Vox Populi

Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry

Michael Gregory: Battleship America

Most Americans, like most people in the world for the past hundred years, have lived with the threat of war hanging over them, or have been in actual combat.

For my generation in the home of the brave, which grew up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, there has never been a time when our country was not either directly at war (aka “police action”) or funding client nations to use made-in-America bombs and other weapons to do our dirty work for us.

Like many kids, I grew up playing war games that idealized mayhem and mass destruction. Brainwashed by the glory projected by John Wayne images of the “greatest generation,” we were ripe for the Cold War propaganda coming from Washington and Wall St.

When I was eleven or twelve, with the Berlin Airlift fresh in memory and the Korean War just underway, some friends and I, on summer vacation from grade school where we had been drilled in taking cover (totally useless, as we later learned) on our knees, under our desks, hands over the backs of our heads, convinced that freedom and liberty depended on us, deciding that it was up to us to defend Toledo from the imminent Communist invasion, dug a 50-foot long, three foot wide, four foot deep trench in the empty lot across the street from my house, covered it with old doors and dirt, leaving slots for observation and gunports, and there took up our daily stand, dressed in surplus WW II outfits we bought from the army surplus store with our allowances.

A few years later, about to graduate from high school and turn eighteen and eligible for the draft, having by then gotten to know some of the GIs who had returned from Korea and were getting their high school diplomas on the GI bill, and having some idea that there might be more to life than the glory of blood and guts, some new friends and I started making plans for which underground routes we would take north when our letters from the Draft Board arrived.

I was lucky: mine never did arrive, and I went on to college and marriage until, at the height if the Vietnam debacle, I dropped out of both, increasingly involved in The Resistance and in search of a life that would embody my more complex understanding of patriotism–a love of country that was not based on the death of others, that found my enemies not in people of color in foreign nations or in this one but in arms merchants and other war profiteers, in Presidents and presidential candidates who lied about life and death matters, in business-minded civilians who relentlessly carried out the ruthless war on our natural environment, our real estate, in what was obviously the flip side of the coin.

It was in the 80s and 90s, lobbying for environmental protection in Washington, that I came hard up against the firm control that Congressional hawks and Pentagon operatives had over legislative and regulatory programs and budgets. It was that I realized for the first time how completely American politics, like the American economy, like America’s self-image, is based on war–not only on production of bombs and fighter jets and other weapons of destruction, but on twisted notions of American exceptionalism, on inflated ideas of America as the world’s policeman, on free trade protectionism and fantasies of eternal economic growth.

Following our trail of atrocities in Central America, our path of environmental mayhem from tropical forest to melting icecaps, for the past quarter century the we’ve been playing out our king of the mountain war games in the Middle East. The land of blood and oil.

The land where US presidents with faltering ratings in the polls, with egos in need of bolstering, resort to shock and awe and the same old same old blood and guts jingoism, war economy stimulus, and corporate profits. The land where our tweeter-in-chief, like his predecessors, is set to affirm his hold on the oval office, the office that history teaches us deserves more respect than the man.


 

Copyright 2017 Michael Gregory

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Donald Trump speaks aboard the World War II Battleship USS Iowa, on September 15, 2015, in San Pedro, California.

6 comments on “Michael Gregory: Battleship America

  1. Cathey Sue Cordes
    April 8, 2017

    Thanks Michael. Excellent essay. Only problem I have with it is that it makes me feel weary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mike moon
    April 7, 2017

    The beginning of the U.S. empire was at the end of the Spanish American War. The United States, ignoring the native democratic movements in the Phillipines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam…and Hawaii. It was 1898. We’ve been an empire ever since.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. michaelgregoryaz
    April 6, 2017

    Third try to post this.

    Hi Sharon,

    I said after my first response to your comments was lost somehow in cyberspace that I didn’t think I’d be into trying to reproduce what I said there, but here I am giving it a shot.

