I’m NOT “We”

Lady MacBeth, trying to get the blood out

In an introduction to a new post on the TomDispatch site, commenter Nick Turse evokes Lady MacBeth as he laments the indelible blood on his hands as a result of the U.S.’ War on Terror.  The preface connects to an article by Kelly Denton-Borhaug entitled, “A Parable of (All-American) Violence – Accountability and the War of Terror.”  Ms. Denton-Borhaug describes the overall American indifference to violence and the obliviousness to the death and destruction committed by the U.S. military.

Normally, I’m in sympathy with Mr. Turse’s writings; they’re clear, courageous, and incisive. In this case, however, I refuse to wallow with him in his mea culpas.  If he wants to consider himself complicit in the bloodshed wreaked by the country’s MIC, that’s his affair, but I take vehement issue with being lumped in with the people Ms. Denton-Borhaug talks about. 

I see such generalizations constantly; they’re almost universal.  And to me, they’re universally offensive.  I realize that, for the sake of argument and the economy of words, qualifiers are often omitted when speaking of “Americans,” but in a matter as serious as the placing of blame for Afghan deaths from Hellfire missiles, for instance, there should be a distinction made between the institution responsible and….everyone else. 

It’s demonstrably true that there is a segment of the population that supports the transparent, “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” excuse for the War on Terror.  That sentiment ran rampant in the days following 9/11 and the later lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.  But not all U.S. citizens supported such a rationale.  In fact, tens of thousands protested it.  I was one of those marching in the streets to call attention to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld obsession with re-making the Middle East, under no provocation.  From day one, any thinking person knew that there were no WMDs threatening this country.  Unfortunately, the above cabal staked their gambit on the fact that the appeal to a fear mindset would totally obscure and outweigh critical thought.  In short order, they were successful — lord, were they successful!  Twenty years later, they are still succeeding:  the war profiteers continue to rake in billions, with an ever-larger Pentagon budget approved year after year.

Except….I don’t approve those budgets.  I’ve called out my state’s senators and my district’s representative over and over on MIC expenditures.  In almost every Presidential election, I’ve voted for a third-party candidate, one who wants peace to prevail.  I’ve canvassed for such candidates on all levels, donated money, displayed yard signs.  I’ve signed hundreds of petitions and letters to elected officials, made phone calls to local and national offices, written the White House on numerous occasions.  I’ve walked the talk and put my money where my mouth is.

Ditto for violence in general.  I’ve been signing gun control petitions for probably 35 years, and have been making my opinions known to those in power accordingly.  I have no love of carnage in the streets, I’m not inured to it, and I think it’s inexcusable, no matter who perpetrates it.  I think the fact that we have myriad armed militias throughout the country is a disgrace.  I’m not oblivious; I inform myself about current events at all levels. 

The problem behind perpetual war and violence is lack of political will.  My state’s Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown, who I respect and support on most issues, disappointed me years ago when I wrote him about military spending authorizations.  His contention was that, unless funding were to be allocated, we couldn’t afford to bring home U.S. troops in Iraq and keep them safe in the process.  A seemingly logical answer, but in actuality, disingenuous at best.  There were sufficient hundreds of billions of dollars signed over to the Pentagon to bring home the troops, put them up in hotel penthouses, feed them porterhouses and vintage wine, and send them first-class to Vegas with pockets full of money to gamble.  And then some.  So even most of the few “good” politicians will bow to pressure and vote to shovel more money to the “defense” effort.  The thoroughly corrupt politicians will line up to do so. 

If we take a step back and look at the people who are put into office, it quickly becomes apparent that voters never get the opportunity to elect representatives who won’t knuckle under to the MIC or the gun lobby, or both.  Peacenik candidates don’t have a chance.  I’ve spoken before about Dennis Kucinich, who for decades has advocated a Department of Peace at the national level.  In his recent Cleveland mayoral campaign, he pledged to create such an entity at the municipal level.  The results were that he was first gerrymandered out of Congress by his own party, and then this month, was knocked out of the city’s primary by two candidates with vastly larger campaign coffers.  Surveys show that the majority of respondents don’t want endless war, don’t want mass shootings, and would rather redistribute funding for the war machine and police militarization to infrastructure and other causes that would actually help people.  But the major political parties won’t nominate candidates who will work to pare down Pentagon spending and institute true community policing.  Meaning that we the people very seldom get to vote for representatives who align with our values. 

