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Dissent in the United States 

“If you don’t love this country, get the f--- out!”

By James Rothenberg

08/10/05 "ICH" -- -- It is better to be wrong and having to explain why you were for non-violence in the world when it turned out that violence was the proper mode, than be wrong and having to explain why you were for violence when it turned out that non-violence was the proper mode. 

Has nothing much changed since March 2003? That mushroom cloud turned out to have zero degrees of probability, and as to the whereabouts of the weapons of mass destruction…maybe Judith Miller knows. Real inner circle guys like Paul O’Neil and Richard Clarke said some highly unflattering things about this administration, but you know how people talk after they leave the job. And you couldn’t miss the prison torture pictures, not from anywhere on this planet. Nor those nasty explosions from those ungrateful insurgents who wouldn’t recognize freedom if it was hanging from a flagpole. Still, considering what is going on in the world, and specifically in Iraq, there is a real quiet here. 

Most of our politicians say they are against a draft, and let’s accept that for a moment. I’m going to speculate, though, that our country’s rulers are against it for a very specific reason – that they would never be able to get away with what they’ve been getting away with if there was a draft, because the campuses would have stopped this thing by now, maybe not even have allowed it to begin. No draft equals quiet campuses, and quiet campuses equal a quiet country. 

Bush said he wants America to be the best place to do business with in the world. It’s the only thing he’s ever said that I believe. But as good as that is for some, it isn’t enough to kill for, and it isn’t enough to die for. 

“Support our troops”, despite its benign-sounding inclusiveness, is not a neutral statement. As our new, federal slogan, it makes “our troops” inseparable from the government that commands them, leading to high cynicism; the near impossibility of our troops not being supported should they be doing rescue work, or genuine humanitarian protection, or genuinely defending the people of this country; and the deflection of valid criticisms, such as the war’s blatant manufacture, its illegality and immorality, a crime of the highest order – by keeping the focus on our troops who are doing the sacrificing – in effect, the government hiding behind the skirts of the troops while sacrificing them. 

The “War on Terror” is not really a war, and it’s certainly not on terror. It’s a brand. If the government was selling it for $$ it would have a logo. Instead they’re pitching it for obedience. Do what we say, and we’ll keep on keeping you safe from those terrorists. Only we know where a lot of terrorists are, and we know where they cash their checks. This is unofficial. Officially, we cannot commit terrorism because our State Department restricts it, by definition, to the sub-national level. Anyway, as I write this the brand is getting a little worn so the “War on Terror” is in the shop for a nomenclature change. 

Freedom. Liberty. Democracy. Service. Flag. Honor. Country. All terms such as these default back to the government, as if licensed. A recent United States Golf Association publication contains an article about a staff employee now deployed in Iraq as part of the Army Reserves. He writes a letter back home to his friends at work. “Our missions range from taking soldiers in and around the Forward Operating Bases (FOB), to transporting U.S. and Iraqi Generals, political dignitaries, celebrities, prisoners, assault insertions and what we call Hero missions (our fallen comrades).” He says there are some beautiful areas, some of which would make for great golf courses, like Arizona. He commends the Iraqi people for their simplicity, intelligence, resourcefulness, bravery and pride. “It’s good to see the smiling faces of kids as you go by. It helps to know that we are doing some good and hopefully winning the minds and hearts of the young.” The article is titled, Honoring His Country. 

I hope he is winning some minds and hearts, and I certainly do not question his honor. But there are others that have seen too many lost ,young minds and stilled, young hearts to go on believing that. They’re the soldiers of conscience who oppose the war on moral grounds and, rather than go on participating in it, risk court martial or jail. Can anyone imagine a prominent employer referring to them as “honoring their country”? 

The first example “honors his country”. The qualification for this is doing what you are told. Anybody who goes off to war and does what they are told qualifies for this distinction, even if the country is dishonoring itself, because there is no higher authority to pass judgment on this. The second example “dishonors his country” simply by insisting that his country stand for what it professes to stand for. One is honoring dishonor, which is dishonorable. One is dishonoring dishonor, which is honorable. It may be good logic, but try telling that to a judge. All wars are fought with the same rules. Pin medals on those who fight, and jail those who refuse. In some less free countries, it’s worse than jail. 

A car spoke to me from its bumper sticker the other day: “If you don’t love this country, get the f--- out!” It also had a lot of flags on it. I don’t own an American flag, never felt the need. A lot of people have one at their house, usually just one. When the president speaks on TV he is surrounded by flags, more than I can count, and then that one on his lapel. Anyway, though the sticker creator could be expected to disagree, this bumper sticker delivers the unmistakable message – the country belongs to the people who do what they are told. 

