“One death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic.”
“Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?”
On the same day that hundreds of US citizens were arrested, while peacefully protesting for a living wage for fast-food workers, in 150 cities across the United States, I channel-surfed the evening news reports. Every single channel—ranging from Right to Far Right—from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN to FOX led their “news” broadcasts with tributes to the deceased “comedy legend” Joan Rivers!
This happened 3 days after “Labor Day,” the day even Huckabee proclaimed was to commemorate the achievements of our Labor Movement! (And on a snippet of his Labor Day show—which, again, I caught while channel-surfing—the Huck solemnly noted some of the gains made by the decades-long struggles of Labor: the 8-hour day; minimum wage; safety standards; abolishing child-labor.)
Well… that was then… and this is now! The US minimum wage is now hockey-puck! A man or woman working at one job, 40 hours a week, makes barely more than $15,000 per year—about $5,000 below the poverty line for a family of three in an “average” (i.e., not Washington, New York, San Fran, etc.) American city. And, most of those workers are not kids; they do have a family to support—one or two kids, or a spouse and a kid, a sick parent, etc.
But, these, of course are “statistics.” And Stalin seems to be having the last laugh here, because most Americans’ eyes glaze over at the mere mention of any statistics besides sports statistics!
Personally, it has been about 40 years since I thought Joan Rivers somewhat amusing. How in hell does the news of her passing take priority over the lives and concerns of millions of working Americans? Didn’t there used to be a separation between “real” news and sports and entertainment? And, if they had to share a format at all, wasn’t the trivia shuffled to the bottom, put on the back burner, until serious people could prioritize and relate the important stuff?
Oh, how I miss Walter Cronkite and Ted Koppel! (Note: When Cronkite called America’s adventurism in Vietnam a failure, LBJ lamented: If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America, I’ve lost the war… During the long days of the Iran Hostage Crisis, Koppel would often begin his broadcasts with an Iranian ambassador or spokesperson—addressing him with all due respect, and letting him have his say. During one of the far-too-many wars between Israel and the Arabs, Koppel would have reps from both sides, giving each one a chance to present his country’s or his party’s viewpoint!)
A few days ago, every American newscast began with the depressing news that another American journalist had been beheaded. American politicians and media spokespersons dutifully gravely cited the “barbarism” of ISIS (or ISIL or IS—mostly—them! The Other!) Apropos speeches were made about the need to “wipe out” our enemy (wipe them off the map?), etc.
As one who has himself worked as a free-lance journalist, I’m especially grieved at the loss of these two men.
But, one wonders: Of the 2100+ human beings recently killed in Gaza—including over 500 innocent children—how many were “beheaded” by bombs or shrapnel or falling rubble?
When the United States invaded our former ally Iraq (which had done our dirty work against our then post-hostage-crisis enemy, Iran)—when we killed about 1 million people there—mostly civilians, including women and children, was that not “barbarism,” based on a false claim of “weapons of mass destruction”? Or, was that merely “statistics”?
When the United States invaded Vietnam with nearly 600,000 troops, based on the false claim of a North Vietnamese attack on our destroyer in the Tonkin Gulf, when we dropped more tonnage of bombs than was dropped in all of World War II in our then longest war (about 10 years, not counting our “advisors” and skull-duggery days)—was that not “barbarism”?
There are lies, damn lies and statistics, Mark Twain groused.
But, Stalin was right in another way, too: Ideas are more powerful than guns! And, in the US, we have really taken that proposition to heart—and even one-upped Stalin. We don’t so much mind our “enemies” having guns so long as they are aiming at other “enemies” of ours! (A blatant example is Syria, where we have supported various factions over the past 3 years, including, most likely, the forerunners of ISIS!) And, at home, we’ve gone a step further, too: it’s just fine if everyone and his uncle has a gun… but we really don’t want people running around with wild ideas about equality or fairness or a living wage! “Why should we let them have ideas?” the ghost of Stalin wonders.
And we wonder, too: How much longer can our lies, self-deceit and absurdities continue?
Gary Corseri has published novels and poetry collections; his dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere, and he has performed his poems at the Carter Presidential Center. He has taught in US prisons and public schools, and at US and Japanese universities, and has worked as an editor in the US and Japan. His work has appeared at Counterpunch, The New York Times, The Village Voice and hundreds of periodicals and websites worldwide. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.