Mistah Kurtzs New Job

Americas heart of darkness

One of the ways I've been getting war news is by listening to the BBC and the CBC online while I'm working on the computer. On the whole, I think I might prefer the Canadians, but listening to the CBC the other day was more than a little unpleasant. They had an interview with Harlan K. Ullman, which they ran multiple times, so I ended up listening to the repulsive fuck over and over.

If you don't know the name Harlan K. Ullman, you certainly know his work: he is the principal author of the book Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance and the intellectual father of the strategy. He is, as you would expect, morally bankrupt, in a sort of bureaucrat of death way.

The book Shock and Awe was first published by the National Defense University Press in 1996. Ullman spoke of how he tried to interest the Clinton administration in this strategy to no avail; he could barely hide his contempt for these nonbelievers. Naturally, he has a higher opinion of the Bush regime, but there's still a problem: they aren't bombing enough. He's worried they are letting concerns for public opinion and other political factors dissuade them from truly Shocking and Awing. He explained at some length just what a good thing an unimaginably massive aerial bombardment is for all involved, especially those being bombed.

It's not worth recounting exactly what he said, but the high-minded rhetoric he wrapped around this callous nonsense reminded me of something—but what? For the past couple of days, I've been nagged by the feeling I've heard all this somewhere before. Last night, it came to me: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Shock and Awe—and, indeed, the whole Bush idea that flexing our high-tech military might in the Middle East will remake the wicked everywhere into models of democratic values—sounds like nothing so much as Mr. Kurtz's report to the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs (the Victorian equivalent of the Project for the New American Century?), which Marlowe recounts for his listeners in Chapter 2:

He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of view of development we had arrived at, "must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might as of a deity," and so on and so on. "By the simple example of our will, we can exert a power for good practically unbounded," etc., etc.

But Marlowe says the report was missing something:

There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: "Exterminate all the brutes!"

Shock and Awe. Luminous and Terrifying. The famous line "Mistah Kurtz—he dead" needs updating: "Mistah Kurtz—he got a consulting contract with the Pentagon."

Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance by Harlan K. Ullman, James P. Wade, L.A. Edney; National Defense University Press. Hardcover, 199 pages, $34.95.

 
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