Well, it’s New Year’s Day, which means, at least in my mind, that “the most wonderful time of the year” is officially pau. Yes!
My neighborhood dispatched 2008 and welcomed 2009 in its usual grand style: a lengthy aerial fireworks display, enough firecrackers and homemade cannons to mimic a military offensive, cheering spectators, howling, yipping, trembling dogs and plenty of drifting smoke.
The faux war scene — without (at least, to my knowledge) the blood and gore of actual fighting — underscored the words that had been echoing through my head all day, ever since I heard the Democracy Now! broadcast of Harold Pinter’s 2005 acceptance speech for the Nobel prize in literature prize. He died on Christmas Eve, so Amy guys apparently thought it worthwhile to celebrate the life of the renowned British playwright, poet, activist and actor by replaying his powerful words of wisdom in two parts, the first of which aired Tuesday.
Using the Iraqi invasion as an example, he raises the compelling question of just how it is that some leaders are deemed dictators, mass murderers and war criminals, while others are hailed as freedom fighters, democracy-spreaders and liberators, when in the end, they’re all engaged in the same things: killing, oppression, maiming and destruction:
Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They’re not even recorded as being dead. “We don’t do body counts,” said the American general Tommy Franks.
Early in the invasion, there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. “A grateful child,” said the caption. A few days later, there was a story and photograph on an inside page of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. “When do I get my arms back?” he asked. This story was never referred to again. Well, Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making a sincere speech on television.
Pinter goes on to speak about America’s policy of “full spectrum dominance,” and its means for achieving control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources:
The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honorable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there, but they are there all right.
The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. 2,000 are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched with fifteen minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity, the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons, is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.
And I thought, yes, we have to remind ourselves that America, despite our finger-pointing and hand-wringing over the atrocities of other nations, is the only one to have used its atomic weapons, the only one to have justified the mass murder of civilians as a means for achieving peace.
It made me think of the words uttered often by a Japanese-American friend, born and raised on Kauai, who had learned the phrase from his father, a Nisei who had lost his hearing fighting with the 442nd — and numerous family members when the bombs were dropped on Japan:
“Fuck Pearl Harbor. Remember Hiroshima. Remember Nagasaki.”
Pinter then offered his version of a speech he’d write for Bush to give:
“God is good. God is great. God is good. My god is good. Bin Laden’s god is bad. His is a bad god. Saddam’s god was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.”
Then I thought about how Obama, on his way to play basketball at Punahou, wouldn’t even acknowledge the group of protestors who stood near his vacation rental with signs urging a new approach to the Middle East, one that calls for reining Israel in a bit. And all week long he’s been working out at a gym on a military base constructed on Hawaiian lands whose theft the government is now trying to legitimize and seal.
Yeah, he’s the new man in the White House, but is his moral authority also going to be the clenched fist? Americans elected someone that they believed stood for change, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of America’s militarism, the bloody foundation, alongside consumerism, of our economy, the cornerstone of our foreign policy, is he going to be any different than all those who came before him?
I really don’t think so.
As Pinter observed:
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.
If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision, we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us: the dignity of man.
It’s a tall order for 2009, but ultimately, the only resolution worth making.