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Journal, Day Three
It is hot. It is July. In fact it is July 4th as I write this. So far the grilling has not started. There was so much smoke in Brooklyn the other day, you’d of thought smog had been imported from China.
This morning there was a great commentary on NPR about the growth of tyranny—finally. It seems that in all our media the war talk and the loss of rights roar as loud as lions. And everyone seems much too quiet.
But reading Frederick Douglass’ Narrative, seeing an exhibition at the New York Historical Society by contemporary artists—brilliant work for the most part, and remembering that slavery as an issue was not allowed to be discussed in the House and Senate for more than a decade, even as the nation expanded westward, I understand how skilled Americans are at denial and distance from historical truth and character, like white supremacy and its conventions.
When Douglass challenges the conventions of his day by bringing enslavement front and center as THE problem for the Republic back in 1852, he did this before a group of abolitionists. In 1852, abolitionists were a minority. They may have had righteousness on their side, but they had little or no real national political power—the growing divide between Slave and non-Slave state was fueled by economics and the Europeans and many a New Yorker were on the side of the Slave states. But the abolitionists were righteous and relentless and part of a global campaign to end the African Slave Trade. Sometimes globalization is a good thing.
We are now in an equally fraught period. The Bill of Rights (remember them?) is slowly disappearing in the miasma of propaganda, executive orders, and that awful cliché, the fog of war. The talk talk talk about the use of torture and a disregard for human rights conventions serve to make us less wary of bad decisions and abuse. At the International Center for Photography, I saw an exhibition of the photographs from Abu Ghraib and what struck me was their size—small, snapshots really.
In wars atrocities happen, but they are not justified. The Geneva Conventions grew out of a history of awful treatment of prisoners (if prisoners were taken) over the past 100 years. I keep thinking as I grew up that I knew that any number of bad things may have been done by Americans to uphold American power, but, until the Church Report, we had no idea of what those things were. Now we do and now we are allowing our nation to become a place where words like terror,/em> are flung about like manna for the war hungry to feed. And there is really a feeding frenzy right now.
Here is a passage from Christopher Logue’s War Music, in the voice of Achilles:
Kings can admit so little.
Kings know: what damages their principality
If he is inconsiderate,
He is king; if greedy, greedy king,
And if at noon the king says: “It is night.”—
Behold the stars!
What if he damages the man
On whom his principality depends?
He is still king. His war goes on. The man must give.
Logue’s “translations” of Homer are brilliant, brutal, and viciously witty. There is much war music being made now. We are not going to be able to shut it out.