Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Gardens of Eden

I wrote the following, Thoughts on the Draft, on January 8, 2003, a little more than two months before the Iraq War began. Reading James Carroll's essay about the international seed bunker reminded me of it...

I just heard on the radio that Congressmen Charles Rangel and John Conyers have introduced a draft bill for the purpose of making an inevitable draft for an inevitable basket of wars that neither man supports “more fair.”

Conyers stated very clearly that blacks make up a little more than 20 percent of the volunteer army and only 13 percent of the general population. He also stated that these young black people do not really volunteer, they “volunteer” because they cannot get education and career opportunities otherwise.

Rangel intoned that the “sacrifices” demanded by war should be borne by everyone, not just the poor.

First Point: Bush’s war is not inevitable. Congress declares war, not the President. Congress can allocate funding, and Congress can cut it off. Citizens can pay war taxes, and citizens can refuse. Police officers and judges can put people in jail, and police officers and judges can set people free. Soldiers can fire, or hold their fire.

To engage in war is to carry out a choice made by individual humans. War is not a form of the weather. And the millions of Americans currently involved in the Peace Movement or contemplating involvement do not get out of our houses and workplaces for a single anti-war action because we sit on our couches saying to ourselves, “Well, Bush wants it. So I guess it has to be.”

Besides, to be truly a fair fight, Bush and Hussein should duel one-on-one.

Second Point: US Strategy in Iraq to this point has been absolutely irrational, incoherent and unrelated to promoting human freedom. America funded, armed, trained and supplied Saddam Hussein and his fighters in the 1970s and 1980s to be our “friend” against Iran. The US gave Hussein the go-ahead to invade Kuwait and then pounced with ridiculously overpowering military force when he did. After reducing the country to rubble through the Gulf War, America imposed harsh economic sanctions that have exclusively sickened and killed the civilians of Iraq and destroyed their civil infrastructure, softening Saddam Hussein not one tiny little bit. America deliberately pulled out United Nations weapons inspectors -- some of whom were spies -- in 1998, because American bombs were about to start falling.

This irrationality and incoherence and absolute stupidity continues right up to the present day, when the United Nations is simultaneously conducting renewed inspections under a non-hair-trigger resolution, apparently finding nothing of particular threat to America or Americans WHILE conducting studies to prepare for the death, sickening, maiming and evacuation of up to 10 million Iraqi civilians WHILE Bush and Rumsfeld are merrily calling up reserves, building bases and shipping supplies for a ground invasion.

I try very hard to love George W. Bush, because I think Jesus was onto something really smart when he talked about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek. If you don’t, you have a vicious cycle of hate that never ends. But I also have a little voice in the back of my mind saying: “What if someone had assassinated Hitler? Would those millions of people have lived and loved for another 50 years?”

I don’t believe killing Bush is the right answer. Cheney would step into his shoes, and then Rumsfeld, ad infinitum, although I know technically that’s not how Presidential successions work. Then again, Presidential elections don’t technically work like the one in 2000, and the Constitution isn’t technically supposed to be used to violate citizens' individual or collective rights, so what difference do the rules make now?

On the other hand, I keep thinking about that September 1999 Talk magazine account of Bush’s impersonation of Karla Faye Tucker, a death row inmate in Texas, when she was asked what she would say to Bush if she could meet with him.

“Please,” Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation. “Don’t kill me.”

I feel like he’s mocking the whole country and the whole world in the exact same way right now, as the pleas for sanity and restraint come pouring in from other countries’ leaders, as American churches and peace groups gather for weekly vigils and demonstrations all over the country, as the desperate letters, e-mails and calls pour into the White House.

I picture him cackling to himself in the Oval Office, impersonating us for Cheney and Rumsfeld:
“Please,” he whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation. “Don’t kill us.”

