Suppose a hypothetical god got tired of what we humans do to one another and decided that from January 1, 1991 onward all corpses unnaturally created anywhere in the “free world” would cease to decompose. Anyone dying for want of food or medicine, anyone hung or garroted to death, shot or beaten to death, raped or bombed to death, anyone dying unjustly and inhumanely would, as a corpse, persist without decomposing. And the permanent corpse would then automatically enter a glass-walled cattle car attached to an ethereal train traveling monotonously across the U.S., state by state, never stopping.
One by one the corpses would be loaded onto the cattle cars and after every thousand corpses piled in, higgledy piggeldy, a new car would hitch up and begin filling too. Mile after mile the killing train would roll along, each corpse viewed through its transparent walls, 200 new corpses a minute, one new car every five minutes, day and night, without pause.
Think how a young child sometimes points to a picture in a book or magazine and asks for an explanation, “Tell me about a tree?” A car? A boat? Or a train? A big train? The killing train? Go ahead, answer that one.
If the ecologists are right that this planet is a single super-organism, they are wrong that pollution, toxic waste, and other human-created garbage is the most deadly virus attacking it. The killing train is worse.
Think about the pain that radiates from the Vietnam War monument with its 50,000 names in Washington, D.C. Imagine the lost opportunity and lost love and the network of negative influences that radiate from the unnecessary deaths enumerated on that monument. Now think about the killing train stretching from coast to coast and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. Consider its impact, not only on those on board, but on every person that any of those corpses ever loved or would have loved, fed or would have fed, taught or would have taught.
Who rides the killing train? Citizens of the “Third World,” selling their organs for food, selling their babies to save their families, suffering disappearances and starvation. They live in Brazil, the Philippines, El Salvador, and New York. They are headed for the killing train. Every day. Millions.
Is this exaggerated? When 10 million kids die yearly for lack of basic medical aid that the U.S. could provide at almost no cost in countries whose economies Exxon and the Bank of America have looted, what can you call it other than mass murder? Bloated diseased bodies are victims of murder just as surely as bullet-riddled bodies tossed into rivers by death squads. Denying medicine is no less criminal than supplying torture racks and stealing resources.
Evolution has given humans the capacity to perceive, think, feel, imagine. At a time of war-as now in the Gulf-if we get aroused to action we begin to see the whole train as it persists day in and day out. When this happens, what do we do about it. Become depressed? Cynical? Anguished? Cry? Daydream of Armageddon? Daydream of justice? Hand out a leaflet?
Once we begin to see it, how do we face the killing train? Part of me says these crimes are so grotesque, so inhumane, that the perpetrators deserve to die, now. A little tiny killing train for the killers and no more big killing train for everyone else. An eye for a million eyes. What other step makes more sense? But, of course, that’s not the way the world works. People give the orders, wield the axes, withhold the food, pay the pitiful salaries, but institutions create the pressures that mold these people. When an institutional cancer consumes the human patient, what kind of surgeon can cut it all away? Is the weight of repression so intense it can never be lifted?
At first, becoming attuned to our country’s responsibility for the corpses stacked behind transparent cattle-car walls makes handing out leaflets, or arguing for peace with a co-worker, or urging a relative to think twice about paying taxes, or going to a demonstration, or sitting in, or even doing civil disobedience seem insignificant. But the fact is, these are the acts that the hypothetical God, tired of our behavior, would be calling for if she were to actually parade the “free world’s” corpses down our mainstreets in killing trains. These are the acts that can accumulate into a firestorm of informed protest that raises the cost of profiteering and domination so high that the institutions breeding such behavior start to buckle.
The fact is, “You lose, you lose, you lose, and then you win.” Every loss is part of the process that leads to transforming institutions so that there can be no people as vile as Hussein or Bush, as hypocritical as Aziz or Baker. No more “Good Germans” or “Good Americans,” cremated Jews or decapitated peasants.
War in the Middle East is a horrendous crime against humanity. It is an orchestrated atrocity that mandates our militant, unswerving opposition. There should be no business as usual until this war is ended and all U.S. troops leave the Midle East.
But even after the Gulf War ends, the on-going U.S. war against “free world” people destined to ride the killing train will, if it continues, remain a tremendous crime against humanity. The killing train transcends the Gulf. Ultimately, so must our opposition. The killing train-poverty, disease, starvation, death squads, and terror-stems from basic institutions. These too must become our target.
Mr. Michael Albert is Editor of Zmag.