Tuesday, May 5, 2009



Blowback is a military term that refers to unintended consequences that almost always arise in combat situations.

The latest example is the swine flu pandemic. There are strong indications the virus originated at an industrial pig factory. For those unfamiliar with the process, pigs are raised in extremely stressful conditions. They spend their entire lives in cages too small for them to even turn around in in buildings that are literally full of shit and piss. All told, these pig factories are ideal breeding grounds for creation of new viruses.

The only way they can survive is through massive doses of antibiotics to the point where many American rivers now contain noticeable levels of antibiotics with the result that people are ingesting them on a regular basis. This is now resulting in new superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

But that’s not the only element of blowback in this situation. The Mexican pig factory suspected of originating the virus is owned by an American company, Smithfield, which was encouraged to move to Mexico by its lax environmental controls and enabled to make the change by NAFTA. The current swine flu seems relatively benign but it’s only a matter of time before much worse viruses arise.

Factory farms can produce pork cheaply, because so many of its costs are externalized. They produce the virus, everybody affected pays the costs.

The plague of Somali pirates is another case. For 15 years from 1991 till 2006 Somalia was effectively without a government: its territory was divided up and controlled by various warlords. In 2006 a fundamentalist Islamic movement called Islamic Courts defeated the warlords and took over the country. As I understand it they weren’t as radical as many other Islamists. In any case, even if many of Somalia’s people weren’t especially enamored of fundamentalists taking over they were welcomed by the populace for the stability they brought. In addition, Islamists in general are honest and devoted to public service.

But having a country run by Islamists was too much for America so it, with the assistance of Ethiopia, drove them out of power and plunged the country back into chaos. This lack of effective government is what has allowed the pirates to freely operate from Somali territory.

The country’s inability to police its waters has also resulted in factory fishing fleets from Asia and Europe mining its fishery resource and putting local fishermen out of business. Somalia has large areas of desert where food is not easily coaxed from the land. It’s also a relatively narrow country with a very long coastline. Fishing, therefore, would have to be one of its major means of sustenance. It follows then that fishermen deprived of their livelihood might turn to piracy.

The classic case, of course, is the US feeding Bin Laden with billions worth of arms and training him in insurgency-type fighting so his mujahadeen could take on the Soviets. When asked about absurdity of assisting a man who later gave the US 9-11, Kissinger and others have said that it was most important to defeat communism. They have an outsized view of an epic fight between good and evil, but the Soviet Union’s days were numbered anyway. European communism died of its own ineptitude: it’s demise was inevitable. The most America’s cold war harassment did was quicken it bit.

It would not be difficult, in addition, to link Osama’s implacable hatred of America with its absolute, totally biased support of Israel. Israel has been a dagger in the heart of every Arab since the founding of the state in 1948; they call that event, The Catastrophe. Israel, with its continuing program of confiscating Arab land so it can populate the West Bank with Jews, its indifference to Palestinian lives in its wars and assassinations, its callous refusal to consider the plight of Palestinian refugees, its essentially racist nature where Arab citizens of Israel have second class status, digs the dagger in a little deeper with each infraction.

From Bin laden down to the man in the street, Arabs have an implacable hatred of Israel. Because of America’s support a lot of that feeling carries over to it. To a lesser extent, Moslems all over the world see an injustice being done to Moslem brothers. All of that adds up to increased radicalism amongst them. To the Islamic insurgents in the Philippines it probably won’t feel like a dagger in the heart, but it might well feel like a thorn in the side.

I’ll never forget how Howard Dean was shot down for saying the US should take an evenhanded approach to the Middle East, as if there could ever be something wrong with being evenhanded, and by implication, fair.

Of course, I’ve barely scratched the surface, examples of blowback are rife.

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