Bruce Cockburn slides up on his bike, emerging from the dark night into the circle of light around the Delta Hotel in downtown Montreal. He’s an apparition of recent promo shots, wearing a dark suit and a flashing red light to pedal across town. He’s five minutes early.

“An indulgence,” he says of the new bike — which is a funny thing to hear from somebody who’s sold 7 million albums over his thirty-three-year music career.

The parking-lot attendant eyes us curiously as we amble toward the Saint Lawrence Seaway, Cockburn pushing the bike. In the restaurant we talk over raw caribou and Italian red wine. The life of the man across from me is at once a mystery and an open secret, where radical politics, a complex Christianity, and platinum record sales converge.

Cockburn genially ignores stares from other diners and speaks almost casually about walking through minefields and moonscaped forests. Success has not jaded him. He shrugs at the list of achievements brandished by his publicists: eleven Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy), including a lifetime-achievement award; induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame; a Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies; three honorary PhDs. Cockburn’s accomplishments are tempered by the darkness he so skillfully offers up to his listeners — along with rarer but equally compelling celebrations of light and the divine.

As a performer, Cockburn defies imitation. No two of his twenty-five original albums sound alike. Search the Web and you’ll find four sites dedicated solely to his music. Cockburn’s fans might be accused of cultlike behavior were they not generally such freethinkers. Suzanne Myers, an elementary-school teacher in upstate New York and editor of, tells me, “I ‘found’ his music right when I was needing someone who understood what I was going through. . . . His willingness to look under the dark underpinnings and delve even deeper gave me the inspiration to do the same.”

Born in 1945 in Ottawa, Canada, Cockburn can be subtle or blunt, painting nature and humanity with a fine brush, or doling out epithets to warmongers, international loan sharks, and fundamentalists. During the 1970s Cockburn’s lyrics often alluded to his Christian faith, but since then the cross has been mostly absent from his music, replaced to a large extent by secular concerns.

In January, Cockburn traveled to Iraq to see “American
 empire-building” up close. He has also traveled in Central America with war victims; visited African refugee camps; dodged land mines in Mozambique; prayed over killing fields in Cambodia; ridden camels on once-fertile deserts in Mali; drunk millet beer with Tibetan dissidents in Nepal; walked the streets of Germany three days after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (watching panicked pedestrians duck from the rain); and protested the recent G-8 Summit in his homeland of Canada. And for every foray into the madness and pathos and beauty, there’s been a song.

On the title cut of his new album, You’ve Never Seen Everything, Cockburn seeks “somewhere to put the rage I’m carrying.” It’s been a long search. Cockburn’s rage made the Top 40 in 1984 with “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” a song he wrote after interviewing Central American refugees whose families had suffered U.S.-backed atrocities “too sickening to relate,” the song says. “Rocket Launcher” was a surprise coming from the peaceable — though not pacifistic — Cockburn. The song startled some of his fans at a time when he was still widely known as “that Christian singer.”

Two days after our dinner, I interview Cockburn in his small two-story house in central Montreal, sunlight bleeding warmly through western windows before sliding behind Mount Royal. We’re surrounded by Cockburn’s collection of handmade war toys: a scrap-metal machine gun from Nicaragua, a wicker tank from Mozambique. I sit across from a flock of guitars, my elbow nudging a tall display case holding ornate knives and swords. Cockburn’s strong intellect meanders like water in a delta as he chronicles his political involvement and near ceaseless travel. Despite his hectic schedule — he really did once have “breakfast in New Orleans and dinner in Timbuktu,” as an album title says — he is patient and thoughtful throughout our conversation.


342 - Bruce Cockburn


King: Your activist colleague Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, calls the current Bush administration “the most dangerous in U.S. history.” How do you think this administration compares with, say, the Ronald Reagan administration?

Cockburn: Reagan was the first cosmetic president. He seemed to be nothing but appearances. His successor, the first President Bush, was not cosmetic. This was a guy who had been head of the secret police, the CIA. He was presumably an adept string-puller, someone who hides his real activities behind the facade of the presidency, like a con game to keep the public docile.

It’s hard for me to understand how Americans feel about their president. I’ve never been anyplace else where people invest so much of their own ego in the head of state. People in the U.S. take criticism of the president personally. “Our president, right or wrong” is the attitude. But the president of the United States is just an elected bozo, no better than the rest of us.

