AlterNet.org: Lawrence S. Wittner http://www.alternet.org/authors/lawrence-s-wittner en The Appalling Violence of the World's Three Superpowers http://www.alternet.org/world/appalling-violence-worlds-three-superpowers <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Just ask Latin Americans, East Europeans, or Asians what they think of their powerful neighbors.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/us_navy_050317-n-6628f-031_navy_seabees_assigned_to_naval_mobile_construction_battalion_two_four_nmcb-24_participate_in_a_live-fire_range_exercise_prior_to_deploying_to_iraq_in_support_of_the_global_war_on_terrorism.jpg?itok=efDYojka" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>If asked to identify the world's superpowers today, most people would name the United States, Russia, and China. Although many citizens of these countries maintain that this status is based on the superiority of their national way of life, the reality is that it rests upon their nations' enormous capacity for violence.</p><p>Certainly none has a peaceful past. The United States, Russia, and China have a long history of expansion at the expense of neighboring countries and territories, often through military conquest. Those nations on their borders today, including some that have wrenched themselves free from their imperial control, continue to fear and distrust them. Just ask Latin Americans, East Europeans, or Asians what they think of their powerful neighbors.</p><p>Nor has there been any significant reduction of their military might in recent years. Despite their professions of peaceful intentions, all three nations maintain <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_number_of_military_and_paramilitary_personnel" target="_blank">vast armed forces</a> and a clear willingness to use them when it suits their rulers. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, in 2014 the United States had 2.3 million active duty military, reserve military, and paramilitary personnel, Russia had 3.4 million, and China 3.5 million. These figures do not include many other people they kept fully armed, such as China's 3 million-strong People's Liberation Army militia. In 2015, the <a href="http://books.sipri.org/files/FS/SIPRIFS1604.pdf" target="_blank">combined military expenditures</a> of the three superpowers constituted more than half the world total, with 36 percent ($596 billion) spent by the United States, 13 percent ($215 billion) by China, and 4 percent ($64 billion) by Russia.</p><p>Lest anyone think that Russia's low military expenditures -- at least compared to those of the United States and China -- indicate a collapse of its capacity for mass violence, it should be kept in mind that Russia continues to possess <a href="https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2016/global-nuclear-weapons-downsizing-modernizing" target="_blank">more nuclear weapons</a> than any other nation. With an estimated 7,290 nuclear weapons in its arsenals, Russia is a formidable military power, indeed. The United States, a close runner-up, has some 7,000, giving these two superpowers possession of roughly 93 percent of the world's nuclear weapons -- more than enough to annihilate life on earth. China, by contrast, lags far behind as a nuclear power, with a mere 260. Even so, these Chinese weapons, if carefully directed, could kill <a href="http://www.un.org/press/en/2009/gadis3385.doc.htm" target="_blank">about 52 million people</a>.</p><p>As might be expected of countries that view themselves as the light of the world, each is dissatisfied with the nuclear status quo and is busy ramping up its nuclear arsenal at enormous cost. In the United States, a program is underway to spend <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/06/17/nuclear-missiles-triad-congress-budget/" target="_blank">$1 trillion</a> over the next 30 years to build new nuclear weapons factories, new nuclear warheads, and upgraded delivery systems for the warheads via land-based missiles, submarines, and planes. Meanwhile, both Russia and China are building their own new generations of nuclear weapons. According to a recent <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/science/atom-bomb-nuclear-weapons-hgv-arms-race-russia-china.html?_r=0" target="_blank">New York Times report</a>, Russia is developing "big missiles topped by miniaturized warheads," while "the Russian Navy is developing an undersea drone meant to loft a cloud of radioactive contamination from an underwater explosion that would make target cities uninhabitable." For its part, the Chinese military is flight testing a "hypersonic glide vehicle" that is fired into space "on a traditional long-range missile but then maneuvers through the atmosphere, twisting and careening at more than a mile a second," thus rendering missile defenses "all but useless." Americans can take heart, though, for the Obama administration "is flight-testing its own hypersonic weapon."</p><p>Nuclear weapons, of course, have not been used since 1945. But there is nothing to prevent their employment in the future, particularly as the superpowers continue to use their military power recklessly.  <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/30/world/asia/what-china-has-been-building-in-the-south-china-sea-2016.html" target="_blank">China</a>, though not currently at war, is alarming its neighbors by building islands in disputed offshore waters and establishing military facilities on them. Russia is absorbing the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annexation_of_Crimea_by_the_Russian_Federation" target="_blank">Ukrainian territory</a> it recently seized by military force and <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2016/02/syria-russia-fist-160225053929748.html" target="_blank">heavily bombing</a> portions of Syria. And the <a href="http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2015/01/03/u-s-wars-continue-in-new-year/" target="_blank">United States</a> is continuing its lengthy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while launching covert military operations in numerous other countries from its <a href="http://fpif.org/ashton-carters-plan-expand-u-s-military-presence-across-globe-even/" target="_blank">662 military bases</a> around the globe.</p><p>Not surprisingly, these are also violent societies at home. Although most nations of the world have abolished capital punishment, both the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_by_country" target="_blank">United States and China</a> still put large numbers of people to death. Indeed, China is the world's most active executioner.</p><p>This state-organized violence is often accompanied by citizen violence. In 2015, the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34996604" target="_blank">use of firearms</a> in the United States resulted in the deaths of 13,286 people and the wounding of another 26,819. These figures include 372 mass shootings, but not suicides, of which there are many. In 2012 -- the latest year with comparative statistics -- the number of gun murders per capita in the United States was nearly 30 times that in Britain.</p><p><a href="http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate-per-million-people" target="_blank">Murder rates</a> are also high in the three superpowers -- though considerably lower in China than in the United States and Russia. When ranked by the lowest murder rates among the nations of the world, China was #28,the United States #96, and Russia #128. </p><p>Overall, then, the three superpowers are unusually violent powers. An <a href="http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/163232#/page/indexes/global-peace-index" target="_blank">extensive study</a> by the Institute for Economics &amp; Peace, released recently, ranked 163 independent nations and territories according to their level of peacefulness. Examining 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators linked to domestic or international conflict, the degree of militarization, and the level of safety and security in society, the study concluded that, when it came to peacefulness, the United States ranked #103, China #120, and Russia #151.