Stop Begging Obama to Be Obama and Get Mad

The right-wing
accusations against Barack Obama are true. He is a socialist, although
he practices socialism for corporations. He is squandering the
country's future with deficits that can never be repaid. He has
retained and even bolstered our surveillance state to spy on Americans.
He is forcing us to buy into a health care system that will enrich
corporations and expand the abuse of our for-profit medical care. He
will not stanch unemployment. He will not end our wars. He will not
rebuild the nation. He is a tool of the corporate state.

The right wing is not wrong. It is not the problem. We are the
problem. If we do not tap into the justifiable anger sweeping across
the nation, if we do not militantly push back against corporate fraud
and imperial wars that we cannot win or afford, the political vacuum we
have created will be filled with right-wing lunatics and
proto-fascists. The goons will inherit power not because they are
astute, but because we are weak and inept.

Violence is a dark undercurrent of American history. It is
exacerbated by war and economic decline. Violence is spreading outward
from the killing fields in Iraq and Afghanistan to slowly tear apart
individuals, families and communities. There is no immunity. The longer
the wars continue, the longer the members of our working class are
transformed by corporate overlords into serfs, the more violence will
dominate the landscape. The slide into chaos and a police state will
become inevitable.

The soldiers and Marines who return from Iraq and Afghanistan are
often traumatized and then shipped back a few months later to be
traumatized again. This was less frequent in Vietnam. Veterans, when
they get out, search for the usual escape routes of alienation,
addictions and medication. But there is also the escape route of
violence. We risk creating a homegrown Freikorps, the
demobilized German soldiers from World War I who violently tore down
the edifice of the Weimar Republic and helped open the way to Nazism.

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars have unloaded hundreds of thousands of
combat troops, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or major
depression, back into society. According to a joint Veterans Affairs
Department-University of San Francisco study published in July, 418,000
of the roughly 1.9 million service members who have fought in or
supported the wars suffer from PTSD. As of August 2008, the latest data
available, about a quarter-million military veterans were imprisoned on
any given day-about 9.4 percent of the total daily imprisoned
population, according to the National GAINS Center Forum
on Combat Veterans, Trauma and the Justice System. There are 223,000
veterans in jail or prison cells on an average day, and an unknown
number among the 4 million Americans on probation. They don't have much
to look forward to upon release. And if any of these incarcerated vets
do not have PTSD when they are arrested, our corrections system will
probably rectify the deficiency. Throw in the cocktail of unemployment,
powerlessness, depression, alienation, anger, alcohol and drugs and you
create thousands, if not tens of thousands, who will seek out violence
the way an addict seeks out a bag of heroin.

War and conflict have marked most of my adult life. I know what
prolonged exposure to industrial slaughter does to you. I know what it
is to confront memories, buried deep within the subconscious, which
jerk you awake at night, your heart racing and your body covered in
sweat. I know what it is like to lie, unable to sleep, your heart
pounding, trying to remember what it was that caused such terror. I
know how it feels to be overcome by the vivid images of violence that
make you wonder if the dream or the darkness around you is real. I know
what it feels like to stumble through the day carrying a shock and
horror, an awful cement-like despair, which you cannot shed. And I know
how after a few nights like this you are left numb and exhausted,
unable to connect with anyone around you, even those you love the most.
I know how you drink or medicate yourself into a coma so you do not
have to remember your dreams. And I know that great divide that opens
between you and the rest of the world, especially the civilian world,
which cannot imagine your pain and your hatred. I know how easily this
hatred is directed toward those in that world.

There are minefields of stimulants for those who return from war.
Smells, sounds, bridges, the whoosh of a helicopter, thrust you back to
Iraq or another zone of slaughter, back to a time of terror and blood,
back to the darkest regions of your heart, regions you wish did not
exist. Life, on some days, is a simple battle to stay upright, to cope
with memories and trauma that are unexplainable, probably unimaginable,
to those seated across from you at the breakfast table. Families will
watch these veterans fall silent, see the thousand-yard stare, and know
they have again lost these men and women. They hope somehow they will
come back. Some won't. Those who cannot cope, even by using Zoloft or
Paxil, blow their brains out with drugs, alcohol or a gun. More Vietnam
veterans died from suicide in the years after the war than during the
conflict itself. But it would be a mistake to blame this on Vietnam.
War does this to you. It destroys part of you. You live maimed. If you
are not able to live maimed, you check out.

But what happens in a society where everything conspires
to check you out even when you make the herculean effort to integrate
into the world of malls, celebrity gossip and too many brands of cereal
on a supermarket shelf? What happens when the corporate state says that
you can die in its wars but at home you are human refuse, that there is
no job, no way to pay your medical bills or your mortgage, no hope?
Then you retreat into your private hell of rage, terror and alienation.
You do not return from the world of war. You yearn for its sleek and
powerful weapons, its speed and noise, its ability to abolish the lines
between sanity and madness. You long for the alluring, hallucinogenic
landscapes of combat. You miss the psychedelic visions of carnage and
suffering, the smells, sounds, shrieks, explosions and destruction that
jolt you back to the present, which make you aware in ways you never
were before. The thrill of violence, the God-like power that comes when
you can take a human life with impunity, is matched against the
pathetic existence of waiting for an unemployment check. You look to
rejoin the fraternity of killers. Here. There. It no longer matters.

There is a yawning indifference at home about what is happening in
Iraq and Afghanistan. The hollow language of heroism and glory, used by
the war makers and often aped by those in the media, allows the nation
to feel good about war, about "service." But it is also a way of
muzzling the voices that attempt to tell us the truth about war. And
when these men and women do find the moral courage to speak, they often
find that many fellow Americans turn away in disgust or attack them for
shattering the myth. The myth of war is too enjoyable, and too
profitable, to be punctured by reality. And so these veterans nurse
their fantasies of power. They begin to hate those who sent them as
much as they hate those they fought. Some cannot distinguish one from
the other.

As I stared into the faces of the men from A Gathering of Eagles on Saturday at a protest
calling for the closure of the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia,
I recognized these emotions. These men had arrived on black
motorcycles. They were wearing leather jackets. They had lined up, most
holding large American flags, to greet the protesters, some of whom
were also veterans. They chanted "Traitors!" at the seven people who
were arrested for refusing the police order to leave the premises. They
sought vindication from a system that had, although they could not
admit it, betrayed them. They yearned to be powerful, if only for a
moment, if only by breaking through the police line and knocking some
God-hating communist faggot to the ground. They wanted the war to come

It is we who are guilty, guilty for sending these young men and
women to wars that did not have to be fought. It is we who are guilty
for turning away from the truth of war to wallow in a self-aggrandizing
myth, guilty because we create and decorate killers and when they come
home maimed and broken we discard them. It is we who are guilty for
failing to defy a Democratic Party that since 1994 has betrayed the
working class by destroying our manufacturing base, slashing funds to
assist the poor and cravenly doing the bidding of corporations. It is
we who are guilty for refusing to mass on Washington and demand
single-payer, not-for-profit health care for all Americans. It is we
who are guilty for supporting Democrats while they funnel billions in
taxpayer dollars to sustain speculative Wall Street interests. The rage
of the confused and angry right-wing marchers, the ones fired up by
trash-talking talk show hosts, the ones liberals belittle and maybe
even laugh at, should be our rage. And if it is not our rage soon, if
we continue to humiliate and debase ourselves by begging Obama to be
Obama, we will see our open society dismantled not because of the
shrewdness of the far right, but because of our moral cowardice.

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