Monday, August 13, 2007

White Light Goin' Messin' Up My Mind

"You always have these oddballs in a group and somebody says, 'Ah, we should drop a nuke over Iraq.' The stupid jerk doesn't even know what a nuke is. If he do, he wouldn't say that."
- Theodore Van Kirk, Navigator on the Enola Gay

I just finished watching white light/black rain, an HBO documentary about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just from hearing the one sentence description I know you already know you don't want to watch it, not because you're incurious or willfully ignorant, but because it's brutal and depressing, and you just don't want to spend an evening feeling suicidal. It's worse than you think, and you should watch it anyway.

Learning exactly how war can destroy an individual person's life is a tried and true method of getting people to understand why we should all be against every war except when absolutely necessary. Bush understands that, and it's why he hasn't allowed photographs of the coffins of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq since day one. I won't go into that aspect. This movie will affect you without question. The issue that strikes me from having viewed the film is the sense of "Other" that we -- all of us -- feel towards other human beings based only on the fact that they were born outside of our artificially drawn national border.

Whether it's the dirty Mexicans who are stealing our jobs and apparently killing us in our sleep or about the ragheads in Iraq, Afghanistan, and all those other countries over there, somehow we tend to ignore whatever trials and hardships these Others might have to endure. "It don't affect me, so piss off, foreigner." Not in those words, of course. We tend to find reasons why we shouldn't concern ourselves with these Others. They're "illegal" immigrants. They're trying to destroy America. They hate us for our freedom.

The same ideas were pervasive back in World War II. In the film, they interviewed the men who dropped the bombs -- the bombs that went on to kill 370,000 innocent people -- and they hadn't lost a night's sleep over it. Nor should they - they didn't set policy; they were just following orders. My point is that most everyone felt that the Japs deserved what they got for what they did at Pearl Harbor, and if you were up on the topic, for their imperialism and destruction they had wrought upon much of eastern Asia. That's fine except the people interviewed in this film, people whose ribs were showing through their skin, whose flesh had been melted away, whose bodies were ravaged with tumors, were mostly children at the time, and I've no doubt that the hundreds of thousands of dead were mostly innocent too.

Which brings us to today. Yes, there are crackpots who think we should just nuke the whole Middle East. And they can go fuck their ignorant selves. Today, I'm bringing to your attention the fact that while we may not have dropped a hydrogen bomb, there may possibly be 600,000 dead civilians in Iraq or more. And can you really tell me there isn't a sense of Other circulating around that number? Do we really care about these woman and children? Do we really care about the people we torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the dozens of secret bases we've established around the world? The U.S. government has admitted that many of those in Gitmo are innocent, but we can't release them because after all the shit we've done to them, they may not have been our enemies then, but they sure as hell are now.

We have to stop and think about why we consider a human life to have less value just because he or she resides outside of our borders, worships a different god than we do, or has different colored skin. As Americans do we not consider it self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness? Are those unalienable Rights endowed by our so-called Creator only endowed to those who live within these fifty states? Do you really believe that? And should our battles in the name of that document rescind those Rights just because they live in the vicinity of a few who would like to see us killed?

3,000 of us were murdered on September 11, 2001. We murdered 370,000 in August of 1945. We've murdered many, many more since. Exactly when does murder -- the murder of innocents -- become something we can so easily brush aside?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but it's OK cuz, you know, they're evil, and God's on our side, right?

Michael Grant said...

God's cool like that...

Ben Peters said...

If you want to start studying the origins of nationalism there is a huge literature on the subject but one of my favorites is Anthony Marx's Faith in Nation. It is all about how the idea of "nation", meaning a group of people who are all connected by common identity, was manufactured (to an extent) from the top down in an effort to bind them obediently to state power. But the crux of the idea was that they had to create an "other" to make people bond together. It wasn't so much saying to a group "Hey, we are all part of something together, we have a common interest and identity - let's build something wonderful for all of us" - it was more like "those people over there are not like US - we are great, they are evil, let's kill them... and by the way, you should do other shit that I tell you to do because it is in the national interest."

Cool stuff.