The Statue of
Liberty is Missing
(The second part of a multi-part essay. Part One: “What Are We Trying to Achieve?”)
When we awoke, the Statue of Liberty had gone.
She left in the night, ashamed for the country she had come to represent.
What is it about the pictures from Abu Ghraib that bothers us? We know about the Klan and the intimidation and the snarling dogs and the lynchings in the post Civil War South. We have seen the Rodney King video. We know what we did to native Americans when we wanted their land and their resources. We know how we treated the immigrant Chinese workers who built our railroads and the Japanese who we interned when we felt insecure. We know that we supported the regimes in El Salvador and in Peru and in Argentina when, with our backing and support, they did to their own people what we now do to others.
That we had abused Iraqis does not come as a surprise. We saw the hooded, intimidated men locked in our chicken cages in Cuba. The Internet was full of stories of abuse from Afghanistan. The stories about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay have leaked out even in the back pages of the corporate media. If we did not know the particulars, did we not intuitively, subconsciously, understand what we were doing?
If you peered deeply into America's soul, you will find that many do not care what happens in Iraq or to Iraqis. Speaking, probably, for many in America, Republican Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma has as much as said that those the Americans tortured in Iraq were 'bad people' who really do not merit our concern.
There will be a show trial for the few American soldiers who are depicted in the pictures of Abu Ghraib. After they are court-martialed, however, nothing will change except this: the Pentagon will be extra, extra vigilant to make sure that nothing like this is ever photographed and documented again.
For what disturbs Americans the most is not that the abuse happened, but that we had it thrust before our eyes. The current administration fully understands this. That is why they do not want Americans to see the pictures of coffins returning from Iraq, or see the pictures of dead and injured civilians, or see pictures of Americans torturing helpless people, or see the movies that describe the complicity between Americans and Saudis and 9-11 conspirators. The administration knows that the people simply do not want to see these things.
We are like the three brass monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. For the pictures of American soldiers torturing shackled, helpless prisoners violates two of the core tenets of our national mythology:
That we are better than everyone else.
That we bring a better way of life to the rest of the world.
Now, let it be known that Americans, truly, are no worse than any others. The Saudis and the Egyptians and the Turks and the Israelis surely subject their prisoners to similar or worse degradation and suffering. That is why America has sent some of its detainees to these and other brutal regimes to interrogate them on our behalf. The damage done by Abu Ghraib to America's psyche, however, is precisely that we are no worse – and therefore, no better – than the others.
This is a bitter pill for America to swallow. It robs us of the justification for what we do and have done to others.
Here is a rule to understand: people get the government that they deserve. Iraq deserved Saddam Hussein. The British deserve Tony Blair. America deserves George Bush and his Counter Reformation. In each case, in each country, the peoples' complicity in and tolerance for injustice, their complacency with lawlessness, their avarice and greed allows their leaders to arise and rule over them. If your culture and your society permit it, then you deserve the government that you get. So we, too, deserve the country that we have become.
Are Americans basically good or misled? Would they still support the war in Iraq if they saw the evils that we had unleashed on that country?
The truth is that Americans are not basically good, nor basically bad. The French government, for example, opposed our invasion of Iraq, but not for altruistic reasons – its economic interests simply were not served by American seizure of the Middle East's resources. Within a year of the invasion of Iraq, the French government worked hand in glove with ours to overthrow Aristide in Haiti. As its reward, the newly installed Haitian “government” dropped its multi-billion dollar lawsuit against France for colonial reparations. The corporations of Japan and Korea and Germany and Russia ran to do business in the prostrated Iraq along with our corporations. There is no room for idealism when there is money to be made. And so we are just people, like any other. No worse, but no better.
Why do many American people continue to support the invasion of Iraq when every justification put up by Bush and his colleagues has proved false? If Bush and Rice and Powell and Cheney all confessed on television tomorrow that they had blatantly lied about every single reason for invading Iraq, would not many Americans still support the war? Do we blame the media for stupefying the citizenry? Shall we blame Americans' lack of information, or our cultural conditioning or poor education? Is it simply that we cannot accept, will not accept that the core myths about our country lie in tatters?
Let us also posit another possibility: that Americans who support the war, by and large, are not stupid, not deceived by Bush's lies, not misled at all by the corporate media. Might they know that the war really is all about their material self-interest (the small part of it that trickles down from the upper class to them), and they accept that? Could it be that the war's supporters really do make the connection between filling their SUV tanks with cheap gasoline and the invasion of Iraq? In our petroleum based society even our agriculture depends on cheap oil. Might we sense that for there to be affordable food in our refrigerators, we must rob and subjugate and kill others in the Third World? Is it possible that mainstream America understands that for its own 'good life' to continue, we must deny the good life to others? We have a national history of taking what we want and justifying it afterwards. Are we acting any differently now than in the past?
Realpolitik gives not even lip service to the better side of humankind. The practical, materialist world of business and commerce rules most nation-states of the world, especially those that have become powerful enough to enforce their will on others. In fact, it is our wealth and power to lord it over others that lesser nations' ruling classes seek to emulate, not the ideals we profess.
Let us take for granted, therefore, that the ruling classes of all nations are the same, just as most Americans fundamentally are no different than the people of other countries. Let us also take for granted that within each nation's population there exists, like some of you, some of us, a nascent but growing segment of the population that wants deep, profound change, not just a trimming of the Bushes.
If the nations themselves are unable to make that profound change because they are captives of their own culture and mythology, then let these population segments within each nation reach out and connect and coalesce with each other. Borders mean nothing to those whose ruling class loyalties are stronger bonds than nationhood. Therefore, let them who seek deep change also reach out and become a new nation without borders, a new culture that speaks a common language even without a common language.
We do not yet know what we are trying to achieve. We can, however, begin now to create the new Transnation in which to achieve it. Perhaps then the Statue of Liberty will come home and again greet us at the door.
Zbignew Zingh can be reached at Zbig@ersarts.com. This Article is CopyLeft, and free to distribute, reprint, repost, sing at a recital, spray paint, scribble in a toilet stall, etc. to your heart’s content, with proper author citation. Find out more about Copyleft and read other great articles at www.ersarts.com.
Other Articles by Zbignew Zingh
Monuments To The New American Century