...although I am a convinced Friend, a pacifist, and a believer in non-violence. I would have said, to the core of my being, but I am a little shook up now, and I am wondering.
I'm familiar with transitory feelings of rageful violence, upon being confronted with some horrific crime or injustice-- that "Damn, I want to pound that asshole's head against the wall until there's a spot soft enough for enlightenment to seep through" feeling. I've gotten that a lot in the last seven years. But I don't wallow in it, I remind myself that it's just an endocrine surge and that violence doesn't make for any lasting and constructive change. And so forth. I don't beat myself up for it, not much, anyway. It's human.
But for the last few days I've been doing a slow burn, and it bothers me. My stomach roils with acid a lot, I find my eyes narrowing and my fists clenching. The desire to HIT someone, something, to cause DAMAGE... keeps rising up within me no matter how hard I try to rationalize or meditate or pray it away.
It started on Sunday when my esposo and I took a guest with us to visit the IAIA's Contemporary Art Gallery in downtown Santa Fe. (Institute of American Indian Arts.) The current exhibition is themed around violence, war, and the damage it has caused to Indian people and their communities. The art was wrenching, but what really got to me was a video showing on a loop in their theater.
It was a Sioux filmmaker's documentary about American Indian veterans of the Viet Nam war, their experiences in the war and in coming home, and, finally, their creation of a network of veterans among all the Indian nations, to support one another and help each other deal with the problems of having been in Vietnam and coming home to a nation that had nothing to offer them in the way of healing.
One man told of being part of a unit that was tasked with moving civilians out of areas being designated as "kill zones"-- areas that would be systematically emptied and defoliated to eliminate any cover for enemy reconnaissance or advances. Once the civilians were moved out, anything moving within the area would be assumed to be enemy action and large-scale ordnance would be applied. The man narrated his experience trying to get the people from their villages into trucks and helicopters, evacuating them to "safe areas." And he realized that their skin was almost exactly the same color as his-- one of the civilians, an old man, kept trying to give him a chicken, and pointed to his own arm, and then the soldier's, and saying 'same, same.' It hadn't really sunk in what they were doing, but he realized when the last truck left and they started herding the livestock into the open to kill them, and burning the village structures, 'This is what they did to my people, to my grandparents and great-granparents.' And he stopped believing in the war, and stopped believing that he was doing anything good. Two weeks later he was wounded.
Others told of similarly gut-wrenching experiences. Some weren't all bad... one Navy Corpsman told of experiencing respect from non-Indians for the first time in his life, and being grateful that he learned to save lives rather than take them. But a lot of them came back feeling "empty" or "changed."
The good part to the film was the story of getting the inter-tribal veterans' alliance started and how healing it was for them. It took them twenty years, and the work was still going on. That was good, but as I watched it I suddenly burst out (aloud, yes, right there in the theater,) "And twenty years from now it will be all to do over again, we haven't learned a goddamn thing!" And I started crying. My esposo put his arm around me and we sat there until the end and then we went out, but that was when the slow burn started.
We haven't learned a goddamn thing. I lived through that nightmare as a civilian, I watched the ghoulish body counts on the evening news and had my soul riven by the bloody photographs from My Lai. I knew what we left behind, the blackened, poisoned land, the abandoned half-American children, the devastated economy and war-brutalized people. And I knew what we brought home-- the men with empty eyes and terrible opiod habits, the homeless, the ones whose bodies were slowly deteriorating from the contact with Agent Orange and the other poisons we flung about. And what never came home... the names on the Wall and the ones whose bodies were never found and whose families even today don't know their fate.
And I knew the utter stupidity and futility of the reasoning behind the nightmare, the sophistries of the villains and worse-- the well-intentioned ones, who rationalized it and then didn't have the guts to pay the full price, the real price, to accomplish the goal and who left half a million young Americans and millions of Vietnamese in hell for more than a decade while they played political games on the world stage. Especially the ones who knew that if the American people truly understood the real price it would have cost to win, the American people would have said "Fuck THAT shit, we're outta there, NOW..." and so kept lying and lying and lying about how victory was just around the corner and we were accomplishing great things and Vietnamization was WORKING, really!! Believe it! Tet was just a fluke! The carpet bombing would finish off an already disheartened VC leadership and destroy their support among their own people... All that crap they fed us to keep the lid on it, to keep the fat defense contracts raining down on the big corporations, to keep the commie-haters happy and the narcissistic power-hungry prats prancing about in Paris and the UN in front of the cameras, pretending something important was being accomplished.
I knew that was shit even while it was going on. I figured, finally, when the balance tipped and half a million marched on Washington and the politicians began to get more scared of staying than of going, that it would be one of those Learning Experiences that, for all their awful price, at least carry the nugget of hope that we wouldn't ever, EVER be stupid enough to make those mistakes again.
And now this feeling of disbelief mingles with rage and it just won't go away, not for long.
All to do over again. Bigger and better. More expensive, more destructive, more futile than ever. A whole new generation of men and women WE sent to war for no good reason, who put their mortal bodies between us and the IEDs that OUR stupidity provoked, who have paid prices that we sitting in our comfy living rooms listening to the god damn nutcracker for the fourteenth time this month can't even begin to contemplate. And once again, having sent them to get fucked up over there, we are now ensuring that the ones who make it home are getting another thorough fucking up over here.
It's the well-intentioned ones that rend me the deepest. The ones who went along because there might be something in it, who continue to go along because they 'see the bigger picture.' The ones who dutifully propose a few bright-colored bandaids for the sucking chest wound of our inadequate care for those wounded and damaged on our behalf, and rail earnestly at their colleagues for not doing more, but who stop just short of putting their political futures or their careers on the line to make a real difference. Because, after all, they ARE well-intentioned, and isn't that better than being dyed-in-the-wool assholes? In the long run, isn't it better to have well-intentioned marginally effectual people representing us than real shitheads?
I guess so. I don't know. I'm not sure anymore. For the first time in a long, long time I can't talk myself out of the gut-level belief that if I could tie ONE, just ONE of those idiots to a chair and slap them silly and rub their noses in the full extent of the crap their well-intentioned self-interest has flung us into, I'd feel better.
At the moment, I don't like myself very much. That will change, eventually. Intellectually I know that I'm resilient and will once again remember my humanity and that my flaws aren't any worse than the rest of humanity's. I will abandon, finally, the spiritual vanity of holding myself to a higher standard and then judging myself harshly for falling short of that standard.
But at the moment, I just want to bust some heads.
Thought y'all would want to know.
Posted in full with author's permission.
Originally posted at democraticunderground.com: http://journals.democraticunderground.com/TygrBright/58