It must seem odd to the world that while our nation is coming apart at the seams, and every last shred of decency is being severed from the cloth of conscience, all we can do is watch American Idol and Survivor. According to author Mike Green (The Whole Truth about the U.S. War on Terror), there are 192 recognized nations on earth, and the U.S. has troops stationed in 135 of them. In total, we have in excess of 400,000 troops occupying a substantial majority of the world. The nation with the second largest number of troops deployed is Great Britain with 35,000, followed by France with twenty-three thousand. Apparently, bringing democracy to the world requires an extensive presence and lots of weapons. If only that were what this is about. It is really about hegemony, domination, global empire.
Perhaps America’s insatiable demand for entertainment is in fact a form of self-medication whose delivery mechanism is television, rather than the hypodermic needle. Mind-numbing, irrelevant, sensory-depriving entertainment is a method to kill the pain of a truth that laves ceaselessly upon the shores of our eroded conscience -- a truth so painful that we must suppress it at all cost. It is American Idol, a program whose mass appeal I have never understood, that keeps the white noise of reality at bay and allows so many to ignore the world’s pain and misery.
Reality television does many things. But one thing I am quite certain that it does not do is portray reality. Cheap and shallow entertainment only dulls the senses, like imbibing alcohol in excess to keep us comfortably numb, safely insulated from the reality that our nation is foisting upon the world. For many of the world’s people, America has reduced their reality to piles of broken rubble; lonely hours of endless terror called Shock and Awe; the filth and stench of secret gulags where torture is implemented on a scale known only to the CIA. The disquieting loss of life and its impact upon families is beyond the pale of comprehension. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are not democracy and they never will be.
The cries of anguish can barely be heard above the din of our own personal struggles in a society that values profits above people. Better turn up the volume on the television to drown out the screams of The New World Order’s democracy. We wouldn’t want to feel uncomfortable about what the president is doing in our name. The suffering and anguish of faceless, nameless people of other nationalities is a small price to pay for the level of comfort we enjoy. As long as we do not allow reality to come rushing at us all at once, we can manage to live with ourselves. There is safety in ignorance -- the refuge of all self-loathing cowardice. Thank God, we are a Christian nation steeped in a tradition of puritanical religion, with only the blood of the native peoples on our grasping white hands. Let us pray.
Ask no questions and you will receive no answers. Ask the wrong questions and you will get the wrong answers. But with the right questions everything comes into clear focus and understanding becomes possible. Be warned, however, that if you choose to know truth that it will frequently repulse you and make you sick to your stomach. But truth alone will set us free -- so know it we must.
The fact that our government spends so many of our tax dollars on the implements of death, on militarism and weaponry, and so little on humanitarian causes tells the story of America. 52 cents of every tax dollar finds its way into the coffers of the Pentagon in some form. The consequences are visible both at home and abroad. This explains why America is seen as the Great Satan in the Middle East and beyond. How would you feel if you and your kin were the recipient of American democracy, delivered through the sites of an AK-47 or a carpet bomb?
No matter how hard we try we cannot escape the truth and its consequences. America is still the greatest purveyor of violence on earth. We neglect our own poor even as we impoverish the rest of the world, subjecting them to imperial rule and colonialism. We are the only nation to have used the atomic bomb. If this is democracy, the world can stand no more of it. So let us party as if there were no tomorrow. Let us dance and have a good time as we ignore the icebergs that drift through the darkness in silence and pretend that our Titanic is not sinking. We’ll have a wonderful time -- right up until the cold dark waves wash over us and carry us into the void.
Reality has been so altered here that speaking truth is akin to living in an insane asylum. Behind the walls of empire speaking truth equates to treason -- an act of sedition. Either the inmates do not realize they are out of their minds, or they pretend that insanity is healthy and normal. Irrationality makes perfect sense to them in their state of dementia and denial. Dwelling among the mad is itself maddening for those who remain rational and intelligent, and caring of the needs of others. It would be easy, even rational, to leave them to their own self-destructive devices. But this is our home and we have a moral obligation to set things right. We owe it to the world to try.
We must cease to invest in death and destruction. A bad tree will never bear good fruit. Let us invest in hope and life. Our military should not be the iron fist of oppression acting at the behest of capitalism and empire. It should exist purely for defensive purposes. Let other people empower governments of their own choosing. Our chief export should not be terrorism and militarism -- it should be our humanity and our reverence for life. The evil and corrupt cabal at the head of this government is not representative of the great majority of the American people.
Those who choose to serve in the military should only do so as conscientious objectors. They should refuse to take up arms against other people who pose no threat to them or their country, people with whom in fact they share much in common. Let us send the chicken hawks -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice and the other cheer leaders for war -- to assume their rightful place on the front lines of the armed conflict they foment. Let their final resting place be in the Arlington National Cemetery, where they have sent so many others. When it is the blood of the ruling class that flows, rather than the working class, there will be an abrupt end to war. No person of conscience should serve empire in any capacity. It is easy to spill the blood of other people; it is easy to borrow other people’s courage when you have none of your own; however, when your own blood is involved, war is no longer an abstraction. It becomes personal and costly, as well as sobering. Externalizing the cost of war upon others is an unforgivable act of moral cowardice. Let them do their own damned fighting!
We should be able to live in such a way that we do not feel compelled to apologize for being American. Most of us are good and decent people who do not believe in world domination or the subjugation of others. Many of us realize that we have more in common with the average world citizen -- the Iraqi, the Iranian, the Chinese, the Brazilian and the Russian, than we have with our own political leaders. It is the rulers who send their servants to do horrible things to people who have never done us harm -- people with the same needs and desires that we have. Working people should not wage war with other working people. We should wage war with the plutocrats that have hijacked our country. If the rulers want war, let them have it; but let them be the ones to do the fighting and the dying. War making is easy for those who are insulated from its consequences. We must make war as costly for our leaders as it is for us. To internalize the cost of war upon those who wage it is to end war.
Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer living in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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