Look, I enjoy killing as much as the next guy. Not one but two of my favorite movies are actually called The Killers–the great original film noir, based on a Hemingway story, and Don Siegal’s ’60s remake, featuring Ronald Reagan as a vicious crime boss who slaps the hell out of Angie Dickinson–and which opens with Lee Marvin executing a blind man in cold blood. I’m an American, and as D.H. Lawrence said, “The essential American soul is cold, isolate, stoic, and a killer.” We may have lost most of the stoicism, but if anything we’ve grown colder and more isolated since Lawrence’s day–and when it comes to killing? Count us in!
But the killing that presses our aesthetic pleasure-buttons, in movies and books, is mostly the raw, spontaneous kind. When murder becomes a primary instrument of foreign policy, to be casually plotted in public by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Wolf Blitzer, it takes all the fun out of it. And to hear Barack Obama say, as he’s done ad nauseum, that Bin Laden, Khaddafy, and countless others should be “killed or captured”–nod, wink, repeat–is truly bizarre: the professor as mob boss, Jimmy Stewart in the James Cagney role.
Blitzer started casually discussing the merits of the U.S. murdering Khaddafy a few months back, and I found that bizarre as well–if only because we’d already murdered the guy’s baby daughter, and even the mob frowns on infanticide. But then again, Blitzer is, in his pathetic way, an insider, and he knows what our government knows: in the oldest of mob-movie cliches, “dead men tell no tales.” Like Obama and Bush, he doesn’t want to see Khaddafy in a witness chair. So he morphs from Wolf Blitzer, ultimate nerd, to Wolf Blitzer, cold-eyed killer.
Instead of wearing their sedate, I’m-important suits, they should all be sporting those nitwit T-shirts that say “Kill ‘Em All And Let God Sort ‘Em Out.” Because that phrase has gone from a Soldier of Fortune boast to official U.S. policy.
By drone, by bomb, by bullet. By soldier, by contractor, by proxy. The guilty and the innocent. With “bi-partisan” support. From Lumumba to Allende to today’s news-flash, the blood-trail grows longer and darker.
One of the survivors of the Warsaw ghetto under the Nazis made a point I have never forgotten. She knew they were killing Jews in secret every night: everyone knew it. But one morning she woke up and saw Jews hanging from lamp-posts in the street. And what terrified her, she said–what made her realize that the end was truly near–was that “they weren’t even bothering to hide it any more.”
In the old days–like the mob–at least we tried to hide our political murders. What does it say about this cold and isolated country, in the 21st century, that now we celebrate them?
John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning.