November 15, 2004
"The people don't know what is happening and that is what is happening."
(Swans - November 15, 2004) For most Americans the distraction, euphoria and angst of the recent presidential election are over. The blood-lust of war is not. That will take time -- if such things can be measured. Killing people, after all, carries with it destructive power that lasts for decades, if not for generations. Killing innocent people is murder.
It is self-serving and vain to engage in some legalistic, mendacious argument over what constitutes murder. Killing people is homicide, after all, even if justified in self-defense, or in Orwellian terms such as "collateral damage." Yes, there are many legalisms, depending on which culture one was born in-for killing. These can be dusted off and thrown at the feet of those who question, but they are merely sophistries aimed at numbing the horror of killing. We inherit these unknowingly as children and they can be disowned only through conscious effort.
The reason that we must have a conscious effort is that even when justified, killing lurks in the mind and corrodes the heart. "Walking wounded" (1) roam our streets, work side by side with us and launch violent threats at those who proclaim a different vision. As in the case of Emma Goldman, who protested American entry into World War I, one can be deported for speaking the truth.
Where murder serves the State, it will be excused and glossed over. The killers may even be rewarded with little pieces of metal attached to colored swatches of cloth that they can display on their chests at patriotic events, pieces of history -- true, or not -- that proclaim them true heroes (or killers). This pigeon-breast puffing is the male version of the "Snow White complex:"
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?"
Of course today, in our infinite wisdom, we make efforts to include women in our phalanx of killers, but in this blurred world the analogy of Snow White still fits. Yes, of course women make good killers. It would be sentimental Western foolishness to pretend otherwise.
Are you surprised? You shouldn't be. It is not a new thing. Consider the words of Clytaemestra on the murder of her husband Agamemnon:
I struck him twice. In two great cries of agony he buckled at the knees and fell. When he was down I struck him the third blow, in thanks and reverence to Zeus the lord of dead men underneath the ground. thus he went down, and the life struggled out of him; and as he died he spattered me with the dark red and violent driven rain of bitter savored blood to make me glad, as gardens stand among the showers of God in glory at the birthtime of the buds." (2)As for our recent presidential election, a "valid" candidate has to offer himself (herself) as a believable killer. The feckless voters mistake such for strength. After all, didn't many of our recent "election debates" hinge on which candidate was the best killer? In true-believer form, the Evangelical Christians tipped the scales in favor of their man. (3) Recent history indicates that he may be the best killer, any other option now being moot. "Candidate B" had spoken out against war as a young man, treasonous dog that he be, and even if he had been in combat, while the evangelicals' man had not, the true believers still proclaimed, or "knew in their hearts" that their man was the best one, that is: the true killer. Perhaps that point should be conceded to them. In order to be a true killer one cannot have any doubts. By his own words, our president wins hands down with regard to that test. Apparently, so do the Evangelical Christians. As Julius Caesar noted:"Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (Men believe what they want to believe.)
To illuminate the current Republican mind, consider the views of the two Senators from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn (R) and James Inhofe (R). Their beliefs set the standard for the so-called "Red States." Newly-elected Senator Coburn recommends the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions (4) and Senator Inhofe was "outraged at the outrage" over the torture and murder of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. (5) He thought the prisoners deserved it. Apparently the majority of voters in Oklahoma strongly support these two men.
Perhaps a paragraph from The Black Commentator best sums it up:
"This indispensable core, which now acts as a mass citizen militia for Karl Rove and other Bush commandants, scares the hell out of many of the 44 percent of white folks who didn't vote for Bush. Black Americans do not need European models of fascism to understand the grave threat these people represent to life and liberty. They are the folks standing under the tree, while we swing from the limbs." (6)When an unapproved group or individual does murder, the State will seek to kill the offenders. Actions that will put one man on a one-way gurney to the death chamber (7) will get another man elected. As for the latter, it just happened, didn't it? I mean, you don't think a non-killer could get elected to lead a country as powerful as the United States of America, do you?
Yet, is this double standard not strange? Perhaps not to those who have never thought much about it, yet perhaps it is vain to expect human beings to think outside their own preconceived concepts of what constitutes "good." Maybe this is the way it has always been. Hypocrisy, after all, is not the least of sins in the human playbook. Have I ever been hypocritical? Sure. As Mark Twain once quipped: "I'm only human. I couldn't be much worse than that."
But, hypocrite or not, I have thought about it. It is important to think about it in order to question and stand aside, when necessary, from cultural indoctrination.
So what to do in the face of horror?
We must take courage, accepting that some people will kill in order to maintain their illusions. The more brittle these unreflective egos are, the more firmly rooted in their error, the more dangerous they become, especially when sanctified by religious and/or political power. Nonetheless, we must stand. Courage demands nothing less.
And for those who believe and follow blindly whatever the leadership proclaims, supporting war, killing and murder, a final warning:
"They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people."
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Notes & Resources
1. Macintosh, Richard, "Walking Wounded," Swans, May 24, 2004. (back)
2. Aeschylus, Agamemnon, Lattimore trans., University of Chicago Press, New York, p. 80. (back)
3. The religious love affair with war, killing and murder is a subject for another essay. (back)
4. Dowd, Maureen, "Seeing Red," The New York Times, November 4, 2004. (back)
5. CNN, May 5, 2004. (back)
6. "Concede Nothing to Bush," The Black Commentator, November 4, 2004. (back)
7. Timothy McVeigh and others. (back)
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Richard Macintosh on Swans (with bio).
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