</p><p>Is this really the best that these large, economically productive, educationally advanced, and technologically sophisticated nations can do? If so, the world is in big trouble.</p><p> </p> Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:51:00 -0700 Lawrence S. Wittner, History News Network 1060646 at http://www.alternet.org World World Superpowers russia China america violence globalism nuclear weapons The Real Threat to Christmas That Fox News Is Blind to: The Religion of Shopping http://www.alternet.org/belief/real-threat-christmas-fox-news-blind-religion-shopping <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">America is firmly under the grip of a powerful religion -- not the teachings of Jesus, but crass consumerism. </div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_-__2012-12-04_at_11.00.54_am.jpg?itok=OX5aZzZl" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><span style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">Although fundamentalist fanatics have been working for decades to turn the United States into a “Christian nation,” they have not had much success along these lines.</span></p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">One reason for their failure is that religious minorities and non-believers have resisted. And another is probably that a large number of Americans want to preserve religious tolerance and avoid theocracy. But it might also reflect the fact that the United States is now firmly in the grip of a different religion: shopping.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">The frenzied participants were not starving, impoverished peasants or product-deprived refugees from communist nations but reasonably comfortable, middle-class Americans. Their desperation was not driven by hunger. They simply wanted … <em>more</em>!After all, in this “holiday season” the dominant activity does not seem to be traditional religious worship or prayer. The recently-concluded Black Friday provided the occasion not only for an orgy of consumer spending, but for ferocious action by screaming mobs of shoppers who engaged in <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5qRs2dBoK0" style="text-decoration: initial; outline: none; color: rgb(32, 91, 135);">mass riots</a> in their desperate attempts to obtain a variety of products.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">And now that the nation enters its Christmas shopping spree — conveniently begun in November, to allow plenty of time for the practice — there will undoubtedly be lots more commodity fetishism. The shopping malls are already alive with the Christmas music designed to encourage purchases, while visions of rising sales figures dance through the heads of happy store managers.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">All of this, of course, leads to complaints by traditional religious believers about the commercialization of Christmas. Of course, the bloviators on Fox News seek to blame the decline of religious feeling during the Christmas season upon liberal thought. But the hard reality is that Jesus in the manger or bleeding on the cross has less appeal to many Americans that do the latest cellphones and other commercial gadgetry.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">Actually, despite the emphasis on purchases during the holidays, shopping is a year-round phenomenon in the United States. Children might not be able to read, write, add, or subtract, but they know a great deal about the latest consumer products.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">Their parents and grandparents are thoroughly familiar with them as well. And why wouldn’t they be? A vast array of products is regularly featured on TV and radio programs, on roadside billboards, and in their newspapers and magazines.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">In fact, commercial advertising is ubiquitous in the United States, with few Americans able to escape it. Even when people are not in their homes, commercial television programs — those shoddy, thought-free commodities developed to keep the ads from bumping together — run continuously in doctors’ waiting rooms, auto repair shops, elevators, train stations, hospitals, restaurants, airports, school cafeterias, bars, and taxis.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">Furthermore, advertising is not designed to merely alert people to the availability of a product, but to make them want it. Commercial enterprises understand that, thanks to the influence of advertising, purchases will not be based upon need, but upon desire.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">Advertising will stir dissatisfaction with what people already have and create a craving for something else. And this is a very promising route to sales. Naturally, then, U.S. corporations engulf Americans in advertising. It’s an excellent investment, and produces legions of eager, even desperate shoppers.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">Only a very rare American politician would be willing to stand up against the resulting steamroller of consumerism. Imagine the political future of a candidate for public office who said:</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">“There has been enough talk of economic growth and competition as the solutions to our problems. Our real challenges as Americans are to limit our consumption to what we genuinely need, to share with others who are less fortunate than we are, and to halt the plunder of our planet’s resources and the destruction of our environment.”</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">I suspect that she or he would not get very far. Nor, despite the similarity of this approach to the core values of religious faiths, is it popular among the mainstream U.S. churches. Yes, they encourage small-scale charitable ventures. But they do little to challenge the consumerist ethos.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">Indeed, the most active and rapidly growing among the churches — the fundamentalist and evangelical denominations — have rallied behind political candidates championing unbridled capitalism and the prerogatives of wealth. “Drill baby, drill” seems far more popular among them than the Golden Rule.</p><p style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">Ironically, then, by not opposing the corporate cultivation of untrammeled greed among Americans, the churches have left the door open to the triumph of America’s new religion — not liberal secularism, but shopping.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><strong style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Times; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;"><a href="http://lawrenceswittner.com/" style="text-decoration: initial; outline: none; color: rgb(32, 91, 135);">Lawrence S. Wittner</a> is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is <em>Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual</em> (University of Tennessee Press).</strong></p> </div></div></div> Tue, 04 Dec 2012 10:52:00 -0800 Lawrence S. Wittner, Consortium News 755048 at http://www.alternet.org Belief Belief Culture christmas worship shopping fox news