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When The War Music Stops

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    When The War Music Stops Coming home: The American who came in from the warmth By Luciana Bohne Online Journal Contributing Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 2005
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      When The War Music Stops

      Coming home: The American who came in from the warmth
      By Luciana Bohne
      Online Journal Contributing Writer

      03/17/05—Signora Ida (I disguise her name), my Italian neighbor in
      Trieste, Italy, where I just spent a week, is 82 years old. She has
      made me barley soup, and now I sit in the very modest little kitchen
      of her two-room apartment where she winters every year. She is not
      an intellectual. Single and retired, she worked as a hospital aide.
      While I thank her, she cradles her head between her hands and
      asks, "So many dead! Why is Bush killing so many people?"

      It feels very new to be staring at political grief in anyone's face.
      I live in a country where what I read on people's faces, at best, is
      a puzzling, impenetrable blandness or a studied, bored, blasé
      detachment. They don't seem to be hounded by such raw and unpleasant
      thoughts that torment Signora Ida. The energy they might expend on a
      passionate engagement with the issues of the world they use to
      escape or deny it. It is like living among the damned—or the
      condemned. Finally I say, lying in part, "I know. But you must know
      that there are many Americans who feel as you do." She is thinking
      of the Iraqi dead, but, obviously, she has been reading and viewing
      reports of the improbable versions given by Washington of the
      shooting at the airport at Baghdad, following the rescue of Italian
      journalist, Giuliana Sgrena—the fifth version, and most absurd, is
      about protecting the car of ambassador John Negroponte, just
      released on Thursday this week. No one believes these versions—not
      even the government, from right to left.

      I come home and read a string of hate emails from enraged readers,
      calling for my arrest, informing me they are sending my name to the
      FBI, State Department, Fox News, asking me in clumsy sardonic tones
      to make my way out of this country tout suite. These patriots have
      obviously googled for information on Giuliana Sgrena and have come
      across my articles, written before my departure. These are
      the "quiet Americans" of Graham-Greene fame, well-meaning idiots, to
      whom I want to say—as the European cynic, Fowler, said to the bomb-
      throwing "idealist" in the American crew cut, Pyle—I want to say as
      they cheer a war that continues to be fought long after the reasons
      for it have grown obscure: "Oh, I know your motives are good, they
      always are . . . I wish sometimes you had a few bad motives; you
      might understand a little about human beings. And that goes for your
      country, too, Pyle."

      I'm practically no one—a college professor. I'm surprised that so
      much irrational venom should be wasted on so insignificant a person—
      that it should be so crucial to scream at nobody in
      particular: "what CAN'T be true ISN'T true." After all, I get my
      news from Italian, French, Spanish, English and other papers across
      the world—mostly in their original language—not from some arcane or
      professional source. I think in my kitchen, too—like Signora Ida
      does. I find that if I read the American press, I'm shocked by its
      hypocritical servility and by the verification of the feverishly
      sick and putridly immoral miasma which most people breathe by
      reading this media's unconscionable rot. Television is beyond
      redemption. Out of self defense, I read the world press, so it is
      ironic that when emailers accuse me of spreading lies it is world
      opinion they accuse. Does the fear emanate from knowing at a
      subterranean level that they are alone?

      And I wonder, what makes Signora Ida so different from them. Who
      drove the fatal stake of ignorance through their hearts or
      contaminated them with the cult of death, turning them into
      insatiable vampires chanting, "Cogito ergo boom!" ("I think,
      therefore I shoot"), as they ghoulishly roam the earth in search of
      people's blood? Why do they find so much pleasure in banishing
      compassion from their hearts? Why must so many people die in order
      for them to proclaim their right to be alive? What nightmares of a
      loveless life haunt their endless nights? Why do they blindly love
      the thing that hates them, abuses them, lies to them, and will see
      them in rags—their own government? How have they come to mistake the
      love of country for the love of a mere bureaucrat, say, a mere
      president? Who is driving them mad, perverting their natural love of
      country into a celebration of its opposite—the worship of a "leader"?

      I think, wryly, that the Germans, too, were thus driven mad by
      Hitler's propaganda lies. At Nuremberg, not the least of the Nazi
      crimes under indictment were the crimes perpetrated against the
      German people's conscience by driving them insane with lies—crimes
      that in the view of the American prosecutors were perhaps the most
      serious of all. Hans Fritzsche, a senior official in Goebbels'
      Ministry of Propaganda and Folk Enlightenment, answered thus when
      interrogated at Nuremberg on whether his office had manufactured
      hatred against the people of the USSR in order to make the Soviet
      Union a German colony: "Yes. I organized German propaganda in such a
      way as to inflame hatred of the German people . . . for the people
      of the USSR."

      And how could it be different here, where the government produces 50
      percent of the weapons that are being exported around the world,
      where the military budget is approaching half a trillion dollars,
      where the US government spends on the military more money than the
      15 largest countries combined? Who but a people driven mad with fear
      would stand for this waste of wealth on war? The media are a handful
      of corporations. Five corporations control it all—down from 50 in

      In Edward Herman's words the media "manufacture consent for
      imperialist wars of aggression." He cites an example: "The New York
      Times, this great liberal newspaper, had 70 editorials between
      September 11, 2001, and the attack on Iraq in 2003. In not one of
      these editorials was the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Tribunal, or any
      aspect of international law ever mentioned. Now, these guys know
      these things exist, and that's a perfect example of censorship by
      omission." There is direct propaganda, too. "There are instances, we
      know of," says Herman, "where the Pentagon generated video news
      reports and then gave them to various TV stations. This is spoon-fed
      propaganda, coming straight from the Pentagon and being broadcast as

      Signora Ida says, "But it won't work, you know. Their lies. They
      won't work here. We have many political parties. If one party lies,
      the other sets it straight."

