« Belated Memorial Day Missive »

As a belated Memorial Day missive, indulge me. The words below are all mine, but were brought about by reading the words of Stan Goff, who to me is a great American, a man of integrity. Consider: his essay was published in late 2003, just about eight months into this war. Now that we have the Iraqi My Lai that was pretty much inevitable, Goff's early statement resounds prophetically—not just in his vision for what might happen in this terrible war, but the message to his audience—hang on to your humanity. I was inspired to write a little something to reflect on the topic of Memorial Day. I don't get rosy about it. I get riled up because to me it is disingenuous to forget what war really is, and to gloss over it. It is a sad way of answering problems. It is a way to get perfectly good people dead. It is a total squandering of life. And these days, sadly, a battlefield injury that once was fatal might be survived now, and the reduced-human (think of Joe Bonham in "Johnny Got His Gun") that survives the trauma should be a living reminder to us how horrible it is that war is allowed to serve as a part of the "civilized" world. The idea of a just war, or a "good war" of any sort is a lie. It was a lie when that reasoning was first devised, and it is more so now. So, no feel-good, nationalistic cheerleading drivel from me.

My pacifism is derived from my faith in Christ, who by my understanding, would be intolerant of any of this we now know. Based on his response to Roman empire, I extrapolate that the current worldwide empire, the United States, would be frowned upon in similar fashion, and devoted followers would be led to act in ways that don't play to that system's benefit if it comes at the expense of the marginalized and downtrodden. I see little or no attempt to seriously address the needs of the marginalized in this country (which is fast becoming everyone but for the wealthiest 10% of the nation). Ergo, I find my allegiance is not drawn toward Caesar George, but to the Christ. They are different, after all.

For what did he die, if not to convince us to live out better lives?

Goff doesn't mention peak oil (Google it!) here though he does call out this war as part of the task of securing energy resources from competitors—consistent with the goals of the Project for the New American Century, and sadly, it's consistent with the needs of the dominant culture, not just a handful of extremists who previously could not get an audience in Washington. The war seems to be solidly an act of imperial desperation which is fought to stave off oil and gas resource competition in the age of permanent decline and ultimate depletion, and to put on a show of force meant to dissuade other nations from abandoning the dollar as the world's reserve currency. A war of this sort is cowardly, not mighty. It is the act of a desperate nation on its way to the dustbin of history. Selling out its own people to conquer other lands is a sure failure, and many fallen empires can teach us this. Empires drain their homeland for the chance to subdue other nations. It's a shame that history has taken a back seat as a subject of study. Maybe it's time that we remember the fates of Rome, Britain, Spain, Germany, Japan, and the USSR. Imperial overreach and collapse. I don't suspect, given our current course in the world, that there will be many who shed tears for the USA when our time comes. And tangibly worse, there won't be a Marshall Plan for this nation when we finally lead the pack toward financial wipeout in part because of worldwide depletion of resources—a new thing in the history of the world. One of the problems of our go-it-alone approach to conducting our affairs is that when we are alone, we will be alone—a condition of our own devising.

The rhetoric is that this nation was founded as a Christian nation. Nonsense. It never was, and never will be. So let's stop worrying about it because it is just a smokescreen. However, right now, any true Christian and sober-thinking person of any persuasion among us needs to seriously question the fact that our national military budget is $450 BILLION dollars! (This, I hear, does not include the actual spending on the wars we fight.) I have to contend that spending that sort of money on tools of war and other related uses is completely at cross odds with anything Christian! The Christian thing to do, if there is any seriousness in the rhetoric, is to channel such money into our own people, institutions, and culture in ways that help us retain and delight in our humanity. Old Ike said, "Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed." Dr. King said what we need isn't a Christian nation, but a just one.

Just remember, your name and mine are on all these things that are sowing destruction in Iraq, these things that supposedly are being used to win the hearts and minds of the countries we occupy. I contend we need to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis because the people in Washington and other positions of power have lost theirs entirely. But let that be them, not you and me.

