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TomDispatch

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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
Forget Emma Lazarus’s poetry and the Statue of Liberty; you really don’t want to be an immigrant in today’s America. As Dara Lind recently pointed out at Vox, being an immigrant or the child of one (even if you're a U.S. citizen) now means living in a “miasma of fear.” That’s the conclusion of two... Read More
Here’s a thoroughly humdrum figure from the post-9/11 world: this February an estimated 1,294 people were killed in Iraq and another 266 wounded, including ISIS militants, numerous civilians, Iraqi security forces, Kurds, and Turks. Few of them died in major combat, just low-level incidents, suicide bombings, and bodies found in mass graves. And keep in... Read More
In the wake of the Parkland massacre, in a land whose citizens own an estimated 265 million guns, half of them in the hands of just 3% of the population, and with mass shootings (four or more people) taking place, on average, nine out of every 10 days, this country is unique among developed nations... Read More
The warnings were stunning. Just six weeks before Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three teachers at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, a woman acquainted with him told the FBI tip line “I know he’s going to explode” and expressed her fear that he might go to a school and begin “shooting the... Read More
A Planet Boiling With Unintended Consequences
You want to see “blowback” in action? That's easy enough. All you need is a vague sense of how Google Search works. Then type into it phrases like “warmest years,” “rising sea levels,” “melting ice,” “lengthening wildfire season,” or “future climate refugees,” and you’ll find yourself immersed in the grimmest of blowback universes. It’s a... Read More
What company gets the most money from the U.S. government? The answer: the weapons maker Lockheed Martin. As the Washington Post recently reported, of its $51 billion in sales in 2017, Lockheed took in $35.2 billion from the government, or close to what the Trump administration is proposing for the 2019 State Department budget. And... Read More
Despite the dystopian fantasies about nuclear terror and destruction that hit popular culture in the Cold War era and those “duck and cover” drills kids like me experienced in school in the 1950s, the American people were generally sheltered from a full sense of the toll of a nuclear cataclysm. Consider, for instance, the U.S.... Read More
It’s been a long time since I stood in a classroom and taught anyone anything, but each June for years I’ve appeared before classes of college seniors to give a graduation address ushering them into our grim world. True, those speeches didn't take place before flesh-and-blood audiences but on what I’ve come to call “the... Read More
Recently, the Pentagon’s top Asia official, Randall Schriver, told senators that the Afghan war would cost this country’s taxpayers $45 billion in 2018, including $5 billion for the Afghan security forces, $13 billion for U.S. forces in that country, and $780 million in economic aid. How the other $26 billion would be spent is unclear... Read More
When it comes to America’s wars, more than 16 years later our generals are victorious. Not, of course, in the distant lands where those conflicts grind on unendingly, but in the one place that matters: Washington, D.C. Could there be a more striking sign of that than the elevation of three of those generals to... 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