Call It By Its True Name
by Jeff Knaebel
talk delivered at Ness Wadia College, Pune, India)
stand before you as a runaway slave of the American Empire, seeking
freedom in exile from the land of my birth. I stand here wrapped
in a cloak of mortal shame for the murderous acts of the culture
of the gun. Mixed with the shame is a righteous anger at having
once been duped by that government which has created the most destructive
and dangerous weaponry in all of human history, an arsenal of nuclear
bombs, that most cowardly of weapons. My inner work is to rotate
anger into nonviolent compassionate resistance expressed outwardly
as seeking peace by peaceful means.
true names of what we face are Slavery, Corporate Warfare State,
Murder, Wanton Waste, Corruption and Destruction. I am calling things
bluntly by their true names in order to help awaken us to the reality
of our collective moral degradation. A problem must be seen and
understood before it can be solved. The human mind has become so
brutalized by the gratuitous violence of TV, video games and cinema,
together with the actual violence of endless war that only blunt
words seem to penetrate the veil of denial. At a mass level we appear
to have lost our capacity for sensitivity and the subtle feelings
of the inner spirit.
you I stand inwardly ashamed of my government, knowing that if you
were Iraqi rather than Indian, and were I still in America, my tax
dollars would be financing the murder of your women and children,
for oil and lucrative contracts for big corporations such as Halliburton,
Bechtel and Carlyle, whose shareholders profit from war and among
whom are the ruling families of America.
stand before you, dear citizens of India, with a simple plea: watch
carefully the path you tread. Do not march to the American drum,
blindly down the trail of tears into the Valley of Death, surrounded
on all sides by agents and slave-masters of the Corporate Warfare
State, armed with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready on
as little as eight minutes notice to scorch the earth on the command
of one man.
I had not abandoned everything I had built up, leaving my country
in order to escape slavery, if I were still a hard-working American
taxpayer, I would have on my hands the blood of innocent Iraqi children,
infants murdered in cold calculation as part of the price of oil
and corporate dividends for the likes of Halliburton, Bechtel and
Carlyle. Recall former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, justifying
the economic sanctions imposed prior to the present war by stating
in effect that the lost lives of 500,000 Iraqi children is worth
the price of preserving the American consumer lifestyle.
because of mental conditioning, ignorance and the power of media
deception, I did not wake up in time to avoid the shame of knowing
that some of my earlier tax dollars financed the murder of women
and children in places like Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Vietnam
and Cambodia, among the many others where the American Empire has
laid waste to land and life. Thus, because of my own moral complacency
in the drive to be successful in my former country, I cannot escape
the shame nor the karma of having been a financial accomplice to
murder through my failure to resist taxation.
describe myself as a slave of the State, which remains true despite
is because, like all Americans everywhere, caught in the Orwellian
web of Big Brother surveillance, I am not a free man. To be labeled,
watched, controlled, tracked by passports, visas, tax identification
numbers, photos, biometrics, and coming soon radio-tracking skin
implants, is to be a slave. Now under the Patriot Act, through which
the great edifice of the American Bill of Rights has been trashed,
they even check a person's library records. In effect I need permission
from Big Brother in Washington in order to move about, to work,
to live and to express my being.
greater atrocity is that this is not merely workman slavery. It
is warmonger slavery because the product of my labor is coercively
removed from me by taxation and placed in the hands of a group of
politicians who have anointed themselves with the power to decide
who shall live and who shall die. No child on this earth is exempt
from nuclear destruction, and where economies are subject to direct
intervention by the State, the decision of whether a hungry child
may receive wheat, or rice, or milk, or nothing at all is in the
hands of a remote bureaucrat or politician who typically acts in
his own self-interest, either as a rent-seeking bribe-taker or in
order to gain an institutional favor.
forgoing introduces the first Big Question which I respectfully
place before you: who owns my body? And since it is the condition
of man to have to work for his survival, this question means by
obvious extension, who owns my labor or its product? Am I a free
man or slave of Nation-State? Do I have any say in why or who they
kill with my finance? Am I a slave or even worse, have I simply
appointed them as my hired killers?
an individual can be a moral agent, never an institution or State.
In the exercise of my moral sovereignty, would I personally murder
women and children in a distant land who pose no threat to me? If
I finance this murder by my deliberate cooperation with a system
of taxation, have I or have I not surrendered my moral sovereignty?
Who am I then? Am I still a man?
statistics of this abdication, this outsourcing of moral sovereignty
and personal responsibility over the past century are tragically
awesome. Nation-states have murdered about 200 million people in
these hundred years, many of them their own citizens within their
own borders. Two hundred million living, breathing, loving human
beings crushed, snuffed out. The mind shuts down or disassociates:
it cannot grasp the picture.
working hypothesis of human nature is that there are few truly evil
"others.'' All of us, whether Iraqi, Pakistani, Taliban, Indian,
Chinese, American, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, are
suffering human beings who wish mostly to be happy. But we are subject
to mental conditioning by local wielders of power and education
so as to believe that the "other" is a threat. This is
done by the State because war is its health.
our latent goodness notwithstanding, we are manipulated and controlled
by the Corporate Warfare State. It is an evil system of destruction
which fosters the worst aspects of our apparent duality by promoting
greed rather than subduing desire.
in democracies must understand that the enemy is us. We are responsible
for our own fate and that of the Earth. No government, even the
totalitarian dictatorship, can stand without some level of cooperation
from the people. Power is held by only a few. If the mass of people
refuse to cooperate, the system collapses.
