The most psychologically difficult thing for anyone to admit is that they’ve been living a lie.
As hard as it is to acknowledge that reality in the personal realm, it’s much worse to accept that our beloved country has been fundamentally wrong, even objectively evil.
Folks will resort to amazing mental gymnastics to try to avoid that very painful conclusion. But ultimately most of them relent.
It simply becomes impossible to deny mounting horrors, as the eventual mass radicalization of the Vietnam era plainly demonstrated.
Once again, in connection with Iraq, we’re at a similar juncture.
I grew up in an intensely propagandized era, the Eisenhower years stretching from the McCarthy hysteria to the infancy of our catastrophic folly in Southeast Asia.
Our Weekly Reader newsmagazines in elementary school featured maps with ominous red arrows depicting impending Soviet invasion. “Ungodly communism” was ostensibly poised to aggress democracy, and the prospect of nuclear war haunted our every waking moment.
Our black-and-white TVs featured blatant propaganda shows such as the U.S. Army’s “Big Picture,” which hammered home the supposed Soviet threat. I vividly remember seeing atomic bomb tests in Nevada, with brave soldiers rising from their trenches to charge into flaring mushroom clouds.
Nobody told those men that their role as propaganda actors exposed them to dangerous doses of radiation. (So widespread was the fallout that Eastman Kodak x-ray film manufactured in Indiana, packaged in material made from corn husks, became fogged.)
This constant brainwashing turned us into unquestioning drones. We were as blindly loyal to the glorified vision of American capitalism as Germans had previously been to Hitler’s Nazism. Father didn’t know best; he knew only what the government told him.
Then something happened. The ‘60s came along.
Partly due to the abruptly different dynamism of John Kennedy, but primarily because of spreading civil rights ferment, thought patterns began to shift.
That transformation was spurred by accompanying cultural changes, ranging from the arrival of the Beatles to the birth control pill. But mainstream opinion remained regimented toward foreign policy.
Throughout the early years of the Vietnam war, protest was limited to a marginalized minority, while a “silent majority” continued to buy into the official government line...or lie.
Television, now available in color, would prove to be decisive in altering everything.
For the first time, Americans saw war right in their homes during the supper hour. Casualty counts were grimly juxtaposed with cheery Pentagon claims that there was “light at the end of the tunnel.”
But victory evaded passing months, as the death rate dramatically grew. Every town soon had its drafted young man -- or men -- who would never return.
Meanwhile, TV gave us other images: a Saigon execution by pistol shot, and a little Vietnamese girl smoking from napalm, tearfully running toward dubious safety. American minds were putting the pieces together. Finally, a clear picture of U.S. wrongdoing and inevitable defeat would emerge. But hearts tenaciously loyal to comforting myths held sway in the deeply conflicted interim.
We couldn’t bring ourselves to believe that we were the bad guys, and many of us attributed the effort to disclose that as just another part of the “communist conspiracy.”
THE SILENT MAJORITY EVAPORATES
1967 had seen the rise of a youth counterculture that detested war and American materialist obsession. 1968 voraciously ate away at Vietnam support, especially during the Democratic Party nominating convention debacle in Chicago.
But Vietnam’s tipping point emerged in 1969. And more precisely, on October 15 of that year. The Vietnam Moratorium was the largest political protest our country had ever witnessed.
It was different from all previous anti-war demonstrations. Instead of a single rally at a centralized location, simultaneous protests were organized across the country, in large cities and small towns.
Protesters circulated petitions calling for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Vietnam. Amazingly, very few passersby refused to sign. The tipping point had been reached, and America would be predominantly dovish from then on.
The people had finally come to terms with the truth, having forsaken irrational faith in undeserving icons of allegiance.
VIETNAM DEJA VU
From its malformed rationale to the nature of its cruel conduct, Bush’s Iraq aggression is Vietnam all over again. Same quagmire, different day.
Much more rapidly than in the Vietnam experience, things in Iraq are going completely to hell.
Even before the pivotal anti-war protest of the Iraq era (likely to take place at this summer’s Republican nominating convention), support for the war and Bush himself is plummeting.
Yes, there are still many Americans for whom the simplistic jingoism of country songs recorded by Toby Keith rings true. But for others, it rang hollow from the start. The Dixie Chicks spoke to their sensibilities.
Abu Ghraib prison abuses are this war’s equivalent of Vietnam’s My Lai. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is reprising his role as a major Vietnam truth teller by exposing Abu Grhaib’s motivation, going straight to the Pentagon’s head in assigning blame.
Minds wishing to believe in the disinformation behind Bush’s bogus war are extraordinarily hard-pressed to do so.
Leaders of the American anti-war movement should seriously consider calling an Iraq Moratorium, which would follow its historic predecessor in decisively tipping the balance toward peace.
CONVERGING ISSUES, EMERGING UNREST
Whether it’s growing opposition to the Iraq fiasco or widespread displeasure over a jobless economic recovery accompanied by profiteering outsourcing, significant currents of discontent are coming together. Also included is swirling worry over guns-before-butter diversions of funding from human needs like education and healthcare.
Everything that’s going wrong in America stems from a single source: shamefully selfish monopoly interests completely messing up both domestic and foreign policy. Public welfare and the common good are being sacrificed in furtherance of exploitative private gain.
Everyone who isn’t a player in hierarchic circles stands to badly lose as a result. The potential for a unified “uprising” in the populace at large is, therefore, propitiously great.
The calendar shows three periods when disaffection with Everything Bush will soar:
1) The slated June 30th transfer of American power to an Iraqi “authority.” That event will be so fraught with fraudulence and a glaring inability to succeed that it’ll galvanize many who’ve withheld their anti-war sentiments.
2) The aforementioned Republican convention in New York at the end of August will draw thousands not content to demonstrate only under the strictures allowed by authorities. Trying to limit crowds to penned-in areas flies in the face of First Amendment guarantees. It’ll be another outrage that’ll bring fresh forces to the anti-Bush cause.
3) The election itself. Countless citizens will never publicly voice the sense of betrayal they’ve privately wrestled with. But they’ll rebel in the voting booth.
Once the American people clearly see themselves as pawns in a colossally dishonest political game, they’ll assert their new, independent awareness with tremendous force.
Mass radicalization is definitely simmering, and just a little more heat will cause it to quickly boil over.
2004 stands an excellent chance of becoming the year future generations will look back on as the apex of direct, popular influence on general politics and the defining shape of our society.
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has been writing commentary and verse for various progressive outlets since the ‘60s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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