Corpses in the Garden
By Charles Sullivan
02/24/06 "ICH" -- -- Knowing what I know about the history of my
country, it is often difficult for me to fathom how my fellow
countrymen have shaped their views. I have come to believe that
they have created a mythical America that is not a real place.
The perceived necessity of substituting a fantasy world for the
real world suggests there is something terribly wrong with the
American psyche. If there are corpses buried in our gardens,
surely they must gnaw at our conscience and produce pathological
behavior, even if we did not put them there. Subconsciously, we
know they are turning in their graves trying to be free. We fear
that they will awaken and climb out of their graves, forcing
their way into our conscience, and revealing our complicity in
the crimes committed in our name.
Pretending that these corpses do not exist leads to a
recklessness of language and perversion of truth that is both
deplorable and manipulative. Denial of this magnitude requires
deliberate and wanton ignorance that can only be based upon
fear. It makes a mockery of our sacred institutions—the
Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Self respect demands that
we know truth and that we always convey truth to the best of our
ability. Living in denial does not serve our cause; it serves
the interest of wealth and power—the plutocracy. A fabricated
life of denial allows the atrocities to continue without anyone
being held accountable.
Imagine what an enigma we are to those people in other parts of
the world who have experienced first hand Pax Americana.
Throughout the world our government is engaged in acts of terror
that inflict misery and suffering upon untold millions of
innocent people. These acts of terror easily dwarf the infamous
events of 9-11 that occurred on our own soil. We are told that
these amoral actions are necessary to protect American
interests. The widely held assumption is that American interests
are noble and high minded; that they have much to do with
democracy and liberation; the florid language of presidents. In
truth, however, American interests are construed to mean
corporate interests. The corporate interest and the welfare of
American citizens must never be confused—they are mutually
To believe that corporate greed is a noble cause intimately
related to human rights requires a leap of faith that is beyond
fantastic. It requires wanton and willful ignorance—the creation
of a fantasy world that can make a miserable existence at least
minimally palatable. Burying our heads in the sand can never
bring us closer to solving the problems exacerbated by denial,
nor can it provide a means of attaining social justice or
ecological health. Denial is the most dangerous and delusional
form of ignorance.
Eventually we will have to exhume the corpses that refuse to
stay buried in our gardens. Truth always finds the cracks in the
walls of denial we have built in our minds. Little by little it
oozes out and destroys our most cherished delusions about who we
are. The fruit it bears are a poison to the soul. Truth is
self-exhuming, self extracting.
The corpses of millions of American Indians lie restive in the
dark recesses of the earth; a story told but as yet unheard.
Among the living dead are political prisoners who were executed
by the state, whose roll call includes the names of Joe Hill,
Albert Parsons and Vincent St. John, and a litany of others.
Like the corymbs of splendid Orchid buried deep in the nurturing
soil, lie the tormented corpses of the strange fruit that hung
from southern poplar trees, with bulging eyes and twisted
mouths, the scent of magnolia clean and fresh; the sudden smell
of burning flesh. Their angst-ridden souls still haunt the
sultry summer nights of the Deep South, impatient in their quest
for justice. Divested of their humanity, these nameless men,
women and children were recorded in their master’s ledgers as
mere property, and accorded a dollar value on a par with
inanimate objects such as plows and hammers.
America’s enormous wealth was built upon the labor of millions
of slaves at a human cost that is beyond calculation. Some of
the most highly esteemed names in the country accumulated their
fortunes in this damnable manner. Many of them still hold
important seats of power in government to this day, and play key
roles in shaping current domestic and foreign policy. The
descendants of slave owners in Alabama and Mississippi may be
driving the enslavement of people of Middle Eastern descent.
Surely, this is no accident. It is the continuation of an
abominable racist policy called Manifest Destiny carried
These heinous events are but a small sampling of America’s
obscured history. As a people we must summon the courage of
reconciliation with our past. A cultural reckoning is imperative
if we are to comprehend what America really is, as well how and
why we came to this place in the present. Burying the mutilated
corpses and desecrating their unmarked graves under tons of
asphalt and concrete, just as our ancestors abused them in life,
assures that our national conscience will be haunted by the
specters our ancestors created and unleashed upon the world.
Asphalt and concrete will not keep them in their graves. They
know how to rise and they will do it.
Only the full acknowledgment of these monstrous events can
emancipate us from our past. Pretending they didn’t happen will
not make them go away. America was built upon an unbroken chain
of events like these which continue to this day. The torture and
abuse of prisoners in Abu Graiab are connected to the lynchings
of the Deep South a century ago. The abuse will not stop until
there is a reckoning followed by reparations. As a people we
must take ownership of the things our ancestors did because they
are a cleared path that leads to the crimes against humanity
that are occurring today in our names. Understanding current
events in the context of history allows us to see without
obstruction what is happening and why it is happening. Seeing
history in this manner may thus help us to avoid the pitfalls
that have troubled us in the past.
Fortunately, while our history has been one of brutality and
unspeakable cruelty, it is also a history of resistance—a
history of movements and hope. It is the kind of history that
has been deliberately suppressed by those who write history
precisely because it inspires the kind of hope that motivates
and moves people from the realm of rhetoric into the theater of
action. Action occurs at the interface of convention and social
change; and it is all that has ever changed the world.
Those who record written history do so from the perspective of
the conquerors, rather than the vanquished. It terrifies them
whenever the other side of the story is told because it intrudes
upon their delusion. When this happens a truth is revealed that
conflicts with everything we have been told about America—a
truth the historians of conquest and empire desperately want to
keep hidden. Their dilemma is that the truth will not stay
buried. It constantly threatens to awake, to expose their
omissions and lies.
Awakening of this kind poses a threat to the established order,
even as it promises a new order based upon social justice rather
than exploitation and gluttony. It is a truth that menaces the
myths surrounding war and conquest by bringing the ugliness of
their real motives to the light of day and public ridicule.
Truth is all powerful and all revelatory. Those who do not have
it on their side may prevail for a while longer; but in the long
run they will succumb to reality. The counterfeit cannot long
endure the scrutiny and judgment of truth.
Reality, truth, exists apart from the human imagination as well
as within it. They are a spirit that is imprinted indelibly upon
the bedrock of time, as if etched in stone. They are a story
that not only must be told—they are a story that will be told.
Burying them under volumes of myth and bravado will not make
them lie still and quiet in their graves. They will awaken and
tell their story whether we want to know them or not. No force
on earth can make them lie still until their lessons have been
Viewed in the context of history, current events lose their
ability to deceive. We see them exactly as they are, vulnerable
and naked, and indefensible as doctrines of a civilized culture;
always in stark contrast to what we are told. Truth, and only
truth, will set us free.
So let the corpses in our gardens rise. They are trying to tell
us something that may make our survival possible.
Charles Sullivan is a photographer and free lance writer
living in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. He welcomes
your comments at
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