XLVI – Your Papers, Please

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a lynch mob fueled by a fear of the unknown and a willingness to
see strangers as threats to be quickly dispatched, the herd impulse
has, since 9/11, become mobilized on behalf of a war against shadows.
Even beyond the violent and repressive reactions of the American
government, the most unsettling consequence of the WTC attacks has
been the nearly total collapse of the minds of most Americans.

For
the duration of the war — which government officials tell us will
go on forever! — men and women have rationed their intelligence
and allowed what they would have heretofore regarded as their "fundamental
principles" to be conscripted into the service of the state.

Americans
who, five years ago, were so incensed at Bill Clinton's perjured
testimony that impeachment proceedings were brought, now exhibit
a willingness to be lied to about matters of far greater concern
than oval office shenanigans. As the Bush administration continues
to pile lie upon lie, it is evident that most Americans are completely
indifferent to the purposes for the attack upon Iraq. I suspect
that, if Bush and his fellow war conspirators were to publicly announce
that the Iraqi invasion was deigned for no other purpose than to
put money into their pockets, most Americans — led by their electronic
cheerleaders on talk-radio and cable television — would praise them
for showing "ambition" and "leadership!"

America
is becoming the Nazi Germany we feared in my childhood. For those
who were not around during those years, you can get a flavor for
the anti-tyrannical sentiments of the time by watching any number
of movies depicting the Nazi police-state. The constant presence
of police; the insistence upon showing "your papers" to
whichever government underling demanded them; the awareness that
neither your person nor home was immune from state searches or seizures;
the disappearance of people into unknown prison camps; neighbors
spying upon neighbors, and children betraying their parents to the
state; and the domination of society by a military and bureaucratic
arrogance, arbitrariness, and absolutism, were constantly chilling
examples of the dangers of state power.

How
did we manage to reverse our thinking? When did appeals to the lessons
of history become treasonous? How did philosophic principles
collapse into patriotic slogans? The answers to such
questions underlie explanations for the much broader phenomenon
of the collapse of Western civilization itself. This is a topic
around which my articles revolve, and has been addressed by numerous
historians, as well as Carl Jung, whose psychological explanations
add a depth to the inquiry unmatched by others.

A
preoccupation with war has long been symptomatic of the decline
of societies that practice it. Wars are essentially conducted by
governments against their own people — with "others" being
held up as fear-objects around which to enlist the obedience and
submission of their own citizenry. Any nation in wartime is telling
us what George Bush, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, Donald Rumsfeld,
Dick Cheney, et al., are now telling us — if we will suspend our
indifference to truth long enough to observe — namely, that society
can only be held together by armed force, threats, imprisonment,
and death. When coercion supplants cooperation; when
the inviolability of the individual is sacrificed to some alleged
collective security; and when violence is equated with "patriotism"
and peace with "un-Americanism," the days of such
a society are numbered.

For
those who desire to understand the attraction that this violent,
destructive system has for most of us, a new book, War
Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
, by Chris Hedges, offers
one of the most powerful critiques of the war system since Randolph
Bourne. Not content to moralize against war or to call it names,
Hedges analyzes the topic from an historical, psychological, and
institutional perspective, drawing upon literary and mythological
works to illustrate his observations. At the same time, his book
is quite critical of war, not the kind of read that flag-waving,
"United We Stand" jingoists will find comforting.

Hedges
has been a foreign correspondent for some fifteen years for such
news organizations as the Christian Science Monitor and the
New York Times. You may be more familiar with him as the
recent commencement speaker at Rockford College
, where he was
hooted, heckled, and air-horned by war-lovers in the audience. Intellectual
bankruptcy is another symptom of a dying culture, wherein discomforting
ideas and criticisms can only be met with the kind of unfocused,
thoughtless rage that is becoming increasingly evident in radio
and television programming. For the herd-oriented, a new idea can
only be countered not by clear thinking, but by blasts from
an air-horn!

Hedges'
reporting has put him in the line of fire in El Salvador, Bosnia,
the Persian Gulf War, and the Israeli-Palestinian abattoir. He has
drawn upon such experiences, as well as his studies in history,
Greek and Shakespearean literature, and religion, to present a view
of the war system that must not be ignored if we choose to survive.

