all these years, it still amazes how Americans
can remain so disconnected from the world events
in which we play so central a role. I use the
term "world events" loosely, since the US today
seems to have lost even its historically tenuous
connections with the reality of the rest of the
world. We continue to call our baseball championships
the World Series, oblivious to how quaint and
naive, at best--or arrogant and self-absorbed,
at worst--it has always seemed to the rest of
the world. This has been the hallmark of Americans'
role in the world--a curious blend of ubiquitous
involvement paired with near-total ignorance.
the lovable galumpfing innocent act has worn thin
around the world--innocents don't usually oust
your elected leaders and install their own puppets--and
its charm, if it ever had any, is no longer. Yet
the national stupidity persists, facilitated by
its enablers in the headline-addicted US press
establishment, to the detriment of the American
reputation around the world. Consider these gems
from recent press accounts of the massacre in
the Mansur district of Baghdad: "Oh So Close,"
chirped half a dozen tabloids. So close to what,
exactly? Genocide? A War Crimes Tribunal?
The reference to a botched raid on a house where
Saddam "may have been hiding" was to how close
our liberators came to catching The Beast. The
press has so completely given itself over to Pentagon
propaganda that they can't even see red flags
where they should, sort of like a Bizzarro Running
of the Bulls. Before the monotony set in, my ears
perked up at the tedious repetition of the obviously
planted party line: how US forces had come within
twenty-four hours of catching Hussein's security
detail, "...and possibly even the deposed dictator
my excitement! Almost! Very close! How dumb do
you have to be to infer correctly that, in the
pathologically dishonest code of the worst administration
in history, as phrase as weak as "possibly even"
should translate as "definitely not." Almost,
we have learned, only counts in horshoes and WMDs.
from Paul Simon lyrics, the other reference unzipping
itself from the archive of my subconscious was
the memory of Winston Smith, Orwell's everyman
from 1984, sitting and playing chess while listening
to broadcasts of how Big Brother would cleverly
defeat the enemy. The parallel is chilling, and
makes me wonder what kind of personal hell we
are each supposed to go through before we all
finally love Big Brother.
stupid do they think we are?," the question fairly
screams in our minds. Apparently exactly as stupid
as we have proven to be after all these years.
Orwell's Goldstein expounded that he who controls
the present controls the past, and he who controls
the past controls the future. Of course, 1984
was at least partly fiction, a figment of Orwell's
fertile communist imagination. We never got to
see the other side of the story Winston weaves
into a stunning triumph for Big Brother.
this reality, at least for now, we are indeed
privy to the rest of the story. We have access
to front line reports of the massacre that unfolded
under the name of this botched raid. The Independent's
Robert Fisk takes a different line than the oft-repeated
Fish Story: Troops Turn Botched Raid into Massacre.
"At least one civilian car caught fire, cremating
its occupants," reports Fisk. One civilian was
brought to Yarmouk hospital "with his brain outside
of his head." Well, Emily Latilla would have remarked
before issuing her trademark "Never mind," "That's
the Fish Story about "the one that got away" is
more compelling in our national, self-delusional
narrative than the truth, and far easier to digest.
But nobody needs a doctor to tell them that whether
something tastes good is not the best proof that
it is safe to eat. Likewise, Americans should
be careful to trace how this poisonous story was
deceptively sweetened into a near triumph--especially
when, under the icing, it reveals an unmitigated
veneer, our seemingly unending capacity to stay
Still Stupid After All These Years, allows our
governments literally to get away with murder.
It allows us to ignore the roots of hatred and
distrust in the region, from the CIA ouster of
the elected but unacceptably socialist government
of Mohamad Mossadegh in 1953. Equally forgotten
is the US installation of the Shah's brutal regime
and tireless efforts to prop up repressive governments
throughout the Gulf, including Hussein himself.
He who controls the past....
of course, Goldstein collides with Santayana at
some inevitable point. We appear to be indeed
condemned to repeat the closed loop of Occupation
101. The language of imperial conquest is always
the same: liberation, civilization, democratization...all
hopelessly self-aggrandizing concepts to the families
of the victim "with his brain outside of his head."
The stupidity gene has been equally inherited
by both major parties over the years, despite
the current mutation into the truly monstrous.
Nonetheless, one of the most rational calls comes
from Democratic presidential candidate Dennis
Kucinich, who suggests withdrawing US troops,
turning over reconstruction (and contracting)
over to the UN, and making the Administration
pay for the reconstruction its bombing made necessary.
Cheney's personal fortune should cover a chunk
of it. Sound advice that won't be followed--Simon's
lyrics give way to Pete Seeger's, in the plaintive,
almost mournful chorus to "Where Have All the
Flowers Gone?," a song he wrote in the wake of
his indictment by the Unamerican Activities Commission
in 1955: "When will we ever learn/Oh when will
we ever learn?"
2003 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission
lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA,
with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together
they run The Greenhouse School. He has appeared
on radio [interview available here] Past articles,
translations are available at danielpwelch.com.
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August 11, 2003