Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est la Même Chose
Well, I guess God must have needed another angel. Or a creep, a freak, a probable pederast; maybe it was a recall operation—you know, a defective product cast back into the furnace for reformation. He or the Reaper or medical profession bungling or chance or bad luck will work in their respective mysterious and plebian ways to carry any of us off soon enough and likely sooner than some of us will wish. But you and I won’t make the news in such unending, unrelenting, uncritically adulatory fashion as did the self-proclaimed King Of Pop, Michael Jackson. And a good thing, too, assuming something real and newsworthy and important might happen on the day we die.
Even the BBC, usually a news source I can listen to without cringing or cursing, ignored a world full of death and disaster and wars and lies and abuses, forgot that the climate is unsprung from its governor and we are all riding an overloaded coal train with a full load of steam on an express straight to Hell on Earth. Who could even think about torture and trials and terror and elusive truth when the awful fact has been revealed that the Bleach Boy has left the building? Public Radio, the network evening news shows, the Internet in its million myriad and ever shallower ways, what passes these days for newspapers—none could resist mouthing this foul and gooey morsel.
We did at least and at last learn that the deceased did not much reduce the planet’s store of sickness when he discorporated; we are all and everywhere in our weeping and our frenzy and our attention poisoned, dirty and probably doomed. R.I.P, you poor, sick creature; at least you suffer no more, while we must struggle on in our depraved state.
I write Monday night; Tuesday will be the funeral spectacular. Expect the mourning and praising to lead the news that evening. If your son is blown up in Afghanistan he will die unnoticed by those who help choose what we see and hear and know.
And, if he is in that distant, dusty, damned and disrupted country, working to keep us Free From Terrorism or hoping to survive his tour with the promise of some college money for his trouble, there is a better chance today than a few days ago that he (or she) will be blown up, desanguinated, decapitated, dismembered, and sent to sit with God and Jesus (the man who will have shot or exploded him probably soon dispatched to see Allah and Mohammed in retaliation). For we are again escalating. The Change We Can Believe In has turned out to be but a change in venue.
Today old Bob McNamara died. Ever heard of him, you Michael mourners? Ford Motor Company, Department of Defense, World Bank. He did many terrible and some noble things in each capacity. During his seven years as Secretary of Defense he presided over, authorized, ordered, excused, enabled and promoted the American war in Vietnam, in the company of other blood-soaked notables such as President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and General William Westmoreland.
He came to believe that the war was a mistake, its foundation an error and its prosecution immoral. He resigned or was forced from office by Johnson. For many years the man lived with and suffered from the knowledge of what he had done until, a tormented old man, he submitted to a number of interviews in which he said, among other great and necessary revelations, that he had been a war criminal, not only during the Vietnam years but also in his work with the decidedly crazy (and later vice-presidential candidate) General Curtis LeMay, in the bombing and burning of civilians in Japan during World War Two. A hundred thousand persons died in one night in March of 1945. Altogether: about a million murdered.
The most remarkable example of McNamara’s confessions may be seen in the documentary movie The Fog Of War, by Errol Morris. You should be watching this instead of moaning over Michael Jackson.
So should President Obama. Remember when he was going to lead us in a better path than George W. Bush? Remember when you voted for him because he’d end the war in Iraq? Remember how sure you were that so many good things would come “on day one”, within the first hundred days, or soon, for certain soon, because he was so different and better and smarter and spoke so eloquently?
Well, my friends, while you were watching that moondance or listening to “Bad” or otherwise occupied, your new president took up the Bush regime’s warmongering ways. We’re still “rendering” prisoners to foreign countries; Guantanamo is still running; prisoners in Iraq are denied Habeas Corpus; documents and photos are withheld, information denied. Congress passes more war funding bills, Obama signs them. Into Afghanistan we surge. To Pakistan we send the deadly drones, aircraft with an unerring attraction toward wedding parties and schools and hospitals and peasant huts, and no conscience to concern them.
Of course we do this because of “The Terrorists.” Robert McNamara predicated his enthusiasm for Vietnam on “The Communists.” But watch that movie. Hear the man who was there repudiate Domino Theory; listen to him when he tells you Ho Chi Minh was not the devil our government and press claimed. Look at the torment as he confronts the suffering he caused. Look on this, ye mighty and despair.
Too little? Too late? Too easy? Sure, if you like. But you’ll never get such a re-examination from Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld, and G.W. Bush simply isn’t capable of introspection and complex thinking. But Barack Obama, everybody tells me, is. He’s so smart and so eloquent, after all. But he’s also cautious and conservative and enthralled by the notion of bipartisanship and maybe just a little pumped-up to find himself Commander-In-Chief, saluted smartly as he steps off Air Force One.
Who knows how a man gets lost or how some find their way part way back? It’s easy to get lost on a battlefield, in a fog of war. It may be easier even to get lost in Washington D.C., surrounded by yes-men and money-men and party-men and the conventional-wisdom flowing over and through every thought, every plan, each constricted, co-opted, corrupted mind and soul.
McNamara learned from Vietnam, but he waited too long to tell. He did not denounce the war in Iraq, though he knew it was wrong. Now he is dead. But now, as then, with the collusion of advisors and Congress and the indifference of the most of us, the big fool says to go on. Not a coarse Texan these days, but a smooth neighborhood organizer who said he was different, he understood, he knew a better way; he would talk, he told us, not shoot.
They tell me I’m doing no good complaining. They tell me to write letters to Congress and the White House. I did that several wars ago; McNamara and Johnson didn’t change their minds because of my letters or a hundred thousand of us in the streets. It took a vast amount of blood and death to bring them to see what they had done and by then too much had been done for too long. They were war criminals.
The King Of Pop. The Masters Of War. Rave on. Rave on. Rave on.
Mr. Cooper writes and gardens and pesters his local elected leaders in Alna, Maine. His is a quiet life, rich with solitude and introspection interrupted by occasional bursts of hilarity and inappropriate and tasteless behavior. He owns no Michael Jackson records. He does not believe change of any deep or lasting significance is possible as long as we keep electing Democrats and Republicans and then ignoring or rationalizing their lies and abuses of our trust and self-agrandizement and personal enrichment. He might answer some E-mail if you write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or possibly not. He grows surly and short of patience. He takes comfort in the company of dogs.