Guest Opinion: The American Tragedy
The American Tragedy
By Ranjan Abayasekara
America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. --Abraham Lincoln-
Oh wad some power the giftie gie us; To see oursel's as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, And foolish notion. - Robert Burns
Bush, Iraq, Powell, Rumsfeld, Saddaam ...... how did these names come to invade all our conscious and semi-conscious - thoughts. How did we allow one issue to dominate the globe? With a global media outreach, and almost hegemonistic influence over many countries and their leaders, the American leadership of today has been able to force the world, to focus on only one issue in the past few months. "Iraq must be attacked, now!! No time to waste - our troops are 'on location'. To ensure Peace we must have War!!" To their surprise the public, and leaders of some 'old countries', have absorbed this continuous barrage, and given an unexpected verdict - NO WAR!!
From being the focus of world sympathy after September 2001, the American leadership has taken a path, where they are now reviled and looked upon with scorn in many places around the world. They have taken their nation, and with it probably the fate of many other nations around the world, to the brink of an abyss. This is only part of the American tragedy.
America - how the word rolls off the tongue - it seemed to personify all that was strong and good in my growing up years. A country so young, and yet so great; a country that was vibrant and so much alive. One had to admire how it had laid its foundations. Words, which can only inspire even the coldest heart may be read on a tablet at the pedestal of America's icon, the Statue of Liberty, which my wife and visited in 1992. A clarion call to the "wretched refuse of teeming shores" to come to America, to be met "by a lamp, beside a golden door!" They built a great country in less than two-hundred years, based on the 'blood, toil, tears and sweat' of a mainly migrant work force. America was made up of people from all countries, and surely would not lose their sense of roots with all humanity, comprising other nations around the world. As a kid in the 50s, my 'heroes' were Superman & The Phantom, read on strip cartoons in the newspapers in Srilanka. While in school, JFK was a living hero, and later on Abraham Lincoln's life & values, seemed to shine out like a beacon to all mankind. Our boyhood impersonations were at times of Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, doing imaginary rafting on the Mississippi! When you read America's great literature, you cannot fail to be inspired by so much of it.
I had a personal encounter, with the spirit of America, when I was in my twenties, which strengthened the notion of a generous people. It was the wedding of our eldest sister in June 1975. All the family would be there, except for one, the fourth in our family of seven. He was half the world away - a poor undergraduate on his own, my parents did not have the means to send him even a dollar, as he struggled his way through College. He was working early mornings and week-ends, working as a Janitor in a church for his lodgings, selling encyclopaedias in the vacations - all just to pay his fees and meet expenses. We knew that his chair would be vacant at our family's great occasion.
Close to finishing ties with University life myself, I came home for the wedding, and was stunned to hear that my brother's chair would be filled! He was flying in from Florida to be at the joyous family occasion. His story was astonishingly simple. It was love that made it possible for him to be there. Love of the people who'd surprised him one Sunday in church, with a cheque for US$2500 - -"To enable our friend, to fly back home to Srilanka for the wedding of his eldest sister". He'd even taken part in some of the fund raising events of the church he attended, little events & bigger events, all the while not knowing that he was to be the ultimate recipient of this warm hearted generosity of his new friends. He not only came, for the occasion, but was Master of Ceremonies, speaking and singing for the gathering, to make our family's cup of joy complete. We shared his pride in the wonderful & warm- hearted people of his new homeland, America.
When my wife and I travelled on a Cosmos coach tour in Europe, in 1985, we visited 7 countries in 8 days. We were thrown together with a motley collection of folks from different lands. Among the many pleasant and happy memories of that trip, one memory mars the fondness...... At mealtimes we would sit wherever, and usually took that welcome chance to chat to other members of the tour group. We were at breakfast in the German town of Trier, and with us sat a middle-aged American couple. The lady was polite and one could almost imagine her serving Apple Pie to the family back at home. The man sadly portrayed all that was lacking in many American's understanding of the world. He only could see us as "third world" types, deserving of scorn and hand-outs. Throughout breakfast when his wife would try to carry on an intelligent conversation, he would interject it with "Take these and put them in your pockets" - pointing to the sugar sachets, coffee & Tea packets that were kept on the table! Once would be bad enough, but to repeatedly behave so repulsively, much to the embarrassment of his wife, reminded me of the phrase 'the ugly American'. It spoke to me of the other side to the American psyche - the feeling of being on top and looking down on the rest of humanity. Surely did not they know that we were all equal human beings on this planet? That wealth does not necessarily equate with goodness? On the contrary wealth and goodness, at most times were at logger heads.....
