And Our Readers Spoke!
One month ago, I asked readers, “How should we write and fight?” in the essay bearing the same name.
I posed several questions:
“Why are the streets of New York, Washington D.C., London and Paris so orderly, so quiet?”
Are we – opposition investigative journalists, philosophers and documentary filmmakers – doing such a terrible job? Are we not providing the North American and European public with enough information, enough proof about the monstrous state of the world? Enough so they – the citizens of the Empire – finally get thoroughly pissed off, detach their backsides from their couches and chairs, and flood the capitals and business centers with their bodies, demanding change, demanding the end to atrocities that are being committed all over the world… the end of this imperialist and neo-con madness?”
In the essay I posed a set of questions: not rhetorical but real.
And people replied. I received hundreds of emails. The tone of them was mostly frank and supportive. I was moved by the honesty, by the thoughtfulness and depth of men and women: by our readers.
Some answers were so revealing and important that I decided to compile them and produce this report.
This time I will leave the reader’s replies anonymous. But I would also like this to be some sort of beginning for an ongoing dialogue.
What I observe is that most of our readers are frustrated. Many are scared while some have lost all faith in the system. People are complaining that they are alone; that those who do not want to see, to know and to understand the dreadful reality, are all around them. Some people are fighting, while others would like to, but don’t know how.
But enough of this introduction! Let the readers speak.
One of the readers posed a rhetorical question:
Why are there not great uprisings in the face of all the wrongs?
But she immediately replied to herself:
“One is that there is a lot of issue-oriented protest that is submerged under the gloss of the impervious ruling elite culture but the spying shows how much attention they pay to it… how scared they are of us.
Another is that there have been huge defeats including the loss of important leaders (King comes to mind) over the past couple of generations and it makes it so much harder to organize.
People need to feel there is something that can be gained if they engage in a struggle. We need to get beyond the issue-oriented struggles and combine our strengths…
As we say in my local peace group…onward! And as I always say when I speak at peace rallies – never give up and never give in.”
Many seem to draw a parallel with the Western Nazi past and the situation in Europe, in the 30’s:
“A friend of mine… had lived in Berlin right through the war, she told me there was little opposition when Hitler came to power. Having relatives who died in the Warsaw Ghetto, at an early age I was consumed with a need to know something of what had happened to them. I started reading books like The Wall by John Hersey. I was struck by how many, with the exception of a few political groups, remained passive even in the face of terrible treatment…”
There are readers who definitely do not see most of the citizens in Western countries (what I call the Empire), as victims of the regime:
“In a sense, I would posit that your central question (“what will it take?”) is answered within the essay by the observation that, Westerners sit stuffing themselves while the world endures the neoliberal revolution.
People often don’t start asking questions until they’re directly affected. In other words, the American public has not stirred to mass revolt because the pain has not yet become severe enough for the average person.”
“Expecting the citizens of EU and US to act is neither practical nor effective. It is the indigenous people (as well as the diaspora) of the places you write about that need voices and knowledge like yours.”
And tougher still:
“No one here in America is going to do anything about anything (as if they could anyway) until they find themselves impoverished, sick and homeless – and then they really can’t do anything.
It is what it is and has to play itself out. Not so long ago, ALL Germans thought it was OK to be mass murderers. So why do you think it’s any different now?”
There were letters from mothers, from housewives with more sense than the entire Obama administration. Their voices often thoroughly frustrated, but determined and unforgiving:
“I hope you never stop writing – it is a lifeline. I watched Susan Rice, US defense Secretary last night interviewed by Charlie Rose and found myself swearing at her. So blithe, so sure, this is a black female American and she rates Russia’s takeover of Crimea a great, imperialistic crime. And this after US record of killing, maiming, starving, sickening, displacing millions of Iraqis just because Saddam Hussein was about to drop the US (us) dollar in oil sales.
I feel guilty for having had children – now in their early forties, but I still worry. The ghouls, always hovering and striking out, have taken over.
Any solution will cause massive bloodshed. We are between one hell and another hell. I admire your gift for life and your courage. It’s the only hope we have.”
The voices coming from people from the Middle East are deeply critical of the global regime:
“Allow me to express my deep respect and gratitude for stating the truth and attempting to jolt Westerners to some kind of action. Your last article that touched upon the subject of the oppression of the so called Third World is so vivid and actual that I (I am a 73 year old Iraqi) feel you are expressing my thoughts that I have arrived to after all these years. I have seen what imperialism can do first-hand.
I am not optimistic about people in the West, the triple headed dragon of nationalism, religion, and racism is gaining in strength in Europe. It seems to me that the next elections in the US will bring a jingoistic administration whether Democratic or Republican.
