The Road to Hell
By: Daniel Patrick Welch -
is a sad time in my country, as it is around the world. A few days
ago I went with a few friends to see the Costa-Garvas film "Amen."
Set in the second world war, the action centers on an officer in the
hated SS and a Jesuit priest who try to convince the Vatican, Allied
governments and the Germans themselves to intervene against the
slaughter of Jews and others in the camps.
An American, watching this film in the times we are currently
living, cannot avoid seeing the parallels with the current
situation. With all our might, millions of us are fighting to
convince our fellow citizens of the terror of this criminal war, not
only for the victims in Iraq, but also for what it implies for our
future and that of the world at large.
Mideast correspondent Robert Fisk recently wrote a piece on the need
for anti- and prowar forces to "talk to each other."
While I have great respect for Fisk's work, I was terribly
disappointed in the piece, implying as it did a sort of calm,
reasonable conversation over coffee. Along with the whole world, we
have all but given up on the prospect of arguing rationally with
people who don't seem to want to know the truth.
And throughout the world, momentum is building to "talk"
with these people in the only language they will understand. I share
below a discussion with an Argentine friend--and my response--as she
asks questions from a world without hope, questions of a people on
the road to hell who, from all appearances, don't want to stop the
Letter from Argentina
Tell me, Danny: Do
the people of the United States really know what is going on in
Iraq and the reasons for it? Are they aware that the U.S.
population represents a mere 6% of the world population?
Are they aware that participation in presidential elections in the
U.S. barely reaches 30%? This means that 30% of this 6% of
humanity, U.S. citizens, has placed a madman, puppet of the
monopolies, at the head of a genocide which, if allowed to
continue, might well reach the dimensions of the Jewish
Are they aware of the illegitimacy of the action taken and the
consequences that this rage and anti-American feeling, exploding
all over the world, can have on their people and their economy?
Here people are talking seriously about boycotting U.S. goods, a
sort of economic embargo. Yesterday over lunch with my family, we
were thinking and discussing, that maybe the U.S. public knows all
these things and simply doesn't care. Maybe their comfort and
economic benefits are simply more important than the blood of
innocents shed the world over to sustain these privileges.
Danny, forgive me for being so harsh, but I am a Latin American
woman, and our countries have been victims many times, through
local traitors (as was president Menem), of the policies of the
U.S. government, which have led us to the depths of misery.
But governments depend on people to survive, and what I want to
know is can we, the oppressed of the world, trust that one day the
conscience of the U.S. people will awaken, and understand the
responsibility they have to put the brakes on the irrationality
and economic greed of their leaders? There is no other hope for
the world. Otherwise there can be no thought of a "viable"
future for our planet. Will solidarity and empathy some day be
stronger than a full refrigerator, a football game, a new car, and
a fancy house? Do Americans even think of these things? Please
Cordially and respectfully, Indiana
Indiana: I can't
dispute, nor can I describe with complete clarity, the profound
ignorance of my people. Everything you say is correct: that is,
the answer to all your questions can be yes, even though that may
seem self-contradictory in places. The situation is so complex, so
messed up, that it can't be characterized by a single formula. It
has taken fifty years to get to this place in history, a
historical moment where many evil forces are converging.
Your figure of 30% has become something much worse. In the past,
the so-called democracies have prided themselves on being able to
say that at least the candidate who won the "majority"
got the most votes. We may well know that this is a false pride,
but still--it can't be denied that it is even worse when the "winner"
didn't really win.
It is difficult to exaggerate the arrogance and cynicism of a
government "elected" in this manner. Add to the
mix the religious fundamentalism, complicated by the insanity
(frankly, there is no other term for it) of a right-wing junta who
sees nothing beyond their "vision" of a world
remade in their image, the support and influence of fanatical
Likudniks, and you have a very explosive recipe.
But I still haven't addressed the people. The consolidation of the
media in the last twenty years--and its control by corporations
who more often than not are allied with right wing political
forces--has also helped in the creation of this special historical
moment. An economy based almost completely on consumption has
dumbed down the people perhaps more than any other influence. But
this of course doesn't win sympathy for what I call a criminal, "voluntary
stupidity." According to statistics, over 70% of U.S.
households have access to the internet at home. From this figure
alone we can conclude that this ignorance is more or less a
problem of volition--but also one complicated by a culture of
political alienation and a complete lack of a culture of analysis
and critical thought. The people simply no longer "know
how" to think.
Indiana: you must understand that there are millions of us
working, struggling and trying to tell the truth to our fellow
citizens. Maintaining contact with foreign friends (which
describes almost all of my circle of friends lately, it seems) is
to confront an embarrassment almost beyond words. I remember being
in Nicaragua in 1990, where I was fortunate enough to meet a
Panamanian, another "Sandalista" like myself. This was
shortly after the 1989 massacre in Panama by the U.S. "surgical
strike." And in the midst of the current war, few
Americans even know about the escalating war in Colombia.
I find the analogy with Germans in the second world war apt and
instructive, but I would add also even a little more dangerous.
Nazism, at least at the level of state power, was destroyed by the
war. The suppression of German nationalism was perhaps one of the
most important and necessary results of the war--except, of course
that it strengthened the concept of nationalism in general by this
singular example. In contrast to the fall of the Germans, there is
no force large or willing enough to punish the U.S. with the same
effect. It also seems that there may be no war crimes trials, now
that Belgium has changed its own laws to appease the Americans.
Along this line of thinking, we recently saw the movie "Amen,"
by Costa-Garvas. It is a stunning film, and one that all Americans
Many will be moved to tears (as my wife was, even though she is
technically African, not American), not just by the sheer weight
of the story, but the eerie resonance it should have for us at
this time in history, the overwhelming anger and sadness it raises
in the conscience. I don't know how, when, or if we can awaken
But in the long term, I have a sort of grim hope, ironically more
than I have had perhaps ever before. I have been active in
struggles, popular and political, all my adult life, and always
with a conviction that our work may someday benefit our
grandchildren, or theirs. Never in my life would I see the
fundamental changes we were all striving for. But this current
crisis strikes me as so deep, so enormous, that I can now permit
myself to imagine it. Notwithstanding my point above about
immediate punishment, this war marks the beginning of end of the
U.S. as a dominant world power.
Boycotts, sanctions, embargoes, trials and counterattacks will all
start to work their effects. Maybe the U.S. won't be conquered in
the military sense. But if, for example, OPEC decided to peg its
oil to the euro instead of the dollar, the dollar would be
devalued by 40% almost overnight. In any event the euro is gaining
ground and converts, and even today represents a consolidated
market bigger than the U.S. Given that the U.S. economy is so
heavily reliant on conspicuous consumption, it will slowly be
replaced by those of Europe, India, and China. This economic
strangulation is in my view both inevitable and the only means of
bringing the U.S. war machine finally under control.
There is much work to be done to reach this point, and I don't
mean in any way to downplay the necessity of struggle against this
criminal and illegal war in particular, as well as all the misery
spawned by this system. Who knows? It may be the wishful thinking
of one who just wants this nightmare to end. But in some secret
corner of my heart I allow myself a moment of calm, a conviction
that evil will be defeated.
Daniel Patrick Welch,
a contributing writer for Liberal Slant, lives and writes in Salem,
Massachusetts with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run
The Greenhouse School. http://www.volunteersolutions.org/boston/volunteer/agency/one_157700.html
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