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All Together Now

One Tiny Voice

by WILLIAM MANSON

Last night I heard something. We were all celebrating–kind of a going-away party for Bob and Gretchen. They’ve had a great year?Bob’s a big oil company honcho, you know, and we were toasting (and roasting?) him about his six-figure bonus. Not bad, right? So they’re off to Martha’s Vineyard Monday?now that they’ve solved this year’s servant problem?and we were all in high spirits, laughing and joking about nothing in particular.

All this trouble about Afghanistan, Bob groused, as if the war had exhibited bad manners by interrupting his leisure. Gretchen had a sudden brainstorm: "You know, forty years ago, all the stylish young women who shopped at Bloomingdale’s for Christmas wore an embroidered, quite expensive, sheepskin coat, called?an Afghan. Isn’t it a shame?" she mused, trailing off.

We all toasted Afghan seamstresses, laughing carelessly. I suppose, as usual, we’d had a little too much to drink?but the wine was first-rate! Before we left, Bob extracted a promise from us to fly up to see them just before Labor Day. He especially wants to take us to a new Vietnamese restaurant in the Haven, not too expensive either.

With our usual last-minute banter at the door, Anne and I?my name’s Steve, by the way– said our goodbyes and walked to the car. Then something unusual happened. A little voice, a little voice whispering urgently, said:

George W. Bush is a mass murderer.

Strange, wasn’t it? Particularly odd, because like everybody else I know, I’d practically forgotten about Bush (and about the two wars he started). This is the summer of 2011, dammit, and those wars, however regrettable, seem to be just about over and the Dow is bouncing back in a fitful but ultimately quite satisfying way. Anne and I are quite satisfied with ourselves at the moment, and even the kids are doing just great, for a change. So, what’s the problem with this?voice? By the time we got home and parked the car, I’d already forgotten all about it and was still savoring that incomparable Bordeaux. It was only nine or so, so I told Anne I’d be up after I did a little work. I just wanted to check my portfolio, you know, usual Friday night routine. You see, I’d very wisely shifted $1.2 mil into weapons funds in January 2003. Well, I don’t have to tell you? What was that? That pipsqueak voice again! And what was it saying?:

George W. Bush is a mass murderer.

This is ridiculous, I wanted to shout (but maybe Anne was already drifting off). How do you know? I silently fumed. And what’s it got to do with me?
Next morning, Saturday morning, the sun was shining, just as it shines every morning. I contentedly drank espresso and munched croissants as I idly glanced at the Times. Good article on hotels in Aruba, nice profile of this young Turk?hedgefund-wizard, something about NATO and civilians on p. 20. You know, I’ve never cared much for politics. Hard to keep up with all the issues. Course I’ve always voted Republican: fiscal responsibility, you know, not all that wasteful social spending. Course, what with the defense budget being what it is, my military stocks have done quite nicely, thank you very much, and Bob as an oilman understandably feels? Just then the voice, in an ever-so-sibilant tone, said:

George W. Bush is a mass murderer.

Well, I’d just about had enough of this! I’d planned to play a round of golf at the club and stay for lunch with some Wall Street chums, but I was now in a pretty bad mood. What, ultimately, is this all about? I mused irritably. Iraq? But that’s all over and done with, our troops are almost all out of there, and? the Iraqi people? Sad. Unfortunate. A lot of mistakes. But no use crying over spilt milk. What’s done is done (and cannot be undone). Just the same, now that my disposition was spoiled for the day, I thought I’d zip over to the library, the Public Library, you know, just to find out what this is all about. After all, this was getting annoying, if not infuriating.

I looked up "murder" and "George W. Bush" and, after fooling around for a while, came up with a book called The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, by the respected prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. For some reason the title grabbed me, maybe because "the voice," so-called, had been prompting me to read it? Anyway, I sat right down and read it (mostly). WMD. Al-Qaeda funding. Yellow-cake from Niger. All lies! You know, I’d really forgotten about all that stuff. And all the people who were killed: boys and girls and grandmothers by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, whose only crime was to live "in harm’s away." And kids from Alabama or Michigan who joined up, to be heroic and "serve their country." A liar. There was no getting around it. A shameless, brazen, vicious liar. And a mass murderer.

It goes without saying that I’d forgotten all about golf (and even about my stocks, if you want to know the truth). You see, in the last analysis, I did want to know the truth–even though my self-interest didn’t want to. I couldn’t help perusing another book I found on the shelves, George W. Bush: War Criminal? In a painstakingly detailed analysis, the scholar Michael Haas documents dozens of violations of the UN Charter, Hague and Geneva Conventions, War Crimes Act, and much, much more. My own voice, but a voice I hadn’t heard in quite a while, couldn’t help saying (in a library whisper): What kind of country is this, when such a president, elected to serve the people and obey the Constitution, goes on to a lucrative retirement of book deals, speaking engagements, ball games and even-more vacations?

I couldn’t not listen to what these authors were saying, much as I’d ordinarily like to. Because, you see, something happened. I felt different, more somber I guess, in a way I couldn’t have imagined at the party last night. You see, I discovered who (and what) the voice is. It is the voice of conscience?a voice often unheard in the mad activity and mindless diversions of our daily lives, but a voice utterly true to our truest, innermost selves.

So, as you might expect, I stopped hearing the voice?stopped, because I became the voice. I don’t know what I can accomplish, but I can’t really go back to the way things were. In any way I can, by speaking up, I will challenge my friends’ complacency, my neighbors’ self-indulgence, by speaking for something so much greater than our personal comforts: Justice. And this is what I will say:

George W. Bush is a mass murderer.

William Manson previously taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities.