The shadow of her smile
By John Kaminski
John Kaminski is a writer who lives on the coast of Florida.
"In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." — Eric Hoffer
I used to love fireworks. But I haven't been able to watch them for better than a decade now, ever since that first time, lying in a pristine field in a small country town, when I looked up at the pretty colors in the night sky and imagined, unmistakably, that what I was hearing were the screams of dying Iraqi children.
Sometimes when I'm shaving that part of my face I don't call my beard, I'll catch a face in the mirror; not mine, but down in the corner of my eye, an image will stop me from what I'm doing. It's a fleeting face, tiny and indistinct. I'll look more closely and it will be gone. But it will linger in my memory, and I've come to think of those hallucinated faces as the lives our American prosperity is built on, living people we never knew whose lives were tossed away in an anonymous cauldron of carnage in some faraway place we seldom ever hear about. How many times have we said it: "America is the greatest country in the world." And it is. Everything is just perfect ... if we don't contemplate the unknown horror and unreported violence upon which our paradise is built.
William Blum, author of "Rogue State" and chronicler of American depredations throughout the world, estimates the U.S. has killed seven million innocent people since World War II. Most people don't stop and think how we get what we have, where all this opulence comes from.
So I go back to shaving, but now, as long I live, and because of what I know, the smile on the face staring back at me contains a shadow I dread to see again.
• • • Many of us who read such skeptical underground publications as Paranoia, American Free Press or From the Wilderness don't really need to be updated about the latest lies our leaders tell us, although God knows they come at us faster than we can handle them. We've made it our business to know what's going behind the headlines and consequently can perceive the avalanche of falsehoods that camouflages the endless robbery of the poor by the rich and the damage these demonic fictions do to our planet and its inhabitants.
Yet the lies and wars and phony justifications continue from one generation to the next, and no amount of investigative reporting — no matter how accurate or shocking — seems to be able to change the behavior of that warped family of aristocratic human predators who have taken control of the way we think and behave.
This control enables them to say and do what they want, and the people of the world — distracted by their more mundane concerns like children and paychecks — continue to be afflicted by the schemes of the powerful, with no measure of supposedly democratic participation able to derail this pathological parade of lethal greed that now threatens to make our planet completely uninhabitable.
The two primary mechanisms that keep ordinary Americans distracted from these schemes of tyranny are the schools and the media. A third mechanism, which I shall deal with later, is religion, and the sacred approval these hypocritical institutions have provided to mass murderers throughout history.
But for now, as we face the new police-state threat foisted on us by the George W. Bush gang and its predecessors, the two primary vehicles that allow the powers that be to remain largely invisible and unaccountable as they plunder the planet and enslave its residents seem to be the schools, which in the past century have become little more than programs to teach people not to question authority, and the media, which are owned by the same rich men who create the wars and sell the weapons that make them fabulously wealthy.
If you accept this argument, the solution becomes obvious: change the schools from indoctrination programs that create well-dressed day laborers to genuine educational institutions that produce thoughtful philosophers, and detach the media from the rich criminals who own them. I know, I know: easier said than done. And maybe impossible.
A logical first step in beginning the process of reclaiming our schools and our media as nontoxic members of our society is recognizing the phemonenon known as corporate personhood. In 1886, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an edict that was as damaging to human freedom as its 2000 ruling to make Bush II the president. The infamous Santa Clara decision gave corporations the same rights as humans, whereas prior to that, corporations had to be chartered by the states, they couldn't own other unrelated businesses that weren't included in their original charter, and these charters could be revoked if the corporations engaged in bad behavior. Just imagine: if corporations were criminals, their charters were taken away and their assets liquidated.
How much human misery could have been averted if those laws had remained in effect?
But they didn't. Just like today, judges and senators were bribed and the measure eventually passed without even any debate. Ever since, American citizens have been the powerless subjects of big business fat cats, and communities have been destroyed by tycoons who make criminal decisions from far away.
Currently, there are two major organizations working to bring this issue to public consciousness: Reclaim Democracy ( http://www.reclaimdemocracy.org/ ) and POCLAD (Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy) ( http://www.poclad.org/ ).
Their efforts are still patchwork and their objectives are still a little fuzzy in the public mind, but they share the aim of taking away the real power in our country and the world from soulless corporations and returning that power to people with consciences. It could be done legislatively if our elected representatives were not so corrupt.
