the Beach Boys used to sing…
the duly reelected American government decides to bomb Iran – or green
lights Israel to do it, which is morally indistinguishable – these
men will put we the people in the position of having no moral defense
against Islamic terrorism. Some leftists – most crassly Ward Churchill – made
something like this point after 9/11. That was overblown rhetoric;
and the reference to “little Eichmanns” at Cantor-Fitzgerald was
a statement of moral idiocy.
hurts to write and know that we have done unto others much more
than they have done unto us – this includes 9/11, I’m afraid. No one
“deserved” to die on 9/11, nor will anyone “deserve” to die in a
future terror attack in the United States. But then, no one “deserved”
to die, as we sat transfixed in our living rooms, under the bombs
of “Shock & Awe,”* That’s “moral equivalence”
too – all human life is precious.
explanation on offer by amoralists like William Bennett is that
our motives are pure, which of course they aren’t. And, again and
again, we’re “the greatest democracy in the history of the world.”
Why, we’re Americans; don’t people know that we’re a good
people? We “work hard and play by the rules”; we try (and mostly
fail) to raise upstanding citizens. Sorry, self-regard doesn’t cut
it. Non-Americans around the world want to see some actual evidence
of these alleged values and morals that the president prattles on
question should be asked: are we a good people anymore? We are not
a great people – that much is certain. Not in a land where more people
watch “American Idol” than the State of the Union address. In reality,
we are still, as Martin Luther King pointed out nearly four decades
ago, “the greatest purveyors of violence in the world.” One day,
if we are not careful, we will choke on our myths.
should have been a wake up call. Instead, it counter-intuitively
put us further to sleep. They got it in Spain on 3/11 in two days;
over three years later, we’re still clueless. It’s the petulance
of a successful youth.
of the worst in Americans came out after the months of inspiring
solidarity with New Yorkers began to fade. Myopia, the retreat into
escapist consumerism proceeded rapidly in the shadow of no towers.
We bought 0% financed cars en masse to “keep freedom rolling.”
We “went about our business” as consumers – shopping – to keep the economy
going. We continued to ignore our voluntary duty as citizens – participation
in the public sphere – to keep our democracy going.
lived in what libertarians call the “Welfare-Warfare” state since
the dawn of the affluent society in the 1950s. Today, the private
sector stands as the last remaining dynamic element in a society
that long ago lost its moral imagination.
class whites all over the country were singing Charlie Daniels (“this
ain’t no rag, it’s a flag / and we don’t wear it on our head”) songs,
while sending their sons and daughters off to meaningless deaths
in Iraq. Your son or daughter died for the right of Muqtada al-Sadr
and Ali al-Sistani to treat women like cattle, kill Christians,
ban alcohol and whip and lacerate themselves freely with chains.
but you give such a damn about “democracy” in Iraq, don’t you Mr.
Freedom Fries? You couldn’t find it on a map before the war, could
you? Stand tall for the Leader and the flag and all of the rest
of it. But you’re worse than tragic – you’re complicit
in the rapid decay of the Republic and its slow motion replacement
with Empire; you’re complicit in dragging down our democracy
– and its steady, obvious and gathering replacement with an
what do authoritarian killers like Saddam and Bush generally do?
Most often, they attack their neighbors, plunder the treasury and
intimidate their subjects. Then one day down the road you wake up
and wonder what happened to your country, what happened to your
very life. Your country is on its knees because the price you paid
for freedom and democracy was putting a flag sticker on your SUV
and bellowing, as Wilhelm Reich once put it: “Heil Great
of course are not yet living in a tyranny. But our country is an
essentially different place from the land we loved on September
10th, 2001. Sure, we’ve still got all the vacuous democratic trappings,
the speeches, the conventions, the monotone “debate” in Congress – if
you need them. But it’s the substance, the policy, the deficit,
the bloated Pentagon, the further, radical subsidizing of the rich
through massive tax cuts in “wartime,” and most frighteningly, the
jingo-conformist social-psychological context – all this is radically
different from 9/10.
readers of this site are in sympathy with the general thrust. Around
half of all Americans look at what we’ve become as individuals and
as a country and say: “rightly so!” Unfortunately, people around
the world take us and our democratic rhetoric at face value –
even if we don’t anymore. They expect that the governed will not
choose authoritarianism and aggression. But we did, didn’t we? We
were “free to choose” and look at the result – because the
world sure as hell is.
bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iraq
the government hit Iraq. It had a bad dictator and stuff. He was
being really mean to his poor people. He was snarling at some of
the people in the countries around him. We were going to help the
long-suffering Iraqi people. You remember them, right? Those ones
we had – hand in hand with Saddam – helped out in repressing and
killing for decades. Wasn’t that a nice thing for the government
to do – to help out the Iraqi people and stuff? That’s why we were
greeted as liberators, remember? Because that’s just how the American
government is – it does nice things for bronzed folks in places
like Iraq. Now doesn’t it make you feel better?
we have killed over 750,000 Iraqis since the start of the first
Gulf War, through the sanctions and the ongoing aggression is given
a coat of cheap moral gloss because “we’re a democracy.” Saddam
himself never sent so many Iraqis to their deaths outside of the
military campaign against Iran in the 1980s – which we supported whole
heartedly, right through the gassings of Kurds. You know, the ones
that so exercise the consciences of von Rumsfeld and von Wolfowitz.
America, these thoughts are impermissible. One will not hear them
in either the corporate media or by any elected federal politician.