next Big Question I submit to you is how do we lose our sense of
what is Good, Beautiful and True? How do we lose touch with the
core of love deep within each of us? Could it be through conditioning
since childhood that the State is God, the final source of security
and survival? Can we not see that the State holds us in thrall through
fear only, that fear is the obverse of greed, and that greed arises
because of ignorance: a mistaken metaphysic that we are the body
is it that we do not call the State by its true name of organized
violence and perpetrator of mass murder? Is it because we live in
a sea of lies, deceit, manipulation, secrecy and hidden agendas,
such that even language is corrupted so far beyond recognition that
we are expected to believe heads of State who tell us brazenly that
war is peace, that murder is liberation? Or is it that we live in
a mental condition of denial, benumbed by TV and media as by an
injection of moral anesthetic?
People of conscience are called to respond. Great thinkers and spiritual
leaders, the wisest counsel available to us, are saying that this
time the very survival of humanity is in jeopardy.
final question today is what is the way forward, the upward path
to harmony with Nature and each other? Each one must answer this
question himself or herself. The answer will be made manifest through
the day-to-day actions of those who are now the youth.
has provided us with many ideas as well as a personal example. In
terms of our relationship to power and the State, the writings of
Gene Sharp based on Gandhi provide many practical methods of regaining
our sovereignty, particularly his title The
Politics of Nonviolent Action. Also recommended is The
of Nonviolence, an anthology including Howard Zinn
and others (Beacon 2002).
suggest re-awakening to the Sanathana Dharma (eternal wisdom) of
ancient India: human beings must gain control of the mind and reduce
their desires to the level of "simple living with high thinking."
The Western cultural value system of creating insatiable desire
in order to fan the flames of endless economic growth and wantonly
wasteful consumerism leads inexorably to destruction, conflict and
violence. This way of living does not seem sustainable for a population
advancing toward the nine billion mark.
happiness and welfare of humanity, and perhaps by now even the mere
survival of the human species, requires us to create a community
of love and reason. The American experience, now bordering on martial
law, is showing us that democracy is no proof against despotism
and that democracy is not a sufficient condition for peace. Peace
requires liberty. Liberty demands a self-disciplined people of strong
moral fiber adhering to the highest values of ethics and reverence
for life. The first step is to vow to do no harm.
suggest that peace-loving people withdraw as much as possible from
interaction with and dependence upon the State. Begin building an
independent nonviolent culture of self-reliance as taught by Gandhiji.
This is now coming to life here and there among India's villages.
Let the State die peacefully of its own internal rot and corruption.
Let us build our own wholesome lives. The foundation of morality
is respect for all living beings. Let us free ourselves simply by
refusing to cooperate with what we know is wrong.
must build a community of love and reason ourselves, with our own
bare hands, working together in peace and nonviolence. The entrenched
political class will not do it for us because they would lose their
fiefdoms of power. Their self-interest is to keep in place the corrupt
system with all its emoluments and privileges. Politicians are not
known to act against their own self-interest.
Modern terrorism plays directly into the hands of the political
class as an excuse to abrogate civil liberties in order to increase
their power in the name of security. History shows that this robs
the people of both liberty and security. Widely dispersed terrorism
can only be healed by widely dispersed liberty through which local
self-governance gives people a voice in their own destiny. Maximum
decentralization creates maximum self-determination. Maximum liberty
fosters maximum security.
likes to be controlled by another, particularly when the controller
is far away, ignorant of local conditions, concerned only with his
own power, and known to be corrupt. A free man is not bound by a
contract at birth which he neither co-authored nor signed. One generation
cannot contract the next to indentured servitude. We are meant to
be born free, our only debt being one of gratitude to our parents,
our benefactors, and Creation itself. We repay that debt by passing
to the next generation a vibrant and healthy planet supporting a
free and ethical human society.
submitted is the idea that one potentially powerful way to begin
is to be totally, transparently honest in word and deed with all
others at all times. Shine the light of Truth as exemplified by
Gandhiji's Satyagraha (strong adherence to truth). Honesty means
in part to call things by their true name directly, straight away.
this honest reporting, we might see what we are really doing, rather
than being helplessly immobilized by the sheer horror of it all,
or simply unable to find the pole star of truth to guide us on the
sea of lies.
Gandhiji said, we must be the change we wish to see. In the
autumn of life, one sees clearly how fast the wick burns. We have
so little time together here on this earth. We will not pass this
way again. Let us try to recover a true and natural sweetness of
life. Let us look upon each other with eyes of good will and affection.
I would like to close with brief quotations of three leaders I have
studied. These quotes form a connecting link among fact, faith,
and wisdom as enunciated by a Hindu, a Christian monk, and a Buddhist
individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine,
it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its
~ Mahatma Gandhi
after mastering the wind,
tides and gravity,
shall harness the energies of love,
the second time in the history of the world,
will discover fire."
Fr. Teilhard de Chardin
thing cannot be doubted, the possibility of a quality is
It is called
pragya, wisdom. We can deny everything, except that we have the
possibility of being better. Simply reflect on that."
~ H.H. Dalai Lama
Knaebel [send him
mail] is an expatriate American domiciled in India since 1995.
He formerly practiced as a registered professional engineer, having
been trained at Cornell Univ. and the Colorado School of Mines.
This essay is a talk given at the 75th anniversary celebration of
Gandhi's march to Dandi.
© 2005 LewRockwell.com