On the first night of my annual autumn foray into North America to poison the minds of budding journalists and sample the first fruits of the Near North Woods’ cannabis harvest, I invested my senior citizens’ discount in a viewing of “Goodnight and Good Luck”, George Clooney’s version of the Edward R. Murrow saga. Despite the flick’s glaring debilities, “Goodnight” colored my visit to an America at war with itself in striking black and white.
When I remember Murrow, I always see the signature swirls of cigarette smoke with which Clooney has laced his movie–the Kents that sponsored the broadcaster eventually murdered him. I first knew Murrow on the radio, a program called “You Are There” which recreated great moments in history for young adults. Then, after television installed itself in our living room, there was “Person To Person”–my mom, a Broadway publicist, arranged the idiotic Liberace interview immortalized in the film. But it was Murrow’s showdown with Joe McCarthy that galvanized my dysfunctional family.
Mom and Pop, you see, were showbiz commies, members of the CP USA and frequent congressional investigations into the entertainment industry terrorized them into drunken stupors. Edward R. Murrow became a kind of secular hero to them although in many respects, the saintly broadcaster was as fierce a redbaiter as old Joe–the film accurately depicts his exclusion of a staffer because his wife had attended a CP function and the suicide of a colleague tarred by leftist ties.
It is a miserable measure of the temper of the times that “Goodnight” has contributed to Joe McCarthy’s rehabilitation. Now in repose in the boneyard of an Appleton Wisconsin Catholic Church where he was once an altar boy, Neo-McCarthyites celebrate his birthday each year with a solemn graveside ceremony. Both the National White Peoples’ Party and the John Birch Society have moved their general command to Appleton, an All-American burg just south of Oshkosh By Gosh, a hometown which the great red hunter shares with Harry Houdini, where they campaign for a national holiday and the issuance of a postage stamp to honor their martyr, and sell cute bumper stickers (“McCarthy Was Right!”) on the Internet.
When Rep. Steve King, a shifty-eyed Republican from Storm Lake Iowa was accused of McCarthyism after he orchestrated a cruel congressional vote against the naming of a Berkeley California post office for Maudelle Shirock, a 92 year-old emeritus member of that city’s council who suffers from Alzheimer’s, because she once supported the CP, the solon responded that “Joseph McCarthy was a great American.”
The Army-McCarthy hearings which culminated in Joseph Welch’s classic upbraiding (“have you no decency, sir?”) and Murrow’s crusade to abort the Senator’s vicious bigotry, signaled the beginning of the end of a craven politico who trashed anyone who stood in his way as a traitor. Staggeringly drunk on the Senate floor, McCarthy plunged deep into the bottle until cirrhosis finally laid him out in the Appleton churchyard.
McCarthy’s plummet from power bears an eerie resemblance to what has begun to look like George W. Bush’s stumble from grace here in the autumn of our discontent 2005. Indeed, some keen-eyed ex-alcoholics speculate that Bush, a dry drunk, is back on the groove juice again.
It is hardly a stretch to note that Bushwa’s governance is seriously unraveling. Maybe it began with Katrina but here on the first anniversary of his tainted re-election, the bad vibes have swollen to Tsunami-size. From Scooter Libby and Tom Delay, both candidates for RICO indictments, to Harriet Miers and Sam Alito, to $5 dollar a gallon gasoline at the pump, to an ill-advised trip south to sell his reviled Free Trade Area of the Americas and a one punch knockout by Comandante Chavez at Mar de Plata, to the secret “cabal” to the secret prisons to Chalibi’s triumphal return to Washington (did he sleep with Judith Miller?) to John Murtha and the 2000th death in Iraq to his wildly tumbling numbers, the fall season has looked a lot like Bush’s waterloo.
Even the long-bottled-up U.S. Navy accounts of how LBJ faked the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 that triggered the bombing of North Vietnam, the initial salvo of that terrible war, have conspired to haunt a president whose own lies led the American people by the nose into the contemporary debacle in the desert.
George Bush’s response to the deluge has been clownishly McCarthyesque (the second time around is always farce.) In fact, Dubya’s October speech at the Reagan Library in Simi California conflated his War on Terrorism with McCarthy’s crusade against Godless Communism in one stinking cowpie of a speech, a discourse repeated to a luncheon of Air Force Officers’ Wives the following week and which has since become an obligatory part of the Bush-Cheney patter, perhaps peaking in the President’s venomous Veteran’s Day tirade to cheering troops at the Tobyhanna Pennsylvania Army Depot where he assailed those who marked the 2000th G.I. death in Iraq as lending aid and comfort to the enemy and accused 63% of the U.S. public who now question his mad, calculated rush to war as betraying our brave boys and girls over there.
We have heard this song and dance before. Joe McCarthy lashed out in similar slurs to save his mangy ass. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon similarly hounded opponents of the slaughter in Vietnam. Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, and Clinton all sought to silence critics of their imperialist excesses in similar style. But such attacks are, of course, always an admission of defeat.
