A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Maybe it’s that pesky Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. Or verse 5:53 of the Koran: Who so kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wreaking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.
Whatever it is, I’m still uncomfortable celebrating state-sponsored assassinations.
Seems I’d better “get with the program” though because almost ten years after I wrote the following epistle, I could now easily update it just by replacing a few key names.
Forgive me, Mr. Bush, for shedding a tear and saying a prayer when Saddam Hussein was executed.
Forgive me, Mr. Cheney, for believing we had no right to depose the Iraqi leader in the first place.
Forgive me, Mr. Rove, for not accepting your spin on why we invaded Iraq.
Forgive me, Homeland Security, for daring to express dissent.
Forgive our leaders, The War Dead, for being unclear in our mission, resources and resolve.
Forgive our leaders, Brave and Loyal Troops, for not knowing what to do next.
Forgive our leaders, Dear Children, for funding war instead of education, health care, and green energy.
Forgive our leaders, Detainees, for breaking international and divine laws against inhumanity and torture.
Forgive our leaders, Middle East Countries, for worsening your political instability and killing hundreds of thousands of people on your hallowed soil.
Forgive us, God/Allah/Yahweh/Jehovah, for killing your people and destroying the earth in your name.
Forgive me, Mr. Bush, and I will try to forgive you.
My words never saw the light of day until now, so out of step I felt back then and afraid to question the My-Country-Right-or-Wrong rhetoric that was so prevalent.
We were under attack. Kinda.
An American flag appeared on nearly every car and every house.
We were scared.
We were supposed to be.
Code Red. Code Orange. Code Yellow.
President Bush boldly declared with his inimitable grin and swagger, “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the enemy,”
I knew that wasn’t true but…who was I to question? So I meekly wrote my treasonous mea culpa in my personal journal.
I was reminded of my 2006 journal entry last week when the New York Times headline screamed, U.S. Special Forces Kill Senior ISIS Leader in Syria. I know I should be happy; who doesn’t hate ISIS for all the horrific cruelty they’re inflicting? Their vicious inhumanity.
But forgive me, President Obama: I’m again unable to raise my glass for a celebratory toast.
Because I don’t believe it’s possible to kill an ideology simply by killing one of its standard bearers. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of believers who consequently will be inspired to fill their leader’s shoes. Geared up to take the martyr’s place. We can’t expect them to crumble because we killed their leader any more than killing our president would end our democracy. We’d become even more determined to succeed.
A personal case in point: My mother really disliked Bush II. I mean really. In 2003, when undergoing an assessment of the impact of a brain tumor on her cognitive functioning, she was asked the name of the Vice President of the United States. She responded, “I’m so disgusted with him that I don’t want to say his name out loud.” They asked her again, and she again refused. We were all convinced she couldn’t remember, which broke my heart as she’d always been a political junkie. But as soon as the nurse left the room, my mother turned to me and said, “I refuse to have Dick Cheney’s name be part of my neurological exam. Let them ask me for the name of someone who hasn’t done so much harm!”
I reported to the nurse that my mother did indeed know the name of the Vice President but was practicing civil disobedience by not legitimizing Mr. Cheney during her exam.
Yet, despite how my mother felt about that administration, she had told me just months before that if insurgents from another country tried to kill President Bush, she’d be one of the first out in the streets to defend him. (A scary proposition since she was 87 years old at the time….but I wouldn’t have bet against her.)
Has our foreign policy really evolved into kill or be killed? If so, the killing is getting easier. Ethan Hawke, who stars in the movie Good Kill, was recently interviewed about this film about drone-conducted assassinations. Hawke plays the part of fictional drone pilot Major Thomas Egan who operates killer drones in the Middle East from the safety of an Air Force base in Las Vegas. A clip shows Egan buying charcoal at a convenience store, telling the clerk, “I blew away six Taliban in Pakistan today, and now I’m going home to barbeque.”
Hawke is thoughtful in his assessment of his role, which is not only a new one in film but also in our society – a role that requires, according to Hawke, “a whole new set of ethics in a new socio-political landscape.” In this MSNBC interview, he cites research proving that being the shooter is often more traumatic than being shot at – it’s hard to train healthy-minded soldiers to shoot straight at the enemy; they always aim too high or too low, trying to avoid killing their target.
In traditional warfare, there’s time to grieve the deaths you’ve caused, time to decompress before returning home to your family and pretending all is well. Sometimes that could take months or years.
Drone pilots, however, have no time to grieve, to come to terms with what it means to kill another human being. They can leave “work” and pick up their kids from school.
If we suspect that video games are increasing our violent tendencies, what is real killing via satellite technology doing to our psyches?
“How does this intersect with our actual humanness?” Hawke rhetorically asks.
Good question: How does it?
Has our new ability to kill without being in harm’s way replaced the conflict resolution strategies of diplomacy and negotiation to find common ground? Do we now just kill those with whom we disagree? No need to meet them face-to-face in order to hammer out disputes, ideological or otherwise.
This shift in our socio-political landscape is, to me, scarier than ISIS. Because it paves the way for more vicious inhumanity on our own streets. It gives me a new lens through which to view recent shootings of black men by police. No need to question – just shoot. Why not?
When the death penalty verdict for the Boston Bomber was handed down, Michael Ward, an off-duty firefighter who had responded at the time, stated, “This is nothing to celebrate. This is a matter of justice.”
I agree with him: Another killing is nothing to celebrate, although we may differ on what justice might look like.
President Obama was my guy. I never thought my journal entry during his administration would look so similar to the one I wrote almost ten years ago during that of his “compassionate conservative” predecessor.
As The Who so prophetically reminds us, Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Forgive me, Mr. President. I still can’t get there from here. But just because we disagree doesn’t mean…does it?
copyright 2015 Patricia A. Nugent