John Kerry, debating George Bush, said he would follow in the footsteps of John Kennedy and.…Ronald Reagan. The context had something to do with hunting down “terror” or what not. As if “Terror” were a Greek demigod appearing sporadically in mortal mufti to freak out the citizens of Athens. And this is the LESSER of evils? At least Clinton pretended to be a Democrat. As far as I could tell, the central topic of this particular sound-byte joust concerned who would be the better CEO of the latest venture capital scheme, “Iraq Inc.”
Something's missing in this picture. One of these things does not belong, said the man on Sesame Street. The human element. We've mistaken the office and the chain of command that hangs from it like a noose for the legitimacy and, for lack of a better term, HUMANITY of the office holder.
Someone snuck on to the set of our favorite sit-com and took over the roll of its main character, and though we know this is the wrong actor, the wrong man for the job, the costume fits well enough, so we say nothing and just watch. He's not as sharp as the actor we know is right for the part. He flubs his lines, and interjects when the other characters are speaking. He's taken over the show, our show, and forced the other characters into minor roles or shoved them completely off the stage. But we don't say anything. We just watch. “Impossible,” we tell ourselves. “No one could just walk on to the set and STEAL the whole show. Surely SOMEONE in a position of power and responsibility would stop this outrage.” But no one has stopped it, so we assume this is the way it's all supposed to be.
We might think to ourselves, "something isn't right, here, something...something happened here..." but we don't say anything out loud. For the show is very popular, according to the network ratings gurus, and everything is right and good, according to the critics. So we tune in, at the appointed time, and watch.
Things are different. The changes came gradually, then suddenly, but they came. We are no longer as light as we were. We are heavy, burdened. But by what, by whom?
If it were my country and I spoke ill of it, I would be obliged to rectify the problems I was in part responsible for. It's not my country any more than it is yours. It's someone's country. Someone who doesn't give a damn about ME and mine or YOU and YOURS. Someone who feels free and easy to pick a fight with any broken down old bar fly and send you or your children in to settle the score.
Our troops are strangers in strange lands. Offensive occupiers.
No one's “defending” the U.S. because even without the $400 billion a year defense budget the US mainland is huge and impregnable. If it's impossible for us to colonize Vietnam or Iraq because the inhabitants will do anything and everything to get us off their land, imagine a “hostile power” trying to take away OUR land. Imagine trying to tame a nation-state of 280 million people and 200 million (more or less) firearms.
Nukes? If it came to that, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) would be the order of the day. But only if that power happened to be Russia. Not even China has anywhere near the warheads and launching capability that we do. In retrospect, the idea of little Iraq threatening us in any way, even if it had had “weapons of mass destruction” is ludicrous. Weapons of Mass Destruction aren't much good if you can't deliver them with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Love it, love it, love America, if you want to. But what you love isn't your country. What you love hasn't a damned thing to do with you, your friends, your family, your life and memories. America, the abstract for a compendium of interests Bush and Kerry are vying to lead as CEO, belongs to “The Board.”
You love your neighborhood or your town, maybe; you love some place where you are known and your actions as an individual matter, at least on some level. You can't possibly love THIS thing, this Nation State of 280 million people, run for the benefit of transnational corporations who'll pick up and move your job to India or Mexico or Vietnam (why does that name ring a bell?), wherever the labor is cheapest and the labor 'laws' corporate friendly. Then YOU feel the pinch. The Bank, another multi-national, perhaps financing the one that moved your livelihood to Timbuktu, doesn't care about your troubles. It wants to be paid, NOW. Or it'll take your home, NOW. They'll throw your kids out in the street and why don't you ask "America" to help them?
If it makes you feel good to have a flag, a theme song (anthem), and other trappings of Nationhood, that's okay. People have been rallying around flags -- often the banner of the strongest warlord -- since the dawn of recorded time. But what on earth do these symbolics and rituals have to do with the behavior of the actual men in office?
The men in office have duped the American people into invading two countries and browbeating many others, at the cost of thousands of lives and limbs, many American. Why? What does the corporate-sponsored presidency of George Bush, an illegitimate Presidency foisted upon the electorate by five corrupt Supreme Court judges, have to do with Freedom, Democracy, love of country or any individual or community values? Yet during the debate, for the first time in his public career, possibly his entire lifetime, George Bush had his fact straight: John Kerry was among the “peoples representatives” to give this idiot nearly unlimited powers to make war. “Gosh,” Bush must have thought to himself. “He trusted ME to lead the mightiest killing machine on the planet. And he wants to be PRESIDENT?”
Yeah, you want to belong to something larger than yourself, give yourself up to a higher purpose etc. But again, what's that got to do with Bush? Can anyone, even the dreaded Saddam Hussein, garner your support merely because he holds the office of President of the United States? Or Senator? Or Congressman?
The spectacle of Kerry and Bush vying for the power to hunt down “evildoers” in the name of The Board was all anyone might need to be an informed voter. Informed that neither man gives a damn about YOU or ME, but will be “firm” and “resolved” in pursuing nightmares We The People would not dare waste our nights dreaming, for we have more immediate concerns. We need our sleep. Otherwise we might become irritable. Cranky. Good think no one gave any of us the power to make war. We might do something stupid or insane, like waste the lives of thousands of people and cause billions of dollars worth of damage for no reason at all. Just cause we felt in our gut it was the right thing to do, and once committed, we, every one of us, would remain firm in our resolve to stay the course. No matter what. Even if that feeling in our gut turned out to be nothing more than gas.
Adam Engel lives and writes in the NYC area. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. His long fiction, TOPIARY, will be published by Dandelion Books in 2005.
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