    First I note that I haven’t spent the past 20 years or so on my Pound Laundry MS because I think Pound is (to use your word) “great”( not a word I would apply, as you know, to either Pound or H.D.); and while focusing on him is in a sense to “honor” him, honoring him isn’t what Pound Laundry is about. Focus on a subject doesn’t constitute an homage. Questioning such superlatives (“interrogating” them, in the current jargon; even debunking them) is one of the prominent themes in the MS, akin to Pound’s early dislike of abstractions and insistence (in theory) on making precise distinctions.

    Similarly, though it may be true that “Pound’s fascism is [the/ or at the] core [of ] his poetics” (if I’m reading you right). Pound critics have written hundreds of pages asserting (persuasively, I think) just the opposite, that the poetics of The Cantos, far from expressing Pound’s “fascism”, in fact does the opposite, his practice giving the lie to his beliefs. And though Pound clearly was pro-Mussolini, so were many other prominent American and West European figures (e.g., Churchill) who had come to the conclusion liberalism’s after WW I debacle that Italy, and maybe Western civilization in toto, needed strongman rulers to pull things back together to a pre-modernity status quo ante).

    The term fascism, especially in our current (post-60s) rhetoric, is a very slippery many-headed pejorative. Pound’s brand was an Italian Left-Fascism, a variant that had a lot in common with some leftist political positions, as well as with others on the right. Not all that different in some ways from what we see throughout our own political and psychosocial situation. And much in line with the reactionary politics of many other writers of the period (Yeats, Eliot, Lewis, Cummings, Lawrence, et al), who were so disgusted with corrupt business-owned parliamentarianism that they embraced anti-democratic forms that we now call totalitarian (a term that had far fewer tyrannical connotations for them than it has for us). Several of those writers (most famously, Yeats and Lawrence) went further than Pound in believing that the only solution was to wipe out society as it had become and start over. Apocalypse now.

    Which brings me back to your main point about what you think must be a “schism” in my “political/poetical” psyche, with the implication that because I’ve spent so much time on him I must somehow identify with him. Not so, I think. Of course I’ve compared traits with him, and reading him has shown me some things about myself and my poetics. But that’s the point: Pound for me is not someone to identify with but to study, exactly because his life and work highlight contradictions of his time that inform ours.

    Although a lot of postmodernism theory argues otherwise, I believe that some effort at objectivity can allow us not to step outside our dominant ideology, but to see more or less objectively—by which I suppose I mean something like strategically more useful than identifying with the object (or the flip side: being totally alienated from it). Though putting on masks and adopting personae are useful authorial techniques (cf Keats’s “esemplastic power,” as taken up by Pound’s mentors, Browning and Yeats), they’re tools of imagination which don’t require lasting mystical union. Strategic for what? For seeing ourselves more clearly, as always, but certainly also for negotiating our encounter with our object of study—not just Pound the individual and his Imagist poetics, but the psychosocial complex he embodied and the polyvocal field poetry he pioneered.

    For me, Pound’s life and work are an object of study that exemplifies contradictions in his modernist era and throw light on both the high capitalism Gilded Age he grew up in (and in part rebelled against), and our own consumerist late capitalism corporate plutocracy. And I should think our chances of neutralizing the fascism latent in those complexes are better the more we not only recognize our differences but, by objective study (neither identification nor imitation) come to understand it well enough to reveal what we have in common.

    Peace,

    M

    Liked by 2 people

  4. sharondoubiago
    April 5, 2017

    Oh Michael, how fine your essay here, thank you. Though I still cannot understand your admiration for Ezra Pound, so great that you would write a book of poetry in honor of him, a poet who falls into the same camp as these fascists you decry here. I’ve studied him too, all my poet’s life, but especially through the great poet HD, his girlfriend from the age of 15 (and for whom he wrote his first book). Pound’s fascism is core his poetics, that’s undeniable. Is it that your poetics and your politics are rooted in separate fields, and if so how do you account for that? I love you, deeply, as an old friend, but have never understood this schism in your political/poetical psyche. I hope you can consider this question seriously and not take it personally. I hope you would/could address this in an essay, fine as so many of yours are.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Leslie
    April 5, 2017

    So where we gonna drop the big one? And when?

    Liked by 1 person

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