Thank you also for mentioning the misinterpretation of history and the twisting of the facts. I argue with my Russian friends and warn them that after what has been done to the October Revolution, the next step will be the victory over Fascist Germany.”
Some fellow writers replied in a sad tone, admitting that much of writing had lost its power and influence. Like this lady who wrote from Ireland:
“… As you I realized that writing was a dead-end though we must give ourselves credit that some truth was more easily accepted or recognized during the past two years by those who were acquainted with all the various authors who were metaphorically shouting Wake Up you Bastards!”
Several readers pointed out that people are kept in darkness, that they cannot fight something that they cannot understand:
“The gist of it was that the public couldn’t fight something they really don’t understand. To understand the evil that afflicts this world and the solution that follows from that understanding, people need to understand:
- Psychopathy, its nature and its prevalence amongst those that would lead us and in all our institutions
- Banking and how it really works
- Economics and how it really works (which is quite simple)
- And how the erroneous cultural paradigm of ‘righteous violence’ is our enemy.”
Many North American readers are speaking about how comfortable the mainstream is, how difficult it is to move it. And they are asking for more stories – more real stories of people from all different parts of the devastated world. The simplest letters, the most honest ones, are carrying the most important answers, I believe:
“How to fight back? Well, fuck if I know, believe me I feel your frustration and I also share the blame. I haven’t done anything of note. I gave up on environmental activism after years because nothing changed. Ever! I gave up sharing stories on Facebook because no one I know gives a shit, beyond a few rare people; the rest just can’t be bothered with anything “negative” about anything. Of course I grew up in coastal South Orange County, California, and so you have to realize I’m trying to reach the most comfortable, self-interested people on earth. Not bad people. Most of my friends are very good people, nice people; take care of their families, work hard, etc. Just so far from the death and destruction, so far from any centers of activism beyond ocean-related issues, with absolutely no idea of anything even remotely close to the truth of the evils of empire, the process of educating them will take some kind of Herculean effort. I’m moving back there soon and I’m hoping to at least try to get something started, I don’t know exactly how, yet, but hopefully I can at least make a dent… My one suggestion is this – more personal stories. Names and faces and the atrocities they went through. I think that generates more outrage when people feel that connection on a personal level.”
A retired US economist living in Asia writes about the darkness descending on his native land:
I am all out of words. And as you point out so well in your piece, How Should We Write and Fight, so is everyone else. Words no longer matter.
At 73, living a self-imposed exile from the United States, I long ago despaired of making any change. Not a writer, not a filmmaker, I worked for years as an economist/lawyer and found nothing but total corruption.
Now, spending my day combing the web for hope, I find little. Yes, the writers write; the filmmakers make films. But as you say, nothing matters and nothing changes.
Surprising to myself, I remember Ayn Rand, not her perverse philosophy, but her description in “Atlas Shrugged” of how the US will end–by implosion. I fear things must get much worse before they will get any better. Unfortunately, I fear that the United States will not go gladly into that dark night.
I do thank you for your efforts and encourage you to continue.”
I will, of course, I will continue.
And so will others:
Andre, I hear you, know what you’re saying, have been there – Vietnam (1989,81), Nicaragua (4 times during its revolutionary period), Grenada (one year before the U.S. invasion ended its beloved Revo), Palestine (1988, during the first Intifada), Lebanon (’82 during the U.S. sponsored siege of West Beirut, (Iraq, one year after Gulf I).
I believe you hit on something when you referred to the unwillingness of most Westerners to take responsibility for any of the death and destruction their leaders have wrought in their name. I believe the reason they refuse to take responsibility is that accepting responsibility, means nothing unless it’s coupled to a willingness to do something about it. The thinking goes something like this – “Yes, change the world. But how, it being such an enormous task? Besides one person can’t do it alone.”
I agree with you too that poetry is the best vehicle for reaching out, mainly because so much can be said with so few words, and if one somehow puts them down just right, voila, magical things can happen. For example, here’s one I often post to articles on Palestine/Israel.-
Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto
while the world stands by
Many spoke about Western propaganda:
“I have just read your article “How should we write and fight” which finishes with an appeal from you to hear from your readers. I greatly admire your writing and hope that you continue to write much more. I share your frustration at the apathy of Western peasants who are deluded into believing themselves to be superior citizens of the world. The reason they are deluded is because of the torrent of propaganda that they are subjected to. Voices like yours are essential oases in the intellectual desert that revive us in our travels. Thank you for being there.”
