by Richard Macintosh

June 21, 2004   


"How are ye blind,
Ye treaders down of cities, ye that cast
Temples to desolation, and lay waste
Tombs, the untrodden sanctuaries where lie
The ancient dead; yourselves so soon to die!"

—Euripides, The Trojan Women (words of Poseidon) (1)

(Swans - June 21, 2004)  There are times when I wonder at how fragile all of this is -- a world populated by life destined to die and the solar system itself a speck in the universe beyond.

Within the world and surrounded by our times, the evil men (and women) among us justify more devastating weapons and strategies designed to destroy civilian infrastructure and kill as many people as is deemed necessary to fulfill an imperial agenda. (2)

Of course, our great leaders lie about these things, providing the populace with a string of obstructive half-truths and outright fabrications designed to mislead the credulous and stupefy the opposition. It is a lie that we are there to "help" and that our weapons are "smart," or that our strategies are designed to limit what our leadership call "collateral damage." The final lie is that America intends to bring "democracy" to benighted people.

No, we are there to help ourselves and "democracy" is not within our leadership's vision -- neither in the Middle East, nor at home. The oft-used term, "collateral damage," is a euphemism for murder of the innocents. Whenever you hear the term used, remember what it is and remember those who justified it. Remember, because those who justify murder are thoughtless at best, war criminals at worst. Such people are possessed by blindness, a certain kind of madness -- hubris leading to até -- and they are hell-bent for nemesis. (3) They will take you along with them if you allow it. These people do their deeds in your name and urge you to wave the flag and repeat a patriotic mantra. If you acquiesce to them, you have become an accessory to murder.

There are even those who justify killing in the name of God. Murder in the name of God is the ultimate sin from which there is no escape. No number of parading bands, or symbolic booming cannons will assuage the guilt. No speeches by Mullahs or the Christian clergy will do it. No justifications by Rabbis. No flyovers by military planes; no carriages towing missiles; no speeches from politicians. None of it. Absolutely none! They are all complicit to murder.

Yet, there are those who believe that they are exempt from judgment. Exempt from the judgment of the world! (4) Exempt from the judgment of God! (5)

And thinking that you (or your society) are exempt from the law is the ultimate madness. It can be seen in the destruction of whole countries, past and present. All this effort to fund and build a war machine! All this killing! All this madness to destroy!

The French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, in his book, "War, Evil and the End of History," notes that suicide is not necessarily an individual matter. Whole countries and societies can do it and much effort is spent in the undertaking (pun intended). Lévy states:

     "You need as much energy to die as you do to live." (6)

The first step toward group suicide is the abandonment of established rules of behavior. Laws that have been painstakingly worked and reworked over the millennia are sundered at will by a dictator, or the caprice of a ruling junta. Such behavior is the forerunner of criminal behavior: "war crimes."

Civilization is fragile. It is like a fine old lace that must be handled with care, lest it be torn and rent by the thoughtless. If it is discarded by design, the act is not only a mistake, but one of madness. That is where we are now.

For is it not madness to think America can fashion a new world by fiat, that we can ignore five thousand years of Western History from the times of the great Pharaohs to the present and start from scratch? Is it not even more absurd to think we can do it with the sort of imbecilic leadership we now have? The sheer foolishness and ignorance of the political class boggles the mind. And the intellectuals? Julien Benda's book, The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, comes to mind. (7)

In 1215 AD, the English nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, forcing the king to respect the traditional rights of his vassals. Among these were rights to a trial of peers and limited government. It took one thousand, two hundred and fifteen years from the time of Christ to achieve these rights! These were seen as the rights of Englishmen. When these were violated in the American Colonies, there was a revolt, leading to the creation of a new nation.

