The United States' most plentiful and seemingly inexhaustible national resource is collective denial. I have an acquaintance whose son, a senior in college (not high school mind you, but college) only recently found out about global warming. Another acquaintance, when asked what she thought of the war in Afghanistan said, "Oh, I didn't know we were still at war there." Show the average soccer Mom (or Dad) a picture of a dead Iraqi baby and their likely response will be to head for the nearest mall to do some serious therapeutic shopping. If only we could fuel our SUVs with willful ignorance we might be able to quit marauding around the globe in search of other people's oil.
Some forty years ago our corporately controlled government instigated an illegal war of aggression in Vietnam. In the last five years, having learned nothing from our own forgotten history, we have allowed a similar cabal to launch major wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, there were many brutal imperialist transgressions in the years in between. Add to these facts our refusal to acknowledge what is arguably one of the most damaging foreign policy commitments of our time, the United States' unquestioning support of Israel's colonization of Palestine, and the pattern is clear. We have an overwhelming willingness as a nation to ignore the immoral actions of our ruling class and a disastrous ability to deny the consequences of those actions.
The recent feel-good moment of an end to the Republican domination of Congress has resulted in victory parties and backslapping the likes of which we haven't seen since Clinton defeated Papa Bush. The results are going to be just as illusory in the long run. The glow of economic prosperity in the 90s facilitated, while at the same time obscured, the rise to prominence of the more overt corporate wing of the Democratic Party. The conservative revolution may have suffered a temporary setback but the smiling face of fascism (originally defined by Benito Mussolini as the partnership between government and corporations) continued to shine. Different corporate lackeys, similar agenda. Meanwhile the American people stocked up on gas-guzzling mini-vans and large screen TVs. Our "gimme gimme, more more" culture of denial always manages to thrive.
The image of Democrats with subpoena power has progressives drooling over the prospect of accountability in government, while they remain conveniently oblivious to the fact that corporate lobbyists have already begun to redeploy. Defense industry shills have been in bed with both parties for so long they won't even need to change the sheets. According to The New York Times, at a recent strategy session of drug company lobbyists in Washington D.C. there was much hand wringing and consternation about the future of the most profitable industry in the world: legalized drugs. It comes as no surprise that a major biotechnology firm has already hired as a lobbyist George Crawford, a former chief of staff for Representative Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House. The pharmaceutical giant Merck hired Peter Rubin, a former aide to Democratic Representative Jim McDermott of Washington state. There is certain to be enough graft and corruption to keep the Democratic Party's troughs full, and no shortage of swine to belly up to them.
Empty rhetoric about enabling Medicare to negotiate drug prices is one of the latest sound bites that assuages progressives. Yippee! Future drug company lobbyists currently working for the government will be able to negotiate cheaper prices for those overpriced and often unnecessary drugs the pharmaceutical industry hawks to us. Not that this will help the average working stiff. National health care? Democrats won't take that one on anytime soon. But they'll be more than willing to engage in back room negotiations with insurance industry representatives. Corporate money may change pockets; it will never stop changing hands.
The brief sigh of national relief we allowed ourselves when the carnage in Vietnam finally bled itself out may have been mildly cathartic, but it was premature. There were many more episodes of aggression yet to air in the lead up to the imperialist insanity we are now witnessing in Iraq. And you won't want to miss next season's thrilling premiere, "Attack on Iran." Yet the root causes of the mayhem we unleashed in Southeast Asia, the specter of American imperialism and corporate hegemony, went unaddressed in the rush to put the human costs of that nightmare behind us. We didn't even attempt to treat the disease, preferring instead to mask our symptoms with the flowery rhetoric of denial. We put a large portion of Vietnam veterans out into the streets to become an army of invisible homeless.
For civilians, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. became a silent repository for the anguish and sorrow of a generation intent on ignoring the reasons why those names are etched in granite in the first place. It would have been a more constructive national monument if instead of the names of the dead it had the words of journalist I.F. Stone chiseled into it 58,195 times: "Governments lie." The families of the deceased might have benefited more in the long run from making tracings of that message of truth to take home and frame on their living room walls.
