April 12, 2004
I imagined last week in my sleep how I might explain to the cops how I
had bludgeoned to death the two crackheads who have lurked four months
on my street corner, under my living room window. I would tell them
that my car had been broken into recently, and that they had been acting
suspicious, and that my newspaper and television had reported
escalations of violence in my neighborhood. I would tell the police
that reports from "sources in the neighborhood" had fingered them as
having a long history of violent criminal activity. I would explain I
had interpreted this as "actionable intelligence," and under the Bush
doctrine of preemptive strike, killed them.
In this dream I went to jail for 43 years, died, and rotted in hell.
In jest I relayed this story to friends while sitting fireside in our garden the next evening, all of whom confessed to listening to the NPR "Special Committee on Terrorism" broadcasts that week. We stood around the fire and amused ourselves with the connotative meaning of "actionable intelligence," which seemed mostly to boil down to "someone to kill." We chuckled about which was more offensive about the idea: the vulgar concept of transmuting the act of state assassination to an "actionable intelligence," or just the fact that so much tax payer resource had been devoted to the spawning and proliferation of such an abuse to the English language as the word, "actionable."
But our diversion was short lived. We find little mirth from these observations and deconstructions anymore. They turn acrid in the mouth, and heavy in the pit of the stomach. I think we finished that night in quiet, passing the scotch around.
We had been warned by another of my friends, who had returned early from our long weekend camping trip a couple days before. He rang my cell phone as we coasted back into Reno, imploring us to restock our supplies, turn around, and go back into the High Rock as fast as we could drive. "This world," he sang mournfully into the phone, "is so completely broken -- there is no life out here for the likes of you and me . . . "
But we returned anyway, right into media turbo hoopla of "Richard Clarke says."
I found nothing particularly novel in Clarke's testimony. That Bush officials dismissed Clinton administration warnings of the imminent threat to the country from al Qaeda, in favor of a myopic lust to settle an old family score with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, is not much news to me. That they would warp the 9/11 attacks to pursue it, at the cost of all the soldiers and civilians killed, wounded and emotionally ruined -- and with money that belonged to social security, health care, and educational reform in this country, all for the profit of oil barons, arms merchants and international bankers, seems entirely consistent with the extreme hubris and arrogant conduct of this president's jackass, jack-boot policy history. Even though I was slightly interested to hear all that reinforced by such a senior aide from a White House usually cloaked in the black hole of secrecy, and as tempted as I may have been, briefly, to indulge myself in the pleasure of watching the president's cabinet spit nails and eat crow a few days in response to him -- I was quickly sobered by the couple hundred Iraqi people bombed or caught in crossfire, and the couple dozen soldiers and marines returned home in body bags during the same time. Besides, ultimately, I derive no pleasure in people like Richard Clarke. In Richard Clarke I just see a self-consumed, dreadfully ambitious ego maniacal zealot psychopath terror monger with a chip on his shoulder and an overdeveloped Jesus complex. But then, time and experience has hardened my cynicism a bit.
Tonight, pundits and lawmakers are sharpening their talons for to dissect Condoleezza Rice's testimony. You can be sure, for that, I will be digging ditches someplace far from the ear of a radio. Not that how our understanding and preparations for terrorist threats had evolved over the time previous to 9/11 aren't important to me, or how our understanding and preparations for these terrorist threats have evolved over the time since 9/11 isn't important, too; but most of this high level testimony will be a media circus not helpful to that end. Besides, opposite the Condoleezza Rice's testimony story on the front page of this morning's New York Times was a picture of a Marine in Ramadi loading a body bag full of one of his comrades into a truck. In 10 or 14 cities in Iraq right now Marines and Army soldiers are getting the hell shot out of them, and in those cities the Marines and Army soldiers are shooting the hell out of the Iraqi people. Nothing Richard Clarke, or Condoleezza Rice, or George Tenet, or Robert Mueller, or anyone else is going say will make any of that better for the families of the dead and wounded on either side of the sea.
I just wish some of the generous benevolence of this nation, some of the charity and humility of the people could ring through from time to time. I just wish some of the leadership of cause, and justice, and fairness, and humanity could persevere in our policies. I just wish the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, even the ideals of the League of Nations could shine through all this missionary, free market, manifest destiny that poisons the purpose of our super power righteousness once and a while. That's a cause that wouldn't need the business end of the largest military-industrial complex the world has ever known. That would be some "actionable intelligence" I could raise a glass of scotch to with my friends, without the acrid taste in our mouths, the heavy pit in our stomachs that diverts our eyes and sends us hardened with cynicism to the ditches we dig. That would give me something uplifting to write about.
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John Blunt is an artist and a carpenter who lives in Oakland, California.
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