"Quo Vadis, America?"
Mtunzini, South Africa
November 17, 2004
This Presidential election concerned vital principles of freedom and democracy, and all the alarm bells are ringing. We are suddenly thrust very close to the world that George Orwell warns us about in "1984", where cynical "Doublespeak" perfectly masks a totalitarian machine running on the 'necessity' for perpetual warfare and absolutely centralized control.
The Republicans who are now in control of America are uncannily reminiscent of the Boers who were ruling South Africa at the height of the apartheid era. The exploitation of "homeland security" anxieties in the direction of rushing through a Patriot Act with its curbing of civil liberties, smacks very much of the legislation constantly pushed through by the apartheid regime. The apartheid State also had a "President" - and we are witnessing a perfect promotion of the "Imperial Presidency" that Arthur Schlesinger prophetically foresaw, and which America has now brought on itself. But the analogies go deeper: just as the Boers were forever subverting any white dissent with racist fear propaganda of "swart gevaar" ("The Black Peril") to stampede everybody into the white supremacist laager, constantly dividing humanity into "Us and Them", so the generalized one-dimensional comic book enemy, "terrorism", has been utilized to subvert moral judgment and democratic debate in America with scare tactics, and to dehumanize the "enemy", i.e., "them", completely.
The key to the success of the tough guy/he-man rhetoric of platitudes that has given America its first (and hopefully its last) Orwellian theocracy, is fear. And fear is a great agent of reductive simplification, a prime tool of the monomaniacal mindset required for containing the 'dangers' of democracy and driving the only mode of foreign policy conceivable by Big Brother: the military crusade. This is exactly how the siege mentality produced by apartheid South Africa maintained itself its opponents were always absolutely demonized; our great statesman Nelson Mandela was called a "terrorist" by the Boers (AND by Dick Cheney); only flunkies or accomplices could be "allies". Ronald Reagan saw that evil Angolan puppet of Pretoria, Jonas Savimbi, as 'the hope of the West'; and the same ANC now democratically governing South Africa was literally equated with the forces of Satan in every church of the Boer and preached against religiously.
This use of religion was a heinous feature of apartheid South Africa. Obviously all was justified and permitted when God was on "our" side; it was faith that was used to justify the political agenda (there were field chaplains with every South African defense force battalion and at every recruitment center; all troop assemblies were opened with prayer and Bible readings). This meant, as in America today, that one could dispense with facts and evidence and moral ambiguities; faith was faith and revelation was its only logic then as now. The force of religion in a simplistic, aggressively fundamentalist version was completely hijacked and wielded by the State.
In such a context, all the State needed to demand was patriotism. What patriot would not consent totally to sanctified State policy? Only pinko disloyal citizens (or heretical enemies of Christianity, medieval version) would hesitate to support their Government's noble crusade; only a traitor would carp about shrinking civil liberties or the activities of fascist bouncers at supposedly democratic rallies; only a non-patriot would refuse to die for the military-industrial machine.
For South Africa, too, turned increasingly to the military machine while demanding a culture of sacrifice for the nation. There was no provision at all for patriotism as a complex construct providing for the idea of 'loyal dissent' and comprised of debate and dialogue in the discourse of a people free and unterrified, not bullied into conformity with fear as the sledgehammer to beget both dutiful submission and exemption from thought.
Spared the type of assassination that took from Israel a man like Rabin, South Africa was fortunate to have produced responsible thinkers and politicians like Mandela, Tambo and De Klerk, who survived and swung the whole dynamic of liberation away from military violence and onto the track of intensive dialogue and negotiation. Not only were Mandela and all other political prisoners released unconditionally prior to national transparent public negotiations, but all formerly feared or suppressed political organizations were unbanned; so the total spectrum of stakeholders was brought into a deliberative process that eventually defanged the fear-and-hatemongers, producing a peaceful transition to democracy and social transformation.
Surely, such is the process required for peace in the Middle East.
Like most of the rest of the world, South Africans who have witnessed the cathartic and liberating triumph of the immediately post-apartheid public testimonial hearings by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by cleric Desmond Tutu are appalled that any country, let alone a superpower allegedly sworn to democracy, should delude itself that an entrenched conflict arising from serious historical/cultural/ethnic divisions could be solved with a military strike in its most hideous form, i.e., the launching of preemptive war, which is itself a form of extreme terrorism.
Who would have thought that America, that great conception which came into the world by the labors of visionary idealists and the thirst for liberty, would today be dragging the world toward the New Dark Ages? These Dark Ages were of course the ages of religious wars. One has only to look at the dismal results and legacy of the original barbarous Crusades, and consider the brutal and long-lasting havoc always wrought by religious belligerents, to decry the devolution of American democracy into crusading imperialism.
To the consternation of most mammals, this democracy's center of gravity has now shifted from Harvard to Bob Jones University. And just as there were white apartheid fat cats profiting very nicely from the forced removals of black people from their homes and neighborhoods in South African urban areas, I suppose it is the Crusading American who cuddles up with the Zionist real estate speculator in occupied Palestinian territory, just as it is the gunslinger of the biggest ranch in Texas, who cannot understand where the true freedom fighter, the patriot whose country has been violently invaded and desecrated by an alien antagonist, is coming from.
Perhaps, as a citizen of a multicultural nation like South Africa, one has an unfair advantage over most Americans, but it is still difficult to grasp the depths of sociological ignorance exhibited by the nature of cultural and religious dynamics of the glibly disrespectful theoreticians of democracy-by-force. The "remaking of the Middle East' could only mean the pacification of the Middle East, and to achieve peace there, an all-inclusive deliberative process, similar to the South African one, should be initiated. Perhaps Dr. Mandela himself would be the ideal mediator to chair a meeting between America and the Islamic world. He is the one figure on the planet who could bring it about.
At any rate, the analogy between the fascist regime of apartheid South Africa and the wall-building Zionist extremists in PaIestine should not be ignored. Let us remember that while South Africa was collaborating militarily with Zionist hawks in Israel and secretly swapping nuclear weapons technology with them, it was cuddling up to neo-nazi South American dictatorships like Paraguay and Uruguay at the same time. And yet no nuclear device could ever have saved the Pretoria regime, just as no amount of American weaponry could ever secure peace and safety for Israel by force of arms alone.
It must be grasped that these atrocious killings of young combatants and innocent civilians, these real family casualties and shattered lives, are gravely indicting America's moral vision; it is a vision fatally tainted by the foggy logic that seeks security through violence, which fears that democracy is not powerful enough to prevail without war. Nor does it believe that America is strong enough to be a peacemaker. The costly military crusading is completely inappropriate to the real struggle, which involves a battle of ideas and principles in the process of traumatic social evolution. These ideas and principles have an ecological context too, and there is a most disturbing resonance between the Bush corral's utter contempt for people of other cultures and its equally great contempt for nature and the environment. South Africans are horrified by what America is inflicting on the Iraqi nation; and we are appalled, too, by Bush's total prejudice against any conception of environmental ethics and responsible management of the biosphere.
Anyone who cares about the Earth and America's potentially crucial role in fostering respect for nature and the responsible management of resources, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, (the latter for our sanity, not our bank accounts) should have voted against both Nader and this President who has thumbed his nose at the rest of the world not only on security issues but on environmental responsibility as well, unleashing the religiously profiteering marauders raping for gain, heedless of the damage they inflict on humans or on the Earth on children and mothers and wives as on the air and the waters and the land and on all the future generations who must yet inherit these. Mr. Bush has turned his back on the future integrity of nature and society, even as he threatens to plunge all whom he deceives into a permanent state of war (including a war on nature), delivering a neo-fascist theocracy to the poor, the faithful and the rich, while heading the most recklessly Earth-destroying and ecologically illiterate clique that America has ever produced, to its shame and peril.
When will America at last regain its visionary heritage and choose a course beyond such fear and greed, to honor progress of the soul, and shape a healing world where cultures coexist and may progress to a fresh hope for social justice and renewal of the all-sustaining Earth?
Much has been said of Bush's vaunted Christian piety, but where is it expressed? As leader of America, its President must surely say under the great impartial benediction of that soaring Christ of Rio "I am a citizen of this frail crowded and embattled globe, my nation shares with other nations on this spaceship Earth the rolling sea and ocean air, the forests, plains and fields that feed us all, and therefore do we hold democracy too dear to squander it on wastelands for the naked and the dead, or tolerate its violent rape through greedy mindless wars".
Should he not be speaking for the rains and lifestreams and the visionary gleam this great America must hold in trust both for itself and all the globe, for the quality of life in factories, towns and all the habitations of mankind's evolving consciousness, earning the Creator's blessing by honoring creation's web of life through protocols and statecraft, instead of scoffing at these with such destructive arrogance that he's torn America from the very summit of nations and tossed it as a floormat to the scavengers of war and anarchy, [those] who dishonor this Good Earth that astronauts Frank Borman and Neil Armstrong and their brave colleagues enabled us to see from orbit, to the eternal credit of America, causing mankind to glimpse this rare moist dewdrop in the giant flare of a star, this pale blue dot of Earth that harbors all of us in the vast and hostile deep of space?
For had President Bush but once put his ear to the ground these last few decades in America, he would have heard in the long rumble of the plains a yearning for the return of the native and the wild and the free, in the bloodstream of stifled generations that have seen the relentless progress of unfettered industrial expansion threaten more and more the spirituality that alone sustains a civilization in the long run. He would have felt the ground shift under Earthlings who are on a mission home, generations on a mission back to Earth, not on some robot trek to Mars praising a desert void while touting tribal war and wasting earth for oil; he would have said "I am a Christian and therefore I respect the moose and elk and refuge for the wild that's good and sacred; because I trust in God I will not drill for oil among the last few starving bears, nor bait them cruelly for my sport, nor set alight a sea to burn my brand into another nation's hide, nor seek to quell religion with a bomb. I'm an American, and therefore do I love the prairie grass and fishing grounds, the quiet woods, clear sky protected on my watch from toxic fumes and childhood-stunting gases from unchecked machines".
It is for a vision of this island Earth, this one integral globe, as well as for its own still prosperous spell on the cosmic turtle shell, that America needs creative citizens now, capable of harnessing whatever powers may yet be left to them for affirming the rights of people indivisibly from the rights of nature. Perhaps the United States of America will regain that respect for personhood which underlies the genuine democracy enshrined in its Bill of Rights; and perhaps humanity will one day whether in America or Iraq or Africa or the Middle East give common thanks for the sharing of rivers and land and grain from the good, unbombarded soil.
Maybe then, too, there will be hope 'round the world for the teeming, choking cities that are gasping for the air that all must breathe, and respect for our ever-shrinking supply of drinkable water, the water that's far more easily wasted than valued, just as ideas are far more easily trampled than understood.
One certainly hopes that an American President will arise again who will grasp, as the great Dwight D. Eisenhower did, that making war must be always the very last resort of a desperate hour, and never a mere option to be craftily seized by a military industrial complex thriving on darkly peculiar objectives. And one hopes that President Bush, having banked with utter recklessness on the genocidal atrocities of a preemptive war that acquires more and more disturbing religious overtones with every passing day, will yet comprehend and recognize the idea of the United Nations, and participate in its Councils with all due respect, and in so doing, energize democracy by example, striving to repair and restore America's links with civilization, which are now most tenuous and faint.
Burgert's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.