pass on to their children.

That leaves less than a billion people who even come close to struggling for lives of comfort, with jobs and salaries of some regularity, and a quite small minority at the top of that scale who could really be said to have achieved comfortable lives; in the world, some 350 people can be considered (US dollar) billionaires (with slightly more than three million millionaires), and their total net worth is estimated to exceed that of 45 per cent of the world's population.

This is progress? A disease such a small number can catch? And with such inequity, such imbalance?

In the US, the most materially advanced nation in the world and long the most ardent champion of the notion of progress, some forty million people live below the official poverty line and another twenty million or so below the line adjusted for real costs; six million or so are unemployed, more than thirty million said to be too discouraged to look for work, and 45 million are in "disposable" jobs, temporary and part-time, without benefits or security. The top five percent of the population owns about two-thirds of the total wealth; sixty percent own no tangible assets or are in debt; in terms of income, the top twenty percent earn half the total income, the bottom twenty percent less than four percent of it.

All this hardly suggests the sort of material comfort progress is assumed to have provided. Certainly many in the US and throughout the industrial world live at levels of wealth undreamed of in ages past, able to call forth hundreds of servant-equivalents at the flip of a switch or turn of a key, and probably a third of this "first world" population could be said to have lives of a certain amount of ease and convenience. Yet it is a statistical fact that it is just this segment that most acutely suffers from the true "comfortable disease", what I would call affluenza: heart disease, stress, overwork, family dysfunction, alcoholism, insecurity, anomie, psychosis, loneliness, impotence, alienation, consumerism, and coldness of heart.

Leopold Kohr, the Austrian economist whose seminal work, The Breakdown of Nations, is an essential tool for understanding the failures of political progress in the last half-millennium, often used to close his lectures with this analogy.

Suppose we are on a progress-train, he said, running full speed ahead in the approved manner, fueled by the rapacious growth and resource depletion and cheered on by highly rewarded economists. What if we then discover that we are headed for a precipitous fall to a certain disaster just a few miles ahead when the tracks end at an uncrossable gulf? Do we take advice of the economists to put more fuel into the engines so that we go at an ever-faster rate, presumable hoping that we build up a head of steam so powerful that it can land us safely on the other side of the gulf; or do we reach for the brakes and come to a screeching if somewhat tumble-around halt as quickly as possible?

Progress is the myth that assures us that full-speed-ahead is never wrong. Ecology is the discipline that teaches us that it is disaster.

Before the altar of progress, attended by its dutiful acolytes of science and technology, modern industrial society has presented an increasing abundance of sacrifices from the natural world, imitating on a much grander and more devastating scale the religious rites of earlier empires built upon similar conceits about the domination of nature. Now, it seems, we are prepared to offer up even the very biosphere itself.

No one knows how resilient the biosphere, how much damage it is able to absorb before it stops functioning - or at least functioning well enough to keep the human species alive. But in recent years some very respectable and authoritative voices have suggested that, if we continue the relentless rush of progress that is so stressing the earth on which it depends, we will reach that point in the quite near future. The Worldwatch Institute, which issues annual accountings of such things, has warned that there is not one life-support system on which the biosphere depends for its existence - healthy air, water, soil, temperature, and the like - that is not now severely threatened and in fact getting worse, decade by decade.

Not long ago a gathering of elite environmental scientists and activists in Morelia, Mexico, published a declaration warning of "environmental destruction" and expressing unanimous concern "that life on our planet is in grave danger". And recently the US Union of Concerned Scientists, in a statement endorsed by more than a hundred Nobel laureates and 1,600 members of national academies of science all over the world, proclaimed a "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" stating that the present rates of environmental assault and population increase cannot continue without "vast human misery" and a planet so "irretrievably mutilated" that "it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know".

The high-tech global economy will not listen; cannot listen. It continues apace its expansion and exploitation. Thanks to it, human beings annually use up some forty percent of all the net photosynthetic energy available to the planet Earth, though we are but a single species of comparatively insignificant numbers. Thanks to it, the world economy has grown by more than five times over in the last fifty years and is continuing at a dizzying pace to use up the world's resources, create unabating pollution and waste, and increase the enormous inequalities within and between all nations of the world.