Coming back to the questions I started this piece with, the face it is not possible to escape from during any TV news bulletin nowadays, is that of the President of USA. His face and words were pummelled into our consciousness when the USA decided to walk the path of global punishment and began raining death and destruction on Afghanistan. It was “a war between Good and Evil", he said. As we heard that phrase we realised the appalling short sightedness of the leadership of the world's only super power. Terrorism had hit many people and many lands for many years, and no other nation had embarked on a war on any nation in retribution. A few regimes, which tried this path have been unsuccessful, realising that it only increased terror attacks. Some are now trying the path of peaceful negotiation after decades of bloodshed. Does not the USA realise that they alone have bombed innumerable countries in a short span of time? - China, Guatemala, Cuba, Congo, Laos, Vietnam. Grenada, Panama, Korea, Peru, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Indonesia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia .- and surely, there could be a day for reaping what they have sown? The US president asks the question, "Why do they hate us? We who are so good? Why?...."
Good vs Evil...... The American President is so clear in his mind what war is about. He invokes God (as do many of his sworn enemies) on every occasion, and one can only look in the Good Book for guidance on the subject of evil. We are told that the root of all evil is .... "the love of money." This brings us to the subject of wealth, and how wealth is accumulated, by individuals and by nations. The democracy & freedoms enshrined in the US way of life has been spoken of a lot these past two years. The liberty enjoyed by its people, and its great and good institutions are sometimes quoted as being the cause of envy and hatred. Recent Presidential elections have had multi-millionaires contesting and one wonders how a simple honest man could compete against them. Then one realises that they all are millionaires. So it is democracy - but with a rider - it is only for millionaires!
The more one looks at the Democracy as it is found in the US today, one realises that it is a Democracy that has sadly mutated into something else from that which Abraham Lincoln referred to. The presence of lobbyists and the institutionalized buying of influence on Capitol Hill, shows the world the sad slide that American democracy has taken. Where votes are bought, and decisions reached ......all from the influence wielded by the deep pockets of lobbyists and their backers.
Looking at recent issues of Time Magazine, one realises the cancer associated with greed and wealth, that has spread in the US. Enron, Worldcom, Arthur Andersen are just some recent examples of corporate greed and fraud at the highest levels. "Lies, arrogance and betrayal" are the words uttered by investigators. Mega companies with "friends on Capitol Hill" have sadly transformed, 'the government of the people', into 'the government of some people'. The Dotcom mania and associated scandals have exposed to the world, the millions that were made by "insiders" at the expense of the ordinary American investor. Investment Bankers and Analysts, made multi-millions, by putting on 'Roadshows' to fool the gullible. All rational benchmarks were violated, and there were no stops to "mugging the public". The "feeding frenzies" at IPOs when stocks went on the market for the first time were unbelievable, and initially shown as being part of the "great American dream". All they were really was showing the tip of the iceberg that was the corrupt institutionalized systems that had evolved in America. The American people needed no external enemy to rip them off, plunging thousands into unemployment and despair. It was "insiders" that did them in!
The wealth and power the US commands around the world are awesome, but with such power, the US must realise, comes an awesome responsibility too. The interests of one's nation is of paramount importance no doubt. But is there something wrong with the rest of the world, especially the poorest nations, if US national interest requires that these be bombed and destroyed? The Kyoto protocol was important during one regime, but was thrown into the dustbin soon after an election! Does a nation's interest change so much in so short a time? Does the US need to spy on everybody using the Echelon network as 'Big Brother'; who one thought referred to the 'evil (red) empire'? Even with such a network, September 11 was not avoided. The reason apparently was because the network was being used for industrial espionage and associated work on behalf of US global industry, they did not see the extreme attacks that others were plotting. In July-August 2001 (before September11) there were talks scheduled for strengthening the Biological & Toxins Weapons Convention of 1972. One nation scuttled the talks - the USA! It was because the giant pharmaceutical companies objected to site inspections and export controls! Another example of the strength of the lobbying system is the inability for legislators to enact gun controls in the US. The Arms Industry is strong with factories spread throughout the nation. Winning billions of dollars in the US budget allocation is done via the threat of the spectre of "job loss" in the legislator's home states. One key factor in the current crisis does not require 'rocket science' to trace. It is the previous employment background of many in the White House inner circle. They all come from the US Oil Industry, and some of them may be even 'on leave', while they hold plum government posts! Time magazine talks of the companies already lining up for contracts in a post war Iraq, to be administered by the close friend of Donald Rumsfeld, retired general, Jay Garner.
WMD has come to be a well known acronym in recent times. There is only one country that invents, perfects, carries out tests, and has experience of using it on other human beings in the world's history. During the recent destruction of Afghanistan, the world was told about the fantastic "Predator" weapon that was tried out successfully. Now we are told about the new and perfect, ultra secret High Power Microwave weapons to be tried in an attack on Iraq. Evidently they have been invented just for such a purpose. The perfection and use of depleted uranium weapons in 1991, and the innumerable cases of childhood leukaemia in the region, is a result of such inventions. The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam is another example.