I am a U.S. citizen by an accident of birth; had my mother not been given up for adoption at age 7 by Canadian parents who’d fallen on hard times and couldn’t feed their family, I could easily have been born in Toronto.  I doubt I would have emigrated.  But I was born in this country, so in the broadest terms, I’m part of the collective population.  I live in the U.S. because I don’t have the means to leave.  Federal laws apply to me (even if they don’t apply in practice to others, such as the 1%).  As a responsible adult, however, I’ve done everything in my legal power to prevent and then stop the imperialistic actions of the U.S. government; I’ve fought the authoritarian, oligarchical powers-that-be since I was 16.  Short of taking extreme, illegal action, I’ve tapped out my resources.  Therefore, I resent being tarred with the same brush as those who espouse and propagate war and violence.  I resent the imposition of guilt on behalf of the many thousands of other citizens who’ve likewise done all they can to oppose the MIC and its minions, along with the gun lobby and all the other entities that thrive on destruction abroad and theft from the 90% at home.  My credo is a slogan popular during the Bush II tenure:  “Not in my name.”

Note: the original version of this post listed Tom Engelhardt as the author of the introduction to Ms. Denton-Borhaug’s article. Thanks to WJ Astore for pointing out the error.

11 thoughts on “I’m NOT “We”

  1. Yes. I’ve been thinking about this myself. You have done what you can, short of illegal and/or dangerous protest.

    Have I? No — not as much as you. I served in the Air Force for 20 years. I educated some of the air crews who drop the bombs. I dropped no bombs myself; pulled no triggers; killed no people either directly or indirectly, as far as I know. But being part of the U.S. war machine for 20 years carries a burden with it, no matter how innocuous my career may appear (at least to me).

    That said, I have been writing for nearly 15 years against the machine, trying to move the needle away from war and killing. We must not despair. We must not be paralyzed by guilt, earned or not. We must continue to act and hope that, over time, our small acts may add up to something bigger, something important, something to effect change toward life and peace instead of more death and more war.

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  2. There’s a consensus aamong some of the metaphysical thinkers (read: mystical fu-fu people) that the time we’re in right now is pivotal. The decisions we all make will, in fact, form a critical mass to effect positive change. After all, we’re still at the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.

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  3. powerfully written ponderment, den… one to be applauded as earnestly as its veracity is to be mourned. in tomdispatch’s defence, i suspect he was endeavouring to be humble… striving for humility hoping that its impact would highlight, supersede and surmount hubris. denton-borhaug’s cries for compassion, justice, and stats-honourability left me weak…… in a heap of week-kneed weeping when i should be registering for membership in the ranks of the puissant to fight on behalf of the victimized and depauperate.

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  4. Agree with your assessment of Engelhardt’s position. And I’m sure he does feel a sense of guilt, even if it’s not deserved.

    I’m offended, though, at the continual blanket condemnations. “We” elected TFG in 2016, “we” went to war in Iraq, “we” are part of the gun culture, and so on. Precise language is important, and has significance. Painting the U.S. as a monolithic entity has consequences, not the least of which is a feeling of despair at the thought that there can never be enough “good guys” to change anything. Not to mention the fact that portraying the entire country as gun nuts and warmonger gives the rest of the world the wrong impression.

    Ms. Denton-Borhaug’s entreaties are indeed powerful, and serve as proof that “we” are NOT all alike.

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  5. Reflecting on what Nick Turse did in his intro:

    Mr. Turse used the same process to assign blame to all Americans that Americans used when they blamed “Afghanistan” for 9/11.

    The process is “judgment” and it is very destructive. Any emotionally charged label can be used as a judgment and thus justify unhelpful or atrocious behaviors.

    So kudos for calling it out.

