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William Rivers Pitt: A Sentinel in Time

A Sentinel in Time

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Thursday 28 December 2006

The calendar pages of our collective history are dotted with a gloomy constellation of days marked in blood, in woe, and in regret. The assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy; that last, hurried helicopter flight from that last rooftop on that last day of our time in Vietnam; the day four lifeless little bodies were pulled from the rubble of a bombed church in Birmingham; the December morning when Pearl Harbor was transformed into a graveyard etched in infamy, the September morning when we all watched those proud Towers in Manhattan crumble and fall - these moments, and the others of like kind too vast in number to name, defined us and transformed us even as they left their scars.

Sometimes, when such a grim milestone passes, we can say to ourselves, yes, it was this terrible day that revealed and released the strength, courage and perseverance which came, in time, to define that moment. We can, with deserved pride, glory in the memory of our passage through those crucibles, confident in the hard-won knowledge that we all have the capacity to overcome any trial, and that surpassing good can be forged in the fires of sorrow and pain.

Too often, however, we come to remember a day of darkness as bereft, with empty hands and hollowed hearts, deprived of the chance or ability to do more than bow our heads and wish it could have been, somehow, different. It requires a long passage of time, in most instances, to allow the cold realities of such days to sink in, and to absorb the brutal totality of consequences we have been burdened to endure in the aftermath. Some moments linger, haunting us, seemingly beyond redemption or solace.

Worst of all, such days breed more days to match or surpass them. The wretched offspring of one malignant moment are birthed into our future, where they wait like deep chasms in a darkened road. Like Booth's bullet, they cut a swath through time itself, and no matter our efforts or exertions, we never seem quite able to reach a place where we are free from their damned and damnable power to do us harm.

On the twentieth day of this coming new year, we will mark the sixth anniversary of the moment George W. Bush stood before Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, raised his right hand into a bitter wind, and swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

This, in the fullness of time, may well stand as such a day. Everything we have endured these last six years - the death, the horror, the fear, the anger - was born that afternoon in Washington, DC. We have already suffered myriad consequences because of it - the shame of Abu Ghraib; the lingering fear of blue skies and airplanes; the ebb tide of freedom as rights become privileges too easily withheld, the bottomless sorrow stitched into nearly three thousand folded American flags while taps played to the wind - and it is a bleak certainty that further suffering born on that day lies in wait.

Consider some other anniversaries we will mark in this new year.

February 5th will be the fourth anniversary of Colin Powell's presentation before the United Nations, in which he stated without equivocation that Saddam Hussein possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that could easily be delivered to terrorists for use against us. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, and all the bloody calamities to follow, became an inevitability on this day. It was not so much the presentation itself that sealed the deal - much of which was and remains laughably transparent - but Powell himself. Wreathed in the fawning adulation of the media establishment, the myth of his rectitude carried the day, thus damning untold thousands to death, suffering, and pain.

March 19th will likewise be the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, of "Shock and Awe," and of the moment a match was put to the fuse. Beyond the blood already spilled because of this day - blood like an ocean - is the carnage yet to come. Before much of this new year is gone, the only people still talking about "winning" in Iraq will be that small cadre of wretches who created this anniversary in the first place, whose monochromatic ideologies exploded an inescapable quagmire that will be generational in its impact upon us all.

May 1st will be the fourth anniversary of the day President Bush stood before an assembled gathering of servicemen and women on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to gleefully declare, under a bright banner reading "Mission Accomplished," that victory in Iraq had been achieved. Little needs to be said here, because the obvious grossness of some moments requires no further elaboration, except this: Of the nearly three thousand soldiers killed in Iraq, and the nearly 47,000 soldiers wounded in Iraq, only the barest fraction fell before the first of May 2003. All the rest have come in the long days, weeks, months, and years since that bright banner was unfurled.

December 17th will be the second anniversary of Bush's public confirmation that he had indeed authorized the National Security Agency to tap the telephones of countless American citizens - said taps having been undertaken without warrants. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, a law requiring these warrants to protect citizens against undue governmental intrusion, was discarded out of hand through these actions. Despite the fact that almost no requests for FISA warrants have ever been denied, and that the parameters for obtaining these warrants are so broad that they can be obtained even after the surveillance is underway, Bush and his people deemed the FISA requirements too restrictive. On this anniversary, we mark the moment when a president placed himself above the law by fiat and suffered no consequences - the moment when each and every one of us stepped deeper into the doomed, imprisoned shadow of Winston Smith.

These are but a small sampling of the moments, days, decisions, and consequences unleashed on January 20, 2001. Freighted with deadly potential, each of these was born that day, and each has itself become a singularity, a creator of mayhem and strife in its own right. As that first moment poisoned the potential of so many tomorrows, so now do these. The bomb that kills a child in Baghdad creates the father whose revenge will be gained by another's senseless death. The official lie that goes unchallenged clears a path for the deadlier lies to follow. A deliberate chip in the walls defending our rights is the perfect spot to lay in the pry bar, until the chip becomes a hole through which tyranny may pass with stunning ease.

Thus, the anniversaries of woe are compounded; consequences spawned by consequences, and a future once defined by hope is transformed into a territory of dread.

Yet, in spite of all the horrors arrayed before us, even as our uncertain future whispers its omens of grief from an unfathomable darkness, there is a simple and unassailable truth standing sentinel against despair. We are that truth - all of us, every one. We are a defiant counterweight that can tip the scales of history. The wellspring of limitless possibility and potential that is humanity's astonishing birthright bestows upon each of us the means to be the alchemists of o?r own fate.

You are the bulwark, as this new year approaches: a defining line between the possible and the inevitable. The terrible moments of our past reach out to define our future, to create new anniversaries of mourning from the old. Only your will can keep this beast at bay. If you choose to, if you summon the courage and strength and perseverance that have served us well so many times before, the momentum of that cold January day and all the days that followed will be checked.

You are stronger than history, if you choose to be so. The future is yours to create, if you choose to do so. The moments to come are yours. Let nothing and no one steal them from you. Guard them with your life, because that is exactly what they are.


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.

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