In the spring of '68, Norman Solomon cut his afternoon classes at Montgomery Blair High School so he could sneak into a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill. He still remembers the soft light sifting through the venetian blinds and Oregon's Wayne Morse rising, with his sandpaper voice and push-broom mustache, to tear into another pro-war punk from the White House.
There was no way in hell, Morse said, that he would "put the blood of this war on my hands." Then, Solomon said, the senator spoke prophecy: "We're going to become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of the world. It's an ugly reality, and we Americans don't like to face up to it."
"And here we are, 40 years later," Solomon said Friday, the reality of the "warfare" state ever more entrenched, our faces still averted.
"History doesn't repeat itself, but it tends to rhyme an awful lot."
Solomon -- who returned to Portland this weekend to promote his latest book, "Made Love, Got War" -- has spent most of those years lifting the blinds on this country's foreign relations and the media's struggle to report more than the White House spin.
Wayne Morse wasn't the only one speaking to our better angels when Solomon was dropping out of high school and enlisting in social activism. A year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. realized that "I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."
"What hasn't changed" over all these years, Solomon says, "is the bedrock resiliency of the warfare state." The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center "only reinforced our belief in the ethicacy of violence," and the need to spend $2 billion each day on our military.
What has changed, he argues, is the sense of urgency and alarm over this nation's zest for combat. While he was still in his teens, Solomon was picketing segregated apartment complexes, attending SDS conventions, and (at the age of 14) generating an FBI file.
"There was more wariness early on at the grass-roots level about the rationale for launching yet another war," said Solomon, who moved to Portland in 1970 and lived in the Northwest for the next 15 years.
"That's been diffused. The culture has diluted people's resolve, their outrage. The mass-market culture has left us numb. And lack of feeling translates into lack of action."
Solomon calls this "the freezing of love into small spaces." There is no end to our love for our children or claustrophobic circle of friends. "We say, 'Don't mess with my loved ones, but screw the people across the street or around the world.' Unfortunately, we define our loved ones rather narrowly."
So it is, as King preached, that "scientific power outruns moral power (and) we end up with guided missiles and misguided men." So it is that Thomas Friedman lobbies the Clinton administration to "give war a chance" in Yugoslavia and The New York Times pulls out the pompoms when George W. looses the dogs in Iraq.
And so it comes to pass that Wayne Morse ends up as a bust at the University of Oregon Law School, surrounded by silent, bloodless plaques, absent those furious hands.
"Imagine you're a 20-year-old student at Oregon, knowing what 20-year-olds know," Solomon said. "You've drawing blanks about who Wayne Morse is. You've probably never heard of the guy."
Or heard the voice, any voice, that undressed the ugly realities of war and peace.
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