King: Now that bozo has invaded and occupied Iraq.

Cockburn: What the occupation of Iraq, and the public perception of it in the U.S., reminds me of is the German occupation of Holland during the Second World War. The Germans thought that the Dutch would welcome them with open arms, but of course the Dutch hated them. And the German people were offended. That’s what we’re seeing in the United States. People were told before the war that the Iraqis were going to welcome Americans with open arms, because the U.S. was saving them from this horrible dictator. But they haven’t. Journalist and columnist Christopher Hitchens may write about how happy the Iraqis are that the Americans are there, but the Iraqis are killing Americans, and there’s a reason for that. The Americans are an occupying force. When you put a bunch of kids with guns in charge of a place, bad things will happen.

King: Aldous Huxley wrote that a truly efficient totalitarian state was one in which the “population of slaves . . . do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” Would you say that this description applies to the U.S. today?

Cockburn: Noam Chomsky, in the October 2003 issue of The Sun, spoke eloquently about that very thing when he said that the Republican agenda in the U.S. is to keep people self-interested and afraid, and therefore malleable. But it’s not just fear. Big business has been very successful at promoting the idea of riches for everybody. Obviously that’s a completely unrealistic expectation, but they’ve been successful in selling it. And if the bribe of riches doesn’t work, they use fear.

King: Economic control is a favorite export of the U.S. Your song “Call It Democracy,” written in 1985, slams the International Monetary Fund for subjugating poor cultures in order to enrich wealthy nations. When did you start examining 
global economic policies?

Cockburn: Flying back from Japan at the end of the seventies, I sat next to a businessman who turned out to be a representative of the World Bank. He proudly told me about his job, how they were planning to move people around the globe like just another commodity. In the eighties, during my travels in the Third World, I saw the effects of that kind of thinking and heard from its victims. That stirred up some anger, which produced “Call It Democracy.”

That was during the Cold War, when the spread of free trade was somehow supposed to spread democracy. Now trade officials no longer have to resort to that kind of lie. They actually come out and say they’re doing it for the money. And we can have some of it too, if we help them.

I feel as if there’s a war going on in the human species between our hunger for contact with the divine and our urge to self-destruct. The world of transnational business and free trade represents the urge to self-destruct.

King: Officials at the World Bank and the IMF also say, “We’re lifting countries out of poverty. We’re helping them to join the world market.”

Cockburn: The short answer to that is: “Bullshit.” The longer, more truthful answer is that there are some benefits for some people. It’s just being done the wrong way. People’s choices are being taken away.

The issue is not whether business is being conducted in Third World countries, but how it’s being conducted. At the moment, corporations control everything: scientific research, the movement of populations, political choices — and this is in supposedly free countries. Through pollutants and genetic manipulation of food, corporations control what we eat and the hormonal structure of our bodies. It’s all about greed. It’s a scam, yet it’s making some people comfortable, so they get away with it. Nations that take exception to it are made very uncomfortable for as long as it takes to get them to play ball.

King: Such as?

Cockburn: Such as Iraq, Indonesia, Nicaragua. Governments that resist this process are undermined, and if that doesn’t work, they’re destroyed. This has been going on in the Western Hemisphere since the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 [which states that the U.S. would regard as an “unfriendly act” any attempt by a European nation to interfere in the politics of the Americas]. It would be oversimplifying the matter to say that the U.S. is the only perpetrator. Obviously there are transnational businesses involved. Canada-based mining companies are as guilty as anyone else of mistreating workers and the environment.

But the U.S. has been willing to stand up and be a symbol of this stuff. At the moment it’s certainly the country with the most clout, and therefore the most able to keep things going in this particular direction.

I find the outlook for the future of this planet very disturbing. What problems are my grandchildren going to face? Too many people don’t seem to care about that question. I don’t understand how people can not care that their own offspring are going to have to reap the disastrous “rewards” of this process.

King: Your first political excursion was in 1983, to a Guatemalan refugee camp in Mexico. Later that year you traveled to Nicaragua, Honduras, and Chile, and you have subsequently visited a dozen political hot spots around the world. But it was that first experience in Mexico that catalyzed you. Why did you decide to get involved?