They are, however, well known and utterly uncontroversial
in the rest of the world – particularly in the Middle East. The “ignorance”
excuse, the faintly justifiable abdication of moral responsibility
for the actions of our government, is coming to a close. The curtains
are being drawn, all over the world, on that reality show.
some people around the world still make the distinction between
“Americans” and the “American government.” But that too is changing
as recent international opinion polls have demonstrated. It’s happening
in Europe too – old and new.
super-rich American. Why are you letting Bush turn Brand U.S.A.
into Brand U.S.S.R.? That’s not good for business; it’s not too
smart; it’s kinda insane, huh? And, as we all know, business is
the business of this place, n’est-ce pas?
some “patriots” may be shocked to find out, is actually something
of a democracy – particularly by regional standards. A reformist
cleric, Mohammad Khatami – a man more familiar with the Enlightenment
than George W. Bush – was elected president overwhelmingly in 1997.
And then he was reelected in 2001. Yes, the conservative mullahs
thwarted him at every turn. The point is: there is something of
an institutional structure there which allows for some public influence – which
was decidedly not the case in Saddam’s Iraq.
knows, maybe Canada should bomb D.C. Maybe that would help.
say, well, Iran is developing WMD’s. The International Atomic Energy
Agency says they’re not sure. I personally think Iran would be insane
not to develop a nuclear deterrent. First, there’s Pakistan, China,
India and Israel right in their neighborhood. Second, let’s face
facts, we are the driving force behind their program – if we hadn’t
spent the last 15 years militarily dominating the Persian Gulf region,
they might not have bothered getting around to it – at least not with
their present, likely rapidity.
when we, the Israelis, Britain and France unilaterally disarm “our”
nukes, then I’m happy to listen to some lecture or other from rich,
white people on this topic. A recent opinion poll indicated that
70 percent of Americans feel this way too. We want all nukes abolished – see that on Fox News? Again, maybe Canada and the U.N.
could be invited in – like Slobo was supposed to invite NATO into
Serbia – so that we can rid the world of the largest nuclear arsenal
on the planet. Maybe that would help.
so, if the government does decide to bomb Iran – or, God forbid – actually
invade, then we ordinary people too may well lose even our last
tattered shreds of our collective American moral credibility around
the world. Tony Blair won’t be there aww shucksing the planet for
us. Neither will anyone else on Earth, save Israel.
be a big help, Sharon & Co. Naturally, many ordinary Israelis
well see the moral and strategic costs involved in a protracted – and
inevitably destabilizing and doomed – attack on or occupation
we hit Iran, know what’ll happen? The American public will support
it overwhelmingly – like they always do. It will be presented as
an act of “defense” – because Iran is supporting the “Islamo-fascist
insurgents” in Iraq and developing “dangerous” WMD’s – like the
ones that posed a “grave and gathering” threat to us in Iraq.
We neutralize threats before they materialize, like rational people – same s__t, slightly different country.
we ordinary people are again struck in the aftermath of a second
unprovoked aggression against a Muslim country, Le Monde
will not again write “we are all Americans.” Crowds will not gather
across the planet at American embassies to pay honor to the dead,
tearfully piling flowers amidst remembrance candles. There will
be a kind of sadness at the human toll involved, just as there always
is when an earthquake or tsunami strikes.
there will be something else: a silent or perhaps muttered refrain.
What did you arrogant, ignorant Americans expect to happen when
you bomb thousands of people to death at the whim of a dolt, a proven
liar? And then you go out, chest out, shoulders square, chin up.
You march in your parades with your yellow ribbons, putting little
flags in the hands of your daughters, saluting as heroes soldiers
who pressed buttons – and killed human beings as a consequence.
human beings: the ones with the weird religion and hyphenated names
and funny-sounding language. Those human beings very much
like the ones your son or daughter ran into in Iraq. Human beings
who, you know, maybe wanted a family of their own; maybe
even a house of their own; maybe they dreamed of coming
to this country one day – to taste “the American freedom.” They
got to taste lead instead – so keep smiling, keep rolling, keep
America safe when you look with pride at your baby boy in uniform.
is universally defined as the application of violence against innocents
in furtherance of a political, religious or strategic goal. State
terrorism = terrorism. In the eyes of the world, if not in our own – the
repugnant faces of hubris – the top lieutenants of the government
will have achieved “moral equivalence” with bin Laden and his coterie.
That’s a fine legacy for the land that birthed democracy, huh?
bitterest pill; and this ain’t popular – individual Americans are
almost at the point now where we are morally responsible for the
actions of the government. Imagine that: Americans being responsible
for something… We’ve had 3 years since 9/11 to force this government
into doing one intelligent thing to the world – I’ve yet to see
much of any evidence of any success. We’re morally besmirching ourselves
because we don’t seem to care about what we are doing to our planet – what we are doing to ourselves.
we look back at this period in our history – maybe then we
can be honest with ourselves. There were costs to calculate, we’ll
recall – maybe wistfully, maybe ruefully. Up until now we have
only tallied up their comparatively paltry body count –
in New York, in Washington, outside of Shenksville, PA – in
Somerset County, where my grandfather’s side of the family lived.
Maybe some day – somewhere over the rainbow – we will
tally up our debts as well. There will be a reckoning,
for God is just. That reckoning, that settling of accounts
is coming – and soon.
country jingo Toby Keith released an album called “Shock & Y’all.”
to Brian George for giving me the title. During the Iranian hostage
crisis of 1979–81 – at the age of ten – he thought
the Beach Boys were singing this.
Bender [send him mail] is a writer based in San Francisco. You can
find more of his work at his