To A 'Broken'
By Joe Gannon
02/09/07 "ICH" -- - News and photos of the big anti-war
march in Washington D.C. and the Valley last week
brought to mind Colin Powell and Henry David Thoreau.
It was Powell who warned President Bush in 2002 that if
the U.S. "broke" Iraq by invading it, the U.S. would own
that broken wreck. It was also Powell, of course, whose
pernicious testimony before the United Nations helped
the United States do precisely that: leave Iraq a broken
wreck which will not be mended any time soon.
And yet I find myself in complete agreement with Powell:
Republican or Democrat, southern conservative or Valley
liberal, the United States as a nation "broke" Iraq and
now we "own" it -- not its oil, not its land, not its
people: we own the wreckage.
And whether you're a "stay the course" die hard or a
"troops out now" dissenter, those opposing camps are
conjoined twins on one issue: neither believes that we
own the wreckage in Iraq. The former wants to hand the
bloody mess over to the Iraqis themselves, (They stand
up, we stand down); and the latter wants to hand it over
to some imaginary U.N. or Arab force. (As if the world
will take ownership or our wreckage.)
Dispirited by the inability of either camp to put forth
any plan which places the Iraqi people at its center,
and thus claim the wreckage which engulfs them, I turned
Good ole Henry David. The Massachusetts born and bred
radical whose seminal "On Civil Disobedience", first
published in 1849, echoed so strongly down the decades
it inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
The pamphlet began as a speech Thoreau gave to explain
why he spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll
tax levied by Congress to finance the war against
Mexico, which annexed the southwest and California to
the stars and stripes. He refused to pay the tax because
he believed the war to be "illegal", a mere land grab.
(And don't Senators Hilary Clinton and John Kerry wish
they'd been so brave?)
This story could end there, except Thoreau was such a
citizen of the world, he took it one radical step
In a passage which could not but take the breath away of
any American who reads it today, Thoreau used the
metaphor of a drowning man to explain the duty of all
citizens to overthrow both slavery and the war against
Mexico, though both profited their nation: "If I have
unjustly wrestled a plank from a drowning man, I must
restore it to him, though I drown myself…(The American
people) must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on
Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a
Who among us today, left, right or center, would make
such a claim in regards to owning the wreck we have made
of Iraq? We accept the benefits of being the lone
hyper-power in the world (we are 5 % of Earth's
population yet consume 25 % of it resources), but when
it comes to Iraq we either blame it on their President
Bush, or assure ourselves that our candidate will make
it all right somehow so long as we get out fast.
Yet here again Thoreau already awaits us with a mirror
held up to our double standards. Referring to the
selection of presidential candidates by "editors and
politicians by profession" he condemns the sovereign
citizenry who wash their hands of true responsibility by
"adopt(ing) one of the candidates thus selected as the
only available one, thus proving that he is himself
available for any purposes…" of that candidate.
"Any purposes" including, not so much wrestling a plank
from a drowning Iraq as climbing out of the pool
altogether, but nevertheless watching Iraq drown.
I believe Henry David Thoreau would not have approved of
America's withdrawing from Iraq, because he would have
known that once out we will wash our hands of it, and
only tsk-tsk at the carnage we see on our televisions.
He would've wanted America to pour its wealth and
well-being into that wreckage even if it cost us our
existence, because he knew what we have forgotten:
Politics is not about policies domestic and foreign, not
about sticking it to conservatives or liberals: it is
about our own souls, and the soul of our nation.
Joe Gannon, teacher and writer, can be reached at