Suppose an Objective Observer were to measure the success of Progress - that is to say, the capital-P myth that ever since the Enlightenment has nurtured and guided and presided over that happy marriage of science and capitalism that has produced modern industrial civilization.

Has it been, on the whole, better or worse for the human species? Other species? Has it brought humans more happiness than there was before? More justice? More equality? More efficiency? And if its ends have proven to be more benign than not, what of its means? At what price have its benefits been won? And are they sustainable?

The Objective Observer would have to conclude that the record is mixed, at best. On the plus side, there is no denying that material prosperity has increased for about a sixth of the world's humans, for some beyond the most avaricious dreams of kings and potentates of the past. The world has developed systems of transportation and communication that allow people, goods, and information to be exchanged on a scale and at a swiftness never before possible. And for maybe a third of these humans longevity has been increased, along with a general improvement in health and sanitation that has allowed the expansion of human numbers by about tenfold in the last three centuries.

On the minus side, the costs have been considerable. The impact upon the earth's species and systems to provide prosperity for a billion people has been, as we have seen, devastatingly destructive - only one additional measure of which is the fact that it has meant the permanent extinction of perhaps 500,000 species this century alone. The impact upon the remaining five-sixths of the human species has been likewise destructive, as most of them have seen their societies colonized or displaced, their economies wrenched and shattered, and their environments transformed for the worse in the course of it, driving them into an existence of deprivation and misery that is almost certainly worse than they ever knew, however difficult their times past, before the advent of industrial society.

And even the billion whose living standards use up what is effectively 100 percent of the world's available resources each year to maintain, and who might be therefore assumed to be happy as a result, do not in fact seem to be so. No social indices in any advanced society suggest that people are more content than they were a generation ago, various surveys indicate that the "misery quotient" in most countries has increased, and considerable real-world evidence (such as rising rates of mental illness, drugs, crime, divorce, and depression) argues that the results of material enrichment have not included much individual happiness.

Indeed, on a larger scale, almost all that Progress was supposed to achieve has failed to come about, despite the immense amount of money and technology devoted to its cause. Virtually all of the dreams that have adorned it over the years, particularly in its most robust stages in the late 19th century and in the past twenty years of computerdom, have dissipated as utopian fancies - those that have not, like nuclear power, chemical agriculture, manifest destiny, and the welfare state, turned into nightmares. Progress has not, even in this most progressive nation, eliminated poverty (numbers of poor have increased and real income has declined for 25 years), or drudgery (hours of employment have increased, as has work within the home, for both sexes), or ignorance (literacy rates have declined for fifty years, test scores have declined), or disease (hospitalization, illness, and death rates have all increased since 1980).

It seems quite simple: beyond prosperity and longevity, and those limited to a minority, and each with seriously damaging environmental consequences, progress does not have a great deal going for it. For its adherents, of course, it is probably true that it doesn't have to; because it is sufficient that wealth is meritorious and affluence desirable and longer life positive. The terms of the game for them are simple: material betterment for as many as possible, as fast as possible, and nothing else, certainly not considerations of personal morality or social cohesion or spiritual depth or participatory government, seems much to matter.

But the Objective Observer is not so narrow, and is able to see how deep and deadly are the shortcomings of such a view. The Objective Observer could only conclude that since the fruits of Progress are so meager, the price by which they have been won is far too high, in social, economic, political, and environmental terms, and that neither societies nor ecosystems of the world will be able to bear the cost for more than a few decades longer, if they have not already been damaged beyond redemption.

Herbert Read, the British philosopher and critic, once wrote that "only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be trusted with machines". It is a profound insight, and he underscored it by adding that "only such people will so contrive and control those machines that their products are an enhancement of biological needs, and not a denial of them".

An apprenticeship to nature - now there's a myth a stable and durable society could live by.

(from John Filiss' Primitivism web site)

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Bill Totten