Requiem for a nation

July 2007, Little Village.

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!” —Mario Savio

In Kosovo,

On a dusty street, an Albanian girl in a bright dress and shiny shoes with ribbons in her golden curls spits at a Serbian girl on her way home from school. Next door, a Serbian woman comforts her dying Albanian neighbor by giving him water to drink and food to eat and blankets to keep warm.

In a cramped and cold room a father and son drink vodka and argue politics. Dad shoots his son with a shotgun. Seeing the mess he’s made, he pulls the pin of a grenade and waits for the end.

In the wet snow next to a frozen creek, a sergeant with the elite 82nd Airborne Division rapes and murders an eight year old girl, and is proud of it. But in the moonless night, a soldier gives his life so others may live.

I didn’t understand any of it. I hid under my helmet and behind my machine gun and American flag and, with smiles and hand shakes, re-enlisted for three more years with the military police corps.

And then in America,

9-11-01 with its crashing planes and falling buildings and bumbling president reading My Pet Goat while fear and confusion swept across his face. The world is shocked and mourns. “We are all Americans today,” a Paris newpaper proclaims.

Then the facade of a right and just nation crumbles like those two towers on March 20, 2003. I drink lukewarm beer and watch the green bursts of light in Baghdad on CNN and wonder what the fuck went wrong. The barracks erupt. Soldiers flow into the parking lot. It’s a party. There’s drinking and singing and dancing under a waning moon. I want to crawl into a deep hole and never be found again.

Bush and Cheney et al promised us an easy war with an easy victory. They paraded visions on Sunday morning talk shows of Iraqis dancing in the streets with American flags, beautiful women welcoming the strong, bright-eyed Americans with kisses and flowers.

I left the army six months after Bush declared “Mission accomplished” and urged the insurgents to “bring it on.” The war was a disaster. Instead of flowers and kisses and American flags, soldiers were greeted with riots, snipers, ambushes, IEDs. And nobody knew how to fix it.

I ended up in Iowa City lost and confused. I had wanted to be a cop for so long I didn’t know what else there was to be. I decided to study literature at Iowa. The scales fell rudely from my eyes and nothing has been the same since. I saw how governments shape and control their message. The people of Belgium thought King Leopold II was bringing salvation and civilization to the savages of the Congo. Conrad painted a much different, much more accurate picture in his much misunderstood “Heart of Darkness.”

Iowa’s campus is quiet as King George II surges more troops into a failure. Bush isn’t ignorant, he just pretends to be. He’s controlled the image of his war by banning the photos of flag-draped coffins being off-loaded from cavernous cargo planes and embedding journalists with the military to control their reporting and refuses to allow members of his administration to testify before congress about his “intelligence failures,” his lies. We’re all monkeys pulling on the levers for our bananas and scat. And no, I won’t keep a civil tongue in my head. Not anymore.

Who will expose our heart of darkness?

The U.S. war machine operates smoothly, its gears are well oiled with apathy and gluttony. We go to class and turn in our assignments. We drink and dance the nights away at Brother’s in ignorant bliss while American soldiers and Iraqi civilians are torn to pieces. We don’t dare raise our voice. Who will hire us then?

The University of Iowa during the ’60s was a much different place. Students boycotted class, shut down buildings and filled the Pentacrest. They wouldn’t be moved. Even as police encircled them and the air was tinged with the sweet smell of tear gas and pepper spray. They threw their bodies on the gears and wheels of the machine. They were being drafted and sent off to fight an unpopular and unwinnable war. The machine would not be allowed to operate any more and the owners withdrew from Vietnam.

The owners learned their lesson. What ever you do, do not draft college kids to go off and fight in a distant land for unclear reasons with no idea of what victory looks like. Institute an all-volunteer force. The poor and minority can go off and fight our wars while college kids are kept fat and happy and safe. If they’re safe, the logic follows, we’ll be safe. And holy shit were they spot on.

So bring back the draft! Desperate times call for desperate measures. American soldiers, our brothers and sisters, are fighting, dying and killing in Iraq. Most of them have been sent there twice. Many are on their third or forth deployment. This just isn’t fair. But they are soldiers, they cannot protest. They suck it up and go out on patrol because they joined the military. It isn’t their fault some megalomaniac wanted to avenge his daddy while we voted for the next American Idol.

You better rub the sleep from your eyes and take look around. King George II is rattling his saber and is going to need all his people to drag the middle-east into freedom. The army’s battle dress uniform has nowhere to put your iPod. The M-4 carbine doesn’t come with a cellphone. The MK-19 grenade launcher cannot access Facebook. And the Armed Forces Network doesn’t show the Real World regularly. You may want to take to the streets and end this while you still have the opportunity. It’ll be too late very soon.

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3 Responses

  1. Wow! dude this is really powerful.

    Scott - February 20th, 2008 at 9:12 pm
  2. amazing.

    aaron - March 7th, 2008 at 3:04 pm
  3. awesome piece man

    foo - May 18th, 2008 at 8:57 pm