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    1. The difference in the two situations is that in the case of the hijackers, it seemed to me fairly obvious they were not planned and carried out by any state, whereas in the case of the USA’s invasions, those acts ARE the work of its government. People outside the U.S. might be forgiven for believing that all Americans are ruthless, bloodthirsty imperialists, especially after our country’s totally baseless attack on Iraq. But anyone living here knows that we the people DON’T call the shots. Indeed, we’re largely powerless to stop any of our government’s actions. It could be that even our President isn’t in charge when it comes to the MIC. Yes, Biden managed to prevail in the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but it was a close call, and, I’d guess, possible only because Biden knows where the skeletons are hidden. It’s government propaganda that invents the labels and convinces the citizenry to adopt them, so as to whitewash the MIC’s war crimes. As you say, JPA, labels are dangerous things.

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  6. Denise, I relate with this last sentence in the intro by Nick Turse,
    “ISIS-K had, indeed, slain “innocent Afghans” in a prior bombing. But Biden had killed innocent Afghans, too. The strike he referenced is the one that killed Zemari Ahmadi and all those children. Soap and water won’t change that. It’s a stain on America’s soul that neither Joe Biden nor I can wash away.”

    With all the tax deductions for Corporations and the rich, it’s the rest of the struggling working Americans, who ultimately will have pay for ALL of America’s Wars, the whole DEBT still to be paid in this money driven World. This is becoming more evident with the growing Economic Inequality in the World.
    We were warned! The Children do pay for the sins of the Parents.

    Prior to the 2003 illegal US invasion of Iraq, MILLIONS of People all over This World, protested against the impending WAR.
    The minority wielding the Power ignored all those voices.
    Washington Politicians ignored the masses who protested in Washington, the video being only one sample that can be found of those Times.
    Americans protesting to stop Government heading to WAR then, was a World of difference Americans and the World saw January 6, when masses of Protesters wanted to change government.

    In the 80s, the Americans and Russians were shouting at each other in Public, and it appeared as a threat as great as the 1961 Cuban Missile Crisis was to the Common Future of Humanity?

    Tensions were rising and the Public shouting was becoming more shrill. Somebody had to do something to DE-escalate the situation. Prime Minister Trudeau embarked on his World Peace Mission the US did not appreciate, and tensions were still rising. Trudeau quit being Prime Minister February 29, 1984.

    The Governor-General, the Prime Minister, the Military Brass, the Ambassadors of the Nations and the Public heard this unofficial interjection into the Official 1985 Remembrance Day Ceremony at the National War Memorial.

    It was after the Moment of Silence and the 3 Establishment Religions prayed to God there should be NO MORE WAR. There was complete Silence as the Elites laid their wreaths at the Monument.

    When the idea came into my mind to do this 3 Days earlier, I knew I wouldn’t have much Time, and tried to say as much as possible into as few words as possible.
    Standing on a Bus Shelter roof close to the VIPS, took out my megaphone, and slowly spoke these words in the hearing of all the People,

    “Hear O people and Nations, even to the ends of the Earth, the Word of the LORD God, who is, and was, and is to come, The Almighty.
    The LORD has a controversy with the people.
    Do you do well to honour the dead, and yet, deny the God of the Living?
    Why do you follow the vain traditions of men, and make of no effect, the Principles of God?
    You come here for one hour, one day a year, in a great show of Public Patriotism, and then forgetting, go back to work and make the same careless mistakes made by the generations prior to the 1st and 2nd World Wars.
    Hitler is dead, but it’s his legacy that remains. A Soviet-American military-industrial complex consuming $trillions of dollars every year, holding the entire World hostage…………”

    “Hostage” was the last word said as police got up and grabbed the megaphone. I was arrested for shouting, causing a disturbance, convicted and fined $250. I appealed without a lawyer to The Supreme Court of Canada.

    We can only do what we can do, but take some comfort in knowing, more and more People are waking up to see we are still being held hostage to the Military-Industrial Complex and demanding change.
    The question for me is will it be a hard landing or a hard crash in the transition?

    As you have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
    And for their sake’s I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the Truth.
    Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

    That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.

    Imagine! No more WE and THEY!
    I think the Signs of the Times are telling this World, NOW is the Time to ‘Do or DIE!’

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