Then there is the giant elephant in the Middle East: Israel, the Jewish state. Even within the anti-war movement the mantra of Israel's right to defend itself rolls blithely off the tongue in complete abandonment of any notion of human rights or social justice for the Palestinian people. Few care to admit that until Israel is compelled to mete out racially impartial justice to the Palestinians whose lands they have colonized and occupied for the last sixty years (with our full support and encouragement) there will be no peace in the Middle East.
Israel's illegal colonization of the West Bank, those infamous "facts on the ground" that Zionists hoped would make the establishment of an independent Palestinian state an impossibility, have succeeded. Israel has created a brutal system of apartheid in Palestine that ultimately may bring about an end to the misguided dream of a Jewish state. The final outcome is liable to be modeled on the South African example instead. The "Promised Land" could become one Palestinian state governed by a Palestinian majority that with any luck will be more beneficent than their Jewish counterparts. Jews might one day find in the lands of their biblical forebears a refuge from centuries of persecution. The irony would be if it is the Palestinian people they have to depend on to provide them that refuge.
But all other policy considerations aside, the real tragedy concerning Israel is the willingness of its supporters to deny that Zionism is a morally bankrupt ideology with blatant racism at its core. The Nazis claimed to have been the "superior race." How is that statement anything but an echo of the Jews' claim to be "God's chosen people?" What then does God choose for the Palestinians: ethnocide and oppression in a series of bantustan-like ghettos? The reality is that any solution to the conflict in Palestine which leaves a Zionist nation in its wake will be little more than a temporary accommodation. Israel as a Jewish state will remain a ticking time bomb of racial intolerance waiting to explode. Eventually it will have to be disarmed.
Likewise, any attempted solution to the problem of America's rampaging foreign policy, say in the guise of the election of Democrats instead of Republicans, which leaves a corporate-dominated (read that as "fascist") state behind will do little more than shuffle the reigns of power. As long as corporate rights trump human rights and the military industrial complex holds sway over national and international policy, the United States' wars of aggression, both over and covert, will continue unabated around the globe.
Tune your radio to the local classic rock station (most likely owned by Clear Channel) and listen to some old-time rock n roll. It won't be long before you hear Peter Townsend wailing over the strains of a loud guitar, "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss," and "... pray we don't get fooled again." But it's not a matter of us being fooled. It's a matter of us closing our eyes. The catastrophic results of imperialism, fascism and racism are all around us. We just choose to ignore them.
The good news is, though it may sound naively optimistic, I believe a tradition of dissent is a resource that is also in no short supply in the United States, along with a dormant seed of revolutionary zeal. We are an independent and ornery bunch who don't like to be told what to do. We will remain complacent in our denial up to a point. But once our dissatisfaction with the status quo reaches a critical mass, finding a few million of us willing to show up in Washington D.C. to take back our government, peacefully and nonviolently, won't be difficult. Resistance is as much a part of our cultural mythology as is 'truth, justice and the American way."
The American dream, in all its various philosophical incarnations, is not so much a failed ideology as it is an illusory history that has never actually been implemented. The concept of an egalitarian nation serving as a beacon for the world rather than the predatory corporate plutocracy we have become has a certain appeal. Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western Civilization answered, "I think it would be an excellent idea." Maybe we should give that notion a try.
Joe Mowrey is a peace and social justice activist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Among his other relentlessly futile endeavors, he is one of a small contingent of diehards who have maintained a presence at a major intersection in town every Friday for the last four years in opposition to the illegal and immoral invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also manages the database and produces the graphics for the Iraq-Afghanistan Memorial Installation, a 450-foot-long (and growing) series of 3x6 foot vinyl banners displaying the names, faces and obituaries of the U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Installation is a project of the Santa Fe Chapter of Veterans for Peace.