Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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I was reading Derrick Jensen’s interview with Ramsey Clark [“Neighborhood Bully,” August 2001] at the time the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked and President Bush called the nation to arms. The contrast was unsettling, to say the least.
Knowing Clark’s concerns about a U.S. foreign policy predicated on our desire to see capitalist “business as usual” conducted abroad, I couldn’t help but question the extent to which America’s war against terrorism isn’t a license to further impose our Western values on peoples and nations already in danger of being overwhelmed by McCulture.
No amount of nationalism, tribalism, or fundamentalist religious fervor can countenance the wanton attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., and the premeditated taking of thousands of innocent civilian lives. Still, in light of America’s foreign-policy track record — which, as Clark points out, has rarely put human rights ahead of industrial greed — I worry over what our nation’s newest military foray will entail, and what consequences it may have.
When Derrick Jensen asked what most Americans feel about our country’s foreign policy, Ramsey Clark said, “It’s in terms of the demonization of enemies and the exaltation of our capacity for violence. When the Gulf War started in 1991, you could almost feel a reverence come over the country. We had a forty-two-day running commercial for militarism.” History, it seems, is repeating itself.
Were the terrorists trying to say, in a violent way, the same thing Ramsey Clark is trying to tell us with words? Clark claims that America is the dominant economic and military bully to the world. What we do in the coming weeks and months will demonstrate whether he is right.
I agree with almost all of what Ramsey Clark had to say, but would like to answer the question he posed about Vietnam veterans: “How many of those pilots who bombed Vietnam . . . ever said to themselves, ‘I wonder what it was like being a Vietnamese villager when I was coming over and dropping those bombs’?”
As a former Army nurse with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, I spent five years in group therapy with Vietnam vets. Almost all of them thought about what it must have been like for the Vietnamese with American bombs dropping on their heads. Those vets thought about it day and night, year after year, decade after decade, their imaginations filling in what their eyes hadn’t seen. Some waited until their deathbed to vent their tremendous guilt, such as the World War II bomber who wailed to me about the sixty thousand people he’d killed from the sky.
Our war veterans are teachers who can tell us about the horrible consequences of our twisted ways. We just need to listen.
September 11 was shaping up into one of those incredible autumn mornings that those of us in the Northeast live for. I had some extra time, so I began reading “Jingling Bracelets” [August 2001], by Maximilian Schlaks. My oatmeal grew cold and my toast hard as I devoured this glimpse into a typical Muslim’s life in Morocco. I felt tears sting my eyes, but they didn’t fall. Not yet.
A short time later, as I drove to the job I love, in a suburban office building set among cornfields and soccer fields, I pondered the story I had just read. I couldn’t get Saïd and his family out of my mind. Suddenly, I slammed on brakes as a gaggle of wild turkeys crossed the road in front of me. The morning sun shone through the trees, bouncing off the mist rising from the pavement. Overwhelmed by the simple beauty of the moment, I couldn’t help feeling blessed. The tears that had been threatening to fall at the breakfast table coursed down my cheeks. What simple twist of fate had put me here to live in the most prosperous and abundant country in the world, while Saïd and millions more just like him lived lives of such incredible harshness?
An hour and a half later, I watched in horror as the second jet slammed into the World Trade Center. Later, I would remember “Jingling Bracelets” and understand a little better about desperation.
“Jingling Bracelets” was a stark reminder of just how wealthy I am by virtue of living in the U.S. Though I am a struggling Montessori teacher and at times resent the small material rewards I receive for my work, my children have never gone hungry, much less died from an illness that can be treated with basic medical care. My cupboards are usually full. My body is always clean and stays at just the right temperature (except for occasional hot flashes). Even my pets receive regular preventive medical treatment and eat only the most nutritious food designed by veterinarians. There is much abundance in my life.
It’s too bad that Phil Harvey didn’t realize his hypocrisy before mailing his letter [Correspondence, August 2001] concerning Sarah, the woman who wrote in the May Readers Write on “Mothers and Sons” of her grief over her estrangement from her adopted Canadian Indian son. I do not doubt Harvey’s assertion that many Canadian Indian children were wrongly taken from their biological parents. But he seems guilty of the very offenses of which he accuses the Children’s Aid Society: meddling in other families’ business and making potentially faulty assumptions about those families.
Although Harvey knows nothing of this particular situation, he presumes to know that Sarah’s adopted son Jeff was abducted by “self-righteous vigilantes.” Harvey also criticizes Sarah for not having checked to make sure Jeff was given up willingly, again assuming that she did not try to get information about Jeff’s background. Perhaps she did try and was lied to. Or perhaps she trusted — as many adoptive parents do — that children are up for adoption because they need homes, and that adoption agencies verify this.
It saddens me that Harvey, in his righteousness, felt the need to stomp on an already broken heart. Even if Jeff was wrongfully seized, Sarah is guilty of nothing but having provided a loving home to a child she thought needed one. To throw salt on her wounds now is heartless.
As a sixty-eight-year-old lifelong smoker with a penchant for fast food, I found Poe Ballantine’s tale of a friend’s lonely death from a heart attack [“An Unfamiliar Form of Solitaire,” August 2001], by turns moving and frightening.
Like the author’s friend, I live alone, having lost my beloved wife of forty-seven years just twelve months ago. Unlike poor Joe, who died thousands of miles from his family, I have loving and caring adult children no more than an hour away, but I talk to them only once every ten days or so. Though I work four days a week, my colleagues have no idea where I am Thursday through Sunday. Should I die on a Thursday evening, I could, like Joe, lie on the floor undiscovered for three or four days, glasses knocked from my face, with only my hungry, thirsty cat to witness my demise.
This morning I reread Poe Ballantine’s “Things I Like about America” [July 2001]. As an apprentice vagrant at age eighteen, I spent six months working those wonderful temp jobs Ballantine describes so well. We had no Darlene for a dispatcher, just an obese chain-smoker with the people skills of a drill sergeant. I decided temp work wasn’t for me and settled into a series of dull blue-collar jobs until a good case of despair led me to experiment with faster ways of making money. Today I’m incarcerated in Texas, where we still have prison the way Jesus meant for it to be.
With my lack of accomplishments, I feel qualified to challenge Ballantine’s claim to being the “biggest fool who has ever walked the earth.” Even a fool, though, has a place in the grand scheme of things.
Poe Ballantine’s “Things I Like about America” was one of the most depressing things I have read in a long time. His essay was a horrifying glimpse into Middle America, a place I have never, ever wanted to go. After I finished reading, I just wanted to go to sleep and pretend that such a place doesn’t exist. The lack of culture, the obesity, the Wal-Mart drudgery of it all is plaguing my native country more and more. It all makes me want to stay out of the U.S.
I have had so many moments of deep connection with The Sun in the three years I have been a reader that I see the magazine as a friend of sorts. I want so much to maintain this friendship that I have avoided an unpleasant truth: The Sun is sexist. I do not know what else to deduce from the almost total absence of interviews with women. Surely there are women out there with inspiring, worthwhile things to say.
This realization has been difficult for me, like seeing a dear friend’s dark side. It hurts to acknowledge the truth, but it hurts more not to acknowledge it.
In the October issue, we misspelled Tucson, Arizona, as “Tuscon.” Twice. In our September issue, we wrote that photographer Susan Lirakis Nicolay lives in Center Sandwich, Connecticut. But Center Sandwich, as those who live there have always suspected, is in New Hamsphire. Thanks to the readers who brought these errors to our attention.