…like the Beach Boys used to sing…
Another Summer Blockbuster?
If 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.
It 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.
The 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 about.
What We’ve Become
The 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.
9/11 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.
All 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.
We’ve 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.
Working 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.
Oh, 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 authoritarian regime.
And 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 Vulture!”
We 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.
Many 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, bomb Iraq
So, 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?
That 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.
In 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.
Yes, 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.
Hey, 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?
Iran, 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.
Who knows, maybe Canada should bomb D.C. Maybe that would help.
Some 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.
Yeah, 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.
And 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.
That’ll 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 of Iran.
If 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.
When 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.
But 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.
These 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.
Terrorism 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?
The 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.
When 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.
*Corporate country jingo Toby Keith released an album called “Shock & Y’all.”
Thanks to Brian George for giving me the title. During the Iranian hostage crisis of 197981 at the age of ten he thought the Beach Boys were singing this.
April 8, 2005
Stephen Bender [send him mail] is a writer based in San Francisco. You can find more of his work at his website.