Yet, these rights were wiped out by the stroke of a pen when George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act. An intimidated congress had not even read the act before they voted on it. (8) Now, an American president, with new dictatorial powers, can imprison American citizens without cause, without rights to a speedy trial and without the right to an attorney. Prisoners can even be tortured, or worse. We now know that some of our prisoners in Iraq were "disappeared," or just plain murdered. There are photos to prove it. (9)

The Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war? Forget it. International Law? Forget it! The admonitions of our traditional allies? "Old Europe." The United Nations? "Irrelevant." The International Court? Our government did not sign on, for "it would limit our actions." What does this mean? It means the government of the United States is now a law unto itself.

But some people are fighting back. The populace is beginning to stir, aware that their rights and freedoms are at risk. Among many is the idea that they "have been had." In my home county, Whatcom County, Washington State, the people have officially condemned the Patriot Act. Across the country, counties and cities are rising to the occasion and doing the same. (10)

Is there hope? Is this still America? As the old saying goes: "Only time will tell." It is notable, however, that the president has recently hired a private attorney, James E. Sharp, to protect him. (11) Obviously, Mr. Bush thinks he could be in trouble. Evil won't roll over without a fight. It's going to get ugly.

God help us.

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Notes and Resources

1.  Euripides, The Trojan Women, Gilbert Murray, Trans., Oxford University Press, London, 1915.  (back)

2.  Morgan, Dan, AP. "Defense bill to top 1 trillion." The Tallahassee Democrat, June 12, 2004. (The bill does not include the so-called "black budget" that funds secret operations around the world.)  (back)

3.  The ancient Greeks thought that there were four stages in the destruction of unwise individuals and societies: Koros (stability) to Hubris (a sense of feeling god-like) to Até (madness when confronted) then finally Nemesis (ruin and destruction).

Simone Weil in her analysis of the Iliad wrote about force and how it degrades even the righteous. The first danger was (is) hubris. (See addendum, infra.)  (back)

4.  "Legalizing Torture," The Washington Post, June 9, 2004, p. A20.  (back)

5.  Monbiot, George. "America is a Religion. US Leaders Now See Themselves as Priests of a Divine Mission to Rid the World of its Demons." The Guardian, July 29, 2003.  (back)

6.  Lévy, Bernard-Henri. War, Evil and the End of History, Melville House, Hoboken NJ. 2004, p. 69. (Originally published as Réflections Sur La Guerre, Le Mal Et La Fin De L'histoire, Editions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2001.)  (back)

7.  Benda, Julien. The Betrayal of the Intellectuals (La Trahison des Clercs). Richard Aldington, trans., Beacon Press, Boston, 1955.

See also, d'Aymery, Gilles. "Julien Benda, The Failure of Imagination and Thought," Swans, March 31, 2003, and an Excerpt from The Treason of the Intellectuals, translated by Richard Aldington and posted on Swans.  (back)

8.  Cloughy, Brian. "Taking a closer look at the Patriot Act," Counterpunch, Weekend Edition, May 8/9, 2004.  (back)

9.  Hersh, Seymour. "Torture At Abu Ghraib," The New Yorker, May 10, 2004, pp. 42-43. "Chain of Command," The New Yorker, May 17, 2004, p. 38.  (back)

10.  Hentoff, Nat. "Declarations of Independence," The Village Voice, June 14, 2004.  (back)

11.  "Bush Consults Lawyer in CIA Leak Case," USA Today, June 2, 2004.  (back)


"The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad, is force. Force as man's instrument, force as man's master, force before which human flesh shrinks back. The human soul, in this poem, is shown always in its relation to force; swept away, blinded by the force it thinks it can direct, bent under the pressure of the force to which it is subjected. Those who had dreamed that force, thanks to progress, now belonged to the past, have seen the poem as a historic document; those who can see that force, today as in the past, is at the center of all human history, find in the Iliad its most beautiful, its purest mirrorforce is what makes the person subjected to it into a thing."

—Simone Weil, L'Iliad ou le Poème de la Force, 1939

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Richard Macintosh on Swans (with bio).

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Published June 21, 2004
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