Cockburn: My brother, who’d been doing solidarity work with Salvadoran rebels, had been trying to interest me in Central American politics for years. I was sympathetic to what he was doing, but I was absorbed in other things. Eventually he told me things about the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979 that didn’t conform to my stereotype of a banana-republic revolution. There had been no blood bath, but rather this enlightened behavior on the part of the Sandinista revolutionaries. What did it mean? I was curious to see it for myself. A couple of months later, Oxfam asked me to go to Mexico and Central America on its behalf. It was a perfect opportunity.

That trip to Mexico was the first time I’d been in a refugee camp. Guatemalan peasants, mostly Mayans, had fled across the border to escape armed conflict in their home country. The Mexican government, trying to avoid a confrontation with Guatemala, was claiming that there were no refugees.

They wouldn’t let the UN in, much less anybody else. We had to sneak in. The refugees were sitting on land that had been donated by their fellow Mayans on the Mexican side of the border. They were trying to grow food, but they had no supplies, no medicine, nothing. They had plenty of spirit, though.

King: Have you seen that resilience elsewhere?

Cockburn: Yes. In Nicaragua people were ready to celebrate at the drop of a hat, in spite of what they were up against. There was a sense of a cohesive society — although I suspect that Nicaragua now looks very different. After the Sandinistas were overthrown and the country capitulated to U.S. interests, things got worse. At least there was no crime under the Sandinistas, and now there is. All the Sandinistas’ literacy and healthcare programs have been rolled back.

The history of Latin America since independence from colonial rule has been a history of U.S. interference, with a kind of pendulum swing between relative freedom and democracy, on the one hand, and military dictators lopping off dissidents’ heads, on the other. The military governments always collapse under their own weight, though, because soldiers are not good at running countries. Eventually there’s a popular uprising, violent or not, and the pendulum swings back.

During the Cold War . . . the spread of free trade was somehow supposed to spread democracy. Now trade officials no longer have to resort to that kind of lie. They actually come out and say they’re doing it for the money.

King: Since 1980 your music has contained a fair amount of hostility toward injustice, but few references to Christianity. Where does your faith reside these days?

Cockburn: For me the essential point of life is the fact that we are spiritual beings and that there is a divine with which we should be connected — in fact, are connected, but it’s up to us to recognize that connection and pay attention to it.
 Everything else we do has value based on its relationship to that central point.

I feel as if there’s a war going on in the human species between our hunger for contact with the divine and our urge to self-destruct. The world of transnational business and free trade represents the urge to self-destruct. I think the ayatollahs, whether it’s the Ayatollah Khomeini or the Ayatollah Falwell, are part of the urge to self-destruct, too.

At the same time, there are a lot of people around the world who are acting from some kind of spiritual motivation. When a million people turn out in the streets of London to protest a war that their government is perpetrating, when a quarter million people show up at a similar demonstration in Montreal, this is without precedent. It’s evidence of global sentiment against this war, and that’s a very positive development. It’s time for people with love in their hearts to stand up and let it show and to speak to the world from that loving place. If enough of us don’t do this soon, then the urge to self-destruct will prevail. The universe will go on regardless, but it will go on without us.

King: You are a well-known Christian. So is George W. Bush. Is there a difference between the religion of Christianity and the spirituality of Christianity?

Cockburn: There are many different types of Christianity. Some are more about pathology than anything else. This is true of all religions. Spirituality can become distorted by the human desire to ritualize and formalize, which can bring you yet further from the original idea of the religion. Christianity, for example, has become associated primarily with authority.

King: What was the original idea of Christianity?

Cockburn: The original idea was that human beings can relate to God directly, and that life is about love. There are a lot of things the organized church says that don’t have anything to do with love or contact with the divine.

King: Jesus didn’t say much about controlling the masses.

Cockburn: Just the opposite, if anything. Jesus didn’t have a political message, but everything people do as a group has a political component. This is a problem of the human condition: how do we do things together without screwing it up? We’ve been wrestling with this for as long as we’ve been around. Over the centuries people have come up with various moral codes, but they all have to be taken with a grain of salt, because they all come after the initial fact of love and relationship to the divine. The message of Jesus, and the message of all the other spiritual teachers I’ve been able to assimilate, is that an individual is free to relate to the divine in his or her own way. That freedom brings with it an understanding of our interconnectedness, which is perhaps the antidote to the evil that we see going on around us right now. Without some understanding of our spiritual connection with the universe, humanity will become a failed experiment.

King: Throughout history, though, people have said that civilization is coming to an end due to one cataclysm or another.

