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Am I a Terrible Person?

A Confession

by MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE

I didn’t watch the Oscar Awards, but I read somewhere that Matthew McConaughey ended his acceptance speech with “God Bless America.” Really, I don’t care if he believes God inspired his talent, inspired Academy members to vote for him. I’m just thinking this could’ve been an audition for the US presidency.

True this: Politicians are actors. We have a banquet of examples to substantiate their histrionics, the huffing and puffing, scenes where they say with perfectly straight faces that some other county is flouting international law, or that we must intervene for humanitarian reasons, bomb them back to the Stone Age in opposition to their human rights violations.

For instance, here’s John Kerry: “You just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.”

From Marco Rubio: “They [the Russian government] are lying … I think they are increasingly behaving like an enemy of international peace and international norms.”

This: Hillary Clinton likened Putin to Hitler. Hating to be upstaged, John McCain declared he’d made the comparison earlier.

And: Obama in defense of Israel: “There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”

More: Obama has pressured Benjamin Netanyahu to stop assassinating Iran’s nuclear scientists—when Obama has his own kill list.

Further: Obama states his priority of tackling inequality while pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that will contribute to even more inequality.

Plus: They emphasize the importance of transparency, yet it’s whistleblowers that risk their freedom and lives to bring us the hideous footage of war crimes and the NSA’s fondling of our privacies, among a plethora of outrages.

Really, though, their hypocrisy should no longer stun us. We should be inured to it.

Confession: I’m one, a hypocrite. Despite my peace activism, I’m contentious, bitchy, combative, and given to fantastically delicious visions of vengeance, such as actually punching certain people in the face, obliterating smugness or a sappy expression. Here’s a visual: I take a running leap, grab the jowls of someone, and just hang there, swinging until he or she is beyond yelling, “Uncle.” I don’t want to HEAR, “Uncle.” That would be disappointing. Am I deranged for taking great satisfaction in lying in bed before drifting to sleep and devising elaborate revenge plots, placing people in particular situations? My life has become an ethical conundrum, not yet unmanageable though. For now, it’s even fun.

I watched a few episodes of Harvard Prof. Matthew Sandel’s online justice course last week, fascinated by the dilemmas he presents, the students’ perspectives, his interaction with the students, the debates, and questions raised. In episode one, Sandel offers an example, The Case for Cannibalism, presenting a real-life drama: Four crewmembers were shipwrecked and in a lifeboat with only two cans of turnips and no drinking water. Ignoring advice from the others, the cabin boy drank seawater and became sick. The captain decided to kill the young man so that the other three could survive. They consumed his flesh, drank his blood, and then were rescued. Read this to learn about their trial.

One student said it would have been more acceptable if the cabin boy had given his consent. Another asked if a second man would have been killed, then a third, if the rescue hadn’t occurred when it did.

So, after this, I imagined Obama, Biden, Kerry, McCain, Clinton, George Bush, Dick Cheney—okay, Obama and Company, Bush and Company, all the neocons and the neo-liberal deciders on a plane that coughs, sputters, and then emergency lands in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, where they emerge, slightly dazed and without security detail. (I’m working still on what happens to the Secret Service agents.) Anyway, off the airplane and negotiating unfamiliar and dangerous terrain, the Beltway criminals suddenly are surrounded by INSURGENTS. And not just Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, but also US troops who’ve grown weary of being stupid cannon fodder for endless greed.

Later, I ran a sequel to the cannibal story though my head, like a river of blood. I pictured two people, both spaths, on a sailboat together, lost at sea, with little food—just a near-empty bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a beer. One person’s going to have to die for the other. Who will it be? How romantic to be sacrificial, the victim. How powerful to eat the flesh, pick the bones, and taste the marrow of one’s beloved. Oh, I’m a terrible person.

Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com.