Thursday, July 05, 2007

Where have all the flowers gone?

Ed. note: I assumed I had posted this, or cannibalized it for another post, but I can't find evidence of either. It's a bit out of synch now, but still worth more than moldering in the "edit" pile. On an unrelated note, finished the latest "Thursday Next" book (which, in true Jasper Fforde fashion, hasn't even been released yet. The Chronoguard will be looking for me soon. Or will have been, I should say.), and it is excellent. Still trying to think of a way to reduce it to a summary. "High concept" it isn't. Brilliantly funny, it is. Soon as I can, I'll try to drop in a bit of the funnier pieces, although out of context, they may be too bizarre. My head is still buzzing from it, anyway. Which has, by the way, nothing to do with this post. Just wanted to share.

Stitching a few things together here. First, forget Richard Lugar. There is absolutely less than nothing coming from that direction:

In January, when Mr. Bush announced his plan to send more than 30,000 additional combat troops to Iraq, Mr. Lugar had his reservations. He and Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, aired their concerns during a private Oval Office session with the president.

Since then, Mr. Lugar has sided with the administration on every Iraq vote and has only occasionally voiced criticism during Foreign Relations Committee meetings. He said Tuesday that he had no intention of suddenly voting with Democrats, particularly in their efforts to limit war financing or set a timetable for withdrawal....

“The administration and Congress must suspend what has become almost knee-jerk political combat over Iraq,” Mr. Lugar said. “Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists.”
He is resolutely for the status quo which he is now bravely speaking out against.

So we have to turn to the children for any sign of hope. And it turns out there is a great deal of hope there:

When these Presidential Scholars from all over the country met one another in Washington, they discovered how many of them felt so strongly about the issue, and about seizing the opportunity to be heard. As Leah Libresco, a Scholar from Mineola, Long Island, New York, said the next day on CNN, the view among many of them was that torture is a non-partisan issue: "I don't think this is a controversial issue. I don't think human dignity and human rights is a controversial issue, so once we started talking to people about the idea of speaking up, people kept coming forward and saying yes, this is important."

So Mari and Leah and others drafted a thoughtful statement to hand to the President when it came time for their big moment with him in front of their parents and the press.

"We brought up some very specific points in the letter about the treatment of detainees, even those designated as enemy combatants," Mari Oye told John Roberts, "and we strongly believe that all of these detainees should be treated, according to the principles of the Geneva Convention... I asked him to remove the signing statement attached to the anti-torture bill, which would have allowed presidential power to make exemptions to the ban on torture."

Mari's own background -- her grandparents were interned during World War II, simply for being Japanese-American -- played a part in her views. So did something her mother, also a Presidential Scholar, told her: Ever since her own White House ceremony in 1968, she has regretted not saying something to Lyndon Johnson about the Vietnam war. "That's something that weighed heavy on my mind," said Mari, "and I wanted to think about how we would feel 40 years from now if we had the opportunity to speak, and also the privilege to speak to the President of the United States, and to not use that privilege in order to make a difference."

So the Scholars lined up for their photo-op. Bush arrived. According to Colin McSwiggen, a senior from Cincinnati, the President "said that it's important to treat others as you wish to be treated, and he said that we really need to think about the choices that we make in our lives." What a cue! "As he lined up to take the photo with us," Colin continued, "Mari handed him the note, and said, 'Mr. President, some of us have made a choice, and we want you to have this.'"
"I don't think human dignity and human rights is a controversial issue...." The kids are alright. It's the adults we have to worry about; again.

Human dignity and human rights, of course, shouldn't be a controversial issue. Dwight Eisenhower understood this, and knew the problem was ignorance, not venality. Unless we know how other human beings live, unless we know them as human beings, it's too easy to demonize them as "other" and so "enemy." So the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, after World War II, a truly world war, returned to America and established People to People International. Twenty-six years later Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. told a crowd at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that he hoped television would make people realize we were all human beings on this planet, and the reality of war via TV would make us hate war, not look upon it as the source of national salvation. Today some people think the Internet is going to do that. Sadly, I see no real evidence of it. But maybe that's because governments and cultures are more intractable than generally assumed.

The joke is told, David Ansen says in his review of Michael Moore's new film, about the difference between the governments of France and the US: in France, the government fears the people; but in the US the people fear the government. Think about the history of the countries: the French government was born and forged in revolution. The one captured so by Dickens may have been the first, but you only need to read Hugo's Les Miserables to know it was not the last. The one revolution we have had in America, on the other hand, is widely despised and denigrated (and was hardly a "people's revolt" anyway). Mel Brooks reportedly said he put the French Revolution (the one Dickens wrote about) in his "History of the World, Part I" because it was a real people's revolution; the American Revolution, he said, was a merchant's revolt.

Perhaps this is the place to point out how much of American foreign policy can be explained as supporting American business, from the banana republics to "economic hit men." And to reflect again on the fact that George W. Bush has never been a world traveler nor shown any curiosity about the world beyond the privileged bubble he grew up in. To consider that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him think. That Vonnegut's essay was written in 1982, before CNN and MSNBC and FoxNews, and America as a nation is, if anything, even more ignorant of the world now than we were then. At least, our leaders are; and our leaders have real power. We hand it to them, and shrug our shoulders, and walk away.

How else to explain the shadow Presidency of Dick Cheney, the Edgar Bergen Presidency of George W. Bush? The French government is afraid of the people (look at the recent student riots; the French spirit of revolt is alive and well). The people of the US are afraid of their government. We just want it to go away and leave us alone, and don't tell us how the sausage gets made, just give us sausage and let us eat in peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment