Somewhere in hell tonight, the Devil’s wife is setting out an extra dinner plate for America, where presumably we will be toasted by history’s other war criminals. Let’s face it. When we backed a maniac killer like Saddam Hussein, funded the Taliban, and slept with the treacherous Saudi Princes as the price of our national narcotic -- oil -- we’d pretty much bought a place at the dinner table. But when we embraced that murderous old sack of guts, Ariel Sharon, as international brother and accomplice in all things Middle Eastern, we were not merely displaying sick taste in friends; we acceded to becoming war criminals. The entire world sees that, and has seen it for years.
Every liberal man and woman of good will I know predicted that our latest Iraq crusade was just that -- folly. But it has exceeded our worst nightmare, devolving from the cowboy fantasies of a dry drunk from Texas, into a hideous torture flick. Complete with hoods, leather straps, cross dressing, sexual humiliation, and trophy corpse display. All it took was a couple of digital cameras in the paws of the ruddy-nutted sons and dominatrix daughters of this nation’s patriotic trailer courts…a few grisly candids to send home to the family over the internet. Click-click-click-click-click! And the entire sorry lie of the cowboy liberation of Iraq melted in a puddle of international revulsion.
About the best the war’s apologists and paid pundits can come up with is that “Abu Ghraib is by no means My Lai” and that “Iraq is not Vietnam.” Well, no, not yet. But it is already looking a lot spookier and more perverted than Nam ever was. As a journalist 30 years ago I documented returning Vietnam veterans’ stories of U.S. atrocities in that war. I still have a few photos of young smiling young Americans poking cigarettes into the mouths of severed Viet Cong heads, and I can tell you the grins of the young Americans in Abu Ghraib are not one bit different. They still look like high school kids at some ghastly kegger.
Those Iraq War apologists make some strange, logic defying leaps to dismiss parallels with Vietnam, only to fall flat on their asses, as each week brings more undeniable similarities. The American public seems not to notice their ass falling or the similarities. We continue to kill droves of innocent civilians, innocents who in turn kill us, until finally, the innocents we are supposed to be liberating become our targets. Thousands of American kids are snuffed out, or mutilated for life. Many more thousands of Iraqis suffer the same. Billions are poured into firepower to blast dust and human beings into the dry mush that nourishes that specter called war. Iraq may be a dryer venue than Southeast Asia, but if this is not another Vietnam, it is a rip snorting good imitation.
Assuming Iraq does not become a protracted Vietnam style battleground -- though all those brand spanking new permanent bases there make one a bit suspicious -- we nevertheless, as that old Iran-Contra scammer Colin Powell pointed, have pay for and own what we have broken. Personally speaking, I never wanted Iraq as the 52nd state (Israel being the 51st to the tune of countless billions) and I doubt you did either. But if we are, as the neo-conservatives claim, destined by historical circumstance to make such annexations, we certainly could have picked two less troublesome pieces of real estate than Israel and Iraq. Now that we’ve got them, we are in deep shit, darlin’.
Oh, Bitter Redemption!
Before all of us who saw it coming get too smug here, permit me to drop a turd into the punchbowl. Bush and his neocon thug cronies did not accomplish this all by their lonesomes. Every American owns some piece of the blame for the sorry decline of our “republic.” (Aren’t we all getting tired of this term “republic” being thrown around by every writer in the country these days?) And part of that blame belongs to liberals -- even we far-lefties so fond of pointing out that any nation built on the twin pillars of Negro slavery and the ethnic cleansing of the Red Indian sprang from corrupt seed to begin with. But now that we have become another nasty example proving that absolute power corrupts absolutely, well, that’s as bad as it gets. And from that condition, no nation has ever returned but by a terrible road.
If anything can stop this imperial court of jackals, the jackals we allowed to steal an election (without breaking out in open street rebellion as we probably should have done), the ones currently looting the national treasury, the ones spoiling for Armageddon and wiping their asses on the constitution, it is you, me and about 100 million other Americans who may or may not decide to vote in November. Even if we cannot drive the jackals away from the carcass of our constitution, we can redeem ourselves as individuals. Let me share with you these lines by Vachel Lindsay. I know Lindsay is uncool among the literary gaggle these days, but let me do it anyway.
I am unjust, but I can strive for justice.
My life's unkind, but I can vote for kindness.
I, the unloving, say life should be lovely.
I, that am blind, cry out against my blindness.
Come, let us vote against our human nature,
Crying to God in all the polling places
To heal our everlasting sinfulness
And make us sages with transfigured faces.
-- From “Why I voted the Socialist Ticket,” by Vachel Lindsay
Yes, we can still vote, still affect the outcome of an election, despite the ominous Diebold-Bush mob syndicate now shaving the dice in the back room. And let’s admit it: Most of us are not that thrilled about the horse-faced, clearly insincere John Kerry, even if he did speak out against atrocity as a much younger man. Incidentally, some would see that as a basic moral obligation--others would see it as opportunism during a distinctly anti-war era. Whatever the case, we have been handed Kerry as the stage prop alternative to George Bush in a long-running quadrennial drama, produced and directed by capitalist ideologues.
