Welcome to War Criminals!

(A Story)

It was the event of the season.  A “Distinguished Speakers Series”– and what speakers!  A former secretary of state, a world-renowned hi-tech pioneer, a movie director quite famous for her films about the exploits of our glorious armed forces–and, last but not least, a former president of the United States!

The Beverly Hills series, despite the high-priced tickets, was sold out way in advance.  After all, the wealthy citizens were eager to encounter, in-person, these exceptionally wealthy and successful luminaries–those who had unquestionably made it “to the top.”  Maybe the ex-president wasn’t quite as wealthy as some of them, but he had certainly attained the ultimate prize–the pinnacle of power.  The hushed audience suddenly broke into enthusiastic, interminable applause as the ex-president entered the stage and situated himself behind a lectern on the dais.

With a welcoming smile, a young man, exquisitely dressed in an expensive suit, rose in the front row and warmly addressed the speaker and the audience.  “We of the Welcoming Committee”– an invention of his quick-witted mind–”can only express our gratitude that you kindly accepted our invitation to appear before us to share your insights on global affairs.”  The two organizers of the event, elderly women who were quite socially prominent in town, were sitting on opposite sides of the auditorium.  But they glanced over at each other in puzzlement.  Welcoming Committee?  Who decided on that?

“Before you begin, the Committee has asked me to humbly request that you include a couple of  topics in your remarks.”  The man, clearly articulate and gracious in his manner, continued to smile enthusiastically at both the speaker and audience.  Clearly, he was as eager as everyone else to hear the esteemed speaker’s thoughts.  “These are just a few points we hope you will touch upon.  Why” — he paused for a couple of seconds–”did you lie about a non-existent threat of Iraqi WMDs?” He paused, just for a moment, sensing unrest in the audience, but looking up with earnest respect at the speaker. “Outrageous,” loudly grumbled a bejeweled dowager, but mumbling that “he  certainly is a polite, well-spoken young man.”

The crowd, shocked but nonetheless silent; after all, it would be rude to chastise the Welcoming Committee and its spokesman.  Speaking a bit more quickly, but in his friendly, almost nonchalant tone, the man continued: “Why did you order combat and bombing that killed about one million–yes, one million–innocent Iraqi people?  And why, do you think, have over 30,000 Iraq war veterans committed suicide?”

At this, the initially taken-aback ex-president recovered his balance.  “What kind of impertinence is this,” he snarled.  “If this is a ‘welcome,’ then I don’t know…”  Several now-aroused audience members also shouted: “This is offensive, disrespectful!” “Who do you think you are!?”  “This Committee must just be a bunch of Marxists!”

“But this is a most sincere welcome,” the polite young man calmly responded in mock-surprise.  “We are welcoming with open arms a distinguished friend, one who has carried out just the kind of murderous, amoral, profiteering schemes which have made us all rich…very rich.”  Grumbling and muttering continued to spread throughout the audience.  The two elderly organizers, first baffled but by now shocked, hurried to the back of the hall:  “Who’s behind this Committee?!  Better call Security.”

Meanwhile, the insouciant young man, who blithely ignored the pawing and nasty cracks of those around him, continued quietly, in a tone of wonder: “Did you know, Mr. President, that an esteemed social scientist has exhaustively documented 269 war crimes that you committed? ((George W. Bush, War Criminal?: The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes, Michael Hass, Praeger, 2008.))   And, fellow attendees, do you remember the great LA prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi?  He wrote a book-length indictment, called The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.”

“Is there not a single one of you, citizens as you are of a free country, who will back me up on these truths?  You see, at this moment it is not our speaker who is on trial.  It is you.  Do you honor Truth?  Do you honor Justice?  Do you exercise your right as citizens to question the crimes of your elected officials?”  Profound silence, punctuated by hostile mutterings, as most looked away or at the floor.  “Where is Security?” one of the organizer-ladies angrily whispered to her counterpart.

Looking up at the ex-president, still standing behind the lectern, scowling furiously but speechless, the young man turned slowly to the audience, which collectively glared and shouted at him.  “This,” he said softly, with sadness, “is your unequivocal answer.  And it makes me more afraid, for humanity, than even the terrible crimes of this war criminal.”

The doors flung wide open, and three burly security guards, armed and rushing forward, seized the young man by the neck and dragged him quickly out of sight–and out of mind.

Note: This story is loosely based on Iraq veteran and antiwar activist Michael Prysner’s courageous confrontation with Bush, at just such a Beverly Hills lecture, on September 19, 2021.

Intellectual historian and psychoanalytic anthropologist, William Manson (Ph.D., Columbia) has published numerous scholarly books and papers, and is a longtime contributor to Dissident Voice. Read other articles by William.