It was Christmas 1972. Our family was hosting its usual turkey-with-all-the-trimmings dinner for ourselves and a group of friends. That year the group included a half dozen Jesuit seminarians and priests and a stray serviceman or two. It was the only day of the year my dad let me use his stereo to play the newest additions to my album collection and those of us who were interested were listening to the Woodstock album, which had finally made it into the Post Exchange in Frankfurt am Main. My dad was silently bearing with us until Country Joe’s Fish Cheer played and then he had had enough. No sooner had Country Joe begun shouting, “Give me an F,” when he removed the needle from the album, turned off the turntable and switched on the radio which was tuned to the Armed Forces Network. The news was on.
Just as I was getting a little ticked off that Dad had so abruptly ended our listening session, the newscaster started talking about the latest round of carpet bombing over Vietnam. I listened to his reports of the tonnage and the targets and quietly lost my Xmas spirit. These were what became known as the infamous Christmas bombings of 1972–Nixon and Kissinger’s message to the Vietnamese that, despite the fact they were going to get what the Vietnamese wanted in the peace talks, the US was still going to be the boss. Pure, unadulterated murder for no reason other than some twisted desire for revenge and a reaction to power thwarted. Nixon and Kissinger belonged in a hell of their own making and no fate would be terrible enough.
This holiday season is worse. The USAF continues to bomb Afghanistan. Israel meanwhile, is unleashing its anger-driven terror on Palestinians in the Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) holy lands. Citizens in every Middle Eastern country are on edge wondering if their country will be the next target of the US war machine. Here in the United States, many opponents of the military madness sweeping the country are afraid to vocalize their opposition out of a genuine fear they will be considered terrorists by their fellow citizens and the police. The nation’s top cop-John Ashcroft-has said as much in his public utterances. And, to top it all off, the economy is in a tailspin. In this new age of the US’s “war on terror”, the only secure job may be in the military. In 1972 there was a sense that maybe, just maybe the war would be over soon. Of course, it went on for almost three more years despite the treaty signed in January 1973. In 2001 there is no sense that this war is anything near completion. Indeed, there is a more pronounced sense that the real bloodshed has yet to begin. I say that despite the thousands already dead. I say that also in spite of thousands facing death as they languish in refugee camps, bombed-out villages and neighborhoods, and in transit from one place of temporary refuge to the other.
The administration in Washington has achieved most everything they could have hoped for in the wake of 911. Like a group of carolers who have had too much wassail, this group of individuals are swaggering their way back home for the holidays drunk on their own power. A president who achieved that office only because of a barely cloaked conspiracy between election officials, lawyers, and judges has managed a coup greater than anything his backers could have possible imagined. The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, can barely contain his glee when he tells the press about the dead in Afghanistan. One has to wonder how much of that glee is connected to his corporate holdings in the weapons industry. John Ashcroft, dour Puritan that he is, must even be smiling as he surveys his work on the homefront. The Bill of Rights is emasculated, the military reigns supreme, and the corporations who really run the show here in America are doing so virtually unchallenged. Perhaps the best examples of this unchallenged rule are the passage of the Fast Track authority that removes the power of Congress to amend trade treaties and the lack of concern over the market failure of the Enron Corporation-a company closely tied to Bush and many other members of his administration. Not only is Congress not making much of a call for a public investigation into this matter, neither is the media or the public.
Of course, it all comes back to the public. Since 911, it might seem that the US population is all for war and revenge under the guise of justice. Flags are flying everywhere, military enlistment is up a little, and children are saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school again. Most citizens are content to let that dirty little war go on in their name as long as its presentation on the evening news is sanitized. Even those who have misgivings about Washington’s apparent support for the Israeli war against the Palestinians go along with the flow. Folks who thought Bush was a fool, liar and a cheat not only do not express those opinions any more, many folks who held them before 911 have changed their tune. Unfortunately for us all, the administration has not changed theirs. It’s up to us to convince them to do so. I want to be able to celebrate next year’s holidays without any killing going on in my name.
Mr. Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground (Verso, 1997).