What kind of world do we want? Do we want the best possible products or the best possible communities? The highest possible profits or the best possible lives for all humans? I urge all of you to investigate this matter more carefully, but I realize what we're up against in regard to getting such measures as restarting the corporate charter system through our criminal legislatures. Therefore, what is needed are ballot initiatives to overturn the 1886 Santa Clara decision and begin to return ultimate power to ordinary people in an actualized democracy.
However, we face another complicating factor before we can address the corporate personhood issue: electronic voting. The recent implementation of Touchscreen voting machines in most states poses the single biggest current threat to our freedom. These machines are all owned by political operatives, who by computer manipulation can change any vote total at any time.
Plenty of evidence of this surfaced in the 2002 elections, and a national movement is growing to outlaw all computer voting machines, because no one can adequately audit the vote totals. A truly honest country would invalidate the entire 2002 election because of this, but we know what the score is, and unless all of these machines can be eliminated, all hope for a legitimate democracy and an honest vote count are gone. For more information on this and other aspects of vote manipulation, check out http://www.talion.com/
And even if this were accomplished, the lack of a legitimate opposition party in the United States all but guarantees the destructive practices of the power elite cannot be thwarted in the foreseeable future. Consider the current Democratic candidates lining up to oppose Bush in the 2004 election: Skull & Bones cultist John Kerry and Zionists Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman. So even if this new electronic vote scam is fixed, the candidates of the power elite will assure that nothing will change, and the slide toward oblivion for the planet and economic enslavement for ordinary people will continue. Still, we cannot but try to at least restore some degree of integrity to our voting system.
Once voting is again conducted with pencils on paper ballots (it's the most honest way, and used all over Europe, which has banned voting machines) and the corporate personhood issue has been resolved in favor of actual people, then we can begin to deal with the totalitarian problems of schools aimed to create robots and all the newspapers and TV stations owned by that small circle of billionaire thugs. Currently, schools are headed in the wrong direction, with all sorts of corporate incentives being dangled in front of cash-strapped school districts and teachers. Polluting industries besiege teachers at conventions, twisting facts to get teachers to tell their students global warming is a fallacy. Huge agribusiness throws money at schools to teach that pesticides and biotech foods are good things. Schools sell space to advertisers and as a result receive unhealthy products for free. And now, so-called faith-based initiatives threaten to erase the last vestige of progressive ideas from our less fortunate neighborhoods and replace them with a corrupt series of discriminatory control mechanisms ruled over by morally bankrupt fundamentalist Christian zealots.
If you've watched TV lately, the environment and the common person have no defenders. A one-sided stream of pseudo-patriotic invective glorifies the lies of George Bush and treats each fictional claim about Iraq's threat as being beyond question. Then, when the pro-war public relations gimmicks are one-by-one exposed as lies, they are buried at the bottom of newscasts as incidental corrections. No one person should own more than one newspaper, or one TV station.
In fact, no one should own any property they don't live on. (A humane society of the future will pass that law, if the human race regains control of itself.) But on TV, owned by the same masters who make the weapons and the drugs, no one talks about any of that.
Beginning with A.S. Neill and his famous school and book "Summerhill", all compassionate and honest educators have known that the best educational system is one chosen by the children, and not one determined by psychologists or drug companies. Currently, most objective observers describe today's schools as being driven by the forces of marketing, as multinationals try to brainwash our children into becoming brand-loyal consumers.
School officials have notoriously sold out to the forces of capitalism in exchange for big salaries, and most conscientious parents with the financial wherewithal to choose alternatives no longer send their children to public schools. Many teachers betray their primary missions by focusing on the authority
of their teaching rather than the genuine needs of the children being educated. Teachers have been brainwashed, too, and seek to impose that brainwashing on their unwitting pupils.
A child free to choose individual courses of study — and we all want to be educated; no child, given a choice, would choose not to be educated — will become an adult demanding accurate news reports, not like now, when all kids are hammered into the same trendy molds, riddled with drugs and corporate-concocted music, and expected to partake in the same lockstep media crap that now afflicts us all. No wonder they rebel and shoot guns at their peers!
So if the school problem could be fixed, the media problem would take care of itself, and politicians would no longer be able to say they couldn't reveal certain information because of national security, because all people would be intimately involved with the security and progress of their own nation or state.