Some caution against allowing dissenters a sole presence, yet no amount of room could begin to rival the everpresence of the state. Systems of power, even democracies, are designed to maintain control over the public arena. Harold Lasswell wrote that with the rise of democracy, “propaganda attains eminence as the one means of mass mobilization which is cheaper than violence, bribery or other possible control techniques.” Is there a clearer and more effective example of this than the song/phrase, God Bless America? 

The presidential administration uses (and as we know now, abuses) CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and yes, even PBS. I won’t even mention FOX because they’ve been deputized. If Bush and Co. have a propaganda message, it takes the form of an official press release, goes out on the wires, and is promptly featured in our respected daily newspapers. 

Suppose everything the administration has said about the war has been a lie. Just suppose for a minute. Suppose they had other motivations all along. How would you know about it? Who could have told you that you would have believed? Not some anti-war person. They’re always a little scuzzy, aren’t they? When one of our national heroes, such as Colin Powell, says Iraq is coming after us, who are you going to believe… him, or some scuzzy member of some antiwar group? Well everyone should know by now that Powell said he was not going to read that “bullshit” before the UN, but then, like the good, plantation “house nigger” that Harry Belafonte compared him to, he read it anyway. 

Rather than wait 30 years or so for Powell, or Cheney, or Wolfowitz, or Rumsfeld, or Franks, or Myers, or Rice, or Feith, or Libby, or Perle, or Bolton, or the brothers Bush, (I’ll stop here but it’s so hard to leave people out), to make a McNamara-like confession of sorts, maybe we should pay more attention to those who bring alternative views right now. 

Public opinion polls are a little confusing, but it’s fair to say they are at least mixed on Iraq. Opinions are sort of like the past two presidential elections…statistical ties. How mixed do you think opinions would be, though, if the public was not subjected to such an intensive propaganda campaign, brought to you by the people who can sell anything and boast openly about it. And what do you think the mix of your own community would be if spared that onslaught? 

So look what we have here. On one side there is the federal government – Bush and all his “earned political capital” from the statistical tie, Senators Schumer and Clinton who didn’t oppose the war when it might have done some good, and still can’t seem to oppose it, Congressman Sweeney, touchingly sensitive to the plight of horses yet mute on the life and death of Iraqis (and to think, we’re this close to Congressman Hinchey) – this imbalance of power that justifies the unjustifiable, so that the war will seem worth it, the fight a good one, the lives lost not in vain. 

On the other side, there are a few people standing on corners and in parks, doing what you would be doing if you believed that any life lost in service to an unprovoked act of aggression, a grab, an investment, is a life lost in vain. They’re protesting. 

Albert Einstein called racism our national disease. In a similar but narrower vein, I’ll offer what I consider to be our national, political disease: hypocrisy. And for the national hypocrisy, the pledge of allegiance, notably the phrases, “for which it stands”, and “under God”. 

If we live in a country with the widest disparity between rich and poor of any country in the world, with large numbers from both classes behind bars – the poor in their prisons and the rich in their gated communities – and national economic policy is to accelerate the pace of that widening gap; if we commit the “supreme international crime” of waging aggressive war, pretending we are freeing a people whose dead and mutilated we can’t be bothered to count; if we bomb Iraqi hospitals with children in them while prosecuting Americans who dare sneak vital medicines into Iraq; if our government plants fake “news” stories here at home while killing real journalists elsewhere; if our biggest problem with prison torture is the damn digital camera that revealed it, if this is what our republic is “standing for”, then what’s the difference if it’s under God or not? 

Shortly after the invasion began, a grieving Iraqi father asked, “Why didn’t the British and American people stop their leaders from doing this?” He had a right to be asking this question that goes beyond the obvious one. Those that live under repression in military or police dictatorships, or under totalitarian regimes, have scant chance to stop their leaders from doing anything. He is well aware of the glorified traditions of law in Great Britain and the United States, and the legendary freedoms enjoyed in these countries. Certainly he would have been in no position to stop his own leader from doing anything. But the people of Great Britain and the United States? Surely they could have done something, he thinks. If only for this father, at this time, in this country, dissent is the only real badge of honor one can wear.

James Rothenberg.  <jrothenberg@taconic.net>

Copyright: James Rothenberg

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