After writing, in my last post, my response to friend Cliff's unpublished letter on the Iraq war, it occurred to me to post my own unpublished letter on the same topic, written to the Roanoke Times, prior to the start of the "surge." The letter includes my own advice to the president at the time. It was actually accepted for publication, but it never actually ran in the paper as there was a mass exodus in the editorial staff a couple of weeks later, and a distinct change, after that, in the kind of essays they publish. (Our local newspaper has never quite recovered from the loss of those key members of its former staff.) Beyond that, let me say only that this war has become a chronic and soul-sapping illness in the body of our country. I therefore add this question for my readers, inviting answers:
If a nation is despised by its own citizens, what happens then?
A New Direction
By Suzi Gablik
If you are a writer, the assimilation of important experiences obliges you to write about them. Writing is how you take possession of an experience and make it your own. We live now in an era over which terror rules and has us trapped in an unhealthy relationship with fear. Fear is where my personal consciousness connects with the global consciousness. If I can master my own fear, I like to think I might be doing something for my country. Or even for the world. The point being that it's always a matter of how we work with our minds.
These days, I have developed an unseemly interest in the mind of George W. Bush. It is part of my quest to understand this war on terror. Ever since he told the world, after 9/11, that "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," Bush has set in motion a seething landscape of polarities. But were these really ever the only possibilities? Even now, is this all anybody can imagine?
Polarizing ideologies have finally brought us to this place where consciousness has become a wall against which something happens: the rigidities of position-taking. And in this polarized world, no one is ever guilty of aggression, only of retaliation. Everything is always somebody else's fault. Thus the burden of insults gets passed around the system, but is never removed.
My own mind seems to function quite differently from that of George Bush's. Where he sees chronic dichotomies, I see the complexities of an elegantly balanced system of interlocking forces. I see a world that does not conform to manipulated separations, but curves right over them, traversing the dichotomies and overlapping itself in contrapuntal layers, refusing to have its richness reduced to simplistic truths. I see our country in a period of contraction, engulfed in failure, defeat, and sorrow; yet, in some deep perversion of administrative process, I hear a president who remains eternally buoyant and optimistic. When alarming facts are given, he offers reports of success still to come. Looking at the roots of terrorism doesn't seem to be part of the plan. Instead, he continues to devise new strategies to "win." I hear him say that and I wince. Are those pearls that were his eyes?
Radio entertainer Garrison Keillor recently portrayed the president as a "decider" preparing to "surge" the studio if he isn't admitted to the show. Quite funny, you say. But the man who laughs, as Bertolt Brecht once exclaimed in a poem, just hasn't heard the terrible news. Surge or no surge, Iraq is not our country and we don't belong there. It has to be obvious by now that increasing the troops is not going to change the profile of the U.S. in the Arab world. More likely, it will serve to increase momentum for jihadist recruits on the other side, as more and more Muslims view Islam as being under attack and see America's foreign policy as imperialist, advocating preemptive war. We have entered a hall of mirrors in which every step toward a goal leads to two steps away from the same goal.
So, Mr. President, if it were up to me, this is what I would have to recommend:
Know that your country, however large it may be, is only one point on the cosmos. Cultures are very different from each other, and their laws may not bend to the human will. By now it should be clear that exporting democracy to countries where we have no shared heritage is a perverse project, not something you can make up as you go along. Decentralize your complacency. Someone must be willing to report back from hell and say, "It seemed like a good idea at the time, but this hasn't worked out."
One of the qualities proper to reality is that of possessing perspective, that is, of organizing itself in different ways so as to be visible from different points of view. Rejoice in surrounding yourself with fragments whose muddled nature you have now come to appreciate.
Once you have experienced the full extent of your interconnectedness with everything and everyone, concentrate hard. You may find yourself becoming just a little less absolutist, a little more fluent. Whatever happens, do not, at that point, fall into longing for your old certainties. Befriend the loss of your power. Surrender that glorious image of yourself as one of the good guys, mighty and righteous, laying snares for our evil enemies. Remember, the enemy is always evil, for doing much the same things as one does oneself.