Still, because of the endless succession of Bush-type people lined up behind him, there are two important question facing the human species right now: Why are White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, especially the rich male American ones, so damn angry? And what are we to do about these awful temper tantrums they keep having on a global scale, lying down, kicking and screaming: “I want to kill! I want to bomb! I want to poison people! I want to cut down all the trees! I want the sky to be black, not blue! I’ll scream until you let me do it all!!!!”

The answer to the first question lies in their creation myth. These pink-skinned, baby-faced men’s minds and hearts were fed with the story of Adam and Eve, whiling away the beautiful hours in the Garden of Eden until WHAM! God says: “I gave you curiosity, but you used it. Ha-ha. No more Garden of Eden for you.”

What a sense of betrayal these men must have. They tried to pass it off on women, but even the thickest among them have noticed by now that women are not the bulk of those running around scaring people and making big messes everywhere. So it comes back to their own inarticulate rage that they’ve been punished for something they couldn’t not be: curious. They decide daily to declare their independence from life and love, stick out their pink tongues and say: “Fine, God. Take your dumb garden and stuff it up your butt. I’ll just destroy the rest of the world you made. So there.”

In their confusion and rage, they miss seeing the obvious flaw in their myth: we never left the Garden of Eden. The sky is still blue. The wind and rain still blow and fall. The sun still shines. The plants still grow. The animals still scurry around in the underbrush and swim through the oceans. Fewer different kinds, of course. But they’re not all gone, yet. Miraculously, babies of all sorts are born every day.

The answer to the second question comes down to good parenting. Any good parent will tell you that when a child is having a temper tantrum, you do not give in. You don’t hit the child either. First, you keep the child safe. If he’s thrashing around, you hold him tight. If he wants some private time to calm down, you give it to him.

You support his feelings: “I know you want to kill a lot of people. Sometimes it’s hard to be so angry and upset and you don’t know where to put that energy. But killing people is not okay. Not ever.”

And then you give the child alternatives: “I will not let you kill people. But you could use all that energy to chop this cord of wood into kindling.” Or, for someone on Bush’s scale: “We will not let you kill people. But you could use all that rage at an unfair God to thwart the unfairness. You could be the President Who Ended Poverty by developing a global plan for micro-lending and sustainable development.”

But the main, most important point, is that you do not give in. You don’t give in because giving in gives the child the mistaken impression that killing people is okay, and that’s not a lesson any child should be taught. You provide incentives for cooperative, caring behavior, and you provide disincentives for violent, destructive behavior. Good parents know that, as do good civilizations.

Which brings me back to the beginning, about the inevitable war and the inevitable draft. If at any point in America’s horrific relationship with the people of Iraq and their unelected leader, Saddam Hussein, our government had cut off the flow of weapons and supplies, the regime would have either fallen or looked elsewhere for support. And if America, with our great moral stature as a beacon of freedom for the world, had refused to support Hussein’s violent dictatorship, and violent dictatorships around the globe, other countries would have had a harder time supporting those regimes.

But we did support Iraq and the others, and we still do. We give them money and we give them moral weight. It was a mistake then and continues to be a mistake today. The mere existence of one society founded on freedom -- however imperfectly we meet our ideal -- is enough to undermine all societies founded on repression.

Wars don’t spread freedom. Freedom spreads freedom.

And the fact that each individual’s desire to be free cannot ever be completely extinguished absolutely guarantees that even should the American experiment in government “of, by and for the People” fail, the flame of the ideal will never flicker out of human consciousness.

I don’t want the experiment to fail, however. I want all of America to give Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld the restraining arms of the parent that they never had as children. I want us, through our Congress, and our newspapers, and our tax returns, and our legs, to cut off the flow of money, cut off the supply of moral support, and cut off the stream of living human bodies marching into the people-shredder of war, through the “volunteer” army AND through the draft.

War is NOT inevitable.

The draft is NOT inevitable.

If we don’t let them, they can’t do either one.

If they can’t make war, we can propose alternative uses for all that energy, rage and money. We can help them give their cruel God the ultimate kiss-off: recognize the lie for what it is and start living peacefully in the Garden of Eden that’s been here all along.


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