Remember When?

Remember When?

[I intend to let you off the hook by the end of this piece.]

Remember when Daniel Ellsberg snuck the Pentagon Papers away from work and finally managed to get someone to publish them? Remember the outrage we felt, that the government had bold-faced lied to us? Remember My Lai? Remember the shame of knowing that American soldiers were intentionally targeting and killing civilians, even women and children?

Remember how we took to the streets to end that war? I use ‘we’ in that sentence to denote a portion of the population; we were certainly not the majority, though we managed to sway a majority to agree that the Vietnam experience was not how we wanted America to act in conflict. Remember believing that Americans stood for freedom and justice, for all? Remember thinking, “Those guys, they torture. We abide by the Geneva Convention, we respect our enemy even in times of war.”

Remember how a few of us, and this ‘us’ is a very small number of people indeed, pointedly asked the question, “Why do you think someone could hate us enough to do this?” in the days following September 11, 2001? You may not, because the media in those days were filled with rising threat levels, declarations that the world had changed overnight, and the President’s exhortation to “Go shopping!” Reasonable, logical voices were drowned out. Even voices expressing shame and searching for ways to atone failed to rise above the din. When our retail shopping efforts proved less than adequate, our economy was flooded with cheap money and the resulting housing bubble is what has brought us to our dire unemployment situation today.

Remember the words written by Megan Stack, in her book “Every Man  in This Village is a Liar”? In particular:

“Here is the truth: it matters, what you do at war. It matters more than you ever want to know. Because countries, like people, have collective consciences and memories and souls, and the violence we deliver in the name of our nation is pooled like sickly tar at the bottom of who we are. The soldiers who don’t die for us come home again. They bring with them the killer they became on our national behalf, and sit with their polluted memories and broken emotions in our homes and schools and temples. We may wish it were not so, but action amounts to identity. We become what we do. You can tell yourself all the stories you want, but you can’t leave your actions over there. You can’t build a wall and expect to live on the other side of memory. All of that poison seeps back into our soil.

“And it makes us lie to ourselves, precisely because we want to believe that we are good, we do not want to interrupt a noble national narrative. But there are things we try to obscure by talking about terrorism: things we do to others, and to ourselves. Only the most hawkish Israelis say that they are oppressing people in order to take away their land. There are other stories to tell; other ways to frame and explain military campaigns. Israelis are looking for security; they are fighting terror; it is ugly but they have no choice. Every nation needs it stories, never more so than in times of war. And so the Israelis tell themselves they are making the desert bloom, that they are the only democracy in the Middle East, a humane land that is sometimes forced to behave inhumanely, and we Americans tell ourselves that we are fighting tyranny and toppling dictators. And we say this word, terrorism, because it has become the best excuse of all. We push into other lands, we chase the ghosts of a concept, because it is too hard to admit that evil is already in our hearts and blood is on our hands.”

The local, politically liberal as media goes, newspaper printed last Friday a short, few paragraph-long brief about the contents of the latest Wikileaks’ release of Pentagon war logs. It hasn’t printed another piece about the contents of the archive, nor of reaction in America or abroad. Where is the outrage over the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed or injured by our war machine? Where is the shame of the lying government and military officials, who seem to have the media in their backpocket? Where is the help we should be providing those returning veterans; damaged (50% request assistance for treating traumatic brain injury or post traumatic stress), often drug- or alcohol-addicted, who end up homeless or, in increasing numbers, dead from suicide? Where are the protests, in the media, in the streets, or even around the water cooler?

Here’s where you get off the hook. I believe that one reason we are so complacent, so locked inside the trance of what passes for society today, is that we are seduced into believing that having vented, as I am now doing with this rant, that we have done our part. We think that by expressing our views in a forum of friends and like-minded people, in some Internet chat room or on our Facebook page or in a tweet to our handful of followers, that we can salve our conscience and shift any blame onto someone else: the military, George W. Bush, Muslims, politicians, the corporations, even “those people over there”.

I’ve changed my mind. We don’t get off the hook. Neither you, nor I, get a free pass on this one. People around the world see how America talks one game and plays another. They see how we allow the multi-national corporations to ruin not only our lives here but also the lives of people everywhere to gain billions of dollars in profit. They see how we turn a blind eye to torture and terror, out of our own deep-seated fear that we will lose any chance we have to fulfill our personal dreams of someday being rich. They question the sanity of our airport security theater, while they worry that tomorrow’s drone mission might target their home in yet another, horrible, mistake. They fear we will take what used to belong to them, and leave them starving and homeless in their own land. And we, we do nothing to prevent any of this, except rant in an email. We are so very, very asleep.

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