Cockburn: I don’t think we’re talking about civilization here. I think we’re talking about the ability of the planet to sustain life as we know it. Cockroaches may carry on and evolve into something really cool, but I have a personal attachment to humanity and its way of relating to the world, and I’d hate to see that go.

King: Can we survive an ecological cataclysm, and if so, would we really want to?

Cockburn: We will want to, because we can get used to anything. But that life is not going to be pleasant if we don’t start to turn things around. We’re going to run out of water, for one thing. I’ve been to places where people already don’t have easy access to clean water. Other countries have their eye on Canada, because it’s overloaded with water. But our water’s not pure, either. There’s hardly any pure water left in the world, and nobody’s doing much to remedy that or even prevent it from getting worse. If we’re not careful, there will be wars fought over water. Fighting over oil is nothing compared to what will happen when the world starts fighting over water.

King: In your 1994 song “The Whole Night Sky,” you wrote,“Derailed and desperate / How did I get here? / Hanging from this high wire / By the tatters of my faith.” Has it been difficult for you to maintain your Christian faith?

Cockburn: I still think of myself as a Christian, but the understanding that I got from Christianity has been enlarged by the wisdom of other faiths and also shaped by experience. I owe as much to the Sufis or to Hinduism as I do to the Bible. So what does that make me? I don’t know. I’m just a guy who believes that connection with the divine is the most important thing in everybody’s life. I don’t think it matters much what you call that connection or how you get to it.

King: Why do you think the current conflict is occurring in the “cradle of civilization”? Is there a biblical reason, or is it just because of oil?

Cockburn: There’s definitely some religious thinking that comes into the picture. Most people don’t know that Armageddon is a place. It’s a valley in Israel, the Valley of Megiddo. “Armageddon” is an Anglicization of “Megiddo.”

I think that, deep down, Bush wants to be the president of Armageddon. I don’t know how consciously he thinks this, but the fundamentalist Christians he appears to be connected with are fond of saying that we’re living in the last days. They’re waiting for the Israelis to finish rebuilding Solomon’s Temple, which is supposedly the beginning of the end.

Certain conservative Christians align themselves with Israel not because they care about the Israelis, but because of this biblical scenario. They believe they’re doing God’s work by encouraging the conflict to worsen there. It’s the same mentality that motivates the Muslim martyrs who believe they are assured of a place in heaven if they blow up a busload of Jewish kids.

The trouble in the Middle East is about oil, too. I think the oil industry is certainly interested in maintaining itself and controlling access to oil. But I don’t think that’s the only thing going on. We look mostly at the western end of the Middle East, but at the eastern end, Pakistan and India are facing off, and not over oil. I don’t know why history has shaped itself this way. Maybe it’s just circumstance.

King: What about Vice President Dick Cheney? Does he want to be the vice-president of Armageddon, or just the CEO of the world’s biggest oil company?

Cockburn: While it’s possible to imagine that George W. Bush considers himself driven by faith, I can’t imagine Dick Cheney feeling that way. He and John Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld have their associations with that school of Christianity, but they’re transparently opportunistic. Whatever their real reasons, it’s a safe assumption that their stated motives have very little to do with their actions. In fact, I think that’s a safe assumption no matter who’s in charge of the government.

State powers are interested in keeping us numb and asleep. We need to stay awake. Part of my job is to help people stay awake — and to help myself stay awake — by looking at these situations and writing songs about them. It’s up to the listeners what they want to do about it, but I need to be a witness.

King: In 1983 you witnessed the devastating results of U.S. intervention in Central America, and the next year you released “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” the last line of which is “If I had a rocket launcher / Some son of a bitch would die.” Nearly twenty years later you appeared at the Kate Wolf Festival and blasted Jerry Falwell for having said that gays and lesbians had caused the attack on the World Trade Center. In front of several thousand people, you addressed Falwell and Pat Robertson by saying, “Fuck you, you pieces of shit. Get off my TV.” What do you say to Christians who object to such an approach?

Cockburn: I tell them to lighten up, essentially. I don’t think your salvation depends on whether or not you use four-letter words. Profanity is a cultural issue, not a spiritual issue.

What is a spiritual issue is the disrespect that I’m showing toward other human beings by addressing them in those terms. I certainly wouldn’t hold that up as a model of behavior, but I also don’t think it’s that big a deal. If I were sitting at a table with that person, I wouldn’t use those words, because it would seem unnecessarily rude.

