May 27, 2005
“We cannot forever hide the truth about ourselves, from ourselves.”
Senator John McCain
Vietnam War protestors (myself included) used to say we "lived in the belly of the beast.” It was more than just lefty rhetoric. It was a visceral feeling. Especially during the early years of that mortal sin of a war, because so few objected.
Even as ten thousand miles away American napalm burned villages and people, and U.S.-made Agent Orange transformed lush jungles into barren moonscapes, life here went on as normal. The “Burgers Sold” sign at local MacDonald’s ticked away like a racecar’s odometer. The American middleclass was still flush from the go-go 50’s and 60’s. Suburbs were booming. Shopping centers were all the rage. Detroit rolled out 14 years worth of flashy new chrome-encrusted models without missing a beat, and we Americans gobbled them right up.
Only Americans can get away such a feat – to lay waste to one part of the world without paying a noticeable price at home. Military experts proudly call that “projecting power,” the ability to “fight them on their soil rather than our own.”
Now, I’m not arguing in favor of fighting them on our soil instead. My point is that, when we project our power in ways that violate the very principles America claims to stand for, we pay a price. Even though we are spared destroyed cities, dead civilians and constant explosions and gunfire, we pay a price. We paid that price during the Vietnam War, and we are paying it again now.
So, what’s this price we are paying? Money? Sure Iraq is costing us more this year than it would cost to fix Medicare, but that’s not the worst of it. Money can be printed. What we are losing – once again – is America – the original America. Not the America of the Neocon “do as we say, not as we do,” Orwellian democracy posers, but the America we know from our history books. The America described in our constitution and Bill of Rights. The America the world once considered the gold standard of honesty, integrity, due process, and personal freedom, The America that was Democracy’s Mecca.
Back in the 70’s I used to get letters from Europeans asking how the America they thought they knew could do the things it was doing in Vietnam. And why the American people did not rise up and throw the bums in charge out on their asses. They wanted me to explain how the country that established the Nuremberg rules, could so casually allow it’s own leaders and soldiers to break those very principles, and with absolute impunity. Why, they asked, were German officials held liable for the atrocities their policies unleashed on others and not American officials?
I had no good answer back then, and now that I am getting the same kind of letters from Europeans I have no good answer now. Here are just two recent letters:
I'm just one of those millions of Brits who are absolutely horrified and revolted at what the US has become. I can see no distinction whatsoever between the Bush administration and any other vicious, fascist organisation from any period in 20th century history. My heart goes out to all of you in your seemingly impossible struggle to tear your Democracy back from the bloodstained claws of the vile monsters who have calculatedly imprisoned you in your own society.
That twisted logic is worthy of Goebbels, Stalin or the Ayatollahs. The hatred and invective towards Liberals in the USA is chilling. Read your histories of the propaganda methods of the National Socialist Party in pre-war Germany to see some chilling parallels.
I'm old enough to remember watching news broadcasts of the inspirational campus demonstrations, which did so much to get you out of Vietnam. Those students had guts, courage and a single-minded conviction that puts contemporary Americans to shame. What the hell has happened to your young people? Do they believe in ANYTHING now apart from their mindless selves?
And this letter for a citizen of our northern neighbor, Canada.
All my life I've been impregnated with American culture. Now at 59 I am trying to understand what's happening in this great country of yours. I tried to speak to an American friend about it but I've not been yet been satisfied with the answers I got.
So what's happened to the American intellectuals? Why are they so silent on what's been happening? All my life I've met Americans and went out of my way, to speak with them, if they were around as tourists. My European friends as well as my Canadian feel by experience that most of the people we've met from the US are, for the most part, ignorant about the world in general. Why is that? Could you help us out a little?
Thank you so much,
Cheers from St Tite Québec
Please notice, as I did, that these are not angry letters. They are sad letters. They are not demanding “death to America,” but recovery. They want the America they had always admired, back. They miss the warm, reassuring glow of that light on the distant horizon oppressed peoples once fixated upon during their darkest hours. As long as it shown, hope survived. That light has dimmed, and for many, disappeared. They want it lit again.
Instead, yesterday Amnesty Internation waded in it's report listing America as one of the world's worst violators of human rights.
"When the U.S. government calls upon foreign leaders to bring to justice those who commit or authorize human rights violations in their own countries, why should those foreign leaders listen?" Dr. Schulz said. "And if the U.S. government does not abide by the same standards of justice, what shred of moral authority will we retain to pressure other governments to diminish abuses?
"It's far past time for President Bush to prove that he is not covering up the misdeeds of senior officials and political cronies who designed and authorized these nefarious interrogation policies," he said. "So Congress must appoint a truly impartial and independent commission to investigate the masterminds of the atrocious human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers, and President Bush should use the power of his office to press Congress to do so." (Full Story)
Ah, but our foreign friends can expect little help from Americans. Here, in the belly of the beast, life once again is perking right along as normal. Iraq is far away, too far to hear the thud of bombs, the screams of the wounded or the wails of the grieving -- too far away for Americans to experience the air filled with the smell of blood drying on hot pavement. Too far away to see Iraqi mothers waiting to see if their children make it home from school alive, or wrapped in a blanket.
But never mind all that. Here, in America, life is good.
So, what will it be for lunch today? I had a steak sandwich and big-ass slice of pie yesterday. I better have a chef’s salad today. Eating like that way everyday can kill a person, you know.
Have a nice day.