There were powerful letters from Europe, many of them, actually, exposing the Western complex of superiority:
“…I was until recently under the spell of Western propaganda, which I am happy to have broken out of. I just read this article of yours and feel overwhelmed as well as powerless. I sometimes discuss the state of the world that you and others are describing with friends. What is amazing is our common disengagement from this. We realize what is happening, state that it is outrageous, drink a few more beers and go home. I have tried to influence people around me by sharing information and I find it that very few believe anything that does not come from mainstream media. Everything else is simply not taken seriously. It seems that Westerners find it very hard to believe that our media lies and distorts, and that our governments and corporations are responsible for worldwide suffering. It is very easy for everyone to believe that the others are doing it. The Chinese and North Koreans, of course they are just lying. Their governments are unjust and ruthless. We would never do such things ourselves. The fact that we know colonialism happened doesn’t seem to change much. We also think we know that colonialism ended a long time ago. We believe that our values are universal and that we need to spread them. We believe that our governments are actually trying to spread them. In the West everything is upside down.
It is simply impossible for us to accept that we do anything with less than benign intentions. We believe this with all of our corrupted hearts and minds.
In the end what it all comes down to is racism. I was not able to break the spell before I met my current girlfriend, of Asian origin. It is almost impossible for whites to accept that we are the most morally corrupt of all peoples. It was necessary for me to experience the racism my girlfriend was put through, before I accepted it. White people sincerely believe in their own superiority. The only thing that has changed is that we no longer realize this. Well-educated people around me all believe they are open-minded and tolerant towards others. Yet they are all too willing to accept the most blatant distortions of the actions of others. The judgment of Easterners, Latinos, Chinese, Arabs, Persians, Jews, and Africans requires nothing more than an accusation. Judgment of whites is nearly impossible. Even when crimes of whites have been proven, these are downplayed. Whites only committed crimes in the past and the past is irrelevant. Bush was a bastard, but now everything is fine. Soon, Obama will have been a bastard, but now everything is fine.
I sincerely believe nothing can change in the West, unless the white man stops being a racist.”
And letters from Canada:
“I believe that you are correct with your comment that “the Western public is totally lost and overrun by corporate propaganda (it appears to be the most ignorant and misinformed public I have encountered anywhere in the world).” We are born into a world of propaganda from the first time an infant is given a Walt Disney toy, through all the years of watching inane TV shows and their infinitely repetitive commercials.
The Internet and computers, as much as they are a valid tool for the dispersal of information, are also valuable in controlling minds – not through direct propaganda necessarily, but through the diversions of games, sports, and the whole entertainment world. Some of it could be good if it can be seen for what it is, an essentially mindless distraction from the real horrors that underlie our lazy, illiterate, and willfully ignorant lifestyle.”
There were rare but wonderful letters like this one, from a clinical psychiatrist based in New Zealand, putting things into a chilling perspective:
“I see the problem as one of misinformation, propaganda and fear. Who reads or has access to your articles? Who has the courage to read them? Who can be bothered to read something different?
They (especially North Americans) do not wish to lose their jobs, houses and for those educated ones – a comfortable life. They would not accept that the struggle of Latin America is largely a result of US influence. They wish to believe that leftist politicians are losers, unable to help their people – clowns. They refuse to read anything that is not comfortable. Rationalization is the prevailing defense mechanism. Take it away from them and they will be deeply depressed. The change will come from outside but not from inside.
And there were those who explained how it could be combated:
“I can identify with what you have written. I left England back in 2004- I was sickened by Blair and the inability of anyone to stop his bloodlust. I’m a firm believer that 9/11 was an inside job and both the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq seemed to me to be wars to steal resources. I left my family and friends behind and moved to New Zealand, which had a Prime Minister who had kept her country out of Iraq. I’m an English Literature teacher and ever since I’ve arrived here I’ve done my utmost, whether it’s teaching Wilfred Owen’s war poetry or Harold Pinter’s plays, to ensure that I encourage my students to think for themselves and to develop the skills and ability to see through propaganda and out-right lies. In that sense, every student who leaves my classroom at the age of 18 is adequately prepared not to fall for brainwashing and to question all that they hear out from the mouths of politicians…”
There were letters from India, with all-clear directions calling for Marxist dialectics:
“Consummate artist Vltchek is confounded by the non-existence of revolutionary-socialist masses on the streets… whereas the scourges and crimes of finance-capital-imperialism are everywhere center-stage. But the catalysts for crystallization of such movements are revolutionary social-democratic organizations with organizers authentically steeped in the revolutionary canon of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky.
There were simplified but quite accurate analyses:
“I thoroughly enjoyed your CounterPunch piece.
Unfortunately I believe unless they take away football, porn, or beer, nobody will get off their couch and take to the streets. That is all America apparently cares about.
