By Phillip J. Chesser
Blowback (1) — the escape to the rear of a gun of gases formed by the discharge of a projectile (Funk & Wagnalls, 1963). In 1967 I knew a Marine sergeant at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, who had lost his arm in Vietnam when a 105 mm Howitzer “blew back” on him.
Blowback (2) — the unintended consequences of well-intentioned actions. “Blowback” was coined by the CIA after the end of the Cold War to describe the unforeseen and harmful effects on US national interests of unwise foreign policy actions. In this piece I broaden the term to describe other profoundly negative reactions to government policy, domestic and foreign.
First, the attacks of September 11, 2001 were blowback from US actions in the Middle East; which included the continuing, unconditional and uncritical American support of Israel, especially in the light of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians; the US invasion and ultimate slaughter of thousands of Iraqi Arabs (most of whom were Muslims) in the first Iraq war in 1991; the post 1991 stationing of US forces near Islam’s holiest places in Saudi Arabia; and US support for repressive, dictatorial regimes such as Saudi Arabia. As Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul have said, “They came over here because we were over there.”
Next, other historical examples of blowback abound: Jim Crow laws, lynching, and the widespread mistreatment of black Americans in the South were blowback from Lincoln’s invasion of the South, his war on civilians where Sheridan’s cavalry slashed and burned in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia while Sherman’s troops burned, raped, and killed their way to the sea in Georgia. And as if the war carnage were not enough, the US government then followed with punitive post war Reconstruction, rubbing Southerners’ noses in defeat. Reconstruction’s strongest champions were vindictive Congressional Republicans like Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, who wanted to punish the South for defending themselves against the foreign invader.
Still another example of blowback from history: out of Mr. Wilson’s “war to end all wars,” also his war to “make the world safe for democracy,” came Adolph Hitler and World War II in Europe. With Germany’s defeat in World War I, European leaders insisted that excessive reparations be included in the Treaty of Versailles. Humiliating defeat and unpayable reparations created deep resentment among the German people, making them vulnerable to the demagogic appeals of Hitler.
And incidentally, John Toland’s Infamy, which chronicles US actions in the Far East in the years before 1941, shows that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was blowback for ill advised actions by FDR and his State and War Departments.
At home, the vast expansion of organized crime throughout the nation was blowback from Prohibition, a well intentioned program advocated by early twentieth century feminists who saw families suffer as their working class husbands left their pay in bars on their way home from work. Clever criminals amassed great wealth by providing illegal booze to thirsty citizens.
Then we have the blowback from forced bussing for integration, which led to the destruction urban schools and the hollowing out of urban society. What was the rationale for forced bussing? Housing patterns and neighborhood schools notwithstanding, segregation (de facto segregation) was bad; integration good; therefore, black children and white children must be forcibly mixed together in the schools. Predictably (predictors were called racists), forced integration was followed by middle class white flight from urban areas, followed closely by black middle class flight. Forced bussing accelerated the creation of the permanent urban underclass, where poor blacks and other minorities now suffer from violent crime (check out the murder rate in President Obama’s Chicago), where seventy percent of children are born out of wedlock, and where single mothers live in poverty.
It is not unreasonable to assert that pre Civil Rights era urban black populations while worse off materially were better off socially and spiritually than they are now. For example, in the Washington, DC, where I was born and in whose suburbs I lived for many years in the 1940’s and 1950’s, there existed a strong and vibrant black professional middle class, successful black owned businesses, elite black schools like Dunbar, and full black churches every Sunday. Of course, the misery and deprivation many black citizens suffered during those years cannot be overstated, but they nonetheless had stable communities with low crime rates and a high number of intact families. The black out of wedlock birth rate in those years paralleled the white rate.
White House occupants of both parties often follow blowback producing US national security and foreign policies, thinking that unlike their predecessors they will achieve great results; they will fix things once and for a all. Domestic social engineers suffer from the same hubris. One can cite historical examples forever; nonetheless, pride filled leaders and their followers always believe, “This time things will be different” because unlike their historical predecessors, they will get it right.
Blowback is activist big government’s greatest scourge.