Bush’s fracaso stares back at him from three pages of the October 26th New York Times, 2000 thumbnail photos of the men and women he has sent to their death out there in the desert. Depiction of the Iraqi dead would have filled every page of every Sunday Times for a month. Iraqis appear to be dying at a 50 to 1 ratio over our brave boys and girls, a number zealously guarded by the Pentagon, which pretends that it keeps no body count.
Despite the delusional optimism of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, Iraq is all downhill from here. A quick look at the vital stats informs that while it took 20 months for the first thousand Americanos to die, it’s only been 13 months for the second thousand to top off the corpse heap. On the ground, the shit is getting stickier every day. From the fragging of officers by our own brave boys and girls to the stolen constitutional election (decided by a handful of unmonitored votes in Diyabi province) to White Prosperous in Falujah to 173 starving, tortured Sunnis in the basement of the Interior Ministry, the Big Lie shrivels up a little bit everyday. Now with the correpsondents’ hotels under the gun, the so-called journalists who have brought us these lies in daily installments, are packing up and beating a retreat to Amman, the home turf of the dread Al Zarqawi who reportedly has now opened franchises in 40 countries, topping the former world terror Champ Osama Bin Laden, a has-been.
Despite its current feeding frenzy, the U.S. press has served Bush’s Big Lie well. When the NYT finally got around to checking out the White Phosphorus story, it reported not on the horrific damage Whiskey Pete did in Fallujah where bodies burned to the bone were stacked up in makeshift morgues, but rather how U.S. officials bungled their responses to charges of war crimes, begging the question is Scott Shane Jason Blair’s new by-line? Across the page this past November 21st, Michelle O’Donnell shows us she is the new Judith Miller when rather than reporting on the largest School of Americas demonstration ever (19,000), she chose instead to focus on “God Bless Fort Benning” week.
The Washington Post has been just as complicit in covering up war crimes when, at the Pentagon’s behest, it voluntarily declined to name the secret European prisons where the U.S. is torturing hundreds and perhaps thousands of Muslim men in violation of the Geneva Convention. The stenography of mainstream media all-stars like Bob Woodward and Judith Miller has spread Bush’s bullshit all over the front pages of their respective gazettes and made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist retaliation. Both are indictable for their felonies–Woodward for withholding information that fingered the White House in the Valerie Plame imbroglio and Miller with her license to lie, for fabricating the WMDs that was Bushwa’s stepping stone to an illegal war. Along with Scooter, the three of them ought to be forwarded forthwith to Gitmo and tortured in the style so passionately advocated by Scooter’s boss and his replacement David Addington, until they roll over and give up the Boss of All Bosses.
Here at Thanksgiving 2005, the nation seems more etched in black and white than I can recall since the final days of the Vietnam holocaust. Bush Lied, People Died is now the majority sentiment–it took Vietnam around 40 months to achieve the same status of unpopularity. Meanwhile, although this war is ostensibly about Peak Oil, racism is still the principle energy source that powers the land of the tree and the home of the grave. Katrina was only the first circle of hell.
Now Halliburton is flooding New Orleans with undocumented workers from Mexico and Central America who the subcontractors rat out to Homeland Security when they protest that they haven’t been paid, Big Oil reaps unprecedented billions even as Congress tries to throw 300,000 legal immigrants and their children off food stamps, the Minutemen are on both borders, north and south hunting down swarthy intruders and five Muslim men were taken into custody for praying during the halftime of a New York Football Giants home game (Bush was in attendance.) On the printed page, the L.A. Times terminated its in-house left-winger Robert Scheer and Fox bully Bill O’Reilly calls for a terrorist attack on Coit Tower because San Francisco voters barred military recruiters from the city’s high schools. Not to be outshone, the very Reverend Pat Robertson called upon God to obliterate Dover Pennsylvania for turning down “Intelligent Design” and Kansas criminalizes evolution, This is anti-diluvium black and whiteness that would do Joe McCarthy and Edward R. Murrow proud.
For the first time since the war in Iraq kicked in, I just got around to checking out the new print of “The Battle of Algiers”, another black and white film that inflames the political imagination. The parallels to Bush’s flawed invasion and occupation of Iraq are quite startling. It is hard to understand why the Pentagon sponsored lunchtime showings of Portecorvo’s insightful film whose only lesson is that colonial occupations of Arab countries are doomed to abject failure.
“The Battle of Algiers” remains a paragon of resistance movie making and although this epic struggle is told in black and white, resistance is not all black and white these days. The color scheme has been enlivened of late by the red orange glow of 3300 automobiles blazing in the streets of France and banks being torched in Mar de Plata. The chromatic spectrum of the resistance raging around the globe from Baghdad and back these days are indeed in living–and dying – color.
JOHN ROSS is back in Mexico pounding away on his latest Zapatista opus “Making Another World Possible–Zapatista Chronicles 2000-2006” to be published next year by Nationbooks.