The only reason government officials seek to keep details of their deals secret is not for reasons of national security, but because their rich friends are making money off the deals they cloak in righteous, patriotic rhetoric. Throughout history, it has always been this way. The public just never catches up with that realization, because, victims of inferior education that they are, they are overwhelmed by the phony stories, and by neighbors who have been bribed to support the scams convincing skeptics not to rock the boat in the name of patriotism.
Imagine a really intelligent person who had created and achieved her own educational goals having to choose from the ridiculously delusional media spectrum of today, where everything is aimed toward duping consumers into buying products they don't really need. Truly educated people would all simply stop reading and listening to the false information now perpetrated on Fox, CNN and Clear Channel Radio. These bad acts would go out of business in a heartbeat.
All the colleges would fail, too, because they now try to do the same thing as the public schools — try to hammer disparate personalities into pre-packaged slots to create more effective worker bees and unquestioning consumers. Even the medical professions suffer from this rigid regimentation, and the public suffers as less popular but more relevant medical treatments are shut out by curricula determined by commercial interests rather than healers with integrity. That's why the doctors give everybody so many drugs — it's profitable and better yet (for them), no one ever gets well.
OK, let's review so far. The mainstream media are our big problem (not because they're too right or too left; those are phony distinctions designed to distract you) because they don't ever tell you what's really going on. They don't tell you the U.S. is in Colombia to smooth the flow of drugs to the international cartels; they say America is there to stop the flow of drugs to street dealers. They don't tell you American soldiers beat people to death in the streets of Colombia simply for growing up in the wrong neighborhood, either, but it happens, a lot more often that you would like to believe (and in many other countries, too, from Panama to Bosnia).
The mainsteam media are never going to tell you that the U.S. government created AIDS at Fort Detrick, Maryland, because they make far too much money accepting advertising from the pharmaceutical giants who helped implement that program to ever reveal a truth so close to home. You seldom hear about the Bush family's connections to either Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden — or that these so-called al-Qaida terrorists were funded by the U.S. and their Saudi co-conspirators because, well, that wouldn't be patriotic! Instead they hammer out lie after lie beneath logos blaring "Showdown with Iraq" without mentioning that all the stated rationales for such a rash excursion are out-and-out falsehoods, unprovable assertions designed only to aid in the flow of cash to the rich men who make the guns, the radioactive waste, and the prescription drugs.
I could go on about this; most of you already know the score. What is really needed is a wider circulation of the perceptions many of us already have to those less informed, less wordly, with less access to the independent, underground web media that try so hard to dispel the myths that distract us.
We need to talk about the 9/11 questions in a rational manner: why the air defenses didn't react, why Bush went to that school and talked to children for a half hour even though he knew two planes had attacked New York, why so many people were tipped off not to fly on that fateful day. This outreach is essential to have a larger audience questioning the fictions about 9/11, Enron and other noteworthy corporate crimes that now are not being adequately addressed.
The amazing thing about talking to people who haven't had access to a lot of the revealing details about recent political events that are now found on the web is that they tend to already know, intuitively, what you're saying. Most people know the media polls have been lying all along; Bush is ridiculous. If his level of evolution were the level of American culture, we wouldn't even have invented the car yet.
Everybody, in their own way, knows that something is profoundly wrong with today's American society. It's just a matter of those having the information at their disposal disseminating it effectively. You also have to weed out, or avoid, those who have been paid off to maintain a pro-establishment point of view, either by political entities or religious organizations. There are a lot of moles out there, who will string you along for awhile before revealing their true objectives, be they members of the impotent Democratic party, cynical Christian schools or deceptive Zionist apologists (sometimes, you get three in one). These three groups are working against the improvement of society in favor of their own narrow-minded goals, which often they don't really believe themselves but have been talked into believing because of their guilt over not really understanding what is truly going on.
Which leads us to the most important aspect of our current dilemma — the matter of religion, specifically, the killer religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Adherents of each demonize the other two, claiming their version of God is the infallible one, even though all three derive from the same teachings, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), and even have the same founder, Abraham.
