[act-ma] [OT]The united States of Violence

rek2GNU/Linux rek2 at binaryfreedom.info
Mon Oct 22 12:14:35 PDT 2007

  The United States of Violence


We keep hearing that Iraq is not Vietnam. And surely any competent 
geographer would agree. But the United States is the United States -- 
still a country run by leaders who brandish, celebrate and use the 
massive violent capabilities of the Pentagon as a matter of course.


Almost fifty years ago, during the same autumn JFK won the presidency, 
John Hersey came out with "The Child Buyer," a novel written in the form 
of a hearing before a state senate committee. "Excuse me, Mrs., but I 
wonder if you know what's at stake in this situation," a senator says to 
the mother of a ten-year-old genius being sought for purchase by the 
United Lymphomilloid corporation. "You realize the national defense is 
involved here."

"This is my boy," the mom replies. "This is my beautiful boy they want 
to take away from me."

A vice president of United Lymphomilloid, "in charge of materials 
procurement," testifies that "my duties have an extremely high 
national-defense rating." He adds: "When a commodity that you need falls 
in short supply, you have to get out and hustle. I buy brains. About 
eighteen months ago my company, United Lymphomilloid of America, 
Incorporated, was faced with an extremely difficult problem, a project, 
a long-range government contract, fifty years, highly specialized and 
top secret, and we needed some of the best minds in the country..."

Soon, most of the lawmakers on the committee are impressed with the 
importance of the proposed purchase for the nation. So there's some 
when the child buyer reports that he finally laid his proposition 
"squarely on the table" -- and the boy's answer was no.

Senator Skypack exclaims: "What the devil, couldn't you go over his head 
and just buy him?"

"The Child Buyer" is a clever send-up, with humor far from lighthearted. 
Fifteen years after Hersey did firsthand research for his book 
"Hiroshima," the Cold War had America by the throat. The child buyer 
(whose name, as if anticipating a Bob Dylan song not to be written for 
several more years, is Mr. Jones) tells the senate panel that his quest 
is urgent, despite the fifty-year duration of the project. "As you know, 
we live in a cutthroat world," he says. "What appears as sweetness and 
light in your common television commercial of a consumer product often 
masks a background of ruthless competitive infighting. The gift-wrapped 
brickbat. Polite legal belly-slitting. Banditry dressed in a tux. The 
more so with projects like ours. A prospect of perfectly enormous 
profits is involved here. We don't intend to lose out."

And what is the project for which the child will be bought? A 
memorandum, released into the hearing record, details "the methods used 
by United Lymphomilloid to eliminate all conflict from the inner lives 
of the purchased specimens and to ensure their utilization of their 
innate equipment at maximum efficiency."

First comes solitary confinement for a period of weeks in "the 
Forgetting Chamber." A second phase, called "Education and 
Desensitization in Isolation," moves the process forward. Then comes a 
"Data-feeding Period"; then major surgery that "consists of 'tying off' 
all five senses"; then the last, long-term phase called "Productive 
Work." Asked whether the project is too drastic, Mr. Jones dismisses the 
question: "This method has produced mental prodigies such as man has 
never imagined possible. Using tests developed by company researchers, 
the firm has measured I.Q.'s of three fully trained specimens at 974, 
989, and 1005..."

It is the boy who brings a semblance of closure on the last day of the 
hearing. "I guess Mr. Jones is really the one who tipped the scales," 
the child explains. "He talked to me a long time this morning. He made 
me feel sure that a life dedicated to U. Lympho would at least be 
interesting. More interesting than anything that can happen to me now in 
school or at home.... Fascinating to be a specimen, truly fascinating. 
Do you suppose I really can develop an I.Q. of over a thousand?"

But, a senator asks, does the boy really think he can forget everything 
in the Forgetting Chamber?

"I was wondering about that this morning," the boy replies. "About 
forgetting. I've always had an idea that each memory was a kind of 
picture, an insubstantial picture. I've thought of it as suddenly coming 
into your mind when you need it, something you've seen, something you've 
heard, then it may stay awhile, or else it flies out, then maybe it 
comes back another time. I was wondering about the Forgetting Chamber. 
If all the pictures went out, if I forgot everything, where would they 
go? Just out into the air? Into the sky? Back home, around my bed, where 
my dreams stay?"


Suppression of inconvenient memory often facilitated the trances that 
boosted the work of the Pentagon. But some contrary voices could be heard.

Lenny Bruce wasn't a household name when he died of a morphine overdose 
in August 1966, but he was widely known and had even performed on 
network television. His nightclub bits, captured on record albums, 
satirized the zeal of many upstanding moralistic pillars. One of Bruce's 
favorite routines described a visit to New York by top holy men of 
Christianity and Judaism. They go to Saint Patrick's Cathedral: "Christ 
and Moses standing in the back of Saint Pat's. Confused, Christ is, at 
the grandeur of the interior, the baroque interior, the rococo baroque 
interior. His route took him through Spanish Harlem. He would wonder 
what fifty Puerto Ricans were doing living in one room. That stained 
glass window is worth nine grand! Hmmmmm..."

In what turned out to be his final performances, Bruce took to reciting 
(with a thick German accent) lines from a poem by the Trappist monk 
Thomas Merton -- a meditation on the high-ranking Nazi official Adolf 
Eichmann. "My defense? I was a soldier. I saw the end of a conscientious 
day's effort. I watched through the portholes. I saw every Jew burned 
and turned into soap. Do you people think yourselves better because you 
burned your enemies at long distances with missiles? Without ever seeing 
what you'd done to them?"


We saw butterflies turn into bombers, and we weren't dreaming. The 1960s 
had evolved into a competition between American excesses, with none -- 
no matter how mind-blowing the psychedelic drugs or wondrous the sex or 
amazing the music festivals -- able to overcome or undermine what the 
Pentagon was doing in Southeast Asia. As journalist Michael Herr 
observed in Vietnam: "We took space back quickly, expensively, with 
total panic and close to maximum brutality. Our machine was devastating. 
And versatile. It could do everything but stop." At the same time that 
Woodstock became an instant media legend in mid-August 1969, melodic 
yearning for peace was up against the cold steel of America's war 
machinery. The gathering of 400,000 young people at an upstate New York 
farm implicitly -- and, for the most part, ineffectually -- rejected the 
war and the assumptions fueling it. Jimi Hendrix's rendition of "The 
Star-Spangled Banner" was an apt soundtrack for U.S. foreign policy.


Days after the November 2004 election, while U.S. troops again moved 
into Fallujah for the slaughter, a dispatch from that city reported on 
the front page of the New York Times: "Nothing here makes sense, but the 
Americans' superior training and firepower eventually seem to prevail."

Superior violence, according to countless scripts, was righteous and 
viscerally satisfying. Television and movies, ever since childhood, 
presented greater violence as the ultimate weapon and final fix, 
uniquely able to put an end to conflict. Leaving menace for dead -- you 
couldn't beat that. But at home in the USA and far away, the practical 
and moral failures of violence became irrefutable. In Iraq, sources of 
unauthorized violence met with escalating American violence. In the 
United States, war opponents met with presidential contempt.

In a short story, published one hundred years ago, William Dean Howells 
wrote: "What a thing it is to have a country that /can't/ be wrong, but 
if it is, is right, anyway!"

/This essay is excerpted from Norman Solomon's new book, /Made Love, Got 
War. <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0977825345/counterpunchmaga>

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