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Decent Men vs. Strutting Ogres
Bravo, Ecuador, for its noble, just and beautiful gesture in granting Julian Assange political asylum! In an era where just about every politician routinely breaks every promise, the Ecuadorian President keeps his to Assange, though doing so puts him in the crosshair of the most powerful empire, so a salute to Rafael Correa, also, for you show that it’s still possible to be a honorable statesman.
Just days after the London Olympics, where John Lennon’s “Imagine,” with its message of universal peace, justice and brotherhood was sang, the UK government revealed, once again, its vicious true face when it threatened to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Assange, then refused to let him leave the UK after he was granted asylum. Like the US, Great Britain is a world power that’s acting like a street corner hoodlum, petty and vindictive, in contrast to tiny Ecuador, with its principled stance, so who’s really great here?
Going after its political enemies, America has often disgraced itself. In 1992, the US indicted Bobby Fischer for playing competitive chess in Yugoslavia, in violation of US sanctions against that country, but it wasn’t until 2004 when Fischer was arrested, by Japanese authorities under US order. In the intervening years, Fischer had amped up his incendiary attacks against the American ruling elite, and also Jews, though Fischer himself was a Jew. Free speech is free speech, but forget about its application here, since America was clearly infuriated at its loud critic, and an ex favorite son, no less, once credited for single-handedly embarrassing the Soviet Union, its arch enemy. Cornered by the empire, Fischer was offered asylum by tiny Iceland, and, unlike the Brits in the sordid Assange case, the Japanese decided to let him go. Once more, we saw a small nation acting big, while a much bigger one behaved ridiculously. In 2011, the UK also harassed Iceland to compensate British customers of a failed Icelandic bank, but Iceland, to its credit, refused. After all, have British (and American) banks compensated anybody for the enormous losses they’ve inflicted on the whole world?
Flaunting big sticks, big boys will strut, though contemptuous glances and thoughts are constantly cast in their direction. These ogres are also vain, however, as evidenced by their endless efforts to aggrandize themselves, as with the London Olympics. Somalia-born Mo Farah’s two gold medals were cheered as proof of Islamic integration and success in England, but what’s ignored is the UK’s more than a century-long history of colonizing, bombing, subversion and exploitation of numerous Islamic countries, with Iraq, Libya and Syria just the latest examples.
As for the United States, it is a tireless crafter of its own fun-loving and sexy image, to be exported worldwide into the most obscure teahouse, hut, yurt, igloo or cave of every last province of every country. American tanks, planes and bombs are painted with cartoon characters, and American pilots sing, “Bye, bye, Miss American pie,” as they zap your families from the sky. After foreigners are bombed as they listen to Lady Gaga or Britney Spears, the adult corpses can be wrapped in New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys blankets, while their dead children can be interred in Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob SquarePants comforters. It’s all good.
Taking their cues from the American military, our mass murderers also dress up in fatigues to suddenly mow down unarmed civilians, for if a pilot strafing an Afghan wedding party is deemed a hero, why not some fool shooting up a movie theater? Having unleashed evil all over the globe, why should we be surprised to find it flaring up all over the States? Until we can refrain from massacring foreigners, we’ll shoot each other into an early grave.
Done with making anything useful, the United States is the world’s leading producer of weapons and illusions, mostly of itself. Even as he shoots you up and steals your wallet, Uncle Sam pimps American porn, and by you, I also mean average Americans, not just foreigners. America’s obsessive crafting of its own image, all the while behaving atrociously and criminally, brings to mind the case of Joe Paterno. Erasing his players’ names from their jerseys, Joe kept his front and center, because Joe was all about Joe. No longer able to lead from the sideline, Paterno retreated to the press box and stayed coach in name, just so he could achieve the all-time win record. With so much at stake, and so much cash besides, Joe couldn’t let his legacy be derailed by the appalling fact that small boys were being raped under his watch. In fact, Joe and other top Penn State honchos allowed Jerry Sandusky to rape children for another decade! It is telling that, when everything fell apart, and Paterno was finally fired, he said, as quoted by journalist Joe Posnanski, “I have spent my whole life trying to make that name mean something. And now it’s gone.” Joe Pa didn’t weep for the raped children, but for the loss of his good name, fraudulently maintained all these years.
Quantifiable achievements, most this, most that, can be cheapened or even rendered null by an absence of virtues such as probity, character or courage, so a “great man” like Paterno has been reduced to nothing, while a lowly Army specialist like Bradley Manning became magnificent by doing what was right, though he did it without fanfare or considerations of personal gains. A small man, literally, Manning had the enormous courage to butt heads with the greatest empire, and it has retaliated by imprisoning him in humiliating conditions. In Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the American military revealed its sexually sadistic impulses, and it has shown this perverted aspect again by forcing Manning to be naked for hours at a time. We’re not just cruel, we’re sick, but we don’t give a damn, because we’re number one!
Worshipping the relentless pumping actions of speed and aggression, the piston, the one-hundred-meter dash, the slam dunk multiplied by instant replays, we devalue simple decency, nuanced beauty or just subtlety of any kind. We ooh and ah, but don’t reflect, because the next spectacle is already on. It’s mostly bombast, most the time, with brief interludes of kistch. Most this, most that, but a big zero where it really matters, just like Paterno, and unlike Bradley Manning or Rafael Correa.
In his insatiable quest for self-aggrandizement and enrichment, Uncle Sam also doesn’t care about the many lives he has wrecked. He’s a Joe Paterno times a billion, at least, and he’s still basking in his own self-praise, even as the entire world looks on in disgust. To best admire himself, Uncle Sam has created an elaborate house of mirrors that reflects nothing but his own wrinkled, bulging or sagging vanity, carefully caked over with lots of makeup, but this glass house is showing serious cracks all over. Kicking in all directions, he risks being buried beneath its shards.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.
COMING IN SEPTEMBER
A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch
Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …