When informed–by a man named Winter–that I had blather cancer, I was very concerned about the health of my prose. Imminent death can focus one’s mind on the importance of life. It was a troublesome moment for me and, in a flash, I re-lived my career as a reporter and commentator.
I’ve had about a dozen pieces published on the CounterPunch website since returning to the United States in early September of 2002. Few of the articles and commentaries were more than a thousand words in length, and only half of them dealt with Iraq and George W. Bush. I haven’t been prolific, and I’ve tried to avoid acting the fool when I did manage to write for readers. My average yearly (published) output during the past five years equals that produced weekly by many other writers. However, prior to my exile in America, I did wander for years throughout the Middle East and the Balkans, learning my craft and, ultimately, producing words and pictures–telling stories of people suffering from war–that were of sufficient quantity (and quality) to qualify me as a working journalist.
I was not blathering (nor was I benign) during the years I spent covering conflicts. Winter’s diagnosis/accusation is incorrect, has pissed me off, and deserves a second opinion.
For instance, a few days ago, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi used the term “war without end” while commenting on the fiasco in Iraq. Pelosi prattled on about a war that began in January 1991 and, after more than sixteen years of lines in the sand, shock and awe, death and destruction, she now claims there is no light at the end of the tunnel. On 3 June 1992, I published an article–based on a visit to Iraq–in my hometown newspaper. The article concluded with the following paragraph:
“We are human beings,” cried the old man of Baghdad, caught in the crossfire of a war without end.
Blather? Presentiment? Plagiarism? The Baltimore-born daughter of a big city mayor lagged way behind a Baltimore-born son of a sea captain in understanding the predictable consequences of the Iraqi debacle. In 2006, the American electorate finally convinced the new Democrat Speaker to alter her stance, and she now opposes continuing the war against Iraq. In the spring of 1992, the words of an old man, spoken while standing on a street in Baghdad, had strengthened my conviction that the attack on Iraq was only the opening gambit of another dark chapter of American history.
Winter, the man who has caused my discontent, stood in front of me. The expression on his face was sympathetic, but his words had hit me like a punch in the belly. I knew he wanted some kind of response, but my reverie continued.
Americans as disparate as Representative John Murtha, Senator James Webb, and Senator Chuck Hagel have used their experience as veterans of the Vietnam War to carve out careers as politicians and, in recent years–based upon their previous service in the military–slice and dice the incompetence of the Bush administrations prosecution of the war against Iraq. On 19 June 1991, just three months after the end of the beginning of the war, the Jordan Times published the first article I wrote as a card-carrying journalist. An excerpt from the final paragraph predated–by a decade–the current observations of the afore-mentioned elected officials:
“When this orgy of self-congratulation ends, and the truth about this Middle East mis-adventure begins to filter through the blue smoke and mirrors created by the covert foreign policy of George Bush [the elder], the opinion polls might possibly show a change in the attitude of the American people. The minority who opposed this war will be joined by many others whose pride in accomplishment will be replaced by anger and shame. Just like Vietnam.”
Blather cancer, my ass. Winter was wrong and, as I let my mind wander, remembering what I had written, I realized that I was right when I refused to be conned by the Bush Family. Fool me twice? Nope. Not by the father, not by the son. For sure, not by the son.
On 11 September 2001, I was traveling with friends through the mountains of Macedonia, reporting on the aftermath of the Macedonian civil war, and the travails of Kosovo. For more than a decade, the Balkan Wars held sway in newsrooms and television studios. During those years, the war against Iraq–the sanctions, the aid to Saddam’s enemies, the air strikes–was relegated to the inside pages of newspapers, and televised snippets of video footage showing warplanes dropping bombs and firing rockets. When I learned that the World Trade Center towers had crumbled to the ground, my initial reaction was horror. It didn’t take long, though, for me to understand that the media had forgotten where the Balkans were located, and man-made thunder and lightning were about to descend on the Middle East.
My exile to America was about to begin. On 17 May 2002, in an article published by Counterpunch, I wrote about the last days of my reporting from southeast Europe. I couldn’t avoid including a few paragraphs concerning the perfect storm developing in and around Iraq:
“When the American media jumped on former President Bush’s bandwagon in 1990, the people of the world were able to watch as most journalists slavishly reported, as fact, every falsehood conjured up by the United States government and their obsequious allies. The lies and obfuscation during Bush War I should make most Americans wary of what their current government pronounces and their media report during Bush War II.
Truth is the first casualty of war, and lies are the bandages used by politicians, diplomats and military leaders to hide their failures and misdeeds and the subsequent true consequences of war. Media representatives who aid in covering up the unpleasant facts of life during war are propagandists who see, hear and speak jingo. In war-weary Macedonia, as in war-crazed America, there were a few journalists who, as patriotic citizens, believed they had to help kill the truth, casualties be damned.”
My daydreaming about the past faded out, and I was ready to confront Winter with the cold, hard facts about the blather cancer that continues to grow, not in my limited writings, but in the Bush White House. As I began to object, Winter interrupted me, and repeated his comments about malignant tumors, death, and timetables.
“You’ve got about two years to live, James”
“If you don’t have the operation soon, you’ll be dead in two years.”
I stared at Dr. Winter. My jaw dropped, but I didn’t make a sound.
“You have bladder cancer.”
I shut my mouth, opened my ears, and breathed a sigh of relief. I only have bladder cancer. My work, my words, my passion weren’t being questioned. The urologist was talking about medical issues and, foolishly, when I mistakenly heard the word blather, I assumed the worse.
JAMES T. PHILLIPS can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org