November 15th, 2004

Baby and me

Mea Culpa: Lies, Damned Lies, and Empire

It's easy to believe I was once smarter than I am now.

In the mid-1980s my time was taken up by such activities as marching on the US consulate demanding an end to the illegal war against the government (and people) of Nicaragua and on the people of Central America in general; on Queen's Park, to insist that our government refuse to participate in the testing of cruise missiles; writing copy for a student newspaper, often about the same issues; and exploring the possibilities that might exist for a grass-roots transformation of our society's social and economic systems in favour of something better.

As that decade ground to a close, though, my activism petered out. I hate demonstrations, came to the conclusion that I had no stomach for the process of group politics and, perhaps especially, found that the writing of fiction occupied more and more of my time.

Though I maintained a more-than-casual interest in history and current affairs, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union led me to a period of blindness.

I admit it. I was taken in by the optimism that accomanied the end of one empire, by the liberating potential of the internet, by clear advances in womens rights, gay rights and minority rights in the Western World, by international initiatives like the Kyoto Accord, the anti-landmine treaty and the Oslo Accord. The West has won, I thought and, instead of begarring the vanquished as happened after the First World War, it was ready to initiate a second Marshal Plan, as at the end of the Second.

Forgetting the US military-industrial complex runs on empire, I allowed myself to believe - or, at least, to hope - that the collapse of the USSR and that Western chatter about arms reduction meant the age of empires was, at last, coming to a close.

I thought we were living in Interesting Times but that, for once, "interesting" might be defined as "better". Taken in by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair's "third way" rhetoric (and despite the evidence of the so-called free-trade agreement between Canada and the US), I allowed myself to be fooled and to be fooled again.

We weren't done with war - I knew that. Much of Africa and other parts of the 3rd World had to deal with issues it took Europe more than five hundred years to get through. Nevertheless, I thought I had reason to hope the 3rd World might learn from the lessons of the 1st, that it wouldn't take the mutual butchery of the First World War, nor the charnel houses of the Second for Africa to understand it is far better to "jaw, jaw, jaw than to war, war, war". The genocide in Rwanda shook, but did not break, my hopes for the future.

In retrospect, I should have known better. The bizarre trap set for Saddam Hussein (see for details) prior to his invasion of Kuwait should have opened my eyes.

Nevertheless, though I was sceptical, I accepted that this was part of the transition. Even worse, I was suckered in by the stories of genocide that came out of Yugoslavia later in the decade. Where wiser minds than I saw oil and geopolitics as the cause of NATOs (arguably illegal) attack on Serbia, I saw a righteous West moving to defend the helpless from a monstrous tyrany. I thought the lack of action a mistake, not a cynical decision to avoid non-strategic conflict.

I had let rust the once-keen edge of my critical analysis.

I let myself think that the system that murdered more than 2 million Vietnamese; that established dictatorships in Greece, and Chile, and El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and The Philipines; that trained and sponsered death-squads throughout Latin America; that propped up such beacons of enlightenment as Saudi Arabia and trained and armed Osama Bin Laden had reformed itself, had bought-in to the vision of a world of self-determination and liberty for all.

It would take a while, but Interesting Times were, for once, going to be Better Times.

We weren't yet done with war. I knew that. But I started to believe that the Enlightenment was finally coming to universal fruition and that the West was, for once, one the side of Right.

I took in stride the invasion of Panama, of Haiti, even of Yugoslavia. I put aside my doubts about Bush I's weirdly Orwellian rhetoric of a "new world order". The last gasps, I thought and hoped, of a dying system.


I continued to ignore the evidence (with misgivings, yes - but even so) until 9/11.

It took the fall of the twin towers, and the emotional "analysis" that followed it, to wake me up. (For what I thought not long after the fact, feel free to visit my site.)

We are not "all Americans" now.

Nothing "has changed".

I knew it was bullshit then - as if I had been awakened from a beautiful dream - and time has proven me right.

All that has changed is that the facists running the Pentagon, and their corporate masters, have removed their masks.

Believing that 9/11 was a touchdown pass, they have reverted to form.

Civil rights of US citizens are under attack.

Civil rights of non-US citizens are non-existent (how does a one-way ticket to Syria's torture chambers sound to you, buddy?).

The Geneva Convention is an anachronistic irritant.

The World Court? What dat?

And so, here we are today, repeating the lessons not learned in Vietnam.

This morning's Globe informs us that the US has conquered Fallujah. "The grim and cleanup of Fallujah has begun after a bloody and destructive six-day U.S.-led assault that left much of the Iraqi city in ruins and cost the lives of as many as 1,200 insurgents and 38 Americans."

("1,200 insurgents? Where does that figure come from? Were they all fighters? Who knows? The US doesn't keep - or at least, doesn't publicize - the number of civilian dead.)

I am reminded of a famous quote from the Vietnam War: "We had to destroy the village to save it."

The US will lose this war, but it will do well enough to ensure that the Iraqi people won't win it. Late in Bush's term, or early in the term of whoever replaces him, the US will declare victory, hand over "power" to an impotent puppet, and pull out.

I have become re-radicalized. I can no longer tell myself that the American rhetoric has any basis in reality.

If there is an "evil empire" in the world today, it is that of the United States of America.

The only (short-term) hope is that so many (though far too few) Americans still believe in their nation's rhetoric. If they can see through the Big Lie, and if they can show it for what it is to their compatriots, they may yet stop the shift from republic to empire.

But I'm not counting on it.