But really, anyone can blame politicians. It comes easily, doesn't it? All of us need to reflect on what it is we contribute to this mess. Have we done well enough to contemplate our energy use and consumption of all things? Have we really, as individuals and institutions, made the best decisions? Do those decisions reach beyond what is good for this fiscal quarter? Do our "leaders" act on our behalf because they assume that most of us would be unable to change our ways of life after a lucrative century of being transformed from "citizen" to "consumer"? There is more to protest than war, and unfortunately, it does require examination of our own individual motives. What I believe must be protested is the lifestyle that drives us to that sorry end (war). If the American way of life has become one of ethical slovenliness, greed, empty hedonism and forgetting our humanity while making a profit, is that one worth fighting for, at great expense in every way? Is fighting the only way we can carry on this way of life? What happened to diplomacy? Why do the social services suffer here while we can somehow afford to destroy nations on the other side of the earth? (I've lost two social service jobs in the time since this war started—the only two jobs I ever loved because they were decidedly unproductive by nature—only of service to those in need.) The average American does not want this if it were presented plainly, but the average American also, for whatever reason, turns a blind eye and makes decisions out of fear of the loss of entitlements and status that once were luxuries to earlier generations in this same country. Can it be that our love of luxury is driving our "leadership" to acts of desperation so that we can continue this way of life? If it will benefit them for one more fiscal quarter or for a lifetime, I think so.

Do any of us really stop to understand the web of influence that connects our wallets to the war? And the same web which connects the war to homeless folks on our streets or the massive failure that led to the catastrophe of New Orleans? Do we understand how our daily choices in markets send the signals that ultimately drive immigrants across "our" borders and take "our" entitlements? I find our immigration "crisis" to be not unlike the war in Iraq, fought on our borders and in our cities. The similarity resides in how we strip others of their humanity, and how we do it at tremendous expense to our own people which in turn robs us of our humanity. What does it matter whether we lob rockets and mortars at these people or take away their hopes, or both? Either way, is this something we should be proud of and hold up as our great way of life? Is that the business we are in now? Stripping people of dignity? Community? Opportunity? Health? Wealth? Again, the money we put toward defending our nation from the displaced peasants of the Latin American nations is money that maybe we could use for more productive work so we could be the America I know we all wish we were.

The Iraq war and the immigration issue are tearing this nation asunder and both are tremendous distractions from what we really need to be paying attention to. Consider it a worldwide sleight of hand. Our national treasury is being drained of funds to fight non-enemies on your dime and mine while people who wipe their asses with $100 bills are making out like the bandits they are. The more distracted you and I are from understanding peak oil, global warming, media complacency, the real cause of 9/11, terrorism, cronyism, religious fundamentalism burying science, geopolitical strife, genetically modified food/organisms, the teetering dollar, displaced peasant farmers in the first-world-created "third world," pharmaceutical industry funny business, pillage of social programs, skyrocketing debt, and a host of other issues, the easier it is for them to carry on with this sort of stuff while flying under the radar. Distractions abound. Like Dorothy was told, "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" Don't blame David Copperfield if one day the Statue of Liberty disappears. You could figure that out by establishing who needs the copper, or who wants to steal liberty. And, the sad thing is, unlike a Copperfield television extravaganza, the real disappearance of the Statue of Liberty and all it stands for will not be televised. The less you and I know, the easier it is to pull it off. All that is required is some smoke and mirrors, and a sleight of hand.

Maybe men of war and outlandish profit need to be let down. Maybe we need to make them wrong about it all. Maybe our national actions, now predicated on the expectation that Americans are mindless consuming drones who gave up principled life for convenience and security, are predicated on a faulty premise that one day will hold no merit. The cost of their being right is too great. Maybe it is time that we all do assess our addictions to goods and services. Maybe it's time we assess our Frankenstein's Monster that we have created by habit formed one purchase at a time. One car trip at a time. One choice at a time. The empire they control was put together one purchase at a time. With concentrated will, it can be deconstructed the same way, or it can all run itself aground like most large man-made social experiments do after they exhaust their own lifeblood. A great man I know has repeatedly said, "a culture of success will collapse of its own weight." Forget about a top-down solution to problems of this sort. The "top" is the problem that got us here. Media, advertising, industry, politicians all want to help us forget how to live like humans. They need us to be at war with one another so they may thrive. But, to borrow Stan Goff's words, hold on to your humanity.

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