If you will remember, we did have other options. In our hearts we all know that Nader, Kucinich and Sharpton were the only candidates speaking the whole truth. Whether they would have acted on their own words, may be another matter. We will never know because liberals, being too worried about picking the right actor in the televised popularity contest that we call elections, never seriously considered them anyway. Speaking the truth does not count for much these days. Instead, we let a corrupt system and our own lack of moral gumption sucker us into allowing yet another multi-multi-millionaire vie for the part of (try not to laugh, please) “leader of the free world.” I spent years interviewing some of the fabulously rich and almost every one of them lived in delusion. So we’ll vote for Kerry’s delusion. Later we will learn that he is the answer to nothing. Yet he gets a shot at sitting behind the most powerful mahogany desk on the planet because of fabulous wealth and ambition. Just as George Bush did.
In fairness to the Democratic Party however, it must be said that not all of them are part of the current liberal séance trying to get in touch with their principles. Thank god for people like House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. If that woman ever wants to run away with a has-been redneck leftist writer, I’ll be scratching gravel toward the West Coast.
No More the Locust
In his 1957 classic, The Undiscovered Self, Carl Jung examined in detail Nazi Germany’s mass psychosis and the dangers of learning "to submit absolutely to a collective belief." Here is what he observed: "The truth is that we don't know for certain whether something similar might happen elsewhere. It would not be surprising if it did and if another nation succumbed to the infection of a uniform and one-sided idea. America…seems to be immune because of the outspoken counter-position she has adopted, but in point of fact she is perhaps even more vulnerable than Europe, since her educational system is the most influenced by the scientific Weltanschauung with its statistical truths; Her mixed population finds it difficult to strike roots in a soil that is practically without history. The absence of a historical and humanistic education so sorely needed in such a circumstance leads, on the contrary, to a Cinderella existence."
Today, we watch the “infection of a uniform and one-sided idea” spread out across the globe again, behind a flying wedge of our own storm troopers. And this time those uniforms are enough to give Joseph Goebbels (or Dylan Klebold) wet dreams, with their spooky high-tech variations on the hideous get-ups so preferred by despots. We seem to prefer big dark-lensed, insectoid chem/bio facemasks and desert greys, instead of Nazi black gabardine and silver skull jewelry, or the dripping gold braid of the Latin dictator.
And as to you Carl Jung, well, I regret to tell you that we are staring submissively straight into the face of the jackal again. That “outspoken counter-position” you pointed to is faint stuff now, lo these 47 years later. The kind of thoughtful liberals who contemplated you and your meditations under your pear tree are a timid bunch these days. Tell me this, Carl. From your vantage point out there in the void, does it appear to be too late? What do we need to break this awful spell upon us?
No reply? Well, that’s OK my old friend. Sleep the sleep of the ages. Go back to your cosmic dreaming, because I think I already know what we need.
I think we need some cast-iron, double-bottomed son-of-a-bitches in liberal leadership and in rank and file. Real fire breathers who know why Emma Goldman and Joe Hill and Eugene Debs (and yes, you too Carl) were important. People who will sit their children and grandchildren down and teach what the school system will never teach in its never-ending process of churning out overweight little consumers. Teach them that Adam Smith’s unseen hand is unseen because it never existed. Teach them that it was our unquestioning collective belief in this fable that had, when hitched to our “chosen people” Protestant religious complex, long ago set us spinning toward the psychotic end game now in play.
So how did we come to be such a nation? How did we come to elect the jackals in the first place? I am reminded of a story an acquaintance once told me. During World War II he made friends with a German prisoner, and once asked the prisoner how Nazi Germany could possibly have come into being, how ordinary Germans could be so compliant. “Imagine what would happen,” replied the prisoner, “if John Dillinger were elected president of your country.”
Lest I sound too self-righteous, I admit that during the ‘90s I behaved just like the rest of the flaccid American middle class, and was far more a part of the problem than the solution. I was throwing money around like a Texas wildcatter in a Lubbock brothel. Some years I barely knew where the local election polls were, but knew exactly what floor at Harrods’s in London you could find the last silver cigarette cases. That was pure mindless consumption, untethered to the geo-political reality that created my affluence. In doing so, I helped this American empire -- which writer Jeffrey St. Clair aptly dubbed the “Empire of the Locusts” -- run through the greatest natural bounty ever bestowed on any civilization in a scant 225 years, then move on to turn the rest of the world into a sweatshop. I regret my hubris. As for those 225 years, they are small potatoes as empires go. More ancient nations know that the ground beneath them has seen many, many previous empires pass over with the tread of their armies and the same hubris in their citizenry. So it will be with ours. We will collapse at some point, in all likelihood taking the ecology of the planet with us.
But until then, there are still some of us old bastards around who have seen enough in our lifetimes to call things what they really are. And we are not about to end up as more liberal roadkill alongside this historical crossroad. We are ready to lend our bad backs and grumpy attitudes to the fight for the soul of this nation with which we are stuck. Like the country songs says, “My head hurts, my feet stink and I don’t love Jesus.” So get out of my way and Katy bar the door! I for one am taking to the streets, joining every damned faggot commie tree hugging protest march that comes rattling the pike. I don’t care if these are the last days of the empire of the locusts. I don’t care if the entire jackal nation is at our very throats. Let whatever history remains record that some of us went down with a fight, and that perhaps a few of us indeed became “sages with transfigured faces.”
Joe Bageant is a magazine editor and journalist who writes from Winchester, Virginia. He may be contacted at email@example.com. Copyright 2004 by Joe Bageant.
Other Articles by Joe Bageant