Up until the present day, devotees of these religions are the greatest murderers of human beings in history. Members of each religion are currently prominent in the most of the major political conflicts of the present day. It is probably disingenuous to insist that these religions are the causes of current conflicts — because the politicians who determine wars' causes exploit religion, they don't practice it — but it is undeniable that religions provide the behavioral groundwork for practitioners of these "holy" rites to indulge in the mass murder of their opposition. So in that sense, they do bear a fundamental responsibility for the continuing violence, in that they all condone the slaughter of innocents as a legitimate redress for their real or trumped-up grievances.
I bring this up for the purpose of pointing out that without these holy orders to kill from the most respected teachers in each of these religions, we likely would not have the intensity of political conflicts that now cause us so much tragedy. Sure, the stated reasons of most of these conflicts involve commodities like oil, but the political rhetoric that finally triggers them is inevitably couched in terms and concepts we learned from our holy books.
We scapegoat others for behavior that we ourselves practice. As the old saying goes, one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. In religious terms, the holy killing of our enemies makes us feel more alive, which is really why the killing happens in the first place.
Very few people can as yet see that the lie we tell ourselves about eternal life is directly related to war. Belief in an afterlife cheapens life on this planet. And from this epiphany comes the explanation of why Bush is so popular among those who do not think deeply, and why so many of us want this war — want any war — because it makes us feel more secure in some primitive, unexamined way.
As the little known cultural anthopologist Ernest Becker pointed out, the evil men produce derives from the very heroism they seek to achieve. We seek to achieve this this heroism because it insulates us from the terror of death, it gives us a reason to live in an otherwise meaningless world. Death denial — a.k.a the belief in an afterlife — allows us to live comfortably but makes us practice rituals of destruction, and from this destruction, we derive pleasure and justification for our sad little lives. As the world's multifaceted environmental crisis intensifies — the oceans are poisoned, the air is fouled, half all animal species have disappeared since the start of the Industrial Age, and global warming threatens to soon change the face of our landmass — the time has definitely come in human history to question all of our behavior, but most especially that supernatural religious propaganda that not only allows us to kill everything in sight — but praises us for doing it in defense of senseless, ephemeral and deluded goals.
I wouldn't go so far as to blame God for all these problems, but I would lay the problem squarely at the feet of our priests, who were always supposed to tell us how to live justly, but who have really only shown us how to kill without guilt.
If we could begin to fix this problem, I have a hunch a lot of the other, lesser problems would evaporate, because then we
would be living lives of true compassion and justice. And as long as we worship a jealous, vengeful God who urges us on to the glorious slaughter of our enemies, peace is simply not going to happen, and we are truly doomed to live out our lives with increasing levels of mass murder, pollution, and meaninglessness.
••• As I look in the mirror, I see that all this is my fault, as much as anybody else's. The world has been pretty much destroyed on my watch, in my lifetime. In 1974 when I first woke up to the lies of Nixon and the shameless charade in Vietnam, sure, I got out and waved my signs, but like so many others, couldn't identify the clearly evident sociological patterns of exploitation and destruction that I have described herein. They existed then as well as now. But I hid my head, pursued my trivial desires, and hoped somebody would fix this mess. Nobody did.
I wouldn't care all that much now, because I don't have too many days left on this planet, except than when I look in the mirror to shave, down in the corner of my eye, I see, fleetingly, this little girl's face. An imaginary construct, no doubt, etched in my memory from some Save the Children ad on TV. A little girl with a dirty face, smiling, but long dead, bludgeoned to death by some Guatemalan death squad working for a coffee plantation billionaire, or napalmed from 30,000 feet in Vietnam, or decayed to death in Iraq after playing with her doll in some depleted uranium dirt. She was killed unnoticed by the American war machine, the same evil entity that now prepares to do more of the same in virtually every country on Earth.
It is this little, unnoticed face that American prosperity is built upon. It happened in my lifetime, right before my eyes. Her smile is the shadow in my heart.
••• Relevant reference material:
• Two books by the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker (1924-74): "The Denial of Death" and "Escape from Evil," explain, among other things that "war is sociological safety valve that cleverly diverts popular hatred for ruling classes into a happy occasion to mutilate or kill foreign enemies," and that "killing others lessens our own fear of dying, although it is our own sense of animality and inferiority we try to kill — and never succeed." • Summerhill: The first school in England where inspectors must use the children's opinions in the evaluation of the school: http://www.s-hill.demon.co.uk/