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 BlogviewTom Engelhardt Archive

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Give them credit. As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse has so vividly reported over the last decade, America’s previously “elite” Special Operations forces -- once small, specially trained units in a large military -- have now essentially become a military in their own right, all 70,000 of them (larger, in fact, than many national armed forces). And... Read More
In these years, much attention has been paid to the rise of the national security state and little indeed to what TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon calls the national (in)security state. The Trump administration and a Republican Congress have, of course, given a remarkable gift, a tax “reform” bill, to the already fabulously wealthy and are... Read More
Never forget it: Donald Trump rode birtherism like a surfboard into the White House. He first played the birther card back in 2011 (“I’m starting to think that [Obama] was not born here”), and the next year cited “an extremely credible source” that Obama’s birth certificate was a “fraud.” In certain parts of this country... Read More
Opioids, Donald Trump, and War
When you think of addiction in America today, one thing comes to mind: the opioid epidemic. And it should. It’s serious. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 64,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2016 (more than died in the Vietnam War), an average of 175 people a day. In that year,... Read More
A recent study of insect life in protected nature reserves in Germany got the most modest attention in our busy Trumpian world. In the last 27 years, however, researchers found that flying insect populations there had dropped 76% seasonally and 82% in mid-summer (when insect numbers are at their peak). If you aren’t instantly struck... Read More
Who could forget it? There were the $37 screws (no need to say who was getting screwed), the $2,043 nut (McDonnell Douglas made it specially for the U.S. Navy), the $7,622 coffee pot, the $74,165 aluminum ladder, and the $640 plastic toilet seats for the Air Force. All of those examples of Pentagon waste were... Read More
On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump wasn’t shy when it came to the issue of debt. As he told Norah O’Donnell of CBS This Morning at the time, “I’m the king of debt. I’m great with debt. Nobody knows debt better than me. I’ve made a fortune by using debt and if things... Read More
In the days before Donad Trump “caved” and issued an executive order (which he previously claimed he couldn’t do) at least theoretically ending the forced separation of parents and children at the border, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said of the policy, “This is not who we are and it... Read More
Two decades ago, when I was working as an editor at a publishing house, Chalmers Johnson, then an eminent scholar of Asia and a former CIA consultant, sent in a proposal for a book he was already calling Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. I still remember the passage from his prologue that... Read More
In the rush of Trumped-up events, history -- of the last month, week, hour -- repeatedly gets plowed (or tweeted) under. Who can remember what happened so long ago? Perhaps it’s not surprising then that, in the wave of abuse from the president and his men (including economic adviser Larry Kudlow and trade hardliner Peter... Read More
There’s no other imperial tradition like it. For two millennia, dynasty after dynasty rose and fell, spread and shrank, reaching into Southeast Asia and far out into the steppes of Eurasia, its commercial fleets -- 3,500 ships in the fourteenth century -- voyaging as far as Africa. It’s true that ours is a remarkably westernized... Read More
When you come from the South Bronx, you have the option of writing about different kinds of characters than those who so often inhabit the universe of fiction we’re used to. That was true of Beverly Gologorsky’s first novel, The Things We Do to Make It Home, which focused on the lost vets of the... Read More
American Wars and Self-Decline
Think of it as the all-American version of the human comedy: a great power that eternally knows what the world needs and offers copious advice with a tone deafness that would be humorous, if it weren’t so grim. If you look, you can find examples of this just about anywhere. Here, for instance, is a... Read More
We know her name but not, as the courageous Israeli journalist Amira Hass has pointed out, the name of the Israeli sniper who shot her down in cold blood during an unarmed demonstration at the blockaded Gazan border as she ran to aid a man struck in the head by a tear gas shell. She... Read More
Honestly, if you’re trying to grasp our strange new world, this Washington Post headline gets you at least part of the way there: "New NSC Chief of Staff Is From Group That Believes Muslims Are Plotting to Take Over U.S." No, that NSC isn’t the National Student Clearinghouse or the Norfolk Southern Corporation or the... Read More
In case you hadn’t noticed -- and it wasn’t exactly front-page news -- America’s eighth war commander in Afghanistan (and keep in mind that we’re only talking about this country’s second Afghan War), General John Nicholson, is about to be history. Sometime in the coming months, the ninth, Lieutenant General Austin “Scott” Miller, who spent... Read More
Like everyone else in America, you undoubtedly know about the recent afternoon shutdown of 8,000 Starbucks stores for anti-bias training after the well-publicized handcuffing and arrest of two black men who asked to use the bathroom at an outlet in Philadelphia, an event partially caught on video. But did you know about the white woman... Read More
Remember Donald Trump’s magical plan to turn $200 billion in federal money... hey, presto!... into $1.5 trillion in investment in America’s aging, underfunded infrastructure (to which the American Society of Civil Engineers gave a grade of D+ in 2017)? Why should you, especially since that plan is now officially dead in the water in Congress... Read More