Hedges
observes that "[s]tates at war silence their own authentic
and humane culture" and, in so doing, "erode the moral
fabric" of a society. He adds: "[w]ar breaks down long-established
prohibitions against violence, destruction, and murder," and
leads to a situation in which "the domination and brutality
of the battlefield is carried into personal life." "War,"
he goes on, "fills our spiritual void," and helps to erase
"unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation"
in our lives. In words that reflect the disquieting climate in which
we live, Hedges observes "a growing fusion between those in
the state who wage war…and those who believe they understand and
can act as agents for God."

I
cannot exaggerate the importance of this book. It forces us, as
do the writings of Jung, Krishnamurti, and others, to confront the
"dark side" forces that reside within each of us no less
than they did within tyrants and their supporters in other times
and places. It also compels us to reconsider our thinking. The idea
of creating systems designed to threaten, coerce, and kill, and
to imbue such agencies with principled legitimacy, and not expect
them to lead to wars, genocides, and other tyrannical practices,
expresses an innocence we can no longer afford to indulge.

Hedges
reminds us of the culture of war, which "is peddled by mythmakers"
throughout society, including the modern media. You can observe
such mythmaking as the media struggles to find evidence of "heroism"
in a "war" that is more realistically described as a campaign
of brutish bullying. A truckload of soldiers take a wrong turn on
a road, are captured by Iraqi forces and later released, then brought
back to America as "POW heroes;" the irresponsibility
of single mothers leaving their infant children at home to go fight
in a war; and the Hollywood-like staging of the "rescue"
of Private Lynch, who is then brought back to America as a "heroine,"
are among the more apparent examples of the war system playing with
smoke and mirrors in an effort to convince Boobus Americanus
of the nobility of the cause.

While
the institutionalized butchery of the war system makes it difficult
for me to equate it with heroism, one does, on occasion, find individual
acts of a heroic quality even in battle. My favorite candidate for
this role is Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot in
the Vietnam War who came upon the scene of what we now know as the
"My Lai Massacre." After becoming aware that what he was
observing was not the ordinary combat of warfare, but a calculated
slaughter of Vietnamese civilians by troops led by Lt. Calley, Thompson
set his helicopter down between the civilians and the American troops.
He then ordered his own crew to turn their machine guns on the American
soldiers and, if they persisted in the slaughter, to fire on them.
Thompson then took the civilians to safety and reported the incident,
which led to the prosecution of Calley.

I
doubt that there will be any statues of Hugh Thompson erected anywhere
soon, or that he will be leading any Memorial Day parades. His actions
were too heroic, for he stood up to the very excesses of
butchery that Hedges informs us destroys our sense of humanity and,
with it, our civilization. I would much rather have Hugh Thompson
as my neighbor than I would any of the myriad of retired generals
who became television network fixtures in the mythmaking to which
we have become accustomed these past many months.

Our
very survival — both as individuals and as a civilization — depends
upon a radical transformation of our thinking, one that compels
us to confront those silent voices within us that can so easily
erupt into bloodbaths. While most of us continue to focus on the
"Nazi holocaust" as the epitome of statist butchery, we
must recall that the 20th century was the "holocaust
century." Some 200,000,000 of our fellow human beings were
slaughtered in various wars and genocides, and tens of millions
more were wounded, both physically and spiritually, in ways that
never heal.

Because
we fear the responsibility for our actions, we have allowed ourselves
to develop the mentality of slaves. Contrary to the stirring
sentiments of the Declaration of Independence, we now pledge "our
Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor" not to one
another for our mutual protection, but to the state,
whose actions continue to exploit, despoil, and destroy us. The
poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, declared: "I am waiting for the
war to be fought which will make the world safe for anarchy."
While I share his sentiment, it is nonetheless evident that wars
only bring up from the depths of our dark side the kinds of moral
flotsam and jetsam that have surfaced in Washington, D.C. In the
process, they destroy those qualities of peace, liberty, spiritual
centeredness, mutual respect, and sense of individual responsibility
which, alone, make for the greatness of any civilization.

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