Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Gangrene on the Body Politic

After Joey returned from Iraq he bragged about how the war allowed him to commit murder and get away with it, how he had permission all the way from the top, from the President himself. He told me this with a smile, but I couldn’t tell whether this was his dark sense of humor, and bait —he knew I was against the war— if it was bravado, or the absolute truth, a revelation of his utter lack of military ethics, conscience, heart and soul. I couldn’t know the truth about Joey, since I didn’t know him well, and I wasn’t with him in Iraq to witness his behavior.

I did notice one thing about him, however, derived from his body language—the way he responded to noise, to a door slamming, a clap, or even someone saying, “Sh-h-h-h-h” behind his back. It’s not that he would jump and run for cover, nothing so obvious. It was more a flinching, an involuntary startle-response, a quick turn of the head toward the sound, all with a seriousness and tension, though fleeting, one couldn’t miss.

Some say war makes victims of us all. So, perhaps Joey was a victim in the sense that he probably had PTSD; however, he may not have been a victim of the power of war to destroy the conscience and humanity of soldiers. He may have been a murderer at heart to begin with, by choice, and he simply found an excuse in the war to satisfy his murderous bent.

A certain percentage of soldiers and Marines are of dubious character. The standards for acceptance to the military have been lowered significantly, so that individuals with criminal records are signing up. Perhaps such individuals are more vulnerable to the stresses of war and may tend to be pushed more easily toward the dark side. I don’t know if it is a fair thing to say; I am a liberal, so I want to have compassion for bad behavior to a certain degree. So, perhaps we can consider these troops as victims of war too, along side the soldiers of conscience who have mental breakdowns and suffer PTSD as a result of what they see or are forced to do.

But were the Marines in Iraq who threw a puppy off the cliff into a ravine victims of war? Were they fine young men originally, then rendered stupid and insensible by war? Or, were they the same nasty little bullies we’ve all encountered in our childhoods, all grown big now, the ones who enjoyed torturing frogs, or cats, or other children? I think it is the latter. I suspect these “men” are still boys, still cowardly bullies, who have managed to achieve adulthood without ever being taught by their fathers, or uncles, or brothers, or the Marines, or teachers, what it is to be a man, to say nothing of what it is to be a human being. Based on their body language, I must conclude they conduct their lives according to a definition of manhood that includes sadism, heartlessness, and bullying. Perhaps they were victims of something, sometime during their lives —violent parents, or the influence of a culture of cruelty, where a TV program like 24 thrives— but it was not war. And do I care? At some point we must hold them responsible, while hoping to dismiss them as unusual, as aberrant, as merely the gangrenous baby toes on the body politic.

George W. Bush used to torture frogs as a kid. Now he orders up torture of human beings, then lies about it. Attorney General Michael Mukasey cannot bring himself to say water-boarding is torture. That is, he is willing to go along with and enable torture and rendition, to sacrifice ethical and moral principles, so that the Bush Administration can be protected from prosecution. How is this possible? This is 21st century America, not 15th century Spain! And what is happening to us that our institutions tolerate such criminality, allow such vile individuals to remain in power?

The DCCC —Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee— called me again yesterday. The unfortunate volunteer gave her pitch, and I waited patiently for the close, something to the effect of, “Would you be willing to give a donation...?” My answer? “No. Not until they put impeachment back on the table.” Reading from her script, she responded that the Democrats in Congress do not have enough votes for impeachment, to which I said, “I didn’t say I’m demanding conviction—impeachment is a process; the nation needs to hear the evidence presented and the issue debated!”

Do we not have a gangrene on the body politic, progressing not from the toes up, but from the head down? This idea — “from the head down” — where Bush himself becomes the central metaphor, is useful in describing a sickness in the culture and society itself, where the extremes of a masculinist, cold-hearted ethic have infected our world. Shall I count the ways? But no, you know what I mean, the examples of profit-before-people-driven industries and government policies— the coal industry (strip-mining, pollution), the health care industry (Can’t afford health insurance? Then die!), “free” trade (environmental, labor, economic abuses and injustice), news-as-entertainment media (exclusion of voices), wars of aggression, and on and on. Gangrene is the proper metaphor too: the only way to stop it is to surgically remove it—cut it off!

Perhaps the Democrats in Congress think it’s smart to just muddle along, make “peace,” and hope for the best. But such indecisiveness and inaction only leaves the condition to fester and grow.

Boy soldiers who murder and torture puppies should be prosecuted and sent to prison. By the same token, the big boys and politicians who torture and enable torture of human beings should first be impeached, then convicted, then prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law as well, and then sent to prison.

Bush likes to say 9-11 changed everything. How thrilling it must have been for him to think everything had changed, with everything gone that might have impinged upon his own murderous bent, everything vanished that might have kept his sadistic impulses under check. Of course he was wrong. The truth didn’t change, and he is a war criminal, a traitor to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and a threat to the rule of law and justice. He does not have truth on his side; he does not have the soul of America on his side. He will fail, ultimately.

It looks like we are going to have to wait for justice, however. Given that fact, it would be easy to give up hope. As for me, I am going to try to be patient. As long as fine soldiers and Marines exist who have chosen not to be victims of the war, not to allow the war to render them monstrous; as long as young men and women choose to resist going to war —the ones who refuse to sign up for military service during a time of illegal war and occupation; the ones who go AWOL, move to Canada, or decide jail is a better place than any place where the abandonment of the soul is required— as long as veterans speak out against the war, and women soldiers who have been raped in the Military tell their stories, and whistle-blowers leak the documents, the DVD’s, the photos of torture and abuse; as long as there are good people of conscience —the healthy elements of society— I believe we will recover.

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