Advice to College Graduates in the Age of Trump
Class of 2018, I’ve always been told that a joke’s a good way to launch any talk. It’s a matter of breaking the ice, though on your graduation day, with the temperature soaring into the upper eighties, that may not be the perfect image. Still, you know what I mean: an attempt to lighten the... Read More
Once upon a time, dystopian fiction was left to the novelists: Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Philip K. Dick. And once upon a time, the futuristic dreams of the military were distinctly upbeat. They were of generals leading armies to victory, of air power causing the morale of enemy nations to collapse (with surrender... Read More
Mark Karlin: How much money has gone to the U.S. war on terror and what has been the impact of this expenditure? Tom Engelhardt: The best figure I’ve seen on this comes from the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project at Brown University and it’s a staggering $5.6 trillion, including certain future costs to care... Read More
Six years ago, in late May 2012, I read a New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.” They reported that President Obama was then overseeing a “regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room”... Read More
When I was young, I often imagined myself as an American diplomat. Back in the early 1960s, it seemed like serving my country in such a role would be an honorable, even glorious, path to take. Can you believe that I ever thought such a thing in this twenty-first-century moment when diplomats by the hundreds... Read More
Here’s a recent typical headline about the upcoming talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un: “Will Trump’s Ignorance (and Bolton’s Impetuousness) Doom the North Korea Summit?” When it comes to ignorance, there can be little question that the Trump administration is in a league all its own. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,... Read More
The forcible separation of parents and children for “months or longer” under any circumstances, even for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, would have to rank high in the annals of cruelty and heartlessness. As Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced recently, the U.S. now has just such a “zero tolerance” policy at that border. No more... Read More
The U.S. Military Takes Us Through the Gates of Hell
[This essay is the introduction to Tom Engelhardt’s new book, A Nation Unmade by War, a Dispatch Book published by Haymarket Books.] As I was putting the finishing touches on my new book, the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute published an estimate of the taxpayer dollars that will have gone into... Read More
It’s already long forgotten here, but the theocratic regime in Iran was really our baby. After all, in 1953, the CIA and British intelligence engineered a coup to replace a democratic government in Iran with the autocratic Shah and so gave Iranians just what they didn’t want (including his creepy secret police, the Savak). In... Read More
Imagine that you paid a special visit to a family you hardly knew halfway around the world and they were so pleased to see you that they spent an estimated $68 million on your welcome, while mounting “festivities” like the one in which you danced with them sword in hand? Yes, you'd probably be thrilled,... Read More
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And a Planet in Ruins
They are the extremists. If you need proof, look no further than the Afghan capital, Kabul, where the latest wave of suicide bombings has proven devastating. Recently, for instance, a fanatic set off his explosives among a group of citizens lining up outside a government office to register to vote in upcoming elections. At least... Read More
It began, of course, with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the second Afghan war of our era. In November 2002, in Yemen, the CIA conducted its first drone assassination strike outside of Afghanistan, killing six al-Qaeda suspects in a car. (More strikes would follow there years later, along with Special Operations raids of... Read More
Almost 17 years after Washington’s war on terror was launched, déjà vu all over again hardly sums up the situation. Still, it’s a place to start. Take a headline from nearly a decade ago -- July 2009, to be exact. By then, the American war in Afghanistan (the second Afghan War of our era) was... Read More
Recently, I visited New York’s Guggenheim Museum for a show of conceptual art by Danh Vo, whose family fled Vietnam as the American war there ended in 1975. He was four years old when he became a refugee and, through a series of flukes, found himself in Denmark, which has been his home ever since.... Read More
In her new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, Nomi Prins remembers how the 9/11 attacks affected her. She was, at the time, working for Goldman Sachs (which has been sending key former employees directly into top government posts ever since, most recently, of course, Steven Mnuchin as Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary). Before... Read More
Recently, President Trump declared war on undocumented immigrants heading for the southern border -- you know, all those marauding “rapists” and their pals -- and, as seems appropriate in any “war,” he promptly ordered the mobilization of the National Guard. Troops from its ranks were to be dispatched border-wards permanently, or at least until his... Read More
If you want a classic formulation from our new Gilded Age, here it is, as described recently in the Guardian: “A head-on assault on teachers for their long summer vacations would ‘sound tone-deaf when there are dozens of videos and social media posts going viral from teachers about their second jobs [and] having to rely... Read More
At almost 74, of all the people in my life, it may be the teachers I remember most vividly. Mrs. Kelly, my first grade teacher (who began it all); my fourth grade teacher Miss Thomas (who, when I approached her that initial day in class and said “Hey, you,” assured me in the kindest possible... Read More
