Just Ask the Dead

Bush's talk of war dishonours the departed


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i watch them every day as they sort through the endless rubble of the collapsed twin towers, and I feel submerged in the tangled shards and viscera of the culture. I find I have to seek solace from the dead to face the world of the living right now.The new world — of war — addles the organs and unravels the preconceived. “My brain is on New York time,” says the Big Carrot clerk as she fumbles with the cash. In New York time, nothing works like it used to, especially and including our physical selves.

For me, the morning is the worst. My first thought races to what new thriller scenario will walk into my waking life. And then the TV goes on and the papers get retrieved and the war talk assails my womb — shutting down my mind, my day, even the aching of my own broken heart.

Like everyone, I was still in shock from the collapse of New York and the crater in the Pentagon when Bush first said the war word. I felt numb, as if death’s shadow were putting my blood to sleep. With endless repetition, beautified in a red-white-and-blue logo or screaming from giant headlines, the words “war in America” have become banal instead of pouring like burning acid across our fields of consciousness.

The obvious is no longer spoken. “President Bush, are you worried that placing the country on a war footing is fulfilling the terrorist’s highest dream?” the TV doesn’t ask.

Because that’s what the hijackers gave their lives to accomplish. Every word of war is actually a victory for the bombers. To them, the thousands dead were not individual souls on their own divine journey. They were merely “collateral damage.” The hoped-for prize for their horrific act of human sacrifice was to push Americans into the living pit of loss and suffering.

Fulfilling this hate wish, Bush is turning his back on the dead. More innocent death and suffering is a given — and an obscene dishonouring. And it will come back to haunt us.

The utter stupidity of using the term “war” to define this crisis is to invoke a self-fulfilling prophecy. September 11 was a master stroke of criminal action, not a war. The only way to get the people who did it is to learn the lesson of the bombers. Use more intelligence than force.

If Bush Junior fans this into real war by military action, the consequences are completely unpredictable. You don’t have to look further back than the Gulf War to predict brutal bungling and ultimate failure. But this time there’s not even a nation to combat. The enemy’s more like a large extended family. Still, the emotional primitivism of Bush’s words mirrors public opinion that is salivating for more flesh. What is the twisted inner place with an irrational hunger for more murder?

I remember how strangely in denial Bush was from the very beginning, when he used the term “cowards” to describe the bombers. So many words could be used to summon their evil nature. Yet “coward” was so absurd — the opposite was so obviously the case.

On the surface, this was such a frivolous twist on truth — a pointer to some need to attack the manhood of the attackers. And clearly a manipulation of our deep and desperate yearning for masculine protection and mastery. Summoning the illusion of manly power and control — despite all evidence to the contrary — will be a great help for Bush in achieving his military spending goals.

But I have only to look into my own heart to know there is more. I’m close enough to the other side of love to remember the elevator-load of hurt and disappointment that is ready to open whenever the button gets pushed. Love and anger are the twin towers of our souls that lie in rubble all covered in guts. Which one will we rebuild?

I console myself in the company of the dead. I send my prayers to all the souls who left together — from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I always find myself wondering about the others with them — how many old and little ones were also victims of violence who died right then around the world, their personal destinies lost?

In the papers and on TV, I see their pictures — every day a few more. I welcome them as my new ancestors. I ask for their guidance. They seem so beautiful. We almost all really are, underneath our pain and hunger.

I ask myself, how do we truly honour these dead? It will take some creativity. For example, what if we demand that George Dubya take a hunk of that $40-billion war chest and spend it to set up a fund in the name of each and every one felled — each one with a multi-generational mandate to support living victims of brutality and assault around the world?

Scholarships, food, housing, therapy. Let us create a living legacy for those killed. Let’s lay each one to rest honoured and cherished for themselves and the teaching their death has brought. Let us claim them all as our new ancestors, whose deaths have taught us to fight senseless brutal violence wherever it is.

alice@nowtoronto.com

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