“For deep in their tribal psyche (my tribal psyche, I suppose) is this Bronze Age ethic of righteous killing. The Old Testament is a catalogue of proud slaughters so many and so fierce that the Catholics kept it from ordinary colloquial readership for a thousand years. It speaks of ‘sparing not their women and children’, ‘killing the heathen firstborn’, stoning Sabbath-breakers to death, adulteresses to death, quite a lot, approvingly. The admired passage that begins ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down’, for instance, ends on a rather different note. ‘O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed’, it ends, ‘Happy shall be he that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall be he that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.’”
— Bob Ellis, 12/31/08
The year 2008 totters offstage. The 2009 trek begins. Let’s briefly note some of the signposts we’ve recently passed.
Earlier this month, as the second anniversary of his hanging approached, Reuters reported that Iraqis again laid flowers on the tomb of the late president Saddam Hussein. Qais Daham, a mourner said, “We did not forget Saddam, we will not forget the honest Arab, honest leader, the hero, the martyr Saddam Hussein…(or)… any leader such as Saddam Hussein.”
Somewhat later, the present head of occupied Iraq’s government, Nouri Maliki, stood next to a smirking though wary George Bush. Mister Mission Accomplished famously avoided two well-thrown shoes lofted by an Iraqi journalist. TV newsman Muntadar al-Zaidi stood, shouting at Bush the Slayer, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people.” Then he loosed a “size 10.”
Completing his thought and, prior to launching the second, al-Zaidi dedicated his toss: “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.”
Mr. Bush, typically remorseless about his murderous romp, shrugged later that he was used to ducking, but that the event might have been one of the “weirdest moments” of his reign. That was worth an obsequious laugh from America’s toadying palace-court stenographers.
Mr. al-Zaidi’s reference to the carnage (actually, bipartisanly bestowed) might have inspired a bit of actual reporting by people paid to do such things. But it’s clearly too late for that. Australian columnist Bob Ellis did however, provide clarity in a new-year retrospective noting, “The six million Iraqis George Bush killed, crippled, imprisoned or sent into exile will soon be known as the Arab Hollocaust…A child dies every three seconds and many blame George Bush for this; … (as well as) the 183,500 dollars he spends every three seconds blowing up Iraqis and Afghan police…” (abc.net.au)
In fairness it should be remembered that slaughtering Mesopotamians is post-partisan sport and that Bill Clinton and his ghoulish administration dispatched 1.5 million Iraqis (kids at a 5000 per month clip) through daily bombing and sanctions during the 90s.
Sadly, imperial pursuit of other peoples’ stuff became, in this year that was, about the only economic artery still spurting. As the factory-export, worker lashing, race to the bottom economic blood-sport entered its perhaps final stage, it became official. The National Bureau of Economic Reporting, announced December 2, that the USA has been in a “recession” for the last year. As naked Ponzi Scheme American capitalism unwound, something like 8 trillion dollars of what had seemed like real money vaporized. Washington sluiced no-questions-asked “rescue” packages to inconvenienced CEOs and banksters to facilitate their limo rides to relative safety. Still, the grotesque something-for-nothing housing and derivative bubbles deflated implacably. The unwinding continues.
The incoming Obama administration has announced that it intends to drop money into the deflationary spiral through infrastructure investment. Most frequently mentioned is anticipated spending on the “roads and bridges” leading out of America’s dying cities and into its now crashing suburbs.
But as Paul Krugman observed (NYT, 12/28/08) even if Mr. Obama were to set aside “deficit concerns” that have become Moses-and-all-the-prophets of conventional thought, the nation is still beset by “Fifty Herbert Hoovers” in 50 governors mansions. Here in Maine, “New” Democrat (i.e. “Old” Republican) John Baldacci is just warming up as he unilaterally slashes education, state employment, and healthcare budgets. Once the supine and rudderless Democrat-controlled legislative session begins, the blood will really flow. Krugman describes the state cutbacks as ranging from “small acts of cruelty to giant acts of panic.” Likely, the small cruelties will swell and the panic will metastasize in a land as tragically devoid of intellectual rigor and political courage as this one. Unpleasant indeed.
Whatever pox-bearing economic chickens may be coming home to roost for America the distracted and downscale, the serial barbarities we have allowed — even celebrated — loom ever larger. Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter died on Christmas Eve 2008. In 2005, his Nobel lecture gained some small, grudging acknowledgment in the American press. With his passing those unflinching words should be remembered, even heeded. He called us to grasp, if we still can, for our humanity.
Pinter listed but a few of America’s foreign policy “successes,” like ridding Nicaragua of free education and healthcare while bringing back the casinos, and “the horror… inflicted on Chile in 1973 (which) can never be purged and can never be forgiven.”
Though regular American slaughters and subversions “…have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, … very few people have actually talked about them.”
“At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist,” Pinter reminded us.
As our cruel dolt/president dodges footwear and mugs, Pinter’s key questions echo: “What happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to…conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but…our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is this dead?”
2009 wants to know.
RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org