The Death March

by Al McKinnis

Dissident Voice
March 10, 2003


The following is a letter from Al McKinnis, an ex-Marine and auto worker in Minnesota, to his long-dead Uncle Earl, a Marine who died in the Bataan Death March, reflecting on what has become of his uncle's country in the years since he made the ultimate sacrifice. This letter offers profound, stirring insights into what has happened to the society and what we must do about it. The letter appeared in the UAW Local 879 newsletter and in Al's local newspaper.


Dear Uncle Earl,


The American ideals (liberty, justice, freedom, independence) and working peoples' values (equality, democracy, and solidarity) which you fought and died for as a 20-year-old Marine, at the Death March of Bataan, continue to be attacked. As it turns out, the Empire you fought was not the Empire attacking your humanity, but another Empire, the American Empire, continuing its offensive against world humanity.


I thought of you last week when some coworkers and a company security guard accosted a friend passing out notices for an anti-war rally, exercising the very rights you died to defend and perpetuate for them. Actually the first thing I thought was great, there are Nazis in the building. I've also thought of you recently as America's foreign and domestic affairs continue to create what can only be described with the name history has given your battle, to recognize its horrific event: death march.


Changing domestic opinion through lies and provocation was so easy that, shortly after your passing, we institutionalized secrecy and passed the decision to wage war onto a single individual, the president. Since then there have been some 200 executive-directed military excursions. We now have a "Pro-active Pre-emptive Operations Group" reporting to the Secretary of Defense, whose purpose is to incite terror attacks so the president can order a counter attack "for national security." As it turns out, Pearl Harbor was a provocation by refusing access to oil.


Your war is sometimes referred to as "the good war." As it turns out, the only good war, righteous war, is the class war. Government by and for wealthy Americans to control working people has ascended by copying corporate, autocratic power hierarchies, buying the Constitution, giving them power over individuals, and building cadres of boot lickers--"privileged citizens." Democracy and representation are not possible within that infrastructure. Fear and distraction, through these constant military excursions, corporate America's theft of individual rights, foreign affairs attacking humanity to take money from the poorest of human beings and pitting us against each other is our new world society of top down social control. A society of corporate values (dog eat dog, "leaders," and kill to accumulate others' money).


You wouldn't believe your old neighborhood. For every 10 farms, there are now about 1. About 5 large corporations control what was lost. By influencing elected officials and intimidating the marketplace, prices for corn and beans are kept so low that family farms are gone. And after we leave the farms to work at corporate factories, we subsidize, through taxes, the rat that forced us off the farm! There is a plan to take the remaining farms. They don't want future generations to know how to feed themselves. We are systematically starving the Mexican poor and indigenous, as elsewhere throughout the world, which should be enough pressure to lower U.S. prices further. My grandson or his kids will be paying as much for food, relatively, as what we pay today for housing.


Competition is not an economic phenomenon or a natural human condition but a fiction, not a function of corporate America's version of free trade. As Adam Smith clearly says, wealthy individuals owning the means of our livelihoods influence the king to such an extent that we don't know what a free market is. Logically he thinks that these influences constrict fair trade as they benefit owners (supply side) whereas, for the greater good, benefits should accrue to consumers (demand side). Corporate America has no competition. As it turns out, competition is the commercialization of human beings programmed to accumulate and spend beyond their means, while adopting corporate values (the "received" means to our self- identity) for "privileged citizen" seekers, an offense against our survival for the rest of us; social control for all.


From my earliest memories and continuing without exception, every U.S. president at an inaugural address or State of the Union speech hoists a finger to declare that "we are Number One" (competition, not equality). Raise your confederate flag, Brother! Through competition, we are ringers for corporate America's "game" (in their view) and, as an example, the Bush family retirement fund: an Afghanistan oil pipeline, and now as co-bidder on an international fiber optic network. To be purchased for a nickel on the dollar, the 95 cents compliments of working peoples' 401(k) losses.


Neoliberalism, what corporate America wants us to believe is its missionary work, is simply taking money from the earth's poorest people. Its demands are completely divergent from how it treats itself or how it became so powerful (regulation, not deregulation and capital protection, not theft through privatization). I always thought interest rates reflected risk. Corporate America's money center banks lend money to the poorest countries while being guaranteed by taxpayers. The money goes to Swiss bank accounts, with the debt left for the poorest of people who never agreed to the debt. Voila, a new client king is born and hate for Americans accelerates.