King: At that concert you had just come from protesting the G-8 Summit. What was that like?

Cockburn: It was very peaceful, actually, because the cops were peaceful. There was a smaller turnout than there had been in Quebec the year before, but there were still a lot of people in the streets of Calgary. Nobody was allowed close to the actual G-8 Summit, which was fifty miles away at a remote resort in the Rockies. Anybody who tried to approach it got arrested, but not too many people did.

The protest seemed to work on its own terms, as a way for people to express their distaste for the goings-on at the summit. As an exercise of political power, it had little effect. One protest is never going to change the course of events, but a voice that continues to be aired does make itself heard over time, so it’s important to keep it going.

King: On the title cut of your new album, you say you’re trying to find “somewhere to put the rage I’m carrying.” I think a lot of people feel this way.

Cockburn: Yes, I think that’s why “Rocket Launcher” was so popular: not because people were concerned about Guatemala and Central America, but because the song expressed an emotion that a lot of people feel. If we’re not born with it, we seem to acquire it early on, due to the frustrations of growing up human. There’s a pool of rage in each one of us. Sometimes the energy from it can be directed toward something positive. Other times, it becomes a negative force. The difference is a matter of awakening versus self-destruction. Rage provides ammunition for either side.

King: Shortly after 9/11, you were quoted as saying, “A horrible thing was done, and it has to be addressed, and, unfortunately, it has to be addressed with violence.” Were you saying that retribution was the answer?

Cockburn: I didn’t mean that, morally speaking, there should be violence, but, practically speaking, there was going to be. You can’t perpetrate an act like that and not have people react violently. That’s just how it goes. The challenge is for us to contain our anger and not make the situation worse by our response. That’s not what happened, of course. Instead we’ve seen people go to incredible lengths to exploit the outrage felt by the American public.

King: What would have been a positive response to 9/11?

Cockburn: A positive response would have included the search for justice and some sort of accountability on the part of whoever planned the attack and helped carry it out. But this would have been done by the world community instead of unilaterally. I don’t think the U.S. response was as bad as it could have been, by any means. In one way it looked positive for a while, as the U.S. tried to get the world community on board. But now that looks like cynicism to me. The attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq really weren’t about 9/11 at all. They were about the Bush administration doing what it wanted to do anyway.

King: You are or have been a handgun enthusiast and target shooter. Can a man of peace own handguns?

Cockburn: I don’t want to get into a debate about gun control. In Canada it’s kind of a nonissue, because we have plenty of guns, and we don’t have a gun-crime problem.

I do think the Second Amendment to your Constitution is legitimate. In the context of the time in which it was written, it was entirely appropriate to make sure the populace was not going to be a pushover for a military takeover. But that was an era when the military wasn’t much better equipped than the population.

In the current context you can’t outgun the authorities. They’ve always got bigger guns. What matters now is knowledge and information. So if you want to protect your constitutional right to defend yourself, the way to do it is through having enough information to make sound choices, and through the sort of demonstrations we’ve seen against the World Trade Organization and the Iraq war. An armed response to government oppression is not effective other than as an attention-getter. The thing that scares governments most is people knowing the truth; otherwise they wouldn’t go to such lengths to keep it from us.

Personally, I think that in a democracy the authorities should not be the only ones who are armed. The best-case scenario would be if nobody were armed. But if the cops are going to have guns, then the people should be able to have them, too.

The gun-control issue can distract us from more important issues, like the environment and social justice and exploitation. These problems are complicated by the presence of weapons, and that needs to be looked at, but gun control is not the biggest issue we face.

King: You have cautioned activists to keep in mind that their work might not generate results for many years, if ever. How should activists approach such a daunting outlook?

Cockburn: Criterion one for getting involved is to divorce yourself from expectations regarding outcome. Obviously you’re working toward an important goal, but if you get attached to a specific outcome, you’re going to end up frustrated, and your work will be for nothing.

We can look around and see that the same evils keep repeating themselves over and over again, and we keep on trying to deal with them. Sometimes what we do seems like a holding plan at best, but that’s OK. Without it, things would be worse.

There have been one or two exceptions to this in my life, the main one being the land-mine ban. I got involved with the ban in 1995, after the International Campaign to Ban Landmines had been going for three or four years. By 1997, 146 countries had signed the Ottawa Treaty banning land mines. Not only are those countries not using land mines; they’re not selling them or making them.