Who is good, and who is evil? The Taliban of Afghanistan - they executed some of their people in the soccer stadium in Kabul - so we know they are obviously evil. What about the regime of General Pinochet, installed by the CIA backed coup, which overthrew the democratically elected President Salvador Allende of Chile? They killed many hundreds in their stadium in Santiago, turning the dressing rooms into torture chambers - they can't be evil, can they? Saddam Hussein is evil now, but was he evil when Donald Rumsfeld shook his hand while visiting Baghdad in December 1983? Was he evil when he gassed his own people using western supplied technology, weapons and Bell helicopters? Was he evil when he was the US's man, fighting the 'evil Iranians'?
The Palestinian suicide bombers are evil, because they kill innocent people. Were the killers of 800 men, women and children in Sabra & Shattila evil? But they must have had a valid reason because they were Falange backed by Israel - anyway no one has been charged for this crime against humanity, which occurred on September 16th, 1982. The coming to power of General Suharto in Indonesia in the 1960s with the backing of US and UK - was there not close to a million slaughtered in that 'expression of freedom and democracy'? Was that good? What about missiles? Are Cruise and Tomahawk 'good' missiles, while the 'Scud' and ' Al-Samoud' are evil? Is it terrorism when a scud hits an Israeli City, and is it only collateral damage when a bride and groom and guests are blasted in Afghanistan? Or when 300 women and children are killed while seeking refuge in a bomb shelter?
The Spielberg film "Amistad" has within it, an unforgettable sequence of great power and eloquence. There are portions of this drama, and the lines therein, when one wonders if they could not be applied to America, in it's present tragic plight. The backdrop for Amistad is the threat of Civil War in the US, on the issue of Slavery. Some of the words in that dramatic scene before the US Supreme court, "Truth, driven like a slave"; "Long powerful arm of the executive office"; "the assertion that war and antagonism are the natural states of man" all seem to ring alarm bells in one's head. They seem to be equally applicable to the headlong rush to the gathering of huge armed forces in the Persian Gulf, marshalled by the only global super-power.
In Amistad, John Quincy Adams, ex-President, in his speech for the defence of Sinke, the slave trying to break free from his captors, asks for the help of the ancestors, as is done in Africa, when one is faced with an immense crisis. The 'ancestors' he looks for help from, are the great founding fathers of the USA - James Maddison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams. He says to them, "We desperately need your strength and wisdom to triumph over our fears, our prejudices and ourselves........." Hearing the names of 'America's ancestors' drives home to one, very sadly, the vast gulf that exists between them and the current leadership.
The American People themselves are as good or bad as any one else in the world. They cannot be held responsible for the litany of horrors and the actions carried out in the past by their leaders. Or the crimes that their present leadership is about to unleash. Recently resigned US diplomat John Brady Kiesling states in his letter of resignation - "We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily liking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq"
We all love heroes, and S11 gave us its fair share of them. Names which have become known throughout the world, such as Captain Pat Brown of the NYC Fire department, who gave his life looking for others in the North Tower, as he "had a job to do"... Mike Benfante and John Cerquiera who carried Tina Hansen down the stairwell, all of 68 floors, risking their lives for her, a stranger, who was surely doomed, when her special chair was found inoperable...Tom Burnett, Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick and others on Flight 93, who sacrificed their lives to prevent further deaths on the ground...... Their heroism and how they faced an immense crisis, deserves a special place in the history of mankind. Now it seems that the history of their valour is going to be erased by the actions of an armoured force of over 250,000 young Americans, who will invade a country and wreak havoc on unnumbered people, the majority of them civilians, and children. This will be what America will be remembered for by future generations...
The American tragedy is that since September 11, 2001, the American people have allowed their leadership to hijack their nation's wonderful heritage, into a path that holds terrible outcomes for them, and the rest of the world. Their great and indisputable strength is in their freedom to speak out. To march in New York, and other cities together with the rest of the world, and protest the war that their government is trying to embark on, is a powerful statement. To have the courage and strength of conviction, that there has to be a better way to resolve conflicts, is the strength of America. The US Defence department insiders, and others, may have decided early on, and convinced the US leadership in September 2001, that War on the Iraqi people, was in their best national interest. It is not too late for the American People to rise and protest against this "act of infamy".
"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship." --- Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials privately to Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail.
I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. -- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), U.S. President.
Note: I am not a writer or attached to any media
organization. Just an ordinary person, who views the slide
that the USA is taking the world on, with great dismay.
South Australia 9th March 2003
Author's Note: I am not a writer or attached to any media organization. Just an ordinary person, who views the slide that the USA is taking the world on, with great dismay.