If you read no more than this first sentence, go to http://kalw.org/ and click on “Listen Now.”
In late 2001, I listened anxiously to radio and television broadcasts, eager to hear someone articulate the thoughts swimming around in my head. Like a full moon, the advent of war addles the brain of a nation, exciting its animal spirits, and at the end of 2001 not a word of dissent or argument against the brilliant rising orb of battle could be heard on any major news source, including PBS and NPR, both of which seem in ordinary times to be critical of the established consensus. I was appalled by the American response to Al Qaeda’s attack: rather than dignify the killers by treating them as a political force, we should have branded them as common criminals, as mass murderers, and begun a global police action to bring them to trial. By deciding instead to treat them as “enemy combatants”, we gave them legitimacy and in a sense created an enemy when we could have shown them to be nothing more than blood-thirsty thugs.
I was also appalled, and not only that but deeply ashamed, by the hypocrisy of the position America took. The primary reason that the United States has never signed any international agreements to combat terrorism and has refused to join the World Court is that we ourselves are a terrorist state. No definition of terrorism can be drafted that does not include activities in which the United States in involved every day. Before we carry on about the evil of ending thousands of “innocent lives”, we should remember Hiroshima and Dresden, we should see in our minds the flash of light over Nagasaki and smell the Napalm as it settles on the jungle canopy in Laos and Viet Nam.
If we had hunted down bin-Laden and the rest to bring them before a court of law (rather than to murder them in cold blood), we would have restored the high moral ground that we staked out at the end of World War Two, when the United States had conquered the world and chose not to crucify its enemies, as Rome had done, but to establish a court of law in Nuremberg, to provide those enemies with defense counsel, and to try each on the merits of his or her case. We sought not to eradicate those who had fought against us but to reconcile them to a place in a new world society ordered by laws.
It can be argued that the first President Bush, the last president who had been part of the generation that fought World War Two, was also the last who believed in and lived under the laws of that social and political order. That war was fought because Saddam Hussein had violated the sovereignty of Kuwait and had to be forced back within the boundaries of the Iraqi state as internationally defined. It was no mistake that the first President Bush ended the war at that moment. He should not, as his son believed, have continued into Iraq to eliminate Hussein because to do so would make us guilty of the same crime that he had committed.
When his son decided on going to war in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, the fascist control of the public debate in this country shut out any who would argue against going to war. Almost any, that is, because in Congress there was one voice raised in opposition. Out of 535 members of congress, only the Representative from Oakland and Berkeley, California, Barbara Lee, cast a vote against war. (Can you imagine the courage it took to stand alone at that moment, when the lycanthropic nation sat baying at the moon for raw, bloody meat?) And it was at that time that I found at last one voice amongst all the broadcast media which had not fallen into goose-step with the march toward war: That one voice was KALW, “your local radio station.”
This afternoon I awoke to a musical piece consisting of the voices of homeless women over 50, sampled and mixed with a female choir singing one woman’s statement “It’s hard to leave your stuff.” I learned that what I was hearing is part of the soundtrack for a dance piece to be premiered tomorrow night on the wall of Hastings Law School in the Tenderloin. The dancers will be suspended by harness and rope from the top of the 30-storey building and will dance in the air on the side of the building. I saw the dance company perform a piece about Niagra Falls on the wall of the Renoir Hotel over a year ago, while homeless myself, and I will be at the premier tomorrow night. I will also be at the reception preceding the performance to hear a discussion by homeless people, their advocates, and service providers, and to listen to a performance by a choir made up of people affected by homelessness.
The dance piece concerns the lives of older homeless women and is entitled “Multiple Marys and Invisible Jane.”
Thank you, KALW.