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We Need a National Funeral
Published on Sunday, November 21, 2004 by Common
We Need a National Funeral
by Steven Backus

We need a national funeral. We need our leaders to assemble at some grave place and collectively grieve and mourn for the deaths America has suffered and caused to suffer. We need a national ritual that acknowledges the catastrophic violence we’ve mounted in the Middle East and especially in Iraq. Without this healing ritual, we can never go forward with integrity and hope, but only with divisive rage and our own weapons of mass destruction in tow.

Here’s why. We are all responsible for the murderous slaughter taking place.

The Arabs are calling it extermination. Some have labeled it ethnic cleansing. Others refer to crime and murder and still others call it a massacre, equating it to events like My Lai. The most frank create the psychological framework, and use “bloodthirsty” and “blood lust” to describe it.

Whatever the case, when we see that baby, limbs covered in blood, wailing in a shell of a hospital; when we see the Iraqi man howling at the feet of his dead 7-year-old son; when we see green tracer fire in the night sky falling over cities along the Euphrates; and when we see helicopter gun ships blasting buildings to rubble on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox, PBS or over the Internet, no matter how we rationalize our activism*or lack of it*our tax dollars paid for those brutal scenes of American genocide, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

It is done. There’s no turning back. Those 100,000 dead civilians were slaughtered by us. And to consider escaping from the horrific reality of what we’ve done by articulating a “different course” or a “coming together” is too late.

Look at what we are being asked to do: one writer suggests “plowing ahead” with the democratic/progressive agenda. Another says we’ve only begun to fight. Now the hard work has begun. Others say we need more support; we need an alternative future. Still others declare that the Democratic party needs new vision and must maintain its opposition to the ruling elite. And finally, covers of magazines, headlines of newspapers, television sound bites and even concession speeches urge us to “unite.”

However, the time of delusion is over.

The millions of words spun over the issues, the hundreds of thousands of protests waged on lawns, in churches, at community centers and in front of the city council buildings across the nation were for nothing. The gatherings in basements and living rooms to figure out how to react and transform this country, they were useless. The unbelievable cyber-talk, the incredible volume of forum-chat, the newspaper editorials, the horrific stories of dead soldiers and dead Iraqis, the cartoons on major papers and in the backs of underground journals, the bumper stickers and the yard signs: All meaningless.

The mushrooming of the fantastic alternets out there promoting progressive ideas and responses appeared to be creating a momentum which would quite possibly swing the country in a direction toward peace and tolerance. Buzzflash, Democratic Underground, Tom Dispatch, you can name your own. The vastness of interconnected conspiracies and discussions about everything from WMD’s to hanging chads is staggering and yet when measured adds up to this: a monumental waste of time, a massive waste of life.

We are struggling to live with our American character; we have forgotten about Hiroshima and Nagasaki; about the options for native Americans (stay on reservations and starve or flee and get shot in the back); about African American genocide; about Central American death squads; about funding Iran AND Iraq during the 80’s war.

The truth is, this country, which brags to be the greatest ever, was founded upon genocide and it continues to this day while we bake cookies, share political intrigues, paint NO WAR WITH IRAQ on our paltry signs, and pay our taxes.

Another great time of warring led to the words of Lao Tzu, which bear heeding:

Whoever finds beauty in weapons Delights in the slaughter of men; And who delights in slaughter Cannot content himself with peace.
So slaughters must be mourned And conquest celebrated with a funeral.
- Tao Te Ching (31)

What is the meaning of this? The meaning of this is that our American genocide can only lead to a country of mourning. Beyond that there may be hope, but it is a far way off, and it can only be reached through a national funeral.

If our president and our media will not let us see what is happening and will not provide us with this ritual, how can we go forward, like all our progressive friends, our candidates on the left and our headlines proclaim? How can we come together when we haven’t even begun the grieving process and the ritual which acknowledges the suffering we have caused?

We cannot, and to deny these things with new platitudes is to fail at grasping one step in America’s journey away from its genocidal character.

Steven Backus is a writer living in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. He can be reached at


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