Shortly after your passing, Brazil was remade in our image (the image as defined by and for corporate America). After a generation plus 10 years as corporate America's star student of neoliberalism, 70% of its people are in poverty, and it ranks fourth from the bottom out of every nation on the planet for income-gap disparity. This is where capitalism is taking us. America's working class now enjoys a living standard equal to that of 1960. And it takes a two income household to accomplish that! I don't know what my grandson's generation will do. Guess they'll have to sacrifice their first born to become three income households. As it turns out, neoliberalism was born out of U.S. experiences (payrolls) building European fascism leading to your war. France rightly sees today's corporate America as the Fourth Reich marching. It is the French and other European labor institutions now fighting our "Labor Against War" campaigns as we are castrated, having given up our right to strike.


American domestic and foreign affairs are about squashing democracy wherever it rears its ugly head. U.S. government-like labor institutions and other power hierarchies prefer one-on-one decision-making models, deciding what's best for their subjects. Our government makes friends and protects kings in the name of liberty and freedom: Nicaragua, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Argentina, Haiti, Mexico, etc. If we were to promote democracy, our military assistance would go to Zapatistas, the other side at Columbia, Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya etc. If it was our policy to promote and support democracy, corporate America would not demand a "Military Governor" as part of its conquest of Iraq. As it turns out there is no difference between capitalism and communism in their shared view that working people are renewable resources.


Back to the war. Peace in our new society is nothing more than a break in the action. As are all Empires, we are not just feared, but hated. That hate is derived from corporate values. Working peoples' values, once labor union values, were stolen as quickly as they surfaced. Shortly after "the good war," labor unions institutionalized corporate-copied power hierarchies, giving up, catastrophically, the right to strike outside of the contract term. So unions today attend to corporate America's agenda with cadres of "privileged citizens." As it turns out, our enemies are not Islam fundamentalists, dictators, communists, competitors, brown eyes, red heads, or people opposed to war, but the beast we live within.


So what this war protesting is all about is the recognition that war is just a piece of an even larger effort to wipe out remnants of human values, once union values (solidarity, equality and democracy). It's about showing our respect to and acknowledging as dignified the efforts of corporate America's IMF, World Bank, WTO, NAFTA, FTAA and GATT afflicted victims. It's a demonstration of solidarity in building a movement for social justice, bringing together working people, environmental efforts and peace activism. It is a protest of degradations to social safety nets to the benefit of corporate welfare. It's a protest against social control from afar, its arrogance and disrespect for using fear, even death, to minimize job security, health care and education for unnecessary profits. It's about self-determination and autonomy for all peoples of the world. It's about protesting racism, refusing to accept corporate America's assertion that we have yet another people to hate. And it's about supporting our troops.


How do we support our troops when they return home? Less than one in ten jobs are living-wage union jobs, and starting wages, not ending wages, are the height of our career-wage levels (relative to buying power)! Union jobs have been cut in half twice since the "good war." This week a former governor died. Shortly after your passing, he sent National Guard troops to keep scabs off picket lines. Today we support our troops by having governors send National Guard troops to bust picket lines! We support our troops by having one, ONE! U.S. legislator, out of 530 some, who has a kid in harm's way. In our last war, one in four were disabled. All wake up worried about chemical effects corporate America's government refuses to acknowledge. In my war, more returning troops died from suicide than were lost in the war. That's how we support troops today.


What these protests can not become is a focus on replacing the "Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld junta," peace, stopping a specific war, or some other too narrow of a focus, so that we end with folding our tents and returning home to perpetuate the ascendancy of corporate America. These protests and demonstrations must become not skirmishes but a war to build new institutions where social, political, and economic relations are based on human values. We can not allow our energy to be claimed by a politician or a political party. There is no difference between republican and democratic party conflicts of interest, which for them today are actually fiduciary responsibilities to the wealth that "picked" them as party candidates. The first thing our last democrat president did when endorsed as party candidate was to throw out its platform and report for service to corporate America. The only thing that has ever worked for us is strikes, growing when necessary to general strikes. Your great grandfather's Populist Movement died when politicians became a focus. The civil rights movement ended, in a sense, with an end game--a Constitutional amendment.


Our labor "leaders" tell us that once union values are idealistic. As it turns out, dreaming is the belief that corporate values have a place in our world.


Semper Fidelis


-- Al McKinnis


* This letter/article appeared in New Democracy World. Thanks to Doug Fuda.


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