William Rivers Pitt: The Wretched Years
The Wretched Years
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 13 October 2006
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
- Maya Angelou
George W. Bush gave a press conference this past Wednesday in an attempt to snatch back the conversation from North Korea's nukes and Mark Foley's instant messages. A reporter from CNN asked him about the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report that puts the civilian death toll in Iraq at 655,000. "I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to - you know, that there's a level of violence that they tolerate," he responded.
Yes. That's what he said.
This is, to a degree, not terribly surprising. Mr. Bush has a penchant for casually saying the most abominable things imaginable without blinking. Recall, if you will, the days following the attacks of September 11th. A pall of poison smoke still hung low over New York City. Americans were suddenly living in fear of blue skies and airplanes. The as-yet-unsolved anthrax attacks on Congress and the media had us all collecting our mail with oven mitts while holding our breath.
On October 4th, 2001, less than a month after the attacks, Mr. Bush said, "We need to counter the shock wave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates."
Yes. That's what he said.
These two statements serve as bookends for the wretched years we have endured. The worst attack in American history is used to pimp a plan for tax cuts, and the unimaginable slaughter of Iraqi civilians is a platform for praising the survivors of the carnage because they are so darned good at tolerating it.
What will history have to say about these times? History, it has often been said, is written by the victors, but who really wins anything after all this? If the most delectable left-wing fantasies come true - the Democrats take Congress in November, Bush and his cronies are impeached by a fire-breathing Conyers Judiciary Committee - little will be left to win.
People will still be dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. New Orleans will still be destroyed. The environment will still be poisoned. Laws that all but eviscerate the Bill of Rights will still be on the books. The same unimaginably wealthy industrialists will still have the same clout. The news media will still be controlled by people whose interests lie far afield from telling us the truth.
Much of this can be undone or contained, to be sure, except for all the death. The laws can be rolled back. Sensible policies can be applied to the wars we are losing. New Orleans can be rebuilt. The media can be re-regulated. With a proper amount of effort and attention, most of the damage that has been done can be fixed. Except for all the death.
But that is not winning, not really, because the problem is not so much that these things happened and now have to be fixed. The problem is that they were allowed to happen at all. A lot of things have gone astonishingly wrong in America if a passage of time such as this exists in the first place. It has happened, all of it. This is no long nightmare. It is as real as the nose on your face.
It is a disgrace, a scar on our history and our consciousness. Worse, the fact that all this did happen means it can happen again. The power-hungry now have a marvelous blueprint for the unmaking of a republic, and they will likely be surprised at how trifling easy it is to pull off. Americans, it seems, have at least one thing in common with Iraqis. We are great, apparently, at tolerating the intolerable.
Is George W. Bush the cause of all this, or merely a symptom? I used to be fond of telling people that blaming Bush for everything that has gone wrong is like blaming Mickey Mouse when Disney screws up. This is still true, to a large degree. But then again, he said those things. Perhaps he is a little of both.
History is written by the winners. Be it resolved, then, that winning means trying to fix everything that is broken, that it means holding the proper people accountable for their actions. Be it likewise resolved that winning means not forgetting, that it means something good absolutely must come from these wretched years. If that good boils down to two words - "Never Again" - then that is victory enough.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.