It’s unfortunate that some of the most influential countries are not signatories. The U.S., Russia, China, India, and Pakistan — all countries in which the government is heavily under the sway of the military — have elected to keep their land mines.

There are many courageous people devoted to the work of de-mining specific sites. They are mostly volunteers, including ex-military people who know about mines and how they’re made, and they go out and risk their lives to try to restore some of the land that’s been made uninhabitable and to prevent further mayhem.

State powers are interested in keeping us numb and asleep. We need to stay awake. Part of my job is to help people stay awake — and to help myself stay awake — by looking at these situations and writing songs about them.

King: As part of your research you actually walked into a minefield.

Cockburn: Yes, in 1995 I was asked to go to Mozambique for the second time by a consortium of Canadian nongovernmental organizations. The first time I’d gone was in 1988, and the emphasis then had been on feeding displaced people. In 1995 the war had been over for a couple of years, and the goal was to get farmers back onto their land to start producing food. But the land, in many cases, was contaminated with mines. Development organizations the world over were running into the same problem.

During that second trip I went on a mine-clearing operation and stood in a minefield with a group of these volunteers. It was scary, particularly because of the ugliness of what mines do, the horrific maiming potential, the waste of life. This is a plague of modern origin. It took people a couple of decades to wake up to what land mines mean in social terms.

Mines are a huge public-health problem. People who are injured by mines become dependent, either on their families or on the state. Most countries that have mine problems don’t have much of an economy in the first place, or are just coming out of extended wars.

There are about 100 million land mines in the ground right now, and it takes an incredible amount of time to de-mine a country. The area I saw volunteers working on was about the size of a football field, and they expected to be there a month removing the mines. There’s no fast way to do it. From a civilian point of view, one mine is as bad as a minefield full of them: if people know it’s there, they can’t farm the field — although in some situations, out of desperation, they still do.

King: You’ve said that the sixties didn’t work because “the world doesn’t run on peace and love.” Care to elaborate?

Cockburn: I may have changed my mind on that. I no longer think it’s so clear that the sixties didn’t work. For one thing, the Vietnam War ended. The people who wanted to stop that war were successful. I think the problem was that people were attached to an imagined outcome. They stopped the war, but they didn’t change the system, so they got frustrated and depressed and gave up.

King: They were also infiltrated, subverted, and co-opted.

Cockburn: At the time, in the sixties, I was completely skeptical of all that talk. I thought it was just paranoid ravings on the part of the student activists and others. But it wasn’t. Everything they said was true.

King: William S. Burroughs said, “Paranoia is having all the facts.” Today we not only have “homeland security,” which authorizes the state to spy on Americans, but dozens of private “security” companies — often employing retired FBI, CIA, and military personnel.

Cockburn: That’s an example of private enterprise run rampant. Some people use the terms “private enterprise” and “free enterprise” interchangeably, but there’s a big difference between the two. “Free enterprise” means people making their own choices, doing what they want to do, selling whatever they think they can sell. What we’re being sold under the guise of free-trade agreements is anything but free enterprise. It’s wholly controlled by a mere handful of people. Because of the risky nature of the stock market and the capitalist system, some of the big guys will take a fall, but other big guys will replace them. The little merchants on the street are not going to rise to the seat of power.

King: You’ve said that you wrote “Call It Democracy” in order to “excuse myself from the enormous complicity and frustration” of watching, as the song says, “International loan sharks backed by the guns / Of market-hungry military profiteers / . . . Kill the best and buy the rest.” Are we really complicit just because we reside in countries whose governments perpetrate international atrocities?

Cockburn: Of course we’re complicit, and it’s important to recognize that, because otherwise there’s no motivation to change it. Obviously it’s not our fault. We didn’t make the choices. But we’re the ones reaping the benefits. We run up against this complicity every time we drive somewhere in a car or dress in clothes that come to us as a result of exploitation. I’ve had people take me to task for wearing leather when they’re wearing cotton. I say, “Well, where do you think cotton comes from? Leather comes from dead animals, and cotton comes from dead people.” Workers are exposed to pesticides and all sorts of abuses in the course of producing this “natural” fiber. And the synthetic alternatives are made of petroleum products. So, no matter what, you’re complicit. We are part of the equation, and it’s important to remember that.