From the depths of sleep, I burst into long lines of people with my small daughter’s hand clasped tightly in mine, as we dodged and raced along to our places in this carnaval, rain weeping off live oaks into grass-rutted paths, the bacchanalia just ahead, in a huge old white Southern mansion with columns starting to give way to rot, and hundreds of people inside already, steam pouring from our bodies, our brilliantly hued soggy costumes easing into a slow twirl of readiness and wild mirth.
In the lines I saw all the old white men I’ve ever known, gussied up to their nines and dancing their bacchanals of glee and sadness, arms raised and eyes weary and yet brimming with the fires of their youth, and we two danced with them all feathers and beads and me aching to ask them to intervene in what the women had planned but no one could hear a word, just the music of that second line ahead, and them raging the whole into their dances instead, eyes to the ground or ceiling, keen on the next step.
The dream came on the heels of a reality that I bump into every day, living near the largest US desert military base in the world. Complete with its very own town-sized replica of Baghdad (‘Little Baghdad’, we non-militial locals call it) and helos maneuvering through night and day skies, the engines of wars worlds away. I weep for the losses, rage at the rich old men making decisions to send our young people off not just to be cut down for nothing but to attack, wound, maim hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians by now, one person or child at a time.
In the Valley of Elah coalesced all this again last night, in its stark unflinching look at the war-riddled bodies and lives of our soldiers and that flag hung upside down in the international signal for distress serving as my single two points of comfort in the whole film. I have not laid eyes on the U.S. flag without feeling afraid since the Supreme Court handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush and his dogs of war (with apologies to actual dogs). I knew then that my nation would invade and wreck Iraq. I could not look at the flag without open terror and nausea. The desert was humming with energies, I knew it, and those would quicken mightily the morning after his inauguration. The trumping up of a case for war, the propaganda that far too many of my fellow citizens didn’t just swallow but preached in the angry melodies of madness run amok, was utterly expected, and I grieved and wept on that day in 2003 when the invasion started. Sitting inside a midwestern military base where my husband was serving, I listened to reveille in the morning and taps at night that day and the next and the next, holding a little camouflaged New Testament like the one being issued to the troops along with their glasses and physicals, and knew then that the Iraqi people were facing not just music and bullets but all the horrors of wars ginned up by the righteousness of the wicked.
The young people around me were not evil. They were good, many of them downright decent, most of them having few options for a meaningful life at home and hoping to better their stations this way. I don’t know how many I’ve heard, then or since, talk about their hopes of affording college when they returned from their enlistments. And yet the body count still rises, Al Queda is openly active in Iraq (something that simply could never have happened under Saddam Hussein), Iraqi infants are being born with their tiny bodies mangled by birth defects caused by the poisons my nation unloosed on them, and the sight of the U.S. flag still shakes me to the core. George W. Bush, however, is being feted by the current president, living out his happy, oil-enriched inheritanced life as his presidential library begins its work and this nation crumbles ever more into our endless self-driven wars against foes that we have made on purpose by our sheer intransigence and unwillingness to acknowledge and value the humanity of those with whom we disagree. Neither he nor a member of his team has as yet faced a single serious consequence for their deliberate lies or their choices, and there have as yet been no public reckonings here. He paints. Paintings, no less. The man who declared the Iraq war over on 1 May 2003—that infamous thumbs up in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln—paints.
It’s this odd detail that I can’t shake, how one rich old white man could deliberately break a country and ensure the killings of more than a hundred thousand of its entirely innocent citizens as well as more than 5,000 of our own (plus untold numbers who are so broken of body and mind that life itself is hard to manage anymore) and then retire in comfort to put paint on canvas with brushes. How is that possible? Would not the banality of your own existence choke out the ability to hold a brush or fissure any smile for the self-portrait at some point? Would not the death toll eventually break through and engender carving knives to canvas instead? Would not some sense of all who are suffering still for your actions still the heart and put you on a lecture circuit to end all wars forever? But no, the guns of war are fired by mighty engines of capitalism run amok and vendors like George W. Bush and his merry, angry fomenters travel the markets like spice merchants of old, only more wily and less principled. Anyone who rides the forces they’ve all unleashed gets treated as a hero, while the young men and women who have to run the actual guns go to theaters of horror that can never end. And as they go, they ensure that more ordinary people will have better reasons for hating US-Americans and everything we stand for.
These aren’t wars of conscience; these aren’t wars to save civilization: these are wars for profits and they feed on the raging fears of a populace that no longer thinks for itself. And for every death, our own society breaks a little more, and people like me watch the helos on maneuver and wonder how long it will be before they come for us, too, and whether or not saner, more humane heads can be found before that happens? Or will we simply get what we so richly deserve for letting our politicians and military-defense/oil-and-plunder corporations drive our souls so hard for so long? And so I weep and find a weak ray of hope in the international symbol for distress, for there is none other to be had for me in my nation’s flag until we have called fully to heel our unholy dogs of war. And bound up the wounds of all whom we have harmed. And made of war yesterday’s morality tale, long transcended.
And while I do this, more young boots are being put on the ground every day as the latest round of rich men concoct their own martial conflicts (and far too many of the women help them do this), and so I dream of bacchanalias and praying for the young men even these old angry men once were, for I have no voice or power in the world otherwise.
http://youtu.be/Ft2WqkvIhXY (Reveille at West Point)