America’s Longest War
By Charles Sullivan
-- -- There are times when anger is the most appropriate response to what we see happening around us. We should not apologize for being angry. We should not apologize for feeling outrage about the direction our country is taking. We should not express regret for the strong current of indignation that surges through our veins when we hear our leaders spewing forth lies and distortions. Indeed, I would argue that if you are not outraged at the direction our country is taking, you must be one of the millions of the walking dead, the complacent, the indifferent—the zombies who are only going through the motions of living but who contribute nothing of value to society. Perhaps you are a millionaire, a billionaire; or simply a fool.
I must confess to being a seething cauldron of anger most of the time these days. I make no apology for it, however; it is the most appropriate response to the horrors that are unfolding before our very eyes. The history of America—the real history---provides ample reasons to feel anger and resentment at the course our nation has taken. There was the extermination of Turtle Island’s original inhabitants by White men who called themselves Christians. There was the institution of slavery. There is the continuing unequal treatment of the races and the sexes. There is the bloody history of the violent suppression of the once promising labor movement. There is the history of U.S. invasion and domination of sovereign nations. All of this is depressing stuff. It is painful to know; but it is what happened; it is the legacy of the American Empire. One cannot understand the present crises without understanding how we got to where we are now. It requires courage to face the reality of our collective past. It will require equal courage to create a better future.
It did not have to be this way. Our history could have been different had so many good people not have stood by and allowed horrible events to happen. Similarly, the future could be promising if more people cared and held the political electorate accountable for everything they say and do; as well as for what they fail to say and to do. It is not easy. We will have to pay attention. We will have to be involved. We will have to run some risks. Nothing is given without a demand. Freedom and democracy have to be won through effort. If we as a people are not willing to make that effort, then the discussion is over. The future will be as bleak as our past. We will get exactly what we deserve and it will not be pretty.
Ironically, out of that appalling and shameful history—the one that most Americans do not bother to learn about—there stems a sense of hope. That hope stems from the actions of ordinary men and women who refused to capitulate to those in power. They are the people who refused to be silent when the times demanded the voice of outrage. They channeled their anger into constructive action. Even during our nation’s darkest hours, there have always been people of conscience and courage who acted as a counter friction to the machine of social injustice that ravaged the nation and plundered the earth. Since the founding of our nation, there has always been a struggle between the rich and powerful and the nation’s working poor.
Even more than racism, it is the class struggle that is at the root of most of what is wrong with America today. The weight of this truth is awful. It is on display for the world to see in the city of New Orleans. It is on display in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is on display in two hundred countries that the United States has bombed. We see armed thugs roaming the streets of this once great city. I am not referring to the so called looters—I am referring to the armed mercenaries, the police, and FEMA. New Orleans bears a striking resemblance to Iraq. The same forces are at work in both places. The poor in New Orleans have much in common with the poor people of Iraq. Contrary to popular belief, the police, the National Guard and the military do not exist to protect the lives of ordinary Americans—people like you and I—they exist to protect the property and the wealth of the rich and powerful from the poor.
Like the original inhabitants of North America, the citizens of New Orleans are being forcibly expelled from their homes. They are being dispersed all over the country according to a plan for ethnic cleansing. There is so much anger and outrage among the survivors of Katrina, so much righteous indignation that they cannot be allowed to assemble for fear that they might organize and demand accountability from the government that abandoned them. The brokers of power fear and loathe poor people; the working class. They must be dispersed so they cannot organize against them. The government left them to suffer the wrath of Hurricane Katrina with the certain knowledge that they were disproportionately the poor and the politically weak who would die and lose everything. When powerful hurricanes struck the state of Florida last summer that affected the political constituents of Zeb Bush, the result was very different.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina we see a microcosm of what America has become. We are witnessing the emerging police state of fascism. Bush informs us that New Orleans will be rebuilt; and I am sure that it will. But it will almost certainly be rebuilt in a way that bears little resemblance to what it was before Katrina. It will be rebuilt in the image of Bush’s New World Order. This culturally rich city will be altered demographically in ways that boggle the mind. New Orleans as we knew her no longer exists and it didn’t just happen that way. It was by design.
In New Orleans, as elsewhere in America, those who most need help are the least likely to get it. Those who lost everything in the floods brought ashore by Katrina should be the ones to rebuild New Orleans. They should be the ones who are paid living wages to restore their lives with a sense of worth and dignity. Multitudes of people who have lost everything working shoulder to shoulder would evoke a powerful sense of community building. But that is not what happened. Always the opportunists, Dick Cheney’s rich cronies at Halliburton have received lucrative no bid contracts to reshape the new New Orleans in the rich man’s image.
While we watch in horror the injustice that is unfolding in the Gulf States, we should remember with shame that it is happening because too many of us are allowing it to happen. All of us bear responsibility. All of us are complicit. Where is the righteous anger? Where is the bold action that the times demand? Where is the accountability? Where is the justice? Where is the truth? Why can’t we direct our anger into channels of constructive action?
The good people of New Orleans are being interned in what are essentially concentration camps around the country. They are treated like criminals—like enemies of the state. Their only crime is that many of them are black; and most of them are poor. They are the disposable population who by their mere existence pose a threat to the comfortable lives of the power brokers in high offices. Once again, as in the case of war, we are witnessing the rich preying upon the poor. Let us remind ourselves that this is a continuation of America’s longest war—the class war.
The Whitehouse response to the Katrina disaster, including a spate of flowery speeches, is nothing more than a public relations campaign. It is shameful window dressing big on talk but short on action. That is how Bushco responds to criticism. Bush talks tough; but his actions, like his policies, do nothing to relieve the angst and suffering of the poor. In fact, his policies, like his predecessors, have created the conditions for what befell the people of the Gulf Coast. And it happened in part because we allowed it to happen.
Charles Sullivan is a furniture maker, photographer, and free lance writer living in the eastern panhandle of geopolitical West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Only the civil need respond.
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