It’s been a terrible year for gun makers. The venerable Remington filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its sales fell 27.5% in the first nine months of Donald Trump’s presidency. (Its officials had expected a 2016 Hillary Clinton victory to ensure a burst of gun purchases.) And Remington wasn’t alone. Sales have been ragged across... Read More
Or Five Lessons in the History of American Defeat
The lessons of history? Who needs them? Certainly not Washington's present cast of characters, a crew in flight from history, the past, or knowledge of more or less any sort. Still, just for the hell of it, let’s take a few moments to think about what some of the lessons of the last years of... Read More
Here's how Colonel Robert Heinl, Jr., began a June 1971 article in Armed Forces Journal bluntly headlined “The Collapse of the Armed Forces”: Consider that grim list and the churning antiwar activism in the Vietnam-era military that Heinl went on to describe as a reminder of why President Richard Nixon, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird,... Read More
The rise and fall of empires has long been a story at the heart of history. Since the Europeans first burst out of their then-marginal region on wooden sailing ships mounted with cannons in the fifteenth century, the planet seldom has had a moment in which several imperial powers weren’t competing for supremacy. In 1945,... Read More
His appointment was a genuine Bolton from the blue (so to speak). After all, everyone knew that former U.N. Ambassador (and Fox News commentator) John Bolton couldn’t be chosen for a major post in the Trump administration. No, not because of his outlandish views on war-making, or his responsibility for helping launch an invasion of... Read More
Someday, it may seem like history’s classic example of imperial overstretch. There was, after all, only one superpower left on this planet after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It was challenged by... well, next to no one. Or rather by a single jihadist, his modest set of followers, and an investment of perhaps $400,000-$500,000.... Read More
Few American exports are more successful globally than things that go boom in the night: Hollywood movies -- especially, of course, superhero films, which regularly garner vast international audiences -- and advanced weaponry of just about every imaginable kind. As TomDispatch regular and Pentagon expert William Hartung points out today, while Donald Trump has been... Read More
There’s been a lot of free-floating fear and horror in the media recently about the appointment as national security adviser of John Bolton, a man who’s been itching for war(s) since the 1990s. His approach to Iran and North Korea in particular (not quite nuke ’em!, but not that much short of it either) isn’t... Read More
You’re Watching Him!
A record? Come on! Don’t minimize what’s happening. It’s far too unique, too unprecedented even to be classified as “historic.” Call it mega-historic, if you wish. Never from Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar to Soviet despot Joseph Stalin, from the Sun King Louis the XIV to President Ronald Reagan, from George Washington to Barack Obama, has anyone... Read More
Fifteen years ago last week, the U.S. invasion of Iraq began. It was to be beyond glorious. It was to signal the start of an unprecedented new era in which a single imperial superpower, left alone on the planet, would organize more or less everything to its own taste for the first time in history... Read More
Who could possibly keep up with the discordant version of musical chairs now being played out in Washington? When it comes to Donald Trump’s White House, the old sports phrase about needing a scorecard to keep track of the players pops to mind (though you would need a new one every day or maybe every... Read More
When Russia moved into the Ukraine and seized Crimea in 2014, it got more than its share of (bad) media coverage in the United States, as it did when it intervened in Syria the next year. So just imagine what kind of coverage Vladimir Putin’s favorite nation would be getting if, almost 17 years after... Read More
What does it mean to send two family businesses into the White House? I’m referring to the Trump Organization and the family real estate firm of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. And that’s not even to mention Ivanka Trump’s ongoing fashion line, produced by desperately underpaid women and children in “shithole” countries. Let’s just say,... Read More
I’ve long been struck by one strange aspect of the most recent part of the American Century: just how demobilized this country has been in the midst of distant wars that have morphed and spread for almost 17 years. I was born in July 1944 into a fully mobilized country fighting World War II in... Read More
Tom Engelhardt
About Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute where he is a Fellow. He is the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, and of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, as well as a collection of his Tomdispatch interviews, Mission Unaccomplished. Each spring he is a Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tomdispatch.com is the sideline that ate his life. Before that he worked as an editor at Pacific News Service in the early 1970s, and, these last three decades, as an editor in book publishing. For 15 years, he was Senior Editor at Pantheon Books where he edited and published award-winning works ranging from Art Spiegelman's Maus and John Dower's War Without Mercy to Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy. He is now Consulting Editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Metropolitan's The American Empire Project. Many of the authors whose books he has edited and published over the years now write for Tomdispatch.com. He is married to Nancy J. Garrity, a therapist, and has two children, Maggie and Will.

His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.


Personal Classics
Eight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First Century
How the Security State’s Mania for Secrecy Will Create You
Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower