What Are You Sending by William P. Benz
In the first weeks of February I received a half dozen emails imploring me to join a grass roots campaign to protest the impending war with Iraq by sending bags of rice to the White House.
It’s been challenging to consider what possible gains could be derived from such an endeavor: • A feeling we’ve done our small part in stopping the war? • An assuagement of our sense of isolation and culpability? • A reassurance to Bush that the opposition is negligible?
If I’m totally honest, my primary reaction is one of dismay at the plan’s gullibility and the historical ignorance upon which it is based. I say this with no denigration towards this sincere effort at confronting Bush’s duplicitous warmongering. But, to make a difference, the true nature of this particular Beast must be thoroughly understood. Only then can we choose actions that counterveil its continuing transgression on the rights and wellbeing of others.
As a nation of consumers, habituated to extravagant standards of living, we easily justify our life style as something we do for our kids, our community, our retirement. But to expunge this Beast, we must deny the food that gives it strength.
Few in this country know the brutal extent of worldwide exploitation necessary to insure our level of prosperity. As a consequence, few understand the justifiable hatred it elicits. Not just in respect to this administration, but going back decades—in fact, centuries—to the time that our western European ancestors/predecessors threw off the chains of servitude and founded this nation by immediately placing those shackles on others. Starting with the indigenous peoples, then slaves stolen from Africa, and finally, upon our own short-lived aspirations to true democracy. Until we get these connections straight, we’ll continue to misconstrue both the crisis and viable alternatives necessary for its resolution.
Without this clarification we’re condemned to grasp at straws in the political wind and accept the fabrications foisted on us by corporate dominated media.
A recent example: After disaster struck the returning Shuttle Columbia, we were told, “These seven astronauts who plunged to their fiery deaths fully accepted the calculated risks of space travel and thus courageously died with honor.” As a nation we grieved. Calls went out for all citizens to join together in an expression of solidarity. Sounds like a good plan. Especially, if it includes revealing the dysfunction of NASA’s maintenance and safety programs under Bush-appointed Administrators. And how, by earmarking Billions for launching secret military satellites, this needless disaster was ensured.
Publicly, in doublespeak, this change in emphasis was hailed as a huge step forward for space exploration.
In other press conferences, these same people have portrayed the International Space Station as being solely for Scientific Research, while the Pentagon and Office of Homeland Security make contingency plans for using it in the Battle of Armageddon. And Yes, Dorothy, there are leaders in both places who literally believe they have a God-ordained role to play in this final battle between Good & Evil.
I would rather hear from those at the Johnson Space Center who tried to warn us that the aged Columbia was destined for catastrophic demise. But in the past, whenever they spoke up, they were reprimanded for nay-saying and shuffled out.
In light of this, were the astronauts Heroes? Or, tragic victims?
If I attempted a summertime trip to Death Valley in an ‘81 Ford held together with parts scavenged from eBay, broke down, and died in the extreme heat, would you consider me a Hero or a Fool? The fact I thought I was doing this for the benefit of all mankind probably wouldn’t sway your opinion.
But what if you were swamped with saturation media coverage emphasizing how I was first in my class, a father of three, a unique individual living the American Dream, with parents confident I died doing what I loved best, and was now safely at home in Heaven with our Lord! Would that change your mind? Let’s hope not. But for most Americans that’s all it takes to bring them out in droves to honor a sacrifice and effectively prevent them from questioning if it was indeed necessary.
I’m sorry if this sounds so ruthlessly harsh. But I believe the best way to honor these astronauts is to uncover the root cause of their death. Which I believe in the final analysis was not mechanical malfunction, but political malfeasance.
With so little time in our lives to ferret this all out, it’s hard to continue without wishing we could disconnect from all this bleakness. In fact, we’re actively manipulated to continue in no other way.
If you want a reality check about what it takes to challenge a government gone mad, read the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Especially, his Letters and Papers from Prison. As a German ecumenical minister he became increasingly opposed to the ideologies of Nazism. He escaped persecution by coming to New York in 1939. (How many times have we wondered where we could hide?) But his conscience required his immediate return to lead his church in opposition to injustice. With much torment this devout pacifist eventually joined the Abwehr Resistance, for which he was sent to a concentration camp and eventually hanged at Flossenbürg, on April 9, 1945.
Also instructive are writings and history of Martin Niemöller. A decorated U-Boat commander, he became the Lutheran minister who said he would rather burn his church down than support the Nazis. To him is attributed the oft-quoted poem, “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I didn’t speak up…”. So concerted was his opposition to the Fuhrer, he was arrested on Hitler’s direct orders and spent eight years in concentration camps until being freed at the end of the war.
Let us view the “Rice for Peace” campaign in light of the sacrifices of these two men. For some, I’m sure it’s a comfort to believe that small efforts of sincere people, invoking the word of God, can ultimately stay the hand with its finger on the nuclear trigger. But what if that hand is attached to an un-elected president? Un-elected! Remember Florida?
When such events occur in third world countries our interpretation is quick and clear—a dictator has trounced another democracy. So why our double standard? Do we fear the personal costs of acknowledging it happened on our own soil? Could it be that we fear the fate that befell Bonhoeffer and Niemöller? Do you actually think an Un-elected President takes time consulting the mailroom about packages of rice?
Considering the consequences, can we afford being victims of such credulity? Did anyone check the veracity of this Eisenhower story? I did. But my purpose here is not to prove whether it’s true or not. I’m more concerned with the consequence of basing our resistance upon a single story of hope.
I can’t believe that the man who was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces on D-Day would base his decision to use nuclear weapons on whether a couple hundred packets of rice arrived on a particular day. To me, that wouldn’t be very reassuring.
I know it’s painful to acknowledge the depravity of our leaders, but to do other-wise at this juncture will only further imperil our already grave situation.
Even if this story was true, do you think George Bush is free to respond with the morality of Eisenhower? The reality is that we have as little functional access to the Office of the President as the German people had to Hitler.
I agree that to do nothing is no longer possible. But do you really believe the German people in ’39 could have stopped Hitler from blitzkrieging Poland through petition alone?
I think we need to ground our actions more to the present, by holding ourselves to a higher degree of critical understanding. We owe that to the people of Iraq, to all the children of this world, to our Constitution, and even to George Bush.
Do I actually feel our situation is as desperate as the German People facing Hitler?
Sometimes, I do. Especially, when our leaders demand we see all situations as purely black or white.
Sometimes, I don’t. But even then, I feel more like a whistleblower at NASA being silenced.
In either case, the similarities are frightening.
Towards the end of his presidency, Eisenhower had grown wary of using military force to solve international conflict. If you really want to know how he felt, I suggest reading his Farewell Address on January 17, 1961, where he says the following: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarran-ted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Can you imagine George Bush being allowed to say anything similar?
It’s reported that George spent much of his reservist time during the Vietnam War being AWOL. Eisenhower saw the insanity of war first hand. The fact these words came from a West Point graduate who became a five star general after a lifetime spent in military service should have caused us to take them seriously.
Unfortunately, as a nation, we were neither alert nor knowledgeable enough to follow his advice and avoid what he feared most.
The “military-industrial complex” influence on our President, every cabinet member, and nearly every congressperson, is so extreme it limits their working for the good of the many. The agenda of this deadly combination is curtailing our liberties to a degree that would make Heinrich Himmler envious. As for demo-cratic processes, we have watched as Bush’s brother, the Governor of Florida, refused to address voting irregularities that disenfranchised thousands of Blacks and Jews. Then watched our Supreme Court validate the invalid results by invoking some flimsy “equal protection” clause, allowing George to assume the Presidency under a pall of fraud.
These are observations that few Europeans have forgot, in distinct contrast to their American counterparts. Here, we suffer under the illusion that the means of redress are still functionally available to us.
There is only one country in this world that unequivocally leads in the possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction and is actively declaring its unilateral intention for their use.
Does the killing of non-combatant citizens to ensure a steady flow of oil so our gas guzzling SUVs don’t run dry differ greatly from a cowardly attack on innocents by a terrorist who feels he has nothing to lose? And can we express moral outrage at Hussein’s killing of Kurds when we let thousands of our own children die each year due to poverty, lack of healthcare and no access to a decent education?
The lack of world support for Bush’s War would turn to outright opposition and censorship if the USA wasn’t armed to the teeth and sporting a belligerent as Commander in Chief. The only thing his war will ensure is an increase in terrorist activities. And with the fear that follows, pressure to silence all attempts at future reconciliation. Whether we stop this war or not, we will still have to face the issues of global exploitation being done in our name by corporations determined to insure profits at any cost. For when the plug is finally pulled on this steady stream of stolen wealth, by either the rising up of justice or the running out of raw materials, our nation’s slide into fascism could be quick, and difficult to stop.
What would Hitler do with a hundred thousand bags of rice? He would have found out who sent them. What would George Bush do? Nothing. He already knows and doesn’t seem to give a damn.
“Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.” ~Martin Niemöller
It’s time to join together to bring this travesty of a democracy to its senses. Unfortunately, doing that will cost each of us a lot more than a bag of rice. We all have a decision to make. But if we don’t act quickly and with intelligence to confront those that beat the drums of war and intolerance, someone else will make that decision for us.
See you in the streets.
William P. Benz is an Artist, Writer, and Poet living in Portland, Oregon. He Specializes in the Design of Information Filters, the Surfacing of Mental Models, and the Creative Reintegration of Defective WorldViews. For more info, visit his WEB Space at www.aracnet.com/~wpbenz. Or send email to [email protected]