The Empire Moves and Co-opts in Mysterious Ways
Like so many, I’ve by now become used to my childhood heroes letting me down. I long ago accepted that hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, to whom I dedicated many an early adolescent hour of memorizing statistics –just ask me how many assists he had in 1985 –had become the prototypical corporate shill. So when the Great One’ described George W. Bush as a "wonderful leader" and a "great man", I was basically nonplussed, having come to expect cliché and vapid, if not always reactionary, comment from the most interviewed Canadian in the world.
But the end of innocence with respect to my childhood rock band of choice, the ubiquitous Irish rock group U2, has been a more prolonged and painful process, which culminated last week –on Saint Patrick’s Day, in fact. On March 17, incoming head of the World Bank Paul Wolfowitz and Bono had "enthusiastic and detailed" telephone conversations.
Wolfowitz, of course, was one of the key architects of the Iraq war and a long-time hawk and advocate of aggressive, empire-building policy by the United States. The well publicised chats with Bono were a transparent effort to soften up his image; a game Bono is apparently only too willing to play. A colleague of the rock star gushed:
Bono thought it was important that he put forward the issues that are critical to the World Bank, like debt cancellation, aid effectiveness and a real focus on poverty reduction. (CNN.com, March 18, 2005)
Though egomania and naivety may well lead him to believe that he can coerce Wolfowitz to implement more humanitarian policies, Bono’s de facto endorsement of this explicit advocate of imperialism is way beyond the pale. And it marked the culmination of my disillusionment with the politics of the man whose lyrics are permanently embedded in the heads of people my age, if not of people of all ages, so long has been their hold on the title of world’s No.1 band.
My first acquaintance with the humanitarian forays of U2 was seeing the band steal the show at 1985’s Live Aid, the massive rock concert organized to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia. As Muchmusic endlessly replayed the concert through my pre and early teen years, Bono’s classic performance of Bad’ at that seminal concert became fused for me with the prevalent notion that the West needed only to pay more attention to the forgotten continent’.
This narrative of a helpless Africa for which the privileged white North had failed to bear the burden, though, forgets the numerous anti-imperialist struggles that fought against Western-backed coup d’etats and dictatorships. Even as a brutal war grips the Congo today, few remember that Patrice Lumumba, that country’s champion of independence and only elected leader, was killed at the behest of Belgium and the United States, and with the complicity of UN forces, paving the way for three decades of the Mobutu Sese Seko dictatorship.
So, too, was Thomas Sankara — whose inspiring revolution in Burkina Faso was just starting at the time of Live Aid — murdered and buried in a shallow grave in 1987; his memory and his legacy of striving for literacy, reforestation and social transformation in one of the world’s poorest countries is now largely buried in history.
Even before I was conscious of these African revolutionaries, Bono’s repudiation of his own country’s rebellious history was irksome. I remember distinctly a live video for Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ in which Bono comes onstage with a white flag aloft and screams, "Fuck the Revolution!" He follows this up with the assurance that "this is not a rebel song", implying a pox on both houses, on the British troops that carried out the notorious massacre in Northern Ireland and on the Irish rebels that fought for reunification and an end to the British occupation.
This pacifistic flourish might even have been forgotten if not forgiven –along with the band’s misguided foray into techno with Zooropa’ –had it not been for Bono’s egregious and now consistent legitimizing of right-wing politicians. There was, of course, Bono’s serenade of Paul Martin at the Liberal leadership convention where the shipping magnate took over Canada’s top job from Jean Chretien.
Then, worse yet perhaps, there was his goodwill tour’ to Africa with Paul O’Neil of the Bush Administration, helping to pretty up the White House while the rest of the world was up in arms and in the streets over its illegal war on Iraq. Around this time, Bono even struck up a friendly acquaintance with the loathsome Jesse Helms.
Finally, then, in what would seem to be a pretty consistent devolution, comes the friendly chat with Paul Wolfowitz, no doubt a preview of future high profile efforts to rehabilitate the image of the World Bank and the war-monger now heading it up.
No point bemoaning too much Bono’s political trajectory, of course. In fact, several astute observers have already pointed out that Wolfowitz’s nomination will only help to accelerate a positive political trajectory already taking shape. For years, many have been arguing for greater cooperation and cross-pollination of analysis between the anti-corporate globalization and the anti-war movements. Frightening and surreal as it is, with the leading advocate of the Iraq war now the leading advocate of World Bank/IMF globalization, those dots are easier than ever to connect.