And even then I am not so certain.”
But then, there were letters that were in sotto voce, but powerful nevertheless. Letters calling for resistance and unity:
“Andre’ – I feel your Passion and your Great Fire (Your Great Gift to Humanity). It burns like the heat on a hot Sahara day – Indeed I am moved! Your web site is a visual testament to your Passion and Fire – surely we are few! I have had the pleasure of knowing those who ask the same question that you have asked– How do we transform our great and beautiful Blue Mother where all can live without fear and oppression and be one with the great omnipresent mind that created the cosmos and a great, but untapped, universal consciousness – Indeed a great Question – a question that the global markets do not want answers to! Instead, keep the mass blind and ignorant, feed them foods and ads that only toxify the mind, body and spirit; keep them in fear and oppression and the great whore shall have power over them! So what are we to do? I have seen the old ones come and go among my own people (Canada’s First peoples and Elders), promoting your Passion and Fire among their own and dying, never achieving their vision – ultimately a sad ending to a great and noble feat – but my people are one of many who have been host to the Elixir and great bastard of oppression we know as colonialism, economic imperialism, and post modernism, all meaningless terms to a peoples whose land and resources have been plundered and transformed into the global economic bottom line of the Great Global Business Whore! While Lethargy and outright and blatant apathy is afoot in its most ugly of forms, the global markets reap the economic rewards among the masses in an environment of ignorance, apathy, and lethargy. You ask; what are we to do? I too have these questions, but I am in a minority and do not want to end up like others past! There is, however, an answer to these questions and we are upon the precipice of an answer. I know that we all (Humanity) have a responsibility to leave this place in a better way than when we first arrived to enjoy and honor our stay. I believe, therein lay the answer – lets join our minds with other like-minded people to find answers!”
There were thoughtful letters as well, written by young and frustrated people who are tired of lack of action from so called progressive organizations in the West:
“Over this past weekend, I attended the Left Form in NYC. I was able to listen to the words of Angela Davis, David Harvey, Richard Wolff, Stanley Aronowitz, and other excellent speakers. Although I enjoyed listening to their speeches, the forum left me feeling a bit empty. Quite a few of the speakers spoke about the lack of organization on the left and implored the audience (which consisted of mostly white men over 60) to mobilize. By the way, a little background on me, I’m a 23 year-old female. I deeply craved a discussion rather than a pep talk. There’s a plenitude of leftist literature but no organized movement. And honestly, I’m quite sick of lamenting over human and environmental injustices and feeling powerless. You asked, “How do we coordinate our steps and walk forward, together?” Ultimately, we need connect with one another on a more profound level. Although imagination and discussion is important, we must go beyond that if we seek true progress. Words can provoke and stimulate but the ideas that those words convey must be manifested. Coincidentally, the following day I read your piece and thought, “Wow, Andre Vltchek has been reading my mind!” It was exactly what I needed.”
Most of the letters were encouraging me, other writers and investigative journalists, to continue writing, fighting, and informing:
“Your recent article in CounterPunch, “How Should We Write and Fight” read as an unblocked punch to the gut for those of us (me) who knows every word you wrote was a truth slap to the face and of which I have no answer.
Truth is. Many of us who read and are aware of the information you and others bring to us are still too afraid to upset our own fragile comforts because we fear the dragon.
We’ve seen what has happened to all the major movements and voices for change. The Occupy Movement, the most recent mass global action that challenged or tried to challenge the Superiors were crushed and we were left without a formidable backup plan for a follow-up.
What to do? Unfortunately or fortunately we, (I) must ask you, not to do more, but to continue what you do because without the knowledge and information you share, we the readers would be totally engulfed by the darkness of NSA and government misinformation and power.
Writers, writing and fighting encourages us all to try in various and sundry ways to get the word out. I often share your articles with friends and colleagues who are clueless to 90% of what you write and it causes them to stop and think, even for a moment.
So. You plant seeds. That’s what you do. Seeds take time to grow. Often a very long time but ultimately they do, and it is that seed that will flourish and grow into truth that will overcome. Write On brother!”
And so I will… We will. The fight goes on – la lucha continua. And, ‘united, people will never be defeated’, as they say in Chile.
It was a wonderful, truly humbling experience to interact with you, my readers.
We should do it more often, we should have these exchanges and discussions; we should do it all the time. Your thoughts, your comments, and your ideas are extremely important. We are here for you, not the other way around. We are writing and fighting for you, together with you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for not losing hope. Thank you for resisting the indoctrination.
Things appear to be tough, right now. The world is in flames again. But humanity, the humanist ideals will, no doubt, prevail again, as they always have. We will all do our best to make sure that they will.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.