After all these years, it still amazes how Americans can remain so disconnected from the world events in which we play so central a role. I use the term "world events" loosely, since the US today seems to have lost even its historically tenuous connections with the reality of the rest of the world. We continue to call our baseball championships the World Series, oblivious to how quaint and naive, at best--or arrogant and self-absorbed, at worst--it has always seemed to the rest of the world. This has been the hallmark of Americans' role in the world--a curious blend of ubiquitous involvement paired with near-total ignorance.
But the lovable galumpfing innocent act has worn thin around the world--innocents don't usually oust your elected leaders and install their own puppets--and its charm, if it ever had any, is no longer. Yet the national stupidity persists, facilitated by its enablers in the headline-addicted US press establishment, to the detriment of the American reputation around the world. Consider these gems from recent press accounts of the massacre in the Mansur district of Baghdad: "Oh So Close," chirped half a dozen tabloids. So close to what, exactly? Genocide? A War Crimes Tribunal?
No. The reference to a botched raid on a house where Saddam "may have been hiding" was to how close our liberators came to catching The Beast. The press has so completely given itself over to Pentagon propaganda that they can't even see red flags where they should, sort of like a Bizzarro Running of the Bulls. Before the monotony set in, my ears perked up at the tedious repetition of the obviously planted party line: how US forces had come within twenty-four hours of catching Hussein's security detail, "...and possibly even the deposed dictator himself."
Imagine my excitement! Almost! Very close! How dumb do you have to be to infer correctly that, in the pathologically dishonest code of the worst administration in history, as phrase as weak as "possibly even" should translate as "definitely not." Almost, we have learned, only counts in horshoes and WMDs.
Aside from Paul Simon lyrics, the other reference unzipping itself from the archive of my subconscious was the memory of Winston Smith, Orwell's everyman from 1984, sitting and playing chess while listening to broadcasts of how Big Brother would cleverly defeat the enemy. The parallel is chilling, and makes me wonder what kind of personal hell we are each supposed to go through before we all finally love Big Brother.
"How stupid do they think we are?," the question fairly screams in our minds. Apparently exactly as stupid as we have proven to be after all these years. Orwell's Goldstein expounded that he who controls the present controls the past, and he who controls the past controls the future. Of course, 1984 was at least partly fiction, a figment of Orwell's fertile communist imagination. We never got to see the other side of the story Winston weaves into a stunning triumph for Big Brother.
In this reality, at least for now, we are indeed privy to the rest of the story. We have access to front line reports of the massacre that unfolded under the name of this botched raid. The Independent's Robert Fisk takes a different line than the oft-repeated Fish Story: Troops Turn Botched Raid into Massacre . "At least one civilian car caught fire, cremating its occupants," reports Fisk. One civilian was brought to Yarmouk hospital "with his brain outside of his head." Well, Emily Latilla would have remarked before issuing her trademark "Never mind," "That's very different!"
However, the Fish Story about "the one that got away" is more compelling in our national, self-delusional narrative than the truth, and far easier to digest. But nobody needs a doctor to tell them that whether something tastes good is not the best proof that it is safe to eat. Likewise, Americans should be careful to trace how this poisonous story was deceptively sweetened into a near triumph--especially when, under the icing, it reveals an unmitigated disaster.
The veneer, our seemingly unending capacity to stay Still Stupid After All These Years, allows our governments literally to get away with murder. It allows us to ignore the roots of hatred and distrust in the region, from the CIA ouster of the elected but unacceptably socialist government of Mohamad Mossadegh in 1953. Equally forgotten is the US installation of the Shah's brutal regime and tireless efforts to prop up repressive governments throughout the Gulf, including Hussein himself. He who controls the past....
But of course, Goldstein collides with Santayana at some inevitable point. We appear to be indeed condemned to repeat the closed loop of Occupation 101. The language of imperial conquest is always the same: liberation, civilization, democratization...all hopelessly self-aggrandizing concepts to the families of the victim "with his brain outside of his head." The stupidity gene has been equally inherited by both major parties over the years, despite the current mutation into the truly monstrous. Nonetheless, one of the most rational calls comes from Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, who suggests withdrawing US troops, turning over reconstruction (and contracting) over to the UN, and making the Administration pay for the reconstruction its bombing made necessary. Cheney's personal fortune should cover a chunk of it. Sound advice that won't be followed--Simon's lyrics give way to Pete Seeger's, in the plaintive, almost mournful chorus to "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," a song he wrote in the wake of his indictment by the Unamerican Activities Commission in 1955: "When will we ever learn/Oh when will we ever learn?"
Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. He has appeared on radio [interview available here] Past articles, translations are available at danielpwelch.com. We would appreciate your linking to us.