      Italians complain of the shrinking political pluralism since
      the '90s, but they have no idea what a seriously reduced political
      spectrum really feels like. Compared to the average American
      citizen, and in spite of Berlusconi's grip on the media, the Italian
      citizen is well informed.

      I ask, "In the war, your family was anti-fascist, no?" She nods with
      pride. "My father spent 37 months in a Mussolini prison in 1937."

      That must be it, in part. The Italian republic (of which the present
      is the second) is anti-fascist, born of the resistance. It was
      forged by just such forces as are now ravaging Iraq—occupation,
      struggle, resistance. Although the present Italian government is an
      alliance of right-wing parties, which are busy defaming the
      resistance and supporting the Bush agenda, it cannot prevail over
      the historical memory of the people. They remember what it was like—
      every family has a story. And these stories ring bells.

      Before Giuliana Sgrena's release, 500,000 Italians marched in Rome,
      demanding her release and the withdrawal of the troops from Iraq. It
      hardly mattered to Italians that Sgrena was "on the left." Being "on
      the left" anywhere other than in the United States is not a disease
      or a satanic possession: freedom of thought and conscience is a
      citizen's serious right. What they saw in the Sgrena ordeal was a
      gallant reporter imperiled by a war their constitution forbade.

      As they had marched for Sgrena a short while ago, they filed past
      slain secret agent Nicola Calipari's casket this week—100,00
      mourners during the night before his funeral. His brother, a priest,
      pronounced the last words at the service: "Nicola died for the
      highest calling to which a human being can aspire: he gave his life
      for someone else." Mrs. Calipari is calling for peace in Iraq.
      Sgrena vows to support her in her quest for truth.

      Everywhere in Italy, people on the left or the right are acting as
      though they are still motivated by the universal principles of
      conscience, truth, justice. They seem capable of critical thought.

      Signora Ida betrays so touching a streak of honest expectations in
      her trust that truth will win out that it is clear she lives in a
      parallel (but saner) universe to the one I occupy. She cannot
      imagine what it is like to live with our conscience groaning in mute
      and helpless despair, crushed by the mounting load of assembly-line
      produced, grotesque lies, daily seeking to pollute and cloud our
      minds on this side of the Atlantic. She thinks the investigation
      into the Sgrena-rescue killing requested by the Italian government
      will shake the foundations of justice. She doesn't know and would
      not believe it if I told her it will lead nowhere beyond a confusing

      But it feels good to hear such faith. It is very hard to live among
      people who have learned to do without it—who talk about sports and
      the weather; about shopping and celebrities; about God and family
      values—nattering on and on trying to fill the gaping hole of their
      enormous alienation from reality, trying to ignore the fear that
      what is being done in their name is murder, trying to assuage the
      gnawing pain at the center of their consciousness that they are not
      loved, admired, or esteemed—learning, at last, that money or power
      cannot buy them humanity. Loudly may they sing the chorus to Bush's
      Nuclear Posture Review (2001) and National Security Strategy (2002)—
      the policy of "proactive counter proliferation" which in Hitler's
      time was known as aggressive war. Long may they dwell on dreams of
      striking against powers striving to attain nuclear-weapon
      capability. A day will come when this crazed war music will stop,
      and the American people will hear the judgment that the Germans
      heard at Nuremberg—that, in Justice Robert Jackson's words, they had
      supported a regime which had committed "acts which have been
      regarded as criminal since the time of Cain." They will also be
      astonished to hear that, although they thought they were free, they
      had in fact been terrorized and enslaved by their own government in
      order to follow in Cain's footsteps—as the German people heard.

      This rage to march in lockstep to the war music is a fundamentalism
      of thought that enslaves America, and it differs in essence
      from "Christian" fundamentalism, which is a mere tool of the
      oligarchy and will disappear when it is no longer useful. This
      fundamentalism is of a tautological kind. It believes that there
      must be belief, that this belief is more necessary than peace, more
      vital and imperative than people, more immortal than ideas, more
      significant than truth. Let us call it by the name with which it has
      been condemned in the past—the name that was interchangeable with
      the murderous patriotism of citizens of shamed and defeated

      The name is fanaticism.

      I left Signora Ida a melon, a primrose, two potatoes, and an onion.
      I set them down at her doorstep, so she would find them when she
      went out into her still human, still warm and friendly world, where
      courtesy and respect abide in spite of the often mean and lying
      government that rules—where, in spite of its government, people know
      the difference between truth and belief, between loyalty and mental
      slavery, between love and fear; where people are still free to hear
      each other's opinions without shouting them down; where a bedrock of
      social harmony endures from a pluralistic political symphony in
      which dissent is its recurring, its sweet and tolerance-inducing

      Luciana Bohne teaches film and literature at Edinboro University of
      Pennsylvania. She can be reached at lbohne @ edinboro.edu

      First published by Online Journal - http://www.onlinejournal.com/



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