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The Road to Hell
It 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-Garvras film "Amen." Set in the second world war, the action centers around 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
pro-war 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 train.
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 holocaust--another Hitler.
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
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 tell me. Cordially and respectfully, Indiana
Letter from America
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-Garvras. It is a stunning film, and one that all Americans should see. 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 these people.
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, embargos, 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.
© 2003 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted.
Daniel P. Welch
The Greenhouse School
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Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run
School. His columns have also been aired on radio. Others interested in airing the audio version (electronic recording available) please contact the author. Welch speaks several languages and is available for recordings in French, German, Russian and Spanish pending a reliable translation, or, alternatively, telephone interviews in the target language. He has also sung and recited at antiwar events and is available for a limited number of engagements as scheduling permits.