Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. The rigged two-party shell game has, exactly twice, by my count, been forced to slay The Beast, or at least to lull it to sleep for another few decades. One was the historic liberal-left alliance that produced the New Deal. It was the communist left, in large measure, that organized the CIO and made Roosevelt's mass strategy feasible despite enormous opposition from within the ruling class. The other was the valiant (or tainted, or cynical, depending on your perspective -- though certainly belated) attempt to end American Apartheid via the Voting Rights Act.
Both have stuck in the craw of the Right from the very moment of their conception, and both inherently suggest the untapped power that could be brought to bear to bring this generation's runaway train to a halt. Alas, it is not to be, barring some unforeseen miracle. The Democrats, and here I am including the as-yet-unawakened voters, have once again mistaken the enormous elephant in the room for a giant, star-spangled tea cozy, a colorful election-year prop which concerns only the US voting public, unconnected to and unseen by the rest of the world.
The illegal and indefensible conquest of Iraq stands as the century's singular moment, and we may yet see the dawn of the next without a more grievous violation of everything that speaks of the progress and promise of humankind. The Democrats, with the important and notable exception of Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton, have refused or failed to see the monster for what it is. Consequently, they have also failed to seize the potent opportunity which it embodies.
The "occupation" of Iraq -- a phrase cooked up by neocon strategists in Karl Rove's back offices to evoke the memory of smiling, welcome American faces in Germany and beautiful ceramic souvenirs brought back by soldiers in Nagasaki -- has exactly zero chance of "succeeding" by any measure relevant or meaningful in human terms. Already, the Orwellian CENTCOM is desperately cooking the facts and figures to deny the unstintingly bad news from the front: the US says a few soldiers were killed, but eyewitnesses swear they counted a dozen GIs put in body bags. CENTCOM's spokesbots insist that bystanders were killed by the same roadside bomb aimed at soldiers, but eyewitnesses again tell of an innocent truck driver shot by panicking US troops, bleeding to death while soldiers prevented locals from coming to his aid. Welcome, George, to the joys of the "nation building" you once derided.
A mistake often repeated by everyone from Bush's thugs on down, to the "loyal opposition," to the well-meaning TV-fattened American "voter" (or not ... depends if "American Idol" runs long…) to the UN to the ruling elites of those countries who did and didn't support this adventure in blood-lust crony capitalism: "we" are stuck there. Let's start with "we," shall we? The theory laid bare is that US working class kids must continue to die for the mistakes of the government that sent them there on a whim and a lie. And it deserves the appropriate response of working class kids to power, now resonating in sagging recruiting numbers in virtually all branches of service: Fuck You. Whose "war" is this, exactly, and who is sticking, and who is getting stuck? As Tonto was rumored to have said when the Lone Ranger called him to the cause: "Who's 'we', white man?"
The other rampant fallacy is that US troops need to stay "until we get the job done." Ah, yes...but what is the job, exactly? If "the job" were to create peace and prosperity for the Iraqi people in a stable, independent, responsive people's government, well hey! -- we'll just roll up our sleeves and get to work. But almost nothing could be further from the cynical, blood-drenched, plastic-turkey photo-op truth. And the Iraqis, like all "occupied" peoples, know this almost instinctively. US teenagers and their Bremer-Halliburton overlords are targets precisely because they are there -- no more, no less. Nothing short of a complete, public and thorough repudiation of Bush's imperial mission can begin to justify prolonging the occupation as a means of "stabilizing" Iraq.
The instincts and experiences of Iraqi eyewitnesses are really not that far from those of the populations sent to control them. It's easy to see if one looks in the right direction. A typical--and by this I mean chosen at random from a non-ideological publication -- view of the Latino boys and girls caught up in the free education ponzi scheme of US soldierdom can be had at any bodega. A recent cover photo in a mainstream Spanish language paper featured a teenager in uniform with his head in his hands: "Se estan matando nuestros hijos!" screamed the tabloid-like oversized headline: "Our kids are killing themselves!" Pointers then led to a story about the suicide rate among soldiers in Iraq and an editorial about how no one can beat Bush because no one is really opposing him.
Stupidly and inexplicably, the "opposition" party ignores, misreads, silences, distorts, diverts, obfuscates -- I'm running out of verbs here -- this glaring and accessible truth. Inexplicably, though, confers a meaning I don't think I would. It can actually be fairly easily explained. It is now 20 years since Jesse Jackson called his constituency that of "the desperate, the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected and the despised" -- yet the current party is effectively still the party of rich white men whose instincts and experiences can't possibly match those they claim to serve. Pundits may laugh when Kucinich, on the rare occasions he is asked, insists he will have to choose a running mate "who is much more progressive than I am." But he gets it, at least. Roosevelt needed Wallace (Henry, not George) until the war made him expendable. The emerging majority will one day stake its claim, and should be organized and prepared to do so as early as possible. Otherwise, they may be left to wander the aisles of Wal-Mart, looking for bargains on slippers and DVDs.
There is still time, theoretically, for those interested in real change to oppose with the tenacity needed to turn back the tide. Large majorities, if polls are to be believed, are ready for major change, and back policies espoused by the most radical candidates (as long as their names are omitted). Young Americans, once exhorted to do so by Jackson, still have the chance "to exercise the right to dream." All is not lost without the war chest of the rich and famous -- this has been proved again and again by peoples movements the world over. Or, to quote the poet Tennyson: "Come my friends, 'tis not too late to seek a newer world." Do we dare?
Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. He has appeared on radio [interview available here]. Past articles and translations are available at www.danielpwelch.com. © 2004 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted.
Other Articles by Daniel Patrick Welch