“I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither.”
Memorial Day 2007 Cindy Sheehan packed it in and went back to what was left of the life she had before. After years of being the “face” of the “anti-war movement”, the death threats and being called a whore, she’d had enough. She was elevated to star status because her son Casey had been (as she often said) “killed by his own country.” She was resolutely clear and unblinking about the depravity of the system she saw, and non-partisan in the scorn she displayed for our murderous regime. She was a voice which was permitted to speak because—in a country far along on the freeway to fascism— she had a military connection through her dead son. It’s a measure of how far we’ve fallen now, that without the supposed gravitas of “vet-dom” or a connection to military “service,” voices critical of America’s serial wars of aggression are deemed illegitimate. If you weren’t trained to kill, or family of someone who was—-shut up.
In her letter of resignation, Sheehan, referred to her uniquely American status—in debt because of health care. “My hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings…” Yes, dear reader, it’s as true for anti-imperial workers as for more traditional American wage-slaves: In The Country of Bombs—better not get sick. Grown cynical and impoverished, Sheehan announced her return to her role as mom to her surviving children. Her parting shot darkly warned of a doomed culture in “a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives.”
OK. She’s tired and fed up. But Sheehan’s musings about the structural rot at the core of this country’s consumerist soul bear more than a passing glance. It’s tough being against killing and looting in a country based on (and dedicated to) those institutional imperitives. People who battle imperial slaughter usually adopt a mind-set that goes something like this: Americans are fair-minded people who mean well and are generous. They are courageous and dedicated to standing against tyranny. The only reason that they are governed by thugs, mean-spirited louts, and liars is that their institutions are temporarily in disarray. Electoral politics is totally captive to monied interests. The educational system is a mere plaything of The Money Power producing uncritical droids and thing-seekers. The advertiser-based “free media” system largely filters out, marginalizes, and lampoons anti-imperial ideas or speakers. Conventional political parties do the same. But… (the mind-set soldiers on) when the people have finally heard the arguments and earnest public-spirited candidates present themselves “our democracy” will be reclaimed. For the sake of sanity and empiricism, it’s sometimes necessary to admit the possibility that such an optimistic rationale is simply wrong.
OK, so Bush stole the last two elections. But he could only do that because the elections were close enough to steal. Millions of people—without guns to their temples—-willingly cast secretive ballots for a man whose signal accomplishment as governor of Texas was to be leader in the State execution race. He gleefully snuffed poor people whose lawyers had slept though their trials. He mocked the condemned in their pleas for mercy. Sure, he lied about that “compassionate conservative” stuff, but nobody who was paying any attention at all took that seriously in the first place. He wouldn’t have gotten five votes in a civilized country. But, ahhh—-there’s the rub. I don’t know who voted for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bush I, Bill Clinton or Bush II : Killers and despoilers all. But it wasn’t me. We’ve made electing war criminals an art form in this country. It’s now necessary for credibility’s sake that one be willing (even eager) to drop explosive devices from 5-miles up on women, children and old men sleeping in huts. They call that “statecraft” and “defending our country.” “Everything’s on the table,” they say. A greatful nation nods in agreement, and checks out “Dancing With The Stars.”
Author Doug Henwood’s 20th anniversary issue of his Left Business Observer newsletter brought a useful analysis to this question recently. Why, he wondered, are the American people so passive in the face of massive actual and economic warfare? (The latter squarely aimed at them.) On the downward mobility front, Henwood echoes historian Richard Hofstadter’s observation that American Protestants have long nurtured a sympathy for The Market with its completely unaccountable lash gleefully applied to the unworthy and weak. Henwood sums up the Calvinist outlook thusly, “If people are poor, it’s because they’re immoral, impatient, or wasteful.” This sadistic fantasy–of The Market as a “wonderful mechanism of social discipline”— he concludes, may help “explain why there’s so little political price paid for the economic march back to the 19th century.”
Further, Henwood observes that amid mass distractions, with a depoliticized population both ignorant of and hostile to protracted political struggle, short-term progress toward civilization is unlikely. “Much of the electorate despises conflict, and has the naive idea that politics isn’t about struggles over principles and material shares, but working for the common good. But in many areas of political life there is no common good. The normal operation of the economic system requires that some do badly so that the few do well, and any attempt to redress the imbalance is going to provoke conflict.”
Iraqis must do badly now (very badly) if Americans are to continuously sprawl. People get that—self-serving Fox News-style cover stories aside. Cindy Sheehan gets that. Five Crawford acres are for sale.
She’s going home.
RICHARD RHAMES lives in Biddeford, Maine. He can be reached at: email@example.com